The Dentist’s Diary – 689th

What a turn around that was!

It’s a crazy old game isn’t it! 

On any given Sunday that performance would have been hailed as a sound win against an average team, but under the circumstances that preceded it and the adversity we experienced during the game, it was nothing short of magnificent. We simply showed so much character!

It was a performance full of guts and commitment, against a team who themselves were needing a win after two close defeats. We had to throw some youngsters in there, but the whole team showed what can be done with a bit of heart and a lot of honest graft. 

Around the game no one gave us a chance and few of us FCfans where anything but sceptical about our chances.  However, in the end, it was all pretty emotional stuff really and the sort of victory that as fans, we simply couldn’t have dreamed of. The players took the adversity and the criticism and used it to build some character again. What transpired was as fine an 80 minutes of sheer determination, as we have seen for a long time. 

True, Huddersfield were poor at times but a lot of the mistakes they made were forced by our resolve and the fact that they were chasing the clock. Plus, our defence in that second half was second to none. We scored some great tries, but by and large our rugby wasn’t exactly brilliant for much of the game, yet the spirit and fight was superb and against a Huddersfield team, who just thought they had to turn up to win, our young guns Cator, Fash, Brown, Lane and Johnson battled and battled in a great all-round team effort. It was the way that they did all the little things right that impressed me! But, when you list the issues that we had to overcome both before the game and on the day, they were all heroes, in what was a pretty special showing. 

So, a big well done to all the players and most of all well done to Andy Last , for a good game plan and for having the guts to drop the Club Captain to the bench. That sent out a real message of intent to fans and players alike and brought the desired response from the lads, after Salford and all the virus stuff, it was so good to see!

The last few weeks have spawned an unprecedented situation for the whole of our squad and indeed for the game in general, as other clubs watched how Salford and the FC would come out of it, whether they were next in line for it and everyonejust …..wondered. 

Catalan Dragons didn’t have to wonder for long though, did they? As what many thought would be the inevitable, struck again, this time in the South of France and The Dragons  demise then impacted on poor old Wakey as well.  

Back home it had been another quiet week in the game, but at least it was back to business for Hull FC. As we reported back for training last Tuesday, the Mail headline read ‘Andy Last admits Hull FC won’t be physically ‘100 per cent’ to face Huddersfield Giants’, and nothing could have been more accurate about the shape of those players who actually made it to the team sheet. For, after two weeks of training in the back garden and worrying about test results, their families and their team mates, it was always going to be tough. Let’s face it, Salford, who had been through the same quarantine as we had, but hadn’t contracted the virus, looked jaded and spent against Leeds on Saturday and what’s more, after two weeks of inactivity, they copped for a real catalogue of injuries too, so it didn’t look good for us at all did it?

But we came through all that, we got a couple of injuries ourselves but the passion was back and in that first half there were good lines run, dummy runners and quick play the ballsa plenty, whilst in the second it was backs to the wall and hold what you have. We produced a performance that we all so desperately wanted to see and I’m sure it brought some real heart to all of you reading this. 

As we approached the game we all awaited the announcement of the 21-man squad and indeed pondered on whether we would have 21 fit players to put in it!! Friday was D-day for those who were struggling to recover from the virus to prove their fitness and as I awaited the announcement, I mused on the fact that few coaches could have had a more difficult ‘baptism’ than has been the case for Andy Last’. As the squadwas named, it appeared that for one reason or another 5 players, in addition to those already injured, hadn’t made it. So, we started with 7 potential starting players missing. 

We all knew that this was a game that was going to be a massive ask for everyone at the club, in fact most of us thought that, after all we had been through, being even able to name a team was tantamount to job done. For we looked to beseriously short of front row forwards!

Still at least Carlos Tumavive came out and tried to raise our spirits and produced a bit of a rallying cry to the lads, citing the fact that they had received so much negative publicity since the last game, that it was time to stand up and prove the critics wrong. ‘Yeh, Yeh’ we thought,  we’ll see!  For, all we really craved as fans was some passion and a change of attitude. 

At least Andy Last kept his word in that following that abjectshowing against Salford, he picked the team on form and dropped Houghton and Fonua to the bench and so, with a ‘if their big enough their old enough’ attitude, he gave some of the youngsters their chance. 

We received the kick-off  and indeed after a few plays we looked to have more energy than we’d seen last time out. Kelly saved our bacon in broken play mopping up a great kick on the sixth before he nearly got in on the end of a great down field move that had dummy runners a plenty and a real pace about it. The main thing was that the attitude of our players was already looking to be so much better. Naulago then went down with a head knock, before a penalty for a dangerous tackle got us into a great position. Ma’u got close, but in the next set Kelly crashed in from a well-timed pass from Johnson, who had  started  really impressively at acting half. That score visibly raised our spirits and gave us great heart and Fash in tandem with Ellis looked to be beating them up down the middle in a style that we hadn’t seen for ages. 

With 15 minutes gone we were really holding our own and when Huddersfield dropped the ball Sneyd galloped away 60 yards to outstrip the cover and touch down. Marc really did fly for the line and it was great to see a team that had been sat fretting and isolated at home for two weeks, in front by 10 points and looking good value for their lead.  We then had the chance to go for goal twice after the Giants were penalised, but we took the tap and turned the screw, which was certainly heartening to see. 

That pressure finally paid off and a Sneyd kick was brilliantly planted over the line by Griffin. Huddersfield looked rattled as Cator was having a great game along with Johnstone down the middle. Marc Sneyd was having a good game too but disaster struck when he rolled his ankle and limped off, before Jack Brown, straight onto the pitch, got a great try with his first touch off a short ball from Kelly. If someone had told me last week we’d have been 22 points up on the half hour mark, I’d have probably laughed my hat off!! But we were and what’s more we were controlling the football really well, so much so that Huddersfield hadn’t had a sniff at our line. 

Then from nothing, directly from acting half, Johnson slid a great kick through and Fonua pounced and all of a sudden it was 28-0 and I’m sure like me, many of you were rubbing your eyes in disbelief. Of course, this is still Hull FC and we concede a try just before half time after a cock up on the restart, but to go in 22 points up was more than any of us could ever have dreamed. 

But, could a team that had been through so much adversity in the past three weeks with around 7 players missing and our general and play-maker off the field injured, survive the next 40 minutes when all  evidence of what had gone before pointed to us wilting under pressure in the second half ?

As it started Shaul, who was showing up well, pinned the opposition behind their line before at the end of the next set,we forced another drop out and that was just the heartening start that we needed. We were still showing amazing levels of energy and commitment and although not as effective with the ball as we had been in that first half hour, we were really in their faces from the off. Johnstone, Brown, Lane and Catorbrought a youthful fervour to the team and it shone out like a beacon as we defended with all our might. 

It was a point in the game where we really missed Sneyd’ssettling kicks and nous in the line but we battled and battled and used what possession we had to get upfield, before the inevitable try came to the opposition on the 62 minutes. 

It was a well worked effort and we could have wobbled and in the past we would have wobbled, but this time we didn’t, in fact despite Fonua being sin-binned and Naulago going off with concussion, we fought on and put in an effort that was, under the circumstances, nothing short of amazing.  We managed the 10 minutes with 12 men superbly, in fact, in that period, we added another two points. Then to put the final ‘icing on the cake’ Shaul dropped a goal and we were home for what had seemed the most unlikeliest of wins. 

We had kicked our heels at home for two weeks after an awful showing against Salford, lost players through the Covidoutbreak, lost our general and playmaker after half an hour,played ten minutes in the second half with just 12 men and in the last quarter played with just two rotating players off the bench. Yet we performed with passion and commitment and that would have been enough in itself before we started, but to come home with two points as well was something else altogether. 

Several player stood out for me, some of whom I had pilloried after our last game. Take Shaul for instance, he joined the line produced a string of telling passes and altogether looked like a different player. Griffin and Carlos were great in the centres,whilst Sneyd, until his injury, really ran at the line. My man of the match, Albo had as fine a game as we have seen him play for ages. Johnston was almost as good as Kelly and has to keep his place, whilst another player I’ve had a go at, Brad Fash, also showed up really well and Lane was a machine in defence at times. Ellis battered them early on, whilst Joe Catorlooked superb at times and again was up there with the best. 

In the end it was a very satisfying victory and one that has buoyed us all. There are bigger challenges ahead against Warrington on Friday, but for now, let’s all just enjoy the moment eh?   

So, to other stuff and after this week’s Catalan out-break we were all left with a lot to think about. I said in here two weeks ago that the issue for sports in general was with those who,like rugby league, could not afford to isolate players in a permanent bubbles and sadly, so it seems to be. For me this latest outbreak does animate the fact that although we are getting some games played and broadcast on Sky, if clubs are still finding it hard to isolate their players away from the training ground, then more outbreaks may be inevitable. What’s more, that means I guess that we are a long way off a time when we will be getting crowds back in stadiums in any sort of numbers.  

Yet some Super League outfits, who don’t have a big season ticket base who are paying up whatever happens, are desperate for that to happen ASAP. In fact, some Clubs, as I said last week, (after I got a bit of inside information about two Super League outfits), are in big trouble. 

That was borne out by what the Head of the RFL Ralph Rimmer said this week, when he commented, “It’s going to be testing for all the clubs out there and I can’t guarantee, hand on heart, they’ll all make it through. There’s a lot of pressure on them all and some may not be able to rise to it. We are here to ensure the majority get through.”

Read that bit again, (‘the majority get through’), because for me that is really worrying as the game is almost accepting that some won’t!!! 

So, let’s get this right, we are about to bring a Canadian Team who has really let the game down back into Super League, whilst we are being told right from the top of the organisation that some other traditional clubs who have stuck it out through thick and thin, look likely to go to the wall? You can certainly see why, exasperated by some club’s actions towards that end, Hudgell called it a day at Rovers can’t you? 

Let’s consider what Tony Smith had to say this week, for whatever his allegiances at present, he’s sort of becoming a pretty outspoken guy, when everyone else has been silent and almost ‘visibly’ not commenting.  Last week in the Mail he made it quite clear that it is likely that whatever happens, Toronto are coming back into Super League next year. That’s a club, as he pointed out, that has failed to pay its players for months and months, players that have mortgages, families and commitments. 

The new owners of the Canadian outfit can pay all those players up next week, but it won’t ever make up for all the heartache, worry and stress they and their families have experienced over the past few months. Of course, on their automatic reinstatement Smith’s right, for although no one  knows what will happen, it could still be totally impractical to be jetting clubs back and forth to North America in the first half of  2021. 

In fact, it’s perhaps even unethical to just let them back in anyway. If you really do want 12 teams and some current clubs are about to go under, what about the Championship Clubs out there waiting their chance. Clubs like London, Featherstone, Widnes and Leigh are all still struggling like hell to continue, but still doing the honourable thing towards their own out of work players. Time will tell, but it’s all very scary for all concerned. 

Now, next up I thought that I‘d give everyone some feedback on last week’s offering and after the discussion I had on the latest rule changes it appears that the majority of readers think that the 6 again rule should stay permanently. However, you were split about 50/50 on the restoration of scrums, once the virus has subsided. 

Additionally, my suggestion of reversing the kick-off ‘s after a score, so that the scoring team restarts and kicks to the team that has conceded, (to break the momentum in high scoring run away games), met with a lot of agreement. We all remembered it happening before in our game, but everyonestruggled to remember exactly when and that certainly spawned some debate on the subject across social media. My pal Kathy decided that the only way to settle it was to contact the one man who was sure to know, Club Historian and good friend of the Diary, Bill Dalton. 

Back Bill came with the following reply; “That was a tough one. Off the top of my head I would have said about 12-15 years ago, but it was actually 1996. Greg McCallum, Director of Referees Coaching instigated the change, to bring Rugby League in line with other Sports” apparently Bill added that was to help in the promoting of the game in ‘Asian and the American Nations’!!!

Like Bill, I thought it was tried more recently than that, but that’s how it goes as you get older and older, time just slips by; but of course, as always, Bill had the answer. 

On the thorny subject of Toronto’s inclusion next year, that I also discussed last week, it appears from your comments that the jury is still out on that one as well, with many favouring cutting them loose and soldiering on with Neil Hudgell’s plan for the next 4 seasons. Whilst a few other readers, (some openly admitting it) just fancied a trip to Canada and so thought that they should be let back in. Although, the new Wolfpack owners are still not sorted and they are certainly an unknown quantity. Still, it looks like they’ll be back, but a bit more about that later. 

Now, it was certainly interesting to read last weekend that the Salford Coach Ian Watson was in favour of naming players who were found to be infected by Covid 19 for, he claimed, the information of the teams they’d opposed. He added that he thought that course of action would be, “for the good of the game”. Now, I have a lot of time for Watto and would love to see him at Hull FC, but on this one, I think that for me the Club and the RFL took the right decision because it’s not about outing players in public. 

Monday’s round of testing will identify if any opposing player has been infected and the subsequent Contact tracing will identify who he opposed and thus at risk and anyway, for me,the concern has in the first instance to be for the welfare of players and their families. You only have to look at the finger pointing and awful stuff that has gone on across social media towards our ‘anonymous’ players, so imagine what would happen, (if they were formally identified), out there in the community to themselves and their families. 

Their wives have to work and the kids have to go to school and although no doubt word would get out, the last thing you would want in such circumstances is a media led witch hunt. I think it’s best to have some anonymity myself and anyway, if the more inquisitive with nothing better to do, want to know names then they only have to wait until their team is back playing, to see who is still unavailable. 

However, that said, the fact that up to 8 infected FC players were in contact with the Salford boys for 80 minutes in that game and yet no one was seen to be affected does, for me,pose two questions. Firstly, it could point to the fact that it is actually extremely hard to become infected playing Rugby League, or secondly and more worryingly, it could raise questions about the effectiveness of the testing regime in the first place. Now that bit is worrying!

So, to the rest of the RL news and to the big local story this week and therefore I guess something I should at least comment on, as we heard the announcement that long time protagonist and my arch-nemesis over the years, Neil Hudgell, is at last leaving Hull KR. Over the years his enthusiasm for the Club he loves has often strayed from that of an owner, into one of a passionate and outspoken fan and even dare I say a bigoted one at times! 

Of course, the Dobbins fans loved him for that, particularly when it got right up the noses of some of us lot over in the west side of the City. That trait wouldn’t be a big surprise at all to anyone who has studied in any detail the dynamics of being an owner and a fan at the same time, particularly when that role is played out in a pressure cooker of a Rugby barmyCity like Hull. Ours is without doubt the greatest and perhaps bitterest rivalry in the game. They hate us and we hate them;simple as!! 

But as Bill Dalton reminded me this week the Hull KR Chairman back in 1900 did say all those years ago, “Both Clubs need each other” and although I’d be glad to see the back of that lot, he had a point. 

For when you step back from loathing of the enemy across the river, few could ever argue that anyone has done more for a rugby league club, on the fronts of supporting, philanthropy and sacrifice, than Neil has done for Rovers, (whoops!!! that’s the first time in almost 700 Diaries I’ve called him Neil as well, but don’t worry it’s not a habit I’ll be getting into either!). 

Fact is, whether we like it or not, without Hudge (that’s better) there would have been no Hull KR by now and a lot of the fans I know from across there will immediately admit that. Let’s face it too, you can’t take away from the bloke just what he has done for the Rovers over the years.  

When anyone came into the club and disagreed with his course of action, his attitude was always, ’It’s my money and I’ll do as I want. If you want to change that, put yours in and your welcome to make the decisions’. That always sounded dead arrogant to us lot looking in from the West, but he supported  the club and selflessly always did what he thought was best for it. What’s more it’s an attitude that is real ‘Hull’ and therefore one has seen him idolised by the fans. He was his own man and in years to come he will be looked back on by the Dobbins supporters as we look back on Roy Waudbyand perhaps in future decades, will reflect on Adam Pearson.

We may have not liked it and wished that he had failed, unlike many others in sport, he put his money where his mouth wasas well. 

I heard last week that one of the things that pushed him into this decision was the collapse of the deal to purchase Caravan Park and the surrounding development land. I know for a fact, the last straw was the Clubs starting to line up behind the Saints Chairman in his wish to see Toronto back in Super League next year, when Neil felt the first priority for the game and smaller Clubs like Rovers, was to hold what we have and build from there. 

I say smaller Club’s, not in a disparaging way for once as well. For, despite the fact they have some of the most passionate supporters in the game and have often had players that ‘wanted it more’ as they appreciated that crowd and raised their game to match the fans aspirations, they have perennially struggled to get their attendances up. One despairing fan on their private message Board said this week, “We could win the Grand Final and the Challenge Cup and still struggle to get 9000 every week at Craven Park” Yet without them and the rivalry we have, Rugby League in Great Britain would not be what it is today. The Hull Derby is the biggest in the World, what’s more, credit where credit is due,Hudgell got the rivalry dynamic completely. 

Hudge was a realist and said on numerous occasions that the gap between the income they could raise and the amount needed to compete at the top of the game was always too wide, adding that no one can continually pump money into a club that is perennially failing to make ends meet. Perhaps their recruitment of late, has animated that fact as well.   

Earlier this year, at the onset of Covid, he vowed not to put any more of his own money into Rovers unless relegation from Super League was taken off the table in 2020 and perhaps then the writing was on the wall. That decision was finally confirmed late in July, but only after Toronto Wolfpack pulled out and that certainly eased the Dobbins immediate concerns given they had won just one of their opening seven fixtures.

Anyway, he’s leaving in December and no doubt someone else we can all dislike equally as much will move into the position, but I think that Rovers will struggle in the future without him. So, they look for new owners however, in closing,I’ll add the caveat that if Rovers fans think the Allam’s are the answer to their prayers then, following what we and the City fans have seen, they should perhaps think again. Money isn’t everything and perhaps amongst their fans they have a culture that money simply can’t buy, yet in the wrong hands it can be quickly destroyed….just look at what happened to Hull City!!!!!

Right that’s enough of that and we’ll pause here while I go and wash my mouth out! 

There is little doubt however, that all the stuff about Toronto has laid bare some of the massive issues there are within what was once ‘The RL family’. There appears to me to be a small few who are calling the shots and the rest have to fall in line. I say that because it’s not just the Toronto situation that highlights this. Last week in the Yorkshire Post  Tony Smith said of message board accusations of ‘insider dealings’ over the re-organisation of fixtures, “They’ve been able to reschedule games for other teams at the last minute. Unfortunately, when we got some free weekends they weren’t able to do that for us. But we just have to suck it up and move on. We probably don’t have the say of some of the bigger clubs”. 

Smith may be a lot of things, (including a poor judge of which teams to coach) but as a person he’s been around the game far too long to have been anything but a man of integrity and honesty, who loves the sport. In fact, he’s an elder statesman of the game now and therefore in such a take it or leave it situation coming back to coaching, that he says what he sees and doesn’t give a toss what others think. 

Interesting the state of the game at present isn’t it? In the end we may need the RFL to be the honest brokers in all this mess but, don’t hold your breath on that one. 

So finally, on a more positive note isn’t it great to see the old game celebrating its 125th anniversary this week and I just realised that I’ve been watching the FC,year in year out, for exactly half that time! Talk about ‘Rugby League I gave you all the best years of my Life’, man that’s a long time. 

There have in our game’s history been good times and bad ones and indeed we’ve all seen a few of the first and plenty of the second first hand at Hull FC over the years. However, thanks to a group of guys sat in a smoke-filled room in the George Hotel in Huddersfield all those years ago, we all still watch the best game in the world. Because despite all the politics, hardships and controversy it seems to attract, that’s exactly what it is and will always be for me. I just wish they’d stop buggering about with it, both in its rules and it’sstructures. But I guess you can’t have everything. 

Still Happy Birthday Rugby League and long may you continue onto your 150th!! Although I’ll be a bloody old bugger by then!! 

So, there we are, another Diary over, all be it one that was a bit too obsessed with the dark side of things, in more ways than one!! For that I apologise, but I’ll be a lot happier this week after that great win. As always it’s just what I’ve been thinking really, and it was great to be able to talk up a good showing of some real passion from the lads as well.  

There have been some promising signs at times this season, but that was, under the circumstances, our best performance of the year and our best attacking 40 minutes too. We got tired and ragged in the second half but the way we stood up to and overcame all that adversity, is certainly to be commended. I’m not going to get carried away, but the youngsters brought in showed some passion for the task in hand and with Lasty picking the team on form rather than ‘friendship’, I think it was a heartening showing. As I said earlier, it will be a different kettle of fish against Warrington, but that showing has to at least picked us all up and given us all some hope. 

Before I finish, I should just thank everyone who has been in touch this week, we seem to be back in business again and although there are too many to mention everyone, can I just give a thank you as always to Bill Dalton and to another Bill in Oxford, Steve Merrick in Scunthorpe, Stu in Spain, Mike in Cheshire and Paul Lempriere in sunny Cherry Burton. 

It’s been an odd sort of week, but at least we saw a bit of action yesterday and a performance we can all be really proud of.In these strange times that showing was very, very, welcome. “It was good to be singing Old Faithful in the dressing rooms again after the game”, said Gareth Ellis afterwards and we all got that sentiment completely. Thankyou for all your support, which I always appreciate and let’s see what the next week brings eh?

Stay Safe 

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf