What a Difference a Week makes eh?
We were outplayed at times and pretty well mastered throughout and that by a Wigan team that simply out thought us! Had we been neutrals watching, we would have been full of praise for how they controlled the whole game, but when you’re the ones being done in a semi-final, it’s hard to have an objective view on things at all really.
I think we all dared to dream and got a bit carried away with it all and perhaps in the end it was all that we as FC fans should have expected. Wigan had all the play-off experience and were simply far too good for us at managing the game. Of the 4 that remained, they’re the best team in such situations by far and they proved it last night.
They came out to control things from the off, went toe to toe with us when both sides were fresh, took their chances when they came and then just contrived to disrupted our game throughout. They held that stranglehold to the end, grabbed a couple of late tries that flattered them on the score board and so ran out easy winners.
We gave it our all, never shirked a tackle and tried so hard to get right in their faces, but we didn’t get the breaks when the margins were fine, or the rub of the green when it was close, nor could we change our game once we fell behind. All through the last three seasons, form has come and gone, but we have never had a ‘plan B’ once the other team got on top.
So, for us the season was over with what looked on the face of it to be a bit of a whacking. We know that it wasn’t like that, but that’s what the record will show!
I was so sorry for everyone who has anything to do with Hull FC and particularly for Adam Pearson. These are tough time and although someone had to lose, with all that is going on around here at present I just wish it hadn’t been us.
None the less, we all awoke on Friday morning with a very different Christmas ahead of us and another four months before we see the lads play again. However, last night, you just couldn’t fault the effort or the passion, we were just beaten by a better team who turned up intent on stifling and frustrating us, before they clinically finished their chances.
What’s more, as the seasoned play-off contenders that they are, they executed that plan perfectly!
However, before all that and most importantly, the news about Adam Pearson contracting this awful disease and being hospitalised was bloody shocking, because as with a close pal of mine who has been through it all recently, when its someone you actually know who has contracted it and been hospitalised, it seems to really hit home.
Adam has suffered from diabetes since 2015 and I well remember in September that year and before his condition was stabilised, him battling to get to the fans opening of the Boulevard Memorial and yet he got there, pressed the flesh with the supporters and no one would have known anything was different.
It’s hard to find an FC fan who doesn’t really rate Adam. He’s the guy who delivered something that had made thousands of people’s dreams come true and at times like these we all have to rally around and support the guy; and I have to say, folks have done that in their hundreds.
As regular readers will remember, I’ve worked with our owner and known him for years. So, I was as worried as everyone else when I heard the news last weekend and once it was out there on Monday I exchanged texts with him that evening and he was pleased to have a chat and he came across as being pretty confident. He certainly knew that all the thoughts of the FC Army were with him, so fingers crossed! It really is a terrible disease, but he’s a fighter and let’s face it we would be sunk without the bloke, he’s been good to us and so all our thoughts are I am sure with him and his family at this time and I’m sure you all join me in wishing him a speedy recovery.
So, Thursday dawned bright and clear and much colder than of late, but as the radio started playing Christmas records (much too early for me) it just exacerbated a strange apprehension deep in my stomach, that I hadn’t felt for ages. Whatever else this unexpected semi-final game in mid-November had achieved, it had certainly reignited something in this fan and no doubt in many of you reading this. Maybe the thought of our owner watching in his hospital bed on his birthday, Andy Lasts future career as coach being in the balance, the prospect of facing a winter of FC uncertainty and of course the expectation of thousands of fans who had for a week had a bit of hope, had all helped to raise the tension.
However, the run up and anticipation to this massive game was again clouded by the escalating Covid situation, as the country turned its eyes to the City of Hull which was ‘Hotspot Central’. The Hull Daily Mail were up to their usual games with regard to the local Covid situation, performing as they have all year, with banner headlines scaring everyone to death when cases rise and having us hunting high and low for the figures, when they’re down. All this encircling rhetoric and scariness makes it hard to get enthusiastic about anything much these days, so thank goodness for a week of Rugby based optimism and big thanks to the lads for delivering that heartening performance against the Wolves, to set it up, for it had certainly kept us all going for another week. In fact, with a bit of tension thrown in, despite everything that was happening, it was a bit like the old days again. Win or lose this one, that performance against Warrington had given us all a pleasant lift for a few days at least.
Wigan at their home in a ‘semi’ was a massive prospect to face but when we came out I just hoped that we would just give it our all. We got through the first set and looked up for it, what’s more Wigan made the first mistake with a forward pass on their second set. A brilliant end of set saw Connor put the kick up near the touch-line and we bundled Burgess into touch. In the next set we kicked to the corner but the kick was too strong. It had been a good start though! Wigan were playing their usual pressure rugby and we were struggling for field position, as I expected really, but a couple of penalties got us down field and Sneyd went for goal to get us on the board. I’d have tried to build pressure and I commented at the time that had they been in our position they would have tapped the ball. However once again, we took the lead first in a game. A ball steal by us though gave them good field position. Burgess was in but somehow we held him up and a great play by French saw us have to drop out as Wigan turned the screw again. In the next set we held Partington up as Fonua brilliantly defuses another good kick.
Our defence was superb though and a kick from Connor made Wigan start from inside their 20 for a change and at the end of set they put it straight into touch. Then as Wigan dropped the ball we missed out as we ‘scored’ but were brought back for a push in back play. Next up, Cator pushed the ball in a tackle and a great bit of pressure came to nought. We pulled off a great hit which brought out all our passion, but Griffin had a rush of blood and patted Partington on the head and they were awarded a penalty. They came down field and almost scored through Hardaker and we had to drop out and the mounting pressure saw Wigan go in on the left side of our defence and it was 6-2.
We had now to keep our cool and although most neutrals expected that it, that score didn’t really tell the story of the half so far did it? Ligi Sao was wrongly pinged for what was a Wigan ball steal and although we were trying hard all the luck was going Wigan’s way. Then Harry Smith got in on the end of another left side move before a drop goal on the hooter stretched their lead to 13-2, which I guess their pressure deserved, but we were getting some bad calls from Kendall and a bit of bad luck as well.
I reflected on the fact that it was perhaps all I really expected deep down, but we had to throw everything into what was looking like the last 40 minutes of our season and we had to keep our cool particularly Satae who ended the half looking like his fuse was about to blow any minute.
We kicked off and looked good again, before Satae let a ball go in the tackle and we handed Wigan possession back and Hardaker ran through easily to finish us off, as they were just too good for us capitalising again on the back of a mistake. It was good to see Danny Houghton laying the law down behind the sticks but it was all too little too late. Immediately we gave a set restart away. Connor defused what was another great move by Wigan, but a shocking end of set by us from Fonua at acting half, gave them the momentum back and we were struggling again. A good kick on the fourth from Houghton got us out of trouble and we pinned them back but Fonua stripped the ball right in front of the touch judge. It was all going wrong as next up Sneyd, who was given no platform from his forwards all night to work on, knocked on. They just hurried and harried our kickers at the end of sets and it was proving to be very effective indeed. Wigan just brilliantly harried and hurried everything we tried to do.
We at least got into their twenty but the play fizzled out as Fonua kicked for touch on a real scrambled play. We looked ragged and devoid of ideas and nothing like the team we’d seen last week. Naulago broke away to score, but Fonua had just knocked it forward. We desperately needed that, but on the night we could not take our chances at all and when they came bad luck robbed us. We looked to have scored again through Sneyd but he was caught just near the line, by the flying French and dropped the ball. They were playing a ‘what we have we hold’ game brilliantly as they reduced our yardage each set but a great kick from Sneyd was fumbled by Wigan and Houghton touched down, before again Naulago, who’d done ever so well, had just knocked it on in the air and the try was disallowed.
Nothing was going for us, but in fairness we had been taught a lesson by a very good Wigan side, we had tried really hard, but a third set of six on the trot saw Bibby go in and then French got another and it was 29 points against and all over for the FC and us lot until the end of March.
In the end it looked like an easy win for Wigan, which I guess it was, but we never stopped trying and all the passion and effort was there, we were just out thought and out muscled. Wigan were really good on the night and they played the pressure game so much better than us, so that most of the game was played in our half. Ma’u, Satae, Sao and Taylor were the pick of our lot for me, whilst Cator tackled like a demon but looked to have been sussed as far as his attacking play was concerned. I won’t be blaming Houghton, Sneyd and Connor either because for me they were all completely nullified by a good Wigan game plan and I also thought that Griffin despite his head patting antics costing us, had another big game yardage wise. Carlos needs to get back in the centre, where he will shine again and we need I think to sign a running half as a replacement for Kelly.
However, despite the score, we had tried our best and perhaps that’s all you can ask, players gave their absolute all and there were tears in the dressing room afterwards, but on the night Wigan executed their game plan to perfection, they were the better team and we were perhaps as well, a tad out coached on the night. Our play makers couldn’t get going at all or find any sort of platform and as I said earlier we simply don’t have an alternative way of playing when the chips are down. In the end it was a sad and pretty depressing end to the season all round.
So, to the rest of a week and it was never in doubt that Danny Houghton, our very own man of steel, would stay at the Club to end his career with us and although he struggled with his appetite for the game early on in 2020, he’s too steeped in the Club to play for anyone else. He told me months ago that he would only be looking to stay on because he felt it was his duty to honour all the people who helped make his `testimonial’ such a success. That’s the sort of guy he is, totally committed to the Club and the fans.
You’ll remember that I gave all the profits from the last book about Wembley 2016 to his Testimonial and I’ll never forget the way that one evening there was a knock on the door and there was Danny with a Bottle of Wine, a massive framed picture of THAT Tackle and a big bunch of flowers for Mrs R. He didn’t have to do that but he did and I know I can hear you all saying you don’t have to be a decent guy to be a good rugby player. However, it does show he cares and anyway for me Danny can still do a bloody good job for us changing his game as he gets older, as he has shown making such a difference coming off the bench of late. His new contract reflects the fact that after 14 years at the Club he is coming to the end of his career, of course it does, but although he‘s criticised at times by some (which players aren’t to be honest?) Danny H. is FC through and through, a real 100%er and I’m glad he’s sticking around. Although as I say it was never really in doubt.
The news that Atropa will continue to be our main sponsors for the next three years was a real fillip for the club coming as it did as we started the long cold winter of Covid. Their support is amazing and how ironic it is that with all the crap there is around us all, our main sponsor is in the field that they are in, which sadly at present for all the wrong reasons, is a growth industry. Their support and that of Jacuzzi is phenomenal and great news for the club just as they need it most. What’s more it is another confirmation of everyone pulling together, particularly for all of us who continue to pay our direct debits and support the Club. Together we can all get through this; great news just when we need it, isn’t it.
Josh Griffin got a few mixed reviews last night but he certainly played like a hero against Warrington and he did it after a pretty hard couple of weeks and he explained to the Yorkshire Post when he said, “I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, to be fair, I tested positive for Covid two weeks ago, had to self-isolate for 10 days, came out, had a couple of days training and then had a crash in the car which I’d only had for two weeks. I’d not even driven it too much! I was just taking my son to the park, I always like to get out of the house on the morning of a game to get some fresh air and on the way there an elderly couple pulled out on me”.
His younger brother George had been one of the players caught up in the outbreak at Castleford Tigers. Griffin explained: “We thought I’d got it from George but that was just a coincidence. I saw him on the Tuesday and I tested positive on the Wednesday so the doctors think it was too close to be him. They think I might have picked it up playing golf on the Sunday morning”.
Now, we have all often wondered about Kieron Purtill and how he was getting on at the Club, simply because since he joined us we haven’t heard much at all from him. In fact, an interview in the Yorkshire Post on Tuesday was the first one with our Assistant Coach that I can remember. He probably gave away why he has been so anonymous, because the interview sort of indicated that he had had enough of being at the blunt end of Managing at a volatile Widnes and just wanted to get involved in some real coaching close to the players again.
He said in the article, “One of the reasons I first went over was to get back to a bit of normality and some coaching. That turned around pretty early on in the year! It’s been good to go in a completely new environment for me and probably see a new part of the world as well. I’ve split my living time between Leigh and staying in Hull a couple of nights per week and on the spare nights I’ve had, especially when the weather was nice, I’ve got to go out and see some of the seaside places on the east coast I’ve never seen before. I’ve split my living time between Leigh and staying in Hull a couple of nights per week and on the spare nights I’ve had especially when the weather was nice I’ve got to go out and see some of the seaside places on the east coast I’ve never seen before. It’s been enjoyable and we’re all looking forward to Thursday.” Interesting to at least hear something from Kieron I thought.
Well, some more news came out of the blue a bit last weekend, when we were told by the Aussie media that he NRL are considering buying a stake or the entirety of Super League. It was said thatthe NRL and ARL Commission have asked an investment firm to look into the idea, which would see them take control of the world’s two major rugby league competitions.
I was sort of in two minds when I first read it, until that last bit about control, because that worried me, as it would worry every other red-blooded British fan, because we don’t want to be controlled by a body operating their own league, thousands of miles outside this country. No bloody way!! However, as Elstone and Co investigate every possible way that we can bring money into the game, the principle of the idea shouldn’t be discarded out of hand before we hear what they have to say.
If a stake in our game was to ensure the continuity of developing top class players (and let’s face it with the development leagues etc. they have over there as is the case now, only a few British players will head that way) and that the motives behind it are that the commission want to ensure the sport continues to grow globally by making Super League more financially stable moving forward, then it’s worth a look at least.
There is absolutely no way that I would ever entertain the game being controlled by them totally or indeed stomach a situation where our Super league Board had to bow to their sovereignty to decide on the structure, fixtures and the teams within the competition.
However, by the same rule here we are with a global sport that has distinct differences in the rules, depending where it is played and whether it is an international game and that has no global joined up thinking at all. That needs sorting somehow and we do need an injection of money into our game, to offer some stability as a number of clubs in England are currently suffering unprecedented challenges following a disruptive season that has seen no fans attend games since March. There is still no sign when we’ll be allowed back into stadiums and despite a £16m government loan to the sport in May and another of £12m this week, as I have said before many clubs are struggling to survive. At present the Super League’s position on the matter is unclear and for me at present it’s a strong, ‘Thanks but no thanks’, with the caveat that at least we should hear what they propose, if it actually gets to that stage, so interesting times!!
There was a bit more clarity this week on what went on as far as Toronto’s application to re-join Super League as the Chief Executive of the Competition opened up about the circumstances surrounding the clubs turning them down. Of course, Elstone witnessed first-hand the atmosphere generated by raucous fans on match day at the Lamport Stadium, but, like most of us looking on from a distance, questioned the true value of turnstile revenue. He said to the Guardian, “It was a terrific experience when I went and I’ve said that before, but in terms of its average attendance and what that generated in revenue, I don’t think there was ever real clarity. Elstone added that the Wolfpack were given every opportunity to demonstrate their case for re-entry and he was aware of the likely backlash in the event of a no vote.
He continued in the article, “We gave Toronto three months to prepare its submission and we helped them with it. We took the decision very seriously and very thoroughly and part of that was our awareness about what the reaction to that was. We had to do what was right for Super League. The executive came up with a strong recommendation on Toronto and the truth is there’s a governance review under way at Super League.”
Elstone, the former Everton chief executive who is in his third year at the Super League helm, then used the system in the Premier League to support his argument. “Material decisions that impact the Premier League are taken by its shareholders – and that’s the clubs,” he said. “If the Premier League decided it wanted to change the size of its competition or how promotion and relegation happens, that would be a process taken by the shareholders. The business of Super League is owned by its clubs and there’s therefore a strong case to say that big decisions should be taken by the owners of the businesses”.
It appears that all the wrangling between Clubs and the RFL’s inability to vet Toronto properly, when they first applied to join the British Game has led to a rethink of what the relationships between the clubs of Super league themselves and them and the RFL actually are. He concluded, “We’re looking to see whether there’s a solution moving forward, whether that’s a fully empowered executive team or on the other hand, every decision is taken by the clubs or something in the middle that gives protection. That’s the process we’re going through right now”.
That is, I guess, if you hadn’t twigged it yet, a hint that the Super League Clubs might like the way that the Premier League run things and how their relationship is structured with the FA and the EFL. In other words, as it’s became apparent that the RFL didn’t carry out any sort of due diligence before Toronto came in, yet in the end the Wolfpack got promoted and so were foisted on SLE warts and all, perhaps we’ll see further changes in the future.
The bulk of Super league Clubs are obviously looking towards the next TV deal and have already indicated that a smaller financial principle could see Championship Clubs getting nothing at all. I think that they are also keen to make sure that they have more control over where the money goes. What’s more that plan would at least let the stakeholders in Super League vet who they let in and thus protect their interests, mind you it’s guaranteed that any sort of change in the status quo will, after their defeat in the vote last week, be strongly opposed by Leeds and St Helens and possibly Catalans as well.
So for my main feature this week, and for a bit of fun I want to move on from Toronto and look forward to focus on who I think will be successful in the RL lottery that is the selection of ‘The Chosen One’ for inclusion in Super league next season? Last weekend at home, I had an in depth look at the criteria set out by Super league and the RFL, I studied it to see who I thought had the best chance. No surprise then that cynical old me, who has wintered and summered such ‘transparency exercises’ from the RFL over the years, came immediately to the conclusion that the powers that be just want one club to be successful and that club is probably the Bradford Bulls!!! In some ways for me it’s almost too obvious that the criteria laid down is etched to fit the Bulls completely.
Firstly, you have to have had a top 6 finish in the Championship in the last two years. Why, I thought, top six? Last year they operated a top 5 play-off competition and the year before a top 4 one, surely one of either of those should be the criteria. What’s more, the other five clubs in the running for Super League entry; Featherstone, Leigh, London, Toulouse and York, have all finished in the top four during the past two years. Not the top six, not even the top five; the top four.
There is only one club that benefits from the top six criteria and that’s Bradford. You’ll say ‘Oh come on Wilf’ that’s a bit tenuous but there’s more, much more! For a start when you look closely at the finance and sustainability section, one part of the criteria is that a club ‘must not have an insolvency event to their name since January 1st 2018’. ‘Luckily for them’, The Bulls’ came out of liquidation in 2017. Pure conspiracy stuff? Well, read on!
Now, we all know that whoever gets in has to command a market pull, yet the criteria doesn’t include the successful Clubs ability to expand into new areas, get the game recognised in new markets or even secure new broadcast deals. No the, criteria is based on social media figures, season ticket sales, attendances and merchandise revenue, all of which are important as well, but so are the former ones that have been omitted. When you scrutinise closely the Clubs involved in this lottery, why no include those initial requirements? Well, Bradford have the most followers on Twitter and Facebook and they had the largest average attendance in the Championship last season other than, ironically, Toronto Wolfpack. So, the Bulls come out on top when it comes to market size ,but when you consider their ability to grow the game into new markets that has to be questionable and they certainly come behind Toulousse and perhaps even York on that one.
Then there’s the criteria used for licensing in 2011, on which, we are told, the whole process is based, which states that you got a ‘credit’ if you aren’t based within a 20-mile radius of any other club in Super League. London, York and Toulouse would have all ticked that box, but that requirement has been dropped this time around!
They are looking instead strongly towards fanbase and the fact that Clubs had to be resourceful and thriving as far as levels of engagement through social media, through the community and how they reflect on audience, season ticket base and match tickets. Elstone said when he introduced the criteria that they would be, “Looking very carefully at what clubs will bring in those areas and that will be a big part of the evaluation.” His endorsement of Bradford, was for me as subtle as a ‘Kick in the groin’.
But, Toulouse seemed to me to be doing well thus far too, however, when the Chief Executive of Super league was asked whether the threat of Covid related travel restrictions would work against Toulouse he said: “They probably should.”
Elstone also said that the competition had to do what was best for Sky and Betfred – Super League’s major sponsors, when it came to attracting subscribers and customers for their businesses. When I got this far I wondered why Toulouse, or London for that matter, had even bothered filling in the application!
I was now starting to smell a put-up job and so I wasn’t surprised when I read that, (as Bradford haven’t done that well on the field of late), predictably, the performance section of the document is pretty sketchy. You need to have had a top 6 finish which I’ve already discussed and there is a strand that considers the CV’s of coaches and training staff; enter Johnny Kear and say no more! Another important criteria is that of training facilities which, with the Bulls great base at Tong High School Bradford again they lead on.
Elstone, Rimmer and Co. are keen to give the impression that the selection process is transparent, so much so that they have published this criteria which I read and by which clubs will be judged. The fact is however nowhere does it state which of the criteria is most important and which will carry most weight when it comes to making a decision. That, the RFL have said since, is down to the evaluation panel. What they decide which of thr criteria is most important? g
Super League’s three representatives on the panel are Chris Anderson, Graham Odlin and Rhodri Jones. The latter, by the way, was a marketing executive for the Bulls between 2004 and 2005. There has also been a lot of talk of late about Bradford moving back to Odsal next season which of course is empty and decrepit but owned by the RFL and a real millstone round their necks. The fact that a successful bid from the Bulls could see them recycle some of their central funding back to the RFL in rent to play at Odsal, could to a suspicious mind be a factor too. Take into account the financial impact Covid-19 has had on the RFL itself, with the income streams of the Challenge Cup Final and a three-Test series between England and Australia lost due to the pandemic, now more than ever they need Odsal occupied.
Their involvement in the potential Stadium of one of the candidates hardly smacks of transparency does it?? Plus of course don’t forget that the Bulls are owned by ex RFL Chairman and ‘the golden handshake man’, Nigel Woods and his family and perhaps you can see how my conspiracy theory starts to stack up.
The Bulls are one of only four clubs to win Super League in its 25-year history. More recently they’ve endured a torrid decline largely down to woeful mismanagement that saw the club go into administration four times before eventually being liquidated. Even last year Bradford ended up in special measures, were blocked from signing players and contracted players tried to force moves away from the club after it emerged than pension payments had not been made.
So, having looked closely at the document sceptical old me won’t be surprised at all if the Bulls come out of the process on top, however as I have said before in here, the outcry that would follow if Bradford were handpicked for a return to the top flight, would be loud and damning. That said, there is little doubt that, after reading that criteria in detail last weekend, there only one favourite for me! Just a bit of fun on my part really, but time will tell I guess!!
So, in a week when there was good news and bad on the virus front, Danny Houghton signed a new contract and Adam was in hospital, we were certainly brought down to earth by that defeat as well as by the news that Radio One was to edit ‘A Fairytale of New York’, because it offends people (is it me, are there not far bigger issues abroad or am I just getting old and muddled again?). Fact is however, our season is over and I didn’t honestly think that a crestfallen Andy Last looked like he thought he’s be Coach next season when he was questioned at the end. He shouldn’t be too downhearted though because although we lost big style in the end, he has done a great job in probably the worst circumstances any coach could have ever endured.
So, there we are, it was good while it lasted, but this morning a dull, dank Friday in Beverley, says it all really. Still, we’ll be back next season and we’ll all be behind the boys again; of that there is no doubt!! If the last week or so has taught us anything, it’s that although we are all distracted, a bit scared at times and just feeling helpless at others, we all still love Hull FC, it’s something to hold onto and the old fire will always be there. We might think that it fades and even goes after a year like we’ve all had, but at 7-45pm on Thursday evening I knew that was just an impossibility, I was as nervous as hell and I guess it was great to be that way again. We’re all disappointed, but hey it was fun to anticipate a big game again. Of course, in the end as I always say, it’s the hope that kills you, isn’t it? Still, for a while at least it was good to be back in the tumble drier of fanaticism again, wasn’t it?
Thanks for all your support on the night of the game when it was great to receive some of the brilliantly branded Faithful beer from reader’s Ian and Sarah to numb the pain a bit, plus in the week preceding the big match it was good to receive the kind words of encouragement from Dan at ‘In any kind of weather’, and from Steve in Portugal, Jed in Argentina, Harry C in Toronto and Brian over there in sunny Leigh, to name just a few. In fact, the support of the Diary by you all has over this horrid year been absolutely fantastic.
This tome will be back again next week and will continue into the winter as long as I can, but in no doubt a reduced form at times. However, with a new shirt to launch and a new kit supplier on board, a Coach to appoint and then a retained list to be announced, we’re guaranteed an interesting few weeks ahead. However, everything stems from the Coaching appointment which is for me, so, so critical.
So, thanks for everyone’s support which over the season has once again been magnificent and don’t be too despondent, for we have our memories and of course that hope going forward!’
Happy Birthday to Johnny Whiteley, good luck to Adam Pearson and a big, stay safe to all of you.
See you next week.
And finally, here’s a little extra hope for the future ……
It’s Georgie Bennett in her new FC kit, watching her first FC game yesterday with her Dad Joe!