No game this week and I guess we all set out into the closed season still disappointed and with a few unanswered questions, a few opinions and perhaps even a bit of hope for the future.
I guess after the dust has settled on a pretty disastrous finale to the 2019 campaign and you looked back a few games to what happened in the Huddersfield match, it was always destined to be that way wasn’t it? We have been mentally frail throughout this season when the pressure wasn’t on, so when it was, it was perhaps just the inevitable outcome and we were, at the business end of the campaign, always going to implode somewhat.
The last week has seen the Club, like the rest of us, licking their wounds, dusting themselves down and starting to try and pick up the pieces as we all set sail toward the 2020 campaign. What’s more, its been a process that has at least given us all a chance to reflect, to consider where we’re at and indeed where we are hoping to go!
The days past have been littered with announcements and comments about staff leaving the club, as the great clear out continues. However, in starting this week I particularly want to mention one departing player who has been around the FC for 11 campaigns; Danny Washbrook. It’s not a continuous record I’ll grant you, as there a gap in his service whilst he played 4 seasons for Wakey, (where he is certainly still respected and fondly remembered by their fans as well), but he’s still been a great servant to Hull FC. Danny has been a regular in the first team at times, but has often as well, stepped into the breech, played in several positions and been a player who has always been happy to be cast in the role of the ‘stand in’ and the unsung hero as well. But, whatever he was asked to do, he has always given his all.
It’s a measure of the bloke that he took to the internet last week to say, “I have spent a third of my life at the club and it will be hard to walk away but new challenges await. I’ve experienced some amazing highs throughout the 11 years, playing in the GF at 21-years-old, playing at Wembley and then winning at Wembley twice. Don’t get me wrong there has been plenty of lows along the way as well, but I will leave with the greatest memories of my career, some of the best mates I could ask for and an endless list of people I can call friends whether, that’s people who work at the club, sponsor the club or support that club. “Thanks for having me, it’s been a pleasure.”
I’d class Danny as a friend, because over time I’ve got to know him as a decent bloke who is a fan as well as a player. I’ve had plenty of chats with him over the years and his loyalty was always beyond question. When I was launching a book he, along with Yeamo, Danny H and Tag would be the ones that turned up, quite uninvited, but keen to support the event. Unlike some, I’ve never heard him be outspoken about his colleagues and the whole dynamic of the squad will be a little different without this member of the 2016 Immortals.
As I discussed last week, about others, Danny is a bloke who might have had good games and might have had poor ones, but you never left a game questioning his effort or commitment. He is as a veteran of those two epic Finals where on the biggest of stages he helped bring home the ultimate prize. He’s off to York where he’s been snapped up by John Flatman, who is doing great things there and who knows exactly what he is getting with Washy. I wish Danny well, in both his remaining years as a player and in the future after he retires altogether. Top bloke Washy, thanks for everything and Good luck!
Another guy who seems to have been around forever is Richard Horne, who the RL media would have us believe is also on his way out. It is reported that he will move full time to Doncaster where he has been a hit with the fans and the owners as first team Coach this season. His twin role at FC and Donny has worked well and he has been assisted by our duel registration agreement with the South Yorkshire Club. However, I do wonder, as we move towards Reserve team rugby returning for all, whether the pressure that second string games, week in week out, will put on the Club, will see that end. We have been told it won’t, but it will be hard lending Doncaster 3 or 4 players when we have injuries, 19 players required for the first team and another 17 or so for the Reserves.
Like Washy, if Horney goes, it will be sad to see him leave, but I have some great memories of his performances over the years and again he’s a really nice bloke. That said, I guess that we have to shake things up a bit on the coaching side for sure and this could well be the start of that.
Now, just have a look with me at the Diary on 21st July and you will see this …
“You’ll remember that we were all dancing in the streets a couple of weeks ago when Ratu signed up until the end of next season, what news it was concerning probably the games find of the season. However, I’m told that it’s not quite as clear cut as that. Apparently the story goes, his wage is jointly paid by the army and the club and perhaps for the forces the 2020 deal is not all they expected it to be. With Wigan, Saints, Harlequins and Sale all waiting in the wings with big money, his tenure after 2020 could well still be decided by the army’s preference as to where he plays, where he gets the best deal and where he gets the most exposure”.
I don’t make this stuff up and the above came indirectly from a family friend of Ratu’s, who even stated that they weren’t happy with his current deal!! Was it true? Well now we hear that he has signed up with a top RU agent and is looking at his options after 2020. To lose such an exciting and flamboyant player in these times of ‘safety first’ rugby would be a tragedy, especially after all the time we have invested in him. What I was told was true, but where I was wrong was that Ratu didn’t sign up at all and wasn’t offered a contract, but instead he had his current deal extended by us exercising a clause within it which gave the club an option on a second year.
That extension, one would presume, would be on the same money as he is on now and we all know that he signed for a nominal wage, which was subsidised by the Army. No wonder he is looking to cement his future elsewhere! I just hope we get him sorted, for Ratu is exciting, a crowd pleaser and already a hero with the younger fans. We have to keep him, but when you reflect a bit perhaps his dip in form of late has more to do with the above, than it does with the team’s recent demise. We really have to try and keep him on a long term deal, but should we make an offer then his love of RU could still be a massive obstacle to keeping him. Time again will no doubt tell!
So, for all of us long suffering supporters, the season is over, the dust has settled and I’m getting back into other stuff to get me through the winter. It is in some aspects I guess a bit of a relief really because it hasn’t been a good season by any stretch of the imagination has it? However, after the dearth of any progress on the transfer front in the last closed season, I guess that we have just about finished where I thought we would at the start of the year. There is however a lot to consider after the disappointment of that finishing position in the league because we have witnessed a disappointing end of season decline and some ghastly reversals scattered along the way as the campaign unfolded. We were promised top five, but I thought our inability to add to the squad with anything but bit part players was a massive mistake and, as our heroes already in the team all got a bit older, the writing was on the wall for me (as I said in here), before we even started.
That said we’ve seen some good stuff this year when we beat Castleford away and witness the end of a game to beat all end of games, over in France. In addition, despite us only winning five out of fourteen home games this season two of them, Leeds and Rovers were top class stuff, as were all our performances in the Challenge Cup.
However, there are problems a plenty at our beloved FC, especially with that end of season regression. That I think showed what I have been banging on about for weeks, in that some players appeared to be just too comfortable at the Club. What’s more, when push came to shove, as a squad of players we appeared to be mentally fragile. That demise soon became pretty apparent to us all, although it seemed as if nothing could be done to address it. We even seemed to pick the games we wanted to ‘have a go’ in, so that in the end none of us knew which FC was to turn up on any given weekend.
Do we need help from a sports psychologist? Well I’m not sure, but I do think the stress-free, relaxed feel there seems to be within the club, (which in 2016 and 2017 did us proud), has now worked against us, in fact perhaps now it has engendered a weak mental approach to things. I say that because in sport there is nothing better when it comes to getting results than to at times have a bit of jeopardy, insecurity and a bit of desperation. Just look at how those bottom 5 or 6 clubs battled towards the end of the campaign; with our 2019 mindset, it’s a bloody good job we weren’t down there with them!!
Just my theories of course but moving forward, I believe that we need a squad of players with a distinct leadership group, who collectively can handle the pressure of big games, tight situations and the need for consistency. We had it in 2016 and 2017 but we don’t seem to possess those qualities anymore do we? One things for sure though, 2020 can’t be a third year of ‘same old same old’, because the fans just won’t buy into that dissapointment again, we know what success looks and feels like now and we want more of it!
The influx of new and I have to say, quality players, will help no end, as will a promised shake up amongst the coaching set up. For not only do we lack mental strength but we also need new ideas and a game plan that is designed to entertain as well as win matches. That’s an absolute imperative if we are to bond the supporters with the team again. That said, there can be no arguments about our recruitment, for it has been excellent and we do have some entertainers coming in and no mistake. Just watching the video that his current club produced to say good bye to ‘Fans Favourite’ Mahe Fonua, made me remember what an exciting player he is.
If you haven’t seen it have a look at the video below, for it certainly whets my appetite for next season!!
Then there was Manu Mau’s goodbye at Parramatta last week (in a game where in the first 20 minutes he must have made three tackles in every set). The man is a machine and a bloody hard one too. There will be no messing with him next season and what I like most about ‘The Tongan Terminator’ is that he is a traditional second rower who spends most of his time out wide with his centre and winger, so when he gets the ball, he’s flying and can run and pass really well; and what’s more when it comes to the grind, well, you wouldn’t want to upset him believe me.
We all certainly expected the announcement of Josh Jones’s inclusion in the Dream team, he’s really gone well with Salford and is a forward that just about every coach that they have play against has something good to say about. But, he has turned out to be an amazing signing and a player that we have been talking to since last season at this time. He was great again on Friday.
Even our next (and likely last) reported signing Joe Cator is nominated for Young Player of the Year in the Championship.
Then there is the already arrived Tevita Satae, who has certainly impressed me so far and I am looking forward to seeing him after a full pre-season. How good it was to hear that he has decided to not play for Fiji after he was selected to play with them for their Autumn internationals. That’s the sort of commitment we want to hear as fans, for giving up on the chance to play for your country, as opposed to staying at your club to ensure you’re ready for the next campaign, is something else. I think it shows dedication and a real will to do well for his Club. He’s going to be a great signing for us and we should all be really pleased by his decision.
I’ve talked about Ratu already, yet even he is listed in the top six best signings to Super League in 2019. Plus, we’ve got three guys in the England Squad and two in the Knights roster, and that has all to be really encouraging for 2020. So I think that despite the painful stuff we have seen of late, it’s actually possible to start to get a bit excited about next year. There can be no excuses for punching under our weight next term can there?
We’ll certainly have the talent in the squad, it will just be a case of getting their heads right and devising a game plan that emphasises their skills and attributes, rather than stifles them!!! Lee has to do that, (or else), for the club’s owner has put faith in his plans for next season, spent a load of money and gone out and got everyone our Coach said he wanted. However, it’s not a bad start for next season is it? The new comers are now added to the rest of ‘his’ players already here for 2020, so now it’s down to him to get them rolling! That said, if this doesn’t work Lee probably knows that there could be issues!!
I don’t envy Lee that one, but you know if you read this regularly I’m not one for having a go at our, or any, Coach. It’s hard enough being a manager in any walk of life but the lot of the professional sports coach is not a happy or an easy one at all. Coaches are in an invidious position and it’s almost impossible for them to ‘win’ even when the club they coach are successful.
The ‘Radford Out’ brigade (who were previously the Agar Out and Gentle Out Brigade) bang on about us needing a new coach when times are hard, but when times are better, the players get the accolades and the coach is generally over looked. Players play a game a week, that is in essence just 80 minutes’ work, and if they lose they have to put it behind them quickly and move on for the next match, so they keep their heads down, train hard and refocus, for the relentless, rolling phycology of it all demands it!
However, when times are hard a coach bears the brunt of it all almost 24/7. He’s the regular ‘face’ for the media and usually can’t win. In addition he’s the go to outlet for the groaners and moaners, because if a player plays badly one week, it is soon forgotten the next when he improves, but if both those games are lost by the team, the coach still gets it!
It’s a lonely job, or it should be, because good coaches never, (in theory at least), get too close to the players. If you appear to be doing that, folks like me bang on about it all being too cosy and at times at my club you know that’s how it’s looked to me. As always I say it as I see it, but that said it can’t be easy. Having an infinity with your staff is an often quoted management tool, but it’s hard for any manager in any walk of life to know how close you can get, whilst maintaining your authority. The line in the sand is there, but it’s blurred, simply because of both sides perception of where it actually is.
When you study the dynamics of sports teams, there is little doubt that one of the most important abilities of the successful coach is knowing the mental state of his wards and the realisation of when to withdraw the carrot and when to introduce the stick. I guess you need to be pretty aloof and above it all to do that!
As for the owners well, the Coach knows he is the final arbiter. The owner is the one who has to decide when to stick and when to twist as far as his Coach is concerned. It’s their money and they know that the manger is important, but it’s the players and winning you games that sell the tickets. Owners never really know whether a good performance would have unfolded without that manager, but it’s still a bloody big risk to take, to find out.
So the dynamic across the none playing side of the Club is always a strange one, it’s balanced and structured but in the end it’s the owner that pays the piper and so it is he that has to make the difficult decisions. However, I have got to say that I don’t envy any Coach’s position, because they are the meat in the sandwich and on many occasions they simply can’t win. That’s why in general I always try to cut them a bit of slack.
Now, who do you want to see join the happy band of Super League Clubs next season and who are you supporting in the Championship play-offs; and what’s more to the point, who do the Super League owners want promoting? Well that question can be answered when you look at the interesting case of our so called ‘worldwide ambitions’ to spread the game being possibly stymied already, even if Toronto win the right to come up.
Chief Executive of Super League Robert Elstone indicated this week that should Toronto be promoted then they would get none of the sky allocation and that instead their 12th share will be split between the other 11 super league clubs. That’s around £165,000 each, so you bet the clubs voted for that. You could hear the rubbing of hands from here and you can bet those other 11 owners will be Wolfpack fans for the rest of the season won’t they?
Is that fair, well it gets better because in addition if they come up The Wolfpack are also expected to pay all the other clubs travelling expenses as well, which is a bit unfair when the others are getting all that extra dosh anyway.
My guess is Toronto will negotiate their own TV deal for home games, which might be greater than the Super League ‘cut’ anyway; and that’ll teach em!!! And, if they do come up, I also think that once promoted they will invest heavily in players and won’t, like other clubs, get relegated straight away at the end of next season, so the other 11 cubs will be happy to share the extra cash, long term. We must at times look a bit of toy town game to those on the outside looking in mustn’t we?
The official line is that they will only be allowed in if, ‘they meet the required criteria’ but my guess is that’s code for, if they get a North America TV deal they will be in and if they don’t they won’t ‘unfortunately’ make the criteria and London will be back. Sometimes, Baldrics Cunning Little Plans had more credibility that those of our lot!
So back to the Coaches under pressure bit and I guess that there is little doubt that over the years we have seen Coaches come and go and although there have been some notably successful ones like Brian Smith and Shaun McRae who have left at the height of their popularity, most including Arthur Bunting, Johnny Whiteley, Peter Gentle and Roy Francis have at one time or another found themselves having to depart the Club after a poor run of performances.
Look at our current situation, some would feel that Lee Radford is under pressure whilst other might just be wishing he was! Such is the lot of the sports Coach. However, that got me thinking of other Coaches who have been on the brink, and yet survived to fight another day. This week in Codgers Corner I want to take you back to one such instance which occurred at a time of intrigue, board room drama and a defeat at McLaren Field Bramley on a cold Sunday afternoon. It was a game too that I probably remember best for one of the worst refereeing displays I have ever seen. It was by a second grade referee at the time Mr. A. W. Allen. (no relation I’ll add!!!)
Back in February 1976, things were not all well behind the scenes at the Boulevard with a new board headed by Charlie Watson in place and starting to flex its muscles. This Board was of course to oversee that great resurgence in the final years of the decade and the fabulous times of the early 80’s, but back then they were still new a bit green and a tad naïve, particularly when it came to stopping what appeared to be a constant stream of leaks from inside the Boardroom.
Dick Tingle at the Mail was having a field day, as the latest story to sweep the west of the City was about our administration being unhappy with Coach David Doyle Davidson and looking to replace him with Prop Bill Ramsey. All this just three weeks after DDD had been the toast of the RL, as coach of the first Second Division team to reach the John Player Trophy final, where we were narrowly defeated by Widnes. But three weeks was a long time in the intriguing morass that was club politics back then, and this particular week it had emerged that there was also some unrest in the dressing rooms.
That week we were all heading off to McLaren Field Bramley and as we all looked forward to a few pre-game pints in the Barley Mow pub, these rumours were all the talk on the bus journey to West Leeds. It was said by the Mail that Ramsey had been promised the job after he turned down the chance to coach at Rochdale. Watson then stated that nothing was confirmed as far coaching was concerned, although there were some off the field issues to sort out at the following Tuesday’s board meeting.
These, we fan’s speculated, probably involved the fact that Malcolm Walker had refused to be named as substitute for that game at Bramley, following him being dropped the previous week along with recognized goal kicker Keith Boxall. This action by DDD had meant that we had played Saints at home in the cup without a recognized goal kicker which led to some criticism, when we narrowly lost 5-3.
So all was not well, as we tumbled out of the coach and entered the ‘new build’ Barley Mow pub which having dozens of pictures of player’s teams and action old and new festooned all over the walls, was a shrine to the Bramley club. It had been built to replace the old hostelry of the same name that had once accommodated the changing rooms for the clubs Barley Mow Ground which had been sited next door to McLaren Field. This strange arrangement had come about as the Brewery who owned the ground gave Bramley notice to quit in 1964 because they needed the arena for a car park. This luckily coincided with the death of a Mrs. McLaren who owned the field behind the then best stand, and who in her will donated that piece of land to the club. So Bramley moved next door and built a nice little ground with a new all seater stand and open terracing over most of the rest of the perimeter. Bramley, were an improving side but still one that we should have beaten.
We put on a brave fight against the odds, the biggest of which was said Mr. Allen the referee. I remember his worst error came just 4 minutes before the interval when Brian Hancock kicked over the advancing Bramley defence and as he ran through to collect the kick, he was flattened by a fore arm smash from Steve Naylor. This was a blatant a foul which left Hancock rolling on the floor clutching his neck in agony. Mr Allen however waived play on and didn’t even give a penalty.
With this, fiery FC prop Alan Wardell who had clearly had enough, went after Naylor and caught up with him seconds before half time when he flooring him with a tremendous right hook (an action I saw him repeat a time or two when he worked on security at the Hull City Hall); of course Alan was then sent off! He was a great bloke and a real blood and thunder forward, so it a blow because just ten minutes earlier we had lost our other prop Bill Ramsey with torn ankle and knee ligaments.
However, I’m getting in front of myself. The game had started in the freezing cold conditions with both teams trying to play some expansive rugby. In their first attack Bramley dropped a goal and then Duke was penalised for striking early and Hay kicked a penalty. It was hard for the FC as we were without Chris Davidson who was handy in these sorts of games, were flair ups were regular, but he had withdrawn because of work commitments, however although the referee completely ignored the often illegal attention we were getting the FC still battled on regardless. Boxall crossed for a perfect try, running onto a short ball from Hancock, but referee Allen said he had bounced it, which as it was right in front of us, I can tell you he certainly hadn’t.
Next Allen awarded a penalty to Bramley, again under the posts and, although the inferior team, they were 5-0 up. Straight from the kick off Hull stormed back and Bill Ramsey sent Boxall in, this time for the try to be awarded and he converted his own touchdown to level the score. Shortly after this a clearly distressed Ramsey went off and in the next passage of play two fine touch finding kicks by Foulkes saw us down on the Bramley line where Steve Portz was held inches short. After 29 minutes we were ahead though, when Hancock shot between Naylor and Hay to score near the posts, but Boxall missed a relatively simple conversion, leaving us with a slender 3 point lead. Just before half time, after Wardell had been sent for that early bath, Bramley clawed two points back from the resultant penalty and we went in just one point ahead at 8-7.
With a reshuffled pack we dominated the start of the second half as the snowflakes started to blow across the ground. Then on a breakaway, against the run of play, the hosts second row Johnson scored before converting his own try. Trailing 12-8 and still the butt of some terrible refereeing decisions, we hit back again. This time Foulkes received the ball at first man wriggled through the first tackle, and then set off on an arcing run towards the corner. George Clarke came back inside him and took a wonderful reverse pass to gallop in untouched and with a great Boxall conversion from wide out into the now driving snow; we were a point ahead at 13-12. Of course Mr. Allen was to have the final say and we were beaten by a penalty two minutes from the end.
Under our own posts a Bramley player was held up by Crane and Hunter in a crunching tackle and as Mick Crane retreated he said something to the opposing player, who threw the ball back at him. The ball hit Crane on the head, and immediately Mr. Allen blew his whistle and penalised Hull for what he said afterwards, was stealing the ball. Hay made no mistake and shortly afterwards, the official blew the final whistle and we had lost 14-13. Mr. Allen was then led from the field with a Police escort never to return to first grade refereeing that year. It was a hard result to take, in that it was so unfair because our patched up pack had played magnificently and had we received a bit of ‘even handedness’ from the referee, we would no undoubtedly won.
In the mean-time David Doyle Davidson, ’Quite Rightly’ survived the ‘Night of the long Knives’ at the Board meeting the following Tuesday, Bill Ramsey quit the club and the Doyle continued as Coach, although he was replaced in the new year by Arthur Bunting and the rest as they say is history. Great Memories even when you lose eh? But Referee’s? They are certainly one thing that hasn’t changed much over the years!
So that’s just about it for now and for reasons I explained last week, the Diary is now going bi-weekly until next season and for forthcoming weeks it will be out on or around the following dates.
Monday 7th October
Monday 21st October
Monday 4th November
Monday 18th November
Monday 2nd December
Monday 6th January
Then we are back to weekly, for 2020.
It’s been a bit of a poor season but we can only look forward with the one thing we all possess as fans Hope!! It’s been great to hear from you all over the weeks and thanks for all the contributions, criticism, encouragement and friendship its all really appreciated. It’s hard for me to really put into words how great it is to have your support and I hope you’ll all stick with the Diary in the closed season; I’ll try and find something interesting to keep us all amused. So the next edition will be with you on Monday 7th October; enjoy the rest!!!!