The Dentist’s Diary – 637th

“When I’m good I’m very, very good and when I’m bad I’m awful

Violet Elizabeth – (Just William)

So it is with my team at present and although that second half didn’t exactly make me ‘scream and scream till I’m sick’ it was still hard to watch, although as a game, perhaps it was simply a microcosm of our season to date. I guess I could have headed this edition up with ‘4 seasons in one day’, because in that first half we saw the return of the flowing power rugby of 2016 followed by the gritty determined defence of 2017, whilst in the second we saw the reticence and disinterest of 2018 and the unpredictable, inconsistency of this year. 

Whatever else we are this season, my team, Hull FC, are bloody frustrating at times!!

It was certainly a game of two halves!!! Just as it has been a season of literally watching two mirrored FC teams and it’s the constant worrying about which team will turn up on any given weekend, that’s the really frustrating thing. So, move over ‘Fringe’ and ‘Stranger Things’ because if you really want to know what it’s like to be exposed to an alternate universe, just talk to any committed FC supporter in 2019!

Although that almost schizophrenic demeanour has been our lot all season and indeed something that has frustrated this fan to hell, talking to a younger supporter at the end of the game perhaps, I thought, I worry too much? Perhaps we should all just accept it?  Let’s face it as he sagely pointed out, fans at London, Leeds and Rovers would grab the chance to be so in-consistent that they were two points up in third, clear of relegation with 7 rounds to go and in a Cup semi-final, but somehow when your witnessing it that doesn’t make this ‘upside-down’ season any less frustrating does it? 

We’d been up and down from game to game, but then we won 4 in a row and looked really good taking on Castleford and Catalan away from home, before against the Dobbins and then Saints we were back to being scratchy to say the least. This week we surpassed ourselves and managed to mirror that season long malaise in one game. Shining in the first half and flopping and floundering in the second.

But, you have to be pleased with our overall position for it is something that would have been taken by all of us when we set off with two loses on the trot back in February, but it was tough going last Thursday in that second half.

None the less in the end the record shows that we won, we were thoroughly entertained in the first half and suffered whatever is the opposite to that in the second, but we got two points and we are still third. However, there are much bigger battles ahead and we will have to be a lot better in them!!

The infuriating thing is of course, that we know that is eminently possible when this lot really set their stall out to play for 80 minutes.    

Here we are in another Diary and despite some Dobbins fans and a few FC followers decrying the way I do it, I can in the end only really tell it in here as I see it. The Club obviously sugar coat everything, the HDM and other media outlets look to sensationalise it all, whilst I just write it as it comes to me, usually straight after a game when the scars are still hurting and the emotions are raw. I have expounded my theory about this seasons inconsistency in here so many times over the past rounds because as Bill Shankly once said, “Complacency leads to inconsistency” and that for me, is the nub of the situation really.

Personally I feel that is the only explanation there can be, for the FC are a team that seems to be so mentally strong when they want to be and so inept when they take their eye off the ball. I still maintain that not signing any big name players in the last closed season has made things all ‘too cosy’ for some. From the off without the pressure on places that newcomers bring to the dynamic of the group, we appear to have played when we want to. Yet, here we are in a great position after round 22 ready to push on to greatness.  

On Thursday, as we all tipped up after another week of players pressing the flesh, meeting the fans, partaking of the quizzes, and doing the cooking challenges, (all of which constitutes the eminently successful, annual Hull and Proud jamboree), I mused on the fact that this was still, without doubt, a big game in the context of our season. Although I totally get it all, I do, as you know, worry a bit about such extravaganza’s, simply because past results in such periods make me think that they take the players eye off the ball a bit. Certainly, when you look back over the years we have lost more than we have won in these periods.

This yearly carnival is well thought out, a good profiling tool and full of great events for the fans and is, the club tell us, a really important means of engaging with the supporters, and I get all that I really do. It was a roaring success and reached thousands of fans one way or another as well as attracting two gates of over 11,000 with not a lot of travelling fans in that number. What’s more I know dozens of fans who have really enjoyed the events that have taken place. Involving the supporter base as the season draws to a close and the Clubs mind moves onto selling the next tranche of season tickets is eminently sensible, although some old curmudgeons like me, would say that the best way to enthuse folks is to play exciting rugby that inspires the supporters and to win consistently at home. So I guess what I am saying is that I’m never quite sure how all the meet and greet stuff effects the players really.

None the less this year on the playing front our poor home form has seen us lose five league games at the KCom, which if you are to be a really successful team is pretty inexcusable. The reality is that in perhaps the most up and down campaign we have seen for years, a good few wins on the road have got us to a point where we are in contention for the top three, still in the cup and most importantly in the current disaster tinged relegation scenario, out of the growing desperation and scramble down there at the bottom.

As Scott Taylor said in the Mail on Saturday, now is the time that we should be improving week on week towards the business end of the season. I’ll leave you to decide whether this is actually happening but there is little doubt that with a stronger home record we would have at least been several points clear in third and challenging Warrington in second. However, mainly due to our inadequacies at the KCom, we are still just about hanging in there and reliant on a good run here on in.

So although billed as the Big Night Out, Thursday was always going to be a massive game for us in the context of the current season because we simply had to win. We played a team at the foot of the table who had, none the less, surprised a lot of people. They are renown for getting through their sets well and have a good kicking game through a certain Jordan Abdull, who would always have a point to prove at the KCom. They were in fact on Thursday a far better team when he came onto the field from the bench. What’s more they are a team notorious for staying in games right to the end as once again they did that too in this one. We all just hoped that the players and the management down at County Road realised all that, because we had to be on our guard in this one.

What we did know was that after two lack lustre performances, both Wigan and Catalan were breathing down our necks again and that we looked to have lost that edge we showed in France and at Castleford. This all meant in a nut shell that the pressure of being able to retain our top five position was increasing by the week. The fact is that with the vagaries of the current competition, just two weeks ago we had an almost comfortable position in third, with the pundits even suggested that the top three were breaking away from the rest of the competition!

But hey, this is Hull FC and we all knew somewhere along the way the wheel would come off and it did at Rovers and less unexpectedly again last week against Saints.

As the Faithful assembled for another Thursday night’s ‘potential banana skin’ in front of the TV cameras, no one around me was under any misapprehensions, for we all knew that we had displayed some worrying flaws in those last two outings. We hadn’t shown much patience to build pressure or field position and had forced things far too much. We had given the ball away cheaply and failed to complete our sets particularly in the oppositions 20, whilst our kicking game had been uncharacteristically poor and our defence slap dash at times near our line; in fact, in true FC fashion, all of a sudden, we had gone backwards quickly. What’s more, once again, it was turning into a season when we struggled at home and after so many that had been the same, it was all becoming too much of a co-incidence.

So the million-dollar question was again this week, which Hull FC and indeed which London Bronco’s would turn up? As we all took our seats we certainly wondered about that one, didn’t we?

In the end we got two valuable points, but once again after a game at the KCom, I have to point to our inconsistency being our downfall. Before it has been from game to game, but this time around it was from half to half. In the first we absolutely blew London away put the game beyond them and scored some scintillating tries. In that period there was some fine rugby on display with some excellent play out wide by our wingers, as the structure was right and our forwards took it to then on route one straight into their faces. It was great entertainment, good to watch and exhilarating for everyone there.

The front three were running straight into the heart of the London line, the second rowers took yards and yards off them, we kept the ball throughout our sets, which meant we hardly had to do any tackling and so we dominated possession. Fairamo was just devastating down that left wing, Griffin massive in the centre and at the end of the half we were treated to one of those ‘Ratu Express’ efforts from deep in our own twenty. What a flyer he is, as he seems to be fitted with ‘invisible wing mirrors’ so that he keeps the chasers just far enough back to tantalise them all the way to the line. What a find he is and what a half we had witnessed!

As the half time hooter went we all settled down to enjoy the break and have a good second half watching some more tries to improve our points difference; whilst all the while knowing that in effect we were already out of sight. But when its Hull FC you always have a bit of a question mark about what happens next however far in front you are, don’t you? So it was that as the storm clouds gathered overhead the prospects of all that happening darkened with them! We saw tries, sure we did, but they all came in the wrong direction, so that near the end the Broncos were anointed with the final compliment, when our only point came from the boot of Sneyd as he dropped a goal to ensure they had then to score four times. 

Straight from the kick off and from the first defensive set, it was ‘cue on the rack’ time and what’s more, you could see it as plain as plain could be. ‘Come on Hull get stuck in’ was the call from the guy in front of me after just 5 minutes of that half and it was a sentiment echoed around the terraces until Taylor and Paea returned with 25 minutes to go to steady things down a bit and restore some resemblance of order to the proceedings. In that final quarter they brought back some biff in the middle and Houghton rescued us again with some valient tackling.

On Thursday, as that second half unfolded, we all watched as a team that had consistently only allowed the opposition 40 or 50 yards a set in the first 40 minutes, suddenly allowing the Broncos to make 80. From a first 30 minutes when we never missed a tackle and completed at 100%, we became sloppy, listless and much less tenacious in defence. It was almost as if we came out for the first half, knowing exactly what we had to do, executed it to perfection and then when we had gone 34 points up, we just got bored with it all!

At one time in the last spell of the first half we were pinned on our line for around 6 minutes, but we tackled and tackled with tenacity and a ‘They shall not pass’ attitude we’d not seen since the second half at Castleford, Then after what you would have thought would have been a half time, “We know they’ll never give up so steady as you go”, pep talk, by Radders, our defence was full of holes and a very poor and patchy London were able to dominate us for long spells. It was once again, lateral rugby with lots of forced ball, mistakes and missed tackles and quite frankly just bloody frustrating. We got home, we got the points and leaving the game the fans I spoke to were pretty philosophical and so I guess it still has to be onwards and upwards for us all. That said the final outcome was almost a relief and that should never be the case when you are that far in front at half time.  

Player wise there were some mixed showings really, but one or two bright lights shone out for me. Bureto Fairamo had a great first half as he bulldozed his way over Dixon on several occasions and looked as good as he has all year. However, he was a culprit a few times in the second half when he lost the ball regularly. Inside him Griffin was simply massive and despite retiring late on with an injury he was probably my star player for he was strong and when their line did get it right, he was our go to player to break it. For me he’ll make a fine second row forward in the traditional (but not Radford’s preferred) wide running role. Ratu again scored another breath taking touch-down, was strong in defence, but did himself make some mistakes as the game wore on, whilst Danny Houghton was again a dynamo, making breaks from acting half in the first period and saving us a few times with great tackles late on.

For me, Connor isn’t on it at present. He did Ok but after a few neat touches in the first half he struggled in the second and a couple of really half-hearted grabs at the Broncos players in that second period when we should have been digging in, really does need addressing. He’s a better centre, (with the room that role affords), than a half back and his attitude needs a word or two I think! Sneyd however conducted things in the first half to see the game won and only missed one conversion all night. Up front Mickey Paea and Scott Taylor shone in contact, made a lot of yards and tackled tenaciously, in fact the game changed when they went off in the first half and changed back again a bit, when they returned in the second.  

Paea work in yardage is great and he has been a revelation in the last two months. He’s obviously playing for a contract although in all honesty, I doubt that it is with us!!  Bowden continues to improve, whilst Mini did well and Manu shone at first before fading late on. Both have been great servants and still try their hardest, they display lots of nous and game knowledge, but both look like players in the twilight of their careesr to me.

Again for me personally, I thought that Hadley did nothing at all and looks to have little to offer really, whilst Westerman got a great try and was involved throughout, although that said, he looked pretty ineffective as a ball player after the first half hour. Green, although appearing to be a favourite in some quarters of the club, can go for me as well, because when the chips are down, he makes no impact when he comes on and doesn’t work hard enough in the tackle once he’s made contact with the tackler. However, although coming into a team playing shocking rugby in that second half, I again though Fash did well. He’s appears to be another ‘favourite’ but he has certainly had a good go of late. At least he was direct and took some tackling when he had the ball and at times like those that’s all you want to see from your forwards isn’t it.

What we do seem to lack for me is on-field leadership. I love Danny Houghton to bits and I know by what I have been told that his off the field leadership is second to none. However, on Thursday after we conceded a London try I watched what happened behind the posts and it was Taylor and Sneyd that were shouting at the players whilst the rest just stood there looking at their boots! We have to sort that out as well I think!

So a real curates egg of a game but two points, some good tries and a lot of food for thought before we take on what will be an absolutely desperate Leeds next Sunday.   

So to the week gone by and the injury to Kelly was a real blow, because he really is the go to player you need to make the break in games such the one against London. The official line was that he injured himself against Saints but the inside story appears to be from some, that he shouldn’t have really played in that game and aggravated a hamstring injury that he sustained originally in Catalan. Lee said this week it was precautionary. However, what I do know is that the player himself is doing all he can to get fit, but at present he admits in private he’s certainly an early doubt for the semi-final! Connor too appears to be carrying a foot injury as well and we just have to hope that everyone comes through for Bolton, so that we give ourselves the best of chances. Although on that front I’ll repeat what I said after the Rovers match, no one in the British game in their right mind would relish playing Saints at Wembley in their current form, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it eh?

Now, when you sign a player its always interesting to hear what the fans of their previous Club have to say about them. I remember when we signed Mark Minichiello that the Gold Coast Titans fans were so sorry to see him leave their Club and so it was this week with the supporters of the Parramatta Eel, when we made the quite amazing signing of Manu Ma’u. What a great player he is and his title of the ‘Tongan Terminator’, is really fitting to a bloke who is a real destroyer. I have watched a lot of his performances of late and although he is a fair player, he also always plays right on the edge of being on the wrong side of the rules and that and his amazing upper body power make him one of the most aggressive forwards I have seen in a long time. He plays long minutes and despite his size and work rate has been known to stay on for a whole game so he is pretty resilient as well.

His main asset is his strength and his ability to run at the tackler rather than like too many of our forwards at present, concentrate too much in making ground in the tackle itself. That more direct style from a real handful of a player is what we get from both Mahe and Manu and that has to auger well for the future. His attitude is first class and his first comment on playing for the FC was typical of his comments whilst in the NRL, as he said in his first interview, “I’ll wear the Black and White with pride and passion!” u: “I’ll Wear That Black & White Jersey & Pride”

Ma’u will have cost us as well, with three NRL clubs interested in his signature whilst once it was announced officially that he was not being retained at Parramatta, several in this country including Wigan and Leeds moved in. However as was the case with Jones when they came calling for him, we had been working on this for ages and that and the influence of his mate Mahe Fonua swung the deal our way. Once again James Clark and Adam must take a lot of credit for the work they put in and indeed for the ambition our owner has shown. 

Not since the announcement of Frank Pritchard’s signing have the FC fans been so animated and with good cause, for he is not only a real handful of a player but also one that came to the game late in life and therefore at 30 he still has a few years to offer. He has had one bad injury but otherwise he’s kept himself pretty fit and should make a great second row partnership with another new face Josh Jones. To have a big name signing coming in from another Super League Club is always great, but to get one of the most feared players in the NRL joining us is just brilliant. It is a prize signing and one that is not just good for Hull FC but for the British game at large.

Of course, although reported to be a born again Christian, he has spent time in prison a long time ago and one has to hope that he gets all the necessary work permits Visa’s etc when the time comes; the last thing we want is another Michael Crocker! However surely our lot will have checked all that out before announcing the signing? Next season is a long way off but there is little doubt that Fonua and Manu Ma’u will sell season tickets and with Swift and Jones on board too and more to come on the signing front in the front row, its quite an appetising thought isn’t it! 

Of course we have a long way to go this year but we all like the thought of being a lot better off for players next season and signing big name ones like Manu Ma’u just get everyone excited. Although I would argue that perhaps he isn’t as big a capture at the time of signing as Pritchard was and he’ll have to go a long way to match Franks personality, when Ma’u arrives with Mahe it will just be like the return of the band of brothers. Furthermore, there is little doubt that he’s a big signing that like Fonua two weeks earlier, has made the RL world sit up and take notice, so well done to the Club for getting him. As for all the border force paper work stuff etc. well, I’ll just be glad when he’s here!

What followed was inevitable as just as the fans always want more the local paper quizzed Lee Radford about whether there were more players to come in. His reply was as I had heard, in that we will see another two or three to come in although I also heard it could have been 4 before someone gave back word. Probably now two NRL signings and a British squad player seems to be favourite amongst the pundits. It’s certainly going to be a big change around and we all know in such situations, as with closed season 2015/2016, it’s a big task to integrate so many, although like in that closed season, it can really act as a catalyst for change too. That situation will also put a lot of retained players back on their toes and have them looking over their shoulders and that has to be a good thing. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next on the signing front, won’t it.   

This week in Codgers Corner as we look back at less complicated and perhaps happier times in the history of Hull FC I want to go back to season 1974/75 and a game that was brought to mind by this weekend’s match because of the passion we showed back then when battling against the odds. Then we had no money, no prospects and few wins under our belt, times were really hard and all we could hope for was that we would actually have a Rugby team to support the following week-end. In the month of November, we had already travelled to the bottom club and perennial underachievers Huyton and got thumped 32-10. So the following week it was hardly surprising that there was only 1051 people ’packed’ into the Boulevard to watch us play a very handy and well placed Whitehaven outfit that boasted several really gifted players and a typically massive Cumbrian pack.

On arriving at the Boulevard we found the pitch was its usual muddy morass, with the centre line painted onto the mud for the full width of the pitch. I watched the game in the Threepennies where all we could hope for was that the FC could keep the score down.

There was a massive difference in size of the packs which was apparent when the beefy and somewhat statuesque Cumbrian forwards ran out onto the pitch and it was obvious that we would have to fight hard to get anything from the exchanges up front.  As Referee Keane blew his whistle the heavens opened and it was so dark that the floodlights flickered into life after about two minutes of play. It never stopped raining throughout the game!

Kenny Foulkes resplendent in a shirt much more faded than everyone else’s, kicked off into the wind and for the first fifteen minutes, as the Whitehaven six tore into us, I looked as if our pack would be ground into the mud. It was no surprise when Cassie landed a penalty after Tony Duke was penalised for collapsing a scrum on our 25-yard line. Then straight from the kick off Shimming strode out of a poor tackle by Clarke and Salmon, to cross the line and after just 17 minutes we were already 7-0 down. The visitors certainly looked relaxed and confident and pressed again, before a couple of penalties saw us in their half for the first time. Duksey managed to slide through the ‘Haven front row to hook the ball back to win a scrum against the head and from this Foulkes turned the ball back inside for Geraghty to touchdown as with Alf Macklin (an unlikely goal kicker) landing the conversion, we were just two points behind.

It wasn’t long though before the Cumbrian’s extended their lead after a high shot by the fiery FC prop Alan Wardell on Maquire, saw Cassie kick his third goal before Shinning crossed again after some poor Hull tackling only to be pulled back for a forward pass. Back came Hull with some crunching tackles and as the crowd warmed to th e fight, Steve Portz split the defence on the right and the mercurial Howard Firth shot in at the corner, looking like a Viking warrior with his matted wet blonde hair trailing in the wind. Macklin just missed with the conversion that many in the Best Stand swore afterwards went over the top of the posts and was good.

As half time approached both Casey and Wardell went close and it was with some renewed hope that we went in at half time just a point behind. That margin against a well fancied team certainly heartened the fans and a buzz of conversation in the Threepenny Stand continued throughout the break and better still was to follow in the second half. Straight from the kick off Tony Duke won another scrum against the head near the visitor’s line and Casey almost squeezed through a tackle to get over. However straight from the play the ball Brian Hancock fed Mick Crane who passed onto Geraghty for the full back to shoot out an inch perfect cut out pass past Clarke to Alf Macklin who barrelling into the corner for a great try. Although ‘Super Alf’ missed the conversion from wide out, we had the lead for the first time in the match, but with 20 minutes to go it was far from over.

 The Cumbrian Forwards regrouped and came at us in wave after wave of attacks and struggling to overcome the weight difference, three and sometimes four FC players continuously piled into the tackle to stop the visitors getting over the line. Casey hung onto the ‘boot laces’ of Evans who released the ball for Martin to lunge over the line, only to find Crane underneath him holding him up and preventing him getting the ball to ground. Then Morris shot down the wing, only for Crane to come to the rescue again, this time just stretching to push the player in full flight, disturbing his balance, and causing him to step in touch. It seemed like it was to just be a matter of time before our line was pierced but we battled and defended till the end.

The visitors had a chance to level when Kenny Foulkes was penalised for ‘feeding’ a scrum with a minute to go, but as every one of the 1000 plus crowd booed the kicker, and the rain poured down, Cassie’s kick just shaved the wrong side of the left post, and we were home (if not exactly dry) 11-9. After that humiliating defeat the week before we all ran on the pitch, slipping, sliding and falling in the mud, to congratulate our heroes. However as always it was great to win but as we left the ground in the pouring rain, amid rumours of bankruptcy we were still pretty concerned as to whether we would have a team to support the following week. They were really hard times but as has always been the case down the year’s tenacity and passion just got us through. We need some of that right now at times at the  FC I think!

So there we are. Thursday’s game was certainly a strange one and I guess we should just be pleased with two points and a few stand out tries in that first half. At half time it was great to sit back and think that even our up and down form couldn’t see us now get beat and I just hoped for a bit of exhibition rugby and a good fillip for our points difference. But nagging away in the back of every fans head was still the thought of what could happen and of course in the end it almost did. That’s being an FC fan, but as I said at the beginning, we are a lot better placed than some. Next week we have, after a 10-day break, the chance to win for the first time for over a decade at the Leeds Rhino’s. It’s a massive ask because we all know they won’t ever play as badly as they did against Rovers, when for me they were really poor. They will be so up for it and so desperate in what will be a really intimidating atmosphere.

Before Fridays reversal to the Dobbins they obviously believed the hype that had been around them, with some pundits predicting after two wins on the bounce that we would be seeing Leeds in the top five come Round 29. That ain’t gonna happen now, but if we go there with the same attitude that we showed in the second half at the KCom last Thursday they’ll do us and send us into a 6 day build up to that massive semi-final in bad shape and a poor state of mind. We desperately need a win, but although we all know that, do the players know it? Will they instead have one eye on a bigger prize next weekend in Bolton?  That is the million-dollar question isn’t it?

Thanks to everyone who has again been in contact. To Harry in Monaco, Ian in Middlesboro, Dick in Lanzerote, Phil in the Isle of Wight and everyone else who had taken time to get in touch. Your feedback, complaints and support is always welcome. It’s going to be a long week between games and a big ask at Leeds next week, but let’s all get there and get behind the boys for by then we will just be 6 days away from a season defining game against Warrington in that Cup semi-final. Its certainly going to be an interesting couple of weeks.

Thanks again for all your support and for sticking with another rambling old Diary!

Keep Believeing and….

Come on you Hullllaaarrrrr!!!!!!!!

Faithfully Yours

Wilf