The Dentist’s Diary – 688th

Well, it looks like we might be back in business again in the next round of Super League doesn’t it!

Meanwhile this weekend the competition continues without us! As we all start to worry about a national resurgence,Summer moves on and as August draws to a close, it seemsthat around the Hull and East Riding region Coronavirus cases continued to stay below the national average and that has to be good news for now at least! 

Of course, that ‘local’ outbreak that shocked us all so much,was perhaps always going to happen somewhere, butunfortunately, it happened to Hull FC and we’ve had to get on with it! 

Again, it’s not been an easy Diary to write, partly because of the delayed shock after what has happened, partly because we are all unsure where we go from here, but mainly, this time around, because there has simply been little if no information around the place. It would have been easy to give it a miss this week but in a quest to get some sort of continuity I’ve had a stab at some of the things I’ve been thinking about over the last few days, so here goes …..

Although nationally restrictions are still being lifted we all know that we must still be very cautious, however at Hull FC, I’m hearing that everyone on the inside is working tirelessly to put things right, whilst on the outside they seemed to be in a communications lockdown themselves. Despite talk before the last Diary of another couple of rounds of tests and a flurry of statement in the first few days, we’ve heard nothing from our administration, between last weekend and this Saturday. 

Even the local newspaper, which again didn’t feature the Scott Taylor Column this week, was struggling to find anything to talk about, as each day we waited with baited breath to see how everyone was and if there were any more infections. In fact, we didn’t hear a thing until the RFL announced on Friday morning that no more players at Hull FC had tested positive, which was great news, but still we wait to hear how the players and staff that had been affected and their families aregetting on. It’s not a case of morbid curiosity, but more one of real concern for people who mean a lot to us. 

All the fans that I know care about, is how everyone is, but once we know that and we do get back playing again, with all the disruption it’s hard to see a win coming, well not at first anyway. The fact is we are now a long way behind the 8 ball as far as the other Clubs getting games under their belts is concerned. 

With what some of the players have been through, there will be a deal of anxiety and nervousness in the squad, so no one should be expecting a sudden brilliant win and I don’t think any of us are. However, what we all will need to see is some determination, some passion and a much-improved attitudetowards the task in hand. In these unprecedented circumstances no FC fan expects anything more than that and I hope that the players realise that, although we are all sympathetic towards what they and their families have had to endure of late, as things get back to something like normal it’s hard for us not to remember the deflation and disappointment we felt after that Salford game. 

We will never know the exact circumstances that led to the outbreak at Hull FC and we never should do either, for they are personal issues between the players and the Club; nor indeed may we ever know all the players that were infected either. As I said last week, in such circumstances, as rumours and speculation abound, we’re all only human and in the end,in our love for our club, we are bound to at least speculate which stories have some grounding and which are rubbish. If your emotionally involved in a sports Club, you might not want to hear anything that is derogatory and indeed dismiss anything that is, but when you are that much immersed in your team, you can’t help but spend a lot of time wonderingcan you?

In that vein, the fact that Shaun Wane said last week that Andy Last had consulted and discussed with him the situation at Hull FC and the internal circumstances surrounding it, was interesting indeed. Well it was when the national Coach then went on to elaborate on those discussions by saying, “I was concerned and a bit angry at the end of the day, this game is really, really important to me”. I had to ask myself, as I’m sure some of you did, why is a man, who always chooses his words so carefully, indicating that he was ‘angry’. Strange turn of phrase that? He then went on to say, “While all the players are being smart, we just need to be smarter. We need to be obsessed about making sure we are doing the right things.” 

Is he implying there that some of our players weren’t too smart??? Well who knows and perhaps I’m looking too much into things, but again as I say, that’s what you do as a fan, at times such as these, when information is I short supply. 

One things for sure, from what I hear from readers, a lot of fans have lost a bit of their appetite for the game and for their beloved Hull FC as well. I think that we have all been worn down a bit by the changing circumstances through lockdown to the game returning, however, that’s shouldn’t be too much of a worry because after the last 5 months and all the worries about families, infection and jobs, followed as it was by that performance against Salford and the news of the virus outbreak, folks are bound to be a bit battle fatigued and disenchanted. We are all simply emotionally drained by it all. However, we all know too that a few good gutsy passionate performances by the boys will bring all that old fervour back for us. The danger for the Club financially, is what follows if that doesn’t happen and the season ends in a whimper! 

If there hasn’t been much about to comment on, what a brilliant piece Gareth Ellis put in his Yorkshire Post column last Monday (which incidentally is always worth a read) when he talked about the situation at the Club. He certainly debunked the talk from a whole load of the conspiracy theorists and ‘well-wishers’as they speculated on where the virus had come from and indeed who was responsible for bringing it into the organisation. 

Gareth made no bones about the fact that the players had been upset by some folks’ speculation on social media. He said that everything that could have been done was done by both his colleagues and the club before the outbreak and added, “Yet reading social media there’s almost a blame game going on about who’s at fault. That seems to be the culture now, it is guilty until proven innocent”.

He continued, “ Without anyone knowing the facts, including the players at the time, we were reading theories about which players it was, with accusations that someone must have broken the rules or the club hadn’t done enough. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is we are in the middle of a global pandemic, millions of people around the world have contracted the virus. Anyone could have got it. This isn’t about blaming people, it more a time to support the people who have it and their families and learn from it moving forward, to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again, as difficult as that is clearly going to be”.

That I think bears out exactly what I tried to say last week and it was great to see Gareth, as our senior professional,coming out in defence of the Club and the players. For me he has never put a foot wrong from the day he signed for us and I hope that he stays around the place for a long time to come for he exudes everything that a true professional should. I know we need a clean out and a new broom at the club but I’d be doing my best to retain Gareth in some sort of capacity because his dedication application and now it seems, his awareness of the game and how it should conduct itself, are second to none. Top bloke is Gareth Ellis for me.

To scrum, or not to scrum, that seems to be the question across the game at present! Well, it was obvious that once the restarted season was underway the fans from all corners of the game would be looking closely at the new ‘6 again’ rule and the abolishing of scrums. Both are said by the RFL to be temporary measures, but in general they seem to have been well received as well and they will probably help to generate an amazing atmosphere once fans are back in grounds.

A few old dyed in the wool tradionalist’s like me still hanker after things being back to where they were before, but I guess when you step back from it all, the new rules certainly make for a game that is fast and furious and packed with incident. What’s more the tired legs in the forwards,that come towards the end of each half,certainly give the backs and play makers much more room to operate and that can only be good for the game as a spectacle.

But, in a way such changes sadden meand they always do. You see although I don’t have any proof, I’d wager that no game has had more rule changes, season on season, than Rugby League and here we are with a couple more. We seem to be obsessed with it, with some great ones like the making of the corner flag in play and some absolute disasters like when we allowed the team finishing top of the league to pick who they wanted to play in the play-off semi-final. Remember thatone eh? Boy a lot of other sports had a good laugh at us with that one!

I loved the game as it was in the 80’s and indeed in the early part of this century, but over the years since then it’s hard to discriminate between genuine rule changes and those that can only be best classed as publicity seeking and gimmicks. 

I guess I’m as bad as the RFL when I said last week that to make the new game more even, I’d change the kick off, so the team that has just scored kicks off and the defending team receives. I think that would genuinely help with one of the main issues in the ‘new game’ and break the momentum of one team, so as to level these run-away scores out a bit. In effect anyway, that’s only taking the game back to where it used to be. 

I think the 6 again rule is working well and cleaning up the rucks a bit and indeed there doesn’t seem to be as much a need for it now as there was when we restarted the season, which perhaps means that it’s working. However, getting rid of the scrums is a thornier issue altogether.  

Many in the game are already following what Paul Cooke said in his Hull Daily Mail Column last week and wanting them scrapped permanently, but I’m not so sure. I guess I can see both sides of the argument because scrums have been a fundamental part of our game since its inception and if they go what next, will we be getting rid of the last remaining real unique feature of RL, the play the ball and substituting it with a simple tap? I hope not!!!!

Rugby  Leagues heritage is something to be celebrated and scrums and play the balls have been part of it since its inception, but one could argue that when we broke away from Rugby Union in the 1890’s, the biggest fundamental change after the reduction of the number of players in each side from 13 to 15, was the introduction of the play the ball in place of the loose maul that the RU boys used. However, although that has stayed intact and it always should do, as a game we’ve always been changing things, 4 tackles, 6 tackles as many tackles as you like, there have been so many changes over the years, that some reading this will just say, why not two more changes?

For me the question here is not so much making the changes but more the way that such constantly chopping and changing of the rules effects the understanding of the laws by the casual viewer and thus our credibility as a game. Of these latest two, one has been forced upon us because scrums were seen to encourage too close contact between players (but how that differs to a player being tackled and rolling about on the floor with three of the opposition still baffles me). The other the 6 again rule, has arrived as so many changes in the past have, from the NRL. That one I think is OK, because if we can’t have a referee stood next to the play the ball and another in the defensive line indicating 10 yards,then this rule almost makes the ruck area self-policing. If the speed bump is referred to as ‘the sleeping policeman’ because it saves the cops a lot of work then the six again rule is akin to ‘the sleeping referee’of rugby league and I think that it works OK. 

But scrapping the scrums? Well I’m not so sure and perhaps to make them valid again we should go back to contesting them, now that would be interesting wouldn’t it? If they want to open the game up and yet next season the clubs want to go back to scrums, then I would set the scrum in the centre of the field no matter where the offence has occurred. This would split the backs evenly at each side of the field and I think bring an element of surprise into the ensuing play. That said, there is no guarantee whatsoever that we will be anything near being Covid free come the start of the 2021 season and so scrums may not return then, if they ever do. 

Still only time will tell whether these two rules will be become the norm or be removed into a broom cupboard at the RFL, which is no doubt already stuffedwith so many other aborted rule changes.  

You know you don’t often hear a lot from him, but the Saints owner chimed in this week to join the ‘Toronto in Super League in 2021’, debate with some pretty strong views that go a bit against what I had to say last week here in the Diary. You’ll remember that I said that for me the most important thing for Super League next year, is to still be here, intact and at the head of a credible sport and what’s more, by doing that, to have secured a new TV deal that suits the game’s needs. I said that clubs would be saddled with massive debts to pay back on the government loans that they have accessed this yearand to get through the 2020 season some clubs would need every penny on the Sky money they could get. 

It seems that my support of Neil Hudgell’ssuggestion that we dispose of Toronto for now, have an 11 team Super League next season, increasing by one team in 2022, 2023 and 2024 with no relegation, doesn’t suit Mr McManus at all. It’s tough on Toronto, but they are still in flux and only still just hoping to get a new owner in before the deadline set by the RFL. They have lost players and staff and also not made a good name for themselves in the worldwide game with the way they have treated some of their staff after the season was curtailed. My thinking is that by staying as we are and thus losing all the uncertainty there is surrounding the Wolfpack, you concentrated all your effort on keeping the 11 current Super League clubs, who are best equipped functioning, until we can grow to a 14-team league and then model our game on the very successful formula of the NRL. 

With us then having a 14-team league playing each other once with a Magic weekend and scrapping relegation in the short term in favour of a Franchise or licensing arrangement. My idea was that this would still leave the door open for clubs to come up after 2024 in a structured way, when they were equipped for the jump,  but more importantly it would give the current Super League clubs, some of whom are at present really struggling, time to consolidate and growagain.

The St Helens Chairman opposes thisidea on two fronts. First, he feels that that Toronto Wolfpack should have more time to test the market for a possible sale of the club to a consortium that would honour its debts and then compete once again in Super League next year. He recognises that to abandon the new market that Toronto uncovered in that Canadian city would be madness for the competition. Plus, secondly, he believes that a competition of only eleven teams would damage the reputation of Super League at a time when it would be at it’smost vulnerable.

Furthermore, if Toronto can’t compete next year, then he is suggesting that there should be a mini-licensing system, whereby ambitious clubs that are not currently in Super League could apply to be promoted into the competition to restore it to twelve clubs in 2021.

For me the final point is not a good idea at all, because it would mean a lottery as clubs vied for the one position left and had to compete with each other on criteria etc. and then there would have to be an assessment process, before the successful team would be left with no time at all to builds a team capable of competing in the 2021 competition. A season that is so critical to our TV contract going forward. The fact is of course, with the game’s current woes and with all the disruption we have seen because of the Covid-19 virus, what solution would be ideal?

For me I hear what Mr McManus says but I’d be inclined to not risk a Toronto team under new untried owners with a short time scale to get their players back and fill the gaps vacated by the exodus of players to the NRL. Or at least to do it at a time when the whole future of the game is up in the air and some owners are about to really feel the pinch. I know people from inside three other Super league Clubs and everyone is struggling. I won’t be naming name but two clubs don’t know how they will survive and we have to support them because otherwise the game will collapse. I still think we should concentrate of what we have at present, build the game again taking all the current clubs with us and then look at what happens once the League is up to 14 teams and everyone has paid off their Covid debts. 

In the mean-time, who would ever say that this world will be anything like Covid free by next March when the 2021 season kicks-off and I’m sure that there will still be outbreaks in this Country and North America, if not worse; major lockdowns. If that is the case do we really want teams flying backwards and forwards to North America when quarantine restrictions etc. are in place and for those clubs, to have to meet all the extra cost of testing etc? It’s bad enough contemplating it happening with Catalan, let alone with Toronto too. 

Just my opinion of course, as I always say, and it’s tough on Toronto, but I just want our game to survive and I worry about playing with either a Canadian club that has had to go back to the drawing board, or a co-opted club from Championship One who hasn’t had time to prepare properly for the increased demands of weekly Super League. We are in the shop window now TV contract wise and Super league has to look really good next season. I just think either scenario could jeopardisethe rest of the clubs currently in Super League and that we have at present to close ranks around its current clubs and help build again. 

So, there we are for this week, in what has been a pretty truncated Diary, but I’ve had a go! At the time of writing, (and I say that because things can change really quickly) all the players and staff who were not deemed to be affected last weekend have, according to the RL, come through and shown negative in their most recent tests. I just hope that we soon hear how everyone else that was positive is getting on, as the club hope for a return to training on Tuesday.  

I’ve tried hard to find something to talk about this week as it’s all been ultra-quiet, but at least things seem to be moving in the right direction and let’s hope that its good news here on in. Thank-you so much for sticking with the Diary and for all your correspondence over the last week. Let’s hope too, that I’m reporting on an actual game next time around, but in the mean-time please stay safe, be careful and keep following the rules. 

Look after yourselves and Keep Believing!!

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf