Adam Comes out Fighting!!
“Apparently we’re not recruiting, our squad isn’t good enough and certain people think we are going backwards. It’s time to set the story straight I think. This squad has proven that it can be competitive, so we are quite content with people writing us off, because they do so at their peril”. So said our owner at the end of a big interview in last week’s League Weekly. Its fighting talk that’s very welcome and as fans, seeing what has been put in print of late, you can’t say fairer or want to hear better than that really.
As a Club we do I think seem to be over reacting somewhat to a few Dicks who have written us off already, but most of us have risen above that and tried to be objective which I think is the best way to handle it really. OK we haven’t been making Marquee signings but we have put together a squad that can perhaps overcome all eventualities, unlike a lot of teams who have made those high profile signings to great trumpeting, but left themselves short on cover and numbers to do it.
Most agree that with a fully fit squad we are a match for anyone, but there is still no denying that the ‘anyone’s’ are getting stronger individually if not as squads and whether we like it or not, as far as making forward progress is concerned it won’t get any easier heading into the 2019 campaign.
It’s hard not to get enthralled in the overall dynamic of the competition next season either and several ‘high interest’ signings are making our profile as a game quite prominent at present. That position is probably down to us having the strongest (big name wise) Super League we have had in a long, long time and in general that has to be good for the image and the appeal of the game. That situation, animated particularly by the signings that have come over from Australia, is pretty easy to acknowledge, but when you look more deeply at the actual individual squads, their make-up, and their average age, its clear that some clubs have simply decided to maximise what money they have, by reducing (greatly in some cases) their squads, to bring in ‘names’ simply to sell tickets.
Teams like Leeds have done this with two marquee signings, Warrington have built even more on the substantial influx of players that joined the club for 2017 and St Helens look to have a squad that will be very, very difficult to beat, but all three have unloaded heavily too.
Even the Dobbins have strengthened a bit, all be it with journeyman players, but they have shed a dozen or so as well, which could weaken the depth of their playing resources as the rigours of the season starts to bite. In fact, when you look at the teams taking part, with the exception of Wigan who were really strong in any case and London who seem to be well behind the 8 ball as far as augmenting their squad is concerned, everyone besides us and Wakey has beefed up their star quota’s but reduced their squad size. I have a look later, this week, at that exodus, but we are just about the only club that has chosen to go the other way, no doubt after being conned about the reserve league and stung by what happened at the end of last season! Will it pay off, who knows, but one things for sure, this year Super League will be very tough from the off and it won’t be for the faint hearted!
However, we are approaching the challenge with gusto and our owner and indeed our Coach are certainly leading the charge. Down at County Road Jake Connor was scheduled to be off for three weeks after his very successful spell with the England team and before the start of his pre-season at the FC, but he was back last Monday, a week early. He’s not been away but instead he’s been moving house and he said that he was bored, so he came back early.
That’s a great sign of just how much he has enjoyed his surprise starring role with his country and how much he is keen to continue to impress the International Coach through his club performances. He said how impressed he was with the current squad and how well he thought they would do this season, but then again since the Garry Schofield incident everyone at the Club seems to be regurgitating that mantra don’t they? However, it will be interesting to see whose place he is after because I think he’ll be angling for a start in the spine, so that he’s in the spotlight from the off. It’s great that he was so keen to get back and it will certainly be interesting to see how he goes.
I saw a few of the players last week and they all seem pretty focussed on things. Westy is back running but he’s another of the walking wounded, after coming back too quickly from an injury last season, but he’s hell bent on being back for the Dobbins game. His knee is still troubling him with a bit of pain, but he’s building it up slowly and should be back for the start of the season. In fact, the news on the recovering players is all pretty good with Sneyd continuing to improve as well. Never the less, we are still not showing anything like a full bill of health either, with both rotating props, Green and Bowden already out for the start of the campaign.
As well as Jake Connor, Hakim Miloudi returned this week as well and he too is looking to get lots of game time next season. It’s interesting to note though that most agree that of all the players back into the full programme, Thompson is the standout one who is absolutely training the house down.
One things for sure it’s the toughest pre-season most of the squad can ever remember and some of the other new comers are finding it hard to get their heads around just how hard it is!! Danny Langtree described it this week as a massive shock to the system and boy it’s been tough for them all. Even some old hands I’ve spoken to, are claiming that they are regularly going home knackered. Still, it’s also pretty apparent that team spirit is high in the camp and everyone is bonding well, in a group of players that has always been close.
Lee Radford is certainly taking no prisoners and after he had used an interview with the Mail last week to outline in no uncertain terms how some of the youngsters had to step up this year to survive in the squad, he then went on to tell the players they won’t be getting a long break this Christmas.
We play our first pre-season game against Doncaster on 6th January, but the players will only be given four days off during the Festive season and they’ll be straight back in after Boxing Day, to continue their preparations for the game in South Yorkshire. This is in stark contrast to the Dobbins who are giving their players a 12-day break over Christmas, however our lot will finish training on the Friday before the festivities, before the club hold a special Christmas party for the players and their families. Its tough love at the moment and although there are no guarantees we’ll be good enough for the new campaign, one things for sure, we will certainly be fit for it.
I think it’s worth here spending a bit of time on Adam Pearson’s ‘State of the Club’ speech that I started with, which he delivered last weekend as the discounted phase of season ticket sales closed with over 7,500 already signed up. As I said earlier, this came in a big full page interview in last week’s League Express where he spent some time praising the fans who had contributed to record breaking season ticket sales and also decried the doubters and particularly Garry Schofield for criticising our recruitment and our prospects for 2019. Bits of this came out in the other media afterwards but if you didn’t get to see it, in its entirety, its worth analysing some of the most interesting points.
Adam certainly defended the situation well and was I think, genuinely proud of the way that the fans had rallied around the club and bought into the dream again, at levels he admitted he thought we would never attain after the end of the last campaign. He said he expected ticket sales to be down but re-iterated the re-engaging fans rationale when he said, “We 110% believe in this team and we have three of the best half-backs in the game”, but ever the realist he added, “Don’t get me wrong some of the performances last year were not acceptable at all, Do I think that will happen next year? Not a prayer!”
He also added interestingly that every single player that we have re-signed for 2019 was wanted by other clubs and reaffirmed that Kelly had an NRL offer on the table, while Seke Manu was courted by Melbourne. He said that Lee didn’t want to sign anyone from the NRL, although Adam had offered to look at whoever he was interested in. He also added most revealingly that we were really interested in one Super League player, but the club in question wouldn’t sell him to us, which, I guess, proves that our chairman will pay a fee if we need to and that perhaps we are always looking.
That said I have to say that as far as the first team squad top 25 goes, we’ve managed to replace Abdull with Dawson, Thompson, Langtree and Nzoungou! Which by any stretch of the imagination takes some doing! The point about the number of player’s other clubs have signed is one that warrants some looking at too, because teams really are running with skinnier squads and risk I think struggling big style if injuries bite.
Teams aren’t strengthening numbers wise, they’re just re-arranging the deck chairs and even downsizing. Leeds have signed Hurrell, but are they really better off with Luke Briscoe on the wing instead of Ryan Hall? I thought this week that perhaps the best way I can illustrate what I’m alluding to is to list the players who have left clubs rather than those that we’ve all been told about time and again that have joined them.
This list of those in the different Clubs top 25 players who have left, highlights I think just how much some clubs have reduced their ranks. You see, until you look more closely you don’t realise just how many some have got rid of and indeed how many of those names you recognise. After a bit of research here is what I found.
List of SL Outs:
Plenty of names you recognise there and loads of ability there too! Most clubs have shed staff big style and although they may have improved individual quality in specific positions, none have brought in as many as they have got rid of and so they have weakened their cover with a reduction in the depth of their squads. One or two Clubs might well go off like rockets at the start of the season, but in a long, long campaign can their smaller squads sustain that when injuries bite? That I guess is the million-dollar question.
But, back to what Adam had to say and with regard to the great progress we are making as an organisation off the field he said, “We are building premises all the time here. We have a first class training ground, a new administration hub, a community centre, our own sports college and three club shops. This Club is getting stronger and stronger”. There is little doubt that Clark and he have forged ahead with these developments as cash has been available and opportunities have presented themselves. All these initiatives are first class and for a team that doesn’t own its own ground it sees us better placed for auxiliary facilities and accommodation than most of the teams in Super League who do! On ticket sales he revealed that an extra 1000 had taken up the direct debit scheme for the first time and that was he thought a contributing factor in our successful selling campaign.
On merchandise he also stated that we were now taking one and a half times more on that side of the business than we were four years ago. In fact, I deduced after reading the article that in a nut shell our commercial activities are flying and we are doing really well.
On the state of the game he was pretty outspoken and particularly controversial when he said that, “I was criticised early on for saying that London coming up probably isn’t the best bet for this season. It doesn’t get the pulse running like Toronto, does it? They certainly don’t seem to be making a lot of acquisitions”. He then added “On the other hand a club with potential global reach could have come up into our competition to engage the American and Canadian Broadcasting market before Rugby Union. That for me is where our competition should be heading, but London have earned the right to be here they have worked hard to get promotion and are entitled to a place in Super League and we must respect that!” So Adam is certainly for International expansion in the right circumstances!
Not happy with stirring up that Hornet’s nest over London he then went on to have a pop at Salford when he said, “Their situation is an interesting one and sounds alarm bells to me!” He then compared the actual situation gate and finance wise at Salford, again with that at Toronto and added, “As a sport we just need to decide where we are heading and we need to do that quickly, to ensure that we don’t miss opportunities when they are presented to us”
That interested me and the whole tone indicated that perhaps Salford were in big trouble and that the game had to decide whether (if that is the case and they go under), we should invite Toronto in and do it before the Canadian team get disillusioned and pack up. That was further cemented by his final comment on the subject that was, “However, if Andrew and his team at Salford are confident they can manage to get through the season then let’s get on with it!”. Interesting stuff that, I thought!
In the same paper Lee Radford indicated that we were preparing to lose four of our senior players at the end of the season. The Hull FC chief, also speaking to League Express in another exclusive interview, revealed that as many as three players could retire while another could leave for the NRL come Autumn 2019. Lee confirmed two of the players who are likely to retire are Sika Manu and Mark Minichiello, who both penned new one-year deals ahead of the upcoming season. While refusing to reveal the identity of the other two players. I would guess however that Albert will go Down Under following an agreement made after his recent extension was announced and either Danny Washbrook and/or Micky Paea will retire, Lee said, “Knowing Sika Manu and Mark Minichiello like I do, they’re going to want to go out on the biggest wave they’ve ever surfed. They’re proud people and professional people. You talk about age, well, they’ll want to sign off on a Kevin Sinfield note. Much like Jamie Jones-Buchanan at Leeds and Danny McGuire at Hull KR, the level they have got to is because of their drive. I’m pretty sure you’re going to see a pretty big season out of the pair of them.” One things for sure, that article confirmed that it looks as if we are in for a huge recruitment drive ahead of 2020.
As honest genuine blokes in the game go, you’ll have to go a long way to find a better one than Peter Gentle who was our Coach for two years and who was a bloke I got to know really well whilst he was at the Club. It was great this week to see that Peter continues his career in Australian RL and has moved on to join another (locally)well-known character in Hull ex-Dobbins Captain Anthony Seibold at Brisbane Broncos for the 2019 campaign.
The duo, who have worked together at South Sydney Rabbitohs for a year, have moved to the Suncorp Stadium a year earlier than scheduled and that’s because England head coach Bennett had his contract terminated last weekend with him in turn taking over at Souths with immediate effect. I’m so pleased for Peter because whatever did or didn’t go on when he left (something that has been flogged to death in here over the years) he was a super bloke who was seriously ill just over two years ago at the time we were winning our first Challenge Cup Final.
In my last book it said of that time, just after the final hooter in the Final had gone,
“However, when I did check my phone, the first text I’d received after the final hooter was from the ‘Gentle clan’ in Australia. It simply said, ‘Celebrate long and hard, you and all those wonderful and loyal Black and Whites certainly deserve it”. It was all the more pertinent and touching because Peter had recently been admitted to Hospital with a very severe bout of Streptococcus Pneumonia. His kidneys and liver had been badly affected and he was extremely fortunate that the medical staff were able to diagnose and treat the condition promptly. He was on the mend, but the first thing he and his Dad Ken did on the final hooter was text me and the fans to say well done!”
Top bloke is Peter Gentle and good luck to him at the Bronco’s!
So to wider issues as once again the frailties of the game are laid bare, as our ability as a sport to constantly take one step forward and two back was again emphasised as Toronto Wolfpack and Toulouse Olympique confirming that they will not be entering the Challenge Cup next season. However, just as we were digesting that news and considering distance as the problem, it was announced that there will be some fresh international flavour in the competition, with the confirmation of Red Star Belgrade’s inclusion and they will be in the first round draw which will take place at Headingley on December 14.
The official line was that the two clubs have omitted themselves from the Cup, and will not partake in Round Four when Championship sides join the competition, which again further dilutes a competition that has recently seen steps taken to strengthen its position in the sport. However, its now a matter that is causing some consternation and debate for all the wrong reasons after reports emerged the two clubs have been instructed by the RFL that they would have to pay out should they reach the final. As non-member clubs, Toronto, Toulouse and Catalans are invited to participate but participation is not theirs by right. This year, this extra charge has been added so any club outside the RL family has a cost of taking part. This I guess follows the losses made after this last year’s Wembley final, which saw Catalans reach and win the trophy.
It is I guess a hard one for the RL because they will say that they are acting in the best interest of their member clubs who get a cut of the Challenge Cup pot and they are trying to ensure that the event doesn’t lose money in the future. There is the theory that Toronto’s participation can draw more commercial revenue and fans, but that’s a gamble that perhaps isn’t worth taking right now, as it’s all based on hypothetical growth and if, buts and maybes. For me though I would have thought to avoid what is a bit of an embarrassing scenario the RL should surely have been able to take out some insurance to cover the potential losses caused by these clubs progressing further in the competition and reaching Wembley? It’s a strange one this and no mistake and something that looks to be putting us in danger of looking daft again.
Last season the Wolfpack got thumped at Warrington Wolves in the sixth round, while Toulouse chose not to enter the competition at all having last taken part in 2017 when they lost to Batley Bulldogs. The Serbian Clubs inclusion ‘beggars belief’ in some ways after the others two have been ‘excluded’, but as long as they are paying their travelling expenses etc its fine by me because at least it’s an opportunity for a bit of publicity for the draw and indeed the first round. They are in fact an arm of the football club and have seen their application accepted after their recent success in the Balkan Super League and also through their retention of the Serbian Championship title.
I hunted around and managed to find this quote from Colin Kleyweg, the chairman of Red Star Belgrade Rugby League, who said: “Red Star Belgrade are so proud to be a part of the 2019 Challenge Cup. This is a huge day for rugby league in Serbia and for all expanding nations that nurture local talent and local players.”
In the gym this morning (Sunday) a guy was telling me that he had only been to two rugby matches in his life and added that he used to love watching games on the TV with Eddie Waring in his youth and its never seemed the same!! So in this week Codgers Corner, I want to look back on the man that pound for pound probably did the most over the years to publicise our great game. Although I went to the Boulevard for every home game in the early 60’s I was privileged to witness live Rugby League every other Saturday, presented to me in my front room in Airlie Street the BBC way! The presentation was amateurish, the picture grainy and the camera work, compared with these days, pretty basic. However, that didn’t matter because although we were treated to seeing the second half of a top game at a sodden Wildespool or a mist shrouded Watersheddings the main event for many, perhaps not so committed fans, was the one and only, often imitated never duplicated, Eddie Waring.
For some thirty years Eddie commented on the ups and down of Rugby league, making him ‘Mr Rugby League’ and so distinctive was his voice and mannerisms that no impersonator in the country was worth his salt if he couldn’t “do an Eddie Waring”. Mike Yarwood made a career out of him! Waring introduced to the English language some new expressions which quickly became catch phrases such as, “It’s an Up and Under”, “He’s going for an early bath” and “ He’s a big lad but his mother loves him”. His unique presentation skills popularised the game across the country particularly in the south and an amazing 6 million viewers regularly tuned in to his commentaries most of whom, after the game, switched over to ITV for that other highly cultural pursuit, Wrestling with Kent Walton.
The purists, of course, didn’t like it a bit, and Eddie was often the butt of some rather caustic comments amongst the ‘old timers’ in the Hull FC Supporters club on a Saturday night. Many said he gave the game a comedy image, but what the hell, Redhall would, I am sure, do anything for an audience of 6 million for televised games these days and he could not be any worse than Stevo!!! Incidentally Eddie Waring and Stevo both hail from Dewsbury, it must be something in the water over there I think!
When you look a little deeper though, Eddie had a reputation for being a bit of a strange character, living, it was said, for years in a hotel, and only venturing out once a week to commentate on games. These rumours were fuelled by the fan’s belief that he was scared to face the purists, because of his flippant way of reporting the game they loved. The truth behind this myth is somewhat different however. It appears that Eddie was so put out by the reaction of the traditional supporters to his knockabout style of commentating that he adopted the Queens Hotel in Leeds as his accommodation and postal address, whilst actually living in secret 30 miles away in Sowerby Bridge. This paranoia was further borne out by the times my dad pointed Eddie out to me as he attempted to sneak undetected into the Boulevard before games, and by the way the Threepennies booed him every time he walked round to his commentating position.
In his early life during the war years Eddie was a very successful manager at the Dewsbury club. He was a canny operator, signing up all the players that were stationed nearby doing their war time service, which led to the team from Crown Flatt winning several wartime trophies. After the war he was one of the first to recognise the potential of televised sport and encouraged the BBC to consider Rugby League for televising. He commentated on the first ever-televised match the channel tried and was a fixture thereafter.
The unrest amongst traditional supporters grew when the world of show business recognised his quirky appeal and snapped Eddie up. When Katie Boyle (sensible girl) walking out of “It’s a Knockout” Eddie was appointed as one of the co-presenters. His style became more and more outlandish as he continued in both jobs, in fact things all became so surreal that for many it was often hard to define between his rugby and his “It’s a Knockout” commentaries. He soon gained cult status particularly with students and one university even had an Eddie Waring Appreciation Society.
The BBC soon received a 10,000-name petition from outraged die hard fans who were complaining about him bringing the game into disrepute, but, at the height of his popularity, the canny Eddie had negotiated himself a contract, which tied him to the BBC until he wished to retire. His celebrity status continued unabated and he even appeared on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, although it was hard to tell by this time whether people were laughing with poor old Eddy, or at him.
Eddie finally decided to retire in 1981 aged 71 to be replaced by Ray French, and I guess in hindsight the game owes him a lot for the popularity he brought to it in what were difficult times. For me though he will always be remembered as a commentator who said whatever came into his head, which, in hindsight, was really quiet refreshing when compared with these days of sanitised pre rehearsed commentaries. One of his most celebrated and typical comments came at the end of the 1968 cup final when Don Fox missed that conversion under the post that would have won the game for Wakefield. Waring just paused for a second whilst the crowd went mad, and then said “Eeee… poor lad!”
For all his failings I think the important part he played in the development of our game in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s should be remembered, in some way. If I were to make a suggestion it would be that perhaps the Queens Hotel in Leeds should have a plaque next to the front door, to immortalise this great character, and perhaps as well, it could bear the simple statement “Eddie Waring Never Lived Here”. He was a character and no mistake!!!
So, we’ll have another Diary next week before I retire for Christmas to return after New Year with three friendlies and the start of the new season on 1st February to look forward to. Thanks for all the correspondence and Christmas Cards etc that I have received this week. There’s been precious little news about but I hope what interested me interested you too!!
Thanks so much for your support and for sticking with me for another week, this week the Diary passed the 13 year’s mark and although it’s hard to justify saying it’s still going strong, at least I can say thanks to you lot, that it’s still going!!!! See you next time.