Watching our efforts and our players it looked like, “They think it all over” ….well guys, “It is now!!!”
7 points adrift of 4th place with eight games to go and more injuries stacking up; that display saw us bow out of the top four race, the 2018 campaign is gone and although we can all take defeat and disappointment, it was simply not good enough!! It was almost season over before the game and now it certainly is. Our prospects this year ended with a whimper and with our heaviest regular season loss in Super League. Although we’ve had worse days, sat here on Sunday night at home trying to write this blog, it’s hard to remember many!!
In that first half they were really good and we were really poor, and for this fan as the game progressed I moved between manic frustration and fury, to almost being in tears. It’s all very commendable for Lee to take the blame for it all, but whether that is to deflect the heat from the players in Derby week I don’t know, however for me, this was solely down to the players, because with that team on the park, tired and carrying injuries or not, it shouldn’t have been that score, questions have to be asked and its the players who should be asked first.
The Coach has proved he knows how to prepare and motivate a team prior to the game, he’s done it often enough. But he can do nothing once they are out there, although that said I do question the logic of rushing players that aren’t fully fit back into a game on such a hard pitch and for a match that was played in such hot conditions. Lee rolled the dice, gambled a bit and came up short!
At half time the only words I could find were, “Just Pathetic” and believe me others went a lot further with their appraisals of what they were witnessing. For all the planning that we went through last week to get us into the right shape to face the Wildcats, the players might as well have spent their time sat in deck chairs, for we were a disjointed and at times a dysfunctional mess. Was I disappointed, well yes, but I just felt massively let down. Wakey were good, in fact very good, but the West Wales Raiders would have looked good against our lot on Sunday.
The travelling fans deserved so much more. I just hope we have a lot of mirrors down at County Road because our lads need to have a good hard look at themselves before Friday!
This was always going to be a strange old game in an even stranger 2018 competition where, before this weekend and 9 games out from the play offs, the top four were all but sorted, we were stuck in the middle in limbo and in no man’s land, while the rest went into the weekend battling to stay up. Add to that a bottom team who were so far adrift it will be a travesty if in the end, one Super League team have to go down, and it’s not them. Rugby League Eh? You couldn’t really make it up could you?
I heard all the rhetoric before the game on Sunday about us still being in with a chance of something from the rest of the season, but I doubted that, and apparently so did the players, because all I wanted us to do was compete and keep it close but instead of that we were beaten in every department. In fact, we looked to be a team that was playing as if they thought their season was already over. However, it’s a long, long time since I have heard of ‘died in the wool’ long term FC fans, leaving the game to drive home at half time.
There was a lot of chopping and changing the team before hand and no one, even the players, expected Sneyd to be in contention, but I guess with the stupid position that sees few Club’s running reserve teams this is what happens and players can’t be eased back in. After Catalans victory on Saturday it was a real must win game for the Wakefield outfit, but I worried when I saw the changes to the 19 made after Captains run and fretted that we might be rushing players back and if we were, that was a real danger. However, and conversely, with our chance of having anything left at all to play for in the Super 8’s hanging by a very thin thread, I guess Radders, who hasn’t had a full deck of cards at his disposal for weeks, was having to play all the cards he had and hope!
It all soon went wrong, Sneyd played on one leg, Westerman and Shaul left the match injured and only Talanoa looked to have fully recovered. We witnessed a wretched first 30 minutes and at 28-0 down we looked out of it. Poor tackling, losing the ball in the play the ball, wrong reads and needless forced passes it was all there to see and we were just awful. Plus, our line speed was shocking and we were almost pedestrian at times. We had to turn it round and at least keep the score down in the second half but on and on rolled the Wildcats and fuelled by some bad luck, we completely capitulated. We only had one standout player and that was Joe Westerman but true to the ‘Injury bingo’ I talked about last week, again, he got injured.
Wakefield on the other hand were very, very good and we had no answer to them, we gave away stupid penalties and looked in tatters. It was so easy for Wakefield for we were shocking in all aspects of our game and it was painfully obvious that they wanted it so much and whatever the rhetoric before-hand we didn’t. We looked second best in every department and third best in some. I reflected at half time that if there was one good thing about all this it was that we are not in the Middle Eights, because if we were, then on that form, boy would we be in trouble.
The second half should have seen an improvement, but it simply didn’t and at 54-0 a short kick off by Faraimo actually went about 4 yards forward and then the same player went blindside from a scrum and was forced into touch, it was just all indicative of how we were playing and a shambles that was for many by this time, impossible to watch.
Too many of our lot looked knackered, Wakefield looked fresh and fuelled and dangerous every time they had the ball and players like Reece Lynne in the centre, who usually looks ordinary, looked massive, simply because we were so poor. To let a massive forward run 40 yards to score and to in the process see him waltz around the full back is unforgiveable. One of my pals Richard text me at half time to say he was off home, stating that he couldn’t stand anymore adding that he could stand defeats but that was just totally unacceptable. We agreed it was as bad as that night at Bradford after Cardiff and again at Huddersfield a few years ago in the play offs. We had done so well, so far, with all those injuries, but this was the sort of catastrophe that hurts us all. I can’t really write anymore about it; I’m so disappointed and not a little disenchanted as well, particularly I have to say with those players who on a hot sunny West Riding afternoon, let a lot of travelling supporters down big style.
So, that’s it I can’t discuss it further but before what was in essence a shambolic showing, I really did enjoy both Thursday and Fridays televised games. The Wigan v Saints game had so much energy and dynamism (Mostly from Saints) on show, while the Castleford v Huddersfield game showed how fragile Cas. are and how easily they can be unpicked by power rugby played on the front foot and in their faces. I was also really impressed with how strongly burnt the fight to survive in the Giants. Great to see teams peaking at the right time wasn’t it, but sadly once again it’s not going to be us doing it!
I read Gareth Ellis’s Column in the Yorkshire Post last weekend and wasn’t that surprised to see that he isn’t comfortable at present in his Football Manager role at the Club. The transition for players onto the administrative side of things is often a bumpy one and Kevin Sinfield who has made the switch well, is I think, the exception rather than the rule when you pack up playing and make such transitions. I have struggled for a while when fans have asked me, “What exactly does Gareth do?”, because I know by talking to folks over the weeks that James Clark has been doing the salary cap and recruitment and retention stuff that Motu used to do. Now, if you read on, then one or two ain’t gonna like what I have to say next, but I’m just trying to be realistic here so I’ll have a bash at outlining my views.
You see, for me, if a football manager who is responsible, by definition, for looking after the management and the over view of the playing side, doesn’t do that, then what exactly does he do? It seemed on reading his piece in the YP that Gareth would move on at the end of the season because the role that he found himself in was not for him, too far away from the actual playing side of things and hadn’t worked out as he wished it had. However next day, the Mail announced that the Club were looking to ‘Redefine his role’ at the Club moving forward.
Now if you read this regularly you’ll know that I worship the bloke, simply because he was the guy who on and off the field led us to our finest hour and was the best captain, (for individually being able to totally raise and inspire the troops) that I have ever seen in a black and white ‘jumper’. AND I’ve seen a few! I always felt 100% more confident when he led us out and he is a legend and an icon of the Club and I want him to do well now that his playing days are over. It’s so commendable too that the Club is looking after him, but how long and more importantly, how often, can they do that for past players?
You can’t throw such iconic and loyal servants on the scrap heap but you have to wonder what strain such accommodating and worthwhile action puts on the resources of any Club in these hard financial times for RL. We all know how tight money is and how our Club like most others have to watch the pennies. Now if, as was the case I believe with Kirk Yeaman, there is a vacancy in the conditioning team and like Kirk a player is willing to start from scratch on a low wage, then great stuff and welcome aboard and with Motu leaving Gareth stepped straight into his shoes, but let’s face it he did it without the obvious skill set that Tony had. However, unless Gareth is to take over completely from Richard Horne who is more and more involved at Doncaster these days, it’s hard to see from the outside how he would fit into the playing side of the set up at the moment.
I know Adam is a hard-nosed business man, but I also know him well enough to realise that he’s a bloody good bloke as well, who will be doing everything he can to accommodate Gareth, he thinks a lot about the bloke (and the renaissance he led) as we all do, but if he is to come into the coaching side it’s hard to see where. I’m sure Lee has all the attributes needed to Coach the forwards and for me if I’m honest, I really think if we need anything on that side then perhaps we need an ‘Attacking Coach’. Gareth would be great in the dressing room and as a motivator he is certainly second to none, but I wonder a bit about what is going to happen next, although the track record of Lee and Adam over the last three seasons leads me to think that we have to put our trust in them to get it right! I want Gareth to stay, but I want us to be a viable unit that continues into future seasons in the strong position two Wembley wins have put us in.
Perhaps the recurring theme of this week’s Diary is ‘do we need some Coaching help on the attacking side of things?’ I say that because at a time when most of us feel that, due to freak circumstances completely beyond our control, our season is over and it is perhaps time to reflect a bit on where we are. We all have a theory and I’m no different really!
Sad old me spent a bit of time this week going through the ‘Sky Box’ and watching and then deleting past games that I have taped this season. When you do that, you certainly get a more holistic view of things and you see things from an angle that is much more rounded than the ongoing roller coaster ride that we experience as we move from week to week and from game to game.
What was apparent to me was that from the early days of the 2018 campaign our tactics were to soften teams up with the Biff and Bash approach down the middle that had worked so well for us in 2016 and 2017. However, what struck me most was that teams had maybe done their homework and found us out a bit and also that we did at times, after the Aussie trip particularly, look tired and perhaps a bit over worked by the end of games, particularly against teams that had the ability to spread the ball quickly across the line.
We rely heavily on our packs ability and in the last two seasons they have certainly got us around the field, bashed the opposition up and thus left us able to open up through the backs to kill teams off. However, watching those games back without prejudice, I realised that maybe because of injuries to mainstays like Bowden and Manu or maybe through the loss of Ellis to lead us, we simply haven’t been able to repeat that tactic with so much success this time around, particularly on the rotate.
Mini and Manu didn’t seem to be running as wide and for the first time for two years there wasn’t as seamless a transfer when our bench forwards rotated with the starting ones, but fatigue and injuries could have a lot to do with that. Add to that the loss of master tactician and organiser Sneyd for so long and you start to get a picture of where this season has come unstuck. All that said the one single issue that has affected us most is our unprecedented injury crisis. It started in Australia in the second game of the season and hasn’t abated much since. We’ve done well to be third highest points scorers in the competition but I’m convinced that we could have scored oh so many more had we had some direction and moved the ball more quickly.
Nonetheless, when you look at how Saints and Castleford played against us this year they disguised the direction of play from the play the ball before the ball was moved through the backs at a fast pace and they shifted it so slickly and so effectively that their backs made a lot of metres. Against Wigan on Thursday Saints got the ball wide even in their own quarter and pushed up field in every set. When this happens against us I hear people sat around me at the KCOM shouting “Get in their faces don’t back off”, but when you watch it back the ball is moved so fast at times we can’t do that and we have to hold our line man for man to combat the speed of the ball being spread.
Those spread plays are often done by the opposition without too much forward involvement in the line and therefore their big men remain energised and a lot fresher, whilst in possession we either have forwards getting in the line and acting as rather ponderous ball handlers, or just taking the ball up man by man with no ball movement. How many 5th tackle plays in the opposition half, see a one man forward drive.
The teams I’ve cited and a couple of others who move the ball wide early, have more energy and are more effective at protecting their last tackle kicker than we seem to be, and so their end of set kicks are more accurate and more potent, more often. Half backs like Gayle, Farge and Richardson are given so much time to kick, they can pick their spot and trajectory. Did you see the energy and bite on display from Thompson and Co in that game at Wigan on Thursday and how thrusting runs down the middle were balanced with effective spread plays early in their set’s? That’s how to pressure a team and despite a narrow margin on the score board Wigan were out on their feet in the last quarter and never really looked like getting back in it.
We have for two seasons had a rather staid power based game plan that teams seem to have now rumbled somewhat and although we have tons and tons of endeavour and enthusiasm we are struggling to break teams down. The big conundrum is of course that had Sneyd, Connor and Kelly stayed injury free things might have been different, but as they haven’t we have struggled and I think myself that perhaps we have to be more inventive in our speed and efficiency as we shift the ball from side to side. We have to try and replicate what Saints and Cas. do and that means getting our backs involved more often and earlier in the piece.
So, would an attacking Coach help that? Well, we have a great Head Coach in Lee and a real unsung hero in Assistant Andy Last who, when you see what he does, is simply invaluable and working in tandem they do a terrific job. However, if there has been one other short coming besides the speed of the ball in the line then it is that even when everyone is fit (an unlikely variable I know) we still have great difficulty in scoring tries when we are pressing inside the oppositions 20. The Club knew I think that we needed some help and had a candidate lined up to come into the Coaching team, but he gave back word and that was that. That is just however my thoughts after watching four or five past games this season and as I always say those at the Club know better than I do and what the hell do I know in any case? So just a few observations of an ordinary fan, we all have our views, so what do you think?
Now at times I bump into people who are disenchanted with the current set up and structure of the game, although several still believe that the middle eights are going to be exciting and unpredictable whilst they say, at the same time, that for some reason the top eights are shaping up to be absolutely the opposite and totally predictable even before the Super Eights begin. I usually reply, “Yeh you would say that about the Middle Eights being exciting, when we’re not in there” and I guess by that I mean it’s so much easier to watch a car crash if you’re not in the middle of it.
It will be the group of death I’m sure of that, but, looking at the table, there is little doubt for me that it just proves again how mad this system is! Widnes on 6 pts should be down, gone and relegated they are by their results clearly not good enough and the worst team in Super League. They haven’t finished bottom they have finished rock bottom! Leeds and Rovers with 9 or 12 points more are still left to worry about a run of poor form, or some freak injuries and freak results which could very well still unfold in the last 7 games and see them taking the drop instead. How can that be equitable at the end of a 23 game league campaign? Add to that the fact that the top four is all but sorted as well and we haven’t even entered the Super Eights.
Still Widnes should take heart, because at the end of the last two seasons, the team that has finished bottom has not been relegated, but a team that finished higher up has and all that when a team that has managed to avoid the bottom spot to finish 9th, 10th or even 11th after a hard and often tumultuous season should be rewarded with staying in the league, simple as! How the hell can this current system be right? In the mean time we are in fifth but 7 points away from 4th with just 8 games to go, as I said earlier it’s all stitched up already isn’t it. If the season was over next week and a new short term cup competition was launched for the last seven games, it would be so much more interesting for us all.
Well, have you ever known a season when we had so many injuries to critical players? No neither have I? I’m really sure as well that it is that crisis that has led to our season being up already and it’s the difference between us struggling to scrape a win each week and Saints riding high at the top of the table miles ahead of everyone else. It’s something that regular reader Chris Walker commented on in an E Mail he sent me this week about Matty Smith at Saints when he said, “Apparently he’s only made 4 appearances all year and an article I read mentioned that was because Saints have only used 22 players so far this season. I thought I’d check how many FC have used, and I make it 31! One way of looking at that is that Saints have only used 5 players outside whatever is their first choice 17, whereas FC have used 14. Not surprising that we’ve struggled a bit for consistency at times, is it eh?” I
It’s an obvious point in some ways, but in others a really salient one, simply because in a contact game like ours, injuries are possibly the single most pertinent element in defining where a team end up. Rovers and Leeds would certainly not be where they are had they had Saints luck with injuries and we would certainly have been up there in the top 4 had we had the same, but and it’s a big but, injuries will always play a big part in what is happening. With a system like we currently have, that puts so many teams in jeopardy, they also play a disproportionate part in the eventual outcome.
Talking of correspondence and on a completely different tack, I got an interesting one this week from Kevin Horsley which went back to the age old issue of the SMC still not opening enough gates on the Walton Street Car park on game day. Kevin Said, “Only just got in the KCOM before kick off on Friday night for the Saints Game whilst the family who sit behind us missed the first ten minutes due to being stuck half way down Chanterlands Ave, plenty of hi-vis on site but not enough entrances open. No doubt when a train has to make an emergency stop at the Spring Bank level crossing the Stadium Management company might finally do something about it”.
One has to wonder what exactly the Stadium Management Company does with regard to customer feedback, but this one on the Car Park just seems to go on and on. Perhaps if your involved in these regular delays, you should contact FC Voices and ask them to make representations to the SMC on your behalf because of all the complaints I get coming into the diary from readers this represents the biggest by far. It will be rough on Friday!
This week in Codgers Corner I want to take you back to the 1976/77 season when under the coaching of David Doyle Davidson we were promoted to the First Division having spent several years in the doldrums. It was not all been bad news though, because the previous season we had battled our way to that fabulous Players No 6 Trophy Final at Headingley, that I covered a while ago in here. It was therefore with great expectation that we took a break from the weekly grind of second division games to play first division high flyers Warrington in the first round of the same competition the following year.
We were having a great season having won ten of our first twelve games and hopes were high with the ‘Faithful’ that we could do a bit of ‘giant killing’. This week’s featured game took place on Saturday 23th October 1976 on a blustery afternoon at the Boulevard, with the BBC Grandstand camera’s in attendance hoping that the heroes of the previous year, (as a second division club we had put out First Division clubs Leeds, Salford and St Helens) would be able to do it again, in front of the camera’s.
As was always the case back then the period leading up to the game went anything but smoothly, as charismatic veteran scrum half Keith Hepworth reported in with flu. Eventually as also often happened he declared himself fit although he clearly wasn’t and Hull changed the bench to drop Paul Hunter and include Chris Davidson as a precaution just in case ‘Heppy’ could not complete the game. We had a real character playing that season who was actually to work with me a few years later as a bouncer at the City Hall. Alan Wardell was back in the line-up for this game, after a four match suspension for fighting, something that he was proving to be good at. He was a great forward though and his exploits with his fists meant that he often brightened a dull afternoon and so the Threepennies loved him.
Before the game started Chris Davidson and Brian Hancock were presented by Chairman Charles Watson with their Testimonial cheques having had a joint benefit over the previous 12 months. Almost immediately after the kick off Warrington were caught off side and Lazenby got us into a great position in the visitors 25 with a towering penalty to touch. The ball was tapped and passed to Wardell who showed no signs of his enforced lay off as he ploughed through 4 tackles towards the line. From the play the ball though, Hancock passed to Crampton who then dropped the ball, just as he crossed the whitewash. Warrington won the resulting scrum and Whitehead kicked up field but a well-positioned George Robinson ran the ball back from full back as Hull threatened the Lancastrians line a second time. Again though Hull lost the ball and the game settled into a forward slog with Warrington prop Wanbon and second rower Martyn ‘mixing it’ with our forwards at every opportunity.
It needed a bit of magic and it came when Mike Crane made a sharp interception and set off on a 30-yard run, only to be tackled into touch by full back Finnegan as he tried to go round the outside towards the corner flag. However, after Tony Duke had won the ensuing scrum against the head, our right centre Clarke almost wriggled over the line, but was held up by three Warrington players. It was all Hull in that first quarter but we had failed to get over the line. Warrington were just hanging on as the 4000 crowd roared the home team forward, with the ‘Threepenny Stander’s’ only stopping for the occasional taunting chorus for Eddie Waring up on the gantry above the Stand. Then, more niggling by the Warrington forwards saw us awarded two penalties in good positions but on both occasions George Robinson missed with his goal attempts; not a lot was going for us.
Then Curling, the visitors centre, broke away and it took a thundering last ditch tackle from Portz to stop him scoring, but their other centre Nicholson snapped up a loose ball and Hull defence had to shuffle across quickly to stop him scoring at the other side. A fine move between Hancock and Hepworth on the half hour sent Wardell crashing through tackle after tackle before he was blatantly obstructed just 6 yards out by Cunliffe and this time Lazenby taking over the kicking, stroked the ball through the post to give us a two-point lead. Six minutes from the interval the try that Hull had been threatening for so long finally came. Warrington were working the ball out of their own twenty-five when Wanbon had a rush of blood to the head and sent a long looping pass sailing towards his winger. Up stepped Clarke to intercept and fly off down the field for 70 yards to score a great try. Lazenby’s conversion attempt from near the touch line just fell short but at half time the under dogs from the lower division went in leading 5-0.
The second half started in typical style when Hancock failed to make 10 yards with the kick and from the penalty Curling ran off down the field only to be crashed into touch by Alf Macklin just short of the corner flag. That ‘set the alarm bells ringing’ and Hull quickly moved the ball back into the visitor’s half were Tindall knocked on about ten yards out. From the scrum Duke again won the ball against the head and Hancock floated out a great cut out pass to Crane who shot through the Warrington line to score and put Hull 8-0 ahead on the 46th minute, with Lazenby adding the two points. Clarke who was having a great game almost scored again 10 minutes later when he crashed over but was held on his back and could not get the ball down.
As a Second Division team the pressure and pace of the game was starting to tell and ‘flu ridden’ Hepworth was replaced by the ‘all action’ figure of Chris Davidson who immediately upped the pace of our line and got the team moving again. Another player who was revelling in the occasion was Wardell who tackled like a terrier and in the 59th minutes started a punch up when he stoked Butler across the chops right in front of Referee Massey. That resulted in a ticking off and a penalty to the opposition which came to nothing. Then Boxall broke the line and bustled through the defence before cutting loose down the left where he passed onto Lazenby who went over for another try and our lead was stretched to 13-0.
The first division big boys were not enjoying what was turning out to be a humiliation in front of the TV cameras and as the chants of ‘Eddie Waring’s what’s the score’ rose from the Threepennies, a massive scrap broke out which once again Alan Wardell was at the heart of. In the end referee Massey, who obviously had no idea what to do and was fast losing control of the game, gave a scrum with head and ball to Warrington. From that the visitors substitute Price crashed in and Whitehead sent a towering touch line conversion through the posts. At 13-5 Warrington had a ‘sniff’ of a victory but great tackling by Boxall, Tindall, Wardell and Duke kept them out in three consecutive sets to kill off the game. This seemed to enrage Warrington all the more and another fight broke out a scrum which saw Wardell and Warrington’s Joe Price boxing in the middle of a circle of players to the cheers of the crowd.
They wouldn’t stop and the referee had to get in and separate them and with just five minutes to go immediately sent both players off! In the dying seconds Keith Boxall made a superb break and kicked the ball forward. He then dribbled it through the visitor’s defence showing skills that the Sunday papers next day observed ‘Would have made England Football Manager Don Revie sit up and take notice’. This dribble went on for 50 yards before ‘The Rhino’ Boxall picked the ball up, passed to Steve Portz and the centre ran in untouched to finish the scoring. Lazenby kicked the goal and at 18-5 the game was the shock result of the first round of the No 6 Trophy that year. In the next round we were at it again this time putting out Bradford, before Leigh finally did for us away in Lancashire in the third round. But that second division side that the great David Doyle Davidson had cobbled together was certainly great to watch back then.
I bloody hate local Derby’s but I don’t think I have ever been so lacking in confidence about our prospects as I am as I look forward (or otherwise) to this Friday game. I just can’t see 5 days being long enough to turn around a team that in hindsight at Wakefield all but threw in the towel on 40 minutes. It was a low point, as low as it gets and now the only way is up, so let’s hope my abject lack of confidence is ill founded. If you are passionate about you Club that sort of stuff hurts you so much simply because it ends up looking like some players simply were not trying and that’s then unforgiveable.
It’s been another week that featured a bumper bundle of texts and E Mails all from fans who were just as disenchanted as me. I haven’t quoted a lot of them simply because if I’m honest, they were unprintable.
So perhaps a bit harsh from me in what is a rather rushed offering but I am still raw after that defeat. Thanks for reading a Diary that has again been really hard to write, I will be accused no doubt by the Club of being too negative, but how bad does it have to get, for that was a terrible afternoon for the FC fans, who paid £24 to get in, just as it was for the owner, the players and the Coaches. The difference is the latter three can do something about it, while all we could do is hope.
Can you Keep Believing, because at present I’m finding it hard to believe that I can!