Out play, out thought and out manoeuvred!!! In fact, on Friday we were simply outclassed!!
Again, just when we needed to see a strong performance to lay down a marker against what is undoubtedly the best team in the competition by a country mile, we came up well short. We were just out muscled and out thought from the first minute and that by a team who had class and ability across the board. Everyone could off load, everyone could make play and as for their defence, well it left ours standing. Three tries including two rather fortuitous efforts in the first 20 minutes, saw us 18-0 down and already without a hope of getting back into it.
Our pack just couldn’t live with theirs and so our halves had no chance, nor had our backs as we were given a lesson on just how good you have to be, if you are ever to be run away leaders of the competition.
So no excuses and no attempts at an explanation, because we were just second best right across the board. We have now to focus on next Thursday and see if we can get two points against the basement dwellers from the capitol, because if we can’t, then with Wigan racing up on the rails, we can probably wave goodbye to a top three finish. Our only hope then is that with all the rest playing each other in the next seven rounds, we can sneak into that top five. However, with our away form so good and our home form so poor, with 5 home games out of the remaining 8 at the KCom, it doesn’t look good does it?
When you play a team that are so good, they are run away leaders who are being tipped by everyone to win both the League and the Cup this year, you just wonder how you will fare and if you could actually tear up the form book and get an unlikely win? With 9 games to go and the bookmakers as near as they could be to closing the book on the Saints attaining the double, it was a big ask, but in such circumstances no one really expects you to win and so it helps you stress wise as a fan. I wonder if it does the same if you’re a player? From what we saw on Friday the reply to that one is perhaps in the negative, because we seemed to panic from the off.
I approached this game pretty calmly with a bit of hope (but not a lot) but none the less with my head full of Scott Taylor’s and Lee Radford’s words about the likely intensity and the need to try and put down a marker. Yet, in my heart of hearts, I knew it was always to be a big ask. In the end we were simply blown away by a Saints team that you can’t help but admire. I watched them last week against Warrington and although the Wire desperately hung on for the first quarter I couldn’t help but be in awe of the speed and strength of the Saints game. That didn’t bode well at all!
It was a great evening weather wise for some proper summer rugby and I just hoped that this time it would be the all action Hull FC that would turn up and the ‘wide awake’ FC supporters that would cheer them on and encourage them. In the end we were well beaten, but on this occasion you can’t fault the fans who after 20 minutes and with us 18-0 down, were as loud as I have heard them for ages. That said, I think what was already becoming apparent about the referee, had something to do with that one! We were at near full strength but that didn’t mean that Ellis and Carlos wouldn’t both be a bit ring rusty, whilst Savelio would have continued his gradual climb back to something like his old form, but for another injury in the ‘bloody’ captains run. All in all, I thought, as I walked to the Stadium, it was likely to be a tough one but, knowing how we can play, an interesting one to contemplate as well.
In the end it was I guess a procession really and by a quarter of the game had passed it was all only going one way. Shaul had soldiered on with what looked to be a bad leg injury and we went through spells when we defended really well and others where we looked to be breachable at any time. The second quarter which coinciding with Ellis’s introduction, saw us fighting hard to stop that charge, but we all knew that the energy that was taking from us would come back to bite us in the second half. The thing was I guess looking back on it we had the chances in that first 40 minutes to post some points, but forced balls and bad options saw us go in at half time scoreless.
We looked to step it up after the break but three quick tries as they pierced our right flank with ease, finished us off and in some ways we were lucky to come out having only conceded 40! Shaul and Ratu scored late consolations, but throughout we forced passes, panicked and just weren’t in the same class as Saints. Although I always want us to be at our best and to play as we know our lads can, on nights like Friday we seem to be way off that!
We simply lacked any sort of direction or poise as we tried (as last week) to play the sort of flamboyant stuff that beat Castleford and Catalan, but lacked the platform we had built in those two games to see it executed. As the match wore on we all just sat there and sucked it up? What else could we do really? We grumbled about the officials and wondered how any team could be so much more effective than us.
Around me the fans were asking the same questions as you probably where. Why are they so much quicker in everything they do than we are? Why are they so much smarter than us with the ball? Why do they look so much fitter and stronger than us? Why do they appear to be better drilled than us? Why don’t our props run like theirs? Why don’t we move up in a line as they do? Why do they look a lot slicker than us moving the ball wide? Why do they have so many dummy runners, when we seem to have none? The questions and head scratching from those around me just went on and on whilst out there on the pitch we simply had no answers.
Saints are good, in fact they are very good and although Lee pointed to us forcing the ball too much in attack, in the end our demise was down to so much more than that! In the first half at times our defence was good and the players got the crowd on their side but we lacked any sort of direction. We rushed everything with the ball and then lost possession as our energy simply drained away. I think looking objectively at that Saints performance that should we beat Warrington in the semi, which is debatable at present, then we could well get another really good seeing to at Wembley, for they just looked better in every department than every other team in the competition.
As for the referee well if we, as a team, couldn’t keep up with the Saints, he certainly couldn’t! He was behind the play all the time, gave some really baffling calls and looked completely out of his depth. Laying on and interference at the play the ball was rife, but went unpunished and when it does you can’t blame them for doing it can you? He was so pedantic too particularly when ordering penalties to touch to be retaken because one player was he claimed, fractionally in front of the kicker. We all knew from the ten-minute mark that we were always going to lose, but our ineptitude was only matched by that of the referee who was abysmal at times and with absolutely no help from his touch judges he just made it up as he went along!
Performance wise, well Ellis, before his injury, was the only FC forward to make much progress against a great Saints defence, whilst in the centre, where we have an embarrassment of riches, Tuimavave has not quite been the same since coming back from injury, but Josh Griffin tried hard. However, Carlos, when he came on, still managed to easily outperform Jake Connor. He was very quiet and again looked to be really unhappy with himself, perhaps he needs to sort his attitude out a bit!!
Ratu did well in defence but didn’t get any quality ball at all, whilst Kelly looked sharp at times but couldn’t get enough of a platform to perform behind. I thought that Brad Fash had his best game thus far and Westy with that knee well bandaged, tried hard. In the second row however, Manu and Mini looked jaded and ineffective, although over-all we certainly had more energy than last week at Rovers, where we looked tired. Saints though, had too much for us with a defence that was in our faces from minute one and that saw us forced to move the ball wide too often, too soon.
It was a bad night for us and one that we will all want to forget pretty quickly, but now there have to be question marks about our ability to do anything much at all this season with us desperately needing a win next week to avert a slide and keep Wigan at bay. Will we get it? Well with a patient London side, who play to their strengths and who are now desperate for points, with the way we are playing, who the hell knows? Friday was certainly a bad night all round for me!
So to the rest of the week and the best news for me was the re-signing of Ratu Naulago, as we took out our option on the second year of his current deal and he put pen to paper on an extended contract until the end of 2020. He was already reported to have secured a home in the City and now his stay is confirmed. What’s more we are holding talks, which are already underway, regarding a further contract extension beyond 2020. That has to be brilliant for every Hull FC fan! I was so excited to read about it and although some of the guys announced it on RL fans, buried in a long recruitment thread, I started another, just so everyone knew!
He is without doubt one of the most exciting talents in the current game, he came from nowhere, yet everyone across the league now know all about him. He has size, pace and a great brain and as Lee said this week he’s a really quick learner who has evolved from a raw, army based, Rugby Union player who wanted a go at Rugby League, to a feared winger, who every team mentions in their team talks before they play us.
Give him an inch and he’s gone and if he hasn’t ‘been given an inch’, on several occasions already he has shown that he can still make the room and then go for it. I was really pleased, simply because I’d heard that RU were after him and saw him as a big drawing card, whilst there were also problems with his release from the Army to continue playing. He is a player that excites me and his defence as well as his attacking ability is improving all the time. Of course the question is (with Bureto, Fonua, Ratu and Swift on our books next season), who plays where, but for now we have kept a great prospect and one that has the potential to be one of the best wingers in the game. I didn’t want to see him playing for anyone else in the competition or watch him scoring tries for fun for Saracens, Harlequins or someone like that, did you? As I said last week, it is heartening to see that, as a Club, if we want to retain someone we usually can and that has to be a reflection on where we are as an organisation doesn’t it?
Well, Scott Taylors words about the Club he loves and indeed what it is like to play for them when Gareth Ellis is in the team were certainly inspiring and interesting. I have said in here before that both Yeamo and Danny Houghton have stated to me that to follow him out onto the field made you feel a foot taller before you even began and so it seems it is with Tag. What a guy Ellis is and what a difficult one he will be to replace. We raised our game on Friday as he entered the fray and he inspires in the dressing room before hand, on the bench and when he comes onto the field. In fact it is not often that a players peers shower them with such compliments time and again. He’s a very special player who of course was player of the year for three consecutive seasons in Australia and who has given his all at Hull FC since he arrived. As I said he’s proved me wrong and long may that continue.
What an indication on how hard the game is to play these days it was when we were told that this weekend we were in danger of having as strong a team out on the field as we have seen for two years! That’s quite amazing really, but we have learned a lot about getting players back on the pitch, which has seen us take a much more safety first approach to things of late. We have brought specialist rehab care into the club and a mark of their effectiveness is that I’m told that Gareth Ellis could have been ‘risked’ in Catalan, but was given a couple of weeks more to ensure he was right, whilst the same can be said for Carlos Tumavive who was there or ‘there abouts’ for a couple of weeks before his reappearance at Caravan Park.
With the rigours of the salary Caps, a lack of quality players coming through the amateur game and limited squads, it’s important to have as many of your core of real quality players as fit as possible for as long as possible. You can see teams visibly wilt and slip down the table when they are short-handed. Most collapses of form like ours last season, Wigan’s slow start this etc. etc. can usually be linked to a team’s injury woes so making sure that rehab is right and that rushing people back doesn’t lead to more trouble, is now imperative. Therefore, I guess, we can expect to see a ‘softly, softly’ approach to rehab becoming more and more the norm in future.
You know when you love your Club you just want to hear your players commit to being as passionate about it as you are. Often in many sports players become more and more divorced from their roots and their affiliations to their home club and of course there is a massive difference between the life-long obsession of a fan and a means of earning a living for a player. Football is a classic example where in the higher divisions some clubs include few if any, home grown players at all. Affiliation to money rather than the Club seems to be the watchword for the soldiers of fortune in the English Football Leagues doesn’t it? However, at Hull FC as I stated last week in my appraisal of where we are as a club, it’s quite surprising how many seem to really get it!
One who obviously does is Scott Taylor and it was good to hear him once again putting his love of his club on the line. Discussing on the Club site, about what makes him proud to play for his hometown club, he said: “The badge on the shirt is what keeps motivating me and getting me up for games every week”.
He continued, “Hull FC has been a massive part of my life, from as early as supporting the Black & Whites from the age of six. To go from being sat in the stands to walking out of the tunnel with the badge on your chest every week is something that I take great pride in. Being a senior player and being vice-captain makes it even better. You’ve got to be a great professional to play at this level and make sure you do what you get paid to do. I’m lucky enough to represent the team I love and get paid for it at the same time. Ultimately, it comes down to playing for the team, playing for the fans, having a professional mind set, being the best at the job that you possibly can be and being a competitive individual who has a real hunger for winning”.
Talk to Danny Houghton, Washy or Jamie Shaul and you will hear the same, but you’ll also experience similar sentiments from some who originally hail from many miles away from Hull, like, Matongo, Manu, Paea, Fairamo, and even most recently from the returning Mahe Fonua. It doesn’t of course just happen at our Club because all teams have players in them that have a special affinity to the place they play and the Club they represent, but when it does occur, its certainly a quality that we as fans really appreciate. That devotion and allegiance to their club and the fans, is so important to the on-going dynamic between the different parts of the Club and it was again great to hear Scott waxing lyrical about it last week!
Now, my navel gazing about the state of our Club at present which I included last week certainly got you talking and created a lot of correspondence for which I thank you all. Most people including Barry King, Harry Thewlis and Jim Noble said it got them thinking and I guess the general thought is that we do take Adam a bit for granted as we do our current ‘comfortable’ situation. A few mentioned Widnes, Leigh and particularly Salford and how their fans must feel as they go through difficult times and they are of course right. A good pal of mine came up with some great ideas about that situation and it is obviously something that has exercised your minds as well. Some of those ideas might come to fruition in the future, who knows, but it’s good to see that many of you agreed with me as to how lucky we are as a set of supporters to have Adam and the set-up he has created.
Now, some of you might have seen the comments I received from Rovers fans on Twitter and RL fans last week, in response to last week’s Diary and I don’t know about you, but I didn’t realise so many Rovers fans read this rubbish. I really couldn’t be bothered myself where the roles reversed, but I thank them for their input! They have their opinions and that is their absolute right. However, I didn’t respond because I understand that its just as we all see it really. We’ll never ever agree and as always I just say it as I feel it at the time, usually straight after the game. If my hand wringing after a painful Derby defeat sounds like ‘a Suicide Note’ to some, that’s their opinion and they are entitled to it. The thing is I guess, I just don’t like Hull KR and their fans just don’t like us!
That however brings me to the next bit about doing stuff with Rovers and many peoples apparent joy at both sides of the City at the demise of the ill-fated and much maligned City of Hull Academy. Both Hull and Rovers fans welcomed this development and kits nice to agree on something. As I have said a lot before in here, I got the thinking behind it and listened to Adam’s reasoning and indeed it has been said since, that at the time combining operations meant that we were able to re-allocate funding and use it to build that great team of 2016. So back then when we were told it had to be done, we accepted it but that didn’t stop the majority of us old buggers dismissing it out of hand. Many from both sides of the City found the City of Hull Academy hard to embrace as a representative team.
Childish some might say, but with the loyalty lines going so deep in the City for some, it was for both sides a matter of principle, because some of us have been around long enough to remember June 1996 when the RL tried to amalgamate both clubs completely, a move that was certainly met with very short shift from both sets of fans. We had a meeting at Caravan Park, as fans of the game in the city got together and fought it off and thank goodness we did! There was a bit of rumoured ‘skulduggery’ going on in the recent combined set up at times, something that was well reported by parents over the years, perhaps imagined, perhaps not. I mentioned it in passing, as those who read this regularly will remember, however now its gone, a lot of people are relieved, the sense of injustice is dissipated and at last it appears sense has prevailed. Well it has as far as the young players of the region are concerned at least. Both sides of the City can now get back to ‘full on’ rivalry, at all levels too!
I got some mail on this subject last week and I often mention the input I get from Richard Kirk who trains the youngsters locally and he was in touch this week hailing the decision and saying that we should now all celebrate the fact that we have around 70 lads signed up for the new Hull & Rovers scholarship and academies. We all know that in the end perhaps only 5 or 6 will make it to the big time but at least those kids are still in Hull and tied to one of our professional Clubs, rather than as has been the case over the past few years, trying their hand at Wakefield, York, Leeds or Cas.
What is most pleasing for Richard however is the fact that it also gives a massive incentive to the 11, 12 & 13 year olds who will be signing soon, for it gives them a pathway to be part of a pro set up and live out their dreams. This will hopefully begin to kick start our youth scene in the City and encourage kids to get involved. The impact (in a few years’ time) that will have on the amateur RL scene in the City could well be really significant too. Because now for youngsters, there will be a means to an end through the team they support.
If proof was needed as to how our local recruitment has suffered, then look at the England Youth Squad announced last week. In there we had three representatives for the City of Hull Academy Jacob Hookem, Joel Speed and Leon Stewart all included in the 22-man squad, but it actually contained 6 lads from the City with the three others now playing for Castleford. In fact, you’ll remember with places in our soon to be defunct joint academy limited, they signed 11 Hull lads just 18 months ago.
Getting our own set up back and basing it down at Bishop Burton, with their amazing facilities and our home games being played there, is a top move for the Club and indeed for every young person who aspires to play RL at a senior level and who wants to do it for his home town club. It will be expensive and something the clubs will have to bare but they should take heart that it is a great incentive to all those folks out there like Richard who give up their time to try and inspire our youth to take up the greatest game in the world.
We will be running 6 teams but the next challenge is finding a way to get the players advanced past Under 18’s level, as with only the reserves there for them it could be the end of the road but more hopefully a progression into the amateur game for those who just fall short of the standard required. However, for now, big steps forward I think!
I was only thinking as I walked from the Stadium on Friday about how good it was to have got some of our injured players fit and how injuries had always been a part of Hull FC and dictated over the years just how we went as a team. It was something that was brought to mind at half time when we were sat talking about a game back in 2002 which featured injury, but which also highlighted how good an often forgotten man, Shaun MaCrae, was as a coach. Known better for his more recent TV persona as an astute pundit, Shaun was the Coach of the team from our amalgamation with Gateshead and when you consider what he did at the KC as Coach, a brilliant tactician and man manager he should always be remembered.
So this week in Codgers Corner, I am going to feature a game from that first season at the KC when on Friday 4th April we entertained Wigan. It was a night when 12,000 fans would roar our hero’s home to a famous victory under the KC lights and in front of the Sky TV cameras.
We’d won all our League games so far that year, having been victorious over Wakefield and Warrington away and Widnes at the KC, but now we faced our biggest test in the shape of the Wigan Warriors. The visitors were the team to beat but had been rocked just hours before the kick-off when out of contract Julian O’Neill walked out of their hotel, to sign for the Widnes Vikings. From the start of the game Wigan put us under some duress and Richard Horne, playing that day at full back, fielded a couple of big kicks hoisted by Lam to relieve the pressure. However, Chris Chester lost the ball deep in our half, twice in quick succession, which gave the visitors good field position from which they pressed forward.
A short kick towards the corner by Lam looked to be ideally placed for ex FC hero Brian Carney who raced downfield to be thwarted by Prescott on the wing, as he slid in to take the ball at Carney’s feet. Then Wigan’s Hock and Mark Smith stole the ball from Greenhill in a tackle and from the ensuing penalty, Prescott added the two points and the Hull FC took the lead. Our defence was holding up well, but our attack lacked variation and it was unfortunate when our best chance so far went to ground as Paul Cooke broke down the right and released a long cut out pass destined for Colin Best that was knocked down by Hodgson. Then after a trip by Hock on Greenhill another penalty by Prescott made it 4-0, before we scored our first try.
A Jason Smith kick spiralled in the air allowing Colin Best, under great pressure from Dallas, to rise above the defence and in one movement, catch, twist and bring the ball down over the line to score. Referee Kirkpatrick referred the decision to the Video Referee, who awarded the try and we went in at half time, 10-0 up.
Jason Smith who was left hobbling in the first half after a crash tackle on halfway bent his leg sideways, didn’t re-appear in the second, but after just a few minutes Adam Maher, who was having a superb game, took a kick through by Chester and beat Carney in a chase to the corner, where he scored his first try of the season and Hull’s second of the night. Leading 14-0 and looking reasonably comfortable Hull then had to endure some Wigan pressure. Their attack charged forward, but a fierce tackle from Chester caused Carney to fumble the ball and then shortly afterwards, as the crowd broke into another round of ‘Old Faithful’, a big hit from Richie Barnett assisted by Horne, saw Brett Dallas pushed into touch.
However, after a great move orchestrated by Richie Barnett and Fletcher, disaster struck. The latter made a blockbusting run and fed Scott Logan who barrelled downfield trailing tacklers in his wake and was just inches short of the line when he eventually went down under two Wigan forwards. He stayed down as the players waived for attention and the referee stopped the game. After a delay of around 5 minutes, Logan was stretchered from the field with a broken leg. Just three minutes later, Kohe-Love received what looked like a serious arm injury in what is these days called a chicken wing tackle, and had to go off too. The visitor’s sniffed an opportunity and soon their pressure was starting to tell as on 64 minutes Wigan teenage sensation, and real rough house player, Gareth Hock scored after he dummied the Hull defence at a play the ball and dived in from acting half. With those injuries disrupting things, Prescott hobbling, Yeaman holding his wrist and Wigan on a roll, we badly needed a try, and we got one.
The injuries meant that reminiscent of more recent times at the KC, we now had several of our young players on the field and they showed their worth straight away as Graeme Horne ran down the blind side, Paul Cooke took on the defence and Yeaman side stepped twice, before crashing in to score. Prescott missed with the kick but was successful with a penalty shortly afterwards when a Maher break, led to Graeme Horne being tripped when he would have scored. At 20-4 the Wigan side had obviously had enough and the dejected Cherry and Whites played out the final minutes in midfield, before the hooter was greeted with a cheer you could probably have heard in Beverley. It was a great feeling back then knowing that we were playing our first season in what was then the best RL Stadium in the Country, we had a Coach who was doing a great job and we had a fighting spirit and tenacity in adversity that could see us get over those injuries and beat the best team in the country at the time. In fact, it was totally unlike Friday really!
This week’s game saw us outclassed by a clinical Saints team that eased to victory. After 18 minutes or so I said, “That’s it we’ve had this one’, and I was right. There were excuses with some potentially wayward refereeing and as with all teams on top of their game, Saints got all the bounce of the ball, but ultimately the visitors were just too good for us.
Next week we just have to win if our season is to come to anything. However, as the promoted team who had been at rock bottom for so long London have nothing to lose and seem to thrive on the under-dog rating they usually receive. We saw at the weekend what happens when a team is full of confidence but thinks it will be easy when Salford were turned over by another desperate team in the shape of the Giants and so we really do have to be on our guard next Thursday. It’s a banana skin of monumental proportions for me and it will be interesting to see how we approach it. In the mean time we’ll lick our wounds and see what unfolds.
I got a mountain of correspondence last week about the Diary and thanks so much for all the interest and indeed for all your support. This rubbish will be back next week after the London game and let’s hope too that we can regroup and find a way to get back on the horse and get a win.
Try to Keep Believing!!!