The Dentist’s Diary – 596th

Oh boy, I really can’t wait for this season to be over!!

At Huddersfield we really did try hard and gave it our all, in fact we probably shaded the first half and it was only the fact that we continue to be clueless close to the line that saw us go in at half time not winning, but level at 0-0. I guess, looking back we weren’t that far off really but to have Westerman, Sneyd, Connor and Kelly missing would see any team in Super League struggle to score points.

In the end, a couple of quick tries off mistakes in the first few minutes of the second half saw us trailing 14-0 and our glaring inadequacies close to the opponent’s line meant that we would never get that back. We played better, we showed a lot more energy but had to defend too much and too many players are simply buggered.

It’s been a torrid few weeks and as for the near future, well I suppose that looks pretty grim. I find it hard to believe that there are any players left at our club who are not either out with injuries or playing on with them. I said it last week and I’ll say it again; thank goodness we are clear of the Middle-Eights, I mean to say, can you imagine what trouble we would be in if we were two rounds into that ‘group of death’ with our current resources?

Six defeats on the trot is not good news, but I can only see that run continuing, because for me it’s getting less and less apparent as to where we will get the players from to pull on the shirt and play in the remaining 5 games.

I, like you, I’m sure, just want the 2018 season to end!!

The fact that Marc Sneyd was missing from the starting line-up was just another blow in a season that has, injury wise, been a disaster. It’s been so disappointing and has now left us fans just rolling with the punches and looking forward to the end of September.

On Friday we were down to our 4th and 5th choice half backs and boy did it show, before, as per the usual script, one of them hobbled off injured in the second half. However, these days nothing really surprises us FC fans when teams are announced before the game, for changes, injuries and patched up players are everywhere and the nightmare just goes on and on. The Club had been quiet all week and the fans by and large appear to be almost unanimously resigned to the possibility of us not winning another game this season. That’s how unlucky we have been in a campaign that has no parallels as far as sustaining injuries is concerned. So, as fans I guess a trip to the cavernous voids of the home of an in form Huddersfield, was perhaps the last thing we needed.

The SUPER eights had rambled on into its second week, as only just over 4000 watching the League leaders at Wakey on Thursday with, it appeared, even less at the John Smith Stadium on Friday. Boy it’s a soulless place as well, but all the same life is full of surprises and who would have guessed that at half time we would still be locked at 0-0.

After last weeks supposed ‘change in tactics’ at least in his pre match interview the Coach told us that we would be “playing without fear” and from the kick-off in our defence we did try to go toe to toe and set for set with the home team. However, it was certainly hard going after Huddersfield gained ground well and Shaul had to twice defuse high kicks on his own line in the first few minutes. We were finding it hard to get the meters downfield, whilst Huddersfield really did look, confidence wise, like a team that had won a string of games on the trot.

But then we had a great drive down field on a seven play set at the end of which we managed to force a drop out, which was better because we got a foot hold in their half. We then had three sets on their line and should have scored. They defended well, before our pressure fizzled out and we were tackled into touch as Tumavive ran out of space and the chance was lost. That set the pattern for the game. We were having a real go in defence but some spiralling end of set kicks from Brough were causing us problems none the less we were doing OK and again looked quite promising on the front foot until Carlos transgressed again as this time he lost the ball on play three and with the pressure defused, back came the Giants.

When we got through our plays without a mistake we still looked to be struggling with our end of sets options and Huddersfield looked more structured and positive in the way they organised their attack. Brough and Rankin were in charge and seemed to have more options than we ever did when they made the plays, but we battled on and as the rain fell steadily we scrapped hard to keep them scoreless. Carlos in fact lost the ball again to deny us more quality field position and tragically had he held on in a couple of those situations we would have got in to open the scoring.

The thing is that by the half hour mark everyone was saying that once again we can’t seem to manufacture a score when we are in the oppositions 20. We still look clueless when down in their territory and when there, our last tackle plays are at times really poor. We gave away too many penalties but down the middle we defended well and looked a lot more composed than of late, as Manu shifted in there regularly to underpin the efforts of the front rowers. What is worrying at present though, is the amount of player’s that come out of every tackle or hit up hobbling and that I think makes it painfully apparent that just about everyone has had to keep going although they are all carrying injuries; as we simply have no one else to play in their places.

Huddersfield for all their great performances over the past few weeks didn’t look that potent in our 20, so it was still score-less as we approached half time, although we were living on our nerves at times as we kept handing them penalties and kicking the ball dead to instigate 7 play return sets, when all we needed was a bit more control. However, come the half time hooter it was still 0-0. We had been a bit hit and miss with the ball but our defence had been brilliant and everyone hobbling or not had put a shift in.

However, that surprising score line wasn’t to last long, because before we knew it we had lost the ball twice in the first two sets of the second half and the Giants were on the Board. It was a bit of a shambles all round really and with our defenders all over the place, we conceded one try and then slack marking saw O’Brian break out and within three minutes of the half starting we were 12-0 down. Whatever our Coach had said at half time looked to have certainly rattled a few cages, but, it seemed, in all the wrong ways.

A goal stretched it to 14 points and they were in effect, out of sight, whilst to compound our problems the already restricted Minichiello had to limp off with another season ending injury. For the next few sets we went to pot as all around Hull players were falling off tackles. At last we got the ball back, but then we conceded a daft penalty under our own sticks and several players that had only played around 10 minutes of the second half appeared to already be running out of petrol. In such situations these days we huff and puff but don’t have that confidence to think that we can get back into a game.

It was going to take something special to even get us on the Board and it came from a brilliant try from Faraimo who crashed across field, running over Huddersfield players as he went, to score under the post from where he converted his own try. He is a great strike player who simply doesn’t get enough running chances from his team mates, but when he does he’s lethal. On the other-hand Talanoa still looks off the pace and like Carlos and Griffin and several others he doesn’t really look fit. Still in theory at least we were back in the game, but our end of sets where still not good enough and certainly not as good as Broughys were for the Giants! Once we had weathered the storm a bit we came back at them and as Brough sustained an injury there was just a glimmer of hope for an FC team, that although dysfunctional at time and slap dash with possession at others, had certainly put the effort in.

The FC fans tried to get behind them and we really showed some spirit but we continued to give away penalties and so Huddersfield came back at us, just at a point when another try from us would have had them rocking. We can’t seem to hold the ball and players like Manu who should know better, lose it at first and second man early in the tackle count, which just puts us under pressure.

Abdull, who had been largely ineffective, was struggling and eventually had to go off, as the curse of our half backs continued. With 10 minutes to go the serially injured Chris Green got a real ‘wanger’, collapsed in a heap and was helped off and as usual we were down to no substitutes, as an obviously buggered Bienek came back on. Hinchcliffe scored off a great play by McGilvrey and another try quickly followed and that was effectively that. We never stopped trying and the effort was great, but we just ain’t fit enough or have enough top players firing on all cylinders to deliver the telling plays at present. We finished again with a flourish and never gave up, but as a team, we are a long way off a win at present.

So, it was another defeat, a little better than the last two games, but more injuries, more poor option taking and although we tried really hard, we still show few ideas as to how to get our players over the try line. We looked to lack confidence and collapsed again at the end, which is really disappointing if you’re an FC fan. Huddersfield got home despite the fact that we had been in it for long periods, but once again when the opportunities and field position presented themselves, we couldn’t cut the mustard. It was certainly a much better showing, but we still lacked quality and it’s still really hard to see where the next bit of success is coming from.

As I have repeatedly said there was bags of effort there, as was epitomised by Danny Houghton who pulled off an unprecedented 65 tackles, but we are just not smart enough with the ball. However, all the players gave it a go and so as fans we need to rally around our Club and our players at present, for these are really tough times and we really are in a hole.

But why do other teams seem to be better equipped for the end of season run in and indeed how come they carry injuries far better than we do? Well, when questioned by a fan about the fact that some think our woes stem back to that trip to Australia, Lee Radford said this week, “We were beat up before that”. For me that means that we went into the second game of the season and fielded players who were carrying knocks. That’s a real worrying admission and since then, it seems that week in week out we have sustained an injury or two most of which have been long term; but of late that number has grown to us losing 3 or 4 players every game. As I said earlier it’s hard to find a player in the whole squad who is not carrying an injury. Lee said on Saturday that he believes the club “has some serious durability issues in comparison to other teams across the league”, with our coach adding that there will be an investigation into what the root of the problem is. I mean to say you don’t have to be an NHS consultant to figure out that it appears to be a never ending procession of casualties many of whom are returning from injury anyway. What’s more, a disproportionate number of those set-backs seem to circulate around either concussion or knee injuries.

For me it comes down to one of two things; either we have had the most wretched luck over the whole of this season, or players are not being conditioned properly or being rushed back when they’re really not fit enough to sustain their recovery and play at the same time. We need to get to the bottom of it because players like Shaul, Minichiello, Hadley, Manu and Green seem to have been injured for ages, they come back, then miss a game, have a jab or two return and get injured again. Now this week two of them, Mini and Greeny have joined the ranks of the players that are finished for the rest of the season. It is I guess for Lee and Adam a real worry really.

These are tough times to be an FC fan because for all of us however long we have been involved with the club, it’s easy to lose sight of the issues and adversity we are surrounded by and just have a good old fashioned grumble. The truth is, I can’t remember a time when our state of health player for player, has ever been worse. The injury crisis and more importantly the number of players still carrying knocks whilst playing is a massive consideration and the retention of so many players at the expense of any sort of headline recruitment is a real worry for many looking towards us trying to sell season tickets for 2019.

In addition, too many inexperienced players have played far too much rugby this year. However, there is a lot of credence in what Lee Radford had to say concerning the fact that there is little real class available out there in this country to sign up anyway and the Australian market is just pricing itself out of most British Clubs means. Those are apparently the reasons, for us having signed this year’s team up again ‘en block’. We’ll just have to hope the powers that be have got it right for there is little wriggle room at all should we want to bring someone in!

So, to other things and once again it’s Wembley week and as such many of us will be looking back to 2017 and particularly 2016 and reminiscing! However, I guess as we watch the match in our first stress free state for two years there is much to look forward to in what might just turn out to be an intriguing Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final. With Catalans v Warrington we certainly face an even-money contest between two teams who up to this weekend have been playing some outstanding rugby.

Catalans have been a revelation and are a well-supported side, but it takes a lot of commitment and a deal of cash to follow a French team in England, particularly when that team actually comes from a poorer, predominantly working class, region of the country. So it’s easy to see why there are fears the final could attract a record-low crowd. The RFL have started to discount tickets, which is I suppose a understandable move, as it’s better for everyone to have 90,000 people in a stadium paying £20 each, than 45,000 paying £40. Although it’s hard to see how the attendance will get past 60,000 this year. That’s a blow as often to measure the success of such an iconic fixture the uninitiated go straight to the ‘bottom line’ of the attendance figure. Of course lowering ticket prices late on is a real problem, because of the fact that our games loyal customers, those who buy tickets well in advance or go every year whatever, won’t be happy to see casual fans getting in at a cheaper price. In fact, in the future, maybe they’ll wait to see who’s in the final before splashing out.

That would be a disaster as it drives down the kudos of our greatest Cup competition, just when we need to be cranking it up. Rugby League should be celebrating an occasion which has always striven to explode the myth that the game is only being played in the North of England, but instead this year, we are scrambling around for an attendance. The match should be given the profile it’s heritage and history demands it should also be capable of selling out a 90,000-capacity venue, once a year, whoever’s in the final.

There is a big discussion going around the RL media at present as to whether we should actually consider moving the Challenge Cup Final from Wembley Stadium to a Stadium in the North of England. Let’s face it Wembley has staged some fantastic Challenge Cup finals over the years but Murrayfield, Twickenham and Millennium Stadium also staged the game in the gap between the old Wembley being knocked down and the new one being reconstructed. Murrayfield was poor, Twickenham good and Cardiff fantastic. Let’s face it 2005 was so very special to us all, but afterwards although we had won the Cup and done it against the hated Rhino’s, for many reading this, like me, I’m sure it was all tinged with a bit of regret, simply because we hadn’t won it at Wembley (and didn’t those Rovers fans let us know that?) We have of course won it there now…..twice, but perhaps because of all that, ‘You’ll never win at Wembley’ stuff we must also consider that our views on the importance of where the Final is played is perhaps skewed somewhat towards the Capital.

But let’s stand back from that issue a bit and be objective about our showpiece game because with attendances falling in recent years, more and more people are muting the idea that it is time for the Challenge Cup final to move up north into the ‘heartlands’ so that a new venue, could be sold out. Others, I guess like me, think it should stay at Wembley because it holds a lot of history and the very tradition of our game and the trip down there is nothing short of a ritual and a wonderful time out for the fans of both clubs, as well as supporters who attend anyway from across the game. But, as far as the future of the showpiece final is concerned there is certainly, across the fan base of Rugby League, a definite split.

Fact is that this whole discussion is coming to a head now, because the sport’s most famous trophy is in big trouble. Last season’s final between us and Wigan attracted just 68,000 people and in previous years the level of attendance was deceptive anyway, because of the inclusion of Club Wembley tickets that have always remained empty. With Catalan hardly a big drawing card, the gate is expected to be much lower again this year.

But, that’s not the Catalans fault because the introduction of Super League was the first set back. For decades, to play at Wembley was the ultimate high for a Club and to win the Cup there the ultimate pinnacle of the sport. The introduction of the play-offs in 1998 started the Final’s real decline, as the finale of the regular Super League season became a knock out competition to get to Old Trafford and that evolved, I think at the expense of the Cup. The RFL moved the final to August, but that was an awkward position, clashing with the Super League season and a busy bank-holiday weekend of music festivals and only 6 weeks off that new Grand Final. In fact, it’s all a bit of a mess which one suspects suits Sky, who do not have the rights for the RL challenge cup, yet with BBC having those rights, ironically more people watch those televised Cup Rounds than do regular season games on the satellite channel. All this means that the validity of using Wembley as the venue and indeed the whole credibility of the competition has come sharply into focus.

My completely unbiased view on it all, is that it should stay there in London and not move north. It’s the highlight of the British RL year and just because Sky, (as they don’t broadcast it), have done their best to devalue the Final, it doesn’t mean that we should lower it’s national and international profile any further by moving it up north and away from the place that it is synonymous with.

Let’s face it, people don’t say, “I hope we get to the Challenge Cup Final” they say, “I hope we get to Wembley” its iconic and a game that is still watched more than any other televised rugby league fixture in the world. The final of that age old competition staged as it is in the centre of British sporting prowess and the national stadium, is the only thing some folks across the world know about Rugby League, it is a tradition and an important part of the make-up and heritage of our sport.

What we should be doing is striving to give the competition and its final at such an iconic venue, the kudos its heritage deserves, hype it up, trumpet it around the sporting world and get gates back to where they were in the mid-eighties when 100,000 packed the place for the game. It should be lauded, the knock out tournament should be re-instated as the premier competition in our sport and the Final should be the national spectacle that it used to be.

The Grand Final is plastic and manufactured and even the trophy looks decidedly inferior when compared with the Challenge Cup. However, for all its hype and rhetoric, Old Trafford will never gain the prestige or have the glamour and tradition that there has been for a game played out in front of legions of fans, many neutral, many in party mood and fancy dress all of whom are out in their droves, on a sunny afternoon in North London. We may need to move the date earlier in the year to bring back the focus on the event, but it is so worthy of retaining the final at its current venue.

As supporters I hope that we will fight to keep the showpiece game at Wembley, for if it moves it will be an admission of defeat in a long line of such loses that the RL has overseen in the past years of decline. Still every cloud I guess and so if it does move at least we have managed to win the Cup there and that’s such a bloody relief. Had it been moved away before we overcame that massive monkey on all our backs, then I think the goading and ridiculing we would have received from small minded Dobbins fans for decades to come, would have been unbearable. Thank goodness we’ve won it, we did it at Wembley and thank goodness for the spirit of 2016!!

This week I was looking through some old scrap books and Diary’s, searching for a memorable game to feature and found I myself thumbing through old Green Sports Mails from those bad old years that were the late 60’s. I came upon the 68/69 season and instantly remembered one game simply because of one tremendous punch!! I was 18 then and working as an apprentice gardener at Alderman Kneeshaw Playing Fields for the City Council, I lived in Sutton, having moved from Airlie Street in 1966, but still made the journey to watch the first and A teams, every week at the Boulevard. The team back then was just starting to recover a bit from the doldrums of the early 60’s and our home game against Wigan the ‘elite’ of the league back then, followed a tremendous 25-6 win we had achieved the previous week away at Widnes. The season in fact was to tail off badly towards the end of the campaign, but in the early stages we were going well and a visit of Wigan to the Boulevard, always got everyone talking.

On 5th October it was ‘Hull Fair’ again and everyone seemed to be going on to Walton Street afterwards but in front of a crowd of around 9000 on that particular afternoon we gave ‘The Pies’, one of the greatest exponents of flowing open rugby, a real lesson in how the game should be played. In fact, by the end they could only look on and admire what was a tremendous display from the Airliebirds. We had attempted to beef the team up a couple of seasons earlier and the new forwards we had signed like Jim Neale, and Eric Broom coupled with some great youngsters, like Jim Macklin and Edson were starting to boss teams around a bit and the backs out wide certainly had the speed to capitalise on this and score the points.

Brian Hancock kicked off into a stiff breeze and just two plays later and pretty typically, Chris Davidson felled Johnny Jackson with a real haymaker of a high tackle that got our scrum half penalised and that clash certainly set the tone for the early exchanges. Jackson in fact spent the next ten minutes staggering around in a daze and was replaced by Keith Mills shortly afterwards.

Our backs were soon shown to be faster than the Wigan outfit and with Howard Firth on one wing and Clive Sullivan on the other, our Centre’s got the ball out wide at every opportunity. Dick Gemmell had a superb game and scored first. Interchanging passes with stand in Hooker Jim Macklin he used Firth as a foil before outpacing the Wigan cover for a superb score out wide at the Airlie Street end. The ‘Pies’ didn’t like that at all and tried their best to get back into the game, but as Terry Foggerty dropped the ball on our 25 yard line, Arthur Keegan was on it immediately. He accelerated away from the Wigan defenders, drew the full back Tyrer, before a looping wide pass released Firth to run, hugging the touch line, to score in the corner. Once again Maloney converted and we were 10-0 up.

There then followed Wigan’s only real period of pressure and they scored a try themselves when Maloney missed a tackle on Ashurst and he released Foggerty to score under the sticks, for Colin Tyrer to tag on the two additional points and so despite more pressure from our forwards, and John Edson dropping the ball over the line, we went in just ahead 10-5.

The second half was all Hull. Hancock and Davidson taunted the Wigan forwards and opened the game up at every opportunity whilst prop Jim Macklin, playing at hooker, thrilled us all with some barnstorming runs down the middle. It was one such excursion into the heart of the Wigan defence that set up the next try. Macklin drew several tacklers before releasing the ball to Jim Neale who ran straight back into the heart of the Wigan forwards before passing onto Maloney, who turned inside to find the now released Macklin again, for Jim to roll over the line next to the posts. Macklin’s tenacity was simply amazing and that try won him a standing ovation from the hoy palloy in the best stand seats, as he walked back. We were not finished yet either and Joe Brown made a break from the kick off which left Wigan’s centre Ashurst grasping thin air. Joe was finally tackled by full back Tyrer but got up, played it forward to himself, and ran in to score another try which he also converted.

Wigan huffed and puffed but just got more and more frustrated with our solid defence and in the end resorted to kicking the ball, usually straight to Keegan, who returned it on some raking runs forward ‘with interest‘. There was some rough treatment on Howard Firth the winger we had just signed from Hull and East Riding RU club, and on one occasion right in front of us, Ashurst stood on his head in the tackle which prompted Man of the Match Dick Gemmell to race in and drag the Wigan player away.

All this I have cobbled together from notes in my Diary, old newspapers and other stuff I have collected over the years, but for me the most memorable part of the game came ten minutes from the end when the ‘Big time Charlies’ of the league decided that they had experienced enough of trying to beat us by playing rugby, and Ashurst once again took out his frustration on young Firth. This time he dragged him back by his hair (which was long and blonde as was the fashion back then) and all hell broke loose. Edson, who had looked like losing it on a couple of occasions already, ran straight to the melee and tried to punch Keith Mills, he missed completely but connected with Chris Davidson’s elbow and fell pole axed onto the grass.

Rather than quietening things down this just made the whole situation worse and to the cheers and chants of the Threepennies, Macklin crowned a brilliant game with a superb left hook that laid Fogerty out cold. As both he and Edson laid side by side on the pitch unconscious, several scuffles broke out and at one-point referee Naughton waded in himself to try and separate both sides.

As it calmed down and the two comatose players received the ‘magic sponge’ from Ivor Watts and the Wigan Trainer, the referee lined both sides up facing each other and went down both lines shouting in their faces and wagging his finger at them. It was all very comical, and the fans loved it. Both teams got a warning and we got on with the last few minutes of the game.

In the end the final score was 20-9 and we all went home happy. The tries and general play from the black and whites was great, and it was always something special when you beat Wigan, but there was no doubt what was the topic of conversation, because Jim Macklin, who left a few years later for Bradford, was long remembered for that left hook.

So, another week, another defeat and another three injuries. Will it get any better any time soon? Well I personally doubt it, because as a Club we have hit rock bottom as far as resources in the form of man power is concerned. We are in a rut, it just gets worse and worse and on Friday it was much the same at Huddersfield in the end, although at 0-0 at half time we had worked so hard on defence and held what was a confident and efficient Huddersfield Giants. They were forcing the ball and pushing passes and we dealt with them well. But two inexplicable lapses at the start of the second half did for us and that was that really.

So, that’s it after a couple of years of writing this Diary when times have been good and positivity was all around, at present the rationale seems to be a bit different and everyone is gloomy and struggling to come to terms with a run of defeats the likes of which, we haven’t seen for yearse. Thank goodness for a week off, because there is hardly a player left on our books now who isn’t injured in some way. At one point recently I am told there was only 8 players able to get out on the training field and that from the whole 35-man squad! Where players do appear to be free of injury, such as in the case of Danny Houghton, they have tried so hard to over compensate for the issues we have experienced, that they are physically and perhaps mentally buggered too. How different things are to last season at this time when we were preparing to go back to Wembley again, with a reasonably healthy squad and our only problem in the League had been our inability to keep focussed on the job in hand and to put Wembley to the back of our minds.

I have decided to give this weekly dirge a rest next week as well, as we all watch th Cup Final and remember. However, the Diary will be back after the game a week on Thursday at Warrington. In the mean-time, all we can do as fans is rally around the Club and keep believing, because for all of us the sooner this season is over the better and so the theme reverts right back to where I started at the top of the Diary and indeed the premise is as it has been for a few weeks now, because injury wise we are completely stuffed at present!

Roll on the closed season and a chance to get things sorted out!!!

Try to Keep Believing

Faithfully Yours

Wilf