The Dentist’s Diary – 652nd

Rugby League news: Sean O’Loughlin’s replacement, Hull KR’s Toronto trip, Warrington Wolves star has bike stolen!!

Not much happening at present? Well perhaps Warrington Wolves star has bike stolen at the head of a piece including all the happens in one day in Rugby League, says it all really!! That and of course a discussion on the FC player’s shoes sizes is about all we have had to talk about really. Have you seen anyone who wears size 17 rugby boots?

So, once again, it has been a quiet couple of weeks, when it seems to have done nothing but rain incessantly and with little news coming out of the club, even season ticket sales seem to have slowed a bit. Still Mahe’s arrived to great welcoming from everyone and the squad is slowly taking shape again, but I for one can’t wait now to get some action under our belts and to see some games again, because for this fan it seems to have been such a long closed season already!!

The arrival on these shores of Fonua is a massive plus for the Club and within hours of landing he is already leading from the front on boosting team spirit and morale, as his arrival sees the return of one of those renowned ‘band of brothers’ of 2016 and 2017. As such a big character he really is a key addition to the dynamic of the club and his smiling face had everyone buzzing last Monday at training. Met by a welcome banner from the fans draped on the fence at County Road and over 400 messages on social media in just one morning, Mahe was reported to be in great shape too, despite not having played a competitive game since last July. He is certainly a charismatic character and if you talk to the players you realise that they really do respect and indeed like the guy. In addition, it will be interesting to step up again and see what different leadership skills Manu Ma’u brings when he arrives in the middle of December, won’t it! That is another arrival that the Club will hype up and quite rightly so in my opinion, for he is a big name in the NRL and our signing him certainly raised a few eyebrows over there.

Almost as an after-thought, we were informed that Mahe was joined back at training on Monday by Chris Satae, although we are still missing his former New Zealand Warriors teammate and best friend Ligi Sao, who we are told should be at the club around the time this Diary is published. He will travel to the United Kingdom as soon as his paperwork has been processed and that is expected to be this week, but it does seem, (with Satae having to travel to Holland to get his sorted), that we are having some minor issues getting all the necessary legal stuff sorted on schedule doesn’t it? Chris and Mahe arrived a week after they were expected. Sao will be two weeks behind if he arrives in the next few days and so it’s to be hoped ‘The Tongan Terminator’ will be here when he is expected.

I have always said that I will only be happy when he has arrived, for he has the sort of history which in the past has seen some clubs struggle to get players over here. The Club assure us all that everything is sorted, but for me the sooner he gets here the better. Once that is finalised then it just leaves two current Great Britain internationals Jake Connor, (who will benefit more than anyone from the break he is now having) and Josh Jones to come in around mid-December. 

So, it’s all building nicely, although I’m told that pre-season training has been really tough and already a few players are carrying knocks, so much so that the whole squad has been given extra time off this week and treated to a bit of Go karting in the way of team building. I guess the validity of such an intense approach will only be judged by who is match honed and healthy for the start of the Super League campaign. That said, I believe that even the pessimists out there have to agree that when you actually step back and look at our player group for 2020, we have a fantastic roster at our disposal and that, if nothing else, is going to make things very interesting. 

Particularly interesting I would say, if we really go well. However, on the other hand if a team that is so, so good on paper can’t hack it on the field, (because despite many other Super League Clubs having built well, I really believe we have the necessary class and ability this year), it might just have long lasting ramifications too. We have improved quality no end whilst still retained some depth as well and to do all that without using the Marque signing rule is to be admired. However, at the FC over the last couple of decades we have always been adept at not getting the best out of a potentially good squad, or falling apart through injuries or lack of mental tenacity, so whatever the eventual outcome, its going to be an absorbing, fascinating and perhaps even dramatic 2020. 

This time around for me there can be no excuses. That said, I guess that whatever the end product is in the upcoming season and whether we under achieve, over achieve, or just plain achieve, the investment we have all made in our passes, will, I’m sure this year, be real value for money! Its intriguing stuff really and I can honestly say if you haven’t got a pass, perhaps this year you should get one! No doubt this Diary in 2020 will be the usual roller coaster ride of emotions as fixture follows fixture. 

The announcement of two of our pre-season Friendly fixtures in January against Halifax on 5th and Batley on 19th January (Both Sundays) came with the caveat that there could be two more to be announced and hopefully they will be against Super League opposition. Of course these fixtures are a necessary evil and a real ‘Curates egg’ in the process of preparing for a new season. They have their good points and their bad ones, particularly when you balance match practise, cohesion and real game conditions with potential knocks. 

So it’s a balance between real time match conditions versus the risk of getting injuries, plus the dangers of cramming too many games in before a season that is again going to go on and on!!!  However, it looks like for us lot at the FC there will be no traditional January trip to Donny this year!! That game was always a favourite with me and I know a bit of a post-Christmas highlight for a lot of my pals, as we all blew away the cobwebs, got together again on the terraces and usually froze to death at the Keepmoat. One things for sure it has always been a fixture that prompted me to think that Christmas was well and truly out of the way and that at last the season was in sight. Halifax is a great place to watch Rugby League though and it seems years since we went there, whilst I haven’t been to Batley since that pre-season game ages ago, when Danny Houghton made his debut!! They’ll both be good fun, but I guess I’ll miss my trip to Donny!  

However, I suspect that the way that Richard Horne left and the cessation of our duel registration deal with the South Yorkshire Club sees us making a clean break and moving on. But, good luck to Horney for it will certainly be interesting to see how they and several other Championship and Division One Clubs, who following the introduction of the Reserves League no longer have duel registration deals in place, go in their respective competitions and if the quality suffers at all. 

Another aside that interested me a bit in a quiet week was to see a thought provoking discussion going on in the media last Wednesday between the Mails FC reporter and Lee Radford concerning leaders at the club. It featured Lee’s hope that some of the more senior players would stand up and be counted as far as leading from the front is concerned. However, for me personally, after countless years of manging staff at work, it became apparent that leaders of people are usually born, rather than succeeding when leadership is thrust upon them. I have experienced some academics who were so qualified for the task in hand they left everyone behind, but they couldn’t lead a queue at Morissons. Some occasionally grow into the role, but an ability to direct from the front is usually pretty recognisable from an early point in anyone’s career curve, qualified or not. 

Leaders need to gain respect from their fellow workers, I agree, so an element of seniority and maturity is needed, but usually they control things through setting an example and most importantly inspire those around them by translating their actions into words and being able to animate those around them in a controlled and reasonable way. 

The article about the FC cited Tumavive as a potential candidate to step up, but anyone who has met Carlos knows that he is a really quiet bloke, yet one who goes about his business in a great way and sets a great example on the field. That said its very possible that he is never going to be loud or vociferous because it’s simply not in his nature. 

Some players that we have had at the Club have shown leadership qualities from an early age, born leaders if you like, whilst others have had leadership foisted on them, but often failed to meet that challenge. More often than not players have been sort out and brought in for their skills in this department, in recent times Berrigan, Fitzgibbon, Ellis, Fonua, Pritchard, Taylor and Minichiello immediately spring to mind there. All great players but all great leaders too. They all brought skill but looked and acted like senior players and led from the front on the field and the training ground from the off. So having lost three or four that fit that mould recently, we have to hope that retaining Ellis to go around again, with Houghton setting the example and then encouraging Sneyd to take a bigger role, plus bringing Ma’u, Fonua and possibly Jones in, will add to the leadership group at the club and inspire those around them to greater things; just as those that have left, did in the past.   

Now, although the fans are still grabbing season tickets and looking to set a new record in that department, whether it’s ‘Just Hull’ or Brexit or indeed something else, it still appears to me that it’s getting harder and harder to get business interested in getting behind Rugby League in our City. I see this week that the FC have been appealing for sponsors for individual players right across the roster, a situation that would say 6 or 7 years ago have been unprecedented. One or two Fringe players would still be available but by and large it would have by now have been all sorted. 

That’s a worry, but a situation that is endemic across the game both at team and Competition level. However, when as a Club, players such as Mahe Fonua and Gareth Ellis are still looking for sponsors, it has to be a worry and something that obviously bothers our owner, as he has alluded to it on several occasions over the past couple of years. 

Adam has talked on various occasions about the difficulty of getting big business interested in shirt sponsorship etc. and in getting anyone involved in buying into the Club, although now it appears that it is something that is happening in all levels of sponsorship and indeed right across the game. Yes, the current economic uncertainty in the country has an effect on such things but whether we as fans like it or not, Rugby League is just not ‘sexy’ in the eyes of business anymore. That is something that has to be addressed not just by the clubs in their communities, but by the very top of the game as well, because somehow we have to get what is a wonderful spectacle seen as a main stream sport that offers exposure and opportunities for all levels of business. 

I’m always trying to help my Club as we all are, and recently I spoke to a senior business person in the City of Hull, who I have known for years and I posed the question as to why she didn’t get her company involved in Hull FC. She said that the profile of the sport on the national stage was not good enough and locally the opportunities the two clubs offered, in an ever squeezed marketplace, didn’t reach enough people to make it viable. In other words, these days Rugby League doesn’t get the blanket media exposure business needs. Furthermore, she said, business sponsorship is also linked to an opportunity to thank you customers and get them along to games for some hospitality. 

On that front, she added, the actual spectacle of the sport was first class and in her opinion the ‘rough, tumble and skill on show’ (her words not mine) was far better entertainment wise, than football, but you ‘never know when the games were going to be played, match days vary and games were switched by TV at short notice’. She added that such a situation was no good at all as far as business planning was concerned. Interesting that, I thought and an insight into how the game itself is not making things favourable for business support and certainly not getting the media exposure it deserves. 

On that tack I see that it has been stated this week that Sky Sports may not show any live Championship action in 2020 at all, with plans in place to make coverage on the Our League app more regular. Now I’m all for finding new ways of getting the game out there and the internet is certainly an untapped medium on that score; but you do it in tandem with mainstream media and not at the expense of traditional TV coverage. We need as much live media exposure as possible. I watched what Championship Rugby was on last year and really enjoyed it, so with Sky holding all the Championship TV rights this time around it’s pretty appalling that our administration is overseeing a situation where they hold all the cards, but refuse to show games. Much of the live championship rugby we got last year was down to Toronto Wolfpack who covered the costs of all their televised games last season, but they have now been promoted and the Championship looks to be cut adrift completely as far as TV is concerned. Again the RFL should be moving heaven and earth to get this sorted with Sky, but at present they don’t seem capable of shifting things forward. 

With both the issue of attracting sponsors and business support and that of getting more TV coverage for the game, it makes me concluded that perhaps the powers that be at Red Hall, should be looking at the whole image and profile of the sport on the national sporting scene. We should be making that our first priority, rather than ‘fiddling about’ propping up lame duck teams and lost causes and getting involved in internal wrangles and the politics of it all; as is the case with all the current subterfuge surrounding The Bulls!!!!

Talking of the RFL, last week we heard that Golden Point Extra Time will be available in all Betfred Championship and League 1 fixtures from next season, but it’s been introduced with an interesting addendum to the system currently used by Super League. In the two lower competitions when a game is level at the sounding of the final hooter, each team will take one point for earning a draw, with a third competition point then made available to the first team to score in two five-minute periods of extra time. For me that really is an excellent idea and one that rewards two teams who have battled hard throughout a game with a point whilst giving added value to the one that wins in golden point. I see that the NRL are seriously thinking of adopting a method that rewards a team for a draw before extra time is played as well, which I think is perhaps a lot fairer than the sudden death aspect of it all as we see in Super league, so, I hope that we adopt it too. The Golden Point will be available for the first time in the Betfred Championship, on the weekend of January 31 – February 2.

When we saw the headline, ‘New Super League Rule Change’ last Monday I thought it heralded the news that we had indeed adopted the Championship’s plan as well, but instead it was just another effort to speed up the game a bit, with them deciding to amend the shot clock rule by reducing the time players have to form a scrum or take a drop out. Following the introduction of this last year, the average game time in 2019 fell by more than five per cent from 95 minutes 59 seconds in 2018 to 90 minutes 47 seconds, that’s a reduction of over five minutes and often televised games seemed to finish noticeably earlier. Other statistics were announced to highlight the benefit of the change but the RFL got all their figures wrong and had to amend them, so we’ll move on! 

Anyway from 2020 teams will now have 30 seconds to restart the match from a scrum, and 25 seconds to take a drop-out, a reduction of five seconds in both instances. I guess it’s just tinkering around the edges of time wasting, but I liked the new rules when they were introduced last year, but did feel that there was still a bit of hanging around going on in both cases, so I guess it’s OK. Now we need to tighten up on players feigning injury and thus delaying restarts that way! The new and tighter Shot Clock restrictions will also operate outside Super League in the Championship and the Challenge Cup, while referees will continue to manage time-keeping in League 1. 

You all know that when Woods departed the RFL with a wheelbarrow full of money, I wasn’t happy about ‘company man’ Ralph Rimmer taking over at all and I’ve seen precious little since that has made me change my mind. As a bog standard fan of my team and the game, its still impossible really to not have an opinion on such things as the way that the governing body handle some issues as those I’ve covered above just beggar’s belief at times. 

Not satisfied at fiddling around and delaying any sort of decision making after that shocking GB tour, this week we heard how Ralph has now rejected calls for an independent investigation into the Rugby Football League’s handling of the Bradford Bulls saga, claiming it “could paralyse the sport completely”. No! What could paralyse the sport Ralph is the alienation of thousands of fans because of the lack of any sort of transparency, at the very top of the sport we all love. 

Fans love a conspiracy theory and although those at the RFL might laugh at that remark, unfortunately such rumour mill based conjecture and supposition only leads to unrest and frustration from the paying public. All we ask is a bit of transparency but we never ever seem to get it. There have been widespread calls for a review of the governing body’s decision-making in regard to Bradford’s demise, following a recent takeover by a consortium involving the former RFL chief and his family. You will remember I’m sure that Woods was chief executive of the RFL when the decision was made to acquire the lease of Odsal Stadium for £1.25 million in December 2011, thus in effect saving the Bulls and when previous owner Andrew Chalmers was chosen above two rival bidders to re-establish a club in Bradford following the team’s liquidation in January 2017. 

Concerns have been raised across the game about a potential conflicts of interest, but both new chairman Simon Johnson and now Rimmer have dismissed calls for an inquiry into the RFL board of directors’ handling of Bradford’s long-running saga of woe and misery, most of which has been borne by the long suffering Bradford fans. Rimmer who suceded Wood as Chief Executive in January 2018, said: “You’ve got an independent board – that’s what they’re there for.  What’s point of having an independent inquiry into an independent board?” The point Ralph is transparency and putting the rumours and conjecture to bed. 

Let’s take, hypothetically, Rovers, when they have bought their ground, as an example. Does anyone reading this believe that if they were to fall on hard times and be on the brink of dissolving as a company, and despite their loyal and voluminous support, the RL would bail them out and do it several times and even buy their ground off them, to give them some money to pay off their debts? No neither do I!!! To many people on the message boards and in the letters columns of RL publications it all smells a bit and quite frankly with a track record like that of the RL you can see why! 

We now have a governing body that is by its own admission struggling for cash since the Super League break away, who also own a dilapidated, aging, empty and unused Stadium. That in itself is a worry but at least as far as Bradford was concerned there was a chance here to bring everything out into the open and scotch the rumours of jiggery-pokery once and for all, but an investigation has been refused and so the speculation and mistrust continues.   

Asked whether Wood’s past role with the RFL and current position as chief executive of International Rugby League (IRL) represented any conflict of interests with his role at Bradford, Rimmer said: “Nigel was more than entitled to be involved in a club going forward, and he has done so”. I guess what many are assuming is that some of the money Woods has invested in the Club comes directly from his pay off at the RFL. However, to many, many fans who really do care about the game, the shenanigans at Bradford pose more questions than they do answers and as such once again the credibility of the governing body has been eroded a bit further. What a shambles they are at times. 

Of course the one set of people who could do something are the owners of the other Championship and Division One Clubs. Remember them they are the ones who are verbose whenever a restructure threatens their cut of the TV money or the independence of Super League are mentioned. It would however appear that as a collective, they’ve been struck dumb when it comes to Bradford. There’s been nothing more than a peep out of any of them, other than from ‘stick your nose in’ Gary Hetherington, who is anyway a known ally of Nigel Wood and all he did was actually support his role at the Bulls. 

The rest of them chunter away behind closed doors but in public distanced themselves from the matter, while the Bradford fans have been chastising the media and the local press for not finding more out about what is going on. Some fans have tried to protest, got together and demanded answers, but when has the views of the public and a need to be open and accessible had any sort of resonance with the RFL? The harsh reality is that the Bulls supporter’s opinions will have no influence in forcing the RFL into an independent inquiry, the governing body’s feeble attempt to silence those calls last week, as outlined above, was proof of that.

Of course in the end it’s those fans of Bradford that you have to feel for as they are now playing outside of that great Northern City, down the road where they are sharing with once less illustrious neighbours Dewsbury, their team has been plundered by other Clubs and all their hard work in developing a group of promising youngsters cast to the four winds. If it were us of course, just as they are, we would all be backing our club and getting behind the team wherever they were playing, indeed where we unhappy with what was happening to the club at board level we would be doing our best to sort that as well. Such Clubs as the Bulls are well supported and a RL institution in the minds of their followers their families and the communities they serve. But, however loyal the Bulls fans are, there must only be so much silence, intrigue and lack of transparency that they can take before, suffering from years of frustration and ‘battle fatigued’, they throw the towel in. Tough times for Coach John Kear and the players as a whole, but awful times for their supporters.  

This week in the Codgers Corner spot, I want to go back to Sunday 25th October 1981 and a memorable trip we made to Lancashire to Central Park the home of Wigan. Even the great Hull sides from way back in the 50’s, faltered there, and in fact that day it was exactly 59 years and 30 meetings since we had got a victory. Back in 1922 had been our last success and so as we made our way over the Pennines, firstly to Poole’s Pies after which the Lancashire club was affectionately named, and then for a few pre drinks in ‘The Park’ with it large framed pictures of famous Wigan teams and matches from years gone by. We were hardly optimistic. 

Once at the ground we took up a position on the Kop, at the end covered as it was, with an old corrugated tin roof that rang out when the rain came down. Thankfully the weather stayed fine but the pitch was really heavy and in the first ten minutes we struggled to get going with our speedy backs getting consistently bogged down in the mud. 

You could see it was frustrating for our players and Wigan’s front row of Hodkinson, Kiss and Trundle constantly ‘niggled’ in the tackle and held our players down. Steve Norton seemed to be the only FC player that could make any progress in those early exchanges but on 16 minutes his enterprise could have so easily have seen him sent off as Pendlebury butted him in the face and Knocker, with blood streaming from his cheek, retaliated with a flourish of punches. Back then the officials were more sensible than these days and Mr Fox realising what the Wigan player had done, awarded us a penalty which Crooks stroked over the posts to give us a 2-0 lead. For the next few exchanges Norton was obviously unsettled and chased the Wigan pack like a man possessed, but slowly he cooled down and went on to play a starring role.

Hodkinson was caught off-side after 21 minutes and again Crooks added the two points and we were on our way. Tony Dean despite playing with a leg injury was having a great game and it was he who increased our lead 9 minutes later with a drop goal from 30 yards out. We should have increased our lead on 36 minutes too, as Norton and Crane worked a wonderful opening for Stone who dummied before releasing Lee Crooks to charge through and score under the sticks only for the referee to call him back for a forward pass. As the half time hooter went we led 5-0.

Wigan came out fired up, no doubt from a half time ‘wigging’ from their Coach and from the off smothered us in the tackle, often standing about a yard offside at the play the ball. In the end Referee Fox had obviously had enough as he penalised Gary Stephens as he ran into our line before the ball had the left acting half backs hands and Crooks again added the two points. At 7-0 we all started to believe that perhaps we were about to see a bit of history made that afternoon, under leadened Lancashire skies.  Back came Wigan with a string of harsh penalties against us and after surviving 26 tackles in our own 25 yard area, at last the valiant Hull defence cracked. Although Walters and O’Hara seemed to have him covered Henderson Gill somehow sneaked in at the corner, and three minutes later Walsh kicked a penalty after Wileman had been caught stealing the ball, and the home team were just two points behind.

However, any prospect of a Wigan rally came to a grinding halt in the 70th minute. Given a half chance when Crane and Crooks had combined, Leuluai, who was playing at off-half that day, shot through a gap and into open field. He brilliantly ran around the home team’s full back Birts beating him completely for speed, before he veered left and dived in near the posts. It was a brilliant try from James and capped a fine performance from the player who was usually a centre. In his uncustomary position he had certainly worked hard to get the line going and pulled off several massive tackles when we had to defend.

Once Leuluai had scored, the game suddenly opened up. Mick Crane who was once again proving to be ‘Master of the Unexpected’ chipped towards touch, the ball bounced off a defender and straight into the arms of Paul Prendiville. Faced with three would be Wigan tacklers in front of him ‘Taffy’ grubber kicked the ball ahead and down the wing channel, before steaming past the turning defenders, re-gathering the ball to win the race for the touch-down. Prendiville wasn’t finished yet either as he broke from the kick off and made 50 yards down field for the ball to cross the line and Walters to feed Dane O’Hara who scored his first try for the club, (this after having been out for 4 weeks with the collapsed lung he suffered on his debut at the Boulevard). Mr Fox didn’t even bother to restart the game and as his final whistle went the 1,500 Hull supporters in the gate of 6,785, danced and sang on the terraces to celebrate a fine win and the end of an unwanted record. The otherwise empty Central Park rang to the chorus’ of Old Faithful and you know what? I just wish that I could go back to those days sometimes don’t you?

So, as you probably deduced from what I said earlier I have spent quite a lot of time in this quiet spell for the fan, having a long look at our playing staff for the next campaign.is year. That soon made me come to the conclusion that on the ‘paper’ side of things we have the best group of players we have probably had at the club for at least a decade. 2016 was good a great team but pound for pound this one is I think potentially better and our depth is of better quality. That’s the ‘on paper’ side of things, but of course the tactics we use, the players we pick the structures we adopt and indeed the luck we have with injuries, suspensions etc. will all, as usual, play a part. But, as I said earlier, I did conclude that our passes this year might just be a very good investment indeed. I’m really looking forward to us getting going now aren’t you?  

I’m sorry I have found it tough to find much to talk about this week and I’m glad (with the way that things have panned out) that I decided on fortnightly editions of this drivel during the Autumn with now just one left before Christmas. As always, many of you have been in touch and its pretty apparent that however much we deny it, we are all starting to get just a tad twitchy about getting going and a little excited for the future too. After the way the last two seasons have ended, that has to be good news. Sponsors and business may be dragging their heels, the RFL may be in turmoil and the International team in chaos, but one things certain, it hasn’t effected the FC supporters. They have subscribed again in great numbers and vindicated Adams belief that we needed to splash the cash a bit and bring in some new blood of real quality. We’ve responded to our owners actions and done our bit ….again and there is little doubt that, as you look at how everyone else is doing with advanced sales, the vast majority of Super League clubs can only dream of such support. Thanks as always for all the correspondence kind words and view that you have sent me and for sticking with another Diary which at best might have just kept you interested, but I doubt it!! Let’s hope there is more to report on, when the next edition is out around the 15th December! In the mean time ……

Keep Believing

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf