Well the New Year is here and as usual we all have our hopes high, particularly before a ball has been dropped in anger, but the season is less than a month off and quite frankly, call me greedy, but I could do with a bit more of this in 2018! But then again who couldn’t!
However, first and foremost welcome back to the Diary, I really hope that everyone had a great Christmas and I wish you all everything you wish for yourselves and your families in the New Year. Thanks for returning again to this weekly journal of a very average fan, which should at least start to perk up a bit as things start to get going in the next few weeks. The first of the pre-season friendlies is upon us and after a restful old Christmas (and before that the quietest pre-season I can probably ever remember), the Diary is back, whilst as a Club we are sort of up and running again next weekend, for what has become the annual ‘Contrived Beano’ against the dysfunctional ones from the ‘Land that time Forgot!’.
Pre-season Friendlies eh? They are I guess a necessary evil but one with which as a spectator I have become more and more disenchanted as the years have gone by.
I don’t know about you, but on a personal note, a lot has changed for me with regard to my outlook on these warm up games and unlike the old days when I couldn’t wait to get started and watch any sort of Rugby, (and when I would even happily travel anywhere to watch the Under 19’s ‘pretending’ to be the first team), these days I find the whole concept pretty inconsequential and ‘matter of fact’ in the bigger scheme of things.
This weekend’s game is different of course because as a Testimonial for a guy who has given 10 year’s loyal service to the Club, it’s a must for every true supporter. Danny is a great player, but he’s also without doubt a really good bloke, as well as being a loyal servant to the Club we all love. When you pitch in as well the fact that he’s the bloke who, with one bit of absolute magic in the 78th minute of that fantastic 2016 Final, probably won us the Challenge Cup single-handedly, he has to be well supported this Sunday.
OK, I’ll qualify that comment by adding that I know that there were 17 players involved that day. Sure, they all played their part in a memorable afternoon that will live forever in the hearts and minds of our generation, but without that one act right at the death, it would never have happened at all and the lives of thousands of us wouldn’t have been changed forever. Please get there if you can and support the guy whose actions that sunny afternoon in 2016 saw him crowned ‘The King of Hull’. However, if you can’t make the game then grab one of his Testimonial Brochures (in the week that follows) that will be used on Sunday as the match day programme and that will be available in the club shops afterwards. As for Sunday, well don’t forget it kicks off at 2-00pm so be there if you can to support the bloke.
It a big game for Danny, but what follows for the rest of pre-season, as I commented earlier, is pretty innocuous as far as I’m concerned. Fact is, I’ve just sort of grown out of pre-season friendlies. Look at last year for example, we hardly covered ourselves in glory result wise in those games. We got beaten by the team against whom there is no such thing as a friendly and some of us even despaired, as I did in here, about Lee Radford’s off the cuff rather matter of fact attitude to the outcome of these matches; but how wrong could we be?
Lee saw them as simply part of the process and a building block on the way to more success and let’s face it, he got it absolutely right. We went on to Challenge Cup glory …again, before ending up with what could only be described on reflection as a very successful season. That was I believe all built on a good start and picking up a deal of points early on, something that will be much harder to deliver this year. So, I’ll be there on Sunday but as for the Catalan game I might go and then again I might not. For me, it’s all a matter of balance really and getting to that first oh so important game against Huddersfield. As the fixtures have unfolded we simply have to win that one!!
All that said, I can’t wait to get going in the 2018 season and yet I can’t seem to get really motivated by all the issues and agendas, chopping and changing and substitutions that surround the pre-season matches. The Testimonial game will undoubtedly see both Clubs fielding a mixture of junior and senior players with both having some significant absentees. At least we are better prepared than Rovers who have according to their Coach around 10 players still recovering from pre-season surgery! We have a load of players who won’t play, but mainly because they are only just back in training.
On the other hand, as was the case last year when we looked decidedly ring rusty, Rovers will have had the benefit of a game this weekend. We just have to take this game for what it is, a run out and ‘limb loosener’ for bigger things to come. It’s hard when it’s that load of idiots from over there, but perhaps we have to accept that the score on Sunday has proved in the past to be nothing of an indicator as to how we will go.
However, after Sundays match there is a chance that once again I’ll be enticed by the team sheet that appears for that second friendly against Catalan. That will no doubt be full of ‘first teamers’ that will either make little more than a cameo appearance or indeed who will more likely not appear at all. I’ve been caught like that before and I guess with a minimal amount of incoming talent this year and the late arrival of the one player, ‘of interest and curiosity’, Bureta Faraimo, it’s unlikely that even he will take much of a part in things before the behind closed doors trial games that are designed to get the late arrivals up to speed.
Quite frankly I just want them all to avoid injury, but that’s the risk as we enter a period that sees us trying to get a balance between playing as little as possible and going into the season under cooked. In fact, in the end no matter who plays it will be all about lots of huff and puff, lots of grind, with perhaps the odd injury scare thrown in to heighten the anxiety. Of course as far as the team is concerned these games are so important in the build up to the season and I guess therefore a necessary evil.
This week Lee said how pleased he was to have everyone back at County Road and settled into the clubs revised conditioning and skills regime and indeed the 2018 training environment. He was I guess extolling the benefits of a club not scrambling around to find players at this stage in the campaign and, if we are disappointed by the lack of imports, then we should never forget that in addition to our two incoming ‘heroes’, (Paea and Faraimo) we have in effect two new players as well, in the shape of Hadley and Abdull. If we had made two additional signings with their ability and potential, we would all, I think, been well pleased.
However, in the eyes of a lot of fans who thirst for marquee signings at every drop of the hat, there is nothing ‘exciting’ about two players that were around the club up to the start of the 2017 season. But, they will both have grown in stature (and in Jordan’s case reduced in bulk!!!) and after a year of learning their trade and making their mistakes at the cost of another team, they come back almost as new players; sadly however some fans just don’t see it like that at all.
However well done to the Club on our recruitment regime because we have really done well to get such a settled team from day one of pre-season. There is little doubt that the Toronto effect and the ridiculous salary cap ‘Down Under’ has seen quality available players (at a reasonable cost) at a premium and some clubs like Salford, Widnes, Rovers and Catalan are really struggling to get it together. Over in the East the fans are certainly restless while at the time of writing the Frenchmen only have one half back and are trying hard to recruit from anywhere they can!
We are always looking at the market and I was told recently that we did eye a late addition who would have been ‘really good for us’ (who he is, by the way, I have no idea) but in the end we had spent so close to the cap it was impossible to accommodate anyone at all and so that idea has been scrapped. We are certainly spending all our cap allocation and more and I’m told that some of the younger players will be following the example of Abdull and Hadley last year and going out on season long loans at other Super League and Championship Clubs.
As a Club we had some foresight and vision back in the summer of 2017 as we got valuable players tied up on new deals, whilst, at the same time making important decisions on those two out on loan players staying at the Club for 2018, then we simply identifying what we needed to bring in and what we could afford, before subsequently going for it. Everything was tied up by the end of July and we have in fact been chasing Faraimo since long before we signed Fonua! So at Hull FC at present things are pretty settled, but that said we are still struggling to get all our ‘ducks in a row’ with some of our Internationals just back and one or two Aussie based players only just arriving back from a Christmas break away Down Under. All that is played out to the backdrop of the start of the Super League campaign only being less than 4 weeks off and a trip to Australia looming. We’ll be out there getting bashed up by the NRL elite in a ‘friendly’ game, whilst a lot of other Clubs here will be putting their feet up for a week off.
We are off on that jaunt Down Under at the start of a really tough set of early rounds in Super League. I believe myself we have the most difficult opening of any Super League Club and the toughest we’ve ever seen at Hull FC in the modern era. It’s going to be hard but that said, the way that Lee is approaching it all is at least giving us the best possible chance of getting it right.
No stone is being left unturned and whatever happens in these friendly games is inconsequential as far as our Coach is concerned The emphasis is very much on the health and wellbeing of the players, as they approach the big kick off. However, on the terraces, the fact that some players won’t be ready, or won’t have played at all before the first game against Hudderfield, hardly engenders much confidence as to whether we will be one hundred percent ready for the fray, by that critical first match.
As for the Rovers and Catalan friendlies, well for various reasons I can’t see Paea, Taylor, Manu, Watts, Minichiello, Faraimo, Talanoa and several others of the first choice starting 17, being ready for either pre-season game and I’d be very careful with how much we play some of the critical spine players like Shaul, Sneyd, Houghton and Kelly as well. As if to confirm that approach Lee said this week, “We are now back after the New Year and training has been intense but some of the blokes are naturally still behind the eight-ball because they’re just coming back in. Players are at different stages with some getting ready to play while there are people who probably won’t even take the field in the pre-season”.
So I guess, as I said, I’ve changed a bit over the years with regard to my views on the pre-season and the games it throws up. Why? Well I don’t really know. We do have to support Danny and get along to the match next Sunday and I do know that I’m still as enthusiastic as ever for upcoming campaign and can’t wait to get going. Make no mistake too, despite the reservations thrown up by players returning to the club at regular intervals over the past two months, we really do go into 2018 in pretty good nick compared with some.
What’s more, for me past glories will again mean I’ll enjoy the coming campaign much more than I did those interminable seasons of pressure and broken promises, under Agar and Co., that spanned so many disappointing years before 2016. The two Challenge Cup wins have really taken the pressure off this fan and I almost enjoy watching games again these days. For that reason, if nothing else, I’m really looking forward to the big Kick-off.
Now, the burning question in the media world at present is whether Premier Sports has lost the broadcast rights for the NRL coverage in this country for 2018? Everything points to the fact that they have and hundreds of RL fans across the country have declared on message boards and social media that they have already cancelled their subscriptions on the strength of a story that premier sport are refusing to deny.
Though nothing has been confirmed, some sort of pay as you go, live streaming facility, run by the NRL is set to be the likely method for UK fans to watch games from Down Under in 2018. Some say that Sky has won the rights to televise the Aussie competition, but that might just be a rumour, but even if they have its unlikely that they will be able to televise every game as Premier has done in the past. Whatever happens the fact that we will lose what was a great service offered by Premier Sports will I think in the end, be a real shame.
Whilst I’m on about televising the great game and Premier Sports, how ironic it is that after years and years of complaints from the Championship Clubs that their games are not covered adequately on TV, now they are complaining about some televised Championship games scheduled for next season. Leigh owner Derek Beaumont is the main protagonist and this week he raised the question over why Toronto Wolfpack have apparently been allowed to negotiate a deal with Premier Sports to televise all their games, home and away, in 2018 without the other clubs knowledge. Last year to allow Canadian supporters to see every game, all Toronto’s matches in the then Division One were televised by Premier Sports, but this new controversy began after Beaumont tweeted following an advert promoting Premier Sports’ coverage of the Wolfpack’s games in 2018 in League Express.
You’ll remember that I was thoroughly P*ssed off with Premier Sports when they pulled arguably the game of the recent World Cup group stage, between New Zealand and Samoa, at the eleventh hour, instead opting to show New Zealand’s World Cup football qualifier against Peru live, before showing the big RL game “as live” later on in the day. Perhaps recent developments now indicate that was just petulance, as they already knew they had lost the 2018 NRL broadcast rights, who knows?
But for me the issue isn’t really about the fact that Toronto games are being televised, it’s more about the fact that most teams didn’t even know this was happening until they read about it in the press. Once again what irks me is the unsurprising lack of transparency and communication, which makes rugby league look unprofessional. No wonder they feel badly done to in the Championship, when you consider the fact the RL is sanctioning such deals behind their backs when the governing body hasn’t even managed to replace Kingstone Press as its title sponsor.
Who know, Sky might be planning to televise games in the Championship again, just as they did on Thursday nights a few years ago before they first lost the rights to Premier Sports and then moved Super League action to the sporting medias graveyard slot! However, I doubt they will show these games again and if they don’t then this will now be the fourth consecutive season there has been no regular live televised games from the lower divisions (with the exception of those featuring Toronto). Sky have the rights to the second tier games but don’t broadcast them, although they do offer some sort of recorded and/or token coverage of the Summer Bash, but the weekly exposure for the Championship has diminished considerably over the past decade, harming, some say, the profile and image of those second tier clubs.
While there is an argument that says coverage of Toronto’s games on Premier Sports is good exposure, it can’t be called extensive coverage of the competition and it’s clearly not beneficial for everyone in the division. I think myself that Sky Sports should be made to either show regular Championship games or relinquish the rights to these matches and let someone else do it. But, the RL are in so deep with their television deal, after they sacrificed any sort of control for a long contract, they are pretty helpless. However, as online streaming becomes more and more the ‘done thing’ in sport, its wrong that these games are excluded from the wider public just because Sky have the rights and guard them passionately from anyone else. It will be interesting to see how things pan out – here’s hoping the final solution is a weekly Championship live game on TV or even streamed online; but don’t hold your breath!!
It was great to see Mark Minichiello back in camp this week and getting through his rehab after having a troublesome floating bone removed from his ankle. He was certainly limping a lot towards the end of last season wasn’t he? He’s obviously enjoyed being Captain of Italy during the World Cup and that got me wondering if he might be a candidate for the Vice Captaincy this year? I think by what has been said that Danny Houghton looks nailed on for the Captaincy, but Mini might now just be vying with Manu, Taylor and Sneyd for the position of his number two!
Now reaching what he openly admits is the veteran stage, ex FC hero and Parramatta forward Frank Pritchard didn’t return to training in Sydney last Wednesday, sparking speculation the big man could retire from the game. Sure enough by Friday the decision had been made and The Tank was no more as far as participating in the game is concerned. Franks contract with the Eels expired last season, but he had been given the opportunity to return and fill one of the club’s final two roster spots in 2018. He recently revealed in an honest interview that he wouldn’t take up the offer if he felt like he couldn’t contribute fully because he doesn’t want to be a bit part player.
The Samoan international had previously said he would use his holidays after the World Cup to weigh up his future, before making a decision when he returns to pre-season training and so it came to pass last Friday that the game lost another class player and perhaps more importantly a truly great character.
With his no show at training it always looked as if a retirement was on the cards however I’ll always have great memories and affection for the bloke and the part he played in that amazing 2016 season. On the field he never reached the heights some had hoped but he was an amazing part of a year that wasn’t just about performances but more about the total sum of the parts of a great campaign. Anyone who gets his wrist slapped three times by the club for giving his kit away to the fans at the end of games and sits with the supporters when he is out injured, will do for me, he was a massive presence, a great character and I really do wish the big fella good luck for the future!
You know with all the talk of our trip to Australia, the success of the World Cup and the goings on in Toronto, it’s easy to forget just how down at heal our great game really is. It’s in the lower divisions where the real state of the game is animated and if you need proof, then look at Doncaster where Richard Horne is Head Coach and we have a lot of players going out on short and long term loan next season. This week to great acclaim the South Yorkshire Club indicated that they had tripled their total number of season ticket holders following their Challenge 1000 scheme, which aims to get that number of fans signed up before the season kicks-off. The club revealed this week that they had sold 366 adult season tickets, while handing out 241 free season tickets to under 16s. Well done to them after a great effort by all concerned, but when you stand back from it all it certainly shows us how lucky we are to be where we are, but it also identifies the massive chasm there is between Super League and life in the lower divisions.
The Festive Season certainly got off on the right foot with a real bang on the Monday before Christmas as the City Hall was packed with over 1000 fans to cheer on the players who took part in Danny Houghton’s Xmas Factor.
It was a great night and raised a really good contribution to the Testimonial Fund. Thanks to everyone who went and as one fan said to me afterwards, “You couldn’t really fail to enjoy the evening”
It’s always hard to video stage shows but here’s a short one of the Finale, just after Danny had been crowned best singer on the Night following him tying for the judges votes with Micky Paea. Here’s everyone joining in to finish off the evening!
I can also report that in the three weeks before the festivities my new book sold an amazing 120 plus copies, so thanks to everyone who bought one of them too. The donation to Danny from sales of ‘2016 The Year of the Airlie Bird’ is now approaching £3000. I really appreciate all your support on this one, as does Danny as well.
Someone asked me the other night in the Dog and Duck in Beverley, “Why don’t you feature any games from the Casey era’ and I pointed out to him the fact that there were few memorable games at all in the two years that the afore mentioned was coaching the Club, for it was a dire, disappointing and hard time for all FC fans. However as always I’m pleased to try and meet the requests of readers so in this week’s Codgers Corner I want to look at the short but eventful reign of Len Casey as Club Coach and indeed probably the one game in which he shon in that role! There were, for us intrepid fans attending the Boulevard and tramping around the north of England every week in 1985 few games that could be called memorable, however we had done really well in the John Player Trophy that year, having managed to reach the televised semi-final at Headingley on the last Saturday before Christmas.
The Cup run had certainly captured the imagination of the West Hull public and after we had taken around 5,000 fans to the quarter final at Odsal the previous week, and despite it being the last weekend for shopping before Christmas, we all hit the road again this time to Headingley, to face Wigan. Casey made just one change to the line-up that had done so well at Odsal the previous week, resting Jon Sharp who had concussion and drafting in Steve ‘Knocker’ Norton, whose Testimonial Brochure was due out the following Monday.
It was a cold, cold North Leeds afternoon as Gary Pearce got the game underway as Hull came forward strongly and only a desperate last gasp tackle from Wigan’s Hampson saved a try. We continued to work the ball forward and a brilliant dummy and pass by Pearce found Crooks in space and from 20 yards Lee dropped a goal to give us a slender one point lead. Then a good Pearce kick pinned Wigan back and a scrum was formed just 5 yards out from their line. Straight from this Windley spotted a hole on the blind side and shot over, but Pearce missed the conversion. Then with just minutes to go to half time as Wigan piled on the pressure only great tackles from Lee Crooks on Ellery Hanley and Garry Kemble on Russell, kept our line intact and we went in 5-0 up.
It looked like there was to be a sensational start to the second half as Lee Crooks took Hanley’s kick off and fed a great short ball to Garry Schofield who shot through the line and headed off on a 60 yard run to touch down. However, just as we all started dancing on the South Stand terraces, Referee Holdsworth called the play back for a forward pass which was then loudly contested by the Hull fans standing in the increasing cold and encircling gloom. Slowly but surely though Hanley and Edwards were wrestling the advantage away from Hull, as Wigan continued to press forward and the referee appeared to allow some dubious tactics to go unpunished. “Same old Wigan always cheating” was the chant from the Faithful but the official paid no heed to our calls and twice Garry Pearce stopped Hanley in full flight with brilliant tackles, before the Wigan outfit finally went ahead in controversial circumstances. Ellery Hanley shot in next to the posts, but could clearly be seen to drop the ball from his hand as he went over. However, the try stood and with Stephenson’s conversion, Wigan took the lead for the first time before revitalised by Puckering and Norton coming off the bench, Hull found ‘another gear’.
We’d not been in the Wigan 25-yard area for almost 15 minutes, when Lazenby broke and passed onto Crane. Our veteran loose forward, belying his years, showed a touch of that old magic and transferring the ball from one hand to the other, he put Pearce through a huge gap to score and as Gary converted his own try we were back in front, 11-6. It was however to be a short lived lead as Edwards found us out again with a brilliant piece of play. He hung a ball in the air for Hanley, who this time grounding the ball correctly and scored wide out. As Gill curled in the conversion we trailed again 11-10.
Ah Kuoi grabbed a loose ball on the Wigan 25 and Puckering made a great break for the Airlie Birds but tragedy struck when the usually dependable Pearce dropped the ball in his effort to release it to the waiting O’Hara and the chance was lost. The Black and Whites made a tremendous last ditch effort to grab a win and as we roared them on Schofield created some space and passed to O’Hara, who only had to put the ball down next to the flag, but a tremendous effort by two Wigan tacklers, saw him just fail to score. We continued to press as referee Holdsworth missed a glaringly obvious Wigan knock on from a booming Hull up and under, but tragically as the final hooter went, we had lost by one point, and the dream of a Final which had been within touching distance, was gone.
For me that was Len Casey’s one great moment as Coach, and one that maybe ensured he kept his job into the following season and I hope Billy who requested it enjoyed reliving the game. The disappointment of that game certainly took the shine off Christmas that year for me. However, I remember that a good victory over Featherstone on Boxing Day at the Boulevard put most of that right and certainly lifted the gloom a bit. Although I was never a great fan of Len as a Coach they are all as always, still great memories!
So, we approach 2018 with hope, but perhaps too a bit of trepidation as to what will unfold on the field of play. However off it we are in the best shape there is and with a new slimmed down administration, Sir Adam in Control and James Clark as Chief Executive guiding the ship, we are as a business moving very much in the right direction.
When you look back over the reign of Sir Adam much has been made of the impact and importance of the 2016 campaign, but as far as the Club as a business is concerned, we made massive strides in 2017, no doubt on the back of that great year when we first won the Challenge Cup. When you look at last year in numbers as I include below, we certainly excelled as an organisation and we are in a better place than most Clubs and certainly the best financial shape we have been in for years. We have a settled squad and excellent training facility, we’ve players of great stature in the game who are all tied up on good contracts (and happy to be so) and in addition we have a Coach who has proven ability when it comes to getting the team up for those big games.
In fact, as for 2017, from the moment we signed much vaunted ‘bad boy’ Albert Kelly (against many of our better judgements) and turned him into one of the best players in the British game last year, we never really looked back as a business, as the fans backed the Club, the results followed and the balance sheets actually ‘balanced’ at last!!!
So, in retrospect I guess 2017; the year we won the Challenge Cup again and finished third in the League looks a bit like this really.
It’s a funny old world isn’t it? I had one of those shake your head moments on Saturday in the pub when a guy I’d never met, but who was in his sixties, a life-long Hull fan and who therefore should have known better, responded to the news that we were to play for the Kenny Sterling Trophy against Wigan in Aus. by asking me, “Who the hell is Kenny Sterling? Is it Peter’s son?”
In absolute exasperation I said, “I’ve no idea, the last Kenny Sterling I knew threatened to beat my head in if I didn’t stop dating his sister”. Which although absolutely true, certainly proved a real conversation stopper as I smiled pleasantly and my pals smirked and tittered behind their pints. I however failed to add that my brush with ‘Big Kenny’ was back twenty years before that great 1985 Final, when I was just 15 and living on the Boulevard!!!! Nothing wrong with my memory at least, I thought!
So there we are, it has been a great couple of years for Hull FC and a hard few months to follow as we face new challenges and adventures ahead in 2018. I do hope that you will go along and support Danny on Sunday and thanks so much for all the cards, messages, E Mails and Texts that I received from all over the world, over the last couple of weeks. Here’s to a great 2018. Thanks as always for reading another Diary and ….
Try to Keep Believing!!!
(name and address withheld in case ‘Big’ Kenny Sterling’s reading this!)
P.S. Big Thanks to Joe and Natassha for this very unexpected Christmas gift!!!
(He certainly isn’t getting packed away with the other Christmas clobber)
STEVIE THE ‘SNOWMAN’