It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World !!!!
One minute I am writing two Diary’s in a week to accommodate games coming thick and fast and the next, when other clubs are playing two matches in one weekend, I have no game to report on at all? One minute we are strapped for cash, the next we are chasing the most vaunted and hyped Coach in Super League …allegedly! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; this is the craziest of seasons we will ever see in our life-time’s and, who knows, perhaps the last one for our game in its current state. For, as with most things these days, predicting the future with any sort of certainty is getting rather difficult.
It’s Derby week but who would believe it and indeed for many, who cares? For everyone inside the game and out there on the ‘terraces’ have bigger issues to worry about really. I simply can’t see this current set up in our game going on much longer without there being casualties amongst the Clubs. A couple are apparently already in dire straits and the rest must be looking to winter and wondering just how they will pay their wages, because it’s simply impossible to see when they will ever be able to get fans back into Stadiums to restore at least part of the sports much needed cash flow. These are tough times and tougher ones are perhaps just around the corner.
I thought earlier in the week that the Catalans game would be one too far for Hull FC! What with a short turn around, all the protocol and testing it takes to get out to France and back, the rigours of a flight out there on the same day that we played the game and then when we got there, to face a French outfit that was looking good and who had been sat with ‘their feet up’ for over a week getting ready to hit us hard.
I was really heartened by the performance against a poor Castleford side at the KCom last Sunday and I was certainly pleased and not a bit surprised to see us showing good shape, some real attacking ideas and indeed some proper goal line defence. So, although I hadn’t got my appetite back for the game in general, I guess it’s fair to say that I was at least looking forward to seeing some of our lot out there in Catalonia, having a go again. But as I say I didn’t fancy us at all so perhaps, it was a blessing in disguise..
It now looks like the game will not be re-arranged and that it will be scrubbed from the fixture list, leaving us with just three more matches to get through (or endure) before this cockamamie season is over. None of them look easy as we play Rovers in what is always their Wembley/Grand Final/World Club challenge game on Thursday, followed by a couple of more ‘easy ones’ against title chasing St Helens and Wigan. As I have said too many times before in here, I can’t wait for it to all be over, but once it is, then I also fear what will happen next too!!
As I said earlier, the Ian Watson for Coach stuff is still flying around the media with sources in Lancashire, saying everything from us having made an offer to him, to it being a done deal and with the Hull Daily Mail over here, immediately pouring cold water on the whole thing. Andy Last is doing well and perhaps he deserves his chance! However, these are strange times and I guess Adam Pearson could be torn a bit as well. Torn between being loyal to Lasty who has done well through some testing times and signing a new Coach that just about guarantees immediately that as a club we will sell as many season tickets for next season as we have for this. That would probably save the club in the short term at least. So, tough times that perhaps call for tough decisions, but let’s face it, we all love a bit of intrigue.
Other news from the Hull camp has been thin on the ground of late, but at least we know that it looks as if sadly Gareth Ellis might well have played his last game for the FC. Even this year, bashed up and obviously struggling, he has looked good when playing in the front row and even our coach admitted, that despite his age we are still a lot better team when he is out on the field giving his all, putting himself about and leading by example. His knee injury is described by those inside the club as being one that has be brought on by years of wear and tear and something that is just attributed to a player ‘growing long’ in his career.
However, it will be a sad day when he finally hangs up his boots and the culmination of a fabulous playing career and indeed the end of an era as far as Hull FC are concerned. As with Albert Kelly it will be tough for all us fans, with us being deprived of the ability to give him a (his second) great send off at his last game at the KCom. The man has been an inspiration, signed as he was, (when every other Super league Club were vying for his services), to perform an almost impossible task and do what so many others on and off the field couldn’t. For there is little doubt, that Gareth was brought into the Club to change the Culture of the place. He came into the team and immediately put down a marker with the high standards he set, the way he applied himself and the way that he expected everyone else to do the same.
As Club Captain he led by example and along with a few other senior professionals in 2016 and 2017 he laid down the law on and off the field to ensure everyone was in no doubt as to what was expected of them. Senior players of that era will tell you how they walked a little bit taller as Gareth led them out onto the pitch. He headed up a small group that engendered change (him, Pritchard, Manu and Co.) and set the bar high. It was those who took it upon themselves to lock the players in the dressing room at Widnes in 2016, after two defeats and that drubbing in Cheshire. There, for 40 minutes, a few home truths were exchanged and we all know what happened next, for now it is history. At the end of that campaign he raise that Cup and made all our dreams come true and in future year’s he will be looked back on as one of the best on field leaders the Club has ever had.
Club captain between 2013 and 2017, his discipline, preparation, work ethic and dedication is exemplary, for he is one of a very small group of players, the like of which, most fans, even if they have watched the Club all their lives, can count on the fingers of one hand. Most players who have been around the place for a long time just end up as ‘Prophets in their own Land’ and I guess now Gareth falls into that category but what he brought to Hull FC should never be under estimated and I hope that in the future he will be lauded as one of the best we have seen in that famous shirt.
I’m not a big fan of ‘Club Hull’, you all know that, for I believe that the old pals act both on the field and in the dug-out has down the years been at the heart of a lot of our attitude, application and psychological problems, but man is he an exception!! I would do everything possible to keep Gareth around the first team squad in some capacity, for even when he isn’t playing, he is a real inspiration to everyone who comes in contact with him. Read his Yorkshire Post colume every Monday and his passion for the game and for doing things the right way, oozes from it.
Of course, in these titanic days cash is short and our cloth as a club will have to be cut to suit the situation. But, as a guy with great integrity and presence I hope that he might make the grade as a coach and stay around the Club, for he is a great inspiration to all around him. What’s more, we should all feel ourselves very lucky to have seen him leading Hull FC out onto the field, often as the forerunner of some great performances and historic wins. The sight of him plough up the middle shedding tacklers as he went will stay with many of us for a long time. The history books will record that Gareth Ellis was probably one of the best forward the Club has ever seen and as good a leader as we have ever had.
As I say such talent when it has ‘become part of the wallpaper’ is taken somewhat for granted but there is little doubt that we should all thank Gareth for what he has done for Hull FC as a Club and for what he has also brought to us lot out there on the terraces. He’s just a great bloke and an FC legend!
At the other end of the age scale, I see that Andy Last was last week heaping praise on Cameron Scott after his 4 appearances for the first team since the game restarted after lock down. I thought he did well in every game and agree with Lasty that in each hit up he suffered adversity either with the players he had to face up to, or with the positions some of his colleagues put him in. What I noticed was the way that after he had made a mistake or error of judgement, he could be seen to be endeavouring to put it right, out there on the field, so the next time he was faced with such a situation he got it right. I liked that!
It is however a mark of the situation in the game with regard to finance that we were also told that he was retained at the Club (when Buchanan, who I also thought was doing well, was released) simply because Buchanan’s contract was up and Scott’s wasn’t. I’d like to think that Cameron’s future at the Club is to be a really successful one for Hull FC, but I think he still has a long way to go and as such in Rugby League terms we all know that nothing is certain. Still good luck to him in the future and indeed to Kieren, in his new career at Batley.
Well I thought that the BBC did a brilliant job with their coverage of the Challenge Cup Final and indeed the full afternoon of Rugby League, because that great piece about Rob Burrow beforehand was superbly well done. The whole presentation (with the usual exception of Jonathan Davies) was well executed and Mark Chapman acted as a great anchor man. The commentary by Dave Woods was good and the pundits that included Jamie Peacock and Jon Wilkin were always constructive and informative and you felt, unlike some other broadcasters, it was about the game and not them. Of course, it goes without saying that John Kear was first class as welI, (does anyone else listen to him and imagine him sitting there twitching and flexing his fingers as he used to do when he was coach at Wakey?) and I was also really delighted to see another BBC stalwart Clare Balding making an appearance.
I remember chatting to her in 2008 when we had just beaten Wakefield at Doncaster 32-24, to get to Wembley and what a nice women she was, getting out of her car on the way out of the car park, to give time to the fans and to chat about the game and our thoughts on it. She is now the President of the RFL and was given centre stage on a country-wide scale to call for better coverage of the sport by the media in general. You all know my views on that one for it has been a constant bone of contention for me since the first edition of this drivel 15 years ago.
It’s something that has bugged me for years, but from a position when we used to get good coverage on all TV news programmes and in the national papers we have sunk to getting almost no coverage at all. In the 90’s, when Super League started, there was always a RL column in the ‘nationals’, but since then our demise as a frontline media sport has coincided with the closure of national newspaper offices in Manchester as their operations moved lock, stock and barrel to be centralised in London.
Full-time RL reporters like John Robinson (Sunday People) and Brian Batty (Daily Mail) eventually lost their jobs and the introduction of computerised technology in the newspaper business in general has seen a vast reduction in reporters and correspondents with our game in particular seeming to suffer really badly.
Unfortunately, it’s certainly apparent to anyone who follows the exposure of our game in the media, as I do, that many of the journalists in the capital look upon RL as a second-class sport and that was typified by the scant coverage given to the Final in Mondays Daily Mail, compared, that is, with what the 15-a-side code received.
Two and a half pages and a massive team photo were used to tell the story of Exeter Chiefs’ 31-27 victory over Racing 92 in the European Champions’ Cup, while the Rugby League Coral Challenge Cup, in which Leeds Rhinos defeated Salford Red Devils 17-16 warranted only half a page.
I don’t know what the answer is, but since the lockdown and thanks to the sterling efforts of the clubs and their players, there has been saturated coverage of Super League by Sky TV, as well as great coverage of the Challenge Cup on terrestrial TV by the BBC. One has to hope that from that coverage, at a time when sports fans, whatever discipline they are, can’t get out to support their teams, we will have attracted additional viewers to watch from their armchairs and maybe, just maybe, it will result in more people travelling to grounds once the pandemic is over. It certainly looks like it is grabbing some viewer attention for with an aggregate of almost six million viewers, the 2020 Coral Challenge Cup competition attracted the highest TV audience for five years, despite there being two fewer televised games due to the competition having to be restructured.
A promotional campaign should now be launched on the back of that and Sky’s saturation coverage to continue to engage with the public who have enjoyed watching these games so as to capitalise on their interest, try to keep them watching and perhaps even get them along to games. That is such a natural progression and for me what the RFL and Super League should be looking to do, but knowing what should be done and actually seeing it manifest itself as a reality, are in our game two entirely different things, so as I always say in such situations; don’t hold your breath!!! But well done to Clare Balding for stepping up, outing and challenging the media and for telling them a few home truths.
Whilst I’m on the media front, a big well done to the guys at the RL World Cup for their brilliant advert for next year’s competition which is airing on commercial TV at present. It announces the launch of tickets and is pitched just right to show our game in an exciting, modern and positive light! Well done for that!!
So, is the situation in the game with Covid, too many games with short turn arounds and players being flogged to death starting to get to folks within the sport? Most player seem to be doing OK, but with Coaches it seems different. We have already witnessed Daryl Powell, literally in melt down and obviously at odds with his players and indeed the World!! Before this week it was claimed that a second Coach, Chris Chester at Wakefield was showing signs of struggling as it was alleged he was losing the respect of his players.
Last week the Daily Star had something of an exposé on the Club in which ‘insiders’ came out with some stinging criticism of the Coach who had apparently recently threatened a lot of players with the sack after a catalogue of awful displays.
Of course, he has denied it and the club and players have closed ranks. Indeed, we saw them pull off an unlikely victory only days later. In the article it stated that some of the players are barely speaking to Chester and it accused him of turning up late for training sessions that ‘he hasn’t planned in advance’. However, some members of the squad were said to fear that Chester is un-sackable because there is no relegation this season and they went on to claim that they believe chief executive Mick Carter is unwilling to replace him with a new coach because of the financial implications involved. Well that’s what that exponent of all things credible, the Daily Star claimed anyway!
A whistle blower described as ‘A club source’ said: “He just doesn’t do anything properly or with any thought or planning. It would only be obvious if you had played under a really good coach, then it stands out like a sore thumb just how weak he is on the absolute basics. Everything looks normal from the outside looking in, but it’s just so unprofessional for a Super League club that there is no planning at all.”
Chris took charge of Trinity in 2016 after replacing Brian Smith and is under contract at Belle Vue until the end of next season, but it appeared after that piece in the national press that there is certainly trouble in the camp over at Belle Vue and initially it looked to many of us to only be a matter of time before Chessie was shown the door or at least some of his players were.
Of course, this is Rugby league we are talking about here and we have always been a sport full of sensationalist and ‘well-wishers’ particularly when a club is down on its luck. True to form, back came Wakey with that great win against Huddersfield, which was I guess against all the odds.
Afterwards there were plenty of fine words from the Wakefield camp especially from Jacob Miller who said, “We just wanted to put in an effort to show how united we are as a team and a club. It was a bit of motivation if anything and it was nice to get the win. I’ve got no idea where the reports came from, I can almost guarantee it was not from within the club at the moment. It was just nice to get the win for the club and for Chez. It will be nice to finish off the year well and put in a good year next year for him.”. So, it looks like it was perhaps sour grapes from someone who has been abandoned or rejected by the Club or indeed just someone out to make mischief. But it’s more likely that the whole situation in the game was getting to someone and causing a bit of a reaction. One things for sure Chester, the players and the Wakey Board have a bit of sorting out to do there don’t they?
It was certainly sad to see Harry Gration retiring from the Leeds edition of Look North and indeed broadcasting in general, after an illustrious and eventful career in the media. Born in Bradford just 4 months after me Harry has continued broadcasting until his 70th birthday and he was always a champion of our game and a great Yorkshireman to boot. His commentaries on Radio Leeds, often listened to in the car returning from games, were always really good and indeed for a time he presented the Super League Show on BBC TV. For me he got the game and the rationale behind it perfectly and what’s more he also always got exactly what the sport meant to the communities of Yorkshire and the North of England. I met Harry a time or two when I was looking after the media and marketing for the Council and he was always just one of the lads who always wanted to talk Rugby League and I remember how it came across immediately that he was a real fan of the sport at every level. The fact is with his retirement, we are losing a real champion of the game in the media and a thoroughly great bloke. So, it’s a sad day and yet I wish him all the best, for Harry is an institution and although he will be moving off the radar I expect he’ll still be taking a keen interest in the game and I hope that he has a great and long retirement! Good Luck Harry, the game will miss you!
Now, I touched on it a couple of weeks ago but the decision to put dual-registration regulations on-hold for a 2021 Betfred Championship and Betfred League One season (that will inevitably be built into Covid-19 guidelines) means clubs in the lower divisions will have to do more recruiting and will have to therefore be building their squads accordingly.
The latest statement from the RFL means that dual-reg system has been abolished as part of plans for the Championship and League One to start up again next year.
It has been shelved on medical grounds with the need for players to avoid entering different club environments each week. There will also be a one-club-only regulation applying in 2021 to the loan system, which is still available to lower tear clubs, although this is bound to be less attractive to a lot of full-time Super League players, because they won’t be allowed to train with their parent club, if they go out on loan.
Super League clubs too are more likely to frown on letting developing players go out on loan if they are not able to have access to them on a day-to-day basis, or the ability to recall them if they need them.
The combined effect of all this is likely to result in a significant reduction in the number of ‘borrowed’ players appearing each week in games beneath Super League. For me, it naturally follows that clubs in tiers two and three will be conscious of the requirement to recruit more extensively, to cover for the players they used to get on duel registration and on short term loans.
On the other hand another Covid-caused decision will also have repercussions across the three tiers, for now there will be no reserve-team rugby in 2021 and although that will mainly apply directly to Super League clubs, the repercussions could spill over to the benefit of those clubs lower down the ladder, who will have a load of ex reserve players to draw on.
Apart from the very obvious factor that players who would normally graduate from academy rugby to reserve-team rugby have nowhere to go, even those who still qualify for academies face the dilemma of spending the year at that level or sacrificing full-time training to have a crack on loan in senior rugby in the Championship or in League One.
It all makes for an intriguing situation as clubs and players at all levels face up to new issues caused by Covid-19.
Now for a bit of crystal gazing to try and explain what might be happening amongst the Super League Clubs, as the Toronto decision nears.
I see that Toronto have made their submission to the RFL and the Super League Clubs and it is apparently being evaluated by the RFL, before the clubs meet the owner of the Wolf Pack ‘on line’ in the coming week. Why they were allowed to go away and restructure their bid beats me, but I know that several of the smaller Super league Clubs are still against having them back in, whilst the ‘usual suspect’ big boys are all for it. Should they be included for 2021 and get the cut of the TV money that they demand, then it could cause a massive schism between the Super league Clubs. Several clubs are worried about it and with good cause.
Although rumours of them demanding a three-year exemption from relegation are pretty unrealistic and of course unacceptable, allowing Toronto in on their terms re. TV funding etc. sets a president. It means agreeing to Ottawa being allowed in too, once they have progressed to Super League and saying yes to New York and any other North American Club that can buy themselves a pathway to Super League.
Super League have always agreed that the bigger picture was not just about Toronto in isolation, for there is no point Toronto being in Super League for years to come isolated as they are without other North American teams joining them. A few clubs are needed to develop players and most importantly for the expansion plans to draw in North American TV deals. Mr Perez, champion of the game over there, said a few months ago that to secure the necessary TV deals in NA, there had to be at least 3 or 4 teams in Super League. Now, where that to come about it could see the demise of Clubs like Salford, Castleford, Rovers and Huddersfield at the very least and then what will Sky do? Will they abandon the game because there is not enough British interest? You can see why some Clubs are worried can’t you?
Could some British Clubs be the sacrificial lambs for the Super League’s bigger club’s transatlantic dreams? Those Clubs that are now worried have scrimped, saved, fought, made sacrifices and their players have really gone through the mill to get this season finished, they have stood by the game (when Toronto walked) and done their very best to see it survive. So, I guess you can sort of see their point can’t you?
Well, its Derby day on Thursday and who cares?? I don’t say that disparagingly at all, for we all like to beat that lot and hate losing to them, but in the bigger picture and with the chaos there is in the game at present as I say; who cares that much really! With them short of players, playing all those games one after another, having their coach in isolation, it being Hudgell’s last game in charge etc. etc. I’m expecting another floodlight pylon to come down before Thursday just to complete the scene!!! All that of course whilst we have sat with our feet up all week resting up! We all know with such odds stacked against the Dobbins what will probably happen, for we have seen it so many times before.
I’ll be watching, but I can guarantee that I won’t be getting all chewed up for days beforehand, as I used to, because like many of you that I speak to, this current crisis, that we all find ourselves in the middle of, has changed my prospective on it all. With just two more games left after Thursday let’s just be thankful to be watching a bit of rugby and see what happens eh! Thanks for all your correspondence this week and I apologise for this week’s effort in that without a game to report on, its always hard to find much to talk about. Edition 699 will be back next weekend but in the meantime ……
Stay Safe and Keep Believing