It’s been a quiet, old week and after the recent defeats we have experienced, quite frankly ….. that’ll do for me!! However, after the last two glorious years it’s a bit hard to watch other teams getting to Wembley (and Tommy Lineham scoring the tries) isn’t it?
At the FC little news has been coming out of the Club at all, which I guess isn’t surprising, but instead of having a week off the lads have been in and working hard on turning their form around a bit. And, with still no indication of the league structure for next year coming forward either, the season grinds on and we now look to Friday and a chance for revenge against Wakey, a team who will come to the KCOM full of confidence, and intent on beating us again.
Will we see an improved performance after the poor showing against Rovers and will the score be different to three weeks ago at Belle Vue? Well, I bloody hope so don’t you? Still, hopefully it won’t be raining as much as it was for our last home game, but otherwise, with Hull FC of late, everything else is up in the air.
Sometimes you just have ‘a great time’ and for this tired and I have to say at present, disappointed fan, that was the case on Saturday when I was honoured to join a host of the FC Ex-players at the Dog and Duck in Beverley. On a great afternoon with Keith Tindall, Tommy Ball, Sammy Lloyd, Mick Sutton, Don Robson, Barry Edwards and Keith Boxall, plus several other FC luminaries and a dozen or so ex player’s wives, we had a good time which was augmented with some great stories from the past, some of which even I hadn’t heard before!! Boy, that Knocker Norton was a bit of a bugger and no mistake!!!
However then, the whole thing was topped off by me meeting a guy who I had passed for year on the stairs at 79 Ferensway when I worked there for the Council. I never really knew him, but he has read the books, is a Diary reader as well and is a lifelong FC fan! He came over to say hello and through this rubbish we were like old pals and that’s just what, coming quite of the blue, makes keeping going with this drivel so worthwhile, because that sort of stuff is so nice and happens all the time.
But, you know what, when you have a week off playing matches and you have reached a point in a season as we have, where (despite what a few still say) there is nothing at all left to play for, you tend to reflect a bit and when you do we all have to admit that 2018 has been hard going.
It’s always a real ‘Roller Coaster’ ride anyway when you’re a fan and although this season we have seen the highs, I’ve never known a campaign when such bad luck has beset us or when we have sustained such serious and disruptive injuries. In a sport limited by a salary cap, that is always going to be a major hindrance, but for us this season it’s not so much the number of injuries we’ve sustained, but more the key players it has affected and the timing of their absences. It’s hard to imagine that the disruption could have been any worse really, and what’s more, there was nothing anyone could do about it!
We have to rally around the players for the rest of a season, they deserve that, because it is not their fault that their colleagues have been falling like fly’s around them. However, it’s quite ironically that the current flawed structure of the game (that sees us and at least three other Clubs facing 7 games with nothing to play for), has played into our hands. You see, with the roster of injured we’ve sustained and the half fit players that we currently have available, in essence we would really be in a hole if we had to try and get something out of this season! As a team we are completely shot and with already Bowden, Westerman, Connor and Kelly all out until pre-season training commences for 2019, we really don’t want to be risking anyone else who isn’t 100% fit do we?
So, despite all the rhetoric being about playing out this season to the best of our ability and hoping for a miracle, the eyes of our Coaching staff are already moving onto getting everyone fit and hitting the ground running for next season! The first indication of this approach was that news on Albert Kelly who we all expected to be back soon. Our mercurial half back is likely to get the all-clear to resume running again within the next few days but, by that stage, he will have done little training for the last 4 weeks. I’m told they are all happy about his concussion being a temporary affair, but is it really worth getting him right up to speed to play in say the last one or two dead rubber games, only for him to possibly get injured again? The thing is whether we like it or not, as a strike player with the X factor, he is, along with Jake Connor and Marc Sneyd, such an important part of our plans going forward?
Albo sustaining his third concussion of the year against St Helens in mid-July and has missed the last two matches against Wakefield Trinity and Hull KR as a result, and boy have we missed him! For me it would be ridiculous to name anyone in Albert’s predicament to play in such non-descript and pointless games. We’ve seen what happened in the last two matches when it was an imperative that we won, a scenario that led to us to name unfit players, because it was a necessity. Now with nothing to play for I think it’s the right decision in Albert’s case and I don’t really think it will be the last such instance of us resting and recuperating players, because I sincerely hope that we won’t be rushing anyone back. Of course we have to make the most of the next 7 games, but why take any risks with our star players?
I thought that we had to look to bring in a bit more grunt and size into the front or second rows for next year, because we haven’t replaced Watts for me, but rightly or wrongly, we have put all our 2019 ‘eggs’ in ‘the basket’ of our current squad and must rely for next year on a group of players who we have never really seen play together, (for any length of time at least) as a team. That’s what the Club has decided to do and they now have to live with a decision not to make any ‘Big’ recruitment moves for 2019. Incidentally, that’s something that a lot of the fans I meet certainly don’t totally agree with at all. Let’s face it everyone likes a signing or two to goad them into renewing their passes don’t they?
Of course, on the other hand, there are players who are carrying injuries that won’t hear of not playing the current season out and Scott Taylor is one such case of point. Although offered some remedial work and a rest, Tag says that he will definitely be completing the season, although he has been carrying a bad shoulder injury for weeks. He’s a real weathered campaigner these days but there is little doubt that a curtailed closed season because of an International call up such as we saw with Scott last Winter invariably leads to a season of knocks and he’s a player that really does need a rest at the end of a campaign. That truncated pre-season and the injuries that surrounded that ill-fated trip to play in Australia got us off to a poor start injury wise and things have gone downhill ever since really.
Looking back, we were so lucky to be able to call upon those young kids that got us through the Salford and Widnes games, where we got the points we needed to stay safe and away from the bottom four, because in our current state I dread to think what would have happened had we been down there now. Having suffered the perfect storm as far as losing players to serious injuries is concerned, I could really have seen us struggling in there, big style. Instead, we play out a pretty innocuous set of fixtures and so wind down to the end of the season with our position in Super League secure for another year and with more than one eye on the 2019 campaign. With the pressure off it will be interesting to see how we go.
For me looking back at the last month there is little doubt that Lee played all the cards he had to try and keep the dream alive as he attempted to get us the two wins against Wakefield and Rovers which would have just about kept our season going. Our downfall for me was that, with players like Westerman, Sneyd, Talanoa and Griffin returning to the fold, they came in cold from long lay-offs and thus were a way off the pace as far as match fitness was concerned and we all know what happened next in the last two games, don’t we?
The simple truth is that in the modern game, the gap between Academy rugby and the first team environment is a massive one already. But, that means that such players as I have mentioned above have no way at all to get match fit other than being thrown headlong into the first team. However, when that happens with three or four players at the same time, as we saw to our embarrassment at Wakefield, it spells disaster. The game desperately needs a compulsory Reserve grade in place to alleviate that.
If we had one, then the afore mentioned players could have been given perhaps half a game in that second string, before they came back and I believe that would have helped no end. It would have assisted in the fine tuning of their fitness whilst allowing the coaching staff to ascertain their ability to step up into the first team and compete on a level playing field with the opposition. Of course the current Reserve League does exist, but that set up is an ad hock affair with teams like Keighley, Halifax and Bradford having the foresight to give it a go, whilst Clubs like ourselves and of course ‘Doubting Thomas’s’ Leeds have declined.
For us it was a case of throwing our hand in because of the constant cancelling of matches and the switching of fixtures as it occurred in the 2017 season, for Leeds it’s a case of dummies and spitting then out!! However, at present at Hull FC the gap between the training field and a Super League appearance is way too large so a reserve league across the board is for me essential.
Of course there’s always one isn’t there? With the announcement of the demanded new structure for Super League, along with the appointment of Robert Elstone as its CEO, Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington declared it as “A Power Grab” despite a vote of 11-1 proving a desire for change. There can be no doubting that the Rhino’s have been the dominant team in the Super League competition for the last decade but the entrenched position of their Chief Executive Gary Hetherington is fast evolving them into the dinosaurs of the modern game. As far as organisation and winning trophies is concerned, they have been the best team in the comp for years, until now that is, although there have now been a few areas were they have been found to be seriously lacking. This is now becoming an embarrassment for them and that all circulates around their straight bat attitude to change and their unwillingness to enter a team into a Reserve competition.
Now it would seem, with the announcement by new RFL CEO Ralph Rimmer that a new Reserve League will make a return in 2019, that once again the Rhinos are standing alone, being left behind even by lower league clubs who have the foresight to run an ‘A’ team.
I won’t bore you again by putting on the rose tinted spectacles to talk about the old Friday night matches at the Boulevard but back then the reserves included first teamers on their way back from injury, youngsters who were too advanced for the Colts but needed game time to succeed, the odd trialist and the old hands that were by and large ‘past it’ but who were kept on ‘just in case’ they had to be called upon. At present there is nowhere (but duel registration for the youngsters) for any of those groups to now play. The recall of Yeamo and indeed the potential recall of Ellis could have all been sorted with a run out in the Reserves to ascertain whether it was feasible, whilst Reserve team rugby could and should be part and parcel of a players recovery process after major injuries have struck.
Elstone himself said a few weeks ago that there maybe should be a case of not allowing a team in Super League if they don’t run a Reserve team, but the embarrassing part must be the fact that the current champions refuse to run a Reserve team, while lower league teams do, so, ‘ipso facto’, should this give the lower clubs with a bit of vision more right to a Super League place than Leeds? I believe that if the game is to survive at all we need change and in years to come, a Reserve team will have to be compulsory in Super League, indeed it might just be facilitated by the potential relegation of Leeds, who are now staring down the barrel of a fierce competition in the Middle 8s Qualifiers for the second time in three seasons, how bloody ironic is that Mr H? I’d be a bit careful what you wish for if I were you!
Of course realistically, Leeds are unlikely to suffer the ignominy of being relegated a year after being crowned champions, but if their apathy towards a Reserves structure continues after everyone else adopts one, just to make a point, then how many more of those basement battles could they have to face in the coming years, while all the clubs around them, and indeed presently beneath them in the lower leagues, continue to embrace the need for second string rugby.
The fact is, I think, that Gary can’t get his own way and so the toys have come out of the pram. He probably knows that the proposed scrapping of the middle eights is the only way forward and that its so bloody obvious that we need a Reserve grade too but if he’s not leading it and pulling the strings at Redhall as he has done for years then perhaps that’s why he’s opposed to it. Only in Rugby League eh?
You know what as well, as was said at the ex-players do on Saturday that I attended, us old hands and the ex heroes of our Club can’t live in the past, but that doesn’t mean that the past doesn’t hold lessons to be learned and as a game we should always be willing to put our hands up and embrace again some things that have proved to be in hindsight better than what we do today. Club’s having their OWN independent Colts or Academy, with progression through the A team to the first team and a system were quite simply one club goes down and one comes up, is I believe the way to consolidate the game again. But, what do you think?
Well I struggle to understand this transfer deadline stuff as last Wednesday Caton-Brown joined Toronto and on Friday Jansin Turgot joined Salford a full week after the dreaded day had passed. No doubt it will all be explained away but as an aside and reflecting on last week’s discussion about Gareth Ellis’ current role at the Club, it was interesting to hear the Lancashire Club comment, “We’d also like to thank James Clark at Hull FC for working with us closely on this move for Jansin”. That interested me because I would have thought that negotiations and looking after released players would be down to the football manager myself, so I do think that Gareth’s role at the Club is changing.
The fixtures for the top Eight and the middle eights were released on Wednesday, so at last we can plan our August and September, although as I said earlier, as a Club, Hull FC have little interest in the final outcome now. You have however to shake your head concerning the RL and the way that they allow Sky to just dictate whatever they want. After the Cup Final last season where we prevailed at Wembley over Wigan, there was some consternation when we had to go to Saints on the following Thursday, when every other club besides Wigan had been sat with their feet up for two weeks and so you’d think wouldn’t you, that they would learn, they talk about player welfare, but in the end we all know they couldn’t really give a toss.
The RL and Sky could have picked the Huddersfield v Wakey fixture (neither team were in the semi-finals and therefore couldn’t end up at Wembley), which would have been a great game and a local one travel wise for the fans as well, but no, they pick a game featuring one of the semi-finalists (and now finalists) in Warrington, whose players could have to play the biggest game of the current season just 5 days earlier! Once again it’s a cock up and once again that promise of ‘local’ Thursday games, to help the fans has been ignored.
With the constant chopping and changing that has gone on within the game it’s lack of direction and abysmal leadership for years you’d expect eventually for the media to lose interest in the game wouldn’t you? So then its hardly a surprise that ‘The Times’ is dropping its rugby league coverage altogether. The move has certainly been met with calls of foul, indications of conspiracy and accusations of elitism but whether we like it or not and indeed whether it is right when you consider the quality of our game the fact is that rugby league is a minority sport and one that is becoming increasingly marginalised, largely by its governing bodies lack of vision and direction.
Moves are a foot by the people that matter and who invest the big money, (the owners of the big clubs), to address that but until we get our own house in order, it is not likely to become attractive to anyone on the outside – whether that be the national media, commercial partners or fans in expansion areas.
Look at earlier last week when we all had absolutely no idea when or who our clubs were playing in their last 7 games and it’s not hard to understand, with such a lack of stability, why crowds this season are down is it? There is this ongoing power struggle between the clubs and severe finance problems at others and we have to remember that the media, like our games sponsors and backers are commercial enterprises. In a changing world, as the whole concept of disseminating and distributing news and information is on the move, they need to make money and on that front they are struggling.
The media make their money by and large, by selling advertising, that’s their saviour and the one thing they chase constantly. If a convoluted and confusing structure in a game that appears to have lost its way sees fewer numbers reading their rugby league coverage, then it is unlikely they’ll want to continue representing the game and covering it in their sports pages. The game faces great challenges and is on the cusp of a crisis which has to be addressed and soon, but those challenges aren’t getting much coverage in the media because we have become renowned as a sport for ‘never being able to make our mind up’ anyway.
We have this time to find a new and permanent solution to that issue and portray a united front, because that’s the only way we will be able to grow sustainable clubs and arrest the fall in attendances and participation numbers. It will take a lot of doing and the occasional article in a newspaper isn’t going to fix that, but to lose the coverage in a national like The Times is certainly a small, yet retrograde step.
Coverage in other media outlets is still thankfully good, particularly in The Mirror, The Sun and The Guardian, in fact as someone commented this week, if we are realistic, it is probably in excess of what rugby league warrants in terms of the size and nationwide interest of the sport. That’s not being negative, that’s being realistic. The fact is if they have to sell newspapers and thus get the exposure their advertisers crave the most popular sports will always get the most coverage. In a recent poll of the top national sports editors, it’s interesting that their top three sports in terms of ‘traffic’ are football, Formula 1 and boxing. That’s before you even get to the likes of cricket, rugby union and tennis. With newsrooms becoming less populated and with more work shared across less people, the focus will always be on the bigger sports that bring the biggest readerships.
Over in Lancashire, a hot bed of the sport of Rugby League the The Manchester Evening News barely touch anything outside of Manchester City and Manchester United, and that is a regional paper. That’s because the traffic and readership they receive for those two teams is far greater than anything else, and as a result, they don’t want to use limited and stretched resources on covering Salford, Sale Sharks, other football teams and other sports. So even in the heartlands our sports profile is on the wane and that has to stop ASAP. We have to change the structure get it more equitable and then pledge to stick with it for at least ten seasons. But, most of all we have to get people excited about the game and have the sort of profile for its players that demands column inches in the papers. So it’s over to the powers that be to unravel the mess and hopefully we won’t have disappeared altogether form the national media by the time that happens.
At the ex-players get together yesterday, I got talking with a few of the guys and as usual the discussions got around to the old days and in such extreme summer weather onto one particular issue, the subject of games being postponed by bad weather in the depth of Winter.
So in response to that and one particular game they remembered, this week in Codgers Corner I go back to the 1977/78 season when we had a pretty none descript campaign back in the First Division under firstly David Doyle-Davidson and then Arthur Bunting. Despite the signing of Norton and Farrar our poor results for the first half of the season saw us end up getting relegated straight back down to the Second Division. However, a vivid memory of that year was setting out from Sutton at around 5-30 one damp and misty Tuesday night to watch Hull play Castleford in the BBC 2 Floodlit Trophy. It was 19th October and the drive to Holderness Road was fine, but once I got near the River Hull, a thick and clinging fog reduced my speed to just 10 miles an hour. With the old Ford Cortina’s windscreen wipers going full pelt and the fog lights on, by the time I got to Carr Lane in the City Centre, I couldn’t see more than five yards in front of me.
When I got down to the Boulevard conditions were much better, although once I had parked the car and got myself into the ground I had hardly had a chance to get a cup of that beefy hot water that passed for Bovrill, (and no doubt burnt my tongue as usual), before the fog caught up with me. As the floodlights worsened the situation as only they could in those days, the referee appeared out of the gloom, had a quick walk around and despite the pleas for a further delay by the BBC crews there to televise the game, he called the game off with half an hour to go to the kick off.
We were all told that we would either get our money back or keep our tickets because they would be valid for the re arranged game, and I returned to East Hull and Sutton in a crawling line of traffic until that is I got to North Bridge where the pall lifted. By I was back home the weather was as ‘clear as a bell’ and you could easily see the stars. The fog actually came and went for three nights and days after that and as the city shivered under a shroud of mist and smog, the local TV news’s favourite subject was this gloomy weather and a bread shortage which was due to a national baker’s strike. The BBC replaced the planned broadcast of the game on BBC 2 that night, with two repeated editions of Hancock’s Half Hour.
The match was re arranged for 30th October 1977 on what was thankfully a cloudy but clear night. As we kicked off and played into the breeze we started strongly pushing the Castleford pack back to set up several attacks from inside their half of the field. The story of the first half was however all about scrum possession in a game I remember was dominated by them (scrums) and as Maskell won the first three for us, Crampton, Salmon and Lynn all went close but the resolute Cas defence just held us out before it took two massive touch kicks in open play from Stephens to eventually relieve the pressure on the Cas line. Then the visitors won 11 of the next 14 scrums which put us on the back foot throughout the rest of the half as we had to defend continuously without much respite. Referee Vince Moss of Manchester was getting tons of stick from the Threepennies as most of these scrums were collapsed or appeared to be ‘fed’, but Castleford used this advantage to threaten our line on several occasions.
After ten minutes Castleford put together a brilliant move as Stephens passed onto Burton who put Wraithe away and his long accurate pass put Johnson over the line for the first try of the game, Sammy Lloyd kicked the goal and we were 5-0 behind. Back came the ‘black and whites’ and although Cas second rower Burton was just held in a last ditch tackle by full back Hunter after 17 minutes, Salmon was stopped short by the visitors winger Fenton who five minutes later managed to just ankle tap Marshall with Alf Macklin free and calling for the ball on the wing.
Both Terry Lynn and Brian Hancock went close but were just tackled short again. Then it was Castleford’s turn to attack and using the massive pull that they had in the scrums after 22 minutes Reilly almost burst over but was forced back by the combined tackles of Sutton, Clarke and Boxall. Eight minutes later Hull at last opened their account when Joyner was penalise for holding Hancock down too long in the tackle, and Marshall made no mistake with the penalty kick. The half finished with more Hull pressure as Salmon ran away downfield but had no support and Crane looked destined to score till he tripped as he caught the ball and the chance was lost. At half time we trailed 5-2.
The second half was again dogged by poor refereeing, the scrums were still untidy but more worrying still was the referee persistent refusal to acknowledge an off side play that the visitors repeated throughout the game. Time and again Castleford used the ploy of missing a man out and passing behind as he ran through to take out a ‘would be’ tackler or worse still, as he crossed the path of the marker to obstruct his chance of completing a tackle. The crowd went mad at this especially because after 3 diabolical home performances Hull FC were looking good and just needed a bit of justice to push on and win. Recognise anything here?
As it happened we did go ahead in the 64th minute and it was a piece of typical Mick Crane magic that got us a score. Our loose forward had ‘been missing’ for several minutes when he popped up to pick up a dropped pass by Castleford’s Bob Spurr. Craney set off down field chip kicked over full back Wraithes head and then won the race to the line to touch down and with Marshall converting that score, we led 7-5.
Hull were now playing with some style and Crane and Jimmy Crampton who was returning from injury, both started to run the show until John Joyner, the visitors centre, broke a tackle by Wardell and set off on a run that took the ball into the Hull twenty-five yard area. Then the poor scrums were back again and the referee gave three consecutive ones to the visitors. However, with their backs to the wall our defence valiantly hung on until after 18 tackles on our own line, we eventually cracked and Reilly ploughed over for Lloyd to convert again. In the last ten minutes Terry Lynn our scrum half that day was penalised twice for feeding the scrum, which was so ironic really because it was something that Castleford had been doing all afternoon, and yet been able to get away with.
It was the first season that the final end to the game had been taken out of the referee’s hands and put in those of the official time keeper and just as Mick Crane broke into the open and released Alf Macklin with a clear run to the corner to score the winning try, the ‘Buzzer’ went for full time and referee Moss instead of letting play run on until the next tackle, inexplicably blew the whistle immediately and as Alf planted the ball down over the try line, his celebrations were cut short as the referee waived his hands to indicate that the game had already finished. Everyone in the crowd of 4000 that had stayed to the very end booed the officials and a police escort was needed as they left the field. We had though sadly lost; well in fact we’d been robbed by the referee and oh how we would have welcomed that fog returning to save us and see the game abandoned.
The game was a huge improvement and Hull’s effort particularly in the pack deserved more reward. We certainly felt we had been robbed but our backing up, passing and handling that night were so much better than anything we had seen for weeks, and our defence was excellent. Still we were out of the Floodlit Trophy and back into a League campaign that was to get harder and harder as the weeks went by.
So there we are a quiet week but I have tried to find something of interest to write about and how good was it to see a Hull born Coach going to Wembley for the third year running although unfortunately this time he was in charge of the Catalan Dragons. No such excitement for us lot this time around though as we look forward to another tough game against Wakefield and a chance for a bit of retribution. But what sort of team will we field and how equipped will they be to get the points on Friday, is anyone’s guess. Thanks for joining me again this week and for all your correspondence critique and suggestions over the past 7 days. Let’s see what Friday brings, get down to the KCOM get behind the boys and try to enjoy the game.