The Dentist’s Diary – 699th

2020 Bragging Rights to us!!!!

Whenever, wherever and indeed however you beat them, it’s academic ….as long as you beat ‘em!!!!

Thursday’s Derby was I guess to the neutral, a scrappy game at times, but who cares, for in the end it was easy enough for the FC against a Rovers team that showed some fight, but that by and large had little idea at all. On another night on a drier pitch, our edges would have run even hotter and I believe it could have been a bigger win, whilst at Caravan Park in front of the baying hoards of the ‘East Stand Inteligencia’ it could have been closer, but we’d still have won, because we are at present a lot better team than they are. However, 6 tries to 3 says it all, on a night when the conditions were probably a leveller and so played in their favour a bit.  

Our big players stood up and we had far too much for the opposition, as our wingers fed off some great ball from Jake Connor and our rotating forwards, coming off the bench, again turned the game in the middle of the field. In the end the team which had only a couple of months earlier been branded the ‘Entertainers’ were well beaten and I loved it!! Of course, it was a Derby and of course they knew that and played with some pride, but what was most rewarding for me was the way that after they had fought their way back into the proceedings, we pulled away again, before we managed what happened there on in really well. 

We did as much as we had to throughout and were up to everything they had to throw at us. Whilst they were full of heart, that was nowhere near enough as we frustrated and then over-powered them, to leave them a well beaten side by the end! 

In short, Jake Connor murdered ’em! 

The build-up to the ‘Phoney’ Derby was unlike any I can remember, there was little to read about it in the media and both teams (like everyone else) were obviously keen to win but just trying their best to get to the end of the season with their Clubs and the Sky money intact. All the adversity, defeats and indeed almost humiliating reversals that Rovers had experienced over the last few weeks had them, for me, nailed on to win, because that’s what happens with Derby’s, for we have seen it so many times before. Form goes out of the window and the under-dog status born out of adversity, usually breeds heroics.

However, lacking the backing of that vociferous Caravan Park rabble, this time two things did for them, the fact that we have got some sort of confidence, focus and even control back into our play and also the fact that in that sort of form, no one can handle Jake Connor. 

So, it was as strange a Derby as I can remember, in fairness even I had to admit to being a bit reticent to it all, which for me would, just a few months ago, have been unthinkable. Fact is I guess, with the worsening virus situation closing in on us all, these days I watch our games because being with the Club I love means I’m getting a break from everything thats going on around me, and my main motivation is to just ensure that in the future I have that Club to support. Although it’s always good to win, victory these days, even in a Derby, don’t bring the same buzz, or defeat the same ‘downer’ as it used to. I knew that better than ever this week, because it wasn’t until around 3-00pm on Thursday, that I really started to get a bit anxious about things. Usually I’d have been twitchy for days!

The press had hardly done much to fire my enthusiasm either,  although Joe Cator certainly showed his true colours in the Mail on Tuesday, playing as he was, ‘For the right side at last’ and what a signing he has been, but in general I’m sure you’ll all agree that for all around us in Derby week, everything was pretty low key. For the FC, when the squad were named, there was obviously a case for a reshuffle in our ranks, with Shaul missing at full-back for the rest of the season and Kelly not to play again for the club. Plus of course as the team was announced, Griffin had to be omitted due to virus protocols. 

It was also a big game for Danny Houghton, for the Hull FC legend was playing in his 33rd derby, surpassing the record mark set by Ned Rodgers for the Black and Whites between 1906 and 1925. Remarkably, it was also a game that was set to extend Houghton’s record of consecutive appearances in the fixture to 31. He led the team out onto the pitch and knowing the bloke as I do, I know it will have been a big moment for him  in a career that has seen quite a few, Never the less I know as well, deep down, all he would have been concerned about was beating Rovers! He’s 100% Hull FC, for the blokes is, as I say, a legend! 

We kicked off and it was evident that Rovers, playing in their new fancy-dress charity strip, were intent on ensuring they ‘got off the bus’ for once, they started strongly and desperately needed the first score, but after a short period of ‘nip and tuck’, which included Sneyd kicking dead on the sixth and Fonua knocking on, Ratu tackled Ben Crooks into touch at the corner flag, as he stretched out to score. That young man does seem to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder these days, and made some comment thereafter to Ratu, who duly pushed him away; that’ll teach him!!  

After that minor scare it was us who took an early lead. In the ninth minute, a rampaging run down the left wing by Faraimo, swatting tacklers off in his wake and scattered that infamous Rovers right side defence, set the theme for the night. After he was eventually tackled the ball was switch swiftly cross-field and Josh Bowden’s line break was much too strong for the Dobbins defence, as he powered in next to the posts. Sneyd converting to make it 6-0, before Rovers drew level when some dodgy defence saw a couple of FC defenders buy an outrageous dummy, as  former Hull forward Dean Hadley went over from close range. And as the rain lashed down on a dark and dreary St Helens night the scores were level and you wondered a bit.

However, Connor was playing like he was on a dry pitch as he managed to make light of the difficult conditions, shining as he did with ball in hand throughout the opening 40 minutes. His continued progression into the play makers role was epitomised by his clever kick as he fell forward, which led to Bureta Faraimo restoring our lead in the corner. Characteristic of the FC of old, we let the Dobbins off the hook again and Kane Linnett forced his way over as again I wondered a bit, but following Mr Crooks knocking on from the restart, Connor, who was becoming unplayable as far as the ragged Robins were concerned, soon ensured that we were back in control and into a lead that we were not to lose. 

This time, his brilliant  cut-out pass created a fraction of space for Ratu Naulago and that was all he needed, as he brilliantly flew in ‘crashing’ the corner flag for a brilliant try. Ideally I thought with half-time approaching we needed another to settle things down and Connor’s suitably obliged. This time, it was his deft footwork on a slippery pitch which completely unlocked the Hull KR defence, as his step and deft pass created the space to send Ligi Sao over under the posts and with Sneyd converting Hull were ahead by 10 at half-time. It was Sao’s first touch-down of the season and decisive in the ebb and flow of the game, but as the teams trooped off one thing was certain as far as the Dobbins were concerned and that was that Connor was murdering them.

What we needed after half-time was a bit of composure and I think looking back, it fair to say for once we found some. As the conditions worsened it was good to have our 10-point cushion to rely on, whilst you thought that Rovers needed to score first to have any sort of a chance. But, that opening score came to us and the first try of the second half was indeed the killer, as Faraimo powered his way over in the corner to effectively put the game beyond the hapless Dobbins. It was turning out to be one of the winger’s best games for us and the way he got the ball down under real pressure was perfection. 

They created a few chances as we looked to sit back a bit and contain them, whilst at home in the chair, our overall control of proceedings almost made me feel comfortable. Instead of forcing things as we have done in the past we patiently built, ate up the clock and waited our chance. Then, after forcing a drop out on the hour mark we took it, when Naulago finished well for his second before we witnessed the worst short re-start I have ever seen from Dagger, which went backwards!!!  Next up a Sneyd drop goal, just took the mickey out of the Rovers, as we established a four-score buffer. Ben Crooks who had made a couple of howlers in the game, grabbed a try in the final minutes, but it was never likely to be anything more than a consolation, in a game that we controlled well, from the moment we went ahead 16-12. 

It was a good win. Form is so often said to be irrelevant when it comes to these games. The FC, with three wins from their last four games, were heavy pre-match favourites, unless of course you understand the local dynamic of such things, so despite conceding almost 50 points in defeat to Wakefield last weekend, Rovers certainly weren’t going to roll over on a night when the weather conditions probably helped them a lot.

In the end, it was a Derby and they are by nature notoriously unpredictable and pretty stressful for us all at the best of times. However, this time our recent improved form, our ability to control things better and no doubt, the external circumstances surrounding us all at present, certainly made things different for me. As usual I found myself watching through my fingers, as they drew level at 12-12, but it was different, because I certainly never ever contemplated viewing any of the match from behind the settee!! 

Player wise Connor was head and shoulders the best on the field. He continued his improving form and although drafted into the full-back role late on, he continued to keep his cool, (with one ‘understandable’ exception) while he chimed in exactly when he was needed and indeed showed the worth of a play making full-back in the modern game. Wide out we had the beating of the Rovers from the off. Faraimo, I thought, had one of his best games for the Club, whilst on the other wing it became obvious just how difficult Naulago will be to replace. Ben McNamara stood in late on and again belied his age this time with a controlled display in his first Derby, he didn’t try anything fancy and certainly didn’t make any mistakes either. He’s going to be really good! 

Sneyd helped him a lot of course whist controlling the structure and the way we played, whilst Cator, Ma’u and Savelio again proved to be a formidable back three who drove and tackled hard against a resolute but beaten Dobbins pack. For me however once again our bench was instrumental in turning the game our way, with Satae and Sao adding the punch down the middle when the opposition were flagging and Houghton coming on again to speed things up to great effect. 

Before and after the game much was made of the Rovers injury situation, their three games in a short time and us having 11-day’s to prepare, but we shouldn’t forget the fact that we had no Jamie Shaul, had practised all week with Griffin at Full-back and then had to draft Connor in there at the last minute. Plus, we had to call young McNamara in again when perhaps he has had enough exposure of late for his age. That said, he did very  well.

In the end it was of course a very satisfactory result and don’t we enjoy beating that lot? I think we handled it well and stayed cool under pressure, but as I said earlier, as a spectacle it certainly lacked something, perhaps a crowd, I don’t know, but as they always say a wins a win and over that lot I loved it!!

So, it’s been a busy old week really and the big news from within our camp has to be the early release of the enigma that is Albert Kelly. You can’t beat having a player who is part maverick, part magician, yet as nuggety as they come and in Albo I think we have witnessed one of the best half backs we have seen at the club for years. 

His ability to do the impossible as he did in 2017 at the DW against Wigan, is something you rarely see in the modern game. That memorable day he beat and bounced off half their team to score and yet it was only one of a catalogue of great scores he has made for the FC. From the moment he dummied left and stepped right, over the line, in the pre-season friendly against his old employers in 2017, he was always going to be a hero and so it was; for he didn’t disappoint. He starred at Wembley in that same year and who can forget him coming off the bench against Rovers last year and how in that memorable second half, he absolutely demolishing them as he ran rings round their defence. His performance against Cas away last year was also a real treat to remember and relish. He was a great strike player, whilst his tackling out wide was something else at times, for he always punched well above his weight.   

There is little doubt that he was occasionally a bit ‘off the wall’ as his perchance for the odd McDonalds goes to prove, but aren’t all the truly great players a bit like that? Often their ability on the field is dictated by their outlook on life and how they conduct themselves off it. However, Alberts memory will live long with me, for he is one of the best we have seen. I wish him and his family all the very best for the future. His style of playing and his massive defensive skills for a man so small have no doubt taken their toll on his body and it will be interesting to see how long he plays on for over in Aus. The interview he gave to the Hull Daily Mail showed how much he appreciated the way that the Club have looked after him. He didn’t have to say that but he did. 

One things for sure although he’s only been here three years we have had the best of him and witnessed a real master at work, what’s more he’ll be missed and almost impossible to replace. So, Good Luck Albert and thanks for the memories!

Well, if Albert had to take pride of place this week, there was certainly some more significant news around wasn’t there? I know that I bang on in here about being pretty ambivalent about everything RL wise just now and let’s face it, the fact is that it is hard to get enthusiastic with all the changes, infections and chaos there is in the game at present. Yet last Monday I was really disappointed when we heard the news about Ian Watson and his decision ‘to turn down’ (for now) the opportunity to Coach the FC. For me however, whether he actually got to the point of turning it down is a matter for conjecture.

The fact that I was pretty down was strange, particularly when all I really wanted was to see this season out, for us to save as much money as we could and get as many folks continuing their support of the Club over winter, thus guaranteeing our future as Hull FC. I guess when I read the news I knew that we had missed a big opportunity to bring in the catalyst that would help enormously with all of that. That said I was impressed with what Watson had to say for himself, about our Club and indeed our owner. 

To be honest I don’t think that he completely closed the door on joining us, but it just looks like the circumstances and what is happening in the country at present made it just not right to move anywhere at present. I think that, now the dust has settled, it’s worth looking again at what he had to say, because I think it revealed a lot about just how much Adam and his family have become totally embroiled in our Club and how deep their feelings run for it. 

Ian Watson said on Sky, “Myself and Adam have been talking over the last few days. Adam has been brilliant to be fair he spoke about what was important to him and his family at Hull and the Hull club and making sure they were right going forward. Just I think things we want to do at the moment, the timing and with everything else that’s going on with Covid, it’s probably not right for us at the moment, so there’ll be nothing going any further from here on in.”

Reading those comments, it doesn’t exactly sound as if Ian is committed to Salford in the long run does it? In fact, when you hear him talk about ‘moving the family’ in other interviews one has to wonder if the ‘deal breaker’ was the fact that we couldn’t afford to take on all his staff as well. Or more likely still, perhaps Watson chose his words so carefully simply because he wasn’t actually offered the job and he was ensuring, he wasn’t burning his boats completely. Who knows? 

As a club we have certainly done things the honourable way and so as the FC family, we all live to fight another day. Adam went through the Salford Board first, before extensive talks took place when he opened up completely to Watson on exactly what we were as a community, about our sponsors, our shirt sales and the size of our season ticket subscriptions and how desperate for the club to survive he is. In fact, I doubt the sell was much different to the one he gave to Gareth Ellis, which persuaded him to pick us over all the rest of Super League Clubs all those years ago. 

Watson knows about the fan base and what we are about, but he also appreciated I think, after their talks, the depth of passion there is with Adam and indeed how much his girls care about the club their Dad owns. So, although it was not to be, personally I’m not sure that the door is completely closed as yet, but I guess that there is little point dwelling on things and for now at least, we all have to just get on with it. 

The possible background to the move is interesting too. Adam will have seen securing the hottest Coach in the British game as a great fix all round. He desperately needs to re-engage the fans for next season and get everyone excited again; so excited that everyone wants to continue to pay their direct debits through what is undoubtably going to be a tough winter. Folks like me, who are lucky enough to be in a position to just about continue to pay their direct debit and who will do just that however and wherever we are playing as long as the club exists, are not the problem. The big issue isn’t either with those who are struggling financially for their priorities at home have to be honoured and must come first. No, the issue for us at present is those who are struggling as FC. Fans to simply just keep the faith. 

Many of us will just support ‘the Club’ and ‘the name’ whatever. It’s  in our being and if you like our DNA and there is no escape, yet interest with some who just support ‘the team’ on the field is waning and some particularly in my older age bracket are moving on from their position of Hull FC being totally central to their lives.  Some people are struggling for enthusiasm whilst others are worried, scared and just totally pessimistic about when things, sporting or otherwise, will ever get back to normal again. The general demise and depression that is enveloping large swathes of the community in general across the country is knocking their resolve FC wise as well. And believe me that’s not a theory, it’s a fact because you tell me those things on a regular basis. 

Many fans desperately need a lift and are past us just stringing a few wins together, they want to see change and some real hope to cling to for the future. A new coach and/or even some new players would build hope and interest again, but as a Club we simply can’t afford to pay the players we have, never mind sign anyone new, in fact we will probably have to sell some, if, that is, anyone out there has any money to buy them come the end of the season. So, it’s easy to see how the inspirational signing of a top Coach might not have solved everything, but would have ticked a lot of boxes.  

Yes, getting Ian Watson would have cost us, but I’m told we made a very good offer to him and it’s easy to see despite the encircle financial gloom, why we did it. Had we been able to announce his arrival everyone would have signed up again, enthusiasm would have been reignited, there would have been a bit of hope and anticipation for an uncertain future and even selling a couple of players to keep going would have been palatable. That I believe was the thinking behind it all and we nearly pulled it off. In fact, I think all things being equal if it hadn’t been for Covid we would have got our man. But we didn’t and for now at least we move on. 

Of course, the fallout from his decision will resonate around the Club for a while yet. Who knows how Lasty or the players who seem to be pretty loyal to him actually thought about it? Adam being Adam will have handled it carefully and we are told that Andy was kept in the loop anyway. Lasty is a loyal bloke of great integrity and so we will probably never know how he feels about all this, however the players and their actions are often the litmus paper by which fans can judge situations and they look up for it of late and seem to be backing our interim coach. What happens next? Who knows?

Incidentally, I’m told that another name that might be in the frame is Brett Hodgson who is an assistant Coach over in the NRL. Adam was mightily impressed with Brett when he went after him to take over as Assistant to Lee Radford and Hodgson  only reneged on agreeing to take the post at the last minute, because a chance came up over in Aus. 

This week too we were linked with a bid to take Jackson Hastings from Wigan, which it is said the player turned down but who knows whether that one was true. It’s pretty logical that with Albo leaving and young McNamara not ready yet, we might be short of a half-back, something that is made even more necessary with the injury to Jamie Shaul. Hastings is certainly a great player who makes things happen and I guess were we after him it’s certainly a sign of our intent to think big despite the encircling financial problems the game faces, but again we were pushed back. Still it will be interesting to see if we look elsewhere in the coming weeks won’t it. 

The news that Lewis Bienek was interesting some other Clubs hardly comes as a surprise, for if we were to cut back this season it seems likely that he would have been one of the casualties. He looked so good when he signed but for whatever reason (and let’s face it we see this a lot with young players particularly forwards) he just didn’t progress as we hoped he would, despite a couple of loan deals and some duel registration appearances for Donny. I expected him to go anyway and as I say, no surprise there really.  

So, this week both Hull Clubs ‘trugged’ over the M62 AGAIN on a Thursday for the Derby, to play AGAIN at St Helens, although the KCom had hosted one Super League game and been picked for the Grand Final. Despite it being Rovers home game, I’m sure, with things as they are, they would not have objected to staying in the City to play it. Particularly when compared with Lancashire and predominately Knowesley and St Helens, where the covid risk level is much higher.  What’s more the same thing happened the previous Thursday with 4 Yorkshire teams playing over there. 

The whole situation was summed up by my pal Bill Dalton this week. Bill, like me and loads of you reading this, is passionate in his views about a game he has followed all his life. Let’s face it, in that time, he has spent hundreds and hundreds of hours meticulously recording all things Hull FC for posterity. However, in an E mail to me this week he said, “For me, Thursday’s Derby at St Helens was always going to happen. Apart from SKY wanting to show all the games from a select few Stadiums, purely from (as you have said before) the aspect of having to provide one camera crew etc. When the Hull-HKR Derby Venue was announced, Super League’s defence was that they chose St Helens because the stadium was ‘Bio Secure’. Since then, Castleford have played at Home, as have Wakefield and Hull (and Hull City), and we are going to have the Grand Final over here as well. So, all of a sudden, St Helens, Warrington and Headingley are only three of a growing number of Bio Secure venues. For me, it is truly baffling that on two Thursdays running, 4 Yorkshire teams are scheduled to travel a combined total of about 800 Miles to almost the other end of the M62 and back. The Green Party would be entitled to go crackers over that one, Carbon Footprint and all that”.

Bill continued, “Having now established that the KCom is ‘Bio Secure’, and then in a Kovid Tier One area, would it be beyond Sky and Super League to have realised that Leeds and Wakefield could have clocked up only a mere 200 Miles between them on the same Motorway, had they played there game at the KCom as well.  I reckon Sky are taking Super League for mugs. During our Lockdown when the NRL resumed operations, they showed a full NRL programme for 10 successive weekends, that’s, 80 games. In addition, they had a constant re-running of SL Grand Final Highlights. Throughout all this, they would have been pocketing £Millions in advertising revenue. So why did our authorities not remind them of this when the threat from Sky was to withhold a hefty chunk of the contract payment? Instead, Super League is cosying up to secure a new deal in a year’s time, when surely it should be talking to other Broadcasters as well. If there isn’t a rival bidder, Sky will get it on cheap, and then our game suffers, because the Clubs have become acclimatised to living off Sky money”. 

It was certainly a thought provoking E mail and I print it with Bills permission in its entirety, simply because I believe that the RL have been very unfair about game allocation for some clubs at this side of the Pennines and so I can’t argue with much of what he had to say. 

The news of Jamie Shaul’s injury is that it is probably an ACL and although not as serious as was first thought, the fact that it will see him out for most of next season as well, is a massive blow for the player. He has his critics and at times I have been one of them, but it’s a real tragedy on top of everything else that is going on and along, I’m sure, with all of you reading this, I wish Jamie well. The fact is of course again as a club we are looking after our players and in these tough economic times it was an honourable thing to do with a player who has been offered a contract but as yet hadn’t signed it. As someone on RL fans said this week, “So, he hasn’t signed his contract, now he is out for 9 months and decides to sign and we allow that? Call me cynical!”. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, but I won’t be calling that person cynical at all because who amongst us hadn’t had the same thought at least cross our minds? However, these are tough times and Jamie has always been a great servant and one of those legends that won the Cup for us …. twice, so he will always be remembered for that. I’m pleased for him and his young family that the Club has done the right thing and are looking after him. Good luck Jamie with your recovery, for its going to be a long haul.   

You know I really did enjoy the NRL Grand Final and congratulations to Craig Bellamy and Melbourne Storm on another success. The way the NRL got the season going again and the way that they staged games has I think been one of the real sporting success stories of this pandemic. We often seem to be following the NRL over here but why not because you have to admire the Aussies for the way they go about their business, and that extends to their slick presentation and coverage of matches. The way they do it, the commentators and the pundits are light years ahead of our lot and that Grand Final really was a real spectacle. 

Well it’s certainly a big day for British Rugby League on Monday when the fate of Toronto Wolfpack could be finally determined at a crucial meeting of Super League clubs.

The Canadian club’s application to re-join the competition is just one item on a packed agenda that also includes those proposals to curtail the regular season ahead of an expanded play-off series and also a look at the make-up for the 2021 campaign.

Toronto businessman Carlo Livolsi, the Wolfpack’s prospective new owner, has been invited to address delegates at the virtual meeting and that is likely to be followed by a discussion and potential vote on his plan to revitalise the club, following their withdrawal earlier in the season.

The Ontario club’s initial business plan was thrown out a month ago, by the clubs who strangely opted to give them a second chance to demonstrate their financial viability and potential value to Super League.  Livolsi met last Friday’s deadline to re-submit his bid and his plans have been circulated among the other 11 clubs. However, they will be urged to turn down Toronto’s readmission to rugby league’s top flight when they meet to decide the Canadian club’s future. I appears that  a damning report from a committee of Super League Europe’s executive, tasked with investigating the submission from the Wolfpack, has concluded that expansion into Canada, does not make strategic sense. 

But Toronto’s bid, has got the support of some of the game’s biggest clubs, for reasons of self-interest I have been through before in here. You know my views on it already and I’m not surprised with the committee’s decision, for it concludes what I have been saying, in that chasing the Canadian dollar at a time like this could be disastrous for the game. However, Mondays decision will be massive for the future of our sport. 

Meanwhile, clubs appear to be divided over proposals for a late change to the play-off series. Leeds and St Helens are thought to be leading plans to scrap the last two rounds of fixtures, following more postponements and cancellations caused by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and implement a play-off series featuring more than the top four clubs. Wakefield are among those against such a move and Warrington coach Steve Price also believes the new system, only introduced in September, should be allowed to stand. However, this is Rugby league so anything can happen and probably will!!

So, there we are, quite a bit to talk about this week and the best of wins to report on too. I love the way that all the antagonists and ‘experts’ from over the other side immediately disappear completely from the Hull FC, twitter, Message Board and Facebook sites that they seem to occupy on a regular basis during the season. But, just the same, thank heavens we won because after all the shroud waving we heard from over the other side before the game, we would never have heard the end of it had they got one over us would we? Let’s face it, the Derby’s are their Cup Finals after all! 

I’ll get off now and look forward to speaking to you next week when we reach the milestone of 700 editions of this drivel. Man, things have changed in that 15 years haven’t they? Thanks for all your correspondence and support and enjoy the warm glow and the satisfying feeling of a good win against the old enemy, which gives us the bragging rights of the City until at least next season. 

Stay safe and look after yourselves, 

Faithfully Yours