Words Fail Me!!!
I don’t really feel like writing this journal at all this week. I know a lot of you read it and some even enjoy it at times, but I feel guilty to even put my thoughts into words, because at present, I really can’t find anything at all positive to write about that game on Friday. I know all the excuses and the ‘reasons’, let’s face it we have heard them trotted out time and again, but that was disappointing to say the least.
Those who weren’t there will no doubt read what follows and say I’m over reacting and being too doom and gloom, I mean, “Let’s face it we did have 17 players out!” On the other hand, perhaps those who were there will have had time to digest some things and gloss over others in their minds and probably won’t agree with me after they have had a couple of sleeps to get over it. I love the Club and the players and everything to do with Hull FC but, right now I think myself that what I have just witnessed, was one of the most passionless performances we have seen from an FC team for a long while.
As a team we are so up and down, its just unbelievable really!
This week we were certainly down, so don’t read on if you want to be enthused and excited because no one who sat through any of that, will, right now, be feeling anything but the same dejection and frustration that I’m feel. Regular readers know that I write this from the heart, usually straight after the game and thus whilst I am still if you like a bit ‘raw’, so sometimes it is so far over the top its euphoric, whilst on other occasions, such as this, I am despondent and totally frustrated. That’s being a fan and buying into it, if we didn’t care so much and couldn’t take such doses of disappointment, we wouldn’t go would we? But by the same rule we pay’s our money and as such have every right to speak our minds and this week I’ll be doing just that!!
I’ve got my lap top on my knee and a bottle of Bud on the table, its 10-30 pm, the game has only been over for an hour and I’ve seethed about a massive opportunity lost, all the way home!!!
I have to be honest and tell it as I saw it, but no doubt reading this Diary by now you’ll have got used to the idea and accepted our demise and so its probably less emotive for you than it is for me, sitting here straight after the game. If I’m honest after what was a pretty uninspiring yet tenacious display to grab the two precious points against Wakey last Sunday, I always thought, looking at the table with us sitting third, two points clear of fourth, was a bit of a false position. I sort of thought that we had valiantly scraped some wins, although on the other side of things, in three games we had for me, been mentally lacking in our approach and application and tonight, which turned out to be the fourth such occurrence, just confirmed my thoughts!
I was perhaps quite wise to think that as well, because this game showcased for me all the mental frailties and flaws of a group of blokes who seem to let adversity get to them and who at times appear completely unable to show much appetite for the fight, once they are a couple of scores behind.
As far as mitigating circumstances go as a Club we have over the years stretched to the extreme the principle of ‘The ongoing injury crisis’, but the current injury woe of our beloved Club is perhaps the worst we have ever seen. Well over half of our ‘extensive’ squad, (built as it was to withstand any such eventually), is missing and that lot were all sat in the stands with the rest of us watching the match; no doubt in a comparable state of frustration and reticence.
Albert Kelly and Marc Sneyd who had both played so well last week dropped out of the squad with respective arm and knee injuries and how bad they actually are remains to be seen! Carlos Tuimavave, who has been in brilliant form of late, dropped out after picking up a hamstring problem and so it went on as the Mail this week revealed that they understood that ‘£1.2million of the salary cap is currently occupying the club’s treatment room’.
Yeh, we did have all those 17 players out, but that was still almost our best pack, yet we were not so much out played or even out muscled, but instead we were simply out enthused, out thought and out ‘desired’. Mental strength wise we went from frail to non-existent in 30 minutes and to say that a team like Catalan, with all their history of petulance, was better discipline than us, is something indeed.
Although we are one of the worst affected, every team seems to be struggling with injuries and adversity and as we faced the French team for the second time this year we certainly only had 18 players available to play as we had to register Buchanan after Harris failed a concussion test before the Captains run on Thursday morning. That being the case, in our heart of hearts we all knew that the prospects for anything but a defeat were pretty slim, if none existent, but we had to have hope, which is more than it appeared some of the players had.
That missing 17 sat in the stands didn’t exactly engender a lot of confidence around the Stadium but as the teams walked out all we really wished for was some passion and everyone trying their best and playing for us lot sat shivering on the terraces. On all those fronts we were in the end to be sadly disappointed. Still it started OK. In our first defensive set, we tackled well and Josh Griffin and debutant Kieran Buchanan even drove Langi over the touchline, when it looked an impossible task. We all took heart as perhaps we were at least going to see us take it to a Catalans team, that as usual looked a bit like ‘Land of the Giants’ in the middle of the field.
Indeed, young Buchanan, a lively character making his debut, looked to have almost got in at the end of our next set as Danny Houghton broken the line, but the youngster just couldn’t hang onto Jake Connor’s angled kick. This was Jakes big chance to shine as the player that believes he should start every game at half back, he had been given the creative reins despite being partnered by an unfit and out of place Westy at six.
We even looked to have them a bit rattled and although it was early days Sam Tomkins decided to take the two points from a penalty awarded under the sticks, before it was Jake who carved out the first try of the game. I made a note at this point that you’ll rarely see an easier try for a prop forward, as Connors flat pass found Micky Paea in a huge gap and he ‘galloped’ through from around 18 meters to score the simplest of tries. Then, however, things started to change. When we should have pressed home the advantage we lacked intensity and again showed our minds were not on the game, as we let the opposition gain far too many yards on every play. No one was getting in their faces or into their line and as we stood back the writing started to appear on the wall.
Our right side defence looked suspect as they tested it a time or two, before Yaha got the French outfit’s first try of the evening down that side. The flying winger took the ball on the overlap and had the speed and strength to crash in at the corner. Catalan’s confidence still wasn’t that strong though and they were still there for the taking as a deep restart kick was brilliantly flighted and forced the visitors to drop out. Immediately however, they got the ball back and rifled their second try of the game, as they carved up our already flagging defensive line in a sweeping move. A speculative kick in broken play, again on the oppositions left, saw full-back Tony Gigot race in to touch down for a try. Almost immediately our heads went down and another try followed as the Frenchmen steamed down the wing completely outsmarting Faraimo to guarantee even at that early stage that there was no way back for a team that looked completely bemused by it all. The fans just sat silently watching what was becoming a pitiful effort from some of our players and something that guaranteed already that it was going to be a long night.
Connor, presented through adversity with his big chance to lead us from half back, then imploded and did nothing to help the side out just before the break. An idiotic intervention after an obvious penalty had been awarded for a high tackle, saw him shout something to the referee, which immediately saw a yellow card produced and he was off for 10 minutes and perhaps for next week’s game as well! It was, in the circumstance the he and the team found themselves in, completely uncalled for and pretty irresponsible too. We held on with 12 men until half time but it was all too predictable already.
As the crowd slunk off for a tea or a few more beers, the general consensus was that perhaps as a Club we had written this game off as one too far and that we were perhaps putting all our eggs in the ‘Cup basket’, in a week’s time. One guy in front to of me walked out not to return in the second half and perhaps he had a bit of foresight, because as we all sat there wondering and desperately hoping for some half time miracle to be delivered by Radford, we all knew from past experience that a revival now was pretty unlikely; in truth most of the players Ellis included, had looked off it and pretty disinterested from the off.
Before Connor got back on the field however, we had conceded again as Romano touched down in the corner.
With Jake back on and now almost trying too hard and Houghton looking to have completely lost his way at acting half, wayward passes flew about and freak off loads went to ground, as we lacked any sort of structure or creative spark. The galling thing was that the opposition weren’t that good either and on another day we could have had them; conversely had it been Saints or Warrington that we were playing, then we would now undoubtedly be facing another 60 or 70-point reversal!!! Still Catalan continued to have the physicality to bully us through the middle and as their confidence grew ours melted away as a silent crowd watched on as we were pretty much humiliated by a very average team.
Matt Whitley grabbed their fifth by making the most of a massive overlap that appeared down our right side defence and now the question was not so much would we be beaten, but more by how many!!! At least we saw more of the ball after that, whilst the opposition seemed happy to sit on their lead and play no frills sets that ended with a kick that pinned us back at our own line. Let’s face it why shouldn’t they, for they were facing a team that lacked a hope in hell of getting anywhere near them now.
Our lack of Kelly and particularly Sneyd was underlined by the predictability of Connors kicks, which were all high in the sky and too often too deep for a flagging chasing line to get any pressure under at all. Then as the game fizzled out and some of our lot looked more disinterested than ever, Gigot knocked over a drop goal inside the last ten minutes as the FC crowd headed, on mass, for the exits. A miserable evening was capped near the end when Langi raced over with seconds remaining and I was off heading for the car as well.
As I said earlier I feel embarrassed to write what I have done above, but at times in that second half I couldn’t even be arsed to write the notes that this report on the game requires, it was so soul destroying. Few spoke about much at all on the way out because it wasn’t the fact that a team with 17 players missing had lost, but rather the manner of that loss, which saw the level of effort and lack of passion so hard to take. Few players could hold their heads up after that performance and what was most worrying was that some didn’t even look as if they were too concerned about it!! It hurts me to say that and I wondered as I trudged home if I was over reacting, but on switching on the radio in the car it appeared that mine was a view that was also borne out by our Coach after the game.
Lee even apologised to the fans afterwards and so he should, because I felt cheated and looking around I could see just about everyone else there did too. I don’t care who is injured, or however young, old or inexperienced a player is, if you pull on that famous shirt then your expected to play for the badge, the fans and the pride of a great club with a great heritage; and do it with all your heart! Some let Lee down on Friday, big style, and in doing so let us lot down as well and what’s more worrying still, it was the same suspects who have done that three times before this year already.
Before we even started I suspected that we never really expected to win, and hoped that we were actually resting some players for the bigger prize next week. Yet, for 25 minutes we held them and then we imploded and one or two players need to have a long hard look at themselves!! Conversely the Club must now have a better idea who we keep and who we release come the end of the season, because the way the crowd were treated on Friday was simply inexcusable.
I’ve never seen so many walk out (I know I sit at the end of a row!!!) and if we can’t prevail next week then it’s hard to see where our season will go, because even when everyone is fit I still believe we are way behind both Warrington and Saints. That game was certainly one to forget and no doubt come Wednesday or Thursday I will have done just that, but for now it’s still stinging and yet why was I at all surprised by what happened?
But enough of that for now and to other things and you all know that I take a keen interest in the RL press Down Under and this week I saw an article that intimated that we were in for experienced Brisbane back-rower Alex Glenn. The 30-year-old is off-contract at the end of the season and the Broncos appear to be only willing to offer him a one-year extension. This will open the door to a possible stay in Super league as a British Club will be able to offer a longer-term deal and according to what I read we have emerged as the favourites to capture a player that is a very impressive second rower. Glenn, who has spent his entire career with Brisbane, has played just short of 250 first grade games in the NRL and is still a regular starter. He has also featured 12 times for New Zealand and even started on the bench for the Kiwis in the 2013 World Cup final at Old Trafford.
Adam Pearson recently revealed in an interview that the club are actively searching for new players with a large number of the current squad off contract and with Mini and Manu perhaps returning down under at the end of 2019, Glenn would be a brilliant replacement for one of them. I’ve always been impressed with him when I have seen him play for Brisbane and he would be a real coupe if we could sign him. Let’s hope that there is some truth in it!
Well with all the talk of transatlantic expansionism it is easy to miss what’s happening at home and for me that was the case this week when Luke Backhouse, one of the men behind the Liverpool Rugby League franchise, revealed that they plan to launch the new Club next month before the Magic Weekend. The property specialist has joined forces with former Salford owner ‘Marvellous’ Marwan Koukash and businessman Andrew Mikhail in a bid to create a new Club based in the City of Liverpool. Backhouse, who was previously on the board at Widnes Vikings, claimed that the three had sufficient financial backing and knowledge of the game to be successful and last week he said, “We’re getting help from the council and in terms of getting sponsors and investors, we haven’t had to go looking. Many are already excited about how big it could become. We hope to launch in 2021 and hopefully we can work our way to the Super league by 2022 or 2023”.
He continued, “The RFL are expanding at the moment. I know there’re propositions for teams in Los Angeles (?) and New York, and the Toronto Wolfpack team are already established. It’s expanding on a huge international scale and it could be one of the few sports where we could have a fixture of Liverpool v New York City. It’s got huge marketability. It feels like rugby league in general is a very untapped sport that’s ready to really take off. If you look at what Eddie and Barry Hearn have done with boxing and darts, they’ve made it huge again. Rugby league has that potential; it just needs that excitement about it. It’s always been marketed as a small town sport and the working man’s game but it needs to be expanded.”
One person who won’t like this development or who seems in fact to not like any sort of expansionism is ‘Mr Stick in the Mud’ the Bradford Chairman Andrew Charmers. He’s the man who seems to react every time Super League does something innovative with shouts of sour grapes. I’ve grown to dislike the bloke myself because, it appears that, just because he isn’t part of Super league, he constantly has a go at it. What’s worse reading between the lines one suspects that would not be the case were the Bulls in the elite league themselves; well that’s how he comes across anyway! This week he wrote of the Super league clubs take-over of their own destiny, “I cannot think of a single positive benefit that has accrued from this power grab. We do now have golden point, which in my view is an unfair settlement of an honourable draw that is not really needed. We also have something called shot clocks which nobody is really persuaded by”.
Then comes the sour grapes as he adds, “Is that really the best that a powered up, expensive dedicated executive can come up with? Let’s look at the negatives. The embarrassing two referees retreat which occurred when the clubs were told they would actually be paying for it, the burgeoning Super League executive, with their new palatial Manchester City Centre offices just for Super League, (the sport ludicrously now has three HQs with three sets of costs). Are we really that well off? The bill for Super League clubs will now surely be in excess of a million pounds a year. I do hope they feel they are getting good value. At least we have got the loopy fixtures to look forward to, in fact they’ve already started, when the same clubs play each other so frequently we risk getting bored into submission. And we will soon have a pale imitation of the Magic concept, with new unattractive match ups played in front of, (I confidently predict), a lower crowd than before. Good luck to them all. A house divided and all that. Ho hum.”
Petulant or what? That’s the sort of attitude that has seen the game go backwards for years and really do think the man he has issues myself!!
But we all know that in life its always easy to sit on the outside and criticise those who are trying to make a difference within; politics has been based on that premise for centuries. However, for me the new set us has already started to move things on, shot clocks work and if you’re an FC fan you can’t argue with golden point either can you? In fact, it brought for me at Catalan probably the best ending to a game I will as a fan, ever see!! It’s hard to argue with any of Chalmers’ points, but that’s simply because it’s a process and a journey not an instant fix and destination and Rome wasn’t built in a day. While Chalmers and others may rightly be aggrieved by the Super League breakaway, it is done now, and it is now up to them to get over it and crack on with growing their leagues as they see fit.
There is little doubt that it will take time to rescue Super League from its current demise, which has been brought on by more than a decade of off-field squabbling and posturing that has distracted from the real issues of the game, including those affecting the on-field product and customer reach. That was all down to the RFL who most of us will agree have, for years, been little more than over paid, dysfunctional procrastinators. Despite putting on a united front, there are obvious fractures in the two organisations relationships, but I guess these are understandable, given how the break-away came about at the end of last season, in the first place.
You have to trust that Elstone is quietly working behind the scenes, turning the ‘super tanker’ that is Super League slowly around and he intimated as such in his quotes in the national press last week that hinted at a possible re-brand of the top flight. With the Trans-Atlantic expansion issue looming large on Super League’s doorstep and likely to force a rethink of its funding model, as well as the worries about the next broadcast deal, it’s important that we leave them alone to get on with it and hope against hope that any moves are done with the best of intentions. Whatever Mr Charmers says, there are some big personalities and a lot of business acumen at the top of the Super League Clubs and the owners, who let’s face it have most to lose financially as well, won’t take any crap from Elstone, Rimmer Chalmers, or anyone, so if they are happy, then we have to be as well I guess.
Billy Sanderson wrote to me this week to say how disappointed he was that only 10,000 turned up for last week’s game which he said was played on the traditional day for the game. He also liked the stuff I wrote in the Codgers spot about Jim Macklin and so this week to link both of Bill’s comments I want to look at what happened when we first played on a the Sabboth at the Boulevard. Sunday Football came to the Rugby League in 1974 when all clubs decided that their fixtures would be played that day to avoid clashing with Football.
However occasional Sunday games go right back to 1968. The Sunday Observance Act was still very much the thing back then though, and so admission to games was by buying a programme that was priced at the admission cost of the game. In those days you could buy a book on a Sunday but not admission to professional sport! Hull FC however were always in the vanguard of new initiatives especially if it meant more money coming in through the turnstiles and so we were one of the first clubs to experiment with Sunday fixtures, many years before it became the norm.
The first game we ever played on a Sunday afternoon was in fact at home to Huddersfield on 20th October 1968. The game was a great success and the headlines of the Daily Mail next day stated ‘Sullivan Try Highlight of First Sunday Game’. A massive crowd for us back then of 8,600, paid £2059 for the privilege of seeing history being made, and we all stood clasping our single sheet programme’s and watched what unfolded at a sunny Boulevard. It was quite tight in the Threepennies that day, and the main thing I can remember was the first try by Clive Sullivan which was a great solo effort and the highlight of the afternoon as referred to in the Mail headline.
A move on half way saw Gemmell, Hancock and Davidson inter pass for the ball to go out to Clive, who was already well covered by three Huddersfield defenders. He swept past two of them and then hared down the touchline hugging the whitewash for about 40 yards with the remains of the Huddersfield defence trailing in his wake. He outstripped the chasers with a real turn of speed and touched down in the corner to great excitement all around the ground. Next up it was Dick Gemmell’s turn to go on a run. He picked up a loose ball about 30 yards out and ran for the line. He checked back inside a couple of times and by he got to the whitewash was met by a wall of Huddersfield defenders that had tracked back to cover. Dick just ploughed into them and somehow got a hand out to put the ball down for our second score.
Huddersfield scored next with a try for ex London Saracens RU player, John Kersey Brown. He followed a kick through by Gordon Wallace, to harass Arthur Keegan into a rare mistake. Our full back fumbled, juggled and finally dropped the ball, Kersey-Brown kicked ahead and touched down in the corner just before the ball trickled over the dead ball line. It was only a brief set-back for the FC though, and before half time we were on the score board again with a try that was simplicity itself. Shaun O’Brien took Chris Davidson’s short ball on the charge and rumbled through the line untouched to put the ball down under the sticks. O’Brien had a great game and was closely followed by Joe Brown who we had recently switched from centre to loose-forward with great effect.
The second half was played in bright sunshine as the Hull team stretched their lead, this time with a try by Howard Firth, who, blonde locks flowing in the wind, streaked down the touch line and somehow squeezed in at the corner. It all started with a sweeping move involving Keegan, Charlesworth and Chris Davidson before Firth finished it in spectacular fashion. Keresey Brown managed to force Howard into touch, but the touch-judge declared that Firth had got the ball down first and the score stood. Next as we started to take control, Keegan and Charlesworth put Davidson away. He passed to Sullivan who drew three men to him before turning the ball back inside to Davidson who scored untouched by any Huddersfield player wide out on the right. Jim Macklin then took a hand as he got a bit bored with all this scoring stuff and raised the temperature on the field a degree or two as only he could. The big prop who was playing the best rugby of his career at Hull, took umbrage at a slap in the tackle, and laid their prop out cold. The referee and Linesmen completely missed it and everyone with the exception of the now prone Huddersfield player, just played on! All this action of course, took place to the obvious delight of us Threepenny Standers.
Finally a bull-dozing move involving Macklin and Edson blasted the opposition line open and the latter put Gemmell into a gap, he drew the defence and passed to Firth who again managed to beat the Rugby Union convert to the corner, but only just, and he received a clout on the head after he had got the ball down for his trouble. That injury actually saw him have to leave the field with blood flowing through his blonde hair.
Finally, in the last minute Kelsey Brown got in as he caught our defence flat footed and probably already thinking about a celebratory drink. He swept down field and arcing round behind the chasing FC players he scored next to the posts. We won the game 28-14, our highest score of the season thus far. The fans loved the idea of playing on a Sunday, and no doubt some of the City fans who usually watched their games down the road at Boothferry Park, came along for a look too!
So all in all our first sortie into Sunday Rugby was a great success, and despite his mistake Arthur Keegan, the fans player of the year that season, got the man of the match award. Today no doubt there are many out there that would go back to Sunday Rugby in a flash if they could, yet the evidence of across the game dictates that perhaps tastes have changed and now Fridays are more popular these days.
So there we are and even after writing all this, I still don’t know what to make of that showing on Friday at all really. I was mad more than disappointed and disenchanted rather than despondent. It was unacceptable and yet worrying, because we actually had a really strong pack out there. In fact, it’s hard to really think who would be better on paper than Taylor, Ellis, Matongo, Paea Houghton Manu and Mini in their respective positions. So, what we witnessed was simply not fair to the fans and the demeanour and lack of mental energy shown by a few, was certainly not fair to their colleagues either.
Connors big chance to shine as game manager and to lead the line, saw him instead try too hard at times, throw out some real speculative passes and then just when we were under the pump before half time, get sent off for ten minutes for mouthing off! He has to grow up a bit, because I can accept players having an off day, but in our circumstances, that was pretty unforgiveable for me. But, too many looked disinterested and thus made too many unforced errors. That demeanour and indeed lack of application or discipline is something that we have seen when we have been behind, too often this season. We have now lost 6 games, two against Rovers and Castleford when in the early season euphoria, we really had a dig before just coming out on the wrong side on the score board; something that we all accepted completely. However, in the other four we have seen what we saw on Friday a sort of vacant disinterest and lack of any sort of wanting once we were chasing the game; in fact, we simply weren’t at the game mentally at all! After those collapses, against Warrington and Saints in particular, most of us knew in our heart of hearts that at 18-6, we weren’t going to win on Friday and it was just a question of how many we would lose by!
We weren’t on our own either, because they certainly let Lee down as well and he is as bamboozled by it all as we are. In one interview he is reported to have said, “The players had a distant gaze in their eyes, I said at half time we could get beat here; the players are strange characters”
As for those fans who don’t rate Sneyd, well I think that the lack of any sort of game management, variation of kicks and organisation in the line, made it painfully obvious what he brings to the party!
However, it is the fans that suffer most in such situations and it is at such times that I think of those Diary readers I know, who make a massive effort to get to games only to be ‘short changed’ in this way. I think of Mike who drives all the way from Widnes every week and Davey from Durham and Harry and Steve from Ripley and Hartlepool respectively. Then there’s Iain who makes a 200 mile trip every week to see his heroes and who often works in Vietnam, but sorts flights and travel out just so he can get back for game; all that effort to support their club, is rewarded too often it seems by a lack of any on the field. Its hardly fair on those people is it?
I’ll get lots of complaints about the tone of this week’s Diary, but sat here early on Saturday morning, I make no excuses for it at all really. However now we have to move on, so let’s try our best to put that awful showing to bed if we can …..shall we?
Next week is one off, sudden death and yet a chance to succeed in a competition that we have over the last few years come to love. We have to do better, be more mentally strong, switched on and more streetwise, we have as a team to realise how much it means to the fans, because if not with such in and out performances as we have seen in the league this season, even when we have a reasonably fit squad, it’s hard to see how we will get anything much out of this season at all, because it’s not so much who is missing but the mental strength of all of our players that’s a worry.
Castleford are suffering too and so it might just be the battle of the walking wounded next Friday but its winner takes all and loser has to watch on from the terraces of Wembley, whilst more immediately wondering what the next 16 rounds of Super League have in store! We just have to win and we as fans have again to get there and support our team. It’s on Tele and so a big gate is hardly likely and it will also effect what is usually a big travelling Cas support.
However, if they can’t get motivated, get their heads right and fight and fight to the end to get a win, then there is something going wrong at our club, big style. Let’s hope for a big performance and progression in the competition that we all love. That passion we all have for the Challenge Cup, the memories it brings to mind, the times we all had and what happened in 2016 and 2017 is all motivation the players should really need to try and get back there again, isn’t it???
Let’s get in the hat for the next Round!!!
Faithfully Yours (trying to keep the faith)