The Dentist’s Diary – 658th

A Bit of a Reality Check??

I think so don’t you??

For 40 minutes we scrapped and scrapped and despite showing little idea of how to break down the Champions and constantly shooting ourselves in the foot, amazingly we went in 6-2 up. We had injuries, but both teams had players out and so there can be no excuses, we did it tough in the first half before in the second they drained us and were allowed to score 4 tries on the bounce, without us even touching the ball. 

The game swung on a couple of stupid mistakes from which the visitors scored and from then on they never looked back. Their speed and shape simply blew us away, in a game when I guess looking back, we were generally second best. Worrying injuries and a possible appearance at the Disciplinary Committee followed and even more concerning was the apparent lack of any sort of leadership on the field once the wheels came off. 

In hindsight, I guess that losing by 14, to the benchmark team in the league, isn’t, on face value, that bad, but we just couldn’t handle the Champions who were I thought, off it a bitthemselves as well. After that Leeds game, when everyone knew their jobs and penalties were kept to a minimum, poor discipline and disorganisation is creeping back into our game again. 

It’s going to be a long old week ahead and no doubting the fact that already it’s going to be a big ask at Wigan!!

When I got back after an over-night stay in Manchester on Friday morning and saw our squad for the game against Saints, it was certainly more depleted that I expected and I have to admit that already I feared the worst. Indeed, I think most of us approached the game with a few concerns. The loss of Andre Savelio was a big blow, although I was relieved to hear that it was ‘just a knock’ and nothing to do with his old injury because he, along with Satae, have been for me two of the form players of the first two matches and to lose both before we faced the Champions was, to say the least, a bit worrying. If ever a guy deserves a run without major injury it’s Andre. 

The set-back for Faraimo and the loss of Ma’u both before the second game certainly saw us, against Rovers, operating with a pack lacking a bit of punch forward wise. The return of Ellis is always heartening to see, for he brings tons of inspiration and not a little grunt down the middle, none the less, our in-form backs must have been wondering a bit how they were to operate behind what was a pack missing 3 first choice forwards and losing another before the game began. 

It was certainly looking to be a big ask and the weather wasn’t helping either. All that and then having to face the Champions, smarting as they were from a nilling last week, was, even before a ball was kicked in anger, a bit concerning for this fan. 

Still after all the doom and gloom about that weather, at least it looked by Sunday lunchtime that perhaps, in this part of the world at least, we were the lucky ones and that the game would go ahead. Having watched it being constructed in 2001 I don’t think the pitch at the KCom is ever in doubt myself, but it’s the surrounding areas that are a worry, particularly the Walton Street Car Park. However, as we set off for the game the heavens opened and driving there it was as if someone was throwing buckets of water at the car, yet when we took our seat three quarters of an hour later, we were complaining that the sun was in our eyes!!! All pretty incredulous really!! 

There was a surprisingly good turnout too. Last week theatmosphere against the Dobbins and the fans backing when the chips were down was certainly impressive and it had clearly struck home with our owner and the TV people when Adam said this week, “It was great to hear the Sky commentary team so positive about the whole Derby night experience and I felt the game was impressively showcased live and on the screen. Without this exposure and the financial backing provided by Sky then the sport would definitely regress away from the excellent product we now have”.

With viewing figures massively up for all Sky games thus far we are certainly enthusing the fans and driving the game upwards towards the next TV deal. That is something that was, I think, reflected again yesterday. However, this week we needed to try to at least continue where we left off against The Dobbins and make a show of things. 

However, it was tough from the off as we lost another of our big forwards in Bowden, during the warm-up. That was a blow and in the first quarter we had to stem some stern efforts from the Saints as they laid siege to our line whilst we squandered what few chances we got with poor handing and dumb plays. But we grew into the game and were actually 6-2 up at half time with our courage and tenacity receiving a standing ovation from the 12,500 fans in attendance; whilst I for one couldn’t quite work out how we were actually in front. 

Ellis had been imperious, playing every minute of the half and really taking things to the big Saints forwards he was the stand out player on the field. He was ably assisted, in that first half, by Taylor and Sao but we couldn’t get on top in ‘the arm wrestle’ and so the half backs had only scraps to work with and it showed. 

Saint discovered early on that they could get away with standing off-side and they did it all the time, and once again for both sets of fans the refereeing was at times just plain baffling. The Hull try when it came was a real ‘Billy Smarts’affair with a high kick being knocked down by Saints for the ball to bounce around as players missed it, overran it and tried to get hold of it, before it bounced clear for Carlos to touch it down unopposed. 

The fact is we looked pretty dumb with the ball in that first half, although in fairness to everyone on the field at least we showed bravery, fight and passion in the tackle. Saints dominated field position in the first quarter whilst we played most of the second in their half, without getting much joy. You sort of got the impression that things were ‘bubbling under’ and indeed we saw a few flair ups between players as the game wore on. 

All we now had to do to get a result was to hold the Saint’s for the first 15/20 minutes of the second period and I think we could have battled it out for a win. However, it was not to be,because once Saints squeezed in at the corner we couldn’t get the ball back for 30 odd tackles, during which we gave away a couple of stupid penalties and by the end of that spell it was 24-6 and the game was gone. Their speed and shape in such situations is superb and so that first set after you have conceded, is critical; you have to break their dominance and momentum. However, we laid off in the tackle as they twice marched us down field from the kick off and twice they scored. 

We were done, you could see that, because the players knew we just couldn’t get back into it. Saints got to us, they showed a ruthless streak, they saw their chance, took it and then toughed it out for the rest of the game. We just argued with the referee and gave away stupid penalties through petulance in the tackle. To see Swift play the ball with not a player within ten yards of him near the end, is simply unforgiveable.

The game was gone, because there was no way, had we played until midnight, that we could manufacture the scores needed to catch up. Ellis had led by example in a brilliant first half but in the second half when he had left the field, our Captain seemed incapable of raising the team at all. In fact,we rallied a bit when Johnson came on to speed up the play the ball, but although some respectability was added to the score with Shaul’s late try, it was totally academic, for the game had been won by the visitors twenty minutes earlier. 

What’s more, it took a great bit of play by Fonua, (who still doesn’t look fit to me) where he sucked three players in before releasing the ball to get Tumavive away, for us to score our first second half points. It was a fine try, full of tenacity and wanting but Carlos ended up injured, after scoring it. Could we come back? No, for instead of upping our game we just got petulant and looking for excuse’s, argued incessantly with the referee, whilst Connor, once the chips were down,just got ‘arcey’ with everyone, which perhaps reflected the worst side of his argumentative, goading self. In the end we were all pleased to hear the final hooter and get off home, on what was becoming a very cold and inhospitable February evening.

With four more injuries to Bowden, Houghton, Ratu and Carlos and the latter two already expected to be out for three weeks, things are already looking bleak for next weekend and yet as I said earlier, had we controlled the second half as we did the first, we might just have got an unlikely win. But too much of the old Hull crept back into things and a massive crowd for such a rough Sunday afternoon, were sent away scratching their heads and lamenting the conclusion to a really good start to the season. 

We were severely disrupted by injuries before and during the game but it was all too much like last season in that second half. Carlos and Ellis were class all afternoon, until the first was injured and Gareth had to go off totally exhausted. But otherwise few others warrant a mention really. It was a disappointing game all round really and one that we all hope will soon be looked back on as a blip. However, somehow I doubt it will unless we can get some players back. Sneyd tried hard as always, but he got a lot of poor ball and in all honestyalthough Marc put a few good kicks in, our ‘end of sets’ were generally poor and indeed, it’s hard to remember a good kickfrom Connor. All in all we weren’t savvy enough and we weren’t smart enough and Saints did a job on us. 

So, our first loss, at least 4 injuries and Ligo Sao putting in a really dubious late challenge in the first half which could see him up before the disciplinary committee this week. Saints march on into the World Club challenge, whilst for us Wigan at present looks something of a mountain to climb, but I guess we can only see what unfolds this week. 

So, to other things and Satae’s ban came as little surprise to me really. On watching the Derby back afterwards, you could see that the hit was unnecessary, late and from behind and hewas, I said at the time, likely to reap ‘a couple of matches for that one’. However, I guess when it was announced I did feel that 3 was a bit stiff and well done to the club for appealing. You have to be careful when you do that though, because you don’t want a reputation for ‘moaning’, after such decisions, asin the past the panel seems to have taken a ‘we’ll show them’ attitude to such criticism. The fact that we didn’t contest Albo’s ban does I think show we are conscious of that and ‘picking our battle grounds’. 

Kelly’s actions were clearly a ban anyway and as a club and a player we had to take our medicine, but 3 games for Satae’spetulant shove was a bit steep and indeed in the end after a personal appearance, the appeals committee agreed with the club. It does however open up a bigger question with regard to discipline within the squad, with some fans getting a bit heated about players not considering their actions and how they impact on their team mates in future games when they are banned. 

Still, these are early days for everyone on and off the field and things are invariably running a bit hot, but for me things should settle down and what happened to Satae at the KCOM,was just down to a player that hadn’t ever been in such a cauldron of atmosphere or heard so much taunting and insults coming from a crowd before. The atmosphere and obvious tension that expectation brings saw his having a quick ‘rush of blood’. At that critical point in the game, that pressure was really on, he turned around, saw a player with his back to him and the blue mist descended!  

He’ll learn and we just have to hope that his absence doesn’t cost us too much, because when you have a few injuries such bans really impact on your team. With so many injuries, right across the game, it’s the last thing you need really. Still what is, is, and we just have to get on with it. Albo’s back for Wigan, Satae for Catalan and Sao …well lets see, but we’ll alljust hope that as far as the rest of the team are concerned,lessons have been learned.

Now for a few paragraphs this week I want to talk Marc Sneyd. My interest in such things is I thing inspired by a nine-day hiatus causing me to watch the Derby back a couple of times and seeing the great Peter Sterling out there on the field before the match. I wrote this bit before the Saints game in an attempt to try to explain why I think all those doubter and disbelievers who inhabit social media, are wrong about our current number 7. For me the guy is a real asset and as you probably already know by now, I think that Marc is just plainunder-rated by a lot of FC fans. 

I seem to hear people every week running the guy down,saying I exaggerate his value, that he is often anonymous and that he doesn’t take the line on enough etc. etc. Quite frankly for me that’s a tad baffling really! You see, I believe thatSneydy is a different class to the majority of scrum halves in the British game. 

Whenever we play well, he is in the vanguard of everything we do and you only have to look back and remember the memorable matches he’s won for us too. In Catalan he won a game that was ‘lost’, just about on his own. That was the miracle ending to end all miracle endings, which we’ll never see the like of again and we’ll all remember for ever! Then, there’s the Golden Point drop goal wins, that drop against Wakey at the KCom from 60 yards out, two man of the match performances at Wembley and all those kicks to the corner finding touch that have broken teams in the last few minutes, so many times over the years. Is he just a good goal kicker?? Is he buggery!! 

Yep he’s a great kicker, but I also think that, perhaps because he’s been around for many years now (almost as long as our coach), in general, many take the breadth of his skills for granted a bit. Take the Derby last week, after the game there was hardly a mention, but he created 3 of the try’s and scored the other one. He pulled off three great tackles wide out when the Dobbins threw the ball about, nailed the four conversions and even in the dying minutes when everyone was running on fumes, he dived to grab a loose ball near our line, to defuse the Dobbins final chance, plus, he is always usually still the first man there in the chase to follow his own kicks.

Having seen some great scrum halves at the FC like Sterlo, Tommy Finn, Kevin Harkin, Tony Dean, Keith Hepworth, Kevin Dick, Greg McKee and Richard Horne and indeed experienced some bleak years when we didn’t have one, it’s a fact that they are all in their own way different. You’d love to see how some of them would fare in today’s Super League, but that’s not possible, but for me, there’s no-one in the modern game I’d rather have leading Hull FC at present than Marc Sneyd.

I really do believe that in years to come we will look back on Sneydy and add him to that list as an all-time great and not just as the clubs record drop goal expert. He’ll have the odd off day, but over the years he has pulled so many games out of the fire for us and I’m just thankfully that he is signed up at the KCom until the end of 2022. He’s not just the man for the big occasion either, because even when we lose and he’s been operating behind a beaten pack, like he was yesterday, it’s not for the want of Marc trying his heart out. Yet according to some all he can do is kick!! 

In that Derby, a game in which we were struggling and trying to only at best grind a win out against a feisty opposition, it was the ability to get back at the opposition and go try for trythat in the end wore them down. In that match he grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and some-how engineered us over the line for 4 tries. He was the one who put his foot down to change the speed of the game as we struggled to dictate things. 

He has flaws and of course he plays on the edge, as he’s the one who has to regularly chance his arm and try something different. That style of play will always over emphasise any mistakes, but I reckon he has a lot fewer issues, than many, many Super League players who gain more accolades. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that perhaps we are watching a pretty good player here, but one who possesses an often-unrecognised greatness and for me, as with many of those heroes I listed above, it will one day be a case of you never miss the water until the well runs dry. Thankfully he has a long contract and long may Marc continue to lead the FC around the pitch. 

Now here’s one for you! Whose with me, that it’s about time that we took this “Try” or “No Try” stuff away from the referee’s and instead had a “I’ve no idea at all, you decide” call from the official to the Video referee, with if it’s inconclusive after he’s perused it, benefit of the doubt going to the attacking side (as it used to be years ago). I raise it now because it’s been bothering me for ages, but then in the Derby there was an absolute farce on half time, when an obvious Rovers no try was still sent upstairs. 

That’s fine, I hear you say, even despite there being a blatant off-side and then a knock on. But I would challenge that it isn’t fine at all really, particularly after Danny Houghton as our captain, having disputed the referral, was told (quite clearly on the TV), “That’s my decision mate, I couldn’t see it”. I mean that’s just a blood farce isn’t it? How can a referee nominate a try, when by their own admission he hasn’t seen it, yet within the rules he has no option, but to go for one or the other? Mind you when the video referee started his perusal by looking for an offside at the Ellis kick and the Rovers player was a yard in front of the kicker, he just ignored it and didn’t give it a second look! That just goes to prove once again that our officials both on the field and off it leave a lot to be desired. So I say, get rid of referee’s nominating their views and adopt a ‘I’ve no idea you decided’ attitude to such situations. 

Now, long-time terrace pal and fan of over 65 years Johnny Dutton said to me after the Rovers game, “Just what the hell is this private equity stuff and Rugby League all about Wilf, you mentioned it from time to time and its cropping up everywhere these days”. John was intrigued by this principle, by the re-occurring mentions of it and indeed by the prospect of private equity investment pumping millions into the game. Let’s face it, at first glance it’s certainly a concept that is pretty attractive. 

Basically, in lay man’s terms, it’s all about large scale capital investment in a sport by City speculators who in the end want to come out with a profit and it’s that proviso that bring the drawbacks too. The first of which is that there has always to be interest in the first place in the game from that source, yet if private capital investors like the sport, but don’t think there’s a profit to be made from it, then they won’t invest. Clear that hurdle and get the investment, and you’re then getting a big lump of money to benefit the game, but in exchange, you’re handing over a proportion of control to the money men and women. They will then set the strategic direction for the sport to take, watering down the influence of the RFL, Super League and the individual clubs. Their sole motivation will be the chance of making money from the sport on a regular basis. If they don’t get the game into the black as far as their stake is concerned,then they’ll change things till they do.

In the end that might be a situation rugby league has to take on the chin, for when everything else has failed and say TV income is withdraw or decreased, then large-scale capital investment is probably the only way the sport can achieve the status it desires. But there will be some big decisions to be taken in that process, bigger even than the potential mergers that were muted in the mid-1990s. The most likely scenario, if private equity is successfully invited in to rescue the professional game, would be a closed shop of Super League clubs, chosen for their strategic value rather than their past status or heritage.

Think two clubs in France, a London side, Toronto and a second North America club and then pick nine of the current heartland clubs who would be a good fit for that new era. 

If the principle ever comes onto the table, there will probably therefore be several owners of current Super League clubs who would be part of the process of bringing in private equity, and who would know full well that their clubs would have no Super League future, or who would at best be living on borrowed time, once that money started to flow. Can you see there still being two clubs in Hull for instance? 

So, in the end after doing a bit of digging on behalf of Johnny, you can see what I mean when I say, such developments will create a bigger shake up and attract more controversy than even those crack pot merger talks of the early 90’s did. It’s a massive step and one that would catapult the game to the top of a lot of sporting agenda’s, but as I hope you now appreciate its fraught with problems too. However, I believe that in the next 12 months we should know how much there is in the next TV deal and whether private  equity’s a road the game might just have to go down.

This week in Codgers Corner and after the excitement of that win last week, I want to take you back to a Derby from the past and to the end of the 1991/92 season when the club was on the slide and we had just surprisingly sacked Noel Cleal the Coach, who had only a year previously, taken over from the great Brian Smith. It was certainly a surprise, because we had got all the way to the Cup Semi Final before being knocked out by Castleford. The members of the Hull FC Board of Directors had asked long serving member of the backroom staff Steve Crooks to become temporary caretaker Coach. We had lost 5 of our last 7 games a run that had led to Cleal’s demise and left us teetering on the brink of relegation. After the trials and tribulations of a bad couple of weeks, Hull were looking for the win they needed to ensure they stayed in the First Division, but we faced a daunting task at Craven Park, against the Dobbins who had themselves lost their last three games. It was a drab afternoon and Spring had, that year,certainly not ‘sprung’ yet as the pitch was heavy and devoid of grass in places. The team selection was an interesting one that day with young Andrew Mighty playing on the left wing and Peter Spring returning from injury to play at blind side prop.

Referee Connelly blew the whistle and we kicked off into a light breeze. Immediately our forwards took control and keeping the ball tight set about winning the battle down the middle of the pitch. Although he had been at Hull around 7 years Crooks was an East Hull lad and still lived at that side of the City, so sitting there on the trainer’s bench trying to mastermind a win against Rovers must have seemed strange to him. Hull soon showed a greater appetite for work than Rovers and great tackling by Spring, Dannett and McNamara held them for long periods in their own half. Then on 15 minutes Gay ran from deep and sliced through the Rovers defence to be tackled 30 yards out by a last-ditch effort from the home teams full back Mike Fletcher. In ran Greg Mackey and direct from acting half he hoisted a kick that seemed to stay in the air for ages. When eventually it came down it was David Ronson who rose to catch it and crashed over the line for Eastwood to add the extras.

Ronson had fallen out of favour with the previous coach but Crooks recalled him and after another 14 minutes of nondescript rugby had passed, it looked like a really good decision. Rovers were at last pressing our line and on the sixth tackle Paul Speckman chipped over the top but straight into Ronson’s arms. Our centre set off down the outside channel and ran 80 yards to touch down for Eastwood to goal again. Ronson took both his tries with great aplomb but then faded badly, still we had a 12-0 lead and up front the Hull pack loved the heavy going, although we could not have asked for a bigger favour, with Rovers opting to go down the middle instead of utilising their faster and more mobile back division. Ronson’s two tries did however certainly silence the Dobbins fans packed in the East Stand.

If Rovers needed some inspiration then they got it five minutes from half time when Barkworth, after fine work by Des Harrison and Hallas, scored wide out and with Mick Fletcher converting at half time the score was 12-6. As the second half started it was obvious that their Coach George Fairburn had changed the tactics as Hull were pressed further and further back by some booming downfield kicks by Wayne Parker. It was now a real war of attrition as Rovers continued to persist down the middle of the field and Hulls forwards led brilliantly by Jon Sharp had to work really hard to contain the opposition’s big men. Out on the wing debutant Andrew Mighty saw little of the ball whilst standoff Stevens was on and off with an injured ankle and in the end, he was substituted by Rob Nolan.

As the half wore on it all got tougher and tougher. Harrisons pile driving runs were causing trouble in the Hull ranks and after Lee Jackson had stiff arm tackled him in desperation, Fletcher reduced the arrears to just 4 points with a penalty. Back stormed Hull KR. Substitute Dean Busby saved a certain try when he pulled off an amazing stretching ankle tap on the advancing Parker and then the home side thought they had scored when Sodje ran in at the corner off a flowing movement between Harrison and Hallas. Referee Connelly had thankfully spotted a forward pass and as the Rovers fans goaded us and celebrated ‘a try’ we sang ‘The Red Red Robin song’ with the “‘Shoot the Basta*d” finale as we realised it had been chalked off.

For the rest of the half we tackled like demons although in fairness the Robins had few ideas and in the end it was only a half tackle by Bright Sodje that stopped Paul Eastwood scooting in at the Corner. As the light faded and the poor Craven Park Floodlights came on, the referee blew his whistle and we had won. We had surrendered a lot of possession in our own half and certainly gifted Rovers the ball on several occasions, although our tenacity and brawn in the tackle got us through. Steve Crooks our new Caretaker Coach must have been one of the only folks smiling in East Hull that night,having masterminded a victory that kept us in the First Division for another season. As a footnote, Rovers had scrapped a match day programme that year and instead produced a newspaper for each game. As I left the ground to go and see if I still had any wing mirrors left on the car, I noticed a copy of the paper blowing around by the gates. The headline, commenting no doubt on George Fairburn’s first year as Hull KR’s Coach said, “He’s Loving Every Minute of it!!”; not that day he wasn’t!

Well St. Valentine’s Day came and went, which amongst other things is a day that gives its name to a famous massacre and despite it coming a bit too late to be used, the goings on over in Leeds did throw up the ideal St Valentine’s Day wish, with a re- working of the age old verse, “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Rovers 10 Leeds 52!”

But we have our own problems and Sunday was certainly disappointing for us all, because at one point we looked like we could again tough out a win, but it was not to be and in the end we were taught a lesson in patience and potency by the best team in the British game. Any talk of Fortress KCom is now well and truly on the back burner after a third quarter that saw the Saints completely roll over us. Our luck with injuries is not good at present either, but rather that now, I guess, than later in the year. You’ll remember way back in December,when the Diary was discussing the fixtures, I said that I would be over the moon with 4 points from our first 4 games and of course we have already got there. 

However, if I’m disappointed, I’m not too despondent,because that was the sort of performance I’ve got used to from Hull FC. I honestly believe that our best 17 or 18 players are as good if not better than those at most clubs, but I have to admit to wondering as I walked back to the car yesterday,whether the rest are as good as we have been led to believe they are. With the players we are likely now to have out, we are in a bit of a hole, but we have those two wins and the League isn’t won at this time of year is it? In 2016 (which for me is still the benchmark of where we need to be again) we won two and then lost three on the bounce, before we went on a run and got stronger and stronger. Its only one loss and there were some extenuating circumstances surrounding it, but it was somehow disappointing too. We were all bouncing after Leeds and still full of hope after last week, but this was Saints and I guess in reality, we were always going to get found out with the team we had to field. Injuries are part of the game and something that as fans you accept, but perhaps discipline is something we have to look at if it’s costing you players through bans.

Wigan is always a big ask and let’s be honest now; taking anything from there would, in our current circumstances, be a massive plus. I do feel however that we have to get some bodies and resilience back for the Catalans game, because if we are still losing after that one it will, I fear, knock us off course and really start to affect our confidence and indeed out attendances.

There were a lot of sad faces and a few angry folks sounding off after the game, although, if asked whether we would rather win last week against the Dobbins, or this week, against the Champions, I think I know what most of you would say. We all agree I think, that we have to make the KCom a stronghold and playing the way we did in the first half yesterday, when we are under duress and out of form, is the way to do it. Sadly, in the second it was same old as far as we are concerned and that has to be addressed.

Thanks to everyone who has been in touch and for all those friendly faces I met up with at the KCom yesterday. The Diary will be back early next week after the Wigan game, so although as I say it’s a big ask, let’s hope we are all smiling again by then! 

Keep Believing, its still early day!!

Faithfully Yours