The Dentist’s Diary – 707th

I hope like our family you managed to have a good, if not restricted, Christmas and welcome to 2021 and the first Diary of the New Year. 

I’ve purposely refrained from using the ‘Happy’ word above because things are, at present, decidedly far from ‘happy’, but at least we now have some future prospects, as the ‘jabs’ role out and although I really can’t see us all back at the KCom for a long time, you have to hope don’t you?

I’m pretty confident that we will have to start the 2021 season behind closed doors again and what’s more, as I have said before in here, it will be a while before folks like me have the confidence to get amongst big crowds again anyway; for the last year has changed a lot of people, perhaps in more ways than we possibly know. 

With no rugby to watch, the weather doing its January best to imitate the inside of our freezer and with this damn virus again terrorising large swathes of the population, these days life in our household circulates around just three daily questions. Where are we going to walk today? What are we having for tea and what the hell are we going to watch on TVtonight? That’s about it at present, as I’m sure it is for a lot of you reading this. 

The fact is, at these times, we don’t only need books, TV and films that speak of life and give us a lift, we all need sport to do that as well. Now more than ever we all need the sort ofbuzz our great game can bring us and hopefully, after a massive effort from everyone inside and outside the club over the winter that, at our beloved Hull FC, is once more in sightfor us all again. For now however, the proliferation of inane articles in the media and the lack of any sort of substance in the editorial across the game indicates that we are in a sort of state of suspended animation, where everything is in place but nothing is happening. As fans we are all desperate for something to get passionate about again, even if we can only watch our heroes on TV. 

Thankfully, at least the lads are back training, our owner has got over his health problems, the new Coach is getting to grips with the issues and our new ‘Marquee’ signing is here and making all the right noises. So, at least we have a real hope that perhaps despite all the doom and gloom around, ‘things can only get better’.

At least for Brett Hodgson (and the new era he is expected to herald), the waiting is over and at last he’s been able to get his teeth into some proper training. After weeks of chatting to players on the phone and on zoom the real stuff has at last begun. It’s been a real relief for the players as well, because a lot of them wanted to get back to training, just to break the monotony we are all, these cold January days, suffering to a greater or lesser degree. It was all change as well when theplayers got to Country Road, when, as if to be an indication of things to come, no one was allowed out of their cars until ‘rapid lateral flow testing’ was carried out on every player. 

These tests aren’t as accurate as the now traditional swab tests and do on rare occasions show positive when someone is negative and vice versa, but they are pretty reliable and they are a lot more economically viable, so that will be the regular routine from now on down at the training ground. Thankfully on that first day everyone tested negative and by Wednesday the squad had got used to the new procedures. 

Brett is I’m told really making in-roads and majoring on defence, fitness and a change in our overall style of play,whilst off the pitch there has been a succession of team meetings and white board sessions aimed at bonding the group even more closely together and at developing a siege mentality for home games. To stamp his mark on, if you like,a new beginning, he has changed things around and redecorated the surroundings at the training ground a bit as well. It’s obvious that Adam has drummed into Brett that if the club is to succeed once the pandemic has eased and fans are back in ground‘s, then that success will depend on winning at least most of our home matches and giving the supporters some confidence again when they approach games.

Festooned on the walls at County Road is the Clubs new mantras of ‘Protect this House’ and ‘This is our house’, both superimposed over a picture of the KCom, with both carrying the strap line, ‘Our City, Our Rules’, which emphasises the importance of a home ground that is intimidating and a tough place to visit. I mean to say, let’s face it, our record at the KCom has hardly been good, in fact at times it’s been abysmal and it seems that even when we have had good seasons they have always been based on excellent playing records away from home.

I have talked over the years in here about that situation and often come to the conclusion that, having heard how much visiting players enjoy coming and playing in the best stadiumin the competition, it’s likely that they raise their own games for a visit to the KCom. Overcoming that and making visiting players fear the place is the challenge that the new regime faces for it is a formula that has worked time and again in sport. Look at the Dog Pound in Cleveland in the NFL and how intimidating that is. It is said by their players that the ‘Pound’ is worth two touch downs to the home team and that’s what we want to replicate at the KCom; a place that scares the pants off visiting clubs and their players. But, in essence, it’s not just down to the players to deliver that, because as fans out there on the terraces, we have a big role to play in it as well. We need to be inspirred by the passion on the field so that we stop sitting on our hands and shaking our heads and become part of the effort rather than just spectators of it. 

Few visiting players looked forward to the Boulevard and the Threepenny Stand and most openly admitted to hating the place. Many players have said that openly in their biographies and how good was that? Sadly, and perhaps strangely though, that all somehow evaporated when we moved across Anlaby Road. But for me, if we are ever to be a truly great team we have to harness the fans fervour and replicating that Boulevard ‘fear’ again. That is the challenge that our lot and us fans face.   

If we all have a big part to play, the lynch pin and, if you like,catalyst for that change on the field, has to be our new signing and man, watching Josh Reynolds speaking to the fans when he got off the plane, identified for me that he really does say all the right things. He certainly looks to be someone who is really looking to make it happen. You can see why Brett was so intent on bringing him over, for the bloke has something of an aura about him that’s hard to explain, but he certainly seems to be a guy who is on a mission and focussed on making a name for himself and Hull FC, whilst at the same time proving a few people wrong back home. 

His comments and video’s certainly impressed a lot of other fans as well, as some commented immediately after the interview that we should be making him Captain, which, if it is our new coach’s intent, is a tough one for Brett to negotiate. For he has to balance change with keeping faith and loyalty with the Hull lads, but if Josh impresses his team mates the way he has impressed all us lot, then for me we could do a lot worse. He wants it badly and you can immediately see that, he is passionate and after leaving his girlfriend and all his family back home he appears to be a man on a mission who seems already to be getting what the FC Army dynamic is all aboutas well.

What’s more, I have to say, watching what we all know he can do on the field and hearing the guy talk the talk about the club and his ambitions for it, he is certainly the sort of driving force from outside ‘Club Hull’ that the team has wanted for ages. He is by the admission of his ex-team mates a really strong character who doesn’t take any crap and that’s just what we have lacked in the past. 

So, I hope he does well and that he isn’t homesick or put off by the lockdown and all that entails, for it must be a weird old situation to find yourself in. He appears to be staying in the new development on Queens Gardens, but it must be all a bit odd for him. It’s bad enough arriving in a strange country that you have never visited before, that is like a deep freeze at present, without being away from your family and yet not being able to get out and about with your team mates at all. 

I hope that it doesn’t put him off and I’m certainly excited about the bloke and to see what he can do for us. I have to say as well that I can’t wait to see him pull on the black and white shirt and link up with Sneydy in a half back partnership that I think contains two players that compliment each other perfectly. One things for sure, he has certainly impressed so far!!  

So that’s the big signing here for next season, but the prospect of another couple of players being incoming before the season starts seems to me to be disappearing over the horizon a bit. When quizzed on the subject our new Coach intimated that such moves were still on but that a lack of availability of potential targets was the issue. The thing is of course with our overseas quota full and British players at a premium it’s a tough one to pull off and I sort of believe that we might have to go into the season with what we’ve got at present. For me we have a strong squad that will do well if our Coach can bring the best out of every player, but we certainly lack the sort of 90-meter pace that Ratu brought to the team and I hope we can address that issue with a signing sooner rather than later. 

There was a great article last Monday in the Hull Mail with Ben McNamara in which he came across as a level headed astute and mature young man. He talked about his Dads influence and how they really connect when they discuss rugby and watch games together. He also said what a plus it was to have played in Australia, whilst his Dad was Coaching there and how there too, he benefitted from the guidance of Adrian Lam. It’s a long road from where he is now as a youngster playing way above people’s expectations for his age, to a first team place on a regular basis and we all know that players fade, get injured and often fail to realise their potential. However, the kid shows maturity way above his already burgeoning promise and must be so excited about linking up with Josh Reynolds and seeing what there is to learn there. 

Ex FC forward Lewis Bienek was in the media via the Yorkshire Post this week as well, as the now Castleford forward made a few comments about his time at Hull. He indicated that one of his big problems was home sickness as he moved away from London to reside in Hull for three seasons. He also talked of the hype there was around him when he arrived at the Club although by his own admission he had never played in Super League and was still a bit wet behind the ears. I had heard he was also a bit of an outsider throughout and that was borne out by perhaps the most telling comment he made when he said, “Sometimes you just don’t fit the group as you would have hoped”. Lewis came with a big reputation and loads of promise, but he never delivered at all. We released him and I wish him luck, because if your face doesn’t fit you are perhaps best off looking to pastures new.  

Well, Ratu has settled into Bristol’s first team and is getting great raps from their fans. However, it’s interesting (particularly for those who say that RU players are not as fit as their league counterparts), to hear what the South Western Clubs Director of Rugby Pat Lamb had to say about him and indeed our own Club. He commented after Naulago had been with the Club for a couple of weeks, “With Siva (Ratu) being an EQP Rugby Union player and a British Army Soldier, we looked at him closely. He is incredibly fit, with great pace and an eye for the try line. He’s been consistently outstanding in his relatively short time in Super League and that’s testament to the great work from the team at Hull FC and thanks to them a lot of people are sitting up and taking notice of his spectacular performances.”

That is nice, but little consolation for us. At Hull FC we invested a load of money and time in developing Naulago’sgame, knowing all the while that he was longing to move near his family and play Rugby Union, but I wish we could have kept the guy for he would I’m sure be an absolute sensation in a couple of years’ time. Say what you like about Radders, but he had an eye for a ‘sleeping’ talent as we found out last year again, when he gambled on bringing in Joe Cator.  

As I said earlier it’s certainly a tough time for the game of Rugby League and I guess we all sort of wonder a bit at times  as to how our club keeps going and without the detail of how much of the games Government loan we have accessed, how much Adam has had to chip in and how big the pay cuts the players have had to take are, it’s hard to know how we are managing to get by. There is certainly little doubt that all of us who have kept up our direct debit payments and those who have been blindly buying 2021 season tickets have certainly helped the effort too. Well done to everyone and please keep it up, for, even with our help, keeping the Club afloat is certainly guaranteed to be a tough task for Adam and Clarky… but just how tough? 

Well, we got an indication of that in Adam’s Christmas Day message to season ticket holders when he said, “The incredible financial support and commitment of our members throughout this year has been humbling and it has been key in providing financial stability for the club, which now faces a deficit in excess of two-million pounds”. Whether that is a projected cost or the current situation isn’t clear, but one things for sure, hard times are ahead. £2m is a quarter of our annual turnover and a lot of dosh in a sport that doesn’t have much of that commodity at all at present. We just have to keep supporting them in every way we can …and hope.

Now, I got to thinking over Christmas, just why in Super League it seems that its always pretty predictable as to who will be contesting the honours at the end of each season and even who will be scrapping to avoid the drop and that even before it starts. At the top Leeds come and go and Catalans threaten to break into the running but by and large most supporters across the game would sort of bet on Wigan, Warrington, or Saints being there or there abouts come the play offs. However, it’s a strange fact that in the NRL there seems to be clubs slumping then resurging on a regular basis and there are always different teams contesting the top prizeand the wooden spoon. 

After musing on that fact I came to two conclusions really, firstly that our league table is too small to have anything but an ‘us and them’ sort of situation, something that I think a lot of readers would agree with anyway, but secondly that we have relegation and promotion and Down Under they don’t have it. I appreciate that promotion and relegation is a contentious issue and it would appear an essential necessityfrom the RFL’s angle (for they  have to look after everyone’s interests), but I think there is a good case to be made that the practice is holding Super League back. And as I say, I think that the NRL shows us perfectly why that could well be a definite fact. 

You don’t agree? Well for a couple of moments let’s consider the two competitions. When you study the ‘stats’ Super League has had only 4 different champions in 25 years (and only 3 in the past 15 years). Only an additional 4 clubs including Hull FC have even made it to Old Trafford even once. Since the NRL formed, two years after Super League, they have had 12 different clubs lift the trophy. Of the 4 clubs that have not won the competition, all of those, but one, have made it to their grand-final at least once. Those statistics do I think show that the NRL’s structure breeds a great deal of parity and a practise of sharing the glory around a bit, which has to be good for the competition. However, in the case of Super League there is no competition wide success and almost a foregone conclusion from the off that who is going to win it is between three or four Clubs. Therefore, despite me getting the need for movement between competitions completely, I would suggest that the single most pertinent reason for the predictability in our competition is the regular elephant in the room that no one really wants to  address; promotion and relegation. 

If the NRL had promotion and relegation, Sydney Roosters would have been relegated in 2010, instead they went to the Grand-Final the following year. Paramatta Eels would have been relegated in 2019, however they then narrowly missed out on a top-four finish and had a 58-point win in the first round of the playoffs. In fact, looking at the ‘stats’ the last placed NRL team is often back in the playoff picture within a season or two. 

Compare again to the Super League. Promotion and relegation is basically a revolving door, with Championship-quality sides unable to achieve any sustained success because of the financial insecurity that comes with not knowing year-on-year whether you will be fielding a full-time professional squad or back in the Championship with a part time roster. TheChampionship winners can’t sign players until they are promoted and by then the best available have been picked over by the rest. So, they always start behind the eight ball. 

As I have often said in here, the time when our competition was at its healthiest, was when we had the brief licensing period from 2009-2014. During that experiment, Castleford, Crusaders, and the Catalans Dragons all followed up last-place finishes one year, with playoff appearances the next, something experience proves is virtually impossible under promotion and relegation. And, although back then no club was able to break the Leeds-Saints-Wigan triopoly on the Super League Trophy, that trial period saw the first league leaders shield winners outside those clubs (Wire and Giants).In that period as well, clubs took risks and more young players came through the ranks to play first team rugby, whilst Clubs were much more financially stable than they have been of late. They could plan a little longer term than the end of the season and the whole competition was more healthy and financially equitable. Gates held up and the lack of relegation didn’t affect the fans although some would say I guess that the lack of jeopardy took away some of the excitement at the end of the season, down at the bottom. 

Look, before you shoot me down, I’m not saying this is the best scenario because I’m a traditionalist and relegation is a traditional element in our game and yet it is one that really successful sports administrations like the NRL and the NFL scratch their heads to understand. I do think that there should be a regular assessment of clubs and a chance for Championship teams to come up if they are financially sound,just as Leigh have done for all the right reasons, but for me relegation and the impact it has can only be successful with a league of say 14 clubs or preferably more. Furthermore, which credible sport has teams playing some of the opposition three times and other just twice? At present with just 12 teams and relegation, the Super League table is so consistently lopsided. 

Maybe nothing can prevent certain teams from thriving, while others barely cling to top-level status, but the latter have no real way out, without a chance to plan long term build their own teams through their junior ranks and speculate on a solid footing for the future. 

So, there we are, just some itinerant thoughts that came to me when I was as stuffed as the proverbial Turkey with nothing much to think about, but what’s for tea!!! I hope it got you musing a bit on the size of Super League the staid nature and predictability of it all and the need to get clubs operating on a more long-term financial and talent-based footing. I hope that you find them at least worthy of consideration. 

On that tack, it’s certainly proving difficult for Clubs below Super League to operate as with the gathering pace of the virus across the country the Rugby Football League has revealed how the latest national lockdown will affect the domestic game at all levels. Clubs in the Betfred Championship and League 1, will pause their pre-season training programmes for the next two weeks, as will Betfred Women’s Super League sides, and academy and scholarship programmes will also stop. A statement released by the RFL following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of a third spell of strict restrictions said: “Community rugby league, which had been due to resume at youth and open age level in January, is now required to be suspended under Government rules”. How sad is that eh?

Quite frankly it has to be applauded justhow well these clubs have done to keep going thus far, because I fully expected a few to have fallen by the wayside by now, but they haven’t. It must be hard for some to see much light at the end of the tunnel at all and I really do fear for some of them and indeed for their fans. Fact is, I believe that the ramifications of this totally abysmal 12 months will be far reaching and we have to all just hope that sometime in the future things return to something like normal in both our lives and our game whatever normal is!  

So, that’s it for this week’s rather truncated Diary, for with little news around there isn’t much more to talk about really. That said, things are off and moving again and ‘hope springs eternal’ as we work through the 9 weeks before the new season is due to start. When that happens, it will engender a massive sigh of relief and certainly give us all a big lift. We should also hopefully see the return of a bit of joy in all our heart again. And you know, watching the team you love doeshave that effect on you, whether you wish to admit it or not.  

“Really?” I hear you say, well just consider the fact that when we meet someone new and they say “I support Hull FC” we immediately get a lift and like them just a little bit more, even before you even know them. We need our Club, we need our sport and we need to talk and perhaps even argue about them both. I think that we all probably realise that now more than ever, because in these darkest of times we all crave some distraction and a bit of hope and that’s just what the FC bring to all of us. What’s more, I’ll try and keep this stuff going onward into 2021 to do just a little bit towards that end. I hope that you read it, disagree with it and at times even shout at your computers, but that all the while, by so doing, it ‘keeps you in it all!’

We can’t drift now, great things are on the horizon and we are in it together. The Club is bigger than all us, yet without us all, it will just not survive and where would we all be then?  

So, thanks for returning to the Diary again at a time when news is as I say at a premium and let’s hope that in the weeks to come we have a lot more to talk about and indeed a lot more to look forward to. If this week’s edition has been a bit dire in places, well I guess it’s that time of the year anyway and we’re all usually a bit flat after Christmas. Not to mention all the other distraction there are around at present; with in addition no holidays, trips out or live rugby to look forward tojust yet. 

As always thanks for all your support, stay safe, support the Club in any way you can and try to Keep Believing! I’ll be back next week!

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf