The Dentist’s Diary – 660th

Well, safe to say that was heart-breaking!

After a capitulation that was as bad as I have seen at home for a long time, we walked out of the ground in silence and followed a couple, obviously not season ticket holders, who I over-heard saying, “They can’t expect us to come again when they play like that” and really you couldn’t argue with their logic. It summed it up completely and the club has to realise how such a reversal effects the supporters, for it was soul destroying for even the hardiest of fans wasn’t it? 

Even vice-captain Scott Taylor described it as, ‘A disgraceful and criminal collapse’ and who can really argue with him, but, what about, ‘the importance of winning our home games’ and what about ‘Fortress KCom’? With just two home wins in the last 8  …..it’s hardly that is it! 

I knew it was a season that, with so many new faces, we would have to build into. So, I was surprised when it started with a great performance against Leeds, before we managed to scramble our way over and past a resolute and scrapping Hull KR, folded in the second half against Saints, couldn’t match the tenacity and resolve of Wigan in the same period and then witnessed a complete collapsed against Catalan, again in the second half. Two things stand out for me from that record a) We are going backwards and b) we simply can’t seem to break the momentum of a team that gets moving in the second half. Yesterday we looked really good at times and incredibly poor at others. Again, we had issues with missing players and injuries, but again, our fringe players didn’t come up to the mark.

That performance, for a Club that has invested heavily, been really supported by the fans, (often against their better judgement) and set their stall out pre-season to be competing at the top of the table, was pretty unacceptable. Writing this as I am straight after the game, I am, even after all these years, really depressed, by what I saw this afternoon. 

As we walked across the park to the Stadium I wondered if we would see any moves from the crowd against Israel Folau. I saw the Rainbow flag flying to denote our Clubs policy towards inclusivity and spotted a few folks with their ‘Pride’ T shirts on and good for them, as long as they protest legally and don’t disturb the rest of us, that’s up to them. I’ve made my views eminently clear in here and still maintain a simple, but genuine apology would have saved all this stuff. I own a Rainbow T shirt myself, but I didn’t wear it, as it has Bungo, Zippy and George on the front!!! 

However, James Clark and the Club were certainly measured in their approach to the game as the national media tried their best to stir things up. They offered an excellent statement which read, “The divisive views on this matter have been well documented and our opinion has been heard by Super League, the Rugby Football League and Catalans Dragons. In the build-up to Sunday’s game, we do not feel this is the appropriate time for further discussion and our club remains solely focused on our preparation for the match.” That said, as big articles appeared in both The Telegraph and The Guardian my pal Kathy summed it all up really when she said, “Typically, it’s another great example of the only time our Sport gets into the national newspapers these days”. 

At least the wind had dropped a bit since my morning walk on the Westwood and in fact by the match kicked-off the conditions were pretty good for the game. Looking at the Catalans team that included not just the Folau character but also Maloney, McCullorum, Drinkwater and Tompkins, it was without doubt a bit of a daunting task, but we knew we simply have to start winning home games regularly. As Adam said in his programme notes, it’s hard to see how they can get all those players under the cap and, if they are cheating as it appears they must be, then surely they were a team we should have set our stall out to get one over on. 

So, for me, the afternoon was all about rugby and remembering Adam Mayer and of course, we desperately needed a win to keep us on track. I tried to put any other side shows to the back of my mind and as we kicked off there looked a really healthy crowd out there, for to get 12,000 especially for a Catalan game on such a cold Sunday afternoon, was going some!

It was a strange game which was perhaps in some ways lost in the first ten minutes, when we had so much field position and camped on their line for set after set, but we couldn’t get over. Posting a couple of tries on the Frenchmen in that time would surely have set the platform for a big win. However, after Catalans first foray down-field, we charged back upfield and at last got on the board. It was a score that remined us all of how easily Mahe Fonua can get over the line, when he is put one on one with the opposition winger. It was a great flicked outside pass from Connor, who was already making it clear what his best position is. 

It was Mahe’s first score since returning to the club, however in a gusty wind Sneyd missed the goal. Catalans got their hands on the ball a bit more and drew level after the 20-minute mark as back-rower Benjamin Jullien pierced our right side with ease and slid in to touch down, but Maloney couldn’t add the extras and the scores were tied 4-4.

Then, not for the first time in the afternoon we went to sleep and the Dragons hit the front with half an hour gone. They simply deployed fast hands and sent the ball out-wide allowing winger Fouad Yaha to score in the corner unchallenged. It was a basic spread play that we should have had covered, but we were a man short out there on the previous tackle, yet no one spotted it and we didn’t make the difference up for the next as they scored an easy touch down.

However, we lifted our game and hit back and soon Fonua was over for his second as some classy looking passing from Connor saw him find Jamie Shaul, who put is a measured grubber for Fonua to finish off by touching the ball down. Sneyd was on target this time. Then just before half time and just after he had come on to replace a hobbling Jake Connor, Carlos Tumavive got a ball in the centre channel and brilliantly cut inside beating three players to score. It was superb play and on the players first touch of the ball. We therefore went in with what you have to say was a bit of a fortuitous 6 points lead.

We started the second-half with a real bang and continued where we left off. A risky, but as it stuck, brilliant one handed off-load from Albo found Jamie Shaul who hurtled 60 metres down-field with Catalan players in pursuit before somehow he slid over in the corner. It was exciting stuff and then to raise the excitement another notch, Manu Ma’u crashed over three players and in under the posts as he showed some great stepping to score his first try in Black & White! What’s more Sneyd added both goals with ease and we had scored 24 unanswered points.

At that point, with 22 minutes to go and us 18 points up, I turned to Mrs A and said, “It’s too early for me, we need another try because this lot could still throw this away and the Frenchmen still win”, however, I guess I was hedging my bets but couldn’t ever have envisaged just how easily the Catalans would do just that.

We had the momentum and one more try would have done them, but again we just took our foot off the gas and the Dragons sniffed a chance. So it was that Jullien broke past Sneyd in defence to score with 20 minutes left on the clock and then Sam Tomkins broke away downfield, and found the pass to Josh Drinkwater who had the pace to finish the move. And in  what seemed like a heartbeat Maloney had kicked them to within six points.

We were completely lost, we looked shell shocked, as we stood off tackles and invited the Dragons to run at us and soon the scores were level as Samisoni Langi got in for the visitors, who had now been gifted three tries, despite all our early dominance in the half. We were all over the place, but somehow we got down the field and the consummate matchwinner Marc Sneyd, dropped a magnificent 40 yarder with just three minutes left.

With us having just one set to see out, they executed a perfect short kick off, which Folau leaped to catch and before we knew where we were they were in again through Maloney and the fans streamed from their seats to head home, despondent, disappointed and not a little aggrieved. It was a heart-breaking end only a minute after that drop goal from Sneyd had raised everyone’s hopes of what was by then an unlikely win.  

As I left I pondered on the fact that the squad we have assembled is as good as any but they are underperforming, our concentration wanes from time to time and one or two of our lot don’t look as fit as they should be when push comes to shove at the end of the game. With that final short kick-off we could all see what was coming, but no one came over to our side to help Griffin and Buchanan. What’s more no one told anybody to move across to help them out, we just stood there and thought we had it won! 

We could all see that we needed to let him catch it and then bundle him into touch; that would have been it, game over and yet we lacked the awareness or nous to spot what was needed and sort it out. That just typified what had gone before.

We seem to lack leadership on the field when the chips are down and senior players have to step up. Our energy, as it did against both Saints and Wigan, disappears in the second half and when we get the ball, there are too many plays when the prop is first man on and gets the ball standing still. Credit to the Dragons they looked like scoring every time they had the ball in the last 20 minutes, but we should have had it won before that and indeed I thought we had it in the bag, but that collapse was unforgiveable really. 

Before that capitulation manifest itself, I was enjoying the way that Shaul, Ma’u, Sao, Albo and Satae stood up to be counted and raised our game, so as to help us grab it by the scruff of the neck and take control, but what came after means that I am too disappointed to apportion much praise at all. Although I have to say that Connor did more at centre in half a game than he has done in the half backs for a while and Buchanan did his very best as a late stand in. Yes, we are out of luck, yes we have been hit hard by injuries, yes our suspensions have been harsh, but I’m afraid as a team, for me, we are just not cutting it and like it or not we are going backwards at present. Performances like that one just breaks the fans hearts!

The game has only been over 4 hours, so I can’t really bear to discuss it any-more and so to other things and the news that Liam Harris has gone on loan to Halifax was not unexpected. Liam is very highly rated, but it’s also a proven fact that a young half back can’t learn his trade playing regular Super League rugby because the position and the pressure that is put on it is just too hard to play in. Liam went well at York and at Halifax he will get a season of regular rugby, in a good team and in a competitive league. How he comes out of that will define if he has a future at Hull FC but I know the club has high hopes for him. For a young player he has a lot of skill and what’s more important in his role, a deal of vision too. I’ll be watching his progress with interest.

Well I have to say last Wednesday I was shocked. I have spent time in here as have folks on social media and message boards decrying our lack of discipline as it is reflected on the amount of penalties we give away. So, I was pretty surprised to see Steve McNamara’s comments concerning this, when he said, “Statistically the KCOM Stadium is the toughest place to go. Hull FC, credit to them, were the least penalised team in the whole of 2019 by a long way. They have not lost a penalty count in the four games they’ve played this year. In the last four times we’ve been there we’ve lost the penalty count 36 to 21” I guess as he is quoting OPTA stats then he must be right, but as I say I thought we were pretty bad with discipline so I was certainly surprised, weren’t you? 

‘Radford Out’ was the heading of a thread on Rugby League fans this week which was started after the Wigan game and it was soon populated by the usual suspects saying the usual things. At that time, it was four games in, we had a 50% record of wins (which is all you need until around round 18) two defeats at The Champions and the Pies and an ever-growing injury and suspension list. However, as usual, Lee’s name is the first in the frame as soon as we stutter a bit and he knows as I and you do, that were it ever so! All that said some people think it’s all got a bit too cosy and that is something I have alluded to myself in the past. Some players, they say, seem to get in whatever they do, they play whilst others seem to be permanently out of favour and others maintain that there are a few doubts about the quality of some of our replacements; maybe, maybe not but one things for sure, another FC season of intrigue, conspiracy theories and moaning is off the grid! 

The thing is, for me, I believe things were said in that behind closed doors meeting between the owner and the Coach at the end of last season that made it perfectly clear that Adam would put the money up to give Lee exactly the players he wanted, but in exchange our owner expected some success this season. That I am told would be measured by at least a play-off place, by an owner who is becoming impatient for a return on his investment and some glory for his Club and who was ideally looking at a Grand Final finish by now. 

He knows too that the response from the fans this season has been phenomenal but that they won’t stand for another disastrous season. So, I don’t think that the ‘Radford Out’ brigade need to worry, our owner has things in hand and I just hope that all goes well and Lee is back to the hero status many of those grumblers were giving him just two and a half years ago. If he isn’t well I think we might just see changes but on that one who knows? 

Did you notice this week a by-line article which informed us all that Championship and League 1 clubs were notified 10 days ago by the Rugby Football League that Ottawa will enter League 1 for the 2021 season? Toronto Wolfpack founder Eric Perez bought the license of RFL member club Hemel Stags last year and will relocate the club to Canada with of course a different name. They say as a team they are keen on utilising Canadian players and are in no rush to reach Super League. With a New York ‘franchise’ in the wings and Perez saying that he has had interest from consortiums in Vancouver and Montreal and indeed the talk in some quarters of a World League in future years, this is all starting, I think, to get a little worrying! 

I know that whenever I talk about consolidating the current Super League, about franchises and licensing being considered again and about pulling up the drawbridge, I get a lot of correspondence telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about, particularly when I say that we should take a long hard look at the NRL and try and model our game on that. I know its never  going to be on that scale and that as I always say it’s the national game over there and the amount of TV money that is thrown at it is obscene, but a lot of what they do e.g. number of games played, scheduling of matches, TV coverage, their press and media interface and their TV magazine programmes etc. is worth at least studying a bit. Crowds over there are not so vociferous but yet millions of latent fans are still engaged with the sport. 

I know that there is much more money in the game over there, but they certainly ain’t struggling for recognition and media coverage. Now, as we are trying to build towards another TV deal the NRL is about to announce a $30 million profit (yeh, $30m) for its last financial year, which is a figure Super League could only dream about. That makes the logic of us not at least having a close look at how they structure the countries senior league and deliver it as a brand and product, pretty farcical. 

The news that there is to be a 20-fight boxing fundraiser for Mose Masoe and Rob Burrow later in the year highlighted what is a great initiative and well done to all those involved.  What’s more how good it was to hear that Jansin Turgot will be doing his bit and fighting Oliver Laing. What a bloke he is, he’s been through the wringer, nearly died, been through a shocking time and come through the other end, so well done to him. 

I have said in here many times over the last couple of years that as far as our game thriving or indeed even surviving is concerned, the next TV deal is crucial, but to get the sort of cash input we need, the game has to get its act together and quickly. To this end, 2 years ago the premier division broke away from the outmoded and staid RFL, (who we had all had enough of) and set up on its own and everything looked positive, with the future a little more-rosy. For most folks on the terraces our ‘past history’ with the RFL, made it an eminently sensible move.

In here, back in June 2018, I lauded the arrival of Super League’s first Chief Executive Robert Elstone and having followed his career in both our game and football, before he came, he was, I said, just the bloke to get things moving. He wasn’t a ‘blazer’ or an ex-player and he didn’t have any apparent baggage, but I thought that he looked the part and was someone who possessed that rarest of combinations; an administrator with a bit of charisma. What’s more, he has since convinced me every time I’ve heard him speak that I was right on that one. 

He has started to raise the games profile, created its own marketing and administrative team and even started to re-brand the sport in a new image and as we move towards those all-important TV negotiations, viewing figures are rising as are attendances. So, for me Elstone has clearly had an impact, but I’m not sure he has been able to do as much as he perhaps would have liked. In my opinion though, that might not be all his fault. 

I read a great article a few weeks ago by Martyn Sadler on this subject which stated that after the clubs had agreed to pay Mr Elstone a substantial 6 figure salary in exchange for him having ultimate control over the game’s destiny, they took much of his authority to do it away by tinkering with the process. Yet I remembered that back in the days of my time at the Council, when we appointed a consultant and paid them a fortune to sort out a specific issue, you trusted them to do a good job, you respected their methods and you allowed them to get on with it and make the crucial decisions that would determine the success or otherwise, of the project. What’s more they eventually stayed or went on the strength and success of those decisions. Good business practise dictates that if an organisation is going to employ someone on a very high salary to run its affairs, it should allow them to get on with it and run them. There has to be checks and balances in the system, but in essence what you buy in is that persons, vision, experience and business intuition. 

But that doesn’t seem to be happening with Super League. It has become apparent when you follow such things closely, that with the Clubs meeting so frequently they appear at times to be making all the decisions when perhaps some of them should be up to Elstone. 

For example, they overruled him on keeping the Magic Weekend in Liverpool, instead insisting it should go back to Newcastle. He might have been wrong, but his recommendation should have been accepted and he should have been judged and stood or fallen on the success of the event. More recently, on the subject of giving a dispensation to the Toronto Wolfpack, while he wanted to give them a 5 per cent addition to their salary cap, he was overruled by the other clubs. Then, with the issue of Israel Folau, it was apparent when he was interviewed on ‘Inside Rugby League’, that he didn’t want him anywhere near our game, as he feared the media ramifications and bad publicity he would bring and he was right. 

However, despite being the CE he obviously had no ability to influence how clubs that are members of Super League behave, or who they should bring into the game. He made it absolutely clear that he felt, in the interest of the sport, that the Catalans shouldn’t have signed Folau, but he had no power to prevent them doing so. His views were vindicated and then belatedly supported by the majority of the clubs, who then closed the door after the horse had bolted and put legislation in place to make sure it will never happen again. Martyn Sadler usually has a good nose for these things and perhaps as he says, it is a problem. 

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Robert Elstone comes across as an ideal figurehead to lead Super League forward, he is articulate, knowledgeable and his track record is excellent and he’s respected across the sporting world in general. There should be no need for incessant meetings of clubs to consider every minor detail of the way the organisation runs, that’s his job. Believe me in the 80’s and 90’s many local authorities Chief Officers would have moved things a lot more quickly had it not been for the incessant tinkering that went on by elected members. 

I would have thought that the whole idea of appointing a Super League CEO and his support staff, was to release the club officials so they can concentrate on their own clubs, while Elstone and his colleagues get on with running the Super League competition. Elstone would then be judged holistically on the success or failure of his decision making and administrative skills. He should be above the Clubs and indeed an arbitrator, should they disagree between themselves. If at the end of his contract they don’t like it, they can sack him, but if they appoint him and give him delegate responsibility to run the game on their behalf, they have to let him run it! 

At the end of the day the owners sink millions of their own money into their clubs and they should have a say but they want their own teams to succeed and they certainly ain’t going to agree or vote for anything that might be good for the game and the competition, but bad for their own club and yet at times such decisions have to be made. That should be Elstone’s job to do, it’s not easy, but that’s why he is paid so much. 

What’s more, as it stands at present each club is an individual shareholder in Super League, which of course ensures that if decisions are left to them, there will be no long-term strategic planning if those owners decide that their clubs may be harmed by that long-term plan for the game. That’s what you appoint a Chief Executive for; to make what are in the long term hard and sometimes unpalatable decision’s, but ones that are in the long run, in the game’s best interest.  

One thing is for sure, if it appears like that to me, then it must also do so to others, particularly those in big business. Last week, I examined the hope that we would get big ‘City’ investment to underpin our whole game, but our sports current business model is completely alien to the sort of blue-chip organisations who would be interested. Let’s face it, would you want to invest in an organisation in which conflicts of interest at the very top almost guarantee that it will make no significant progress? 

I don’t say I have it right here and I and Martyn could be completely wrong, however, if I’m not, then I can’t help but wonder how long Elstone will put up with the frustrations of the current set up, that said if he goes, then the game will, I’m convinced, have lost a massive asset and have blown a great opportunity. 

Now, after the sad and tragic death was announced this week of Adam Maher, my thoughts went back to a real 100% player who had both skill and a deal of tenacity and who played 100 games for the Club just after the turn of the century. He always gave every ounce for the cause and although not a flash player he was an integral part of that great team assembled by Shaun McCrae’s. What’s more off the field he was always a player who had time for the fans. 

This week I searched through my old notebooks and Diaries to see if I could find a game that he starred in, but it was a tribute to the work ethic and unassuming way that Adam went about his business both on and off the field, that made it difficult to find one in which such a dedicated and loved player stood out. However, I settled on a game from April 2003, which I have featured in here before, but I make no excuses at such a tragic time to feature it again, here for it epitomises exactly Adam Maher as the great Club man and 100% player he was. 

The game played on Friday 3rd April 2003 took place at our still new home the KCom Stadium and was certainly a memorable evening when Wigan arrived in town. That night, 12,000 fans roared our hero’s home to a famous victory in front of the Sky TV cameras. Unlike this year we had, back then, won all our League games having beenvictorious over Wakefield and Warrington away and Widnes at the KC, but now we faced our biggest test in the shape of the Wigan Warriors. The visitors were rocked just before kick off when their out of contract star Julian O’Neill walked out of their hotel, to sign for the Widnes Vikings. From the start of the game Wigan put us under some pressure and Richard Horne, playing that day at full back, twice relieved the pressure by fielding a couple of big kicks hoisted by Lam. However, after good work by Greenhill and Maher Chris Chester twice lost the ball in our half to give the visitors good field position from which they pressed forward. 

A short kick towards the corner by Lam looked to be ideally placed for ex FC hero Brian Carney who was now playing for Wigan. He raced downfield to be thwarted by Prescott as he slid in to take the ball at Carney’s feet. Then Wigan’s Hock and Mark Smith stole the ball from Greenhill and from the ensuing penalty Prescott added the two points, for Hull FC to take the lead. Our defence marshalled brilliantly by Jason Smith mad Adam Maher was holding up well but our attack lacked variation and it was unfortunate when our best chance so far went to ground as a Colin Best pass was intercepted.  Another penalty by Prescott made it 4-0, before we scored our first try. Good work down the left A Jason Smith kick spiralled in the air allowing Best, under great pressure from Dallas, to rise above the defence and bring it down over the line to score. David Doyle-Davidson, commentating that day on local radio, declared that Best “Rose like a Salmon”, but Referee Kirkpatrick referred the decision to the Video Referee, who eventually awarded the try and we went in at half time, 10-0 up.

Jason Smith who was left hobbling in the first half after a crash tackle on halfway, didn’t re-appear in the second half, but after just a few minutes Adam Maher, who was having a superb game and took over Smith thrusting role down the middle, took a kick through by Chester and beat Carney in a chase to the corner, where he scored his first try of the season and Hull’s second of the night. Leading 14-0 and looking reasonably comfortable, Hull then had to endure some Wigan pressure. The visitors attack charged forward, but a fierce tackle from Chester caused Carney to fumble the ball and then shortly afterwards, a big hit from Richie Barnett saw Brett Dallas pushed into touch, as, on their feet, the crowd made the Stadium rock to another round of ‘Old Faithful’. 

However, after a great move orchestrated by Richie Barnett and Fletcher, disaster struck. The latter made a blockbusting run and fed Logan who barrelled downfield trailing tacklers in his wake and was just inches short of the line when he eventually went down under two Wigan forwards. He stayed on the ground as the players waived for medical assistance and after a delay of around 8 minutes Scott was stretchered from the field with a broken leg. Just three minutes later Kohe-Love looked to have sustained a serious arm injury in the tackle and he had to go off too. The visitor’s pressure was starting to tell and on 64 minutes Wigan teenage sensation Gareth Hock stole in for a try after he had dummied the Hull defence at a play the ball and dived through. With injuries disrupting things and Wigan on a roll, Maher and Greenhill stood tall marshalling the younger players but it was obvious that we needed a try badly, and we got one.   

The injuries meant that we now had several of our young players on the field, and they showed their worth straight away as Graeme Horne ran down the blind side, Paul Cooke took on the defence and Yeaman side stepped twice, before crashing in to score. Kirk had done well in the centre of late and as always his score was particularly popular with the FC fans. Prescott missed with the kick but was successful with a penalty shortly afterwards when a great rampaging break from Maher led to Graeme Horne being tripped, when he would have scored. At 20-4 the Wigan side had obviously had enough and the dejected Cherry and Whites played out the final minutes in midfield before the hooter was greeted with a cheer you could probably have heard in Wigan! 

Adam Maher what a loss eh, so talented and still so young …great bloke? R.I.P. Adam, you’ll remain in our thoughts for many years to come. 

The Catalans game was disappointing to say the least and we simply have to start picking up points again. The atmosphere in the ground was shocking at times and you could feel the disappointment all around you. Will we do it at Wakey on Friday? Well I’d like to say yes, but things will certainly have to change to deliver anything, but another loss. They are a tenacious and tough team at Belle View and most teams don’t seem to use that wide pitch as well as they do. I guess too we’ll have to see how our injured players come through, but boy it’s going to be a toughy!! 

On Sunday I spotted a few rainbow T-shirts at the KCom and you know my views on Israel Folau and although I defend anyone’s right to protest, the Elephant in the Room at present, for all of us, is of course all this virus stuff and if things get worse, it’s hard to see sport not being eventually disrupted. Everyone is learning all the time and things are changing quickly, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. But it’s all pretty scary stuff! Thank-you all as always, for reading the Diary, your support is really appreciated and it will of course be back next week, after the Wakey game! 

In the mean-time Stay Safe!

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf