The Week after the three months before!!!!!
Here is this week’s Diary which is the first of the last twelve when I’ve not been stressed out and I’m not reporting on a loss!
It’s thankfully been a pretty quiet week for Hull FC and once ‘Mad Monday’ and the ‘celebrations’ after a relatively disastrous season where over, without apparent incident, the dust is, for this fan, starting to settle on an unquestionably unmemorable campaign. A lot of players have gone away, whilst others are staying ‘home alone’ at the training ground trying hard to get fit for the start of pre-season on 5th November. The reviews are done, the hand wringing is no more and the excuse making is finally over, as for the first time for weeks, the words ‘Hull FC lost again’, have not featured in here or in the media coverage of our sport. We had so much bad luck and injury woe and thank goodness that’s all behind us now and we can look to the future.
Furthermore, with Season tickets on sale and the fans signing up again, next season already beckons. Although I’m sure some will be giving it all a bit of thought before subscribing, most will decide to go around again because it has to be better next season. Let’s face it, our luck and our form can’t be much worse and it’s not often you can lose eleven in a row but are still guaranteed to finish eighth!! I honestly believe that once we have something to play for again then attitude wise things will be much improved; Adam will see to it, if they ain’t, I’m sure!
I know the Club like ‘blue sky thinking’ at such times, but a bit of scepticism is an understandable reaction from the fans, because it’s been a torrid final third of the season, that has left many of us scratching our heads, a tad worried and if we are honest, a bit numb. 2019 is another year and, despite what some think, you have to trust the Clubs decisions on our roster going forward and we have to get behind the players and get down to the shops and sign up.
However, as we look forward to next season even I’m finding it hard to be ‘happy clappy’ just yet and one things for sure, nothing short of a great start and a confidence building first third of that new campaign will do. Otherwise, jobs could be on the line and at the very least we will all be thinking that our recent woes aren’t just a flash in the pan. If that is the case, then those two seminal 2016 and 2017 campaigns will fade into folk lore and be remembered for being epoch defining, but played out in an era when in general such campaigns were the exception rather than the norm.
On and off the training field the upcoming few months are critical in safeguarding the need to move forward again to ensure that doesn’t happen and that the woes of 2018 are consigned to the history books as being what I’m sure they actually were, an unfortunate blip in the upward progression of the Club!
It may not have quite been the end of the season, but in the week leading up to our final game at Wigan the Club started it’s clear the decks exercise in an effort to get a flying start to pre-season by doing their player reviews early. That meant that rather than having a week of player reviews to follow the season, Hull finished for their end of season break straight after the last game of the campaign. Last week there was the usual Mad Monday events but straight after that it was holidays, recuperation and getting sorted for returning to pre-season training in 4 weeks’ time. Some players who have injuries may be in recovery during the off-season, but those with minor issues, will have to get themselves sorted out because there is a ‘three-line whip’ for returning to the Club fit for 5th November. We will all be hoping that the ‘the fireworks’ start them.
Last year there was a phased return of players, but that’s all gone out of the window this time around, as that approach was seen as one of the initial instigators of the fitness problems we had in early 2018. They say as a Club we need to learn from the mistakes we made in our last pre-season and get everyone conditioned and durable for 2019. Of course Jake Connor is included in the England squad for the three New Zealand Test matches next month and so he’ll certainly be given extra time to have a break and he’ll return a bit later. Other than that it all looked positive until our plans to get everyone back on the training field well before Christmas, were further complicated with the announcement that three players are to feature in the upcoming England Knights tour of Papua New Guinea.
When the squad was named it featured FC trio Jamie Shaul, Dean Hadley and Brad Fash for the matches which will take place in three weeks’ time in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a great honour for the players and one that is probably well over due for Jamie Shaul, but if I’m honest I was a bit surprised, when the other two were called up.
Brad has only had an ‘alright’ season for me and hasn’t pulled up that many trees, whilst Dean seems to have been injured more than he has played. Still well done to all three who probably won’t now be back at pre-season training much before the Festive season. Their preparations for next year will have to be carefully gauged and the bloke who will be doing that will at least be out there with them on tour as FC Conditioning Guru Adam Whitney will be in Lae and Port Moresby as well. And boy are they in for a rare old time as well!!!
Anyone who has read Book Two of the Roamin’ the Range duology will remember Paul Eastwood’s correspondence to the Hull Daily Mail in the summer of 1990 when he was on the England trip to the same place that year. Then, in a poorly disguised appeal to the Rugby League, Eastwood wrote an open letter to the paper and under the title of, “Get Us Out of Here”. He said, “We are living in appalling conditions and since our win in the First Test the Hotel has been under siege from irate fans brandishing sticks and even knives”. He continued, “The Test Match was a disaster, the ground held 2000 but there were 5000 in there and many stood on or over the touch line. Stones and sticks were thrown on the pitch and by the end our eyes were streaming from the effects of tear gas which was used continuously by the Police throughout the second half. There was also another 4000 locked outside waiting for get at us and it was a very scary situation indeed. The Hotel has Cockroaches and the food is shocking, please get us out of here”
All of which at the time smacked of Alan Sherman’s, famous song about a young lads letter home from summer camp, ‘Hello Mudder Hello Fadder’. Bill Dalton relates a great story from even further back about Dick Gemmell telling him that when he played there in the 60’s those who couldn’t get in the ground climbed trees outside only for the local police to shoot them down out of them!!!
I’m sure it’s not as bad now as Dick and Paul painted it back then, but it’s not good either and just this weekend when only 20 minutes into the representative clash between the Australian Prime Minister’s XIII and Papua New Guinea, play had to be stopped as fans invaded the pitch after Daly Cherry-Evans scored the Aussies’ third try.
In the midst of the mayhem that followed the Australian Daily Telegraph reporter Michael Carayannis tweeted “It was said to have had nothing to do with the visitors’ impressive start, but rather the fans concern’s over the stability of a light tower”. NRL.com chief reporter Michael Chammas tweeted: “IT’S MADNESS! Thousands of fans pour onto the field. Players running to the bench.” The game then stopped for ten minutes whilst crowd members took the opportunity to grab selfies with the confused players before play finally restarted.
The floodlight story however eventually seemed to be just a smokescreen by the authorities for an impromptu pitch invasion and it hadn’t worried the PNG players too much either, with the game back on and flowing as usual as half-time approached. But they certainly take their rugby ‘seriously’ down there!!!!
However, back at Hull FC it seems that already the best laid plans for our preparations for 2019 have been derailed a bit, but you can’t begrudge the guys their call up’s and as I say well done to all of them, let’s hope they return better for the experience eh? Oh and don’t be climbing any trees whilst you’re out there either lads!!
So, it’s clear we wanted to change things around a bit and get everyone back early, but with Manu involved as well now, that ain’t gonna happen. However, it’s also apparent that changes to our preparations are already afoot which combined with a better level of conditioning and less injuries, will benefit us as a long hard season wears on.
With that in mind, we have decided to scrap our Warm Weather Training Camp, choosing instead to opt for a hard and intense build up in the cold of the British winter, to, we are told, ensure that we are case hardened, prepared and ready for the new season. For me, providing the weather isn’t too torrid, it’s a good move, but it’s always hard in such cases to overlook the possibility that this course of action isn’t in fact based on economics, rather than the Coaches plan for the closed season. However, I honestly feel that Lee has weighed up his options and decide on this course of action so as to keep a strong focus on the main aim; hitting the ground running next year. Its certainly going to be a case of ‘Tough Love’ this winter in the FC camp and I expect that no stone will be left unturned to ensure every box is ticked before we start the 2019 season.
That’s understandable of course, because as I said earlier, I think jobs and careers are on the line and everything depend on us getting off to a fast start and getting some points on the board early on. That has to be a necessity, particularly when you look at what happened to us this year when it was almost a miracle that a team that lost 11 games on the trot still stayed up. That won’t happen again and neither can such a run for the FC be tolerated. Three big months of training ahead me thinks and it will be interesting for us all to watch it unfold!
That said I wasn’t sorry to see Scott Taylor missing from the senior International squad. I know that sounds selfish but the bloke is a real warrior and has played long minutes, regularly beaten up, sometimes out of choice and often out of necessity, and in addition for 9 weeks he has been carrying a shoulder injury that only rest will cure. Furthermore, he has been doing it with help from the needle twice a game. He needs a rest and a big year in 2019 when along with Danny Houghton he must be in the mix for Captaincy. He certainly gives every ounce of effort for the cause whatever the circumstances are, for it is matter-less to him whether there is anything left at stake in a game or a season, or not; Scott always gives his all. He needs a rest because we need him leading from the front from day one, for Hull FC is a better team when ‘Tag’ is on the field.
It was good to see Marc Sneyd at the Gym last Thursday morning doing a load of leg stretches under the keen eye of one of the conditioning staff. He said he was progressing well and looked keen to get going again. It was also interesting to see Green, Westerman and Bowden all training down at County Road after everyone else had gone on holiday, as they all attempt to get fit for the start of pre-season training. It is going to be a tough and lonely few weeks for those guys but hopefully it will put them in a better position for when the rest of the boys come back from their break.
Away from the training ground it has also been interesting to follow the machinations of the Allams and the local media as news spread across the City that the football club were again on the brink of being sold and of course as I have lamented long and hard in here, that sale would also include the SMC. Paul Duffen a friend of the Allam’s is up there again apparently heading up a consortium of from the Middle East.
It’s pretty apparent from what has come out, that the potential buyers want the land around the KCOM for development and no doubt any such deal would include the actual stadium itself. They have also offered the Council the sweetner of investment in the city, which might well appeal to the hierarchy of the Guildhall. Talking to senior Councillors recently they indicated to me that they might well be more tempted to sell if the Allam’s are no longer involved. Personally however, I worry a bit about this development simply because I don’t think a stadium owned by Mr. Duffen would be any good for us at all!
Why, well he doesn’t appear to like rugby league and always seemed to play it down when last at the football club. In fact, whilst rumours abounded back then about what exactly he was up to, he amused himself by making condescending and derogatory remarks about RL fans and Hull FC, when we were actually the Tigers co-tenants.
As for the future of the Stadium, well, the authority is just about skint as far as financing service provision is concerned and although any income gained from the sale would be a Capital receipt and as such could not be spent on day to day revenue issues, like house maintenance, road mending and grass cutting, for Hull FC it could still be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire. Paul Duffen was the man who stopped Pop concerts at the Stadium and although he couldn’t shift us because of our lease (that was negotiated with the Council when the Stadium was built) and the local authorities ownership of the ground, he soon shied away from allowing any RL internationals at the KCOM. Even if safeguards with regard to our lease are included in the sales deal for the stadium, I believe our 50-year agreement is up for a mid-term review in 2027 when we get to the half way point in the deal.
Although for years that seemed a long way off it is now getting closer and closer. So I worry a bit about just what is happening here and what could happen to us if the local authority, who have previously protected our tenure, sell up! Whilst we are on our lease, at least we avoided the middle eight’s and the drop, because relegation would, I believe, see a little known clause triggered in the original deal which indicates the user agreement for Hull FC would have to be re-negotiated upon our relegation from the premier league of the game; thank heavens for small mercy’s eh?
Perhaps fans of an event that is a seminal part of the Cities calendar and that dates back to the 13th Century, namely Hull Fair, had better enjoy this year’s event as well, for if the fairground is sold as part of any deal, then it could be the last appearance of ‘Europe’s largest travelling fun fair’ in the City! The practicalities and cost of moving the event were unsurmountable 15 years ago, when I was at the Council and things will have only got worse since then. Whatever the outcome, its all bound to impact on us in some way, particularly with regard to our tenure at our home the KCOM stadium, I’ll be watching this one with real interest.
Well, back in Rugby League the behind the scenes action continues off the field as its reported that Ralph Rimmer of the RL and Robert Elstone the Chief Executive of Super league are poised to meet up with Eddie Hearn about how he would “revolutionise” the sport, if he was given a central role in transforming its fortunes. However, this week the boxing promoter warned clubs he would be suggesting making significant changes, including the removal of the salary cap, to allow he says, “The sport to fulfil its potential”.
The meeting comes at an interesting time, with Elstone pressing ahead on his mission to revamp Super League’s profile following the successful vote to change the domestic league structure. As I discussed last week all 12 top-flight clubs recently met to discuss a number of issues and that has led onto this next meeting. Hearn’s comments on the salary cap, which limits Super League clubs’ spending on wages to £1.9m per season, indicate a more serious intent to shake things up, with him reiterating his previous stance that rugby league currently has no real superstars. “My dad already has some strong views on the cap which I’m not sure Ralph or the clubs will agree on,” he said in the lead up to the get together.
He continued, “However, I don’t see the idea of everyone on the same level-playing field as great in some respects. The cap makes it a bit boring in a way, the big clubs need to dominate, like when rugby league was powerful in the 1980s with Wigan and St Helens. If the richer owners are pumping their money in to get the best players and create the biggest stars, surely that’s a good thing for the sport as a whole.”
Hearn previously said it would be difficult to do anything more than promote stand-alone events for the RFL, something he is still open to doing, but he has now revealed he and his promotion company, Matchroom, would be interested in a far bigger role if everyone within the sport was receptive to their ambitious plans.
However, it won’t be easy listening for some as Hearn added, “There’s the foundations of a great sport here. It’s very easy to understand and it’s fast-paced, which is great news in terms of attracting casual supporters. But there’s a distinct lack of those at the minute. There are things we’re going to bring up that certain people won’t like. But if the game wants to grow, those conversations need to be had”.
It’s all about meetings these days and there was a lot discussed at the latest gathering of Super League Clubs, where those deliberations included agreeing to a verbal guarantee that would see any teams that went down share a parachute payment of £500,000. The powers that be can issue statements and denials and protest all they like, but for me there is little wonder the Vikings got nilled in that final game at Rovers, I mean to say psychologically for everyone at the Cheshire Club it’s just an economic fact that those particular ‘Turkey’s’ would not be ‘Voting for Christmas’. As a Club with a relatively small supporter base, James Rule and Co. will need every penny of that payment to keep afloat and wouldn’t have fancied, I’m sure, sharing it with the Dobbins should they have ended up going down as well through the million-pound game. I mean to say, even with the whole half a million, it’s going to be bloody tough for ‘The Chemics’, just look at Leigh and the mess they are in (even after receiving the full amount) after they failed to get back up at the first attempt. Widnes should beware but at least they have the full parachute payment to ‘play’ with.
Last week at Dewsbury, the Leigh Centurions were blown away, probably because they could only field 13 players. What a disgrace that is, not to them but to the game that has seen them cast adrift in such a way. Had the middle eights continued then that would have been a yearly occurrence as teams dropped off the end, and I feel for the Leigh fans and everyone connected with the Club.
As an aside and as for Gary Schofield ridiculing the Centurions and offering to play for them in last weekend’s final, if they were still short, well that just shows what a lack of grasp he has on the current plight of the game that we all love and which he certainly appears to be only interesting in because of the amount of money he can make from it by being what he calls ‘controversial!!’. Both Leigh and Featherstone had to have permission to draft in players for the Final, because both were short. What a state the game is in and quite frankly, in trivialising the clubs plight it’s something that seems to have just passed Schofield by completely.
Of course there is always more to these things than meets the eye and Schofield should know that. Whilst the problems at Leigh and with their former owner have been well documented Featherstone have also struggled for numbers towards the end of the season and this controversial decision meant neither club would have to forfeit the tie and embarrassment for the game would be avoided. The governing body stated the decision, which went against all the RL rules about eligible players for Cup Final games, was made in exceptional circumstances and in agreement with all Championship and League One clubs. This had a knock on effect however, as it then left a situation where the Centurions were signing new players, whilst still refusing to pay some players from their own squad.
There are 6 players still on the Lancashire Clubs books who had refused to sign a compromise deal to terminate their contracts and they are reported to have not been paid for September. Featherstone’s plight, as they were also short of staff having blown out their budgets on players that failed to get them into the Middle Eights, was little different. So both Finalist could not raise a team.
With Leigh only fielding 13 players last week player welfare has become a major issue in this as well. Whilst we have seen an embarrassing about turn by the games ruling body, on a weekend where we should have all been talking about Super League semi-finals and the Million Pound Game, you have to feel that common sense has at least prevailed. However, that doesn’t mean the situation was right and it should never have happened.
It’s such a mess and a real litmus paper to show just how much of a parlous state the game is actually in. Players agent Graeme Taylor has already accused the Centurions of bullying players on twitter, saying that those who refuse to sign the compromise deal on their contracts have been threatened with getting nothing. Furthermore, it is staggering to consider the differing fortunes of the 2 clubs who played in last year’s Million Pound Game, with Catalans winning at Wembley and Leigh on the brink of obliteration. You know what, we have to worry about the future of our great game and let’s hope the Mr. Elstone, the Super League Clubs, The Hearns, the new structure and whoever else comes out of the woodwork, finally brings back some stability.
However, all that doom and gloom could not detract from the fact that Thursday night’s match between Saints and Warrington was an absolute Classic! That’s how good the actual product is!!! If you could bottle that intensity, atmosphere and sheer drama and un-cork it for everyone out there who has a passing interest in Rugby League, then I’m convinced the terraces would be packed next season. It had everything that is good in the game and was a real thriller for everyone neutral or otherwise. Sometimes I think it does us good to realise just how good our game actually is. Providing of course you watch it with the commentary turned off!!
As usual the old failings of Sky were there for all to see once again, as blather and rubbish abounded once again. Tom Lineham’s first try for the Wire, was legal and fair at the first watch, but as I shouted at the TV we had to watch it 5 bloody times before it was given. What a farce that is and, for me, it’s a real case of let’s get on with it! Did anyone else think that as well? But it was a great game with lots of excitement and jeopardy and tons of pressure and action for all; what drama there is in our sport when you watch two good teams when the pressure is on!
As for Castleford v Wigan. well I get criticised by several fans when I say this on occasions but, although we all want them to win and for some they might be ‘Classy Cas’, like it or not, when it comes to the big games, they always come up short. People have told me over the last few years how much better to watch they are than us lot, but you can play all that expansive stuff all season, but you have to be able to get in the grind when the big game comes. They blew it in last year’s final and did it again in the semi on Friday.
Like it or not the protagonists have to agree with their coach when he says that they don’t have the big game mentality and despite our shortcomings, that was in 2016 and 2017 exactly what we did have in getting to and winning at Wembley two years running. Sadly, they have again come up empty handed because they can’t rise to the big occasion and so finish with no more than poor old (11 on the trot) us! That’s the harsh reality of the game I’m afraid, you have to be able to peak at the end of the season and Wigan are the masters of that and they have been for years. It didn’t have the drama of the Saints v Warrington game, but it was a good watch and a great performance of power and domination; watch out Warrington!
This week in the last ‘Corner’ until when we come back in November I want to take your mind back to that fabulous 1988/89 season which was Brian Smiths first at the club and when, despite losing our first four games, we fought our way to the Premiership final and almost turned the form book inside out. A run of six victories over Christmas got us up there near the top of the League, and more steady form ensured that we got a home draw in the first round of the play offs, when we beat Cas 32-6. Once again because of the way that the games worked out in that first round, we found ourselves at home the following week too, this time we beat Featherstone 23-0. Both games are worthy of covering here in the future, but my overriding memory has to be Brian Smith coming onto the pitch after the hooter and racing towards the crowd displaying with his fingers that there were two and then one game left to a Premiership final victory. What a guy he was, he was as excited as we were.
So we got to Old Trafford, for a game in which no one gave us a hope, but this was Brian Smiths team, full of battlers and triers. We looked hungry that season, and the fans knew that even if we didn’t win, we would continue hunting for trophies, because that year the Boulevard was buzzing. Widnes had a side packed with stars, that’s why they were known as ‘The Cup Kings’, but in the end it was the homespun unknowns of Hull FC that took a thrilling final by storm. Thousands of FC fans packed the M62 on the way to the game, and at Saddleworth Moor the whole thing ground to a halt as three packed lanes of traffic crawled all the rest of the way to Old Trafford.
The atmosphere in the ground was nothing short of electric and although Widnes had just had to travel ‘down the road’, as always, in a gate of around 40,000, we outnumbered their fans about three to one. In the end it was a game that I remember best for three critical incidents either side of half time that in effect cost us the game, the cup and the glory.
As we kicked off it was immediately apparent that we were in this one to win it, as our forwards led by Dannett, Steve Crooks and Welham pushed the Widnes six back at each drive. When we got the ball Lee Jackson was masterful at off half running first this side, then that, and ruffling the Widnes tacklers in the process. Of course as often happens after all this endeavour, with the FC well on top, the opposition scored first.
Their rangy danger man Emosi Koloto had been kept quiet all afternoon until he broke a Windley tackle and started off down field. As Fletcher came across to grab him he sent out the deftest of passes to centre Darren Wright on half way, and the speed merchant ran straight down the middle to score. A Davies conversion saw us behind on the score board, when we were easily the better team. Next we received a real blow because as he was sandwiched between McKenzie and Joe Grima, our scrum half Phil Windley was knocked out cold. He had to retire for the rest of the half although I remember Pearce made an excellent stand in 7, and dictating play for the rest of the first period.
Back we came and after three occasions when loose forward Gary Divorty almost got away from the Widnes defence, he at last stepped out of a Hulme tackle and sped to the line where he all but scored himself before slipping out a peach of a pass for Welham to crash over. Pearce goaled and we were level.
By this time ‘Porky’ Pearce was running them ragged as his prompting and probing almost got both Eastwood and then Sharp in for tries. In the end though a penalty on their twenty -five saw him grab two more points, to give us the lead for the first time. At this point we were threatening to take the game away from our illustrious opponents, but then the first of those three incidents occurred deep in the Widnes half.
In the last minute of time added on, Pearce was lining himself up for a drop goal, when Jackson instead went blind at the play the ball and fed centre Price. The youngster sent a bullet like grubber towards the corner flag for O’Hara to chase, but somehow Andy Currier got in the way, it stuck in his ‘bread basket’ and he was off. Brilliantly Price somehow recovered and moved to tackle the Widnes man, only for Tony Myler to step across and obstruct him, leaving Currier haring away down the left wing to score and Price on his backside and we went in at half time trailing 10-8. The FC fans were not happy and gave referee John Holdsworth a right ribbing as he left the field, and with chants of ‘Cheat cheat’ ringing around the Hull end, we went off in search of a Bovril.
The second half had hardly started when Widnes scored again, and it was a try that was to be the killer blow! Paul Fletcher who was playing really well for us at full back pounced on a loose ball and ran off only to be called back by the referee for a scrum with a Hull put in; what happened to the advantage rule we all shouted. Amazingly we only lost one scrum with the head all afternoon and that had to be this one. Again Price was obstructed and pulled down this time by Currier, and once Alan Tait had given Martin Offiah his only bit of clean ball all afternoon, what happened then was a foregone conclusion as he scorched down the wing as only he could. Another Davies conversion meant that all of a sudden we were 16-8 down and two tries behind. We needed a quick score and looked to have got one three minutes later, as the third critical incident started to unfold.
Paul Welham was pulled down inches short of the line and from the play the ball Jackson dummied to runners Blacker and Eastwood before shifting play the other way for O’Hara to cross the line and clearly put the ball down. He was immediately carried out of play by both Pyke and Wright, but as we all celebrated and the Widnes player’s heads went down, amazingly the touch judge ruled no try and John Holdsworth the referee ordered a 25 yard re start.
There was still plenty of time to go, Porky got a good angled penalty on 58 minutes, and Blacker, Nolan and Fletcher all went so close, but in the last 20 minutes we could not add to our score, although our defence which was superb ensured that the opposition didn’t get any either. So as the hooter went we had lost our first final for several years 18-10.
It was a sad ending but deep down in our hearts we all knew as we tramped away from Old Trafford that something big was developing under Smithy, although few of us could envisage what was to happen just two years later at that same ground against that same Widnes team. Great times great memories!
So that’s it until the Diary returns (after our usual autumn break) on Monday 29th October. That will be a week before pre- season starts and there should be plenty to mull over by then. I need to recharge my batteries after what we have experienced this season and I expect you need to do the same really.
As this edition was produced and posted before the Million Pound game we will probably also have a look at how the new comers to the Super League are getting on. Thanks so much to everyone who has got in touch this week, including Richard Watson. Billy Platt, Harry from Skirlaugh, Dick Ollett, Lorraine Smith, Mike Jacklin, Fred, Donkey Derek (don’t ask!) and everyone else who took time to give an opinion, your input is greatly appreciated, it really is. I also had a couple of great get together with my pal and statistics supremo Bill Dalton this weekend and believe me when two Rugby League and Steam train fanatics like us two get together, it’s hard for either of us to get a word in edgeways.
Thanks for all your support this season and here’s to the next one. See you all again on the 29th.
Get those season passes and ………Try to Keep Believing!