The Dentist’s Diary – 693rd

Our Season is Over! 

Well that’s what we were told by the Sky Commentators on Thursday ….. at least twenty times!! 

For me and many of you out there, the fact our season was over was never in question weeks ago, when the virus struck a dozen folks in our camp. However, on this occasion I did turn the sound down after 60 minutes of the game, for the standard of the commentary was simply appalling. Still enough of that, because although we got closer than I thought we would get on the score board, we’re all disappointed again; disappointed but, if were honest, not completely surprised.  

We love our club and the game, but whether it’s the state of the virus epidemic, whether its winter coming on, whether it’s the economic climate or whether it’s the continued frustrating of the attitude and form we see week in week out  Hull FC I don’t know, but if the rest of the supporter base is anything like me, then you’ll all be losing interest in a season that doesn’t seem the real deal at all.  

After that win against Cas. my enthusiasm started to flicker back, but I felt deflated after our game with Wigan, because although the spirit was there, we dropped back into bad habits and never gave ourselves a chance. I guess us all needing a lift, but ending up going out of the cup, was something that left me pretty fed up, but there was no time to dwell on things, because these days, games come around very quickly. 

Against Salford it was a case of the ‘same old’ again. We gave it a go, of course we did, we usually do these days, and I guess had a couple of passes not gone to ground, we might have won. We got in front but the hard truth is, we let the Red Devils back into it and once they were on top, they took charge and easily held out to win. Structure wise, defence wise, mistake wise and just simply nous wise, we were second best for long periods of the game. For me, it’s not about lack of training or Covid, or indeed anything like that, because we simply don’t have the structure of other teams, at times we‘re all over the place, from some our attitude is wrong and we just make too many mistakes. 

Being a fan is very subjective and so it’s rare a Coach can encapsulate in one comment what everyone else is thinking. However,  Andy Last said after the game, “I am fed up of hearing how good we are on paper, because on paper is not where you win games, it is on the green stuff where they are won. We have got to get more of these players filling this ‘so called’ potential week in, week out.” He went on to say that Gareth Ellis had played over 400 games and Danny Houghton over 300 and always given their all in every one, implying that wasn’t the case with most of the rest of our lot. Vis a Vis; too many players believe their own publicity. 

For a coach that was scathing, but it was honest and animates something that has been steadily growing for two years and mirrors what we have all been saying for ages!!

It was again a disappointing loss, with Andy Last shaking his head and Adam Pearson clearly frustrated, because they know like we do, that a lot of players live on the fact that they have been told they are good and think that all they have to do is turn up to prove it. No wonder many of us are getting fed up! 

It was a strange feeling as we headed into the Salford game,  for they have always been a team that I expected us to beat, but like it or not these days they are one of the better teams in the comp. They have one of the best, if not the best, Coach in the League and they were coming in confident after beating Catalans Dragons in the Cup. I guess as well, we all have to admit that over the past couple of seasons, their record is much better than ours has been. Getting to the Grand Final on a shoe string was a great compliment to both the club and that Coach, it was fairy tale stuff that somewhat hid a brilliant work ethic and will to defeat the odds. They are a great example of a team that may not be the best pound for pound in the game, but one that has a plan and most of all one that has a set of players who understand what their role is in that plan and their personal limitations and play to them both. A bit, I guess, like us lot in 2016 and 2017.  

The build up to the game was pretty surreal as that lunchtime I switched on Politics Live on national TV to see the face of our owner Adam Pearson. He was telling it straight about what the likely impact of the Governments statement about no crowds in grounds maybe before March next year, would have on the game and Hull FC. He said that we were, as a game, heading for financial ‘Armageddon’ and that clubs would likely start to fold in the next few weeks. You only have to look at the state that Wakefield are in, to know exactly what he means by that. So, it was with a few more worries than just those surrounding us beating Salford, that I approached the game that tea-time.  The team selection was pretty much as expected except that Sneyd dropped out late on, after what was described as a precautionary track and trace issue. 

We were back at Warrington again as we approached our 4th game in 14 days and we all wondered just how the hell we would get through it. 

Salford started kicking early in their first two sets for distance and pinning us back, but we charged downfield with some great early energy and got close ourselves as Shaul only had to pass to put Fonua in, but he cut back inside and the chance was lost. We were moving the ball well but again Tumavive got caught in possession on the last. Indecision in our spine was certainly looking to cause us early problems. Then Salford came down the field but Welham lost the ball over the line after a great rear-guard action by our tacklers. However, in the Salford line, Brown’s movement of the ball and distribution was already looking ominous. Then a great ball by Connor on the left to Griffin saw Shaul come charging through inside him to touch down behind the posts and we had the start we needed. There is little doubt Connor looks better when the forwards in front of him are on the front foot. We looked quite keen and as is becoming usual there was no lack of spirit as we pegged them back in their 20 to good effect. 

We were tackling like terriers and I wondered how we would keep it up, but we gave away a daft penalty to piggy-back them into our half. With almost unconsummated ease Inu cruised in on the end of a massive overlap and it was 6-6. We just aren’t at cutting out the errors and penalties this season, and it’s crucifying us. 

We had pressed so much, but only had one try to show for it and you wondered a bit what would happen next. The answer was Shaul was immediately in the wars again, when he took a high kick and Sargiesson literally took his head off. It was a cynical tackle from a player who is getting a bit of a reputation for such actions and Jamie looked to be concussed again and had to go off for a head test. Sargeasson just got 10 minutes, when it looked a lot worse than that to me. However, it was now getting rough down the middle and we had to defuse a big kick to the corner and we all breathed again. Houghton went down injured before a good move saw Satae of all people feed Savelio, who with a great bit of deception in the line came in close to the passer, changed direction and cantered over. Great try! 

Joe Cator was caught for a high tackle, perhaps a bit harshly, before Fonua knocked on just when we had got the ball back near our line and you just can’t do that, as right on cue Lussack dived in to score. Mahe just isn’t at the races at all and certainly seem to make some big mistakes of late that usually cost us. He’s been off since we signed him and his addition to the squad coming late as it did, looks to be an error. At 12-12 Salford were weathering their period with 12 men well and looked a match for us near our line. That said there was still no lack of effort, but mistakes and wrong option taking were again doing for us. Shaul passed his head test, but Salford pressed our line again before Pauli Pauli made a mistake and we all ‘corporately’ sat back again in our seats. 

Fash conceded a penalty with dodgy looking cannon ball tackle and we were under the cosh again and sure enough they spread the ball …again and Inu scored …again. It was a poor try to concede as Scott was pulled out of position in the build-up and the Salford winger was obviously targeting him. We trailed 18-12 with a minute and a half to go and we simply had to defend the next set, but the slap-dash stuff continued as we gave away a six again restart. Luckily we got the ball back before Griffin knocked on as the hooter went and we trailed, but were still in in. 

We had started well and looked good to take the lead twice, but once Salford got a footing in our half and were allowed to gain easy yards through errors and conceding penalties, with Brown pulling the strings every time they got into our half, they just looked too good for us.  

We needed to respond as the half started and our second-choice half back combination had to find some form. Immediately however, a poor kick from Connor went dead, they got a seven-tackle restart and we were back on our line again. It was backs to the wall stuff, but we worked it out, however with a flurry of stupid off loads in too close quarters we coughed the ball up and Rhys Williams shot onto the end of a short kick and we were down by two tries. At 22-12 Salford were pushing on and pulling away and we seemed to have no answers to their dominance, nor did we look to be too bothered about it!!! 

Griffin grabbed a loose ball, but our centre didn’t have the pace to go 50 yards to the line, however at last Connor got some room to work in and fed Shaul for his 100th Try for Hull FC; Connor missed the kick but we were back in it. We then broke downfield really well, but Shaul couldn’t hold the ball and Salford were back at our end for Ackers to crash in next to the posts. Mistakes again were just killing us, we just don’t value the ball and players that should know better just looked off it on attack, when we needed them to steady it down and build pressure. We just threw opportunities away and at 28-16 we needed the ball back and quickly, but instead of a short kick off we went deep. Salford charged downfield and kicked through and got over, but luckily were off-side. However, we were just hanging on and again a pack that size and experience wise had no right to be doing it, were out muscling us. 

Connor did really well chasing a short kick, but was pulled back and from the ensuing penalty we tried and tried at their line, but we lacked structure and ideas as we seemed to always off loaded at the wrong time. We tried to build pressure moving up quickly into their line, but a forward pass robbed us of a good position. 

Did anyone else have to turn the sound down at that point because you were fed up of hearing “Hull’s season is almost over”. God that commentary was crap!!  

Then seemingly from nowhere,  a great short ball from Connor saw one of our best tries for ages, as Jordan Lane ran a great line and burst away before he outstripped the whole Salford defence on a great 50-yard break to score and we were just 6 points down. I didn’t know he could run like that but boy he motored. Sniffing a chance, we got pinged for off side at a kick in a great position, when the replay showed that the call from the referee was wrong and as usual our luck was out. Still we weathered another drive up-field from Salford but we just had no idea what to do with the ball. We got in the ‘red zone’ again but Connor kicked straight into touch which immediately defused the pressure. Fonua lost it again in a tackle by Inu and again Mahe’s mistake cost us. A short drop out saw us get the ball back and it was our last chance. But another bad mistake by Connor saw the end of the game and apparently, our season!!!! 

It was an average sort of effort, I guess, we got close to then but again we just weren’t good enough and we couldn’t kill them off in the first half or get back at them in the second. It’s so dispiriting and quite frankly even a gnarled and ‘weatherbeaten’ old fan like me is losing interest. 

Several players tried hard and I thought that Faraimo, Shaul, Ma’u, Satae and Houghton did well. Whether it is the adversity, whether it is what we have been through as a group, whether it is the injuries, or most likely whether it is the culture that has developed and grown over the years at the Club, I don’t know, but we just ain’t good enough. However, as you know by now, my money would be on the latter. 

Without Sneyd we looked dodgy on the end of sets kicks and our options from both half backs were patchy. Connor was actually showing flashes of what he is able to do, but then he implodes and Carlos looked a bit lost in the halves, which meant again we lacked direction. We just seem to accept it when players like Fonua make the same mistakes week in week out. Look everyone had a go again, but we just were not good enough.

As for that commentary, well I have never heard such dross in my life, talk about repetitive harping on about the end of our season! Yep, it probably was, but no one from any persuasion wants to hear it 20 odd times and all this pundits arguing about stuff is just amateurish to say the least!! As I say I muted them half way through. 

So another defeat, it was close but another game of questionable attitudes, wrong options and mistakes a plenty!

It was however a memorable weekend for Jamie Shaul, who is a player that a lot of fans seem to under-rate. Perhaps at times he isn’t the full package but the following piece that the great Bill Dalton Hull FC’s historian and ‘keeper of the records’ sent me this week does I think outline just how potent Jamie has been over the years as a try scorer. Bill wrote ….. 

“Jamie Shaul became the 23rd Player in Hull FC’s History to record a Century of Tries for the Club in the Fixture against Salford on Thursday.

He made his Debut for Hull in a Super League game at Wakefield Trinity on 1st April 2013 and marked the game with the first brace of his 100 Tries. Supporters at that first game immediately recognised that Hull had found a special player in Jamie and Head Coach Lee Radford had been proved right to insist on the Club signing him amid doubt caused by Jamie being deemed over the age for Academy due to the Rule changes prior to the 2013 season, added to the fact that we weren’t running a Reserve team at that time. Thankfully, game time was found for him by loaning him to York City Knights, but he was included (on the wing) only three times, although he did register a Try, against Leigh. An injury to Shannon McDonnel meant that Hull utilised Tom Briscoe and Richard Horne at Full Back before Radford pitched Jamie into the contest at Wakefield on Easter Monday 2013. He later earned the comparatively rare distinction of appearing at Wembley in his first season, thus emulating fellow Full Back Icon, Arthur Keegan.

He is by some distance the highest Try-scoring Full Back at Hull FC, the nearest challengers being Steve Prescott (56) and Shaun Briscoe (57), although a number of Shaun’s Tries were achieved on the wing. Jamie’s ability to back up anywhere on the field allied to his tremendous pace off the mark has resulted in many a memorable long-distance score.

Jamie’s Century came up in his 178th Hull FC Appearance, which is a pretty good strike rate by any yardstick. However, among many spectacular scores, his most memorable effort will always be the Try at Wembley in 2016, which, with Marc Sneyd’s conversion, put Hull into the lead and eventually secured the Challenge Cup.

Good luck Jamie and here’s looking forward to the next Century! 

Bill Dalton

Thanks for that Bill a great piece as always! 

Now this week I was thinking again (…please don’t stop reading yet), this time about where we are as a club and I guess what has gone wrong, not just since lockdown, which, with that outbreak we had, is in many ways understandable, but over the last two seasons, which we would all agree I guess have been a real disappointment. 2016 and 2017 spoiled us all, but instead of kicking on and establishing ourselves as a team at the top of the British game, (which was then I believe attainable), we’ve slowly but surely gone backwards. 

Adam Pearson has brought (and bought) us some of the best times we have had in Super League, he is a great owner a good bloke and without him we would have been stuffed. But I think his body language at present indicates that the cash crisis in the game and the way that whatever he does, the players just aren’t performing as planned and to their obvious ability, is waring him down. In fact, perhaps like many of us sat on our settee’s at home, he’s getting to the point of having had enough. Yet without him we’d have been in a rare old state and that’s a fact.  Most people will never ever know the condition that the Hetherington/Rule regime left the Club in, but believe me it meant that had they continued we would have probably just bumped along as perennial also ran’s in the table, a long way off winning any trophies. 

Initially, Adam inherited some major problems that perhaps he should have identified before he bought the club and ones I think that would have put him off the purchase of Hull FC, if he had spotted them. Still he sorted it, slimmed the administration down, worked at the infrastructure within the organisation and has since built the Club on a sound financial footing, as well as bringing us some great moments that made dreams come true. However, he is good at that because he’s a real sporting business man, but he isn’t a life-long rugby league man, like say for example, Neil Hudgell or Ken Davy. We have none the less seen him over the years loyally supporting and trusting his staff and buying the players the Coach wanted almost it appears, unquestionably. 

However, for better or worse and with where we are now, it seems that hasn’t worked too well at all. We sort of built a ‘Bradford post 2000’ team, which was big, brawny and that worked at first, but soon it became outdated in the modern game and, with the changes of rules, it’s particularly unsuitable this year. What’s more it appears that Lee lost his way over the last two seasons, the whole demeanour of the team and the need to win at all cost mentality of a few seasons ago drifted away and eventually he had to go. 

The problem is I think, that culture is still embedded in the team and I often wonder if Adam realises that and has regrets? If he had his time again would our owner have sacked Lee earlier, and should he have been persuaded that it was a good idea to bring say Mahe Fonua back? Should he have even signed Ma’u for such big money, or indeed chased Josh Jones for two seasons to get his signature, only for him to be home sick almost from the off? I know hindsight is a good thing, but privately, he must look at where we are, be a bit concerned about it all and wonder if he has been taken a bit ‘for a ride’. 

These days Adam looks totally frustrated, tired and at the end of his tether. He is genuinely worried about the game, the Club and the team’s obvious demise. It’s nearly that point in the season where Hull FC fans lament the state of their heroes in the present campaign, but say “But, next season it’ll be different and we’ll be back”. As supporters that is always the hope and in the end, probably the hope that kills us. We’ll have a real battle to survive at all as a Club and if we do, the reality is I think, that it could well be a big climb, over a few years, to get us back anywhere near where we were back in the halcyon days of 2016. 

I say halcyon days, because back then we had a team that we expected to win every week and players that believed in their group to do that and what’s more, very often they found a way to win against the odds. We weren’t the finished product, but we had a simple style of play and what the lads lacked skill wise they made up for with grunt, passion, heart and a reluctance to let anyone get one over them. We recognised that and that welded the fans and the players together, which benefitted the Club both on and off the field. Over the last two seasons we have brought in some good players (on paper) but things have slipped badly and the fans recognised, perhaps long before some at the club, that what was going wrong was down to attitude and complacency. So, we soon had a team that, if we are honest, we expected to lose and often they didn’t disappoint.  

We were a great club to follow in those two great seasons and perhaps looking back we didn’t realise how well off we were. When you live the dream, you sit in it and at times just accept it and it’s only when it’s started to turn into a nightmare that you realise just how lucky you were and what a great time it was. In Gareth Ellis we had the best senior professional and leader you could have. He led the team by example and along with some to the import players who came intent on winning something, he steered, and led the team and in policing it, he, Pritchard, Manu, Minichello and Co. stood for nothing but the highest of standards and the best of behaviour. 

Everyone wanted the same thing, everyone played for everyone else and most importantly, everyone knew what their job was and how everyone else relied on them doing it well. It wasn’t just about passion and wanting either. We had a few good reserves who could step in when injuries or suspension’s bit into the team and they were used regularly and at times seamlessly as well. Since then if a half back is injured, we don’t draft a young half-back in, but rather move a centre to half back and a winger to replace him in the centre. We’ve seen it so often haven’t we? Just too much disruption all round. 

Many won’t agree, but my angle on it is that the best teams have a template by which they play and when players are injured they slot straight into that pattern and know exactly what they have to do, be they old hands or kids out of the junior ranks, everyone learns and understands the format and drops into it. Most of all there is an over-riding corporate responsibility to the group.

We saw that with Wigan last weekend, they were not great, but they were so much more organised than we were, they were told to get out and pressure us, every individual knew their role and the guys at each side of them knew what they were going to do. They know exactly, what the calls and the structures are before they take to the field; I’ll leave you to decide if that describes us as a team at present or indeed over the last two years? 

For me, we rely completely on Sneyd’s organisation, kicking game and at times off the cuff game play to get us through. He is a sound organiser and a good tactician, with vision and foresight and he’s an obvious organiser on the field, but at times he gets so frustrated because no one is doing what he needs them to do around him. If he was a maverick, you could understand that, but they all train together every day, so I somehow doubt he’s anything of the sort. 

He’s doing what it’s agreed he should do in certain situations, but a lot of his colleagues look as if they don’t get, or care, what’s happening at all. The other players should know exactly where they have to be at any given time when he tries the moves, his ability to do that should over lay the structures we use, but too often he ends up in a blind alley or turning to pass and finding no one there. Watch him play closely and he looks so bloody frustrated at times. That’s not all that is wrong, but for me it’s a symptom of what is wrong. 

In 2017 we could have kicked on because for two years we had a team that was led brilliantly by Gareth Ellis, with so much heart and will to win, but there on in, we just didn’t continue that culture or that ethos amongst the squad, so as to see that success continue. 

These days there seems to be no set plan at all, but rather we rely on Ratu, Shaul, Connor, Sneyd or Kelly to come up with the big play. That big play from the flair player, is it appears, expected to come out of the blue, we just give ‘em the ball and hope it happens. We hope that they produce some piece of ‘stardust’ to get us going or scoring, instead of us using the structured approach first, which allows us to create the situations that the flair players can feed off. 

Opposing teams study those players and know if they stop them they stop us, for there is no plan B. Our recruitment has been good on paper with players like Ma’u and Fonua, brought in to sell season tickets, but our best signings on the field this year ‘pound for pound’ have been the team players like Sao, Cator and Satae. The biggest mistake we have perhaps made of late has, as I said earlier, been the signing of Fonua (is he a marquee signing??) for he was almost an after though when as a team, we were already stuffed with wingers. Lee was big mates with him and wanted him here, he bulled him up publicly, as did the media and now he is living on that hype, but that expenditure was, in hindsight, maybe a misuse of valuable team strengthening funds. 

He’s a great guy and we all rejoiced when he was announced and every team needs their characters, but he just doesn’t look the player he was back in 2017. We already had enough wingers and to accommodate him, we lost a few youngster’s with great potential. 

So, I guess what I am trying to explain is why in my opinion we have gone from a team that looked like it could never lose a game when we put our mind to it, to one that, 3 years later, doesn’t really look like winning most of the time. The game has changed and now it’s all about speed and it certainly doesn’t suit a team that has been built of brawn and size. 

Losing Ratu and Kelly next season leaves just Shaul and perhaps Carlos with any sort of pace. If the game stays the same, speed is what we will need in abundance. So, there’s still a lot of post Radford baggage around the place to sort out isn’t there?

 It appears that a lot of work has to be done both as far as personnel and changing the way the team operates is concerned and Andy Last really does have a thankless task. It’s something that would be hard to do for 2021 at the best of times, but doing it when money is tight, the very club itself is under threat and we are operating under an interim coach, will be so hard, if not darn near impossible. For these are not the best of times. 

I have then just put into words my thoughts on the state of our club at the present time as seen by an ordinary fan with a bit of time on his hands.

 No wonder we are fed up, as our faith in Hull FC is being eroded on all sides;  by a national pandemic that concerns us all, by a game that seems to be struggling for credibility, by a team that is exuding all the things we as fans don’t want to see, by a financial crisis that is destined to envelope the game and by an owner who appear to be as frustrated as we all are. But you probably won’t agree and in any case that’s just how I see it and just my opinion. What we can all agree on though is the need to all work towards ensuring the survival of Hull FC. 

Somehow Adam has to keep the club going, and that’s something that became a lot more difficult after Boris Johnson’s address to the nation last week. We could easily be facing starting next season without crowds in the KCom and where does that leave season ticket sales, something that our owner has openly stated are essential to our continuing as a Club. Our very survival as a game now hinges, it appears, on what help the Treasury gives the sport to get through the next 6 months. These are difficult times when a lot of supporters have a bit of time, as I did, to think about things and often where Hull FC is concerned, that can be a bit depressing! 

So, another Diary, another defeat and a season that is quite frankly starting to pass a lot of us by. The distractions are all around as the virus continues to grow again and, as expected I guess, a lot of people are getting pretty scared about it all. The game is really at a cross-roads and the next few weeks will be critical with regard to how it survives the pandemic. However, for us FC fans, long suffering and always looking to see some glimmer of hope, we’ll just keep doing what we do best and getting behind the Club, the owner and the team and hoping for a favourable outcome. 

I know it’s tough at these times and I’m so glad that so many of you are continuing to read the diary. I try to see the positives about the club and the game, but they are at these strange times sometimes hard to find. That said, as someone who has bought into it for so many decades, like you all, I reserve too the right to criticise if I think its fit to do so, but I’ll always be behind the club whatever. So, thanks as always for your support, needless to say it’s always appreciated.

Stay Safe and …

Try to Keep Believing 

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf