In a week when my Lightspeed and that of thousands of others went on the blink for 18 hours and KCOM apologised (while it was off) via their web site, when I also realised that Mr Mugabe must be a Yorkshire man, because his name backwards is ‘E Ba Gum’ and while Sleeping Beauty was being banned in some West Midland Schools because the Prince had not received the Princesses permission to kiss him, a rather large guy from Norwich managed to gain his own sort of notoriety by eating his own weight in Christmas puddings!!
All of which just goes to prove I guess that it’s a funny old world out there, isn’t it? However here in East Yorkshire, it’s been sort of bleak weather wise and pretty darn bleak on the news front too!! Still I’ve had a little ferret about and, I think, found a bit of interesting stuff for the Diary this week, which I hope you will enjoy!
First things first and no one can deny that it’s a good to be English at the moment. Isn’t it brilliant that England are in the World Cup Final for the first time for 22 years and the RL world north of the equator will no doubt be rooting for them this weekend and no mistake. Our lads met fire with fire and played well throughout against Tonga, but I can’t help but feel that the victory was tarnished once again by a controversial refereeing decision in circumstances that in my opinion could have so easily been avoided. In the end however, it was all sort of left up in the air and for me it’s not so much. was it a try in the last seconds, but rather the fact that the official never went to the video referee to confirm what was condemned by the Australian media as ‘a very dodgy call’. There was hardly evidence of a strip of the ball, so the referee was probably right, but the defenders hand did move down on it and at that point the ball came loose.
The Tongan Coach certainly cast dispersions on the whole process thereafter by questioning why he didn’t go upstairs and so one of the best games of International rugby you will ever see, was blighted by a referee who thought he knew best. The Coach of Tonga actually said, “I don’t know if we were robbed, I just cannot believe we don’t have a look at that. You look at other tries 10 or 12 times and you don’t look at that? How do we not go back and look at that last play?” and I find it hard to argue with that myself.
If he’d given ‘no try’ and gone upstairs, then it would have been hard for the video referee to over-rule his decision anyway because, as I say, it was hardly a strip was it? However, the transparency a referral would have provided, would have at least ensure that justice was seen to be done. It would have then vindicated a decision that will be now in disputed for years and that saw 2000 Tonga fans marching in protest through Auckland yesterday and 48,000 people signing a change.org petition in just 8 hours.
In such a big game and with so much at stake, it’s not the decision made, but the fact that the referee felt he could make it alone without consulting with the assistance he could call on. I’m not a massive fan of constantly going to the video referee as you know, but there are times when the magnitude of what is at stake dictates that ‘two heads are better than one’, if not to change the decision then at least to bring some support to it! That was certainly one such time. The actions of an official could have cost a nation a famous victory there and perhaps it did, or perhaps it didn’t, we all have an opinion, but we’ll never really know will we? So, England march onwards to the Final ….just, but a shadow of doubt remains and all we can do now is to try and move on, try to ignore the controversy and just be satisfied to remember what a great game of rugby Saturday’s actually was!
Back here in ‘Blighty’, something that proved interesting this week for me was the interview in the Hull Daily Mail with Josh Griffin who you’ll all know, came up a bit short at times last year as far as I’m concerned. In fact, at times during the 2017 campaign I was a bit underwhelmed by a player that I thought would make a big impact on his arrival from Salford. This week he was pretty honest about his form himself and I think he realises that he will have to shift either Connor or Carlos to get a starting centre spot next year and that ain’t going to be easy. He explained away his lack of agility and rather lumbering style last season on being over-weight and a niggling groin strain that had plagued him all year.
I think what he’s not saying is that perhaps he struggled to settle into a tight and close group of players at first as well as at times early on he was often portrayed, by his own demeanour, as the outsider of the group, whenever he made public appearances with the rest of the team. However he settled down a bit as the season wore on and now seems to be well and truly one of the lads. He said to the Mail, “When I came here last year my body wasn’t quite right and I had a few niggles here and there. I played most of last season with a nagging groin injury, but I had that injected during the off-season and it seems to have settled down. I’ve had no problems with it again as yet and I want to go into the season fit. I also want to lose weight. I played last year at 108KG whereas as the season before I was around 105”.
For me like a few FC players, he may well have to wait for his chance of a starting spot, but it will come as the injuries etc. start to bite and a busy season sees the players having to be rotated to keep them fresh for the fight. Griffin certainly looked to be a massive signing when he came, but in 2017 he never really ever took the place of the consistently steady Kirk Yeaman and how he competes for a place and indeed how he goes next term, will be another interesting thing to watch in 2018.
Well the new away shirt is interesting isn’t it? I wasn’t impressed at all when months ago I saw the designs and when I saw it on the launch day on the Club Web Site, I thought it was anything but Hull FC. The colour looked all wrong although I’d been conditioned a bit with regard to such un-traditional garbs after the ‘motorway maintenance dayglow effort’ we had last year. Perhaps some of my reservations are borne out of the fact that I have for a while lamented the way all this stuff with shirts is going. For me at times it seems that every team in trying to have at least one of their strips that is in the ‘who can be the most outrageous and most untraditional’ faction. At times to be honest, I wonder if the game is going from a competitive gladiatorial sport to a full blown fancy dress competition! Have you seen Wigan’s 2018 away shirt yet?
However, I went to see our latest offering last Monday at the Town Centre Shop and ‘in the flesh’ I can actually see the appeal. It’s not for me, but certainly a lot better for seeing, particularly as the colour is slightly different to the pictures and shifts ‘in reality’, from shocking pink towards being scarlet/crimson. I also thought that the horizontal lining shows up a lot more ‘in real life’ and makes it look a lot better. It’s certainly a big improvement on the glow in the dark ‘safety bib’ away shirt we had last year and this one will really go down well with the kids, I’m sure of that.
Some of my pals have got one and love it, but I was interested to read all the outrage with regards to fans who have apparently shown ‘homophobic tendencies’ when saying that they didn’t like it on the message boards. Lighten up guys, because in reality I don’t think it’s really anything to do with that, but more about the fact that rugby strips need to look as intimidating as possible and I guess, we are just not used to it, because let’s face it, you don’t see many pink rugby shirts do you? So, it’s not really for me, I won’t be getting one and I much prefer the home shirt, but as I said earlier I do ‘get it’ and I can see the appeal for the younger fans and anyway apparently it’s selling really well. So, as I always say, what do I know?
I’m told that season ticket sales are really good again this year and could even end up setting a new sales record. It was good to hear from several fans that they had received calls from FC players this week to thank them for renewing and with just a week to go to the reserved seat deadline, the KCOM is really filling up for the 2018 season, I never cease to be amazed really by the loyalty of our fans.
The players continue to land back at training with Jamie Shaul starting his pre-season last Monday. He arrived back with high hopes for the new season and as motivation he cited the words of wisdom he had received from our Coach at his end of season appraisal, where he was apparently told to crank his game up another notch this season. He said, “When I sat down with Radders to do my review, we talked about areas I need to work on and the defensive side of things is what I’m at present focusing on. Running with the ball and the attack side comes natural to me, but defensively I know I have to work on that side and maybe that’s what stopped me getting picked for England, I don’t know”.
The depth and resonance of Radders end of season interviews and reviews with the players has been a resonating theme when many of the players returned to training and when he speaks they certainly all listen. With the bulk of the senior players who aren’t involved in the World Cup returning today and tomorrow things are starting to get back to normal a bit at County Road, but it will be a while before everyone is back!
However one who is back is Andy Last and he certainly seems to have enjoyed his time as Assistant Coach at Scotland for the World Cup doesn’t he? He landed a week last Sunday from Australia and Lee’s right hand man returned to the club’s Elite Performance Centre the day after his plane touched down in the UK, showing, without doubt, Andy’s commitment to our pre-season preparations. He said, “I landed on Sunday and came back into training on Monday”, adding tongue in cheek, “If that’s not commitment, then I don’t know what is!” He felt however that progress was being made even at this early stage and added, “The young lads have been grafting hard and that’s pleasing to see. I’ve sat back for the first week while I recover, but the conditioning staff have been really putting the players through their paces.”
I was so pleased that Hull often referred to as the Capital of Rugby League had been granted an International game against New Zealand next Autumn. Of course it was not just about the RL wanting to use the venue in the City but also about The SMC wanting a major Rugby League game in the KCOM. They haven’t exactly looked fondly on RL and our Club over the years, but I guess the call of some much needed additional income was too strong to resist and so we have an international game at the Stadium to look forward to. It was announced last Wednesday to much acclaim that that the Kiwi’s will tour England from the end of October 2018 with three test matches scheduled against the hosts. The games will be played at the KCOM, Anfield in Liverpool, and Elland Road in Leeds.
The sad factor in all this was for me the arrogant attitude of some City fans about Rugby League Internationals being played, “At their ground”. Some were nothing short of vitriolic about it all and their comments on the Tigers message boards were both insulting and inflammatory, that got me thinking that although I have no time whatsoever for that ‘Allam crowd’ perhaps at times they ain’t bad judges of character!
If our securing of a game in the three match series is eminently understandable, the over-looking of traditional RL grounds like those at Saints, Huddersfield, Warrington and Wigan is hard to understand when the other two games are to be held at a perhaps ‘too big’ Anfield and a run down and poorly resourced Elland Road. However, at least we have abandoned ideas of staging a game at a London Football Stadium, or at Coventry, which were both apparently, at one time, on the cards.
The news of the tour will certainly be a boost to the Kiwis who had a shock World Cup departure at the hands of Fiji last week and England will be hoping for a successful climax to the World Cup next week to see us go into the three test series as World Champions. The dates for the games will see ours on 27th October, with the Anfield game a week later on the 3rd November and the final game at Elland Road on the 11th.
I have received a lot of contact of late from readers about the lack of a proper reserve league as they lament the fact that the RL are not insisting that each club have a second string, primarily to protect the British game going forward. Well it was interesting to note that in Women’s Football the FA have announced that teams won’t even be accepted into their new senior structure without them having a registered Academy team. We have to do something about fighting off the threat that is forthcoming from the NRL and an Academy set up that is compulsory for Super League Clubs (and those being promoted), is essential to see sufficient youngsters coming through the system to ensure Clubs have enough players to go around.
With a possible two more North American teams looking to join our competition its likely they will be recruiting from over here and flashing the cash at the same time too. Women’s football seems to be showing us the way and appear to appreciate the benefits of introducing new blood into the game and nurturing any talent that is around before it is lost forever. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned there for us?
We are often told by Coaches players and pundits that squad numbers are meaningless, but tell that to Josh Bowden, because the 25-year-old, who’s worn number 22 for as long as I can remember, will have 13 on his back next year and boy is he chuffed about that! He’s over the moon to be taking over from back-to-back Challenge Cup-winning captain Ellis but boy are they big boots to fill. Josh said this week that he was surprised when he discovered he will wear 13 next season adding, “It was a bit of a surprise, I wasn’t expecting my number to change because I’ve had 22 all my career, it’s a great privilege and honour because Gaz (Ellis) is a massive name and a massive influence on this team. To have his number is a big thing and hopefully I can do it justice”.
It’s great for Josh and I’m pleased that he’s so excited about it, but I think that if nothing else the whole situation just bears out what the players, coaches and pundits have said all along in that with the exception of the obvious (full backs and half backs, 1, 6 and 7) fans and players shouldn’t read too much into squad numbers at all because it’s how good you are rather than the number that you have on the squad list, that in the end, gets you into the team.
Now ‘dear readers’ I need a little help! As you all know I’m helping out a bit with Danny Houghton’s Testimonial Year and the next big event is The Xmas Factor at the City Hall on 18th December. Let me say from the off that the response from the fans to this event has been brilliant and although the Cities Premier Venue is a massive place, only around 300 tickets remain for what should be an amazing night! The evening, which is sponsored by Savilles Audio Visual, sees ten players singing Christmas songs in competition against each other to win the coveted DH9 Trophy. Adam Pearson, David Burns, James Smailes and Sammy Lloyd will be judging and Sammy will be singing a couple of songs as well, so it should be a very interesting and entertaining night. Danny Houghton said to me this week, “The lads are all getting in fine voice and the competition will certainly be intense. I would book your tickets now, because they are going fast. I think it will be great fun and a great way for us all to join together to get Christmas off to a flying start”
Obviously if your planning on going along on the 18th you should grab some tickets soon, but most of all I need everyone to spread the word, because what a feat it would be for us to be the first sports Club to fill every seat in the City Hall for such a social event. Tickets priced at £13.50 for adults and £6.50 for children are available in person from the City Council Booking Office in Carr Lane, by telephone on 01482 300306 and on line at www.hulltheatres.co.uk Please do your bit to help Danny by joining us on the night, or at least by spreading the word.
I was interested the other day when some news came out of the NRL referees Competition Committee when they announced that the officials over there would be urged to continue the trend of making more use of the sinbin. Furthermore, the committee, which includes some of the leading figures in the Australian game, was told that referees sent 43 players to the sinbin in 2017, which was more than double the figure of 17 in 2016. They agreed that referees should continue this trend with a view to using the sinbin more for breaches of discipline such as repeated goal line infringements aimed at slowing down the play and deliberate and dangerous foul play incidents.
Even more interesting for me was the news that Referees would also be urged to be more vigilant in penalising players for failing to make an attempt to use their foot in the play-the-ball. That has been a bone of contention for years with a lot of fans because the game was intrinsically born out of the principle of breaking away from the rucking restart of Union and opting for a more open game created by a player ‘Rising from the tackle and playing the ball with his foot’
That has by and large gone by the board these days and some players now just seem to throw the ball through their legs, which is fine as long as that is the accepted norm and it’s upheld consistently, but of course it isn’t is it? In the British game sometimes players get penalized and sometimes they don’t, which is just infuriating for those of us watching the game and I would welcome a strong ruling rather like that one from the NRL over here. At least then we would know one way or the other what is exactly meant by playing the ball. It will be interesting to see how that new directive is implemented, what difference it makes to NRL games next year and indeed whether we will follow suit!
Well as we approach the World Cup final its worth reflecting that this is the first World Cup ever where one of the big three, New Zealand, haven’t reached the last four. Whilst the performances of the Pacific Islands nations, especially semi-finalists Tonga and Fiji, have been quite amazing and have in fact kept the whole thing alive. The wanting and belief of their fans is quite unbelievable and have you ever heard a passionate full house singing hymns before? I won’t forget that for a long time! Plus, the three sell-out crowds in Port Moresby show there is an urgent need to give Papua New Guinea more high-profile games as well. We’ve done our bit tool and a big ‘up’ to Jed, Steve and all my mates who have made the journey over there to watch the competition unfold for they have been joined by hundreds of other British fans who have travelled in huge numbers and at great expense.
However, for me the big disappointment and failing of this World Cup is the apparent apathy that comes from the Australian fans. While crowds in Papua New Guinea and New Zealand have been good, the attendances in Australia, a county where RL is hailed, along with Cricket, as the national sport, have by and large been embarrassing.
Even some of the Aussie players have made it clear that Test rugby comes a poor second or third. That has also been reflected in poor publicity for the tournament in the Australian cities where games are staged. My pals tell me that whilst on their journeys around the sub-continent only in Perth, a city that is desperate to join the NRL, was there any real enthusiasm to push the event for the England vs France game. They say that when you walk around other cities where games are being held, you wouldn’t even know a World Cup was taking place. Next week’s Final sold out a few weeks ago, but only, I would presume, because Aussie fans assume they’re going to see their nation crowned world champions again. I’ll be having a good laugh if they aren’t won’t you?
It’s just a pity that the Aussies couldn’t have come out in bigger numbers to support international rugby, because there is no doubt that despite the fact that the Northern Hemisphere game is struggling, times are changing on the world stage with more countries now posing viable threats to England, New Zealand and Australia. However, rumour is that the Aussie administrators are even considering not taking part in future World Cups, preferring instead to concentrate on their domestic competitions and State of Origin. Who knows really what will happen in the future as the number of players that have abdicated to Tonga has led to rumours that any future tournaments should they actually take place, might even include a second Indiginous Australian team. International Rugby League eh? It never ceases to amaze does it?
Well, serial offender and Salford, Castleford and Widnes halfback Rangi Chase got his comeuppance the other day didn’t he as he was banned for two years after testing positive for cocaine. You’ll remember I went into great detail in here a while ago about how cocaine, unlike say steroids, is not classed as a banned drug but more a restricted one and its only illegal as far as the RL are concerned if it’s detected up to twelve hours before a game.
The former England player who courts trouble like most people go shopping has been provisionally suspended since July and will now in all likelihood retire from professional rugby league altogether: he is 31 years old and will be 33 by the time his ban is served. What a way to go and what a talented player he was; talented but flawed. Yet you know, most people believe that the use of recreational drugs is widespread in the game and if they are right it just goes to prove that most of the rest, fools though they are, might just be a bit more savy and not so blasé and down-right arrogant as to take a drug like that and do it when they know it was in that match day time frame.
Chase tested positive after Widnes’s 36-8 loss to Wakefield on July 13. Adam Walker, who played for Wakefield that night, also failed a drug test as well but he is yet to be sentenced. His sentence is likely to be more of the same and then of course, there is Zak Hardaker. What a set of wallies they all are and they all need a severe punishment to perhaps set an example for others, because we cannot have role models such as our players, who are adored by some younger fans, carrying on like that.
Nicole Sapstead of UK Anti-Doping said, “As an experienced rugby league player who has represented both New Zealand Maori and England, as well as Super League clubs, Castleford Tigers and Salford Red Devils, Rangi Chase has tarnished his well-established career with this sanction,”
Now, there is little doubt that the game these days is a squad affair in all senses of the word and with a season like the one we face in 2018 the depth of that squad is going to be critical. There are always the stars but the other players in any squad also have a part to play, as they cover for the established players when they are out injured. So in Codgers Corner this week I thought I would have a look at a game that springs to mind when I consider those sorts of circumstances, and this week I want to take you back to the season of 1984/5 during the reign of that mercurial ‘Superman’ Peter Sterling.
The day in question is Friday 29th March 1985 and it was a game under the lights at the Boulevard, against a rampant Wigan team. It was a strange season in some ways because although we had Peter Sterling and John Muggleton at the Club and an array of other international stars like Steve Norton, Lee Crooks and the four New Zealanders we still spluttered and mis-fired at times, as the golden era of the early 1980’s started to come to an end.
There was an air of despondency and gloom around the Boulevard after we had been beaten easily at both Castleford and St Helens and we had a big Cup semi-final coming up, whilst our opponents Wigan were already through to the Final at Wembley and were riding on the crest of a wave. They were unbeaten in their last 15 League games and only needed to win that day to equal the record for an unbeaten run in the First Division.
Hull began well and controlled much of the first quarter taking the lead through a well struck penalty by Lee Crooks on 10 minutes. Then a brilliant break by Peter Sterling saw his brother-in-law John Muggleton free on his shoulder and he cruised in, but Crooks missed an easy conversion as at 6-0 the crowd were warming to the task and although there were only 8000 in attendance that night, the atmosphere at that point was electric. A young Paul Eastwood who had just started to break into the first team was having an excellent game and should have scored twice in the next ten minutes after being held desperately short on both occasions by the scrambling Wigan defence.
We were fighting hard with Trevor Skerrett and Lee Crooks matching and beating a big mobile Wigan pack that was led by West, Potter and Dermott. Wigan were certainly a side running hot and as we made elementary mistakes to hand them back possession the Lancastrians started to get on top. Still it looked like we had held out until halftime despite Peter Sterling struggling with hip and shoulder injuries and Gary Kemble limping at full-back with a groin strain. Then as the hooter went, but before referee Ronnie Campbell was able to stop the game, Hull hooker Shaun Patrick lost the ball and a sweeping move involving Wigan full back Ford saw him shoot down the left and on the last play of the half, hold off three would be tacklers to score. Stephenson converted and the scoreboard showed the game tied at 6-6. We all thought that was it, particularly as both Kemble and Sterling failed to re-appear after the interval and Wigan went straight back onto the attack.
It only took the visitors 5 minutes to take the lead and it was that man Ford again who took a short pass from Kenny and raced away from the cover, before using Henderson Gill as a foil and then scoring near the posts. At 12-6 it looked all over and a further successful penalty to Wigan saw sections of the crowd started to voice their frustrations. However, unlike the two previous games in which we had capitulated, Hull hung in and started to fight back. Dave Topliss, who was getting to the end of a glittering career at Hull, had come on for Sterling and soon started to work his magic as did James Leuluai who had switched from centre to full back. Toppo broke through a tackle in his own half by Juliffe and Holden and found Leuluai who somehow engineered himself some space and set off downfield.
Ford was out of position in the opposition defence and our stand in full back raced away to beat the chasing cover in a breath-taking 65-yard move. Then Lee Crooks who had struggled to find his kicking boots left us all gasping as he brilliantly curled the ball through the posts from wide out to convert the try to reduce the Wigan lead to just two points.
At 14-12 back onto the field hobbled Sterling as Hull started to take the initiative and for the first time it was Wigan that were starting to panic. It was now a thrilling game to watch and as Wigan swept across field a long speculative pass from Brett Kenny arced towards Graeme West, but into the line scorched the master of half chances Steve Evans. Quick as a flash he intercepted the ball and with the cover blown and roared on by the crowd he charged downfield for 35 yards to beat Ford at the line and score a brilliant try. The place exploded with cheering and Hull had at last wrestling the initiative away from Wigan and led 16-14. Hull tackled like terriers before John Muggleton came up with the killer blow. Feeding off a simple pass by Sterling he dummied to Topliss, stumbled, half tripped, looked up and somehow managed to drop a great goal. Those final 5 minutes seemed to last a lifetime and in the final seconds Brett Kenny broke away and aimed a pin point pass to Henderson Gill on the wing. It looked as if we would be robbed of a famous victory, but Gill inexplicably fumbled the pass, the ball fell to the ground and the hooter went.
That night sheer determination and an unwillingness to accept defeat won the day and did it under difficult circumstances surrounding the fact that we had been severely disrupted by injuries. It might not have been one of our most spectacular displays but it was one of our most whole hearted and by the end no one could question Hull’s commitment to the cause. Peter Sterling had led us to a great victory, but when he was off the field the rest of the team closed ranks and held the line for him. It was a great night and it’s a great memory.
So there we are another week passes and Christmas draws ever closer. The Diary amazingly continued to be read by hundreds of you and I thank you for that, as I do for all your correspondence over the last week, I’d like to promise you more exciting news next time, but I’m afraid I can’t, so thanks at least for sticking with another Diary and I’ll speak to you all again next week.
Keep Believing (and Warm)