The Dentist’s Diary – 690th

Well it was never going to last was it? 

Firstly, let me say that we had a real go on Friday and though the score wasn’t that much different, there was a lot more fight and a much better attitude than we saw back at the KCom on ‘the night of the long knives’, back in March, when we completely capitulated to the Wolves. 

However, on Friday we were out muscled and out smarted on a night when absolutely nothing went for us. We were very unlucky with a prop dropping out before the game, several injuries, two players going off for head checks and the way that everything that could go against us, did!! They had loads missing as well, but they had the template and the systems and their replacements just dropped into them and make no mistake about it, the best team won by far, our indiscipline and poor pass and play selection did for us and there’s little else to say I’m afraid. 

However, for Hull FC, with a ridiculous schedule ahead next week and now both Sneyd and Shaul missing from our spine, it’s hard to see where we go from here really. I guess in a nutshell Warrington controlled the territory better than us and instead of panicking, they just slowly turned the screw and put us under more and more pressure before we inevitably cracked. We then panicked and in the second half ran out of steam completely. 

As I say, we had bags of heart and tried really hard, but already with still 3 months of games to play, when you watch Hull FC out there on the field yeh, we look tired, but we are also unbalanced and unstructured and perhaps already a massive over-haul of the team is needed before 2021. Lee Radford is gone, but some of those players appear to only be able to play his way. We never gave up and the effort was there, but in the second half we faded badly and didn’t have the nous or guile to get back into it. We have to learn to exert pressure on teams, simple as! So, it was certainly disappointing, yes there are mitigating circumstance, but it was all pretty predictable too.  

690 The Dentists Dairy 

Last week it was so different and things were certainly brighter out there after that great win against the Giants as everyone I met was more upbeat and although not counting any chickens just yet, we all seemed pleased for everyone at the Club. We  had got a win and more importantly the spirit that always used to depict teams in the irregular hoops was back in abundance. 

Even on line, things were brighter, as instead of the usual handwringing, moaning E mails, texts and messages I’ve had of late, (and I enjoy receiving them all) it was great to see readers either upbeat and relieved, or occupied with chastising my complimenting of Neil Hudgell, or correcting my spellchecker and me. It appears that my getting Johnstone spelt as Johnson was a glaring mistake last week, (N.B. I will try harder but it certainly made me laugh when I saw that the Yorkshire Post had made the same Typo this week as well!). Still it was nice to at least have a break from the doom and gloom and I was, all week, so pleased to hear from you all and indeed really happy for Andy Last and Adam too.  

This week was different and as I walked through Beverley on Saturday morning, a car slowed down in a line of traffic, the window came down a shout of, “We Were Crap” could be heard emitting from within! Oh, the trials and tribulations of the sports fan!!!

Throughout last week everyone agree that even under normal circumstances, a game against this Warrington team would have been a difficult ask, but with such a short turn around and the legacy of the Covid problems still hanging arounds our squad, it was a massive one. However, then fate took a hand and at least the odds did seem to have ‘evened out’ a bit, when we saw that Wire had lost six players, who had to isolate after their game against Wakefield. Well done to the club for playing on, but what a topsy-turvy rugby world we live in at present don’t we? 

All that said, as we approached the game I guess all we really wanted was to see the same spirit and attitude which was on show against Huddersfield. Anything else would be a bonus. 

The mid-week announcements of the squads showed us with 8 missing and the Wire with those 6 out and it was hard to work out what would happen on the day. Of course, the drama continued when those missing for Warrington went up to 7, as a player tested positive on Thursday and was then withdrawn and told to isolate. 

That really concerned me, because if he tested negative on Monday, it’s reasonable to presume that on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, he’d have been around all the rest of the Wire players, who were still turning out in the game. What if he had infected some before the Thursday test results were known and if he had, surely our lads were at risk. No doubt all that will be explained in the fullness of time.

What everyone was forgetting too was the fact that before the game it must have been a bit scary for the FC players as well, particularly with a cloud hanging over the health of the Warrington squad in general and that late withdrawal of a positive case. You know, the sacrifice all these players across the game are making, in even stepping out there, is remarkable and you have to take your hat off to all of them.

For us, already under the pump for available players, it just got worse as Satae dropped out at the last minute with illness and our team certainly looked a bit ‘thin on the ground’ particularly with Buchanan, who is on his way out of the club anyway drafted in onto the bench. 

As kick off approached, with all this going on, a win would have been nice, but it was more a case of, could we repeat the attitude and verve we had shown five days earlier against Huddersfield, or was it to be back to normal for the FC. In the end we had to settle for a bit of both!

As we kicked off Gelling knocked on in the first set, giving us good field position and a great cross field move caught the Wire napping and saw Captain (until Houghton came on) Josh Griffin crash in and just get the ball down. Connor kicked the goal and it was 6-0. But as early as the 3rd minute we saw the first bit of disruption as Griffin went off for a head test, which thankfully he passed. Swift was then easily tackled into touch and we lost the advantage. Next up Jamie Shaul saved us with a brilliant try saving tackle after Fairamo lost a high ball ‘in the lights’.  Kelly was trying to instigate some movement and was much more dominant than Connor as, using his brains, he put in a great early kick into touch deep in their half. We had I thought to do a lot of that kicking early to pin the Wolves back, but sadly we didn’t! 

Then a mix up in our own 20 handed the ball over and Cooper crashed in under the posts for the Wire for what was a really  soft try. Sao claimed that Patton had bitten him in the build-up and the slo-mo showed Patten literally ‘tucking into a steak’ on the floor, as it looked as though Sao had a point. It was then nip and tuck as both sides went down the middle at each other before Johnstone then hit Johnson (spelling!!!!) with a real bell ringer and then of course, got penalised for it. It was again just a great hit for me, but again Johnstone went off for a head test, and Houghton came on. 

On the sixth we couldn’t deal with a kick under pressure and Tumavive dropped the ball straight into Ashton’s waiting arms and as it went to 12-6, I mused on the fact that we were playing too much of the game in our own half and not making enough inroads into theirs. Ma’u was doing well grinding out the yards, but was lacking support before Shaul put a good short pass in to Swift who knocked on and immediately blamed the full back!! (I wonder a bit about him). We were lacking the edge we had last Sunday and Austin planted a brilliant 40/20 to put us under more pressure. We just got out of jail and had marched down the pitch before a short kick from Shaul saw Swift vindicate himself with a great ball and all tackle over their try line.  From the drop out Kelly nearly got in, but at least we got a penalty  and a superb pass from our off half in the next set put Tumavive in for wonderfully worked try. At 12-12 we were back in it.

Connor put in a great touch finding kick to make them restart 10 yards out but we couldn’t contain them again and they came down left before Jake Mamo was allowed to pull away from our tacklers and as so often happens with us lot, we went to sleep after scoring and were behind again. 

Still it was close and we were having a go, but making a lot more mistakes than we made against Huddersfield. We gave away a set restart in the last minute just when we didn’t need it but luckily, (I felt) for us, Austin went for a drop goal when had they spread it left they could have gone in again. So, at halftime we trailed 19-12 and we waited to see just what difference Andy Last’s half-time talk would make.  

The answer was very little. It was painfully obvious for all of us that we had to try and stay in the game, too many of these matches these days see a team get two tries up and then ‘steam roll’ the opposition and run away with the match. Shaul didn’t return and sat in the stand with a strained hamstring, but we had started well and a great kick from Connor almost got us in before they swept down the field against a disjoined defence that had to reshuffled to compensate for the lack of Shaul. 

They pressed and pressed and at last we cracked, as Curry kicked through and Jake Mamo touched down as Griffin, our stand in full-back, was caught out of position. Already it was hard to see us getting back at them. At 25 -12 we had to try and hold the line and then rebuild. Again, as in the first half, we were not playing enough rugby in their territory and when we did get down there, we produced some very poor ends of sets. 

Despite some tired legs, the spirit was certainly still apparent and a big hit from Fonua stopped Gelling, but the energy was ebbing away as we were making far too many mistakes.  As every 50/50 call went their way, Warrington were getting all the luck, all the breaks and without the ball, we looked to be running on empty. 

They were lucky again to get repeat sets and 24 tackles on our line was just too much as Lani Latu crashed in and it was all over. We all hoped we wouldn’t fold, but at 31 -12 another run away was on the cards. The best team was certainly winning and we were to be disappointed again. With the ball we were now visibly panicking, but we battled on although with 15 minutes to go we had already made 300 tackles and we were visibly wilting. 

As the game wore on, we continued to have no luck with the calls at all, but at last we forced a knock on and were able to get a bit of ball and then out of the blue Jake Connor executed a slide rule 40/20. From the ensuing set we forced a drop out and at last pressed the line, but we got no joy at all as we ran out of idea’s again and Buchanan knocked on.  Our frustration was showing and we gave away an amazing three ‘6 again’s’ in one set, but still we didn’t give up, before sadly Austin got in for a try and another big score of 37-12 was rattled up on the scoreboard.  

That score-line didn’t tell the whole story, but it’s fair to say as well that we were comprehensively beaten. It was another frustrating display, although we did have a go and there was plenty of passion on show, much of it was misdirected with too many wrong options, mistakes and rushes of blood, all which did for us. We had no Sneyd to settle it down and organise things and once Shaul was off, we looked in disarray for most of the second half so that by the end we were just flying on fumes.   

The players will tell just how many of them had to play patched up and as Scott Taylor said after the game, a lot of them can hold their heads up because although we don’t know how many are playing under the influence of the remnants of Covid 19, I would hazard a guess it’s quite a few. But, we are so disorganised, we tackled as hard as we could, but repeatedly took the wrong options when we had the ball and that and our mistakes, just heaped pressure on us. For me again Albert Kelly was the pick of our lot but behind a beaten pack he was much less affective. As a footnote too on the biting incident, I was pretty appalled to hear Mr Sculthorpe condoning the players action as being understandable in retaliation for a poor tackle. I think the RFL should be having a little word with him. 

However now we move onto Wakey next week (if it’s on) and looking at the upcoming fixture list, it’s only going to get harder for the FC.    

You know, there is little doubt for me, as I looked at the team sheet on Friday and then at how we were organised on the pitch, who our biggest loss was, with the 8-week prognosis on Marc Sneyd a massive blow for the club. Some won’t agree, but in my personal opinion he is the ‘captain of the ship’, when it comes to steering the team around the field, organising the line and making thing happen and his kicking, which is so important for gaining field position in this ‘new’ game, is as good as anyone’s in the competition. As I say he has his dissenters, but for me, man, is he a great player and I sort of fear the worst in the next 7 weeks or so, when his name isn’t on the team sheet. 

With the fans though, he’s a real conundrum and it’s amazing how many supporters don’t like him, but for me he’s simply become a prophet in his own land. However, I’m convinced in years to come his heroics at Wembley (twice), that one-man game ending at Catalan, the numerous drop goal wins in golden point etc, will be what everyone remembers. I expect in years to come when he has moved on from the team, fans will turn to each other in Golden Point and say, “I bet Sneydy would have dropped a goal by now!!”.

But, love him or loath him, we’ll be missing him, although we just have to get on with it and with Carlos, Albo and Jake plus a great prospect in Cameron Scott recalled from Leigh, we certainly have a bit of cover at half back. Of course, from the minute Marc went down in agony last weekend, the spotlight moved to Connor and a massive chance for him to stake a claim for a place in the halfbacks, once Kelly has left at the end of the season. We all know how good Jake can be, and we all know how good Jake thinks he can be in the halves, but none of us have ever seen him able to organise things like Sneyd does, so it was always going to be a big ask. The thing is he might be relishing his chance, but he did little on Friday to further his case. Jake is still seen by many as a misfit as far as what his best position is and so he is now also to be put under some pressure, for perhaps the next 8 games or so may well define his future at the club. 

Well I spent some time last week watching and re-watching what Joe Cator is supposed to have done to warrant a one match ban, but failed miserably to see it,  as did several other Diary readers including Barry Kidd who wrote to me, “Do you have any idea why Joe Cator has been suspended for an offence which having re-watched the game twice over I cannot see any serious infringement. Fonoa was sin binned for nothing other than a fantastic tackle but Joe? Why are the same decisions never made against Saints, Wigan and Wire????” 

And after the fiasco over the banning or none barring of Wigan’s Jackson Hastings who was suspended on 8th August for breaching the RFL’s Covid Protocols, but who still managed to play against Wakey and Leeds during those two weeks, I think that I have to agree with Barry. 

As for Fonua, well the more I watch that tackle which saw him sin-binned against the Giants, the more I think it was a great and legal hit.  

The Danny Houghton situation is certainly an interesting one at present isn’t it. Here was a bloke who is as nice a guy as you would ever wish to meet, a massive FC fan, Club Captain, past Man of Steel and after THAT tackle back in 2016, an all-time ‘hall of famer’ at the club and yet he’s openly admitting that at the start of the season his, ‘Heart wasn’t in it’. 

As you slowly piece together the picture at the start of the 2020 campaign, and more and more players make the occasional off the cuff remark, you can just see how far Lee Radford’s authority had drifted and why Adam had to act as he did, can’t you? By his own admission Lee was relieved in the end to get out, but there seems to have been a general malaise around the place for about a year. In fact it was one that slowly spread across the squad and eventually extended as far as the Club captain. 

Before Lee left it seemed that a core group of players including Danny would get picked, even if they had a broken leg (well not exactly but you get my point). Other fringe players were either kept just there, on the fringes and if they did get a chance, however well they played, as soon as a ‘senior player’ was fit they were out on their ear. Bienek, Brown, Buchanan and Joe Cator, are good examples, whilst Jordan Johnstone is another player that fits that situation perfectly. 

He never really got a look in and was totally frustrated as whatever he did, he just couldn’t get a run at number nine and that despite Danny showing some patchy form. I well remember when he did get a couple of games off the bench Houghton declared that he “Wanted to play 80 minutes’ because that’s when he thought he performed best. Well if he thought that, he obviously wasn’t sat were we were, but ‘Hey presto’ immediately after that comment he was back playing the whole game!   

Coach wise, we all wanted a ‘new broom’ when Lee went, but circumstances dictated that was financially unviable, so Lasty took over. He was just as friendly as Lee had been with the senior group and it must have been a daunting proposition for him. The easy option was to just continue as before, but the more difficult option was to leave behind the close relationship he as an assistant Coach had with his players, and ostracise himself from them to start with a completely clean sheet. I guess he must have realised that however unpalatable, that option was his only chance of keeping the job on a permanent basis. 

But good on him for I was told that he said to the players from day one that no one gets into the team except on merit and the 17 that take the field from now on, will be the best 17 at training that week. However, there are so many of our current players who have had the Radford systems drummed into them, it’s going to take his assistant a long time to change things, if he can at all. 

After the poor showing against  Salford, which came after a period of training during which it was hard to assess the players anyway, he dropped Houghton to the bench for the Huddersfield game as he did Fonua and omitted completely a couple of others, who he wasn’t happy with. Johnstone took his chance and another player that we hadn’t really seen was FC fan and always 100% trier, Joe Cator and both of them plus young Brown who we were all baying to see selected last season anyway, got into the team and all of them shone against Huddersfield. What’s more they were ‘like for like’ swaps and not the shifting players around the team to fill gaps sort of fire-fighting, we saw under Lee. So well done to Lasty for that at least. 

How he goes on and what success he has, is how in the end Andy Last will be judged, but I was just happy for Cator, Brown and particularly Johnstone and proving Andy Lasts team continue to, in general, produce spirited performances whatever the score, things will get better. As for Danny Houghton and the rest, well they’ll just have to fight for their places and I’m sure if they are the best we have they will be selected on merit and if Last sticks to that, we can all ask no more, however how he changes some of those ‘habits of a lifetime’ is something else altogether.   

When you step back from everything that is going on in Rugby league at present,  then to anyone looking in, it’s all a bit of a shambles really. Here we are just 5 rounds into the newly configured season with one Club that’s dropped out altogether before we restarted, leaving players unpaid, holes in the fixture list and the rest of the clubs in the lurch. Before we at Hull FC were first to contract the dreaded Lurgy and so missed two weeks, Salford didn’t get it, but had to isolate for the same period, Catalan Dragons got it and missed a fortnight as well, Wakey got it from them and have to isolate for the same length of time, (That’s the most worrying one) and Warrington now have 6 isolating and one confirmed case staying away after they played the Trinity. Plus, Saints have now had infections on their books as well. So, in 5 rounds of rugby, over half the teams in the competition have been touched by this damn virus and 6 games have already been postponed. What next, who’s next, well, …… who knows!!! 

Thankfully as a competition everyone isn’t affected by it at the same time, so we can continue to cobble together a programme of fixtures, but the season may now have to be extended well into December and how things will be by then across the country, is anyone’s guess. However, as I said a couple of weeks ago we can’t as a sport form a total ‘bubble’. This week Phil Clark was pontificating about just that, but the money that is (not) in the game in this country just doesn’t allow for that, for our players are not wealthy enough to not see their wives going out to work and thus they will be returning home ‘out of the community at large’ every evening. Of  course, that and having kids back at school and the increase in socialising in general is always going to spread infection, so whilst its’ still out there it’s going to affect the game.

We never get much detail on the circumstances that surround how the infected players contracted the virus and quite rightly so, but as long as it comes in from outside the Club’s concerned and the game handles it from there, I guess there is little else anyone can do. However, if it starts to be transmitted in games from one club to another, as it appears to have done  for Wakefield, then it puts a completely different complexion on things. We cannot knowingly be seen to put players at risk, for the law of average dictates that one day a case will be serious or heaven forbid, worse. 

I guess in an ideal world we shouldn’t really have started the season behind closed doors, and instead waited till October when the fans are due to be let back into grounds. But there is little point of me going on at home about some politicians being boringly wise after the event, if I do it myself. However, the situation we now find ourselves in is just all down to Sky TV. We simply have to keep them sweet, particularly whilst we go through the closed season of the football, when there is little alternative sport around. If we can’t fill that gap, then there is a good chance that they won’t offer us another deal and the game will be sunk. In fact, the clubs have pledged amongst themselves that the season will be concluded in full, whatever happens; that’s how significant the Sky deal is seen to be going forward.  

The trick is I guess to ensure that we do everything we can to remove as much danger of infection from our players and squads and just hope that every week we have enough fit and healthy players in teams to make a few fixtures possible. That way at least we keep Sky happy. Sadly though, the fact is now that everyone in the game is waiting on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning for the test results and holding their breath, just to see if they have got it, if they have a game that week and indeed who else has contracted it. 

Onto other things and it’s no surprise that the Toronto ‘are they in or are they out’ business rumbles on with a split starting to appear between the Super league Clubs that are scared of going under and want as much ‘holding on to what we have’ as possible at present and those usual suspects who want the Canadian team back in and to also give them a cut of the TV money. Money which, in the short term at least, the former clubs needs so badly. 

Last week Leeds Chief and for many years self-acclaimed ‘head sherang’  in Rugby League, Garry Hetherington commented, “I said 25 years ago when Super League was born, that to fulfil our objectives we have to build and be more adventurous as a sport, than simply relying on the clubs we had 100 years ago” and I guess few can argue with that, well not under normal circumstances anyway. But there is nothing normal about what is going on at present is there? 

Over half of the Super league Clubs have now contracted Coronavirus and so at a time like this we simply have to look after our own and with Wakey and a couple of others really struggling with finances we have clubs in big trouble; surely this is a time for looking after our own. Over those last 100 years and through some terrible times, it is those clubs that have carried the game through so much strife, kept it going and fought for its very existence at times. Surely Mr Hetherington our priority has got to be first and foremost to look after them the best we can?

Its dead easy (when you have pots of money and a big stadium like Leeds), to pontificate about such things, but I’m not sure those at some Clubs would agree with Mr H at all. We all know what Hudge feels about it and what’s more he felt it so strongly that he’s fallen on his sword over it. However, I honestly believe that if we are not careful we could find ourselves starting the 2021 season with Toronto in tow, but with a couple of the current clubs having gone under. If anyone can guarantee no one will  go bust, then OK I’ll be pretty ambivalent about the whole thing and let em’ get on with bringing Toronto back. However,  even the head of the RL couldn’t guarantee last week that all clubs would survive adding that some were really struggling to keep going and so ‘hand on heart’, he couldn’t say that they would all come through! Once again the few are trying to run the game and I’m not sure this time around it’s for the benefit of all the rest of the clubs that are involved in it. 

I seem to be developing into a right grumpy old bugger these days don’t I ? But I can only really include in here stuff that catches my attention or gets me thinking, because this Journal has always been about me just putting down my thoughts and laying bare the stuff that interests me. You might want more rugby and less Covid and Toronto in here, but sadly they are the things that are eclipsing what is happening on the field at present. 

So, whilst I’m on that sort of stuff another thing that caught my eye this week, beggar’s belief for me. I mean to say, let’s admit it we’ve seen some crackpot ideas over the years but for me this one takes the biscuit. It appears that Super League could see its first ever midnight kick-off, if it can’t persuade the Government to allow fans to return for fixtures on September 30. 

In the League Express under the banner headline of, ‘Wigan Ponder Midnight Kick Off’ It was explained that round has been earmarked by the RFL and Super League to welcome fans back into stadia, however that is before the Government’s 1st October  proposed launch-date for the start of attended sports events. A date which is in any case subject to the successful pilot events in other sports which are taking place during September. It’s hard to believe I know, but two of the ‘elite clever clogs group’ Wigan and St Helens could kick-off against each other at midnight on October 1. Whether that is just a move to force the Government into agreeing with the proposals, (not a good move at all for me by the game, particularly after it was the first sport to get a loan from the Government and if it continues to need support for some of the struggling clubs) remains to be seen, however if it actually does happen, it will certainly be a first. It could get us a lot of publicity as long as everyone isn’t laughing to loud at us!! Just when we thought we’d seen it all from the RFL eh? I don’t think that you could make it up do you? 

So, the season continues and we all wonder what next? Games come thick and fast and the big scores and blow-outs continue as the sport tries to meet its Sky commitments, simply because, to renege on them could see the game as we know it disappear forever. The season must be completed, but how do we do it when cases are springing up with increasing regularity?

Do the protocols laid down by the RFL need to be stricter? Is it time to move into more bio-secure “bubbles” as teams in the NRL have? 

That would certainly require even more sacrifice from those already putting themselves on the line for the sport to continue. But the show must go on, although for me there is only so long Super League can muddle through in this current fashion, before something serious happens health wise. I honestly and sincerely hope on that one, I’m wrong. 

Thanks to everyone who has been in touch this week your correspondence on whatever subject is greatly appreciated. That was a poor showing against such a weakened Warrington side and we have a long way to go to get back to anything like our former selves. But now I guess we had better all strap ourselves in and wait and see what next week brings, as this cockamamie season sees us play two games in the week, on Thursday and Sunday. Where we will get the players from is anyone’s guess. Take care, look after yourselves, stay safe and ……

Try To Keep Believing!

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf