The Dentist’s Diary – 684th

Back in Business!!!!

In more ways than one! But what a disappointing return to playing that was. 

Well we’re underway and in a strange old world, I guess a sort of crazy 100 mile an hour touch rugby has already been accepted by us all as the norm. All that is, except our lot at Hull FC, who tried yesterday to play 30 mile an hour ‘Radfordesque’ Rugby, against a 100 Miles per hour Salford. 

It was simply a poor, poor performance against a team who had studied the new rules and the need for momentum and who used the whole of the pitch to tire us out. I think attitude wise there is still a lot wrong with our players and quite frankly I saw little different against Salford, than I saw all those weeks ago at the KCom against Warrington. It was really disappointing stuff to say the least!!

 Not that it’s not good to have the game back on TV and our heroes out there performing again (well sort of). It’s been a long time between drinks but at least we now have some rugby to watch to take our minds of what is an international situation that ain’t going away any time soon. 

As a spectacle for the uninitiated first time viewer ,desperately looking for something to watch, the ‘new game’ certainly has it all and our match had plenty of action. It was certainly fast and furious from Salford and the fact that every game is full of incident, makes it (in empty Stadia) a lot better watch, than football will ever be.  

Meanwhile here in the Diary we’re back in some sort of the original format and although I’ll be dropping the Codgers spot for a week or two, because over the past 21 weeks, you’ve all had enough of old games I’m sure, in general I’ll be trying to get back to how we were and including my thoughts and musings on all things Hull FC and Rugby League. 

686 The Dentists Diary 

The worries and concerns of Coronavirus certainly haven’t gone away, but I guess, by and large, it’s rather like we’re all starting over again, and as I settled down in front of my TV on Sunday it was hard really to know what to expect. The world is still a mighty strange place to live in, but at least we have the chance to watch the team we all love performing out there on the field. 

As a fan I’ve watched closely the despair, the hope, the farcical Toronto catastrophe, the financial worries, the greedy buggers snapping up players while their own were on furlough, the RFL doing their usual soft shoe shuffle trying to please everyone etc. etc. What’s more I’ve done it as I prepared for the new ‘big’ kick off. Indeed, I was fascinated to see how the lack of relegation would impact on the quality of games and how the ‘usual basement suspects’ would adapt to playing ‘no worries’ rugby (although, with both the FC and our noisy neighbours who are the present basement club, the answer to that one was that it was business as usual). It was going to be interesting to see how we would go under a new Coach, all be it perhaps not one that under normal circumstances, most of us would have preferred. 

I certainly hoped under Andy we would see a different FC to the one that signed off against Warrington all those weeks ago. I certainly welcomed the scrapping of relegation, as I think that a lack of such jeopardy is one of the reasons the NRL is so good and can build year on year, with the quality of players Down Under, developed because of that stability, a big plus too.

As kick-off approached yesterday there is little doubt that I was excited, but as I say, I really didn’t know what to expect at all. Perhaps after all these years following the FC I should really have known better.  If as a human race we all long for things to be back to where they were a few months ago, at least at Hull FC nothing has changed much at all!!!!

You see, for this fan, the one thing that I think I learned from the first week of the new behind closed doors season, was that if you get on top, then with no scrums and the six again rule, penalising tired tacklers in contact, the momentum is yours. What’s more the opposition have the devil’s own job to get it back and if they do then the energy to do much with it is often gone. That’s exactly what happened to us really. It’s now a game that favours the team on a role, perhaps too much and I for one would have welcomed the kick-off being awarded to the scoring team as it was years ago, rather than them being the team receiving the ball at the restart, but that’s just me.  

As the team was named I thought that with the exception of Scott Taylor, it had to be something close to Hull FC’s best side, on paper it looked strong and mobile. But on Grass …..

We kicked off and it went set for set, but from the off Salford looked quicker than us, before a grubber through on the sixth by Kelly saw a fumble over the line and Albo following it up and getting it down. It was a good start. Then of course just as we got in front, a mistake from Ellis produced a handover on halfway. From that advantage, a looping pass found us outnumbered wide out and Fonua, shooting out of the line, was, as usual, found out, as Sio sped in and it was 6-6.

 It was a hard grind with Salford giving the ball air and Hull using their forwards to little effect, the backs just couldn’t get going as they were swamped by a more enthusiastic Salford, but we moved down field, got a second set and pinned them over the dead ball line for a drop out. Almost predictably instead of calming it down we suddenly went off-load barmy and lost the ball. You have to score in such positions when you’re on a roll, and so a big chance was lost. 

It was soon apparent that Salford were kicking early, conserving energy and hunting the mistake and believe me, those errors didn’t take much hunting, as Lolehia got in too easily with a direct carry aimed at some tired FC players. At this point and at 12-6 Salford already looked the better team.  Ma’u was unlucky to see a pass to Kelly go forward when Albo would have scored. But it was backs to the wall again and a great break down the wing saw Salford kick inside to score a tremendous try which showed that in cover defence we were just not good enough. I again lamented Fonua’s positional play, as he was caught on the outside again. Then Bowden took his eye off the ball and knocked on, before luckily, under the post, Salford made their first mistake. 

Immediately though, Fonua lost the ball and subsequently Williams went in at the corner and we were on the end of a real lesson in how to pressure a team and force mistakes!! We just didn’t seem to be at the races.  The FC, with ponderous one up rugby were making the Salford defence look so good. It was just mistake after mistake as our energy drained away. 

It was apparent that Ian Watson’s lads were outsmarting Lasty’s wards in every facet of the game and we desperately needed something before half-time.  Evalds dropped a kick at full-back and as the clock ticked down somehow Ma’u got over the line to make things look more respectable. That said, it was hardly convincing as we ended a torrid and lacklustre half from a Hull FC, who had been out thought, out smarted and out played. There had been too much one man, driving rugby and this new look game isn’t about that. To be honest the score line flattered us!! 

So, at half time we were about to have an early indication as to what Andy Last could do at the interval to turn things around, whilst here in Beverley disappointment was the order of the day as we all already sort of knew what was about to happen next.  

Ten points down and the first score of the second half was to be important. We got an early penalty but as we ponderously attacked their line Atkin intercepted and all of a sudden two minutes into the half it looked game over.  We’d come out and not changed a thing . We looked leaden footed and had no time to create anything, while Salford gobbled up the meters as Lannon stole an easy ball from Griffin. Luckily Welham knocked-on over the line, but we struggled to get moving until a great pass from Connor put Carlos away and Shaul cruised in under the posts. We looked to be lacking energy, but at least we seemed to have gained some confidence, before a loose pass to Fonua went straight into touch. Back came Salford with expansive play that had us all over the place, as they moved us around in the line, whilst when we had the ball, we seemed incapable of doing anything like that back at them. 

We got a penalty for a high tackle on Ratu but we lost the ball just three tackles later as Josh Jones went off with a shoulder injury. Then just as it looked like we were getting back into it,  Connor hesitated, the ball hit his knees on a sixth-tackle kick and Yates managed to get the ball down. At 34-18 we were sunk. 

We rallied a bit with a short kick off but Naulago was sin-binned for a professional foul and a team that obviously lacked the energy and the attitude, now lacked the numbers as well. Bowden lost the ball in the tackle (again), and Salford scored as we stood motionless at the corner. It was an awful showing really, but take nothing away from Salford for they had the tip-and-pass rugby to a tee, whilst we looked naive in attack and flat footed in defence. Near the line we looked clueless and tries from Welham, Sio and Evalds saw the club with the worst attack in Super League making us look like amateurs. They used every inch of the field to teach us a big lesson. 

For those who love the club as we all do, it was simply not good enough, our forwards were not building any sort of platform from which our backs could play and it just looked as if we had continued where we left off all those weeks ago against Warrington. When our backs were to the wall our attitude was appalling and with the exception of our two centres no one shone at all for me, in what was a thoroughly dismal display. 

We had so much class on that team sheet, so many good players and so much potential and yet, as so often in the past,  we were outplayed in every department. If keeping season ticket holders engaged for 2021 is the target for the next few weeks, then as a start, that was pretty counter-productive!!  

I can’t be arsed to go into any more detail about such a poor performance, but I will just mention Salford, a team who perpetually struggle and who lost 8 players last season and are due to lose 9 at the end of this one. They operate well under the cap but have a brilliant Coach who keeps cobbling together a set of players who have passion and not a little nous and ability. Most of all, there is little doubt that Coach Watson has spent the virus weeks studying the Aussie game played under the new rules, devised some really different plays and most of all, drummed into his players the importance of momentum, taking your chances and draining the opposition’s ‘tanks’, they knew what they had to do and we just played into their hands. 

I’m already beginning to think that as far as Hull FC are concerned the scrapping of relegation could just be a blessing!!!!!

So, enough of that, what else has been happening? Well where do I start? Firstly, like everyone else I was sorry to see Albo and Ratu announcing that they would be leaving the club, as both in their various ways have been big players for us in their time at Hull FC. Albo operating behind a pack on the front foot and steering clear of injury is as good a ‘game changer’ as there is in the sport and Ratu, had we been able to keep him, would have been an absolute sensation in our game, for he has that rare x factor that few players possess. Albert has threatened for some time to return home to his family and, after a time like we’ve all been through, who can really blame him returning to be closer to them in Australia. But I’ll miss him as he is not only a great player but he tackles way above his weight and he’s also got that rare commodity of being a real character and of course, he helped us win the cup in 2017. 

He’ll be missed, whilst as I say, Ratu could have been so good going forward, but the proximity of his family and, no doubt ,the money on offer, has drawn him to Rugby Union. For me however, I still think his style of playing would have benefitted the 13-a-side game more than the more crowded 15-man code. Good luck to then both though, I’ll enjoy watching them this season and wish them well for the future. One things for sure with our parlous financial state, I can’t see us replacing them like for like, can you? 

Those of you who have followed these ramblings over the years will know that if there is one thing that I’m good at then it’s pontificating about the state of a game that I have loved for well over 60 years. However, with so much change taking place it would be wrong if in this returning Diary I didn’t have a look at what I made of it all and what I have gleaned from the media, the players and the Club staff. So, as we are back in the swing of things, here goes with this week’s diatribe. 

On a personal note it’s fair to say that the awful happenings back in March surrounding the Covid 19 outbreak left me a bit shell shocked and for a few weeks I found it hard to think about much else. I stopped the Diary because there was little to talk about and quite frankly for the first time in15 years I didn’t feel like writing it. All that of course, meant that I never really got a chance to look at the circumstances surrounding the departure of Lee Radford, although we all sort of knew that when we scraped a win at Wakefield, (and it really was scraped), it only delayed the inevitable as far as Adam taking some action was concerned. 

When Lee’s demise came I was critical at the time of the way that Adam announced his decision, straight after the game against Warrington, for I believed his timing was all wrong and that it smack of petulance and a knee jerk reaction. I think that night most of us thought that if we were honest, for we believed it would happen, but not in those circumstances. The fact is we are proud and at that moment we were left with a club that would forever be featured on sporting blooper and ‘out take’ shows as that incident is replayed and replayed. 

However, as things have unfolded we have learned a lot about that fateful day. Lee’s departure live on TV came at the end of a long day of RL meetings which had really emphasised just what was about to happen to the game, the clubs and the financing of the sport. What’s more, with no mention at all back then of the furlough scheme, Adam was suddenly faced with the distinct possibility of having to wind the club up, so perhaps that appalling defeat and the manner of it, was the last straw for him that day; perhaps he is only human after all? 

Still no excuse? Well perhaps not, but once we were in full possession of the fact a few weeks later, then maybe our owner’s outburst although badly times and a bit excruciating to watch, was in some ways understandable.  

I guess we all suspected it was all getting a bit pally, pally and laddish at the Club, if you mixed with the players I’m sure you knew it too. What’s more I guess last week we sort of had a clue that the problems that brought an end to Lee Radford’s reign at the Club were down to it all being just a little too ‘comfortable’ for some. For me, it just felt like at times as far as the senior players group was concerned the ‘tail was wagging the dog’ and Lee had allowed himself to get too close to some of his wards. In organisations that happens after time and it has been the down fall of many coaches, in all sports, over the years. 

The fact that Lee himself was perhaps becoming a bit stale and lacking ideas due to the length of his tenure, plus the laissez faire attitude that appeared to prevail around the place, is a common indicator in any business of a leader that is losing his edge. 

I was always taught that although the boss might be a good bloke and a nice guy in the end he’s ‘always the boss’ and that to manage people properly and accountably you always need a modicum of aloofness, a lot of respect with perhaps even a bit of fear mixed in there as well. That respect from the players had for me diluted a bit, and furthermore it appeared to us lot watching from the ‘touchline’ that some players would get a place in the team, even if they had a broken leg, whilst others not in the ‘in crowd’ who were really doing well, would step up only to lose their places as soon as a senior player was fit again. You need a little uncertainty of tenure to keep an edge across the squad and have players, whether they be young lads or senior professionals, fighting for a place and then fighting to keep it. 

It was therefore not a surprise at all when last week Josh Griffin gave an interview in the Hull Daily Mail in which he alluded to the fact that “It probably got a bit silly in terms of banter and stuff towards the end of Radders’ reign, that’s one thing Lasty’s tried to change, when we’re in training he always wants us at 100 per cent. I’m one of the culprits for it, as a senior player when I train, I train hard but I’m also one of the wind-up merchants sometimes and I’ve had to wind my neck in a little bit now, that’s been the same across the board”. 

There then followed a really revealing interview with Danny Houghton in last Sunday’s League Express, which not only outlined the fact that a poor level of discipline, time keeping and good house-keeping around the training ground and changing rooms had been addressed (and fines introduced for those who transgress), but which also indicated by his own admission that Houghton, our captain, had “fallen foul of the system already”. He,  said ….. “it’s all about tightening things up really, not leaving stuff lying about not being late for appointments, being on time for training, all those small things” So one can only presume that if all that had gone west under Radford, things had all got way too sloppy and undisciplined and some were doing as they liked. 

What’s more, for your Club Captain to admit last week that he had lost his appetite for the game in the first 7 games of the season, when he should have been the one driving the lads on, was I believe yet another indicator that things had become a real mess in the camp at Hull FC. That for me is a big indicator that all of us who worried it was all getting too cosy and some were too close to the Coach, were perhaps on the right track and it was time for a change. 

All that said, the change when it came was sad for me, for I will always remember Lee as the Coach who made all my Hull FC dreams come true! I always say we should erect a statue to him, for he did something that all those luminaries from our past, Francis, Bunting and Smith included, could not deliver. ‘Old Faithful we went and won at Wembley’ and much of that success was down to Lee, his planning and his inspiration of the team. Back in 2016 many of our squad were new imports and didn’t get the local pride and longing stuff, or indeed the significance of Wembley. But Lee did, he understood the importance of it to the community and how that was imbedded in us all and somehow he interpreted that to the players so that the passion was there for us to win …..twice, in a style that smacked of guts, determination and wanting. That was because in the end Lee was a fan and a bloody passionate one, that bit for him came as second nature!

Sadly, though perhaps like a lot of us who had at last seen the one thing they yearned to experience in their lives come to pass in glorious circumstances at Wembley, that was for him, subconsciously his Nirvana! The ultimate prize. He said otherwise, of course he did, but August 2016 saw a set of circumstances that have changed, (if we are honest) all of us and maybe in the end, it all just got away from him as well. 

He mentioned it a time or two in his reign, but perhaps years’ of his family and him being ragged and cajoled by the Dobbins fans at the petrol station, in the Supermarket, at school and in the pub etc. had driven him on, but also taken its toll as well and I think the ‘Wembley is all’ dream that Lee instilled in the team was animated by the way they trailed off so badly in league games before and after those epic finals. 

That first Wembley win and the circumstances in which it came must have ‘blown’ that safety valve in him, as it did in all of us. The way he turned to the fans and shook the cup at us after the game in 2016, perhaps belied his feelings perfectly. We were all as one and the life changing relief we all felt that day was palpable. 

 I think as a Coach he tried really hard and what’s more, unlike many before him, he ‘got’ the FC fans completely, perhaps too much!! He stayed too long and perhaps he knew that too, for I know from chats with those close to him, that in the end, for Lee himself, his departure was a relief!!  

So, a massively significant chapter in our club’s history closed unceremoniously on a windy cold night at the KCom, in front of the watching thousands on Sky TV. 

I think it’s fair to say that had Lee left the Club under normal circumstances with none of this virus stuff around, the ensuing changes would have been wholesale ones. That’s not being unfair to Lasty but I think it’s a fact. Adam knew, I think, that we needed new blood from outside the club, an expert coach who had no connections, history or friendships with anyone on the playing staff. I suspect that was Pearson’s intention after he sacked Lee, but within literally hours, everything changed and circumstances thus dictated that Andy, who would, I think, have expected to be interim coach in a short interregnum, was installed as Head Coach until at least the end of the season and we all must understand Adam’s predicament, honour  Andy’s chance and get 100% behind the club. As I say that’s not being disparaging at all to Andy, but I think when you step back from it all that’s how it was. 

I know Andy really well and he’s a great guy, a family man who is a really good coach and a font of all knowledge rugby league wise. He is a man of great integrity and a top-class coach and again, he’s also a massive fan and he gets the local  community bit perfectly. I’m really pleased for him; I’m just saying that fate has dealt him a challenging yet unenviable hand, but how it would benefit us all, if he can take it. We must hope that whilst he has been waiting his opportunity, he’s observed what happened at the club under Lee, good and bad and that he has learned from it. 

But, (and there’s always a but) the fact that he is such a nice guy and part of the fixtures and fittings as it where, is going to make it hard for him to move up from the Assistant Role. In a more conventional time the assistant was the person who was close to the players and the go between, whilst the Coach was the one who was aloof and a bit distant from the dynamic of the group. Or at least he should be!!! It will certainly be tough for him. 

 It’s easy when your winning or just training but when you lose and have to drop and exclude players that dynamic can change drastically. Already on Sunday we saw players arguing with each other, a poor attitude and a real lack of passion at times. So, there’s always that nagging doubt that the culture of the club over the last couple of years dictates that it will, in the end, be down to the players as to whether Lasty’s tenure is extended after 2020 or not. 

For Andy to rid the organisation of the previous two seasons demeanour is a massive ask, but he’s relishing the challenge and yesterday showed I think just what a challenge it is. I really hope he ‘does good’ and brings us success, he’s been a loyal and dedicated servant to the club and so he deserves to and what a story that would be!  

As was always the case with Lee there will be no massive knocking of Andy Last  in here because in the end, as the previous Assistant, with our current squad, the changing rules and the virus stuff to contend with, it’s a difficult, difficult job. If you were a stranger to the players it would be hard, never mind when you’ve seen  many of them as your pals!! ! It’s a tough task and under the microscope that is sport in Kingston upon Hull, everyone is watching what he does very closely. 

Yet, conversely it’s an ideal situation in many ways, because with no relegation this year Lasty has a chance to make a name for himself without too much pressure. He can change the style of rugby and see if it works, without having real future defining must win games on the agenda. We can change our  playbook, execute some flamboyant rugby and see what happens and do all that, without the sword of relegation hanging over our heads. If Andy doesn’t come up with the goods rugby wise and inspire the fans, Adam, who was clearly frustrated yesterday, can’t lose either because he can point to Last’s probationary period and the need to sell season tickets next year and then appoint someone else from outside the club.  

One game is certainly not an indicator but from day one Andy had to make changes and has certainly had a long time to think about them. He has obviously identified what was going wrong under Radford but whether he has the kudos and is isolated enough from a group of players he has rubbed shoulders with for years, only time will tell. It wasn’t a good start on that one either and the culture amongst the players still looks to be leaving a lot to be desired. As I’ve already said, he’s cut out all the joshing and banter stuff and refocussed everything on work, what’s more he’s also reduced the size of the leadership group which again was becoming too inclusive and too big. The next few months are a massive challenge for Adam and Clarky off the field and Lasty and his staff on it, it’s not started well at all  and it will be interesting to see how it all pans out.  

That said, it’s not hard to see both financially and success wise why Adam has opted for the course of action he has, is it? Nor is it hard to see how Andy is relishing the challenge. Let’s all get behind the new coach, the owner, the players and the Club we love eh? For now at least!

Adam said last week that we have to start winning our league games at home, which is something that became painfully apparent to most of us half way  through the 2018 season, but it’s never really been addressed has it? Just 7 home wins last season; it’s a long time since the KCom has been a fortress and once we are back there it needs to be one again and quick!! 

Still, if it’s taken a long time for Adam to realise the obvious in that department he is still a great owner and one with a deal of integrity and sense of ‘fair play’ too. As a club in lockdown it was well publicised that we were the first to sort out terms with our players and well done to him and Clarky for the way that they have conducted their business and steered the club through these traumatic times. 

It was typical of Adam to do what is right by the staff when  he made a point of saying that because we were expecting players to take a pay cut, we would not be signing any new ones yet, because that would be a kick in the teeth to those who were already at the club, that were expected to make sacrifices. If you ask players to do that and your strapped for cash the last thing you do is go out and sign players. It was certainly interesting to see that the last clubs to see their players sometimes begrudgingly accepting the reduced terms they were offered were those who had either gone out and bought players for next season or even worse, poached players from other clubs that were struggling with the situation.

 That action by the owner is the sort of thing that keeps all us fans on board and clambering to help financially in any way we can. It’s called being honourable and whilst clubs like ourselves and Leeds have honoured the players we already have, sadly a few others haven’t and at times such as these that’s not on at all. Now, in theory at least,  the players have to return that trust to the owner and perform on the field. 

Like so many other industries ours has been helped by the furlough scheme and apparently without it, as Adam said last week, we would have gone to the wall with at least 8 other Super league Clubs. 

I find it hard to see when fans will get back into grounds and even if they do I guess like me a lot of you reading this, will be wary of doing so.  However, if we get through this without a massive second wave and get a bit of positivity going into the 2021 season, the main need for the game, if it is to move forward, is for rugby league to gain some stability. The game needs to build and move forward to look a good prospect to TV companies and yet it has to do it just at a time when all Super League Clubs will be trying to manage massive loans they have had to secure to keep going this year. It’s a massive ask but that’s where for me, Neil Hudgell’s idea for the next three seasons makes a bit of sense. 

In the wake of Toronto having their Super league registration rescinded, Hudge suggested that we should stay with 11 teams next season predominantly to give the current debt-ridden Super League clubs as much of a share of the Sky money as they can get. Then he suggests that we allow one club to come up each year, for the next three seasons, until we have  a 14-team Super League.  Then presumably, they will look at pulling up the drawbridge and perhaps introducing licensing again, which still allows for other clubs coming up at times, but that does also offer a certain amount of stability to the current premier teams. 

Teams like Leigh, Widnes, London and Featherstone could make a real fist of Super league, but they need more than one season to do it, for they need to build a team and not one made up of the players no one else wants either! This idea allows for that. I say all that, simply because it is likely that current SL clubs will be paying back their share of the government loan (that they will need to access now furlough has finished), for several years to come and if any-one should go down in that period and subsequently lose the Sky money, they will, with such debts, just fold. What is the point of giving a fledgling Leigh team one year to probably fail, at the expense of an established Super League club going under? This allows both to prosper. 

It’s not often I agree with Hudge but on this occasion I think he’s spot on. Still we’ll see for there are a lot of hurdles to overcome, before we even get to the 2021 season kick-off.

So, there we are we are through week one of the new truncated ‘no-one’s watching but everyone’s watching’ season!!! What it will bring who knows? But the signs for us are already ominous. For this fan just two things are for certain, as a competition it will be different and it will be exciting. 

I just want to say that it’s great to be back with the Diary,  despite the fact that Hull FC are looking to be the same as when we left the season, but a big well done to you all for getting through the past 4 months. I’ve had my own issues as I’m sure everyone else has, but we’ve just got to battle on and do our best. Next up on Sunday its Cas. at the Totally Wicked, and that again is a big ask, but surely we can’t be as bad again can we? 

I’m sorry for this week’s negativity but I was so looking forward to Sunday but in the end for me it was not so much the performance but the attitude that was so frustrating.   Meanwhile thanks for supporting the Diary again and for all the correspondence and messages over the past 4 months and please tell your mates, if they are lapsed readers, that the crazy old codger is back again. In the mean-time stay safe and I’ll speak to you all again next week.

And ……Although it’s going to be hard this week, try to 

Keep Believing

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf