The Dentist’s Diary – 578th

So four wins from the last 5 games has seen us consolidate a mid-table position and in fact it’s even just kept us in touch with the top four. It’s been hard and we have continued on through a deal of adversity which has seen us play some scratchy stuff but get some good wins just the same. Forget appearances, it’s all about points at this stage in the season.

Despite the fact that Widnes had their own troubles, last Thursday we had to get over a spirited side who we invited back into the game a time or two, when we already had it won. I guess in the end it was all about grabbing two points and we got them, but if we think that Leeds will perform the same way on Thursday, we will be badly undone. They looked a tad jaded last week but they’ll come to us all guns blazing and we have to be ready. We have to raise our game, keep the flowing stuff coming, but cut out the mistakes and the stupid penalties we continue to conceded late in sets.

Life is tough at the moment, we stand 6th but at least we have 12 points in the bag and should we now get players back and thus raise our game to challenge the top Clubs later on in the year, we’ll be thankful that we have. Then of course there is the Challenge Cup and we always raise our game for that, don’t we?

We are missing Watts’ unpredictable style but if nothing else we have at least tested to the full our strength in depth and recently players like Matongo, Abdull, Lane and Fash have certainly risen to the challenge as the intensity never dips when they are introduced and that has to be a plus. Players like Washbrooke who perhaps these days wouldn’t get in a fully fit side, have revelled in the opportunities they have been given, whilst before his injury the returning Hadley has been one of our top players. That all bodes well for the future, but for now I guess we have to be patient as its just a case of living from week to week at present.

It was certainly a tough old week following the last game of the Easter period against Saints. As the days progressed it was obvious that our issues with injuries weren’t improving, in fact, if anything they just continued and Widnes was looking a possible banana skin for the FC! Add to that the comments from Lee Radford that he was envious with regard to the Saints line speed and enthusiasm the previous weekend, which no doubt increased the pressure on everyone in camp before the game, and I detected that we might just be struggling a bit.

It’s never easy when injuries bite so deeply and there is little doubt that we were a tired squad that was missing experienced campaigners like Mini and Seke, who can mix things up a bit. Wattsy leaving hasn’t helped and I think myself that the whole situation was becoming progressively more difficult to manage. But of course that’s the post Easter fixtures fiasco for you and at least the club had been putting a brave face on it and insisting that the injuries we had sustained were not the sort you can anticipate or the kind of issues that can be prevented by the conditioning staff or the methods they use.

We are I guess therefore just unlucky and we perhaps should be thankful for the amount of points we have accrued. We have scratched around a bit and yet not wrung our hands and bleated on about bringing players in and the unavailability of replacements, choosing instead to put faith in the depth of the squad and we’ve got some reward for doing it. We will be a better club going forward after this current period of adversity I’m sure of that.

Many folks arrived just on time or indeed late!

But Widnes had to be faced and overcome and it was a real challenge for the fans as well as they battled their way over the Pennines to try and get to the game for the 7-45pm kick-off. With the exception of the game in Catalan it’s the longest bloody journey we have to make and yet Sky pick that game for the Thursday night televised match. It hardly helps the travelling supporters from Hull who many teams rely on for some much needed additional income when they visit. My pal Ian sent me a text at about 6-45pm that sarcastically commented, “Just on top of the foggy Pennines, with an hour to go to kick-off. We’re playing the Thursday night rugby league lottery. Will we get there in time or won’t we, will we make kick-off at all? It’s so exciting!”. Then on the way back he was back in touch this time to say, “M60 shut, what a surprise, just had a de-tour through Salford” The way that Sky pick these games and are allowed to do so is a farce really but ‘hey-ho’ it is, what it is, isn’t it!

The game was always going to be hard and with the line up’s both clubs were forced to field, it meant that it was also going to be a bit of a lottery too. As far as we were concerned it was at least good in parts, but hardly a fine display and at times we imploded and our mistakes let a poor Widnes side back into the game. When they led in the second half, I was certainly worried, but their bad luck again with in-game injuries, sapped their energy and we were, in the end, classy enough to eventually put a spirited home side to the sword.

You might not agree, but for me, at half time we had a real chance of being out of sight with the points in the bag, simply because of the chances we had created and at times we looked pretty sharp with ball in hand. However, we were a bit too cocky and squandered some great opportunities when we got in front, after the players appeared to be basking in the reflected glory of a great try from a slipped ball from Connor and a superb catch and score from Faraimo.

Do we then push on? Do we heck! Instead we try and replicate that first great Connor pass every time we break and a couple of great positions to score were lost as the ball went to ground. We are too good a team to be struggling yet average teams seem to still have the ability to put us under pressure because we become a bit slap dash and our discipline goes and that’s a attitude thing I’m sure.

We give away soft penalties and field position so that all of a sudden instead of being out of sight, we are looking over our shoulders at an ever more confident ‘under-dog’. Faraimo and Talanoa needs more early ball and running chances in such circumstances, whilst for me Griffin had a wonderful game but even he was guilty of a poor last pass or two. However, credit where credit is due because his running out wide in the centre channel was a joy to watch as he broke the line at will and made the most yards on the night.

However, what was much more worrying for me, as the first 40 minutes drew to a close, was the fact that a club near the bottom, who are struggling and playing with a full pack of players missing, still seemed to have no problem at all in marching us down the field from their own quarter. We were simply not meeting them in the tackle and giving away far too much ground as they spread the ball wide.

In the second half we made most of the running as we began to cut out all the over-elaborating. However, we went behind after conceding stupid penalties, but then got back in front, when a brilliant ball from the returning Houghton found Matongo on a superb line run and he duly celebrated his first FC try with a really flamboyant ‘belly flop’ of a swan dive in front of the fans. Great plays and a couple of good tries followed on from that, as we all relished the running and strength of Griffin and the foresight and skill of Bureto, with that great kick inside for what was a superb Shaul try.

I really loved it at the end when Jamie Shaul said to Houghton about his try ‘I took the ball cos you were off side’ which I think he was, but thankfully Danny didn’t interfere with play and a brilliant movement was completed. That was it then, we were home with the points, but why that sudden burst of tries that killed the opposition off at a time when we were struggling for direction? Well, there is no doubt at all for me that we always look a much better outfit when a rested and reinvigorated Houghton returns to the fray, either from injury or as was the case last Thursday from the bench. Danny and some astute distribution and running from acting half, made all the difference after that, but in fairness Litten had paved the way and done his best to run at and tire the markers around the play the ball whilst he was on the field as well. Impact off the Bench is everything and Houghton certainly provided it at Widnes.

Mickey had an effective game at prop.

So, a great two points and another game with a makeshift team was negotiated, just ……as we came out with the spoils. The fact is as wqas the case against Wakey and Rovers we are getting by and a few points are coming our way which if not exactly keeping us in the top four running, are at least leaving us clear of trouble at the bottom. All that with as bad an injury situation as we have had for the last three seasons. That has to be satisfactory and when we get some players back I’m sure that we will benefit from the platform created by the points we have accrued so far.

So it was tough, it was scrappy, but there were still some fine performances just the same. For me Griffin and Houghton shone out whilst both Talanoa and Bureta both played their part, whilst Connor made a great opening try for Washy and showed an improved performance throughout. On the more disappointing front I wasn’t that impressed with Downs and particularly Bowden, who for me failed to make much ground at all. However, Shaul put in a much better performance and on the play making front I enjoyed Sneyd’s display. His kicking and that drop goal just at the right time were good to see. Some criticise him, but to them I would say, just think back 4 or 5 years to a time when we didn’t have any half backs, because Marc’s certainly been the player for the big game and the important moment, time and again for us. He can’t shine all the time, but he’s always probing and causing the opposition problems and as a great foil for Albo, that will do for me.

So all in all and after the dust has settled it was a pretty good showing in difficult circumstances and a platform to build on for a much more difficult game this Thursday. That one is going to be really tough!

One player who has certainly embraced what has been a bit of a stop/start beginning to our 2018 season is without doubt Josh Griffin. What a massive improvement he has made from last year. As a player who was rumoured to be struggling to fit in when he first arrived at the start of the 2017 season he has certainly excelled particularly when using his undoubted strength to carry the ball forward. As a centre he also has a good pair of hands and a turn of speed too and he has come on leaps and bounds. In here a time or two I have comment that I was really unsure about whether he was a good signing and for a time last year he probably avoided more severe criticism as he lived for a time on his almost famous efforts in Salford’s beating of Hull KR in that amazing Million Pound game of 2016.

Playing out of his skin.

However, for me this season he has come good and over the last few weeks his work rate has been quite phenomenal and he is developing into a great centre for us. His timing is now much better and he has developed a role which sees him more involved with the forwards when they need a hand driving the ball out, so much so that he and Carlos are now obvious choices for the two centre berths. That’s tough on Jake Connor who is a ‘a bit part player’ at present, but his future role could in turn be decided once we know what Albo has in mind for next season. I believe he’s been given a deadline to decide on his contract offer and once he’s decided we should know more about what the future holds for Jake. Still well done to Josh Griffin, he has once again proved a great acquisition.

So, after 11 games, where exactly is this season going do you think? Is it going the way the last two have or are we in for a season of transition or even perhaps struggle and disappointment? Well, as a fan of the FC I obviously really do want to do it again as we have of late, for in 2016 we walked into the room where the big dreams are kept and grabbed one for ourselves and then amazingly our efforts of daring do saw us in there again in 2017 as a second amazing prize followed.

However, this year it’s all a bit ‘stop start’ because we can’t really seem to get going. For me, we seem unable to settle into any sort of formation, not because we ain’t good enough, but simply because of the amount of injuries we have acquired over the weeks since we were hit with them so badly, against Wigan in Australia. Since then it’s been a situation that we have found difficult to overcome as every week we seem to be adding to the list and as we get a player back, we either lose one, or one of our current casualties has a set-back in their recovery.

It’s all a bit frustrating, particularly for a team that has for the last three season been blessed with a great record of keeping their players fit and getting the majority of their ‘stars’ out there on the field. We have utilised Cryo-Chambers and brought in additional expertise, whilst we all quite rightly praised our off field team for their efforts and the brilliant work our conditioning staff have done. All this has ensured that (with the exception of the major breaks etc. that no team can avoid) we have got players back quickly and in fact seen many avoid game missing injuries altogether.

This year however things have changed somewhat and we appear to be in a bit of a hole injury wise. As always when you have got used to something and it changes, at such times conspiracy theories abound amongst the keyboard warriors of this world. Nevertheless, perhaps it’s nothing more than just bad luck. Let’s face it every team seems to go through periods when they are beset with injuries and often these fall on their most influential players.

Perhaps this year it’s our turn and rather it be now than at the business end of the season. Unlike some teams we have a great depth of squad and a lot of good young players some of whom are on the cusp of forcing themselves into the first team on a more permanent basis and of course there’s the rub!

For those players need to get the necessary experience but to do that they need to be playing, but while they are on that learning curve, we might just be weakened a bit by their inexperience. One things for sure and that is that although the coaches and their staff can do something about most things, once they have ensured that they have the best possible medical support and rehab staff in house, there is not much they can do about injuries, despite the frustration we all feel when we suffer them. We’ll all just have to get on with it, support whatever 17 we put out and hope for better luck in the future.

We are perhaps struggling a bit to shake things up too and we have lost some great players like Ellis and Watts whilst we have brought in (or at least back), Paea and Hadley. That’s hardly like for like, but with players like Gareth and Liam you would never replace them fully. Those loses however now put a lot of emphasis on Fash and Masi, but all things considered they are both doing OK. No one will be able to find another Ellis, simply because there isn’t one about in the current game. I guess it will also be hard if not impossible to replace what Watts brought to the actual team, but we won’t miss his off field antics at all and from what I hear he’s be a bugger! Playing personal wise, we are not in a bad place, but as I said earlier it’s so hard to get by without players of the calibre of Hadley, Talanoa, Houghton, Carlos, Sika, Minichiello, Paea, Faraimo and Fash, all of whom have been missing at times, plus we have also had Bowden and a couple of others playing jabbed up. Still we soldier on and I guess we have to target that 22-point mark to stay clear of the middle eights in the first instance. A few interesting weeks lie ahead I think.

Let’s face it the news that Jansin Turgut was to move on loan to Featherstone came as no surprise to many of us did it? Quite frankly it could be the making of him because with limited chances to feature in the first team, it could just be the best thing that could have happened. The 22-year-old has made just three appearances for us so far this season and he joins Featherstone eager to get an opportunity to feature in some starting action in a very competitive Rovers team that is going well. Turgut has been missing in recent weeks with a hip injury and will now take his chance at the LD Nutrition Stadium with what is a high-flying Championship team.

Rumour is Lee Radford has been looking for an opportunity to ship him out to get some experience and game time and I’m told Lee actually contacted Featherstone about his availability in the first instance. On the young forwards loan move to the Colliers he said: “It’s a perfect opportunity for Jansin to get some game time, especially with the likes of Mark Minichiello, Sika Manu and Dean Hadley all very close to returning from injury. I have watch Featherstone and their style of rugby will suit his play”.

Jansin will have to go some as well if he is to catch up on what was looking only last season as a promising career. This term there is little doubt that he has fallen down the pecking order a bit. However, how he comes through will be I feel too close to call at present, but good luck to him all the same.

Well, with a solution to the structure debate apparently no closer and amidst the distractions of the farcical situation with the Denver test, it now appears despite all the promises of Pearson and Co, that Mr. Hetherington and his ‘oppos’ are blocking the moves being made to sort out the reformation of the leagues. That appears to indicate that the 2019 season could well be played under the same make-up as this term. Some clubs are already apparently working on the basis that there will be no changes for next year and planning accordingly for the Million Pound Game,The Qualifiers and a twelve team Super League. Some heads need knocking together me thinks before it’s too late for the great game we all love.

I have watched a few televised games of late including ours at Leeds and the Good Friday local Derby and in several of them, including those two, I have been totally dismayed by the current obstruction rule that the video referees are upholding. It is such a grey area at the moment and causes great confusion particularly to Coaches and supporters but, more worryingly, it’s just so negative. Our game is desperate to build it’s audience and get business involved and yet so often some great play is spoiled by the intervention of the video referee deciding some innocuous act that doesn’t affect the actual play, has to see a good try chalked off.

It is just so bloody disheartening to see and I fully understand the frustration when such actions are taken. At the Derby Rovers should have had a try and as for that Leeds game a few weeks back the defender that was ‘obstructed’ would have had to be Superman to get anywhere near Logan who scored the disallowed try in the corner. It is just too easy for lazy defenders to fall to ground, but in such cases there should be absolutely no scope for such ambiguity. Common sense must be allowed to prevail particularly when it is clear ‘obstructed’ defenders have no chance to make up ground and make a tackle. Unfortunately, the way the rule is interpreted at present it appears that any minimal contact, however innocuous, whether or not the defender is truly impeded, will see the attacking side penalised.

You know for me there is a major question mark these days about whether video officials are really needed at all and that is something on which I have to say I’m still undecided, particularly given all the confusion, time wasting and outrage they often engender.

However, if you want to know what I’d do to solve the problem Then I’d stop Video referees passing judgement on such things and leave the decision to the referee and linesman using their own gut-instinct and common sense. It will at times be controversial but it might just reduce the risk of more quality, enterprising tries being disallowed and also make sure the game ends and we all get home before the 11-00 O’Clock news.

Now to this week’s Codgers spot and in almost 60 years of watching the best game there is, I have seen some characters and some pretty intimidating and awesome players. In fact, I covered a few of them the other week in here, and if a team is to be effective over a long period of time they have to learn to at times to boss a game and bully opponents and remember ‘the bigger they are the harder they fall’.

However, once or twice you actually come across a player who has the physical presence to do that bullying for you. I remember a few; Mal Menninga was maybe one and Rocky Turner perhaps another, they were players that asserted their authority on a game and their opponents just couldn’t handle them, however I also remember one in Hull FC colours that fits the bill. So, this week in Codgers Corner, I want to go back to the 89/90 season and the advent of a real Man Mountain of a player.

It was the second season with the great Brian Smith in charge. He had in the previous season masterminded a trip to Old Trafford where we were defeated in the Premiership Final against Widnes, so he had started well. Expectations were high but after ten games we had lost four and drawn one, in fact looking at the three seasons that Smithy was in charge we were always notoriously slow starters. Brian was doing everything he could to improve the team and had introduced imports Liddiard and Foulkes from down under but was looking for some beef and power and someone to capture the imagination of the fans and indeed the RL fraternity in this country. Then the news broke that we were courting one of the most extraordinary and ‘wild’ players the game had seen. Looking like the ‘Wild man of Borneo’ and reputed to spend his time off, wrestling wild pigs in the outback, Noel Cleal was a real phenomenon and a player that had terrorised both his own countrymen in State of Origin and players from other nations in international games. In 1985/86 he had been over and played for Widnes when he scored 12 tries in 16 games.

When it was announced that he had signed for us the game certainly took notice and the first match in which he really made an impact was against Salford at the Boulevard on 15th October 1989. That Sunday afternoon around 7000 fans witnessed a display of such power and aggression that the whole City was talking about ‘Crusher’ the following week. The Daily Express said that he had the Salford defence ‘Quaking in their boots’ as ‘Hull and Cleal went on the rampage’.

If Hull Fair had just finished in Walton Street the Circus was just beginning at the Boulevard. After the trials and tribulations of the start to the season this was to be the day when the jigsaw started to fit together, but Smithy was to spring a surprise which saw Cleal cutting an unusual figure out in the centre as opposed to his more accustomed role in the pack. The game kicked off with our new signing seeing little of the ball as the forwards from both sides concentrating on driving down the middle. Salford’s Brook-Cowen almost got through, and a couple of sorties into our 25 must have worried Brian Smith stood up there in the top of the stand in his new vantage point the ‘Crows Nest’.

It was therefore hardly surprising that Salford took the lead in the 8th minute when Jones beat Eastwood and Liddiard and put Adrian Hadley in, but within two minutes we took the lead. At last Cleal got the ball in a flowing move when slick passing between Windley, Liddiard and Cleal saw Eastwood head for the corner and brush full back Steve Gibson aside to score a try that he converted. At 6-4 we settled down a bit and Chico Jackson making his debut on the wing, (where he was a surprise inclusion in place of Dane O’Hara), had a couple of good runs following early balls from ‘his centre’.

After an Eastwood penalty our debutant winger got himself on the team sheet as Folkes brilliantly switched play to the blindside and Steve Crooks sent out a precision pass to Jackson who put his head down to plough in at the corner and we were 12-4 in front. Another penalty followed before great work by Lee Jackson and Andy Dannett saw full back Nolan held just short and leaving a wake of three Salford players flat out behind him. The experiment of using Richard Gay at 6 and Nolan at full back was working well and after a further Eastwood penalty as half time approached Hull were well on top at 14-4 and a massive ball and all hit by Cleal that saw his opposite number Bragger left needing lengthy attention before being helped off the field in a daze, had the crowd buzzing as the players trooped off the field.

The second half started as the first had finished as Wilby broke down field and made 30 yards from the kick off although he limped from the tackle and was later replaced by Welham. With just 6 minutes gone Gay brilliantly opened up the Salford cover and sent Jon Sharp careering through only for him to be felled by Sharrett and Rampling 30 yards out. A quick play the ball saw Lee Jackson pass straight to Crusher Cleal who set off towards the Salford line, Brown, Worrell and Evans all flew off him as he scattered them like skittles and two other Salford tacklers showed understandable hesitation, when it came to confronting the big man. Crusher crashed on and producing a great ‘head of steam’ he crossed the whitewash for his first try in the black and white shirt. It was a fabulous sight that even had the fans in the ‘best seats’ on their feet and cheering long after referee Asquith had given the try.

Cleal clearly ‘blowing’ a bit was substituted by Brain Smith straight away as Welham came on and took over in the centre before immediately dropping a ball that Evans gleefully pounced on to score the visitors second try. Then it was the turn of debutant Chico Jackson again. A shrewd inside ball by Dannett in the tackle found Windley who shot away from the area of the ruck and found some space. Despite it only being the second tackle he threaded a great grubber kick through towards the corner flag and Chico scooped the ball up from his boots to slide over the line for his second try. It was turning out to be quite a debut!

Back onto the field came Crusher after a ‘Blow’, to the obvious dismay of the Salford team. He replaced a limping Liddiard in the centre and soon he was in the thick of the action again. Salford had visibly lost the appetite to tackle a player that simply seemed impossible to put to ground. In fact the referee was having difficulty calling held because Cleal kept moving forward even with five players on his back and round his legs. His tackling too left players on the floor struggling to get up. The big man was now rampant and as Windley put him through again he drew a nervy Burgess at full back before this time passing to Eastwood who roared over in the corner and it was starting to look like a rout. A second consecutive conversion from Eastwood left the score at 32-8 and there were still 17 minutes to go.

Sub Paul Welham scored another five minutes later and the game finished with the move of the match. Cleal hit Jones (so hard that he crumbled in a heap) and then released Sharp who ran sideways across the visitor’s line at half way, looking for a gap. He passed to Gay who was stood in one, and he set off down field. As the cover came across our off half found Welham who switched the ball back inside for Doherty to gallop in under the posts and Eastwood 8th goal from 9 attempts, made it 44-8 and that’s how it ended, although a great win was tarnished somewhat, as Windley hobbled off four minutes from the end with an ankle injury.

We all stood and applauded the team at the end and Brian Smith came down the ladder in the Best Stand and out onto the pitch to join the adulation for a great win and a man was more like a bulldozer than a rugby player and who had run riot causing visible mayhem and confusion. As a team it was a great two points and although we had spluttered a bit in the first half, in the second we had witnessed a blistering exhibition of attacking football and the arrival of a real enforcer at the Boulevard; Noel ‘Crusher’ Cleal! Great times under Smithy! Great times eh?

So its Leeds up on Thursday and I guess discounting the annual and boring merry-go-round that are the rover’s games, this match is the next big one for all FC fans. Let’s face it there is no more popular a chant than “We all hate Leeds” is there?

Well, one things for sure after years of them doing us and their chief executive endeavouring to rule the roost over all the participating clubs in Super League, I don’t like them, not as much as I dislike rovers, but I still dislike them with a passion, as a team and as a club. The Reverend Bagshawe once told me that you should never declare ‘a hate’ for anyone (as we all do in that chant) and I agree with him, well I do as much as I now just use a small ‘h’!!

Despite their success over us in the play-offs they will no doubt still be licking their wounds after last year’s semi-final and in any case, they love to get one over us in front of our fans, so as far as Thursday is concerned, for me it’s welcome back to the circus, that very rarely gives us a satisfactory result. You know I’d really love to get a victory on Thursday!

On so many occasions as a club we have been in form with a fully fit team and yet they have arrived in town shown agility, speed and a real will to win and have thus blown us away in the process. This time we are struggling to find a settled team, some of our combinations are still scratchy, we have a lot of injury issues and so we need to be right on it from the off.

I think Thursday is a big, big ask myself, but who knows if our attitude and application is right, we might just give it a go. They certainly seem to have the Indian sign over us and deserve a bloody good stuffing, but whether we are in the right place to deliver one, is at present, a completely different issue. Let’s just hope we are.

Much of this week’s diary has been written here on the beach in Tenerife. I had to watch the Widnes game on TV and on my phone, so apologies if this week’s late offering is all a bit rushed. I’ll be back home tomorrow and eagerly anticipating the game on Thursday, but thanks as always for all your support, it is really appreciated and thanks too, for all the correspondence I’ve received as well.

After a few weeks when I seem to have been here, there and everywhere on my travels, from now on things should get back to normal (whatever normal is) and I’ll be back as usual next Monday morning with what is hopefully a more comprehensive edition of the diary, with perhaps a great game against the Rhino’s to report on!

In the meantime thanks for bearing with me…….

Keep Believing and Come On You Hullllaaarrrr!!!!!!!!

Faithfully Yours