That old Cup Magic is Back again!!!!!
You’ve got to be in it to win it and we’re in the hat for the quarter finals, two games away from Wembley and what’s more, our passion and wanting is back (although what’s still pretty baffling now is how it went away altogether last week only to return in abundance 7 days later!)
In the end, it was the old scrapping, cup fighting FC that saw us unbeatable in the glorious 2016 and 2017 Cup campaigns that suddenly manifest itself once more on Friday. Despite blowing them away in the first quarter, it wasn’t our best ever performance, nor was it that cultured and at times it certainly wasn’t flowing, but that special, ‘all in it together’ fighting spirit was back and it was great for every FC fan to witness.
We came out energised and buzzing just as we have against so many teams in the cup in the past. Our forwards hit the ground like a steam train and rolled right over the much fancied Castleford pack. That saw the Tigers rocking and panicked into mistakes, which thankfully we capitalised on, just as we had done against Rovers.
However, then, when the tries dried up, we found the strength the passion and a Plan B that we always seem to find in Cup games. That attitude, so different from last week, saw us keep our shape, defend like hell and tough it out. It wasn’t a good Castleford performance by any means, in fact you had to feel for their fans when at times in the first half they looked like us last week!!
However, we had a plan to unsettle them and it worked and what’s more, unlike last week, in the end we had the wanting and grit to both out smart and out muscled them.
Paea and Taylor targeted their big front row and rolled right over them, whilst they both bottled up Watts perfectly, Houghton then buzzed and goaded them around acting half, our wingers were so much stronger and tougher than theirs and in Sneyd we had the consummate game manager, as he led us around the field ably assisted by his generals, Albert Kelly and Jake Connor.
In the end it was so good to get a win, but after last week it’s even better to report on the return of the desire and passion that we so obviously missed against Catalan, how long it will stick around is anyone’s guess, but battered and bruised it was job done and we could look forward to 8 days off and the Quarter Finals!!
Well, 7 days is a long time in rugby isn’t it? I got some stick last week after my very downbeat appraisal of the Catalans game, but that said a lot of you completely agreed with me as well and so I guess if I do this sort of thing with the intention of provoking discussion, that was at least job done. For me, I still maintain that with 5 such blow out scores in the last year, we simply have to be more mentally strong no matter what team we put out, whilst for the fans it’s not good enough to make an occasional habit of completely capitulating once you are two scores behind, particularly when you do it at home!
However, its fair to say that, for me, by Tuesday the sores had healed a bit, although I was getting more and more frustrated trying to get my regular seats for the Cup game through the new on-line ticket office run by the SMC. I needed to join up and thought I’d followed the instructions, but I just went around in circles, before in the end I got in but it wouldn’t recognise me as a member by my e-mail address, so I gave up.
Don’t laugh, at least I know my limitations and if ever there was a case for not letting aged folks get their hands on technology this, I’ve decided, was it!! In the end the only other option was to go down to the KCOM, used up petrol, pay the additional £3 levied by the SMC and all to just secure my two seats!!
Of course, it was always going to be a big game, undoubtedly our biggest thus far this season and yet I was strangely reticent about it all. I knew it was the Challenge Cup, sudden death and the return of a tournament that I had fallen in love with all over again in 2016/17, but I guess this restrained approach was based on my uncertainty as to what FC team would turn up. I was certainly struggling to completely get the frustration we all experienced last week out of the way and as Friday approached, I just didn’t know what our mental rationale would be!
Having heard a TV preview stating, “…… as Hull FC attempt to get back to Wembley for the third time in four years”, the pressure was starting to mount and so in desperation on Thursday I read the Chapter (in my last book) that covered in detail my own personal week leading up to that Final at Wembley in 2016 and that bit of conceited navel gazing saw much of my appetite for the fight returning. In fact, by Friday dawned, although I was unsure what we would actually do on the night, I was even starting to get a bit excited.
We had players back and with Liam Harris being included in the Reserves team at Bradford it was obvious that there were few question marks over our two injured half backs. In fact one had to wonder as to whether Albo and Sneydy had just been ‘rested’ last week after getting a battering against Wakefield. As for motivation for this one? Well, I hoped that Lee’s job had been easy and that a few pictures of the scenes after the 2017 final would be all that was needed to remind a few who had tasted it and whet the appetite of others who hadn’t! I hoped that would at least underline (with already two run away leaders in the Super League competition) what big things were at stake here for our 2019 campaign, the Club’s income streams and of course us lot the fans.
In addition, and on the wider stage, we didn’t need much of a reminder of what fight, tenacity and endeavour is all about, because the whole nation had witnessed so much of it in last week’s Champions League games. Every one of those titanic victories was built on a focussed and unyielding will to win at any cost, so the example was there for all to see and indeed for the players to buy into. Therefore, as kick off approached, the scene was set for us to start our quest to get our hands back on that ‘golden’ pot again!
For me, whatever team Castleford put out, they wouldn’t go away and they’d always scrap and fight until the very end. So it was with that backdrop that we faced a decisive 80 minutes that could make or break our season and indeed see us just 160 minutes away from that return to Wembley. No big deal really at all then????
I knew that on our day we can just about beat anyone, but one never really knows when it’s our day at present do we?
So the game started and in front of a small crowd both teams exchanged cagey first sets. Both prodded and poked at the oppositions line without trying anything risky, although early indications pointed to us being up for it and we immediately looked much more ‘interested’ and energised than we had just 7 days previously. We rolled over their big forwards, as we charged up the middle on the end of quick play the balls, where there was some great early probing and distribution from Houghton.
Then we moved the ball brilliantly from a great Sneyd kick and tap back and it all looked too easy as we cruised in to open the scoring; only for Logan to blow an absolute gift of a try as he inexplicably grounded the ball short of the line and lost control of it. Placing it down short of the line was something the young centre repeated again at a critical time in the second half as well and despite him carrying an arm injury that really wasn’t good at all, for in cup games you just don’t do that …..twice! Furthermore, in the next set we conceded a penalty through Manu and we were under the pump already.
We tackled hard even though they had good field position and after looking as if we had seen out the early storm, low and behold Westy gave away another Penalty on the fifth tackle and Castleford went for the two points. A massive mistake, a spawned first try and two penalty’s in the first five and a half minutes? Man, we might have looked up for it but, oh dear, we needed to cut that out!
By and large, and thankfully, we did. Back we came and a quite remarkable set saw us march down the field on the back of a superb Paea drive, (where he made around 20 yards after the initial contact) and in the next but one play, Connor glided into a hole and stretched over. It looked pretty easy for a while as Taylor and Paea were bashing them down the middle with some massive carries. What’s more, they were making elementary mistakes, while we were gaining penalties and the Tigers were struggling to stop our go forward. Then a good move down field on the roll saw Griffin produce a great pass out of the back of his hand for Faraimo to literally run over the Castleford defender to score.
Before we had chance to enjoy the moment and a towering Sneyd conversion, we were at it again, as a brilliant, ‘steepling’ kick from Marc was caught and juggled by Kelly, before he crashed to ground over the line and all of a sudden we were scoring at a point a minute and 20-2 up. Castleford had made mistakes, particularly from the re-starts, but credit to us we had capitalised on them and with Sneyd calling the shots we looked to be cruising. Of course this is Hull FC that I’m talking about here and we were playing Castleford, the kids who never give up! Nothing was anything like settled yet!
For sure, almost predictably, we forced a couple of ridiculous passes and back came Cas. with a good move where a dummy to kick by McShane, saw Clare get the ball wide out and score in the corner. There was then a big scare as Ellis, just on the field, went down and looked to have copped a bad one on his knee, but ‘iron man’ got up and after a few stretches and grimaces he carried on.
They were almost in again in the same place, wide out on their left, but the tackle of the game so far by Ratu just kept them out as their winger crashed into touch under a wonderful rolling contact which saw our winger show almost super human strength to twist the diving player out over the touch line whilst he was still in the air flying for the line. Although we weren’t exactly hanging on, we had lost the momentum a bit and our creativity seemed to have evaporated as Connor was well watched and Kelly lost the ball a couple of times making ambitious attempts to get the line moving again. So at half time it was anything but done and dusted, but a big enough margin for us all to at least have a bit of cautious optimism.
How we started the second half was absolutely critical. We all knew that and although we led by 12, Castleford had got the wind back in their sails and we had to try and knock it out again! So, it had to be safety first, yet just three drives in from the kick off a busy Minichiello knocked on 20 yards from our line. Faraimo then gave a penalty away in the corner, as Cas smelt blood and pressed us hard, but our winger immediately made amends as a great tackle into touch at the flag, saved a certain try 30 seconds later! Nonetheless, we were all now pretty uneasy because this half was different to that first 20 minutes in that we were not so composed or direct and we kept giving them the bloody ball back.
However, the traditional Cup passion so obviously missing last week was back, as were those little bits of individual effort that just manage to get you out of jail. When we needed a break someone stood up to do a bit of something special. So it was that a superb one on one steal by Manu got us the ball back and broke their momentum and as the half wore on and the teams exchanged sets, it was now a case of, ‘Could we grind it out!!’ After last week, even with such a lead, no one watching was very confident and there was a deal of viewing through our fingers going on, whilst at home those watching on TV, if not actually behind the settee were probably still contemplating a possible relocation there, should Cas get a couple of quick tries!
You know, years and years of watching Hull have taught me that there is nothing scarier than an FC team trying to preserve a lead. I thought therefore at that point that perhaps, with some of the creative players we currently have, attack would surely be the best form of defence?
But, our forwards were outstanding, although when we had possession our attack was still stuttering, before another two points came from the boot of Sneyd to stretch it to three scores and shortly afterwards Marc again produced a bit of brilliance to execute a fine try saving tackle on Ogodo. Again we saw a player stepping up to the mark at a critical time, to make unlikely and timely intervention. From then on however, it was a war of attrition, but Paea, Ellis, Taylor and Manu had just taken enough out of their forwards in the first half and although the talented West Yorkshire team huffed and puffed and looked to break the deadlock, they just couldn’t get one over us.
Whilst that was the case you always felt that we needed a try to kill the game off and although we had several near misses and bombed chances, at last a great barnstorming break and cut inside from Faraimo, saw the winger, under severe pressure, slip a peach of a pass towards the touchline and there was Mini to collect the ball and crash in. It was such a killer try as Mark timed his run on the blind side to perfection. So, as, from the touchline, Sneyd kept his 100% record with the boot, they needed four scores in the last 15 minutes to beat us and that was that really.
Of course the finality of defeat in such one off games finally hit home for the opposition and Cas then cut loose in panic mode, swinging the ball across the field, but with the exception of a bad defensive miss on our left for their lone second half try, we held on quite comfortably as our back three dealt brilliantly with a series of booming kicks at the end of the Castleford sets. In addition, I was impressed with the way that our defensive line held their positions, as Castleford went back and forth across the line in ever more frustrated fashion. In the end by the final hooter, we looked battered, bruised yet un-bowed whilst they were a well beaten side.
There was so much talking and encouragement going on amongst our lads as Ellis and Taylor led the ‘heart’ and ‘gritty determination’ department and Sneyd and Connor, the head stuff. Ratu was fabulous, as was Faraimo and we just had too much spirit for the Tigers. And, how good is it to say that again eh?
But, attitude wise, that in and out variation from week to week is the baffling and indeed perhaps perplexing bit for us lot on the terraces. Greater minds than mine, can’t fathom that one out but this week everyone had their colleagues back as they all talked, coerced and shouted their way to a great team performance. You know, however you look at it, we witnessed a much needed fillip and a pretty complete performance and in sudden death rugby, that’s all we could have asked for really.
Whilst we are on the subject of Friday and you know we can whinge and grumble about coaches, about players and performances, (and have every right to) but when you get close to it as someone said to me yesterday one thing you can’t take away from Hull FC is the fact that some of the stuff they do off the field in the community is brilliant!
Sometimes when you contact me I condense your comments and precis your views, because often they are of real interest to me and thus I hope those out there reading the Diary. However, just occasionally its impossible to do anything but quote what someone has had to say word for word and this next bit features just one such instance. My mate and regular Diary reader for years, Richard Kirk, is a real champion of those hundreds of folks who give their time up every week coaching and assisting the young kids of the region to introduce them to playing rugby at junior level.
Richard is one such guy and on Saturday he contacted me to say, “It’s about time Hull FC were highlighted for the work they do with schools and the grassroots, for in the RL media its always, all bloody Warrington, Warrington, Warrington and their marketing. However, Beverley Braves had some real magic moments last night. Little old Beverley bought 350+ tickets for the match. Had 150 kids holding flags before the game kicked off and they also provided all the mascots. Many of whom wouldn’t ordinarily have even gone to a game. The whole experience was simply amazing for every one of those kids especially the little ones. When I think back to when I was a kid at the Boulevard, the team had just ONE mascot and he was the same one every match”.
He continued, “At the end of the game the players came around to have pics with the kids. Special mention to Danny Houghton who recognised my Zach as being the mascot who had walked out with him and came over to give him some sweets. Zach’s hero is Danny and he will remember this for a long time to come. As a club we do all the little things brilliantly, and in doing so make memories for life and fans for generations to come”.
Brilliant stuff eh? Well done to Richard, to Beverley Braves and the Club and a special mention to Danny Houghton who is, as I have said in here many times before, a really nice bloke who always has time for everyone. There is little more that I can add to what Rich had to say really! Top stuff!
So on to other things and first something that I talked about in here and indeed a suggestion that I made that saw a few traditionalists have a go at me. However, I see now that the Coaches have approached the RL and Super league with a view to doing something to reduce the frequency of games over Easter. The top suggestion was something along the lines of mine, in that the Easter games could be spread right over the weekend with each team playing one rather than two matches. But, is there a need to do this? Well, before last weekend’s games were played, there were a total of 93 players missing from the first team squads of the 12 Super League Clubs, a startling fact that must amount to the game being in crisis mode.
When examining the figure’s more closely, the three that had the least were not surprisingly (when you look at their league position) Warrington (with 4) Saints (3) and more unexpectedly Salford and London (1 each). Whilst the top teams to suffer were us with far and away the most (15) followed by Castleford (with 11) and Rovers and Wakey (with 10). The rest fell somewhere in between those two extremes, but a Coach I spoke to this week indicated that he thought that figure was around 10% up on last year at this time.
I think that something has to be done and it will be interesting to see just what the owners come up with. In the end it will all come down to money I guess, but against the financial based argument for two games over Easter, I would contend that Easter Monday games are never well attended and if this fixture congestion leads to so many injuries, gates at the ensuing games are bound to suffer too. I mean to say, a lot won’t turn up to see severely depleted teams anyway; just look at the Catalan crowd at the KCOM. I think it’s an issue which I guess involves player safety and welfare and as such I hope it gets sorted soon, because I do think that there is an argument for change.
Well we appear to be moving on in the recruitment stakes although sceptical old me only really feels we are progressing when actual names and contracts have been announced. Still, Adam said in the May edition of the Club’s Chairman’s notes released on Friday, “We are working hard behind the scenes to add to the squad for next season with some key signings to come”.
“At the time of writing this we have deals agreed with three players and some further exciting conversations are ongoing”
Adam added, “We have signed marquee level players in the past and we aren’t afraid to do it again if the right player is available that fits our club and our plans for the future. Marquee recruits are a balancing act as we have to be careful to maintain the culture we have worked hard to build at the club. The wrong marquee player can damage the dressing room and sometimes top players in various positions are better than all the focus on just one”.
Positive stuff indeed and as for the recruits in question well, Josh Jones of Salford is a name that has been around for months and he is obviously a player that is liked by Lee Radford. Although ‘lacklustre Leeds’ have been linked with him, he’s been mentioned to me over the weekend and a whole plethora of Australian candidates have come under the scrutiny of the key-board warriors who are ‘in the know’ as well, but for now I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
How good it was to see Josh Bowden back in harness last week as after 363 days out injured he made his first steps towards returning to first team rugby with 20 minutes in each half of the Reserves game against Bradford. The game, staged at Dudley Hill, was played in terrible conditions, but our lot came out winners 32-8. As an aside I was pleased to see young Lochlan Fitzgerald, who I featured in here after the Keighley game, got the first try before Bradford had even touched the ball, whilst throughout his spells Bowden is reported to have done well with a couple of massive hits on the opposition forwards. Josh will need another game or two in the reserves before he is back in the first team but with his size, strength and tenacity, he has certainly been missed.
Well my pal Iain went to Twickenham last weekend to watch the Rugby Union, Army v Navy match and reported that Ratu had a great game and indeed it was great to see his try on the BBC national news on Saturday as he literally flew in to touch down. He’s a great talent and an exciting prospect who I hope we nurture in the coming weeks and months. He looked confident and lethal against Cas. and playing in front of 82,000 fans will have certainly been good for him. However, I do worry a bit about how his position within the Army will affect his contract going forward don’t you?
As an aside I wonder just how many of that crowd actually remember the try and indeed much about the game at all, because that is certainly up for debate. Why? Well on Saturday the Times web-site revealed that the RFU had confirmed that the crowd had actually drunk more booze in 4 hours than is sold at all three six nations game played at the stadium!
Someone said this week in the RL press that perhaps Toronto Wolfpack should adopt Manchester United’s title of ‘hated, adored but never ignored’. Some people seem to hate the Canadian club, but a lot of people are starting to appreciate just what they are doing. However, you consider them, as a fledgling team you can’t help but admire the club’s marketing efforts. They appear to have got the right angle on things and they are certainly starting to really sell the sport in North America. Last week they commanded articles in every one of the Toronto newspapers and last weekend they drew a crowd of 8,363 to their Lamport Stadium home for the clash against Bradford Bulls, which is pretty good when you consider that the other six Championship games only drew in a combined attendance of 9,424 for the rest of round 13.
Some reading this blog will automatically point to the Wolfpack giving out free tickets or the fact that there’s plenty of hospitality about in the bars etc. however for me, some Championship and League One clubs could learn a lot from them. The Wolfpack have converted rugby matches into family events and when you look around at American Football, Cricket, Horse Racing and a whole host of other sports that’s the way that sport in general is heading. Just offering 80 minutes of game time is simply not enough anymore, for people want to be entertained both on and off the field. Well done Toronto and it will be interesting to see what impact on the game there is next year, when we have perhaps 3 North American teams in the competition.
Last Wednesday in the pub we got talking about unsung heroes that have slipped under the radar at our club and we all agreed that no such discussion could ever leave out a player who played his entire 15-year RL career at the club, making 410 appearances and scoring 107 tries, yet he’s a player who is seldom mentioned in the discussions of past luminaries of the black and white.
This week’s Codger Corner looks at the career of one unassuming individual who despite playing through a tough and unfashionable period of our great club gave unparalleled loyalty and service to the cause! Brian Hancock was in fact the only player to feature both in that infamous game at the Boulevard in 1975 when we played in front of 985 supporters and the Challenge Cup final 5 years later against Hull KR, which was watched by 95,000 at Wembley. Brian Hancock was never a star, nor was he ever going to be an icon for future generations and yet without him, and players of the same ilk, like Keith Boxall, Alf Macklin, Terry Devonshire, David Doyle Davidson, Chris Davidson and Keith Tindle our club probably would not exist today. In the really bad times when the club had little money to pay wages and crowds were small these guys committed their lives and sometimes their health to Hull FC. They were all probably owed wages at some time or other many in fact probably were never paid these debts!
I can remember Brian Hancock signing for our club. I was 16 at the time and a pal of mine Steve Johnson played a bit for the Beverley R.U. club in those days. He told me that there were rumours that one of their star young players was having trials with the FC, and training with them in secret two nights a week. In those days if you were a Union player who was caught playing for a league club you were immediately struck off sin die and that was your Union career over, at any level!
Once he had signed, Brian became our regular stand off and saw the club’s transformation from the really bad times until we were up there again at the very top of the game. Any of you who remember Brian will recall him as a ‘Bread and Butter’, honest, 80 minutes player who gave his all. He never had a bad game but rarely really shone out either, but we were always a better team with Brian leading us out at the Boulevard. However, I remember one particular game in which he really excelled and it is one that sticks in my memory even to this day!
The game in question was played when Hancock was club captain and he was on the way to leading us to the John Player Final in January 1976 (Another memorable game and the night having missed the last train home and drunk again, I slept in a Railway carriage at Leeds City station; another tale for a future Codgers Corner I think!). We were drawn to play Leeds in the second round of the competition and managed a creditable 9-9 draw at home. The reply was played at Headingley in, I think, November 1975, and I went there on the train to witness the game. There were only about 2800 in the ground that night. Leeds had won their previous 12 games at home and was favoured to win easily!
Funnily enough Leeds had wanted to play the game a week later because they were in the Yorkshire Cup final that year, but the League ruled that they should play the replay two days before the final (Can you imagine that happening now?). It was a miserable wet and cold night! The game started and the most memorable touch down I can remember from Hancock soon followed. We were pushed straight into our own 25 from the kick off and were hanging on grimly when after about 5 minutes a scrum was formed just 15 yards out from our sticks.
I was in the South Stand with about 600 FC supporters as we watched the drama unfold. Kenny Foulkes got the ball out of the scrum and fed Hancock who shot through their halfbacks and started to motor down the centre of the field. Their full back, I think it was Marshall, was lying deep and confronted Brian as he crossed the half way line, but he side stepped the Leeds last line of defence and set off on an arcing run to outpace Syd Hynes on the 25. Then we spotted their flying winger John Atkinson coming at him from the other side. Hancock somehow then adjusted the curve of his run the other way and just held off Atkinson whose last ditch tackle carried Hancock over the line! I can honestly say for a split second the whole Stadium went silent in shock and awe of the try, before the FC Faithful let rip with applause followed by a loud and long chorus of Old Faithful. I can still see it in my mind’s eye to this day.
The game finished 23-11 to us and Brian actually went on to drop three goals as he led the FC to a great win. Just how great can be illustrated by the fact that Alf Macklin scored two late tries against the international winger Atkinson to seal our victory!
Brian Hancock led the club to the Final and then the next season led us to the Second Division Championship. He was a great captain who although not the most vocal he simply led by example! In 1978/79 with the influx of big name players he switched to centre and despite losing the captaincy to Vince Farrar, he still scored some memorable tries as we won all 26 Second Division matches to be promoted again. All that before he capped his playing career coming off the bench in the 71st minute in that infamous 1980 Challenge Cup Final.
For me personally the Brian Hancock type of player would always find a place in my ‘Hall of Fame’ because through some difficult times he was a great servant, a great team captain and year in year out an unassuming hero and one of the most dedicated individuals I have come across!
So after all the trepidation of last week, caused for us all by that Catalan game, we are through to the next round of the cup. What we witnessed on Friday was, when the dust has settled and you step back from the tension of the live game a consummate performance in a match that was still pretty tense in real time. However, it was also one in which you realise, when you watch it back, we were never really ever going to lose. That’s how good an effort it was and although not a ‘tryathon’, full of champagne rugby, that tenacious ‘together’ showing was all we could ask of the lads really!
This week we travel to Warrington for a game that has ‘Homer’ written all over it. We have nothing whatsoever to lose and should approach it in a pretty relaxed manner as all the pressure of expectation will be on Warrington. But, we have some new found confidence, we’ll have had two days longer to prepare than the Wire and how great it would be to get one over them on their own ground. All I want to see is that spirit again, but anything more is still a really big ask!!
Thanks as always for reading the Diary and how good is it to still be in the Cup eh? No doubt we’ll come out of the hat against Rovers but if we do we do, for you have to win them all if you want to get to Wembley! We’ve touched it and we’ve tasted it and we know how good it is; let’s hope the players remember that too! Still, for now and the next 4 weeks it’s back to the bread and butter stuff. It was great to hear from so many readers on Saturday after the game and it seems that everyone is just a bit more chipper this week!!
Although, as I always say, this is Hull FC we are talking about so let’s see what next week brings eh?