It’s a funny old game isn’t it?
It’s still early days but back in January we would have taken three points from the last two games. Last week after that scare at Wigan we would have taken anything this Saturday, at half time in the game itself, we thought we had the points in the bag and by the end we were pleased to survive with just one! Who’d be a rugby fan eh? We still ain’t getting it right and what goes on in the second half or rather doesn’t, seems to be causing us a lot of issues at present don’t you think?
I can’t complain really, nor will I be, because unlike some of the protagonists on social media I happen to believe that 11 points from 7 games is a reasonable beginning to the season, if not a blooming good start! We are missing players and I for one would get Hadley back from Wakefield and use him in the line-up on Friday, because he is a great defender, but we are still really well placed and there is certainly no cause for concern so far, although for me to keep the momentum going we really need to beat the Red Devils on Friday.
We are almost a third of the way through the season and third in the table, one point off the top clubs with a game in hand on the second one and we have the best defence in the league, whilst looking downwards we are already 6 points clear of ninth place. That would have done any of us when we set out on our journey through the 2017 season wouldn’t it? Saturday was certainly disappointing but let’s try and be positive, be patient and hang in there, we have high expectations I know, but hey, it’s still our best start for years!!
Well my pal ‘Wing Commander’ Brooks sent me an E mail on Saturday which just said, “The joy of the M62 on a Saturday” and it certainly summed up what was a largely untroubled journey over to Warrington and back. This was the home sides big chance to get going in a shocking season so far and all week they had prepared for it. We had struggled to get our lot back in shape after that battering at Wigan and a really fast start from the hosts showed that Warrington realised we were a bit bashed up.
They obviously saw what we had gone through a week previously and thought that their best chance against our pack was to ‘dance us’ off our feet, but Kelly got in on the end of back to back sets on their line, ran all over Kevin Brown and for the rest of the half as at Wigan, it was largely plain sailing. But at half time despite a 20-8 lead, I think we all feared what might just happen next.
45 minutes later with the scores locked at 22-20 my pal Richard text me to say, “Sometimes I hate supporting Hull FC” and who wouldn’t have concurred with that statement at that point in the game? Last season I loved the way we came from behind to snatch victories in such games, this year I am certainly less enamoured by the way we have to hang on to get anything out of them.
However, as I have said for weeks all that matters at this time of the season is points and now we are undefeated for five games with 11 from a possible 14 points and that is certainly great going really. The reality when gauged against those points accrued is a lot different of course and there is a lot of work still to do, but when we click we show just what a good team we are attacking wise, we just can’t seem to sustain it. Even against Widnes and Saints at home we were patchy to say the least and that trait has continued into these last two matches. The problem is we don’t seem able to value the ball in the second half! So, I guess it has to be said that at present we are being remembered more for our ability to hang on in the last few minutes, than for our attacking prowess when we get on the front foot.
We certainly looked a bit jaded at times in that second half, energy was down and there were mistakes a plenty after a first half were we only failed to complete in three sets. I guess in the cold light of Sunday morning I tend to agree with our Coach when he said post-match, “The players were still suffering physically from the determined performance they put in to hold on and beat Wigan last week. Last night (Friday) Wigan were off the pace at Leeds and so were we today. It just shows how much it took out of us last week. When the opposition is chasing the game they go 100% harder and that didn’t work well against our exhaustion today.”
I was so pleased that Jez Litten, made his debut to take a bit of pressure off himself and although he still looks a bit light on the physique side of things, he showed some real touches of style in a difficult situation.
However, if you set aside all those doom and gloom mongers on Social Media you have still to admire our side’s resilience. The fact that Manu, Mini and Ellis were (along with Connor) our best players is worrying, because they are all in the senior age bracket and all expending vast amounts of energy covering the mistakes of others, however we fought and fought to hold on for the second week running in a second match we could and indeed should have lost. Warrington had talked all week about how much the players supported a Coach who was obviously under pressure they were therefore really up for it, and it was clear that at some point in the game they would gain some heart and use the energy that their desperation generated, to pile the pressure on us. However, that’s three points chalked up from two games at Wigan and Warrington, which I guess stepping back from it all, could so easily have ended up as no points at all. There are some mitigating factors for us too, none more significant or pertinent than the absence of Danny Houghton.
How long have I banged on in here about the fact that I worried about what we would do if he ever got injured and here he is, out for the first time for three seasons with a nasty injury and we are struggling to keep going at those difficult times in games when he would have been out there leading with his actions and from the front. When he plays he does so much work that he literally saves the energy of those around him, while he leads them by example and provides assurance in attack, things which may point to a partial reason for those two second-half collapses we’ve suffered without him. So, we have also to consider that we have won at Wigan and drawn at Warrington without our best player and that’s not bad going at all; well it isn’t until you have witnessed the rather worrying circumstances in those two collapses.
Then there was the absence of Chris Green which came out of the blue as, just as we got Liam Watts back (and he did well), we lost the player who has arguably made the most improvement of all this year. Apparently, according to our coach he has an impingement in his back, but what the hell that was, I at first had no idea at all.
The dictionary describes it as; inflammation or pressure on a nerve root exiting the spine that may cause neck or low back pain. It may also cause pain to radiate from the neck into the shoulder and arm (cervical radiculopathy). Or pain may radiate into the leg and foot (lumbar radiculopathy or sciatic nerve pain). In other word’s a pinched nerve, which can just settle down, ‘click out’ after a bit of manipulation or actually need surgery, so on that one we will just have to wait and see!
However, with Danny, Chris, Fetuli and Carlos out and now with the prospect of Alby missing as well this week, we are doing it a bit tough, so the three points gained in the last fortnight are absolutely priceless. Most Clubs are missing players but compared with last season it’s a minor crisis for us and we now find ourselves in a situation that we are not used to at all.
You have I think to remember that despite a shocking start after success in the Wold Club Championship game, the Wolves will never be pushovers, they were certainly under duress but are now getting players back and on Saturday they fielded their strongest sides to date. Of course we should have won and there are few excuses for collapsing in the second half for two consecutive weeks after holding commanding leads. Warrington actually made more errors than us, but it wasn’t so much the error count that was so significant, but more the time that we made our mistakes. Realistically I guess after 7 games we still haven’t put in a good 80-minute performance against anyone and so to have the points we have accrued already in what has been a patchy showing, is a massive plus and a bit of a worry as well, because from here things can only go one of two ways.
I think the next three games are crucial hit ups with two at home and an Easter Monday game away at a team that you would expect might just be down on troops that day. How we go in those matches will define our season as far as the first 23 rounds are concerned. Win them and we will be just 3 points from survival in the Super Eights, which has to be our first objective, but lose them all and we will be right in the mix and battling for positions.
Albert Kelly did his bit again and played a big part in our first half attacking play, something that, it turns out, was extremely commendable, as he played under very difficult circumstances. The way that situation regarding his compassionate leave has been handled is a credit to the Club and I’m told that Alby actually chose to play on Saturday despite being really cut up about a significant tragedy in his very close family at the other side of the world and in fact he flew off to Australia straight after the game. His actions in playing are very praiseworthy and I wish him and his family well and look forward to his return for the Leeds game.
So to the rest of the week and while I’m on Alby, the article in last week’s League Express about new deals being offered to Kelly and Minichiello in the next couple of weeks was interesting indeed. With Kelly the Club find themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea really, because they would no doubt have liked to hang on a bit longer and see how ‘Alby’ behaves himself, but all the while if they did, then the vultures would be circling. Only last Thursday his try against Wigan was featured on Australia’s ‘The Footy Show’ so everyone out there will be aware of just how well he is playing and here Clubs that are struggling are desperate for half backs and Kelly is, along with Chase, probably the best maverick player in that position that the Super League competition has on offer. There’s those two and possibly Danny Brough that can turn a game in an instant because of their off the cuff unstructured style, but once again that poses the question as to just why the maverick players seem to always be the bad lads?
That’s a discussion for another day, but there is little doubt that players that can take a game by the scruff of the neck and score tries out of absolutely nothing are few and far between these days. Kelly has certainly brought a new dimension to our play and it’s something that we have been lacking for years, furthermore so unpredictable is he, that the opposition find it hard to know what he is going to do next and if the truth be known, the same probably goes for some of his colleagues as well.
At Wigan for instance his score was a very special one indeed and if you get the chance just take the time to watch it again as Mini takes the ball across the field to the right, taking man after man out of the defensive line, before switching it back inside for Kelly to be perfectly positioned right between two markers (who had been pulled out of position) to accelerate away between them and towards the line. So, I guess it’s easy to see why we should all be pleased that there is talk of us offering him a new deal. He is certainly proving an excellent foil for Sneyd as the players both offer varying things in the play-making department. Sneyd has a great kicking and passing style while Kelly has an outstanding running game, strong defence and a killer cut out pass to the wing.
I think that Alby has proved himself for now and perhaps too, removed the question marks that hung over him when he signed for us and its getting to the point now where if we don’t sign him up, someone else will. Make no mistake about it some teams will be following the situation closely already and I’m told they already include Widnes. They shouldn’t be an issue for us but some major NRL clubs entering the ‘game’ could be. Even though they say otherwise, some teams are always willing to take a chance on a ‘bad lad’ maverick because when they’re on their game they can win you matches single handedly. If that was not the case Rangi Chase would have been long gone from British Rugby. However even now after another in a catalogue of indiscretions has seen him suspended after Cas gave him his second chance at the Jungle, Widnes tried to sign him last week.
There is little doubt such players as Chase and Kelly will always be in demand because of the scarcity of their skills in the modern almost stereotypical game, so if we think that there is a chance that we can change Alby into anything close to a model professional, then we should snap him up and get him on a longer contract. Then it’s down to Radford and Co. to manage him. So I guess for me signing Kelly is now a priority.
As for Mini well he wants to stay another year and we want to negotiate with him and although some cast dispersions on his age (and that influencing his ability to keep going for another season), the man is an absolute freak and just goes on and on. He looks after himself and is an excellent example for the rest of the squad and particularly the young lads who are coming through the ranks. His preparation is meticulous, he looks after his body so well and he is always first in for training and last out of the gym at the end. For me signing him up for another year is another no brainer!
Now just a quick head’s up to Marc Sneyd to say that I hope he enjoyed his night out on Saturday. My pal ‘Northern Soul’ Neil informs me that our illustrious scrum half is very knowledgeable about the genre and a big aficionado of Northern Soul music and had a great time when he turned up at a local NS night! So look out in future for Marc busting some moves!!
So will Dean Hadley loan spell at Wakey be over after his last game of the stint in West Yorkshire at Catalans on Saturday? Well the rigors of a hectic Easter programme and his ability to fill in at Hooker says that it might! The second-rower, who is now 24 and at an age where he should be making his mark on the FC pack, has seen his temporary West Yorkshire team win three of their last 4 games in a period on loan that has endeared him to his team mates, his coach and the fans at Belle Vue. He is certainly well-respected by our Coaching staff but is of course behind the likes of Sika Manu and Mark Minichiello, plus former Trinity duo Danny Washbrook and Gareth Ellis for a permanent back-row spot. At Chris Chester’s Wakefield, he started his opening two games in that second row position but he also showed his all-round footballing ability by playing at hooker in last week’s win against Leigh Centurions.
“I’ve done it a couple of times,” he said this week, “It’s not my position, I’m no hooker, but I will play anywhere for the team. Against Leigh last week we knew that they would come at us through the middle and Chezzie wanted me to start at hooker, add a bit of size to the middle and defensively tighten things up there. I thought it went all right. I am just happy playing, that’s what I want to do. That’s the reason I came here, because I want to be playing in Super League. I am happy with how I’ve gone and as long as I am playing I am happy. I’ve loved it at Wakefield.” Dean is a talented player and one who is highly rated by Lee Radford as well, so it will be interesting to see if we bring him back and spell him for periods of the game in the number nine role in place of Danny Houghton, who I guess we must expect to be missing for a few games with that calf injury.
Well, Hull City are doing well at home with 6 wins in their last seven games! It’s certainly a good job they aren’t playing on a flat pitch that hasn’t had any rugby played on it; because they could be challenging Chelsea at the top!!! “Mantenha seu nariz fora Sr Silva” What a misguided guy that Silva bloke is eh?
There is little doubt that professional rugby league in this country is at the cross roads, and that is something I discussed in here at length last time. However only just this week two separate reports indicated that gates across the game were dropping year on year and I got taken to task by one reader who seemed to think that in all my machinations about the process, reasons and flawed structure of the British game, I was omitting to feature the state of the officiating we see week in week out in all the games we watch. That of course is an issue, but it seems to be one that the administrators believe doesn’t exist and there is little as far as I can see being done to rectify it! The refereeing is abject at times and sometimes it certainly influences the outcome of games, but all conspiracy theories apart I really don’t know what we do about it. But there are other problems out there as well!
Many Coaches are frustrated by the way that the World Cup and the demands of our England Coach have seen the fixtures concertinaed together to get 30 games, the Challenge Cup and the play-off’s in before the end of September. Clubs are gearing up for a crazy procession of matches, which will bring the inevitable injuries and no doubt see inexperienced and young players thrown in at the deep end. Indeed, already at Hull FC we face a hectic period that started on Saturday against Warrington and ends with a home match against the same opponents on April 28. By that final game we will have played a quarter of the regular season in just 28 days. Salford are certainly looking good and going well, so Friday’s must win home game will certainly be a difficult obstacle to overcome leading as it does to a whole raft of crucial fixtures in April. Some of which we may have to face up to without vice-captain and human dynamo Danny Houghton.
After Salford we face Leeds and although both those two opponents struggled last year, they are both going well this time around. Leeds of course surprisingly ending in the middle 8s, while the Red Devils snatched that wonderful and dramatic victory over Hull KR in the Million Pound Game and those experiences seem to have spurred both Clubs on to step up this year in a competition in which everyone can beat everyone else on their day. It gets no easier either, because after the Good Friday match with Leeds, three days later we are all out on the road to Lancashire again, this time to Leigh Centurions, who have already defeated both St Helens and Warrington in 2017. Then six days later, we are back at the KCOM and hosting a visit from the current pundit’s favorites Castleford, who’ll be looking to run us off our feet as they twice did so successfully last year, before to round off a tough month we face another daunting home game, this time against Warrington on April 28.
I guess it’s safe to say that by then we will know if we are genuine contenders again this year. But, boy that is certainly a tough period and its one in which Matonga, Turgot, Downs, Litten and a few others of the youngsters on our books will have to step up and make their mark. The next 28 days are absolutely crucial as they form the pattern that will dictate our season and how we go on towards the Super 8s, but already running with some injured players on board, by heck there’s some tough games to come aren’t there?
Everyone is therefore trying to grab a bit of an advantage over their peers in this period of chaos and we read last week that at Hull FC we are hoping to hire a cryotherapy chamber to be housed at the County Road training ground, because of the excellent way that such facilities speed up both injury recovery and aid injury prevention in such hectic periods of games. One Club, Warrington already own their own chamber which was incorporated in their new state of the art training facility when it was opened last year and Wigan have use of one. We hired a chamber last season over the Easter period, which helped considerably in our winning all four points on offer and preparing for the next round of games after we’d beaten Hull KR and the Warrington Wolves.
If the upcoming month isn’t tough enough the vagaries of this ridiculously cramped season continue with a second double weekend at the end of May when FC play Leigh on Friday, May 26 and then travel to Catalans Dragons for a game three days later. It was therefore hardly surprising that we heard this week that the Club are thinking of hiring the chamber for an extended period spanning those two crammed schedules to ensure the players head into the Super 8s in the best physical shape possible. In the book I have just completed about last season, I feature the feedback I got from Adam and Lee about the difference the chamber made last year, when we went on a long unbeaten run that cemented our position for the rest of the season. These facilities however don’t come cheap and Hull chairman Adam Pearson says that he is hoping the club can receive help from the vice presidents in what would be a sizeable outlay, albeit one which could make a difference to the club’s chances of pushing for honours this season.
Last week the piece about the 1969 Yorkshire Cup Final win at Headingley certainly brought back a lot of memories and instigated several calls from readers with anecdotes about the day and one in particular from Club Historian Bill Dalton certainly caught my eye. He’s always full of great tales and so I share his recollections about that particular day with you here. Bill said in an E Mail last week:-
“The Codgers bit this week brought back great memories of the 69 Yorks Cup Final. I was at the West Terrace end, but later learned that my future mate at Rosedown’s was so exasperated at Sully going over the dead ball line when he should have scored that he threw his packed lunch at him!! At that time, we were on strike at Priestmans so I was able to go to Headingley. It was my own second Cup success as a supporter, as I was at Odsal for the 1958 Championship Final, which was of course followed by the two Wembley defeats and the 59 and 67 Yorkshire Cup Finals.
However, I felt that the real star of that whole campaign in 69, (Dick Gemmell apart in the Final), was Arthur Keegan, who has to be the unluckiest man ever to miss out on the only winning Final that took place whilst he was at Hull. Why I say that is because he was our saviour in the Semi-Final at Headingley that got us there. Midway through the second stanza (Stevo is rubbing off on me) with Hull down by, I think 11-17, Arthur was faced, at the St Michaels Lane end, by Leeds centre Sid Hynes who was bearing down on him with Alan Smith in support. Hynes duly waited for Arthur to commit and then passed to Smith only to find Arthur had tackled Smith as well.
Moments later, Sully did the only thing he had done right for weeks and gathered a loose ball out of defence to race 50 yards up field on the North side to set up a position for Arthur Keegan to score near the posts, a try that John Maloney converted. Joe Brown also had a tremendous game in that match as well as the Final and he dropped a couple of Goals, including one from halfway. It was a day of drops for Hull as Alan McGlone had also dropped one in the first half. That great Prop, Mick Harrison also scored a rare Try that day.
Of course, Arthur missed the Final because of injury at Keighley the week prior to the Final, but he at least got a Winners Medal. I got to know Arthur quite well, and more particularly his Brother, James, in the early 60’s when our away games in the West Riding were Home games for them. There were about three men and a dog going away with Hull at that time and I was the Dog! I used to have a drink after the match and Arthur got me fixed up on the team bus home on many occasions. Great Days even though they brought very little success”.
What a guy eh, thanks so much for those recollections Bill and for getting in touch its always great to hear from you and I know the readers of the Diary really do enjoy your observations too! It was also interesting when Dave Cooper text to say that so impressed was he with Joe Brown that day that he went on the pitch at the end and gave him a big hug. What great memories the FC family have eh?
So to this week’s delve back into the mists of time and a game that sprang to mind when a couple of folks commented to me at half time at Wigan, after that horrendous journey over the Pennines, that we would have all been better staying over in Lancashire and making the trip back to Hull next day! I thought back to the time I went to Warrington on a Sunday and didn’t come back until Wednesday but that’s another story and then I mused on a night when I had to stay over in Leeds after a game in the 80’s however on that occasion it was hardly out of choice.
The date was Saturday 7th October 1982 and the venue was Headingley. It was another of those Yorkshire Cup Final in a year that was full of highlights for us fans back then. That season threw up some interesting statistics none more so than the fact that we met Bradford Northern a total of five times, twice in the League, twice in the Cup (including a replay) and once in that Yorkshire Cup Final. We might have been going well, but after we had fought our way through to that Final at Headingley, we met a Bradford team who were going through tough times. We in fact stood third in the First Division table, whilst Northern were second from bottom.
For my part I travelled to the game on the ‘Mermaid’ coach that as usual visited ‘The Three Horse Shoes’ on Otley Road in Leeds, before the game. We were really confident that day and with about 8000 FC fans making the trip out of a record Yorkshire Cup Final attendance of over 11,000, no one gave Bradford a hope. However, nobody told the ‘Northern’ players that!
Although we had a couple of withdrawals before the game, Bradford had real problems. Despite their first choice scrum half Alan Redfearn being withdrawn with a broken rib, Bradford did have one secret weapon, their Coach, the wily and controversial Peter Fox. He was certainly a character, who when he came to the Boulevard with the Northern ‘A’ team would often exchange insults with the regulars in the ‘Threepenny Stand’, expletives and all! That day ‘Foxy’ put together an excellent game plan that was almost Hull’s undoing.
From the start it was apparent that the Bradford lads had decided that they would, by fair means or foul, stop everything or anybody that handled the ball. Their rugged defence led by full-back Keith Mumby had to be seen to be believed and despite an excellent Paul Rose try, another by Paul Prendiville and a drop goal from Crooks we only led 7-6 at half time. I remember the shock of that half time score sobered me up no end! The second half started with both teams exchanging drop goals and then Arthur Bunting brought Steve Norton on from the bench and the rest as they say is history!
‘Knocker’ Norton immediately drew the defence to the right before firing out an immaculate inside pass for Rose to crash in for his second try, “There’s only one Knocker Norton” resonated around the South Stand and we were on our way to winning another Cup Final. Crooks converted and added a penalty before Evans completed the scoring in the last minute and we lifted the Trophy after a great 18-7 win! We had really had a scare and as supporters we were drained by the end, but as always the celebrations were long and very loud and the feeling fantastic.
What a party we had afterwards as the team joined us in the bar under the Main Stand where Paul Prendiville led the ‘choir’ in several renditions of ‘Old Faithful’. We filled the cup with Tetley’s Bitter and were all still singing at 8-00pm. It was then, through an alcoholic haze, that the terrible truth struck me; I had forgotten to re-join our coach at 6-00pm as arranged and so, with the lads from the ‘Mermaid’ now back in Hull, I’d been left behind.
Abandoned by my mates, ‘alcoholic logic’ pointed me towards a night out in Leeds and having been told by a couple of ‘sage like’ Leeds supporters who were obviously ‘Only there for the beer’, that the last train home was at 11-00pm, I accompanied these ‘new found friends’ around the City Centre pubs. We had a great night and I arrived back at Leeds City Station with five minutes to spare before my train left. However, when I enquired of the chap at the barrier which train went to Hull he said, “There’s an 11-00 o’clock train every weekday night but the last one on a Saturday goes at 10-22!” I was stranded. Meandering down the platform in an alcoholic daze, I suddenly felt tired and, drained by all the emotion of the day, I staggered into a darkened railway carriage and slumping on the first seat I could find, I was asleep in seconds.
Perhaps it was just luck, or more likely the fact that it was Sunday next day, but when I awoke, the train and I were still in Leeds Station, although it was 7-30am on a chilly, bleak morning. I got off the train, (which I noticed had started its engine and had ‘Skipton’ displayed on the front destination board), and got home by a scheduled service to Hull. Everyone was enthralled as I reached the Mermaid (to pay my Wembley money) that lunchtime and commenced to relate the details of my adventure in Leeds. In the end, I finally arrived home at about 4-30pm, almost 24 hours after the final whistle had sounded at Headingley. So really, 10 hours away from home for a game at Wigan is nothing at all really is it?
So that’s about it, but in his post-match comments Lee Radford said on Saturday, “We relied on one-out rugby and ended up hanging on for dear life. It was a fantastic 39 minutes but we ended up thanking the rugby Gods at the end of it. Errors cost us again like last week at Wigan”. Which pretty much sums up where we are at present as a Club. This Friday is massive because we have to value the ball throughout and control the game against what will be a feisty Salford team who will be buoyed by the accolades they are receiving from the RL media, so it will be very tough indeed and after those last two performances a hard one to call.
My mind goes back to the countless seasons when Wigan have just ground out games in the early season, accrued some points and then blossomed late on and it is on that hope for my club, that I base what is still a pretty optimistic outlook. Lose to Salford and I can see us losing to Leeds and then as the catalogue of early season home games come to an end, we will be in some trouble. But let’s do Salford on Friday and then we won’t have to worry!
Thanks as always for reading the Diary after another strange old week and an even stranger game where we flattered to deceive and then collapsed in quite amazing circumstances… again, before fighting like hell to hang onto a point. Where have we heard that before? This week will be a hard one without Alby but let’s hope for a win on Friday which will set us up nicely for a tough looking Easter weekend! Thanks for all your feedback and comments this week and try to …..
Footnote; In case you were wondering, “Sr Silva’, Mantenha seu nariz fora”, means in Portugese, “Dear Mr Silva, Keep your nose out!”