The Dentist’s Diary – 692nd

Well, that was disappointing wasn’t it??

And … it’s another tough Diary to write.

Out of the Cup, in a year like no other, when a place at Wembley would have really raised all our spirits and given us the distraction many of us need at present. However, there are times in the life of a sports fan when, no matter how fanatical you are about the team you love, you have to admit that on the day you were beaten by a better team. This was, without doubt just such an occasion. For we were pretty much outplayed throughout. 

We began the game with an unusual starting front row with no doubt the objective of toughing it out in the first quarter and then bringing on the bigger lads to wrestle the initiative and move us forward there on in. Wigan, (no doubt having read our lot were so knackered after last weekend’s two doses of heroics, that we had had hardly trained and even had an extra day off this week), came out to pressure us from the off and got right into our faces. Their line speed was first class and their spine moved us about  from minute one. They weren’t brilliant, but they were far too good for us, as sadly a few of our old issues with the ball started to rear their heads again. We started slowly and made far too many mistakes, whilst they were at us from the first whistle and in effect, they had the game won after 15 minutes. 

The one thing I will say that might not make me many friends is that for me there was for me one plus and that was that we never gave up and we showed some great spirit in a second half when we could have completely capitulated. I think that it was a situation that would have seen the FC team that was defeated by Warrington in Radders last game, go down by at least 70 points. Yeh, we were inept, clueless at times and so profligate with the ball, but we scrapped to the final hooter. 

In the bigger picture, the virus closes in on us all again and even relatively safe havens like Hull and the East Riding are being threatened with possible lockdowns. That must mean  that crowds attending matches again in numbers looks even less likely to happen now and the very existence of the rest of the season must be in doubt, I really do worry for the game it’s players and our club. If ever there was a good example of things being more important than winning or losing, in our game this is it. What a bloody mess it all is eh?

We all know the imperative this year is to get the season completed and to meet the obligations, that we have as a game, to Sky and the BBC, but despite the clubs rallying around and trying to keep the sport alive, it’s not really like a proper season and if anything has suffered for that it has to be the Challenge Cup. The whole competition has been messed around with teams not able to take part, even though they had qualified for the next round, teams getting byes and draws being re-made, all of which has, in the end, seen the whole thing just descend into a farce. 

Akin to that scenario, the build-up to the Cup game this week wasn’t as it would have been in the past, but these days the Challenge Cup is, like everything else sports wise, devalued by the circumstances that envelope the whole country. I guess as I thought about it last week, my mind went back to that Cup Final win in 2017 and the semi-final on that great night in Doncaster a year earlier. For, on both occasions we were under dogs, yet we got one over the Pies, I wondered if we could possibly do it again and I guess I wondered too, if that would still be on Wigan’s minds as well. 

Of course, 2016 and 2017 are still fresh in our consciousness and although I have said it before in here, I was thinking as well about the fact that although much in both the finals we won was down to the players, the Coach and us lot in the crowd, in the end both wins came down to two fortuitous moments. Against Warrington, in that seminal final that changed all our lives, Danny Houghton’s tackle, great though it was, would have seen a try scored on 9 out of 10 occasions, but at last after all those years of hurt fate was with us that day. Danny himself will tell you he was never quite sure exactly what he did, for he was just running on instinct, but yet in a split second he became immortal. 

In addition, in 2017 that forward pass in the dying seconds that robbed Wigan of a certain try was again real kismet, for on most other occasions it would have either gone backwards or be missed by the officials altogether. On this occasions quite miraculously, both the referee and the linesman spotted it. On such strokes of fate or fortitude (or Luck) are Cup Finals won and lost. 

However, before kick-off this week, I did muse on the fact that if we were to beat Wigan this time, then we would probably need a lot more than a stroke of good luck to prevail for us, it would take a bloody miracle for before we even started for me this was a game too far for our lot!! 

However even at a time like that, at least there was a silver lining for this fan, for if nothing else, I knew that my last major concern of this ill-fated 2020 Cup campaign, had been expunged by Leeds the previous evening. Imagine if that lot across there in the Land that Time Forgot had progressed to Wembley or even worse!! Let’s face it, despite it being a right cockamamie competition this year, we would never have heard the end of it. 

So, I settled down to see what we could do against one of the competitions form teams and thus one of the favourites to lift the Cup. Having seen the previous hit out between Warrington and Saints, which was a brilliant advert for the game, I doubted whether we would have the stamina to get through an encounter like that was. It was a big ask, we all knew that, but as said last week the performance against Castleford had at least ignited my interest in the game and although I could hardly say that I was excited or particularly nervous all day, I was at least looking forward to a game again.  

The weather in Salford was beautiful on TV but there was a real wind blowing down the Stadium. A surprise in the team selection saw Masi Matongo starting in the front row, while despite some saying it was just a Cup ruse to fool the Warriors, Marc Sneyd did indeed start at scrum half after a ‘Lazarus like’ recovery from an injury that was supposed to keep him out for 5 more weeks. 

Wigan kicked off in their yellow away strip whilst we had the strong wind behind us, as we played out a flat first set without incident. Wigan immediately looked sharp and produced a great 6, but in our next one Johnstone set the model for the afternoon, as he dropped the ball under ferocious pressure.  They pressured our line after a ‘six again’ before Sam Powell got over next to the posts with ease and already it didn’t look good at all. Mistakes cost us every time it seems and we were to make plenty on this particular afternoon. Wigan’s intensity was second to none and they forced a drop out to pile more pressure on us. We just couldn’t get started at all and desperately held O’Louchlan up in the next set, before, after a shocking mix up, Farrell touched down and it looked like we were beaten already, we just couldn’t get a grip and were already 12-0 down after just 10 minutes. 

Connor Wynne full of youthful exuberance and anxiety  knocked on a grubber kick and then, when we managed to get possession back, we knocked on at the end of the set again, as we panicked in possession, when all we needed to do was calm things down. Fact is though, were making too many mistakes, as we forced the play and tried to exert some dominance but then the hero of last week, Carlos, was next to knock on. However, a great tackle by Sneyd forced an error, but we were hanging on by the skin of our teeth. Connor Wynne was trying hard, but knocked a kick on again, as once more we saw a player put his mates under pressure and following that mistake, French scored easily. Poor Connor Wynne, at 16-0 it looked as if it was getting to him big style. 

Credit to Hull, under the weight of so many errors it would have been easy to cave in, but we were still having a go and the lads were at least trying hard. It was just that the mistakes were killing us. We were at last down field pressing their line before Connor dropped it as another unforced mistake did for us. The first half was turning into a comedy of errors for Hull and in this modern high-speed game you get crucified if you make too don’t value the ball at all times.

For the next ten minutes we actually showed what we could do if we kept the ball and a great break by Wynne forced a drop out, as we pressed their line for only the second time in 35 minutes. Again, we could not break Wigan’s defence (that  having had so much ball, was full of energy) and they were still forcing errors every two or three minutes, which was absolutely killing us. Then a sucker punch came in the way of a try just before half time for French on the break and at 22-0 there was now no coming back, particularly after a real ‘balls up’ by Fonua forcing the ball again on the hooter, gave them possession and another try ensued. So, it was 26-0 at half time and I just wanted it to be all over.  

Wigan had the perfect game plan, but they were helped so much by the catalogue of mistakes we had made, when we put them under pressure they were creaking, although because they kept the ball when they had it, they had the energy to keep us out. I guess looking back it was the worst half we had seen from the FC for a while.

 ‘Too good for us’, was the general verdict of even the staunchest of fans as their texts rolled in at half time. We had certainly not lacked effort, but errors had made the game so one sided and what’s more worryingly there were still 40 minutes left to play!!

We kicked off into the wind and started well with Ma’u in particular showing up with some big drives. The Wigan defence though, was relentless and with the ball they were so good at gaining field position and pressurising us in our own quarter. A staunch defensive set on our line, showed great character from a Hull team obviously feeling the pressure and we rolled out of our twenty well, but gave the ball away when a wayward pass from Connor was not contested by us and Wigan grabbed the ball. We looked more hungrier than in the first half and had a real go, but we still looked unable to pierce their defence and our indiscipline gave them two penalties which ended with Liam Farrell cantering in and if it hadn’t been all over after the first 10 minutes, it certainly was now! 

In games like this one it’s painful to watch and that got worse as a short kick off was just that; short! That said at this point Faraimo and Ma’u had the bit between their teeth and were giving it a real go. Connor had been pretty invisible, but he stared to run at their line and all of a sudden he looked more effective, although he did manage to give away an extra 10 yards for arguing with the referee. There was a lot more character on show from Hull, but we couldn’t create anything against a resolute Wigan defence and on the end of another 6 again, Gildart ran in and it was touch and go whether I would  switch off. 

I’m glad I didn’t however, because a great bit of vision from Connor at last got Fonua away in the corner and he crashed in to ensure at least we were not scoreless. 

We were back at it straight away, but a pass from Griffin that was so forward it resembled an American football move, did for us. We were having a go but it was all obviously too little too late, but the biggest plus from a shocking performance was the fact that right up to the final hooter we never gave up, after that first half we were never going to win, but for a team who had every right to be out on their feet, we did at least show some spirit. That said we were simply beaten all ends up and the Cup dream was over for another year. 

In a season that is such a mess fixtures wise, it’s not hard at times, (with up to 9 players playing with the hangover of Covid), to see what is going on in our camp as fatigue and injuries blight the season. There were few who came away from that game with any credit at all, although again for me Faraimo did well and Ma’u had one of his best games in an FC shirt. Satae was really effective at times and Sneyd, who is always an easy scapegoat in such situations, tried hard, but behind a beaten pack he rarely got the time or the support he needed and again I thought that Houghton, coming on after half an hour, really did shake things up around acting half. However, make no mistake about it, that was a poor showing against a Wigan team that did just enough to make us look extremely ordinary.

 They came out fast in that first quarter and literally steam-rollered us on the back of a real catalogue of mistakes, which came thick and fast for us throughout the game. Yet we could have folded in that second half and had 60 put on us, but we fought hard and although lacking direction, ideas and a cutting edge, at least we had a go and didn’t capitulate which I believe some of our teams in the recent past might well have done at that point.  So, we move onto our next match in just 5 days-time on Thursday against Salford, as this ludicrous season continues. You have to wonder sometimes what long-term effects both mentally and physically, this parade of games will have on some of the players.   

So to other things, and the discussions this week about the changing role of hookers in the modern game was interesting indeed, because those of you who have read this rubbish over the years will know that I am a massive advocate of utilising a fresh hooker coming off the bench when the hard edge has come off the collisions on the field. I’ve always liked the ability any team has to freshen it up after thirty minutes and it has been used to great effect in the past by other clubs, but not often by us. 

Danny Houghton has always said that he preferred to stay on for the whole game but that didn’t necessarily mean that it was the best solution for the team. However, under Lee Radford he always got his way and he’d certainly looked jaded at the start of this campaign. I have said on countless occasions, that the best he ever looked was in the one season where we brought Aaron Heramaia on after around 30 minutes and brought Danny back for the last half hour. That really changed the dynamic of the game, but it wasn’t what Houghton liked at all and so, to the dismay of many fans and the player himself,  Heramaia moved on to Widnes at the end of that season and although we’ve had some good hookers in reserve since then, we’ve never regularly used the tactic again. 

Enter Andy Last who recognised that the new six again and tap restart rules have speeded the game up a lot and that our man of steel hooker was perhaps likely to suffer from the changes. Now we are starting with Jordan Johnson and bringing Danny on to great effect after half an hour. Andy said this week of Houghton, “He’s very good off the bench and he gives us a fresh impetus with that run threat he had in his early days, but probably in the last couple of years it has been on the backseat compared to his defensive stuff. Making that decision to go with two nines is something I’ve looked at and it’s working well for us. While it’s working well, we’ll continue with it.”

It’s obvious I think that Last has had his own views on what should have happened and this terrible pandemic has given him a chance to try them out. Perhaps he has in the past been over ruled and now we are seeing his thoughts on such things as Shaul’s role in the spine, a regular spot for Joe Cator, players picked on form and not their standing at the club and indeed the duel hooker role, coming to the fore. Jordan Johnson has the makings of a fine acting half and Danny looks so much more potent as a running acting half coming on to replace him. 

It was good too on Friday to see the Club and Josh Jones clarifying the situation about our International second row forwards absence from the team. A few of the sages on social, media have been hinted that he was staying away and unhappy at Hull FC and even that we were touting him around other clubs! Therefore, it was good that they were proved wrong and that the record was put straight by Andy Last. I’m told the player doesn’t mind anyone knowing that he has had the infection and he’s desperate to get out there with his team mates again. 

He’s really frustrated after receiving a set-back when he was found to be suffering from fatigue and the debilitating after effects of the virus. He got back into the camp with the other players who had suffered from coronavirus, but had to be sent home to recuperate when that fatigue set it. It’s good to put that one straight and I’m sure we all wish him well in his recovery and look forward to seeing him back in the second row soon. 

I read an interesting article last week which featured Jake Connor talking, not of his disappointment, but more of his acceptance of not being picked for the Great Britain squad. He said that he understood the decision, because quite frankly in his opinion, he wasn’t playing well enough. It was a good admission to make and showed a growing maturity in a guy who quite frankly hasn’t shown that much of that quality in the past. He said “The focus now is on Hull FC. That is my number one goal, to produce some great rugby for the club.” And that’ll do for me! Watching him against Wigan I have to say that I suspect he doesn’t really know what his role is and he needs to be used as a running half back for a while to see if he really has the potential everyone says he has.  

It was great to see the Scott Taylor column back in the Hull Daily Mail last Wednesday as our charismatic prop nears a return to full fitness. Scott’s and Gareth Ellis’s column in the Monday Yorkshire Post are two of the best bits of RL reading there is about. it was certainly great to hear Scott saying that   when it comes to viewing games from his settee he isn’t a good watcher at all. Join the Club mate!! 

I was intrigued too by his comments about Andy Last and the changes there have been in the approach to coaching and the attitude of some of his fellow players since the last Coach was sacked. He said of Lasty, “He’s been waiting for the job for a long time and he knows what sort of coach he wants to be and that’s one that is different to what we’ve had in the past. He’s making everyone accountable for their actions on and off the field and he’s having a huge effect. I speak on every player’s behalf when I say we’re very happy and improvements are coming slowly but surely”.

So, what is so ‘different to what we had in the past’ and were players really not accountable for their actions off the field then. Well rumour control over the months did make some of us wonder a bit on that one. However, it looks to me once again, as if all has not been well for some time with the Radders and the ‘all mates together’ side of things. It great to see Lasty picking players on form and not ‘on tradition’ and by so doing giving the kids their head. However,  with Adam desperate to sell season tickets for next season our interim coach will sadly in the end be judged not on the changed culture at the club and not by how we play, but by how many wins we get. However, as far as the players are concerned, he’s certainly making a good impression. 

The sudden withdrawal, by the Council, of permission for Hull City to play in front of 1000 people this weekend, was I guess of little surprise at all. It was just a trial game to see how it went, but with infections tripling in Hull in a week and the council erring on the side of caution, the veto was perhaps inevitable really. However, that said, it certainly doesn’t bode well for crowds returning to Rugby League at the KCom does it? 

On that tack, I noticed a headline in the local paper last week that stated, “The four games all Hull FC fans are looking forward to attending”, whilst looking around at what was happening in the real world at the same time, I wondered if we would all be attending any and indeed who would be looking forward to it if we were?  As I said last week, as things stand, I’m pretty unlikely to be there, for the whole situation is just too volatile and scary at present.  

Yet up to us ‘going to press’, our sport still has its first four attended games scheduled and we are in there playing at Castleford apparently in front of 1000 home season ticket holders.  Listening to the news and seeing what’s happening elsewhere, I can’t see us actually play in front of paying spectators can you? However ,some at a couple of Clubs, are saying off the record that having supporters back in grounds is the only way that the sport will survive beyond Furlough. So, if that’s true then with the way things are going, it’s hard to see how it’s all going to pan out isn’t it? 

 Well the dates have been set for the Super League clubs and the RFL to decide on whether Toronto Wolfpack can continue their participation in Super League. That said, everything is still well and truly up in the air at the moment. 

With a new owner whose pockets are stuffed with Canadian Dollars, they feel that they have their house finally in order and so they will try to persuade the rest of the Super League members that they deserve a shot at redemption which, you’d have to say, looks pretty unlikely. 25th September is the deadline set by the Super league Clubs to make a decision on the Wolfpacks future and to also decide whether next season will see 11 or 12 teams in the 2021 competition. By the 18th the RFL needed to produce a paper that determined the Club’s value to the game and then it was up to the Canadians to convince the owners that they deserved to come back. 

However the Wolfpack do look a bit desperate, so much so that head coach Brian McDermott has recently, in an open letter, pleaded with the Super League owners to make a ‘brave and compassionate decision’ with regards to their bid to be readmitted to the league. However, he’s certainly realistic about their chances, after what he describes as knowingly antagonizing member teams last season. 

The Super League owners are still miffed with the newcomers behaviour before lockdown, particularly after Toronto’s pursuit of Sonny Bill Williams and their subsequent tying him down to a $10 million contract,to be paid out over two seasons. That was an obscene amount of money and completely against the spirit of the game. It was an aggressive move to say the very least. The former All Black was to be paid 40 times the average Super League salary, thanks to Toronto using top legal advice and accountancy spin to find contractual loopholes by which they could bypass the usual salary cap. All of which doesn’t sit well with a lot of folks at a lot of clubs.

I said in here at the time that the signing was being seen by everyone in the game as a deal that wasn’t necessarily done in the spirit of fair play and competition. To make matters worse, it certainly backfired on them as well, given that Sonny looked off the pace and indeed appeared pretty crap throughout. In fact, Toronto managed to lose every Super League game they played in before they withdrew from the league.

The truth is, they were the early favourites to finish bottom of the league and looked well out of their depth right from the off, despite that ill thought out spending spree. In comparison, if we were to look at the team that then occupied the spot Toronto vacated, Hull KR, they’ve still managed to be pretty competitive, particularly since their return. They’ve racked up a good win over Wigan and appeared very handy indeed at times. What’s more they have done all that on a budget well below salary cap limits. 

Now perhaps, when you consider that, it’s easy to see why some clubs changing their minds to support Toronto’s inclusion in the league, really p*ssed off Neil Hudgell and you can see too why he and the Hull KR Club won’t be ready to accept Toronto back into the league with open arms. Particularly after the different ways the two clubs have gone about their business this season.

In fact, I think that the majority of Super League members are finding it hard to forget. Toronto lived the dream, but were writing cheques like most people write shopping lists and splashing cash around in both hemispheres. That was cash which in the end they simply didn’t have. They always harped on about putting down some proper rugby league roots and yet three years on from their launch not one Canadian players has got anywhere near playing for them and instead they are just a team of journeymen players shuttling back and forth across the Atlantic. As someone said this week we have never ever been good at expansion anyway and if we couldn’t make it work around the corner in Carlisle, Scarborough, Nottingham and Mansfield what chance do we have 3000 miles away in Canada in the middle of an international pandemic.

In 1996, at the commencement of Super League, the talk was after Paris, of team in Spain and Italy, but despite Maurice Lindsay’s fine words at the time, look where that went; it was all pie in the sky. Catalan just works but it’s a constant struggle and I guess when you look back we have tried expansion all over the place since the early 1980’s and yet we still can’t establish a top Division team in the Capital. South Wales and Cardiff bummed, Gateshead folded and even Sheffield who were a real work in progress for several years, are nowhere near Super league these days. 

A major stumbling block for the clubs  remains the Wolfpack’s request for an equal share of the central distribution of television money of around £1.8 million per year. This year that share was split between the other 11 Super League clubs and  they are going to need every penny of it to just survive going forward. However, potential new Canadian owner LiVolsi has said publicly, that his purchase of Toronto is dependent on the club being granted an equal share of the TV money and being allowed back into Super League and not to the Championship or League 1. 

However, news leaked out this week that Salford, Wakefield, Castleford, Huddersfield, Hull KR and indeed us are not in favour of the Wolfpack being allowed back in, while Leeds, St Helens and Catalans are in favour of their return. Warrington and Wigan are believed to be undecided in their view, at this stage, and are demanding stronger due diligence be done to ensure the North American outfit’ is financial viability.

I can only say it as I see it as a fan of the game who is desperate to see the sport I love survive this dreadful Pandemic. What’s more I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in these strange, strange times the existing Clubs, who are battling on to keep the game afloat, are going to need every penny they can get to even survive. So, after all their hard work, sacrifice and will to keep going through 2020 when Toronto just gave up, I don’t know if bringing in The Wolfpack and giving them a cut of the TV money at the expense of everyone else’s allocation, is a good idea myself! If Toronto return and just one of our current Clubs goes under, then it will be an absolute travesty. 

So, there we are, there will be no Wembley for us this year as we were knocked out of the competition by a Wigan team that was powerful in its game plan and relentless in its application. They weren’t brilliant but they had our measure alright. We had enough energy and guts, but we lacked any sort of attacking edge and by the end showed all the hallmarks of a team that is quite simply knackered. Spirit on it’s own doesn’t get you the prize. and in many ways that’s our season over, but somehow we have to get through the next eight games and then see what happens next. On Thursday we play Salford and heaven knows what sort of team we will put out.  

So, it was all a disappointment, but maybe if we are honest it was probably a likely outcome, although we gave it a go and perhaps in these times we can ask no more. It was a situation summed up admirably by  someone on RL fans who said, “Sometimes you see the green shoots of recovery like we did last weekend, then we look a million miles away the week after” Well, that’s Hull FC for you!!!

It’s never easy to write this on these occasions because I would much prefer to crawl off and mourn the outcome on my own.  But, thanks to everyone who has been in touch this week and, as for many it will have been impossible to read this week’s offering, my appreciation also goes to all those who have managed to get this far after such a frustrating and disappointing showing; thanks for sticking with me. Let’s see what next week brings eh? 

Keep Believing and please stay safe!

Faithfully Yours