Hello and welcome back to the Dentists Diary, as we steam on towards Christmas and the 2018 season. I had hoped that things would have picked up a bit by now, but as the tumbleweed continues to blow across the local RL scene, across the domestic game things are slowly cranking up as teams start to recall their players for pre-season training. All the while the World Cup grinds on as the only action at Hull FC seems to be amongst the fans who are snapping up shirts, Season Tickets and black and white Christmas presents in ever increasing numbers.
I’ve had a good break and I’ve enjoyed it. I had a few days in Tenerife and for the rest of the time I’ve been amusing myself by watching the ‘piratical’ posturing’s of the Allam’s, the City Fans and the Council over the KCOM Stadium and trying my best to get enthusiastic about that World Cup. Those Egyptian guys, branded as pirates by one senior City Councillor certainly get themselves into some scrapes and now seem a bit twitchy about the Queens visit to Hull this weekend. If I were them I think I would be as well. Its Mutiny Mr Christian!!!
However, I guess as far as the World Cup is concerned, I’ve been desperately trying (but failing) to get excited about a competition that features a raft of almost manufactured international teams and that has, (with the exception of the excellent Somoa v Tonga and New Zealand v Tonga games, which were played in a cauldron of emotion), by and large left me pretty cold and disinterested. I’m sure things will hot up a bit but none the less the crowds at the games involving those South sea islanders including PNG are fantastic and that’s where the action is at present in the tournament and no mistake. I had in fact pinned my hopes of igniting my interest on that NZ v Tonga game, but my plans to get up early on Saturday morning to watch it were scuppered when Premier Sports, who had previously promised ‘Every Game in the World Cup Live’, pulled the live coverage to replace it with an inconsequential football game. It wouldn’t happen in Union!
I watched it later on and it was a fine match and there is little doubt that Samoa, Fiji, PNG and Tonga are the emerging forces in the game at present and we can’t hold a candle to them with regard to producing great young raw talent with unlimited strength and enthusiasm. It’s just like watching 13 Mahe Fonua’s at times isn’t it and the whole commitment and intensity is just so different.
Back home here in Hull some of the players were back at County Road over the weekend for the first time for a few weeks, for assessment, testing and kitting out and work starts in earnest for the 2018 season, this Monday.
Things, news wise, should therefore hot up a bit next week when the younger players return to training, before the rest come back bit by bit and the International lads arrive at the start of January. That will bring us some news I’m sure, but with some of the senior players like Washy and Danny Houghton already easing themselves back into things at the gym it’s a time of few developments, but here are some of the things that caught my eye at our Club in what has been a somewhat ‘sleepy’ closed season so far.
One thing that is becoming clear is that with the happenings in the Southern Hemisphere and with 4 FC players involved in that Tournament, it’s going to be a fragmented build up to the start of the new campaign. Most Clubs will be suffering from this a bit and we are no exception, although we have nothing like the problems that Warrington have with 9 players involved. However, we have a tough start to the season anyway and that is exacerbated by the latest gimmick, our trip Down Under to play Wigan, which is followed by fixtures against Castleford, Warrington and Leeds in quick succession. That’s a blooming daunting start for anyone, without a trip and exhibition game Down Under thrown in for good measure and I fear a bit for our prospects to be honest, I really do. No doubt I’ll cover that in more detail as our pre-season unfolds and perhaps I’m worrying too much anyway, but there can’t have been a more fragmented build up to a season for Hull FC than the one that faces us this winter.
In addition, we have also lost a couple of really top class players and have gone for a minimum disruption policy with regard to our recruitment for next season, is a double edged sword as well. For, whilst offering a deal of stability, we are lacking in the ‘buzz’ that big name signings bring to the party and to season ticket sales. All that aside the fans have none the less queued up for their season tickets in quite amazing numbers and as for signings, well, if I was asked as to who was our best capture so far for 2018, it wouldn’t be Mickey Paea or Bureta Faraimo but rather more to do with the news that broke last week that Jake Connor has signed a new deal to keep him at the Club until 2021.
For me he is a wonderful prospect and perhaps even a future international and although I wouldn’t want to say he is the future of our Club, (because I’ve been caught like that before), he is certainly an influence that can help to dictate our future. I was worried that in these times of a real dearth of emerging, influential, British talent, someone would swoop in and snap him up, but it appears that he’s been quite intoxicated by the great team spirit and atmosphere around the squad and that saw him jump at a chance to come on board again.
I say that I’m pleased because exciting players who look good with the ball, are emerging from British junior rugby in ever decreasing numbers and we simply had to get Jake signed up. When he asked about an extension because he was enjoying playing with Kelly and Sneyd so much, it was a no brainer for me and so I’m pleased we got him and more importantly that he wanted to stay. Providing we get Talanoa sorted and Manu (perhaps a harder proposition) organised for beyond 2018, then everything on the staffing side of our great Club looks rosy at present.
However new signing Bureta Faraimo has shown up really well in a flagging and disappointing USA team and his stats in their final game were very encouraging. With the most metres carrying the ball by far in his team, you can see why Radford believes he’ll be a hit at the FC.
Isn’t the new home shirt brilliant? Ok I hear some say that ‘the hoops should go all the way around the sides’ and ‘the backs not so good’ blah blah blah, but for me it’s a great strip, a great design and really ‘old school’ in its look. In addition, the staff at the shops tell me that its selling faster than any other shirt we have produced. Last year’s offerings were both pretty modernistic but this home shirt certainly takes us back to our heritage, in fact I’ll be getting one for Christmas this year. However, don’t get too absorbed in ‘The Good Old Days’ too much, because I expect the away offering will be a bit more ‘off the wall’ but time will tell about that one I guess.
Talking of Christmas, I’m hoping to sell a few more copies of ‘2016 The Year of the Airlie Bird’ and as always please spread the word. The take up so far has been quite amazing and I’ve decided to lay out some more cash and order a few more for the Festive Season, but sadly, for technical reasons, when they are gone, that’ll have to be it! On your behalf I’ve been able to raise around £2400 for Danny Houghton’s Testimonial so far, so thanks for all you support on that one, the response from you all has been amazing and thankfully the reviews weren’t too bad either. Some people it appears however haven’t read the first one yet.
The announcement of the squad numbers ‘sneaked out’ the other evening and held few surprises really. I thought after giving Connor a new contract and indicating that his future was in the centre, he might have nicked that place from Griffin or Tumavive and the inclusion of Bowden at loose forward just I guess confirms that the Coach doesn’t know what to do with that position yet and that in any case on occasions when it suits, it could be occupied by a prop anyway. These numbers become more and more inconsequential as years go by really and I think that, rather than him having the potential to be a new ball handling 13, Josh has simply been rewarded with a place in the starting side for some great outings last year. In Hadley’s case he gets a starting number again as he did last year, but after some great showings out on loan you can only hope he gets more games for Hull FC this season than he did last!
Finally, I guess it was good to see Bureta Faraimo jumping straight into the hallowed number two shirt, which shows what confidence Radford has in him. I sort of anticipated Griffin getting that one and, as I say, Connor the centre spot. Of course as I’ve intimated, for me squad numbers are matter-less really and in the end give little indication as to who will play where next year. With Radford at the helm it’s how you play in pre-season rather than what number you are allocated that counts in the end.
Now, looking a bit farther afield, I have often said that the game is in a bit of a state and this latest International tournament with poor gates, some abysmal matches and a couple of teams that would struggle in the British Championship, shows how far the International game has slipped and indeed I think, just how bereft of new talent we are in the Northern Hemisphere. I worry about where our UK competition is going and much of that is based on the fact that we simply can’t compete with an Aussie set up that will always produce great young players. It’s their national game and it is played by kids on beaches, parks and any spare piece of grassland throughout the country. Here in Super League however, we have come to depend more and more on the ‘class’ and ‘drawing power’ of fringe NRL players like Fonua, Moa, Tumavive etc for our excitement as they come here and make their mark before eventually returning to Australia to make their money.
That’s the rub of course, because in a short career the only way you can financially really make a mark if your struggling in Aus. is to come over here and hopefully grab the headlines before you move back there to grab the cash. At a recent event to celebrate Danny Houghton’s wedding, I had a long chat with that doyen of 70/80’s prop forwards Keith Tindall about how things had changed in the British game and he spoke particularly about how we reward our players these days for their services. We discussed at length how in the 70’s and 80’s there was a parity of wage scales at both sides of the world, but how now the Aussie game had left us behind and thus our own game here is struggling to keep up. It’s pretty sad that when a bloke like Danny or indeed Horney, or Yeamo dedicate their career to one Club and stick with it throughout, although they are hailed as local heroes, in the end they finish up a lot poorer than someone who buggers off over there as a soldier of fortune and comes back here at the end of their career to eke out a final couple of seasons in Super League.
We have as a game been wringing our hands about this for years but now, I’m afraid, we’ll never catch up, because there is just not the money in the game over here. Just recently it was announced that the average wage for a top NRL player will rise to nearly £200,000 a year as part of a new pay deal worth £566million. Something that will, I fear, further impact in the British game and have huge ramifications for Super League. The NRL have now finally reached agreement with their player’s union, bringing to an end more than 16 months of negotiations, which will see the salary cap increased to £5.4m next year and to more than £5.8m in 2022. That compares to a salary cap in our game of £1.9m in 2018 and effectively rules out any more major recruits in their prime coming over here from the NRL.
As if to rub it in that five-year collective bargaining agreement was unveiled at a press conference at Moore Park, next to the Sydney Football Stadium where England had just completed their captain’s run ahead of their second World Cup match against Lebanon. There it was announced that the deal will deliver extra funding for the players’ retirement fund, (for players forced into early retirement due to injury) and a world class well-being and education programme. For the first time, the Australian players will also receive a 29.5% share of forecast game revenue. In other words, the rewards over there will be performance related and the better the game performs, the more the players will receive. In addition to all that a new injury hardship fund will be set up to support players facing early retirement due to serious injury and additional time off during the week will be statutory, to allow for personal development.
There is little doubt that the British game just can’t compete with that and although the decline in gates for live league games Down Under mirrors the decline we see in this country, the amount available from TV is the massive difference and with colossal fees being demanded by the NRL, which are apparently readily forthcoming from the Television Companies of Australia, RL is the ‘football’ of the Southern Hemisphere and just not comparable at all with the British game. What’s more, it appears now that it never will be.
Therefore, the NRL domestic competition is everything in the Southern Hemisphere and although it has always been a great honour for a player to represent his country, as John Kear said last week as far as the administrators, the Aussie fans and the TV companies are concerned, International Rugby League is fast becoming a third tier attraction over there and running well behind State of Origin and the NRL. Looking at the World Cup attendance figures you can see why as well.
Where will it all end? Well, its hard to say isn’t it, because Aussie Clubs will look at our best players and see a cheap fix to their problems, particularly when what they will have to pay our top players is a fortune for those players, compared with what they get here, but much less than an average NRL club would have to pay one of the other Aussie Club’s for one of their stars.
The player’s union in the NRL has driven this and many people involved in the British game including our own Craig Murdoch feel such an organisation in this Country is well overdue and until we get a proper one sorted then the players’ voices will go unheard.
However, there is, when you look at the figures being banded about Down Under, little doubt that our own game just can’t sustain such wages and it’s easy to see why many of the owners fear the forming of such a ‘Union’. The ball could well end up in the player’s court and it could come down to them to drive a big change in the game and perhaps they have to come together to try and do that. The big question is however, I guess, with the current state of the game, can the gates, Clubs sponsorships and corporate involvement that is currently available sustain anything more than what is the present norm salary wise? The money just isn’t there and however good the competition is or isn’t in 2018 the fact that we are tied into a TV deal until way past 2020, means that the opportunity to bring more money into the game is decidedly limited. I honestly think it’s all a real mess, don’t you?
Back on the local scene and it appears that Rovers actually wanted to get out of playing us at the Magic Weekend this time around! Well good for them I say! We would have objected as a Club too, but apparently we are told, we had already requested some fixture changes due to the ridiculous summer pitch renovation situation at the KCOM and would have under the new rules, been fined as a penalty for requesting any further changes to the schedule. What’s all that about?
However, in agreeing with Hudge, it seems that many fans of the same persuasion as me believe that the whole event is a bit outmoded now and has perhaps run its course. If you take your club and your sport seriously then league points are everything and I guess some fan’s feel that this isn’t a level playing field at all anymore.
But then again, what other professional sport would invent a tournament that has precious league points on offer, but that is totally contrived with a series of games that have not been drawn out of the hat or not at least been seeded on say last season’s finishing positions. Fixtures in fact that are not even set by an agreed formula, but instead have actually been concocted by a few guys sat in a room in an attempt to hype up the event.
Then to make sure people stay till the end, (so we look good on the TV), they arrange the order of games so that the best supported team’s fans are penalised for their loyalty by having again to stay to the last game of the last day and thus have the latest journey home. Some fans I spoke to this week told me that it was 2-00am when they got home last time we played Rovers in the last game!
Not happy with that they say it’s all about local Derby’s, yet the pressure that such fixtures bring is piled on some of the teams and their fans whilst some Clubs manage to weadle their way out of playing Derby matches at all. Wigan v Saints are a point of fact as are (before the demise of the Bulls) Leeds, who did it too, while others like us and Rovers have another derby forced on us and thus have to suffer overkill on what was once our most anticipated fixture of the season. Finally, then the hierarchy of the RL have the audacity to intimate that the ‘success’ of this jamboree is a reason to move the Challenge Cup away from Wembley. As you will have already guessed I ain’t going this year!!
Taking all that into account I guess you can understand people’s growing reticence and disenchantment towards the fixture. In the old days the City used to literally hold its breathe on Good Friday and Boxing Day as the two great rivals locked horns, if you weren’t there everyone listened to it on the radio and before those days, everyone asked ‘have you heard the score at all’ everywhere you went. If you want to know just how important Derby games were to the City there is a good insight in the book “Will the last one Out” in the preamble before the happenings at Wembley in 1980. In Vince Groak’s offering he outlines just how significant Derby’s were and how they were the heartbeat of the game in Hull back then. A lot of that has disappeared now as immediately the Dobbins are back in Super League we are inundated with Derby games again.
I have long believed that if we could get back to how we were pre 1997 and we just had two Derby’s a year, they would become great events in the game and the city again and we would see both Hull Clubs attracting full house for both fixtures, plus I think the buzz could well come back. However, back on subject it seems people are starting to become disenchanted with the Magic Weekend which I guess is hardly surprising really. I actually feel that Neil Hudgell ‘gets it’, as far as the overkill and inequality of the Magic weekend is concerned and I have to say as a fan I tend to agree with him.
Talking of Rovers, I must be getting soft in my old age because I have to say that I do agree with their Chairman again, when he cited the fact that although their traditional home games are played on a Sunday the RL in their wisdom and in league with Sky TV, have just about expunged Sunday games from their fixture list for next season. This season there will be more games than ever on a Friday or Thursday whilst pandering to Sky TV (because of the fact that the constant procrastination of referees and the TV’s own video officials has caused games to run well past 10.00pm), they have also insisted that games that are often played at the other side of the country, kick off 15 minutes earlier at 7.45pm and are thus more inaccessible than ever for the travelling supporter. If it’s your belief that it is to give the nationals more time to report on games just look at the recently revised Sky Sport schedules. Will we all one day just end up watching all our rugby at home in front of the TV? Who knows!
On Saturday I went along as usual to the Jack Harrison Memorial at the KCOM to witness the Remembrance Day homage to Jack and all those connected to the Club who had given their lives for their country. Conducted by the Reverend Tony Cotson (who is thankfully back from illness and looking great again) and featuring an excellent junior brass band, Kathy and Cameron Kirk gave readings and Ian Judson read a self-penned poem. After the last post a minute’s silence was impeccably observed and it was as always a truly dignified and thought provoking event. Hull FC fans eh? Brilliant stuff!
The news that broke while the Diary was on holiday that a New York franchise will likely be fielding a team from 2019 was interesting and a bit scary too. It’s a big step to take in what looks like an orchestrated effort to expand our game into a transcontinental sport playing across Oceans, which if it works will be one of the first of its kind in the World. Although an NRL franchise in this country could still see American Football supersede our game for that title, but if it happens and if our plan works will there be enough players to go around?
I know that Southern Hemisphere players will be in demand, but there is little doubt that as has been the case with Toronto some will want to relocate from our game to try their hand over at the other side of the Atlantic. But, with possibly three North American teams where will the players come from particularly as the RL seem to be making no moves whatsoever to insist that Clubs run reserve teams or indeed give them the wherewithal to do it. We at Hull FC certainly seem to be putting all our hopes on a duel registration with Donny who, with Horney as coach of the South Yorkshire team and still on our staff, have become almost our feeder team which is a sad indictment of the game below the level of Super League.
But, without some sort of reserves set up where is the player progression coming from? On the Reserves situation Radford insisted that due to the fact the trialled competition has just seen friendlies thus far, it has undervalued the effort that is needed to get an under-23s set up going. In fact, as it’s an obviously concerned, Radford would like to see the reserves made compulsory for all top-tier sides, but until that point, Hull FC will seek other avenues to develop their young players.
Our Coach said last week, “We are not in a situation where we can afford not to have it. It’s a great tool for progressing players. For whatever reason some other clubs are not willing to buy into the idea however. I don’t think that will change anytime soon. From what I’m hearing in the meetings Super League clubs are having, it’s not high on the agenda.” However, for me, if we don’t do something about a reserves League and it being compulsory for Super League Clubs to field a team then for me all this gimmicky expansion talk is a case of ‘bricks without straw’ because with the money that they look to have available the Clubs across the Atlantic it will certainly happen, but at what cost? Well for me with the shortage of players and the fact that these teams will want to be up there in Super League ASAP, it could easily be at the expense of some of the less fashionable heartland Clubs that have battled on to keep the game gong in the past. It will certainly be interesting to see how it all pans out really won’t it!
As teams start to return to training for 2018 its interesting to look. I think. At the make-up of their squads; whose come in and whose been promoted from the junior ranks. Justin Holbrook over in Lancashire has over the last season had his critics, but you can’t knock his enthusiasm for promoting young talent. I was pretty impressed when St Helens announced their 2018 squad on Thursday, with Bradford youngster James Bentley their only new face.
Saints’ average squad age for 2018 is just 24, with only seven players aged 30 or over. That’s a very young side to be bringing into a Super League season and is a massive risk. However, such risks can go one of two ways and can undoubtedly pay off and if Saints’ history with blooding young players is anything to go by, this could be the start of a new successful generation at the unbelievably named Totally Wicked stadium. Keep an eye out for new signing Bentley, 19-year-old prop Matty Lees and 20-year-old Wales international Ben Morris. While elsewhere, Rovers, as new comers to the competition, are struggling to find the quality they seek and it looks like the teams that started early like Warrington will be the only ones that make significant and major signings for next year. That, as I discussed earlier, is a situation that won’t be getting any better either!
This week in Codgers Corner I would like to indulge myself in a more recent trip back in time to the last season that we played at the Boulevard and a game against Castleford that was played on 21st April 2002. Back then, as the KC Stadium started to rise majestically over the roof tops behind Bunkers Hill, we were enjoying a very successful season under Shaun McCrae. The visit of Castleford was as always keenly anticipated at the old Stadium as they have always had a reputation for playing attractive rugby and that season they were going well and lying 6th in the League table.
That day we fielded a strong team which featured scrum half Tony Smith returning after a long lay-off through injury to take a place on the bench. Cas. had a mini injury crisis themselves that day and were without the influential pairing of Dale Fitz and Lee Harland and even played their Assistant Coach, (a 35 year old Gary Mercer), on the bench, which made him the oldest Super League player to take the field that year.
The game kicked off with nearly 9000 in the ground and I watched this time from Bunkers Hill at the Airlie Street end. The first few exchanges were rugged affairs and Nathan Sykes, Dean Sampson and the returning (“On the P***, On The P***”) Michael Smith all had tilts at our front row! In fact referee Silverwood struggled to keep things under control and awarded four penalties in the first eight minutes. Between these skirmishes Carvell squeezed out a pass to Rich Horne who put Graham Mackey over in the corner, whilst at the other end Danny Orr sent Smith over after Paul Cooke had fumbled a pass from Raynor. The talented Cas partnership of Orr and Healey were proving really lively at half back and looked in danger of taking control of the game, until Raynor chased back to crash tackle a break-away Orr, who never got up from the collision and was carried from the field on a stretcher.
Straight from the restart Cas dropped the ball and we got possession back. Adam Maher and Mackay combined well to sweep play down field and as the visitors sliding defence closed in, our centre sent out a pin point pass for Matty Crowther to go in near the corner flag. After we had received another restart kick we moved play down field through the forwards before we almost repeated the action, only for Mackay, who had run fully 40 yards down the centre channel, to lose the ball as he ran into the clear. However, on the 30 minute mark the flood gates opened. Firstly Cooke picked up a Healey kick near our line and sent out a long looping pass to the unmarked Kohe Love who set off on one of his trademark mazy runs that eventually saw him waltz round full back Rodgers and go in under the posts. It was a superb score that had everyone dancing up and down on the terraces. Then just four minutes later Jason Smith, who had seemed to be limping for some time, shook off his injury to crash through a Healy tackle. Swift inter-passing with Lee Jackson, saw Smith get the ball back and crash over Michael Eagar to touch down under the posts.
Two minutes from the break another fine move saw Horne feed Ryan who jinxed back and forth before brilliantly putting Steve Prescott into the open. Our mercurial full back side stepped one and then two defenders before placing the ball behind the line without a hand being placed on him. A fifth conversion from Crowther saw us 30-6 in the lead and cruising. The visitors had tried really hard and the score line was a bit flattering, but in attack we were potent at times that year with our ball retention and completion rate staggering at times.
Half time came and went and the second half saw us playing into the strong wind that both Cooke and Horne had used so well in the first half. However, that didn’t seem to bother our attack and on 47 minutes Horne and Jason Smith combined to put Mackay in again wide out on the right, but Crowther missed the conversion for the only time that afternoon. Then another 60 yard run by Mackay, who was proving to be a great recent signing, sent Crowther himself in for his second try and as the teams returned to the half way line, Tony Smith at last took to the field. As so often happens when you are well in the lead Castleford came back a bit, as Michael Smith, who I have to admit had a very good game, (For a fat lad) burrowed in for a score, and then put out a really good dissecting pass to Wayne Godwin for ‘Wagga’ to also score this time besides the post. Then Sampson rolled over for another, before we got a bit of composure back and finished the afternoon off with another sweeping downfield move started by Craig Greenhill stealing the ball. Scott Logan barreled the play back over the half way line and then found Deon Bird who sent out a long pass to Kohi Love. To resounding cheers from all around the ground, Toa sidestepped a tiring Tigers defence to score the last try of the game and seal a wonderful victory.
As the hooter went and Jason Smith hoisted a might bomb, Jackson caught it and kicked on and Smith nearly made a fairy tale return, when he touched down only for the touch judge to declare that he had not grounded the ball properly!! Still it was a great afternoon’s work which saw us win 48-18 to consolidate our League position of third in the table. It was one of several great games in a good season, the last at our legendary home and one that established the new look Hull FC as a real force in the game again.
While we are on the subject of the old days, how sad it was to hear of the death this week of Geoff Fletcher. Geoff was one of the great characters of Rugby League and is perhaps best remembered for his amazing efforts to keep alive the Huyton club and its later reincarnations as Runcorn Highfield, Highfield and Prescot Panthers. The well liked pig farmer from St Helens had an amazingly long professional playing career and as a superb, ball playing prop forward had few equals in the 1960s and 1970s when he came to the Boulevard every year and usually shone. Geoff played for Leigh in three separate spells and in his career he played an incredible 559 games and also represented Lancashire County. His other clubs included Oldham, Wigan and Workington Town.
What a guy he was and remembered by many who played with him at Huyton for the habit, in his later years, of wearing a toupee when he wasn’t playing. He used to hang it on a peg in the dressing room on game days when he got changed and as you can imagine it used to disappear on regular occasions. On one such evening it was found on the centre spot of the muddy Alt Pak pitch! He just picked it off planted it on his head, mud and all, and stormed off!! Geoff was attributed with keeping that Club going for years and he was the sort of guy that Rugby League is built on and his death brought great sadness to me. RIP Geoff Fletcher.
So there we are, the first Diary back and not that much to talk about but I hope you found something at least to interest you! I’ll be trying to keep it going in future weeks but for now thanks so much for all the correspondence I have received over the last three weeks, I think I have just about managed to get back to everyone now!!
Thanks for reading another edition, the Diary will be back next week.