Despite 7 interesting days of Royal visits, the introduction of a car that repairs itself, the premiere of some Brussel sprouts ‘that everyone will love’ (I never will!!), the turmoil of celebrity-less Christmas light switch on’s (why couldn’t the Queen to do it?) and the fracas surrounding baby Jesus sausage rolls (a storm in a tea cake for me), once again at Hull FC it’s been another quiet old week. At least the World Cup is hotting up a bit and although it looks to be heading for the predicted England v Australia Final, who’d have thought Fiji would do New Zealand eh? However, that apart, it’s still failing to really capture the national media’s imagination although I wouldn’t want to be in Huddersfield’s boots, trying to keep hold of McGillvary with at least three NRL clubs reported to be after him for 2018. All the while, back home here in Hull, down at the County Road training ground, the early arrivals are going through their paces while some of our senior players haven’t even had a holiday yet!
The news that Jordan Abdull was returning to the fold after a year on loan at Rovers came, when it happened back in September, as quite a surprise to me. I thought he would have stayed at Rovers as both he and the FC had moved on quite successfully during his 12-month sabbatical. He had developed into a bit of a favourite over on the dark side and they wanted to keep him, while we had moved on with Albert Kelly, Marc Sneyd and Jake Connor (with an occasional appearance from Carlos) having the half back slots pretty much sown up and well covered.
Lee Radford told me ages ago that he felt there was ‘Definitely something there’ with Jordan and a lot of the bar room sages had the 21-year-old pencilled in for loose forward, but overall on the terraces by the end of the 2017 campaign the general consensus was that he was probably unlikely to return. Even Jordan thought his move signalled the end when he revealed this week, “I first thought ‘I’m on my way out’. But I think that would be the first thing that went through anyone’s mind when you’re going across to the other side of probably the biggest rivalry in Super League,”
However, a heart to heart with Lee sorted that out before he left, and he added, “But I spoke to Radders a couple of days before going to Hull KR and he did say it was just for a year and they were going to give me the game-time he couldn’t offer me at that moment. I totally respected that because it was honest from him and it made me realise I could go there with an attitude that I was going to play week in week out. I wanted to show Radders I could play regularly and it worked because I went in with a good mind-set.”
So despite everything we all thought at the time, and a pretty horrendous injury mid-season, it was a calculated move and Jordan knew all along that that he would return, because if nothing else Lee always tells players how it is and is a man of his word. However, just how Jordan is to get the regular first team rugby he craves is a hard one to contemplate because there is so much strength in the current FC squad and Abdull is suffering as was Richard Whiting (and as does Jake Connor at times), with not being a player with an absolutely defined position. Jordan can play 6 or 7, a bit of 9 and as I say perhaps 13, but he is best at half back, although his chances of shifting Sneyd and Kelly are still even for the most optimistic Jordan Abdull fan, pretty remote.
Injuries come into it of course but it’s a real make or break season for Jordan in which he sets off into the unknown with a bit of a mountain to climb. It’s going to be tough for him and I’m pretty sure he’ll struggle to secure a ‘first choice’ place, but who knows and Radford certainly has faith in him and is giving him the chance. However, how he takes that is just another intriguing prospect in the forthcoming and pretty challenging season.
Someone who has without doubt covered himself with glory in the World Cup is Mark Minichiello as he proved to be an inspiring captain to the Italian team. However, although a man of few words, earlier this week he certainly voiced his concerns at the short turnaround between the 2017 Rugby League World Cup and the new campaign. That led to Lee Radford admitting, as I alluded to last week, that this is going to be a fragmented old pre-season and that he will not give his key men too much game time, if any, during the friendlies. That, he said, will be the method he will utilise in an effort to keep them fresh for another long a gruelling season.
I said last week that we will never have seen such a disjointed start to a pre-season and the Club is already admitting their official pre-season schedule will be much shorter than the five matches they played ahead of the 2017 campaign. That for me was far too long and just seemed to go on and on. This year, I believe that we will be playing the Dobbins as usual in early January and no doubt our deal with Donny on duel registration will mean a game there for the fringe players, whilst rumours continue to abound about a trip to Catalan and a short warm weather camp in the South of France. Because of all the issues I rehearsed last week, it is paramount that we don’t overdo it with the senior players, particularly with 4 in the World Cup. That becomes more critical when you consider that they, and the rest of the squad, will be back in Australia in February for Hull FC’s two-match ‘tour’ of New South Wales.
With all those distractions plus the journey Down Under, it’s obvious that Lee is concerned and it’s ‘into the unknown’ a bit, with the circumstances surrounding our build up to the 2018 season somewhat out of his hands. I think myself that he is very wary of the condition his players will find themselves in at the start of the season. He said on Tuesday last week, “It’s a unique preparation for the season with the World Cup and then the Australia trip. It’s not set in stone like it was last year where everyone comes together pretty much on day one. There is going to be a little stop-start feel to this one, but it’s something we will adapt to. We won’t be playing five games this time around that’s for sure. There is no Boxing Day as the core of our squad won’t be ready physically for that time at all”. It’s going to be tough isn’t it?
While the FC’s youngsters, Connor, Hadley and the fringe members of the squad started their pre-season last Monday, in a real insight into the stuff of what the average RL player is made of, it was interesting indeed to hear about the injury issues that Liam Watts suffered last season as he battled through the campaign. Wattsy is, like many of those other senior players, being held back after a long 2017 season which saw us compete in a game every week, with the exception of the Super League Grand Final. That will have caused a lot of niggles and little injuries for many players, but Watts also battled on with a nagging shoulder problem sustained in the third game of the season and then tore his calf in our 48-16 win at Castleford at the end of the Super Eights.
Liam was desperate to play at Leeds in the play-off semi-final and did so patched up but that in effect set him back even further, as he aggravated the injury even more at Headingley. Of that situation he said ““Whilst I didn’t miss any games due to injury last year I tore my hamstring in the final match of the regular season at Castleford so I had to work through it in the semi-final. It’s about managing those niggles and being able to be at your best week in week out. I wanted to contribute in the semi despite the small tear. I was in all sorts of pain afterwards and it’s only just coming back right now”.
The hamstring injury is doing well but his break from playing has been interrupted by a course of injections in his shoulder which it is hoped will see him avoid an operation. The 27-year-old admits the off-season is helping his body recuperate as he plans to avoid surgery before coming back in for training along with Bowden, Green and Houghton and several other senior players on Tuesday, 28th November. I like Wattsy, he’s a bit hot headed at times, but there is no doubting his commitment and passion and with a bit of steadying down on the temperament front he could still make the England side one day. That little insight into his year just shows what a tough life it can be for the average RL player.
I had to laugh at that Rovers article this week where they were celebrating selling their 4000th season ticket because quite frankly if you’re going to have a ‘peeing competition’ as to how many memberships you have sold in Hull for the 2018 season, then I’d be saying to them, “Try doubling that and then start shouting!” We’ve had a terrific take up so far!
Now, it’s a known fact that the marketers tell us that diversification is the watchword in developing awareness and widening the appeal of any product and it was great this week to see one of Hull FC’s most inspiring promotions (when the FC teamed up with Beverley Racecourse for a week-long of activities, which culminated in the Super League clash between Hull and Wigan Warriors at the KCOM Stadium) nominated for an award. The week included an afternoon at the races with something built into it for all fans, whether they liked racing or not. The Racecourse hosted a junior rugby camp and it culminated with a fun day before the game against the Warriors.
The week has been shortlisted for an award in the ‘Love of the Sport’ category at this year’s Showcase & Awards, which distributes the top accolades in the racing world. As the sort of thing that passes many of us by, I’m pleased the resourcefulness of the clubs marketing team (that is without doubt underfunded) has come to the fore as they are often the unsung heroes of Hull FC, yet they invariably ensure that we have news and comment everyday coming out of the organisation, even when there’s not much to report. They are certainly worthy of that nomination, although the lack of news thereafter probably meant that they weren’t successful, but well done anyway! I’m pleased they at least got a nomination.
Well if you’re a Hull City fan you must be slowly sinking under a flood of frustration and disappointment for as just as soon as the Queen has left town Assam Allam is back in the media blaming everyone else, as he tries to describe why the Club hasn’t been sold. In one fell swoop he abdicated responsibility and sited militant fans and the City Council owning the Stadium as the main protagonists. He said that the reason they hadn’t sold Hull City ages ago was nothing to do with their intransience, or inability to get one of several offers over the line, but rather down to “The stadium not being owned by the club and some fans give the impression they are very militant’ All making, he said, the club unattractive, at the minute, for buyers. It beggars belief really when you consider the fact that it was reported that consortia who have been interested, cite the goal post constantly being moved on the cost and the difficult negotiations they encountered. As for the Council owning the Stadium well what about West Ham , Inter Milan, AC Milan, Paris Saint Germain, the New York Yankies or Man City, will no one be interested in buying any of those Clubs? None of them own their own grounds do they! No, once again it’s all a contradiction in terms and as such if you’re a City fan the road to getting shut of the Allam’s, is without doubt destined to be a long one!
AS the World Cup continues towards the semi-finals, I sat for a while this week to contemplate the whole ethos behind what we had seen so far and you know like many, I think it’s a disgrace that Ireland failed to feature in the play-off games. They won two of their three group games, yet Samoa who didn’t even get a win under their belts still qualified. The flaw in the system is the International Rugby League Federations decision to prioritise typically ‘stronger’ nations, thus giving underdogs like Ireland less of a chance. It’s all a bit like Magic Weekend I guess, where they have decided what they think will make a more attractive competition to spectators, rather than giving all clubs a level playing field to start from.
Essentially, the whole thing needs a rethink – not a big one, but one that makes it fairer. Four groups of four, keeping the big boys apart, with two teams from each group qualifying would easily improve the format and enhance the overall appeal of it, while also giving more nations the chance to compete. The current system simply robs nations of the chance to punch above their weight and potentially cause an upset, which, recent occurrences have proved, are often the most memorable parts of any World Cup.
Whilst I’m on that competition it’s a sad indictment on where we are as a game when you read about the disparity in wages that the different teams are getting. Players that rub shoulders and even play in the same NRL teams are aggrieved by this and who can blame them when Tongan players have been getting $500 per game while the Australian stars receive $20,000 each time they feature for the Kangaroos. That’s a massive gulf but at least as with most things in this competition the Southern Hemisphere are rewarding their players somehow, whilst sadly with the debacle that has been the manufactured Northern Hemisphere teams, that gap in wages doesn’t come close to what ex-Hull KR star Tyrone McCarthy and his team-mates have had to endure with Ireland. We all saw his tweet this week in response to another twitter entry about the difference between Aussie and Tongan pay, where he revealed that the Irish didn’t earn any money at all per match during their World Cup adventure, which as I say, ended in the group stages. In fact, some players even had to take leave of absence from their Clubs and so were in fact massively out of pocket. That’s not fair is it?
So to other things and I noticed this week that former Super League coach Phil Veivers was the latest person to pitch their two-penneth into the debate about the effect the middle eights are having on player’s demeanours when he gave an interview on the subject this week where he urged the RFL to change the structure of Super League in a bid to prevent certain player’s mental health from continuing to decline.
The much discussed Million Pound Game, has come under fire for its uncertainty over player contracts, should a side get relegated, and Veivers, says that for him the sport’s governing body needs to look at altering the current system to improve the welfare of players.
He said, “The reality of it is that it’s just like playing in a Grand Final, but the end result is that one team is going to end up with no employment and that’s what I find very difficult to understand. I’m aware that supporters want promotion and relegation but I’m pretty sure that there’s a better way of delivering that without the Million Pound Game. The stress and pressure that it puts on the individuals playing in that game is far and beyond what the results are. It’s not just about the players too. They’ve got their partners, families and kids, so that game can impact on up to ten individuals in the one family. It’s got me flabbergasted as to why the RFL want to put so much strain on the player in this one match”
I have reported in here over the months that several high-profile players, including Leigh Centurion’s Kevin Larroyer, who was part of the Dobbins relegated side in 2016 against the Salford Red Devils, have criticised the RFL for failing to provide any support over player’s futures when a team drops down a division.
On that subject Veivers continued, “Obviously, the RFL aren’t supporting these players because their contracts become null and void, so they’re not looking after them that way. They should have something in place whereby, if a team gets relegated through the Million Pound Game, 65% of their contract should be available for the next season, with funding or parachute payments to cover that.”
Many supporters, owners, coaches and players have, (in favour of the old licensing system), over the last two years called for promotion and relegation to be scrapped from the 2019 season onwards and it’s likely that the owners and the RL will be announcing the long-term structure of the game in the coming weeks. Veivers however appears to be adamant that adopting the old format is crucial if Super League is to become more respected and competitive in the years ahead.
Phil who is an ambassador for State of Mind Rugby League, an organisation which helps to support players struggling with the pressures of the game concluded, “I have always stated that I was right behind licensing. I thought it was a good venture; it gave clubs the ability to have a shot at the big league and gave them three years to consolidate their position. It gives teams an opportunity to buy more players. Quite often when teams are floating near the relegation places midway through the season, they are a bit more reluctant to throw out big money contracts on the top players, as they don’t know if they’ll be in that division next year. If they do go out and buy top players from here and abroad during the first year of their license, it will give them a better chance to be more competitive in the long run. What has happened over the last couple of years is a real indictment on the RFL in a way because of things that have occurred and I know several players who have bought houses and had to sell them. Guys who are out of contract have had a massive strain put on their mental health, and that has put a lot of them in a very dark place”.
The State of Mind campaign is a great initiative and was founded in 2011, following the tragic death of former Great Britain star Terry Newton, who sadly took his own life, aged 31. Veivers now believes that the RFL must act on calls for change to avoid similar instances of players feeling that they aren’t given enough support and security from those in charge of the sport. Interesting stuff I thought?
Now, there is little doubt that at present times are hard in our game. There’s the squeeze on incomes and rising prices making it tough for ordinary fans to buy season tickets etc, players losing their homes after being dumped out of their jobs after the million-pound game and players from the Irish and Scottish teams having to take leave of absence from their club and yet not getting paid at all by their international bodies for their appearances at the World Cup etc. etc. etc.
There is no doubt that life is tough in rugby league and there is not a lot of money around at all, however I am indebted to long time and loyal reader Alec Smith for the following insight into how the ‘other half live’ which is taken from an Australian publication last weekend. I’ve steered away from having a go at Nigel Woods so far in here, although I did, a while back, have a go at the boss of our game been photographed with his England RU scarf on, but quite frankly this just takes the biscuit or in Nigel’s case probably the full packet! Here is the article and make of it what you will!
ARE THESE BLOKES RUNNING THE GAME?
“NIGEL Wood is the boss of the English rugby league on a salary of $536,000 a year. Not a bad earner for running what is a minor sport in the UK and travelling the world in his other job as chairman of the International Rugby League Federation. Wood has flown to Australia — business class of course — for the World Cup. That’s all fair enough. However, we were surprised to learn he flew himself to The Philippines last week for a holiday. One would think he’d be on the ground in Australia doing World Cup business especially considering the shocking performances of Wales and Scotland, two of the countries he is in charge of over there.
It gets worse.
Wood is about to step down as chairman of the International Rugby League Federation to become chief executive of the same body on a pay packet similar to his UK Super League salary. This paves the way for our other travel-loving official, Australia’s retiring independent commission boss John Grant, to become the new chairman of the International federation. It’s a farewell ‘gift’ from the independent commission when Grant steps down in February. With Grant in charge, rugby league has gone backwards in Australia over the past five years in attendances, TV ratings, participation numbers and all areas of finance.
Crowds and player registrations have gone backwards under Wood’s watch in the UK, too. The game is going so bad in the UK, there was a vote of no-confidence in Wood on change.com. where more than 5000 fans have voted. Now these two are about to run the international game and carve up a profit of close to $10 million from the World Cup. It’s just plain scary”
It’s a bit over the top I guess but the sort of journalism we expect from Down Under and although everyone is entitled to a holiday, come on! Have a break by all means but don’t take it in the middle of the most important tournament in the game especially while some players are actually losing money to participate; have some blooming sense Nigel. No doubt we can expect a new Club ‘The Manilla Thrillers’ joining the First Division in 2019!! It’s a bit like the Head of Selfridges going away in Christmas week for me, but it’s the bigger picture of his antics over the last few months that worries me the most, plus the fact that he doesn’t seem to have any sort of shame or indeed accountability.
With that new job he’ll be on around £500,000 (when he combines the two) and for me it all smacks of the old fashioned ‘Fat Cats’ syndrome where he does as he likes whilst the game goes to pot. I guess there is little we the ‘little’ cash cows at the end of the food chain can do besides sign petitions and wonder, but I worry about all this I really do and as Alec said at the end of his E Mail containing the article, “you couldn’t make it up really could you?”
So its back to Local Derby’s this year and I can hardly wait, can you? I was looking through my diaries at several games I remember well against the old enemy and some I’d forgotten too and picked one that you might not remember. So this week in Codgers Corner I want to take you back to one at the end of the 1991/92 season that’s not so well remembered and one that saw our Club in a bit of turmoil having just surprisingly sacked Noel Cleal the Coach. He had only a year previously, taken over from the great Brian Smith. It was a big surprise too because we had got all the way to the Cup Semi Final before being knocked out by Castleford.
The Hull FC Board of Directors had asked long serving member of the backroom staff Steve Crooks to become temporary caretaker Coach. We had lost 5 of our last 7 games a run that had led to Cleal’s demise and left us teetering on the brink of relegation. After the trials and tribulations of a bad couple of weeks, Hull were looking for the win they needed to ensure they stayed in the First Division but we faced a daunting task at Craven Park against the Dobbins who had themselves lost their last three games. It was certainly a drab afternoon and Spring had, that year, certainly not ‘sprung’ much at all and as the pitch was heavy and devoid of grass in places the whole game took on a bleak appearance. The team selection was an interesting one that day with young Andrew Mighty playing on the left wing and Peter Spring returning from injury to play at blind side prop.
Referee Connelly blew the whistle and we kicked off into a light breeze. Immediately our forwards took control and keeping the ball tight set about winning the battle down the middle of the pitch. Although he had been at Hull around 7 years Crooks was an East Hull lad and still lived at that side of the City, so sitting there on the trainer’s bench trying to mastermind a win against Rovers must have seemed strange to him. Hull soon showed a greater appetite for work than Rovers, and great tackling by Spring, Dannett and McNamara held them for long periods in their own half. Then on 15 minutes Gay ran from deep and sliced through the Rovers defence to be tackled 30 yards out by a last ditch effort from the home teams full back Mike Fletcher. In ran Greg Mackey and direct from acting half he hoisted a kick that seemed to stay in the air for ages. When eventually it came down it was David Ronson who rose to catch it and crashed over the line for Eastwood to add the extras.
Ronson had fallen out of favour with the previous coach, but Crooks recalled him and after another 14 minutes of nondescript rugby had passed, it looked like a really good decision. Rovers were at last pressing our line and on the sixth tackle Paul Speckman chipped over the top but straight into Ronson’s arms. Our centre set off down the outside channel and ran 80 yards to touch down for Eastwood to goal again. That was it for Ronson because with the exception of those two tries we saw little of him in the rest of the game. He took both his tries with great aplomb but then faded badly, still we had a 12-0 lead and up front the Hull pack loved the heavy going, although we could not have asked for a bigger favour with Rovers opting to go down the middle instead of utilising their faster and more mobile back division. Ronson’s two tries did however certainly silence the Dobbins fans packed in the East Stand.
If Rovers needed some inspiration then they got it five minutes from half time when Barkworth, after fine work by Des Harrison and Hallas scored wide out and with Mick Fletcher converting at half time the score was Hull 12-Hull KR 6. As the second half started it was obvious that their Coach George Fairburn had changed the tactics as Hull were pressed further and further back by some booming downfield kicks by Wayne Parker. It was now a real war of attrition as Rovers continued to persist down the middle of the field and Hulls forwards led brilliantly by Jon Sharp had to work really hard to contain the opposition’s big men. Out on the wing debutant Andrew Mighty saw little of the ball whilst standoff half Stevens was on and off with an injured ankle and in the end, he was substituted by Rob Nolan.
As the half wore on it all got tougher and tougher. Rover’s Harrison’s pile driving runs were causing trouble in the Hull ranks and after Lee Jackson had stiff arm tackled him in desperation, Fletcher reduced the arrears to just 4 points with a penalty. Back stormed Hull KR. As Substitute Dean Busby saved a certain try when he pulled off an amazing stretching ankle tap on the advancing Parker and then the home side thought they had scored when Sodje ran in at the corner off a flowing movement featuring Harrison and Hallas. Referee Connelly had thankfully spotted a forward pass and as the Rovers fans goaded us and celebrated ‘a try’ we sang ‘The Red Red Robin song’ with the “‘Shoot the Basta*d” finale as we realised it had been chalked off.
For the rest of the half we tackled like demons although in fairness the Robins had few ideas and in the end it was only a half tackle by Bright Sodje that stopped Paul Eastwood scooting in at the Corner. As the light faded and the poor Craven Park Floodlights came on the referee blew his whistle and we had won. We had lost a lot of possession in our own half and certainly gifted Rovers the ball on several occasions although our tenacity and brawn in the tackle got us through. Steve Crooks our new Caretaker Coach must have been one of the only folks smiling in East Hull that night having masterminded a victory that kept us in the First Division for another season.
Rovers had scrapped their match day programme that year and instead produced a newspaper for each game. As I left the ground to go and see if I still had any wing mirrors left on the car, I noticed a copy of the paper blowing around by the gates. The headline, commenting no doubt on George Fairburn’s first year as Hull KR’s Coach said, “He’s Loving Every Minute of it!!” not that day he wasn’t!
Well you all know how much I enjoy a good tale of Rugby League and particularly one that encapsulates just how much the old game has changed over the years. So, there I was in the Dog and Duck in Beverley enjoying a pint next to a roaring fire and I got talking to a guy whose name was I think Arnold Hinchcliffe who was, he informed me, 89 years old. After an opening gambit of “You’re the bloke who writes the books ain’t you, I read the first one twice but didn’t think much to it!!” However, he certainly had a brilliant memory for all things Hull KR, a team that he had been supporting since he was five years old. He had some great memories of Derby games as once again, as so often seems to happen, I wished I’d spoken to him before I wrote the Roamin’ the Range books. However, a great yarn was forthcoming when we got to talking about teams that were no more, like Broughton Rangers who he remembered being rebranded to Belle Vue Rangers when they moved from Salford to the site of the famous Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester in the 40’s.
I told him how I once went there on a trip with Chilton Street School and he then told me a great yarn about that Club and its connection to the zoo. He related that in 1948 the Club sold their star player and international winger Stan McCormick for a then world record fee of £4000 to St Helens. This rather amazing 89-year-old then went on to tell me that he had met Stan at Craven Park after a game in the early 50’s where the Saints player related a great tale about his time at the Belle View Rangers. It appeared that when he knew he was to be placed on the transfer list Stan asked to see the chairman to ask why the biggest attraction on the rugby field back then, was to be sold.
The Chairman told McCormick that Belle Vue had two massive attractions, Stan the rugby player and Rory the most ferocious Lion in the Country. Sadly, for Stan the company had to economise and according to the Chairman because the public queued seven days a week to see Rory and only once every other Saturday to watch Stan, he was the one that had to go. What a bloke old Arny Hinchcliffe and thanks for the stories. I’ll be relating a few more of his tales in the future in here! However, I have to say having read what I’ve just written, it must be quiet on the diary front at present!!
So, when will we be signing Fred Smith or Bill Jones? I ask that question because with the superbly talented players we bring in as a club from far afield and across the world, there invariably comes the added issue of names that you either can’t spell or can’t pronounce. Over the years we have seen several players that have been a challenge in that direction right back from the early 60’s, when pronouncing Nan Halifihi was a bit of a challenge for my old Mum and Dad! I really was relieved when I found out that Iafeta Paleaaesina was affectionately known as FEKE and writing this every week, I was thankful when Tuimavave was happy to just be known as Carlos! But these are great players and the arrival of Burita Faraimo is exciting too. However, he seems to be bringing new challenges to some and last week one eminent fan whom I was with actually referred to him as Burrito Far-away-mo; too much junk food there me thinks guys!
Now, big congratulations to my pal James Clark, his partner and their new baby ‘Clarky 2’ (a future FC scrum half apparently), they’ve all had a tough old time, but the little guy it out of hospital now, just in time for pre-season training. Well done to you all and keep believing! It was also great this week to hear from around 30 readers with different views, messages and suggestions for future topics in the Diary. Thanks for all your support and for you continued patronage of this drivel, I’m sorry its quiet but I’m doing my best! Let’s see what next week brings eh?
Thanks for reading another Diary and for sticking with me for another week, I’ll speak to you all again next Monday!