The game at Doncaster heralded the start of the 2019 campaign and whatever this year brings, and at this juncture who knows what that will be, we’ll have a go at getting through it again together, whilst hopefully enjoying the ride.
We gave most if not all of the fit junior players and several academy lads a run out yesterday in the traditional fixture against our duel registration partners and although you can only play what’s in front of you and Doncaster weren’t up to much, we took the opportunity for a run out and looked really handy at times. As a group of players we are certainly fit and sharp and when we broke out, (which we did on a regular basis) our speed with the ball was impressive. You can’t really argue with 72-12 can you?
That said not much can be gauged from such matches, but everyone got a run out and although we looked a bit suspect at covering short balls from acting half that brought them their two tries, Liam Harris ran the game from half back and organised well which led to some great FC scores. Still we might learn a bit more next week at Wakey, where it will be much harder, although this, as a first run out, was still a heartening showing.
We need to be heartened too, as we are all, I guess, starting to look towards the coming campaign and hoping for ‘better luck this time’. It’s a big call though and let’s face it, as far as signings are concerned, the club doesn’t seem to have delivered what many of the fans had hoped for at all.
We have all heard the arguments about the quality of the team if we can get them all on the field at the same time and I’m sure they are valid, but as Chris Chester of Wakefield said last week, “This is going to be one of the hardest Super League seasons ever and a lot of clubs are really going to have their work cut out to stay with the leaders!”
Its always an exciting time and we are up and running and have a practise game in the bag, but we shouldn’t get too carried away either. Hull FC are already counselling us against inflated expectations with warnings of us starting short-handed and players taking longer than expected to get back from injuries and operations, what’s more, let’s face it, looking at what other teams have done recruitment wise, even the most optimistic of us can get what Chezzie means can’t we? However, for now let’s just try and enjoy the ride eh?
The game at Doncaster was predictable fare in many ways and of course as a Club we couldn’t really win. Play badly or lose and we were in trouble, play well and win handsomely and it was just what was expected. Dean Hadley certainly impressed in his first 20-minute stint and I thought he looked really hot, I was also pleased that ‘Double Barrelled’ Charlie (Pattison-Lund) got a try, whilst Liam Harris ran everything, Charlie Graham looked handy as the Dons tired in the second half and Miloudi had a great afternoon. Trialist Naulago certainly impressed with a fantastic try after he broke free in his own half and his strength, pace and brilliant footwork, make it a score that’s really worth a watch on the club site.
The main thing for me comparing this game with others at Donny in the past was that as they ran out of puff, we didn’t get greedy or selfish and we managed to keep our shape in the final quarter when often in such games, a big score, lots of youngsters and a massive shift around of players, leads to everyone trying to score on their own. The support play was good throughout and Matongo looked massive. He and Lane both showed up really well in the power department down the middle and with Bowden and Green missing for the start of the campaign they looked to be making a pitch at the starting 17 at Caravan Park. At acting half back Litten controlled things well and gave good service throughout whilst Langtree looked handy as well. There were mistakes and a few dumb options, but you have to start somewhere and we started pretty well! However, we’ve got to be very cautious as well, because make no mistake about it, that was a very poor Doncaster side.
So, we’re underway and all looking forward to the new season and those arguments about making signings balanced against the quality that we already possess continue, but now we know that our best players are not all going to be fit for the ‘get go’, so we’ll just have to see how we manage I guess. At least everyone looks to be ultra-fit and some of our second string players certainly look keen and raring to go, so we’ll see!
In the bigger scheme of things, I have always thought that we could have done with a big name signing to shake up everyone in the team a bit and to enthuse the fans on the terraces, but circumstances dictated that wasn’t going to happen. Back in September we were told that there were none available, yet as the winter has progressed other clubs seem to have found a few! However, I guess that our starting 17 does just about pick itself, and on paper it certainly wouldn’t include any of our new closed season signings, but yesterday proved I think that some of them have a deal of potential and they do at least offer us some real depth. We could yet see a couple of real dark horses emerge.
As loyal supporters, we have all signed up for season tickets, we believe again, some of us are excited, some hoping for the best and some a tad apprehensive, with many I guess like me experiencing a bit of all those emotions. Folks stop me and say we could do with a bit more aggression in the front row and perhaps a speedster that can strike from a long distance as well. Those two short comings do seem to be the main bone of contention with ‘The Faithful’ at present, although yesterday did show those qualities could yet emerge from the squad. That said, with reduced substitutions, there will be more emphasis on mobility and durability in the pack and there is little doubt that some of our forwards are mobile and even light on their feet at times too. With the substitution and shot clock changes it will, I think, be the big unit ‘short minutes’ players, that some teams have signed up, that will struggle to sustain the necessary pressure and intensity throughout the 80 minutes.
Of course it’s all a matter of opinions, something that the FC fans are never short of and so thank goodness that the rhetoric is almost over. Now, we move into the next phase of pre-season when we play the meaningless ‘Friendly’ games that are so pointless to us lot and yet so important to the team’s development. All the talking up of our hopes in the pre-Christmas period of the ‘phoney war’ is over and in the first few days of 2019 reality has started to bite, with the new season now just over the horizon. Here we all are on the threshold of a new campaign, stuffed with bags of hope, tinged with a bit of realism, still facing several unanswered questions, but dreaming just the same. For me and a lot of fans I know it’s all poised on a knife edge at present, but you can’t fault the Club with regards to being optimistic and talking it all up can you?
As our administration and players speculate about trophies again, then if those claims are to become anything close to reality, we really need to hit the ground running! However, as I see it, two things are obstacles to us doing that. Firstly, as we have now been told, there is no way everyone will be fit ‘to go’ on 1st February, Bowden and Green certainly won’t and now Adam Pearson is preparing us for the worst by listing Westerman, Talanoa and Mini as having suffered from reactions to operations and thus not likely to start the campaign. I’ve been told that Sneyd is still a way off too, as players continue to return slowly from protracted injuries and delays through infections, and with just three weeks to go several are still not in full training yet! So we won’t actually have that starting 17 out there on 1st February, in fact far from it and that has to be a bit of a worry.
Secondly when you look closely at the schedule the first few fixtures fall badly for us and look to be pretty formidable.
Yet we need some early season momentum and impetus because every year some teams, looking at the longer game, start slowly and I think that’s our chance to get something from them. Adam said last week that we would be a force come the mid part of the season, but that might all be a bit late because for me, I believe, our season will depend on our ability to win that first game at Caravan Park and then kick on, but with or still absent players, the opposition, the venue and the fact that Rovers have strengthened and will have some new faces eager to make a point on their debut’s, it will be really hard to get anything from that one. In fact, for me you can keep visits to Saints, Wigan and Warrington as your first game; because The Dobbins over there is the hardest start we could ever have.
If we do prevail, then I feel we will have real hope for the coming months, but if we don’t then we will have to regroup and try to get a couple of wins out of the next two games, against Castleford and Wigan. Did I say that start was formidable, lets change that to ‘a bit daunting’, shall we?
The need for a good start is something that I’m told Lee has already been drilling into the players psyche at every opportunity. You see, when you look around the other teams and their opening fixtures, even though some are traditionally slow starters, they are all likely to get some reward in some of those first few games, whilst on paper at least, unless we really are motoring, we ain’t guaranteed to get much at all, yet we simply can’t afford to be behind the eight ball, after those initial few fixtures.
Without doubt we need a bit of a flyer, but it’s a big ask, yet if we can do it, we will be fine, we’ll get moving, accrue some points and we might surprise a few of the doom and gloom merchants along the way. But, if we don’t it will almost certainly guarantee a struggle, because falling away like last season, when the campaign was over for us, is one thing, but having to play catch up from the off in the new look league of 2019, is destined to be completely another. I’m hoping we can get off to a really good start myself.
Still at least we now know that its only bottom place we have to avoid and that shot clocks and golden point will be coming on stream from the first game of the campaign. That will certainly crank up the excitement, as we see a 35 second period allowed for forming scrums and 30 seconds for drop outs, whilst conversions and penalties aimed at goal will be restricted to 80 seconds (although that will be controlled by the referee rather than the clock itself). Leeds had been dragging their heels on the changes again, so there was a delay in the announcement, but they were unanimously out voted and all the muted changes are now coming to pass. Clocks are being fitted at the 12 grounds that host Super League as I write and I honestly feel that these changes will alter the dynamic of the game a lot.
I was told a while ago by a couple of coaches that the shot clock would work by an audible timer (counting down through the PA systems in the stadium), but now it appears every Stadium will have a clock at each end, which the fans will be able to watch, whilst no doubt conducting their own countdown to accompany it, as the players scurry around to avoid conceding a penalty. As forwards will invariably have to stay on the pitch longer and thus get more and more tired towards the end of each half, I think it will be tough for them, but it should make things very interesting.
Then, in addition to those two changes that will only take place in Super League (thus extending again the ever widening gap between the elite competition and the other two leagues) we will see just 8 substitutions and the disappearance of the ridiculous free play right across the game. All that when lumped together ensures I think that it will all get a bit frenetic at times and that should, I think, increase the tension and the excitement.
That tension and excitement will be further escalated by the changes announced for the end of the game too. The new rules certainly offer teams some fantastic opportunities to provide late comebacks in the final five minutes and keep games interesting for fans watching in the stadium and at home on TV. In that last period, the clock will automatically be stopped following a penalty or a drop goal that goes out of the field of play and after a conversion or indeed after a try, if a team, trailing by more than two, chooses not to take the conversion attempt.
An example of how the tension can be pumped up is when a side trailing by eight or ten points in the final minutes is now able to score a try and turn down the kick, with the clock then stopped from the point the referee is made aware of the scoring team’s decision. In the past its kept ticking on until everyone is back ready for the kick off. Having seen how stopping the clock when the ball goes out of play in the final few minutes of NFL games in America, has spiced up the spectacle, I think that a few who usually leave early when we are two scores behind or in front by the same margin, will think twice in future and more games will go right to the wire and maybe even to Golden Point.
You know, for once, these particular rule changes etc. excite me a bit, as I believe that the game will benefit from them and there will be much more jeopardy and razzamatazz around matches, which should appeal to the casual observer. Us oldies have just gone along and watched whatever the fare and whatever the changes that have been introduced and done it for decades. We’ve grumbled for years about time wasting, the length of time conversions take, laying on, too many substitutions, games that go on for over two hours, players appearing to feign injury to slow the game down etc. and these changes not only address all those things, but also I think bring a bit of urgency and excitement to the spectacle as well. At least now we have addressed some of the issues in a proactive way and the game is having a go at introducing changes that really benefit and enhance the actual product on show.
The Clubs (with one particular abstainer) wanted two referee’s as well and if that would ensure we tidy up the tackle, the ruck and the play the ball, then I’m all for that as well, but we’ll have to watch some trials of that one this year with a likely change coming in 2020. It was said that it’s a step too far at present but that’s just a fudge because I’m told its actually down to a simple lack of officials of the calibre needed to provide enough on pitch officials every week. However, as I say if it ends all the buggering about that goes on post tackle and pre-play-the-ball then I’m willing to give that a go as well!
I might be wrong and be ruing these changes by the end of the season, but having followed all the machinations, arguments and deliberations that have gone on over the past 6 months, I somehow think on this occasion I won’t be!
Well it isn’t often that I agree with Hudgell about anything but I have to say again that as far as his assessment of the Bradford Chairman is concerned, he probably got that one spot on. No one is more of a traditionalist than I am, however setting aside the fact that I have always been a martyr to both the game and the team I love, its apparent when you strip away the emotion and sentiment that games has never really thrived in my life time. A French film director once said, “You only really remember the sunny days” and as you get older that’s a fact.
We all look back affectionately to great tries, trophy wins, and to standing on freezing terraces in dilapidated stadia in the bleak mid-winter, but really and truthfully our game has never been such a fascinating and all absorbing ‘must watch’ as to capture completely the imaginations of either the broadcasters or indeed the uninitiated potential fan who were not as obsessed as we were. But it didn’t matter because the game has always muddled along, yet now with escalating costs for the clubs dropping gates and a lack of media interest we really are at a major cross roads. This has thankfully brought about a change where we now see the owners at last realising (through their pockets) that the game is struggling and so they are trying to do something collectively to put things right. Yes, they are acting through vested interests, of course they are, but if they succeed so do we all.
Chalmers of the Bulls said of them, “It was dressed up as Super League having the freedom to grow commercially, with the new money trickling down, well, there is precious little sign of any tickle down. In fact, there is little sign of anything except attempts to take more money off other parts of the league like ourselves. The superficial measures are designed to persuade everyone that real change is happening when it is not. People weren’t prepared to admit – and still probably aren’t – but it represented a split in the professional league and a marginalisation of the RFL as the governing body”
Well something had to be done and if eventual success for the game entails a split between the Super League and the rest then perhaps that is the way forward, but something had to give and that tirade just smacked to me of sour grapes because he isn’t in there with them.
You see for me the only ones who stand to lose big time if we don’t get a broadcast deal, or indeed receive much reduced offers for it next time around, are the owners and so we should at least give them a chance of doing what the Premier League in Football did so successfully and perhaps we are right to put our destiny in their hands.
Of course it’s early days, but for me they haven’t made a bad start with the rule changes etc. for next season, so let’s get on with it and see what they can do and where we end up, because sitting tight with the Championship and Division One Clubs and bumbling along into the next TV negotiations was simply no longer an option at all. If we had done that then come 2020 the Clubs like Bradford would have grumbled like hell when their cut of the TV money, which the Super League Clubs alone earn, was reduced, but the only ones who can stop that happening are the owners of the big clubs. The Sky boys have sole rights for the Championship but still don’t broadcast any regular season games from it; that’s how appealing the lower leagues are at present and how much of a responsibility is on the shoulders of the Super League clubs!
Another big improvement was announced last Friday when the RL officially announced something that a club coach (away from Hull) told me about in late November, when they heralded the re-introduction of the Steedon ball. This was old news for Diary readers, but it’s certainly a welcome change and should again help players retain the ball more in wet weather. As I said back then the only thing that delayed the announcement last year was the fact that the Clubs couldn’t get their hands on a supply of balls until this month.
Something else I told you about well in advance was the ridiculous levy that the RL was intending to charge the French and Canadian Clubs if they wanted to take part in the Challenge Cup next year. The RL are obviously worried about their income as the Super League clubs take more and more control of the finance they generate for the game, but I honestly thought that Catalan had paid theirs already. Obviously they haven’t, as the Cat’s have reportedly followed in the footsteps of Toronto Wolfpack and Toulouse Olympique and refused to pay the bond demanded of non-English clubs to feature in the illustrious competition.
Good for them I say, as although I don’t want to go over old ground again and accepting that last year’s Wembley was the lowest gate for the Final since 1937, I still believe that the RL should be looking at ways of boosting the popularity of a competition that has always been open to all, but that it has allowed Sky (in particular) to side-line for years. To try to get such guarantees is a negative step which just moves money around within the game, instead they should be taking positive action to bring money into it and get the final back to it’s previous illustrious status by filling the national stadium for the world renowned event.
RL at Wembley once a year, in its showpiece game, is an absolute Icon of our sport, it’s the ultimate showcase and impacts worldwide. It’s a beacon for our sport, but we shouldn’t be penalising teams in an attempt to keep it viable, but rather popularising it again and filling the place. The RL say they are negotiating to try and find a settlement but that solution had better not favour the Catalans whilst excluding Toronto and Toulouse, those sort of double standards should not be what we are about in Rugby League. They have now created a major problem for themselves, so let’s see how they get out of this one! No wonder other sports look at us and shake their heads at times????
Now, next up, in the quest for some light relief, let’s look at the strange case of the Boulevard Stadium in Preston. Sometimes, you know, I honestly think that I don’t have enough to do!! Was anyone else watching the BBC morning news on the Friday after Christmas when desperate for something to talk about during ‘The great Brexit hiatus’ they commemorated the 100 anniversary of the forming of the Dick Kerr Ladies football team in Preston back in the World War One. It was the first female team to compete in the sport in Great Britain and was made up of women from a munitions factory, who played to raise money for our lads out fighting in Europe. They soon became the best team of ladies in the World.
ANYWAY!!!! In the commentary that accompanied the newsreel footage they talked of ‘a packed Deepdale’ for their first game and showed a film from which I took the two clips below.
That is indeed the Dick Kerr’s Ladies team, but I immediately thought, It’s not Deepdale’, because it was for me, obviously the Boulevard. The place is certainly packed and in the still I took below, you can even see that they are using converted rugby posts for the goal. For me it is nailed on as the Boulevard although they kept referring to it in the broadcast as Deepdale.
Always alert, Bill Dalton the Club historian had seen it too and immediately commented to me about it. From what I found out the guy below with the ‘wind up’ camera dates it as around 1920, but although I’ve done a deal of ferreting about in Hull Daily Mails from the 1920’s, I can’t find any reference to the game being played. I knew about cricket, handball, the Harlem Globe Trotters and Hull City playing there but never this lot. The only thing that is missing from the pics is my old ‘Alma mater’ Chilton street school behind the Threepennies, but I think that was only completed in the mid 1920’s anyway.
In both codes, rugby in this country is a high impact sport where such things as head injuries, concussion and player welfare have been put high on both sports agenda’s. Headgear has been muted and a protocol on concussion is already in place, (just ask Albert Kelly) but as physical contact games go Rugby in this country is certainly a lot safer than some games around the world. Take American Football for instance. Their game, where ‘crash’ helmets are mandatory, has been based for decades on sheer brutality. You can’t grab the player without the ball as such, but the ball carrier is subjected to blatant crash tackles, sometimes around the head and the technique such as it is, is often based solely on strength in the shoulder charge or just the ‘charge’ in general. It really is brutal at times!
As more and more emphasis is at last being placed on technique (because quite simply parents are keeping their kids well away from the game because they fear for their safety), the NRL are approaching the problem in an interesting way and in Texas they have started by launching an ambitious effort to have all of the state’s 23,000 junior high and high school football coaches become familiar with, by August, a program that teaches rugby-style tackling. It emphasises the use of the shoulder, not the head, in bringing down the player with the ball rather than trying to dislodge by knocking the carrier senseless.
Raymond Kitchen a defensive coach at James Bowie High School, in Arlington who is heading it up said, “It’s where to put your head and what parts of your body you use in contact that is the focus now. They get it spot on in both codes of Rugby and now here every coach needs to be shouting, ‘Get your head out of it’”. He concluded by citing chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease which is effecting retired players across the American game and being linked to repeated hits to the head and impacts of the head on the ground. So apparently we do get something right!
This week we see the return of Codgers and after an enforced rest I want to take you back to a great game we played at the Boulevard on Sunday 24th April 1983 at a time when we were racing towards the end of the season and still in the running for the treble, with the League, Cup and Premiership Trophies still beckoning. This is a game I particularly remember because it was one that was sprinkled liberally with brilliance, errors and some odd refereeing decisions. On the day in question 13,357 of us crammed into the Boulevard to watch the FC play an Oldham side who were themselves doing well in the League and who boasted some really good players, not the least their exciting and mercurial winger Green Vigo.
It was a pleasant afternoon and I watched the game from the Airlie Street end of the Threepenny Stand where we were ‘packed in like sardines’. After just two minutes Oldham’s Ellis led with his knees into a tackle on Barry Bridges and Crooks landed an easy penalty to get us started, but on eight minutes a desperate grab around the neck by Paul Prendiville on Vigo saw Parrish level matters and he gave the visitors the lead with another penalty at the end of the first quarter of the game. Still we were doing OK but it was the man Vigo who made three great tackles to rob Prendiville twice and Lauluai once to keep his side in the game. We showed a lot of pace and skill but several basic mistakes including a dropped pass by Steve Norton meant that the Oldham side were able to thwart our best efforts although the fast hands and slick moves we adopted were certainly good entertainment for us lot in the Stand.
Then on the 21minute mark Vigo got his reward, as deep in the Oldham half another Hull attack broke down as Evans and Solal got into a real mix up leaving the ball on the ground as they both miss timed their runs. Quick as a flash Vigo picked it up and went haring down the field to score an 80 yard try, (despite a magnificent last ditch attempt by Paul Prendiville to stop him) and as Parrish goaled it was suddenly 9-2 to the visitors. We continued to squander possession as we tried to play too much rugby coming off our own line, something that continually played into the visitor’s hands.
Twice in the next ten minutes, first Kevin Harkin, and then Gary Kemble saved certain tries before we finally got our act together and hard running by Stone, Skerrett and Crooks got us into the Oldham half at last. Then Dave Topliss broke from acting half swerved towards the left before straightening up and passing to Norton who quickly found Kemble on an arcing run that saw him touch down behind the posts. Crooks landed an easy conversion and then exchanged penalties with Parrish for the half time hooter to sound with the score 9-11 to the visitors. I don’t know what Arthur Bunting said to the lads at half time but whatever it was they certainly came out fired up and tore into an Oldham defence that amazingly stayed intact until the 46 minute. Topliss was by now simply devastating as he tore through the visitor’s defence time and again and he was certainly aided and abetted by both Norton and Crane. Edmonds left the field to have 5 stitches in a head wound but returned almost immediately to score. Topliss again broke, hung a tantalising ball in the air for Edmonds swathed in head bandages, to crash onto it and over the line. A Crooks conversion made it 14-11 and we were flying.
Patrick Solar, making his debut on the wing, had one brilliant weaving 40 yard run down the Threepenny Stands in front of us stopped by a crunching tackle from Foy, and then it was Kevin Harkins turn to get onto the score sheet. Solar got his hands on the ball again, took three men with him in the tackle towards the corner flag but as they pushed him towards touch he brilliantly lobbed out a ball that Harkin grabbed to score wide out. Another fantastic Crooks conversion made it 19-11 and we were starting to run away with it. On 68 minutes with Hull pouring forward Harkin put in a great to Norton and although he appeared to have three men on him, it was Crooks who received ‘Knockers’ pass, turned inside and then out, before lunging over the line for a try that seemed to come out of nothing. It was then 24-11 and we appeared with just 11 minutes to go to be home and dry, but enter Mr Wall the referee who had been a bit ‘iffy’ all afternoon.
All of a sudden little Stan started to come out with some decisions that were nothing short of baffling. He ‘pinged’ Crane for a forward pass when he dropped the ball behind him and ordered a drop out when Crooks had actually made at least four yards out of his own in goal area. The referee actually gave 9 penalties in total in the last ten minutes, seven of which went to the visitors, as they laid siege to our line. The worst decision came 4 minutes from time as, against all the odds; we desperately tried to play the game out. Second rower Andy Goodway charged into our 25 and without a hand being laid on him and then dropped the ball in front of him and it rolled on for about three yards. As we all jeered on the Threepenny’s, Stan Wall waived play on, full back Chris Willis came through, collected the ball and touched down.
The Hull players could hardly believe it and protested to the referee but the try stood and Mick Parrish who had kicked magnificently throughout the game tagged on the two points. The significance of that try hit home just 3 minutes later when with a minute to go Goodway crashed in and yet another Parrish conversion made it 24-21, however despite Stan Wall, we somehow managed to hang on and register the win. It would certainly have been tragic had Oldham snatched it in those final minutes, because by and large we were streets ahead when we used our pace and skill to attack their line. Two policemen entered the field to escort Mr Wall back to the safety of the dressing rooms, as we all celebrated and breathed a hefty sigh of relief and the treble was still on!!! It’s a game I always remembered every time Stan used to come on with the kicking T for Saints, all those years later. Great memories!
So there we are some of the younger players have had the cobwebs blown away, there was a good display and we are just two more Friendlies and 3 weeks off the start of the season. There is little for us to be gained from games like yesterday’s really although no doubt the Coaching staff will have a lot to say this morning when the players return to training. That said it couldn’t have ended up any better really could it?
Thanks as always for reading the Diary and let’s hope that as the month progresses we start to look up for a season that is obviously going to be a tough one. It was great to receive so many cards, notes, E mails and texts from readers over the Christmas break and thanks to everyone who got in touch and to Dick Ollett, Harry C, Frank Brabham, Tony, Mick and Cecil who all called for a pint and a chat over the festive period.
Wakey up next; See you all next week!