The Dentist’s Diary – 659th

A good effort, with some heart and spirit, but one that was again lacking in ideas, nous and execution and so, not good enough to get any reward!

Did we really expect to win? Well I think initially we were all just looking for us to have a good go, weren’t we? For me it was all a bit like last week really, we saw some good stuff from the lads, but when we were still in it, in that second half, just like in the Saints match seven days previously, Wigan lifted their game and we didn’t or couldn’t do the same. They were more clinical and ‘on it’ than we were, they got the breaks and took them and executed their plays when they mattered. 

Again, we saw a battling, scrambly first half, where we hung in the game, but then came a second period where we were outsmarted by an opposition that stepped up and left us trailing in their wake! It’s both worrying and concerning how other teams have structures that when they have injuries seem to be transferable to whoever is playing, whilst we don’t! 

A huddle of the players with Taylor calling the shots, continued on the field, before the players went in at the end and that showed, I think, that they knew they have to do better. It was not exactly a lock-in in the changing rooms, but a sign that our players realise such showings are not acceptable as well. 

So, a second defeat, another game lacking idea’s and another 2 points lost, but we tried hard and I wouldn’t be too disheartened, its early days and it’s not the end of the world …..just yet.

Well. As you know I always try hard in here to bring you my thoughts of what has been going on at our Club over the last week. However, has anyone else been conscious of the fact that the club have stayed very tight lipped over the last few days and so we heard precious little at all with the exception of Hull Daily Mail ‘fillers’ until at last, the 21-man squad was announced on Thursday. It was good to see the local paper having a look with Lee Radford at the value to the team of Marc Sneyd, in an article on Friday that mirrored our chat in the Diary on the subject last week, but the Club themselves were certainly really quiet on, for instance, how our casualties were progressing. 

We all knew that in Super League trips to Wigan are always as hard as they come and you have to be on your game to even get close to the Lancashire club over there, in fact if we are struggling with either form or injuries, as we are now, I’m usually just relieved to get such games out of the way without too much egg on our face! 

This week was not so much about a result, although they seem to be the end all and be all these days (as I’ll be discussing later on), but more, for me, at this time in the season, it was about getting a positive response to the previous defeat. Success is all about confidence and we have all seen in the last couple of campaigns what happens when that goes, so for me it was a case of getting back on the horse, which was never going to be easy with the players we had out. 

We had been told that the boys had a good week in training and the DW is a great stadium in which to play and watch. But, it’s always a hard place to win and so it was that our depleted ranks took to the field to face a Wigan side that had so far looked to be playing much more expansive stuff than we’ve seen from them in years. It was always going to be a big ask and this is how I saw it! 

It was a tough start with both defences on top until after Connor missed a tackle, Bevan French broke through and we were soon behind on 4 minutes. It was tough going and although Connor almost got over after a kick, Wigan pressed forward well and so it was a surprise soon afterwards to see them choose to take the two from a penalty, when their backs looked to be wanting to run it.

Next up we saw the game stop as our poor discipline came to the fore. Sao was in trouble for another apparent late hit and from the penalty Wigan started near our line. None the less, French knocked on after Jones got his foot on an angled grubber and a great kick from Sneyd applied some pressure, as Wigan had to drop out. Fonua was then stopped close to their line and although we’d at last had a real crack at their defence, Wigan held firm. 

Back they came but a poor French pass was brilliantly anticipated by Griffin as he read the play brilliantly and ran to half way before feeding on to Swift who raced away downfield to score (and yes, he can certainly motor a bit). Thus, a really effective start  by Wigan, saw them only actually leading by two points and us visibly coming back into the game. 

Another drive down-field saw our forwards held close to their whitewash twice, but we were again pretty pedestrian and stilted in our play. But, thanks to a blatant ball steal from Farrell, Sneyd squared things up with a penalty. As Marc started to run things we began to take some control of the game, but a rubbish play-the-ball by Fonua saw Wigan come back at us. Ellis was on from the bench and driving well, however then Houghton copped one and was down in back play holding his arm, for a minute it looked worrying, but thankfully he carried on. 

Then just as half-time arrived Farrell tried to milk a penalty, a session of hand bags followed and Farrell and Griffin who seemed to be the only ones that produced anything like a punch, left for the bin. A penalty by Hardaker, took Wigan two points up and the half time hooter went with us trailing by two at 10-8, after a competitive first half ended with a flourish. Just like last week, it had been a satisfactory half for the FC, but this time we needed more of the same in the second, although we all wondered if we could keep in it, or whether Wigan would step it up. 

The Pies kicked off and we took the ball up in what was a well-executed set that saw Connor end it by finding touch on their ten. However, our discipline was poor again when Faraimo failed to play the ball properly and as ‘mistakes make tries’, in the next set Manfredi scored off a good cut out pass. Last week again came to mind as after just 6 minutes we trailed by 6 and desperately needed to wrestle the initiative and momentum from Wigan. They came strong, but Faraimo, who was by now visibly struggling, took a booming kick well and Shaul sped off downfield before some good play ended when Ellis dropped an off-load and another chance of us getting a real roll on was lost. Then a great down field drive saw us almost score in the corner, but Lane’s final pass went to ground, yet we were giving as much as we were getting, but not finishing our sets at all well.  

Ligi Sao came back on and immediately set up a good drive up field as ‘Come on You Hulllaaarrr’ echoed around the away end. The game changer came as Marshall broke through and despite a great tackle by Shaul, Wigan scrambled and we couldn’t respond, as Hastings stretching out, somehow managed to get the ball down and we were two scores behind and facing the music. With 20 minutes to go we were looking down the barrel, as Johnson came on to operate at acting half. Discipline was again a worry and a real mess up in defence as Swift over ran the ball, saw Willie Isa touch down the loose ball and that was that! Like Saints last week, Wigan were just too clinical for us in that second half. 

Josh Griffin got a great consolation effort as he went at Hardaker and ran right over him to break away and score in the corner but in the end it was pretty much what we expected. That said, we showed some good signs, but lacked the structure to finish off our moves, whilst we were missing some good players as well. Still we never gave up, but we were sloppy on occasions and misfiring on others and all the endeavour and fight in the world won’t get you past that. 

However, we never stopped trying right to the end as Sao, probably the best player on the field, played like a man possessed and we attempted a short kick-off and a short drop out and pulled both off. Griffin again stood out and Taylor and Houghton tried hard throughout. However, although I think our first choice starting 17 is as strong as any in the game I’m still not sure that their replacements are as good as we keep being told they are and yesterday Matongo and Fash consolidated that view a bit for me. I’d give Brown a run out myself but what do I know? Two things that struck home for me for sure were that our kick chase was ropy and our creativity, stilted and pedestrian at times.

Next week’s game against Catalans is now a game that we need to win to both make the KCom more of a fortress and to also ensure that we remain in contention in the table. We need a bit of luck with injuries too I think!!

So, to other things and the Clubs announcement that the much trailed and perhaps a little over hyped heralding of a ‘Big’ sponsor, ended up being Jacuzzi, left, I believe, a lot of folks underwhelmed. However, although it will bring a lot of benefits to the conditioning side of things (with a new hydrotherapy pool already installed at County Road) and improve stuff behind the scenes, the biggest value is in the name. It’s an internationally known brand and brings into play what the marketing experts call ‘Brand Association’ in that there are tremendous benefits when such a recognised international market leader, associates itself with a sport or a club. 

It’s just a pity they weren’t forthcoming earlier so that they could have been our shirt sponsors, but to see that brand name associated with the sport has to be good as far as the perception of Rugby League meaning business is concerned. It will be interesting now to see how the club uses the association and what benefits it brings to both parties.  

With 7 ex-FC players taking the field, Fridays Castleford v Wakey game was interesting, but hardly gripping and in the end the ridiculous situation where an easy Castleford win was evaluated by John Wells, had me (and apparently a few of you) switching off. As Castleford’s Chief Executive he is head of the club and has signed all the players that he is commenting on and interviewing, so it’s impossible for him to be perceived to be neutral and what a ridiculous situation that is, can you imagine it happening in football?  I think to protect the integrity of our game, he should at least stand down for any games in which he obviously has such a vested interest, but that ain’t gonna happen is it? 

Now a question! How do you get a two-game reserve-team suspension and then sit out two first team games and two reserve-team matches and yet still have to serve another games suspension before your ban is through? Well it seems it’s what happens in Rugby League. Poor old Albo must be wondering just when he will play again! His ban was for an appearance on 1st February and for two games and yet he can’t get back playing until March. We presume as fans, that the Club knew what was happening and what they were doing by initially selecting him for the Rovers game?  

That said, one has to wonder, if that was the case and he was never going to be selected anyway, why was he clearly to be still seen taking part in the Captains run on the day before the Rovers game just an hour before his ban was announced? I’m not having a go though, because in the end it’s in the rules that such Reserve game bans start the following week, unlike bans from Super League games which start from the next round. So, all the frustration and head scratching by the fans has been caused by the game having two separate systems for bans running side by side, which just confuses the fans who think they know what’s happening, but don’t …. again! As always with all things RFL, it’s another ‘shoot yourself in the foot’ moment!   

Now, although the club have been keeping stum this week, our most senior player hasn’t and I hope you all got chance to read that absolutely brilliant piece in the Yorkshire Post by Gareth Ellis last weekend, when he wrote about the tragic death of Caroline Flack in his weekly column. It appears that like, I’m sure, all of us, Gareth was truly saddened by what had happened and wanted to explore the state of social media, it’s part in her sad demise and how the same medium is used against the players of our game. Some of it was interesting, whilst other parts were truly inspirational. I make no excuses for repeating some of it here, just in case any of you missed it.

He said, “As players, you can see both sides of it; sometimes, when you are playing well you get all the love, support and accolades and people essentially patting you on your back. Yet just as quickly, if you or the team are not performing, that can soon be the other way and there can be some horrible stuff put out there. It is almost as if the person writing it has no idea of the damage it can cause. Also, often they are nameless and faceless, sat hidden behind a keyboard knowing they will never see or meet the person they are hurling the abuse at. I Tweeted a message I saw the other day which I felt summed things up: ‘Social media has made too many of you comfortable with disrespecting people and not getting punched in the mouth for doing it’. I think that is the case; people would never say in person, some of the things they say on social media sites and they almost becomes aliases”. 

From time to time I’ve had some of it myself, writing this, but some of the stuff I have been shown that has been sent to players and indeed coaches over the years, is quite frankly totally out of order. No one goes out there not to try their best and although I would always defend a fan’s right, as a paying customer, to be critical and analytical, there has to be a line drawn and insults and personal abuse directed at players or their loved ones is right out of order. 

Yet, if such tragic and heart-rending deaths as that of Caroline can animate and expand the discussion about internet abuse and its link’s to mental illness, then for me I think someone like Gareth being inspired to speak up by what happened, is brilliant. Well done to him, what a great guy he is and as for a final thought on the subject from me, well perhaps some people should just take a step back and follow my old mums’ advice when she used to say …… 

“If you can’t be kind, be quiet”

I’ve sort of gleaned from the internet that Ben Thaler’s suspension from duty relates to an incident at a pre-season training camp for match officials. It’s certainly deemed to be serious and some apparently ‘in the know’ doubt whether we will see him refereeing a game again, and that he may instead end up with a back-room job at the RFL. I ain’t going to start peddling rumour or the rubbish that some have been spouting, but if that is the case it will obviously cause some headaches for a referee pool that continues to dwindle as we all witness the quality of officiating declining. Whatever you say about Ben and, as you know, I’ve said a lot over the years, he was a senior official, one of the best we had and as such he will be hard to replace.

Well I’ve said enough about my views on Israel Falou already in here, but once again last Thursday there he was on prime-time Channel 4 news, as the game aired their dirty washing again on national TV. It came about when MP’s and Members of the House of Lords had lobbied the Catalans sponsors, with regard to their involvement with the club after the shamed players signing. The intransigence of the games governing body when they took no action in the first place, was the thrust of the piece and once again the game didn’t come out of it very well at all. It’s just so belittling for the game and surely they must recognise that? 

So, to something different for the Diary and some thoughts I had last week, as the rain poured down and my mind went back to seasons gone by. You know, over the years I have received so much mail from readers who wax lyrical about the old days and how magical some games and players were back then. Out come the same old cliché’s, names, heroes and games; for they, for many of us, will simply live forever. 

Codgers eh? We’re incorrigible really, but are we right to benchmark our lives with such memories or does time bend the truth and do we really only remember the good times? Socially, of course back then things were different, there weren’t the distractions, with just two or three channels on the TV, no social media and the only chance to actually see live sport being tipped up at the Boulevard every Saturday to watch your heroes. People talked endlessly day after day in the pubs and clubs about players, tries, games and referee’s! Yet, some memories never fade do they? Remember for instance that after the hooter length of the field try started by Garry Pearce against Wigan at the Boulevard in1988, did Peter Sterling really glide effortlessly through the line time and again every game, did Wilf Rosenberg really start his dive five yards from the line even when no one was chasing him, did we really beat Castleford away despite only having 11 men on the field for 60 minutes, was Clive Sullivan the best winger in the world bar none and was Mick Crane really the magician and former day David Blane of the rugby field? The answer to all those questions is of course a categorical YES! (well I think it is, but then again, I’m getting on a bit as well!) 

Once upon a time in the land time had long since forgotten, every team seemed to have their characters, every team their ‘thugs’ and every team their brilliant exponents of the ‘risky rugby’. Most visiting clubs had their own pantomime villain and classy scrum half, hardman prop and flying winger. Most of whom, for their magical efforts, even drew a begrudging yet appreciative round of applause from that most partisan of Boulevard crowds. 

So, if even half of what we remember is right, why the hell doesn’t it happen so much these days, why are there so many stereo-typical players, boring passages of play and even mundane matches? Why do we see those ‘slug it out’ games, that just melt into each other, where players cancel each other out like pieces in a game of chess? Do Coaches really drop players who stray from the all-hallowed game plan and bollock those who pass the ball outside them, instead of back inside, on the second and third tackle? Well from what I hear from players themselves, yes they do! 

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that in modern Rugby League risk taking and trying your hand at something different is almost forbidden. Perhaps that’s because the game is now more than ever before totally 100% result-based? Would coaches rather win 11-10 playing boring rugby that allows talented players to only play to half of their potential? Or would coaches prefer to occasionally play exciting rugby and lose the odd game 32-28? Of course, the answer is the former, but would all the paying customers agree? Surely if everyone took the second option, all clubs would win some games and those that were the most successful, would be those who chanced their arms the most; and no doubt they’d enjoy the biggest gates too. 

Matches would always be exciting and (although you wouldn’t win every time), always entertaining too.  So, why since those days of yore, hasn’t the game evolved that way? 

Well for me the answer is obvious; because, losing is the cardinal sin, the doomsday scenario and the one thing to avoid and rather like football teams going away and playing for a draw so that they get something, in our game too often you see teams trying to grind the opposition down to squeeze a win, whilst in the process often boring the spectators to distraction. How often have you left a ground and said, “Well we won, but it wasn’t a very good game” or switched off the Thursday night game on TV because it was ‘Boring’? Of course, the fact is that too many loses eventually cost the Coaches and players their livelihood and so success isn’t gauged by providing entertainment, but instead its about grabbing wins in any way they can, because in the end, only results win silverware.

Nowadays, the players are fitter, stronger, faster and savvier than those we all still worship from days gone by and of course, for that they should be commended. You can’t deny there is no athletes fitter, more dedicated and better at what they do than the boys in Rugby League. However, that’s easier to attain these days when they are all full-time professional’s and not butchers’, bakers and candlestick makers during the day. That fact alone makes it hard to believe that some players were so entertaining, talented and classy in the past doesn’t it? 

So, for you younger folks, I don’t think it’s hard to understand why us old timers miss the days when arms were chanced, flair was allowed to run free and of course mistakes would happen. Knocker Norton, Greg Mackey, Dave Topliss and Peter Sterling all had passes intercepted, produced the occasional duff kick and dropped the ball a time or two as well, but that’s not what we remember them for is it? Indeed, even today when a player does try something outlandish, like an audacious kick and chase for the line or a quick pass through their legs, or around their back, which just fails to stick, there is always a good appreciative round of applause from the fans, for trying it. Whilst no doubt up in the stand the Coach is probably eating his tip sheets in rage, because that player lost the ball. 

You see I still believe that a little room for error in the name of playing exciting rugby, can sometimes provide more entertainment than 80 minutes of watching 26 machines, seemingly stuck in a loop of stage-managed moves, drummed into their heads all week by their coaches. 

Some suggest that a reduced number of interchanges would alter the dynamics of rugby league and bring back the old fatigue that allowed flair to come to the fore and invention and imagination to thrive, but that is something that you’ll never again see at the top end of the game. In its defence, I do think that already, reducing the interchanges down from 12 has seen a loosening and opening up of the game in the final 10 minutes of each half and there is no disputing that fatigue mean’s errors, errors mean tries and tries mean an entertaining show piece.

Because of how fit the players are, and the toll the sport takes on their body whilst on the field for 80-minutes, there isn’t a solid argument left now to suggest that we could go right back to minimum interchanges. You see as the shape and build of players has changed to suit the ‘chess game’ format of modern rugby that simply wouldn’t be physically possible and anyway player welfare has also to be considered. It’ll never alter now because it would take years to change the shape of the playing pool from the current dreadnaughts of size, strength and fitness, to the wily, more light on their feet heroes of days gone by. In fact, it seems as though players are getting bigger and bigger every year that passes. 

There was always the big fat ‘stomachs over their shorts’ guys in the game back then, who were characters in their own right, but they just spent their time pushing in the scrum or trying to thump the four guys of the same ilk in the opposition ranks (often too, it has to be said, providing good entertainment value). 

No coach wants their players to ‘disobey’ their orders, which is completely understandable. But perhaps sometimes players should be allowed to take it into their own hands, to play it as they see it and try something a little off-the-cuff, in an attempt to break the game. Instead we seem to just aim to get to the end of sets put in a good kick and wait for a mistake from the opposition.  Arthur Bunting often said after a great second half come back in the 80’s, “I just told them at half time to play it as they saw it”.

Reigning Man of Steel Jackson Hastings certainly has that ‘have ago hero’ attitude in his locker and the ‘play with a smile on your face’ regime at Salford last year allowed him to utilise it. He went on to win the most prestigious reward there is for an individual player in Super League because occasionally he allowed ‘his gut feelings’ to come to the fore. Where the fetters removed Marc Sneyd, Connor and Albo are capable of it and I know it would be fantastic to watch and although it doesn’t always come off, these days it would still provide an entertaining platform for the paying spectators and those with Sky Sports subscriptions.

Sadly, though dream over; because as I said earlier winning is everything and the only thing!! Let’s face it even us old timers have to agree that we wouldn’t be happy with flamboyant devil may care rugby that entertained, if it eventually led to relegation, because the current state of the game means that  relegation can lead to clubs folding, so as I said early, two points on the league table is all that matters. 

So, things won’t change, but those of us who still remember Alex Murphy, Tommy Bishop, Andy Gregory, Kieth Hepworth and Alan Hardisty do at least have our memories, for we have seen it!  Perhaps in that we are the lucky ones? Time to get the old Grandstand video’s out again I think! Happy days eh!  

This week watching the Friday night game my thoughts went back to games at Wheldon Road Castleford. I’ll miss the old place when it finally stops being the home of the Tigers although it’s always been a difficult place to go to play. Trips are always stressful except for the odd occasions that we have been there for a pre-season friendly. So, this week in Codgers Corner, for a change I’ll have a look at one such enjoyable and memorable pre-season game in 1981. 

At the end of the previous season as Rovers were getting beaten at Wembley, we had signed David Topliss from Wakefield and under the Captaincy of Knocker Norton we all thought that this was to be our year. We had abandoned playing Rovers in the Eva Hardacker Memorial Trophy, the Clubs traditional season opener, because of the defeat at Wembley and a full-blown riot that occurred the previous Easter at the Boulevard. However, to compensate we played Castleford for the trophy at Wheldon Road on Sunday 2nd August 1981. 

Sadly, for all the FC fans who made the journey, Toppo never played because he and several other first teamers were still away on holiday and we gave debuts to three backs who had never played in the first team before, Trevor Penrose, Barry Edwards and Ray Smith. It was certainly an unusual looking Hull FC line up that faced an almost full-strength Castleford side. Sammy Lloyd played in the centre and Paul Prendiville at stand-off.  In fact, only George Robinson at Full Back and Clive Pickerill were traditional first team backs. 3600 people attended that afternoon, most sat sunbathing on the open, end terrace, with at least 2000 having made the journey over from Hull.

Referee Kershaw blew the whistle and we kicked off into a light breeze. In only our second set of six tackles we took the lead. Keith Tindall ‘thumped’ his way through a half-hearted tackle by Jonh Kear and Johnson and passed onto Lee Crooks. The youngster brilliantly dummied to the left before finding Sammy Lloyd to his right and our makeshift three quarter galloped away to score beside the posts. 6 minutes later a flat pass from Charlie Stone found Ian Madeley, who despite the attentions of four Castleford tacklers managed to slip a pass out to Prendiville who scored for Lloyd to goal. Back came Castleford and a brilliant 75-yard dash by Birkby saw him score in the corner from where a towering conversion from Hyde, bounced on and over the cross bar. The crowd was really warming to the game and the way that our youngsters and ‘A’ team regulars were performing, Smith was doing well on the right-wing keeping John Kear quiet, whilst over on the left Barry Edwards was dealing well with the threat of Castleford flyer Richardson. 

Another fine break by Crooks sent Tony Duke marauding through the Castleford lines and his pin point pass found Edwards who scored in the corner. Next Sutton side stepped into a gap and gave Lloyd his second try before, with five minutes to go to half time, Wraithe scored for Castleford. It looked like that was it for the first half, until a flowing Hull move right on the whistle, saw Prendiville and Stone inter-pass brilliantly and Pickerill scoot in for another score. At half time the scoreboard stood at 19-10 to Hull and we had all enjoyed an interesting half of ‘Stress Free’ rugby. 

After a tray of what I have always hailed as the best chips in the Rugby League, the second half started with Hull bringing on ‘Knocker’ Norton, Sudderby and Mallinson from the bench however we started to lose our structure somewhat. The heat was getting to some of our players as first Madeley and then Robinson dropped passes when tries looked likely. Castleford took full advantage of these lapses and following tries for Finch and Higgins and two conversions from Finch we were, with just 15 minutes to go trailing 20-19. We responded well though, as Knocker carved out a massive gap with a brilliant dummy and Smith sped off to score. Sammy Lloyd took an age to prepare for the kick, but it was all worth it, as his conversion sailed between the sticks.

 However, the drama wasn’t over yet. Back came Castleford as some fine passing and running from Kear and Spurr sent Finch through, but as Norton and Lloyd chased back to narrow his angle he was forced to score near the corner flag and the angle was too acute for Finch’s attempted conversion. As the final whistle went we all rejoiced as if it were a League game, as the scoreboard at the Railway end of the ground read Castleford 23 Hull 24. The following week in another friendly at Featherstone, Toppo made his debut. But at Castleford we’d saw some fine performances and the players brought the Eva Hardacker Cup across to us Hull fans in the West Stand. Little did we know, nor dare to dream, that it would not be the last time our players were to do that in the fabulous 1981/82 season. Great memories Eh………… even of Friendlies!! 

So there we are 4 points from our first 4 games was the aim for me and we’ve got it, but it all started so well and as of now its not so good again is it? These last two matches would have been tough games with a full team out but injuries to some really key operatives have meant that we have failed to fire much at all. We have to try to pick up some points now starting this week with the Catalans at the KCom. It’s not a must win, of course it’s not, but we do need a few wins here and there to keep us in contention and away from the bottom bit and so Sunday is a great opportunity to get back in there again. We should have some players back in too so we can only hope that things come good. 

Thanks, as always for reading the Diary after what has been a really quiet week and one that didn’t end well again either!  We just weren’t at it enough against Wigan just as we weren’t against Saints, but both a good teams and so as I said earlier perhaps we shouldn’t be too despondent just yet. The season is young and nothing is won in the first few months, but in these early rounds a team just need to keep things ticking over and grab a few wins along the way. Let’s hope we can get one next week at the KCom. See you there!

Faithfully Yours