The Dentist’s Diary – 697th

The Best So Far? Or just an abysmal Castleford, making us look good???

Well perhaps it was a bit of both really! 

With two editions in one week, welcome to a shorter, interim, Diary as I try to negotiate the fixture list, as in this ridiculous season the games come thicker and faster and so I guess, the Diary has to do the same. What’s more it’s great to report on a big, big win, particularly when I fear what might happen on Thursday in France. 

Good old positive Pete eh??? Still, it’s a long time since I have sat back with 30 minutes to go and decided that we couldn’t lose. I wasn’t completely relaxed, but as reader Richard Kirk said on Monday Morning, “It was only my perpetual pessimism that caused me any anxiety at all”.

We looked so good and as a team, (as opposed to a group of players), we played for each other, didn’t get sucked into the obvious defeatist demise of the Castleford players and scored some impressive team tries. Cas. on the other hand, were abysmal and looked a beaten side from their first carry. Their overall disposition looked to me to completely reflect the rationale of their Coach, who has totally lost it as far as having any sort of optimism at all is concerned and it looked like that raison d’etre had rubbed off on a lot of his players!! 

We have battled through two outbreaks of the virus and numerous injuries, yet after all that adversity, we look a better team now than we did when we restarted the season. I’d like to say that it is the Andy Last effect and I hope it is, for he should take a lot of the credit, but a group of players that looked down and out before the virus struck and have indeed looked lost at times since, suddenly seems to have found it’s mojo. 

However, perhaps a group of guys who looked as if they couldn’t be arsed at times earlier in the season, have embraced the problems and the trauma of it all, used it to motivate themselves as a group and that has welded us into a unit again. From adversity has come steel and determination? Well who knows with Hull FC? Where that performance came from is hard to say, but it was certainly nice to experience it!!

As Diary reader Mike in Cheshire said afterwards, “I feel a bit cheated by a performance like that in an empty stadium, after all the crap we have had to sit through at the KCom in the last few seasons.” And I guess we all felt like that!!

Well having looked forward to seeing Albo back in the black and white again, we were told that he and Mahe Fonua were going to be selected, but otherwise the squad was pretty much as we expected and I thought that Cas would be smarting from two defeats against us and would be using that and the longer break that they had because of Covid issues, to try and turn us over.

It was good to see us at last at home and with my first sortie with the ‘Our League’ app, great too, to hear Baba O’Reilly blasting around the old place, as we ran out. Whilst at home we all  settled down to watch a game at a very unusual but extremely traditional 3-00pm Sunday kick-off time.  

Cas. started the game and we drove in before kicking on the 4th, but Gareth O’Brian dropped the ball as he carried it out of defence and we gained a great position. We pressed their line and a great kick from Sneyd and a towering one-handed catch by Naulago saw him score in the corner, to set the tone for the afternoon. As is usual these days we took the lead early on and a great touchline conversion from Marc saw us 6-0 up after 4 minutes.

A penalty in our next set gave us good field position and Savelio just walked in to score next to the sticks and as the Cas. players shook their heads behind the posts, it was 12-0. We got down field again with great forward strength, but dropped the ball when we had a big over-lap on our left. Back came Cas and we somehow got out of jail when Shenton threw a pass to no one as the visitors had the line at their mercy. We then looked a bit over zealous as we conceded a penalty for off-side, but our lot were really up for it as we got in another good position, but gave the ball away again and after controlling things for the first ten minute for a while we looked a bit ragged. It was a time when I thought to myself, ‘Here we go again”. The compound that feat, we then had to drop out and sure enough Cas were starting to come into it, as they got a penalty on our line. It looked like they were bound to score, but our line defence muscled up and held out. We streamed down field and a great kick again from Sneyd, spiralled through the air, so much so, that Shenton dropped the ball.

A brilliant kick and chase from in our own half saw Cas caught over their own line and they had to drop out. Then a brilliantly flighted kick from Connor found Faraimo, who was in at the corner and a superb curling conversion saw us 24-0 up as most of us watching were rubbing our eyes. Cas. got a penalty in mid-field but we stood our ground, although we lost the ball again on our line, but once more our goal line defence was standing up well. Our kicking game was superb as Connor put one up near the touch line but, as we charged towards the line,   we forced a pass and lost the ball. We just needed to steady it down a bit, although I have to admit to thinking, as the half time whistle went, that I thought we should have been a lot further in front after a really strong first half. As strong a 40 minutes as we have seen for months in fact.

All our forwards had stood up really well and we looked so energised after such a short turn around against a team that should had benefited from a much longer lay-off. The Tigers were poor in that half and I expected them to come out fired up but credit to Hull FC for we had been really good with the ball from the off and our forwards were superb down the middle. Add to that a great performance from Sneyd and Connor particularly with their end of sets kicks and you had a pretty complete performance from our team so far. However, this is Hull FC and anything is possible with our lot, so I was still pretty nervous as we prepared to kick off again.

We restarted the game and took it to Castleford from the off. Shaul picked up an injury after fielding a kick and we went down-field, but just failed to grab and convert a great grubber through. However, then we gave away a penalty for a high shot and a relieved Cas breathed again. Naulago hit ‘seven bells’ out of a Cas forward to shake the ball free and we grabbed it with glee. Sneyd then uncharacteristically stole the ball in the tackle to give away a penalty and Cas were on our line and we had to defend, but again as in the first half, our line was so much more effective and again we kept them out. 

Cas at last strung some plays together and we were forced to drop out, but again we snuffed out any chances they manufactured. Savelio (spell checker still has him as Saveloy) was playing so well, running the ball with strength and aggression and hitting everything in the tackle like a train. Shaul went off with that leg injury, but immediately after brilliantly taking a big Cas kick, Naulago spotted the gap and charged the length of the field to see Sneydy convert and it was 30-0 with 24 minutes to go. I’ll miss those 90 yarders next season!! I have to say that settled me down a bit and I even started to look forward to my Pork Chops for tea!! For once we were getting everything that was going luck wise and making the most of it. Connor put Naulago in, but it was forward, which was a shame for it was from a brilliant sharp cut out pass.

Castleford just couldn’t do anything right, but we had to keep our composure and keep battling away when we had the ball. ‘Action man’ Joe Cator was next to go down holding his ribs, but he got up as we took another penalty 40 yards out. With 17 minutes to go the game was petering out a bit however, Naulago was doing great on the wing and fielding last tackle kicks in fine style, but we looked to be easing off, or perhaps lacking a bit of juice. 

Of course, by now it didn’t matter, but we are in such situations so rarely these day, we all wanted more. As if the sense that we were soon pressing their lines again and Savelio took the ball, turned his back on the defence (the old 1980’s switch move) and released it to Johnstone, he moved right and found Houghton, who just walked in behind the posts as the rout was complete ….well almost! One thing was for sure; we were all witnessing the best of ways to return to the KCom.

They somehow got into our half, before we gave them a knock on, two penalties and a ‘six again’ in quick succession and the nilling was not to be, as too many tackles for us, saw them go in under our posts. With only a few minutes to go we got possession thirty-yards out, but the pass to our winger, saw Manu somehow get in the way and it came to nought. We never gave up though and a great kick chase saw Ma’u make amends as he bounded into their twenty and eventually forced the drop out. As we returned the restart  Bowden was held up, before Carlos danced through and got the ball down under tremendous pressure. Sneyd converted and it was 7 from 7 for him. The game drained away towards the end and the hooter went with us in possession 30 yards out. On that last play Sneyd put in a wonderfully weighted kick towards the corner   and Manu Ma’u charging forward got on the end of it to cap a brilliant (and possibly his best) performance. In a final twist after the hooter had gone Sneyd gave the ball to Connor and let him have a pot from the touch line and he nailed it to end the game 48-6.

As ‘Old Faithful’ eerily rang around the empty stadium it was quite spooky really, but what a fitting way to return to our old stamping ground. Our other victories of late had been scrambled affairs and in the balance right up to the end, but I’d enjoyed watching the last half hour of this one without any stress; which is a bloody novelty for me!!! However, the combination of a Castleford team who were way off the mark and an FC team that were running as hot as they have done for two years, saw us home to the sort of winning margin that will have a lot in the game sitting up to take notice. 

We’d dominated every facet of the match and were worthy winners. 24 points in each half made for a game that would have seen us standing to applaud the boys long after the final hooter had gone, if, that is, we’d been there. We make a few mistakes, we dropped a bit of ball and definitely had luck on our side at times, but none the less it was consistently top-notch stuff against a pretty average Castleford outfit. 

So a big win and yes, Castleford were poor, for there is little doubt about that, but you either rise above it all and punish a team, or you get sucked into it yourself. In the past the latter is what we have done on several occassions, but this time we didn’t, we rose above it and put in a great display.

Player wise, well, there were some standout performances and the rest were simply really good, for no one let us down at all. Firstly, we have to say that it was Andy Lasts greatest victory to date and credit to him, we were really up for it, but how much is down to playing at home again and self-motivation in adversity is also something that comes into it as well. Savelio (who is really coming into some form) and Connor were really standout players for me and both had their best games of the year. 

Connor thrived on the back of a set forwards on the front foot, but there were other great performances too. Naulago had a massive game and it’s such a shame that we can’t keep him whilst Sneyd outplayed the much over hyped Richardson and organised the team throughout. His goal and end of set kicking was superb and again he was so instrumental in the win. Joe Cator was again in the thick of it and shone brightly, whilst Sao is becoming one of the forward finds of the year. He was massive down the middle as was Ma’u who perhaps had his best game for the FC. 

But it’s hard to fault anyone in a performance that went to prove that if you can dominate the middle of the field, then if you have the spine players to make things happen, you will win, for success in Rugby League is that simple really. 

As for the coverage on Our League, well I thought it was great. The commentary was refreshingly focussed from George Riley and Earl Crabtree and for my first time watching on-line it was a memorable experience all round. I got embroiled in the game without too many of the distractions we are used to on Sky. I was thinking afterwards that perhaps something should be said to Super League about the coverage they give the sport and what happens when eventually we get back to having fans in the Stadium. You see whenever that is it is hardly likely that the virus will have gone completely and what’s more there are bound to be a lot of folks out there who are scared to attend at first even when they can. I would therefore hope that at least for the first couple of months season ticket holders could have the choice of going to the game or watching it at home. That seems sensible to me really, What do you think?  

Well there is little doubt who the big hit of the post lockdown season has been at Hull FC as for most of us fans Joe Cator has been a real revelation. I saw him play a couple of times for Rovers Under 19’s against us and he stood out for his effort and industry back then although he never seemed to be rated at Rovers by Sheens and Co. The fact is I guess that he isn’t the biggest of back row forwards you are going to see around the game and perhaps he is doing well with us because he has  some big lads around him. At Rovers they had plenty of under sized second rowers on their books and so he found it hard going making a mark on the Dobbins performances. There is little doubt as well that a season at Leigh where he was highly regarded by Coaches and fans alike, did him the world of good. They were desperate to keep him and he liked it there, but a call from the Club he had supported since he was a youngster was too good to turn down.  

He’s probably best described as a ‘dynamic’ performer with his whole game based on his energy, his passion and the will to get one over his opposition counterpart. He’s one of those players too that sometimes you don’t notice, until you are told when approaching half time that he has already pulled off around 25 tackles and made over 50 yards. For his work rate is pretty phenomenal. He’s a real grafter and as he’s a fan in the first place he gets the FC dynamic exactly. 

The pathway of player development is always a rocky one, even when they have broken through to the first team and at times really it’s often difficult to predict, with plenty of possible slip ups along the way, but who’s to say as someone said this week, that he won’t be FC Captain in the future. He certainly has the passion and love for the Club. What I will say is that in the modern game, where loose forwards are no longer considered by a lot of teams as being one of the spine, (Full-back, half backs and hooker these days), he is an idea loose forward; tough enough to do the tackling, but mobile enough to make the yards. He’s a great prospect and although not one of the most trumpeted at the start of the season, possibly our best signing of the year.      

Well that was a great win and whatever the reasons behind it we looked good against Cas and I believe that a few months back we would have played well for 30 minutes and then got sucked into their obvious demise and dropped to their level. But we didn’t and it was a nice way to spend your Sunday afternoon wasn’t it?  

We now move onto a really tough game away at Catalans with a flight and all the protocols around that to negotiate, we have I’m told, several bashed up players and just a four day turn around. Is there a worse or more difficult ask in the modern game? Well that’s the nature of the beast these days, but I honestly don’t think that we should all expect too much this time around. It’s going to be really hard to get anything from a team in form, playing in front of their own passionate supporters and coming off a long resting up period. It will be interesting as well  to see what happens if young McNamara plays won’t it? Steve will certainly have some mixed emotions about that one!  

So, a bit of a rushed affair this week and no doubt there will be some mistakes, but The Diary will be back next weekend after which we should be able to revert to our usual weekly format. However, until Thursday at least, enjoy the feeling that our latest win leaves you with, for we all need a warm glow these days. It’s going to be so tough but let’s just give our all and see what we can do in France!!  But as I say let’s not expect too much either eh!! Take care and we’ll speaks soon!

Stay safe

Keep Believing and ……..

ComeonyouHullllllaaaarrrrr!!!

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf