The Dentist’s Diary – 714th

“We know the sacrifices our supporters have made and the real impact on them. This year more than any it is important to give them something to cheer and we are confident we can do that. We have built an expensive squad full of quality and we go into the new season confident.”

Some heartening words from Adam Pearson indeed, as I welcome you to this week’s offering with just 4 weeks to go to the start of the 2021 campaign and an interesting pre-season run out at York coming up quickly on the rails. 

It was great to hear from Adam yesterday as, in an exclusive interview with The Mail, he outlined his plans to keep the club going and to reward the fans who have stood by him so strongly and so loyally, by giving us all a more successful season at home. 

In some ways that won’t be difficult, because our home record under Lee Radford and Richard Agar was patchy at best and with the exception of one or two purple patches over the years, it’s a very long time since the days when we went along to the KC just expecting to win! In fact, if we’re honest, most season’s we thought we had more chance of winning an away game  than those we played back home in Hull, didn’t we? 

As you know, I have examined that conundrum a time or two in here over the years, as I’ve tried to analyse the claim that clubs look forward to coming to and playing in what is the best Stadium in the British game. The ambience and the atmosphere of the place seems to raise their game and for most of the time us lot on the terraces have hardly been intimidating have we?  So, I’ve also come to the conclusion that it’s a scenario which is something of a handicap for us from the off, because our visitors often visibly lift their game. I reckon too that we have to go back to the heady days when Shaun McCrae was running things, before we find a time when we honestly never ever doubted our team’s ability on home turf and were bitterly disappointed for a week afterwards, when we lost! 

As they prepare to take on that challenge and the gauntlet thrown down by Adam, the players are itching to get a game under their belts and so the York match can’t come soon enough. All that, whilst us fans just try to stay safe and long for a return to the KC to watch a match again, although even that’s likely to be delayed somewhat now. Still, everyone, from the players, to the Coach and the owner are positive, but then again why wouldn’t they be, as we haven’t dropped a ball in anger yet! It’s going to be a tough season and no mistake but that’s for another day and so now back to this week, when I hope below you find something to interest you.    

That article with Adam on Friday was a welcome one for me, as it answered one question that we have all been asking, in that it described the club’s financial status with the comment, ‘The club are now in a sound position to battle their way out of a difficult period, particularly with the new board members who have help make the club stronger off the field’, and boy was that good to hear. 

The arrival of Adams pal, Ralph Zoing who is a financial ‘wizz’, has certainly added some strength to Clarky’s elbow and it sounds as if we are in as good a shape as we could ever hope to be after the awful period the Club has been through. 

The rest of what Adam had to say surrounded introducing the new Board members which we looked at in here a couple of editions ago. In addition, he also promise to reward us lot the fans by making the KC a fortress again, as the club aims to provide us with some great wins at our home ground, in an effort to thank us for the support we have given the club over the last year or so. The thing is we all know that’s easy to say, but much harder to deliver than it sounds, however at this time of year it’s a great sentiment with which to send us all off into the 2021 season with hope in our hearts.  

Of course, on the same day the fixtures for the last 23 rounds of the season were released before we discovered that although the ‘attended’ games will be starting in May, we won’t be playing our first home game until 24th or 25th June and that, against Huddersfield. I knew the Giants wouldn’t be at home that weekend, as I have tickets for Greenday at their place on that Saturday; although the chances of that re-arranged concert taking place are already looking mighty slim! 

We‘ll be playing three home games at our stadium before then but behind closed doors. However, before that Huddersfield game there are a string of away fixtures because the KC pitch is being renovated (as usual). That’s going to be a tough run of games, against Leeds, Castleford, Saints and Leigh all away and perhaps that spell could be a season defining on. That said, to make up for it, we do then have 5 home games in the next seven weeks and I expect some big gates and some ‘loud crowds’, if we are allowed back to our seats in force.  

However, as I always say at this time of the year, there’s little point in analysing the fixture list because in sport fixtures are just a list and at some point you have to play everyone twice (except of course in Rugby League where you play some teams three times and in the past some even 4 times!). What I do know is that looking through the opposition’s squads, it’s going to be tough old season, but as this bloody lockdown becomes more and more tedious, all I can say is, bring it on!!! 

Well, I was starting to wonder just how our trialist Winger Mitieli Vulikijapani was getting on and I was pleased to hear that we will be able to get a bit of an idea as to what we have got to offer, in the friendly game at York, which I’ll discuss a little later in here. I don’t expect he’ll get long on the field and experience of such situations in the past dictates that it will be difficult for him to shine, but at least we’ll see him get a run out in the black and white. 

It’s always exciting when we take on trialists although in reality we all know that nine times out of ten nothing comes of them, although of course Ratu was one that bucked that trend and so it can work on occasions. Coming from the same sort of Forces RU background as the ‘late great’ Naulago, Miti (I’ll have to nick-name him that for now), is apparently still a bit ‘new’ and struggling to settle in with the rest of what has become a tight knit bunch of players. It must be tough in a strange City, trying to learn a game he hasn’t played before and being thrown into a group of players who have been together for a while, particularly when you can’t go out for a beer with them after training. 

As always Hodgson was ‘careful’ with his comments about Miti as he said last week, “We need to see how he plays because he’s effectively on a ‘train and trial’ type deal at this stage and unfortunately there’s no reserves so we only have that York window to see how he performs. He’s going well. He’s a good character and he loves to ask questions and learn. It’s just a matter of him feeling comfortable and being a little bit more vocal in the group”.

Brett Hodgson has given plenty of interviews but has never been one to give that much away has he? I know that myself, because I’m always trying to analyse what he says, which was often possible when Lee was in charge. He used to drop hints and use asides about players that gave you an insight into what was happening. Currently we don’t really get any hints at all into what Brett is thinking, or how things as really going. He seems to play his cards close to his chest and keep his thoughts in house and I believe that’s all part of his strategy of keeping the group close and tight and building a siege mentality amongst the squad. 

Of course, the players are less guarded and the expression ’80-minute team’ is being bandied about a bit at present by several of them, which perhaps indicates why he has put so much emphasis on defence. Of course, it was those lapses in the tackling department, particularly when we had got in front last season, that were so glaringly obvious and caused us to have such a shocking defensive record in the 2020 campaign. 

All the right things are coming out of the mouths of the players put up for interviews and although we all know that actions speak louder than words and that we have heard plenty of fine things in the past (before ‘the house has fallen down around their ears’ when we’ve kicked our first ball) for now at least it’s all positive stuff. 

That was the case when Joe Cator was interviewed last Monday and he said of Hodgson, “He really wants us to be team-first players and have that team-first mentality, putting the team first before yourself. He’s sat us all down and had a little chat, we know our goal for this year is just to be competing right at the top and to do that, we all have to be at the top of our game. I don’t think we can afford for players form to dip, we all need to be playing well every game, we can’t just be inconsistent like, I think all the lads will agree, we were last year. We need to make sure we knock that out of our game and perform well”.

That’s very much in tune with what other players have said and it seems that the new Coaches message is actually hitting home a bit. However, its easy when you’re not playing games and points and league positions are not at stake, but it’s when the chips are down that you have to dig in and stick together and that’s when we will really see what’s different! 

On to other things and as I said previously, it looks like we have some real light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to crowds being back in Stadiums again and that we are told will be from, at the earliest, the 17th May. That’s something that was confirmed by government as the Prime Minister set out his roadmap for the end of lockdown last Monday.

That of course means the first eight weeks of the new season will remain behind closed doors, with the May 17 date the earliest fans will be allowed in, although, as I said earlier Mr Allams ‘constant gardening’ means that our return home is delayed longer than everyone else’s! Boris confirmed fans will be allowed into stadiums and the government would allow up to 10,000 supporters or 25 per cent of capacity, whichever is the smaller, back inside those grounds. That means we will probably see 4-6000 fans in at the KCom for the first attended games. However, for some Clubs like Castleford, Wakey and Rover it means around 3/4000 or so in their grounds which again will at least create an atmosphere, but I guess in our case it’s going to be hard to decide which season ticket holders will be allowed in and who will be excluded. 

So, at first, for the majority of Super League, only a small, albeit significant number will be allowed into stadiums, and in fact, none of the stadiums we have in the game can boast a capacity large enough (40,000+) to allow 10,000 fans to attend. However, if the statistics on the pandemic are right and we do go with those dates set out in the ‘Roadmap’, at least the current plans mean that the Challenge Cup Final will be played in front of a decent audience, whilst the Grand Final in October, should hopefully see much larger numbers, as restrictions are eased further.

If our Club has to ‘play God’ as far as deciding who can at first attend and who can’t, they need, nearer the time, to first ask all season ticket holders just who has the confidence to do so. From a purely personal point of view, I will have had both my jabs by then, but I’ll have to feel a lot more confident than I do just now, to go back at first. I say that because we have all become very wary, despite what we are told is a situation that is gradually getting safer. In addition, some will be going away on holiday just as soon as they get the chance and so that has to be factored in as well. 

Of course, things and attitudes can change by then but its such good news that if everything lines up and we don’t see another  spread of rogue variants, then come mid-May things will be something like back to normal, in that at least we will get some folks back on the terraces. The Rugby League need to ensure that clubs and ‘My League’ keep streaming any games not covered by Sky though for paying viewers, because the chance of us all going to, for instance the away games at the grounds I mentioned above, is still a long, long way off! We don’t mind paying to view and swelling the home club’s coffers, but we need to be able to at least watch our team on some medium, if we aren’t allowed to attend. It is understood however that they will first have to look after their own fans and quite rightly so. 

Following on in that same vain the Magic Weekend fixtures were set just 18 hours after Boris’s announcement and we play a new team for us at the annual jamboree, the Leeds Rhino’s. As ourselves and Leeds usually take a big travelling support to the event it was to be expected that we would be made the last game on the Saturday which should keep a good crowd in the stadium. Then on the Sunday because it is not a Bank Holiday weekend and folks will want to be getting off home for work on Monday, the main event Warrington and Wigan has been scheduled for the mid afternoon fixture. 

That leaves the Dobbins and Leigh as the last game which is likely to see the tumbleweed blowing around the place, as most neutrals head home to Rugby League land. To have such a contrived and invented set of fixtures, which are, let’s face it dreamed up for the benefit of TV,  played out so close to the end of the season will no doubt have some teams near the bottom shouting foul and fix. However, this year there’s no other way of doing it and that’s the sort of season its going to be I’m afraid. You know that I think the whole event has run its course, but it keeps Sky happy and this season with the additional fervour there will be after lockdown is finally lifted, (if it really is) no doubt it will be well patronised.   

Well as I said last week, our one and only pre-season game this year, was this week confirmed to be at York in their new Stadium on Thursday 11th March in a game that will be streamed on One League. If you’re an FC season ticket holder its free and you will be sent an access code by Hull FC beforehand and if for any reason you don’t get one, then you should contact the club on membership@hullfc.com

It will certainly be a good hit up for the players and I’m convinced that York will provide some stiff competition. As a team in ascendancy of late, they have set themselves up as a club that will be pressing for Super League and they are actually better equipped to do it than a lot of the teams that have been there or there abouts for a while. With a great young Coach, some impressive signings, a brilliant social media operation and a brand-new state of the art stadium, the driving force behind the Club and their recent rise to prominence is Chairman John Flatman. 

You’ll perhaps remember John when he was with us as he did a great job developing our community arm, before moving on to a senior position at a local academy school and then a Chief Executive role at Wakey, before he took over a York outfit that was struggling to survive. Since then, he has turned the club around, spent big on signings and worked hard to get the Knights taken back into the hearts of the York public. I’ve known John for a while now and he is a really dedicated guy who is doing an exceptional job of revitalising a club that has at best been an ‘also ran’ for years. That’s some feet when ongoing issues in the sport and the nation mean that the trend in the game in the lower divisions is going the other way. 

Only last week he said of the Clubs ambitions, “In 2021 we want to triple the turnover from the 2019 season. We want to be a bigger and better business and that’s a key priority. We’ve worked hard in developing a business hub and club in which over 100 new business have joined our ranks. Many of those are PLCs (public limited companies) and many are York or North Yorkshire based. That’s a huge step forward that we think will deliver great benefits to do what we all want to do and grow this sport and grow this club”. 

One thing that he isn’t is a bull sh*tter and so well done ‘Flatty’ and for me I bet it’s a great time to be a York City Knights fan don’t you? That said they have had to face up to the reality of the game as well, when this week they announced an injury to off-season recruit, scrum half, Morgan Smith, which will mean that he is likely to miss the entire 2021 season with a ruptured ACL sustained in training. However, they have signed 19-year-old Dean Riley from Warrington to plug the gap. 

I’ve always had a soft spot for York, they have a few Beverley based fans that I know and long-time readers will remember that when we weren’t playing I have, on occasions in the past, travelled over to watch them. Furthermore, who will ever forget those great pre-season friendlies of years gone by, with us all huddled in the ‘Old Tim Shed’ Stand at their old ground?  I honestly fancy them to finish at the top of the league this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them knocking on that Super league door, if it is still ajar by then! There is little doubt that this game will be a friendly trial match for us, but for them a sort of Grand Final when they will be out to make a point to the game and indeed the people of York, who they need to get into their new home when they can. As I said earlier, there is little doubt as well that it will be a tough old hit out for our lot! 

However, from our point of view it will be a bit of a lottery as well, as we need to give everyone of our fit squad members a run out in our only pre-season match. I expect a settled starting 17 in the first half and a lot of chopping and changing in the second. For me that second half will be interesting because with a new game and defensive plan I’ll be keen to see how well the whole team knows the pattern and what it looks like when the starting 17 is disrupted. In the past in these games that has been when the consistency and cohesion has faltered, so if everyone has bought into the new system, it will be interesting to see how it works. 

I guess it will be quite an honour for us to be remembered as the first team to play at their new LNER Community Stadium. It’ll be tough going but it really doesn’t matter about winning in these games and the big attraction for me in the past has been a chance to see some ‘no pressure’ sport. So, it will be great to be able to watch the stream of the game and get back into some rugby, whilst seeing just how our new coach is getting on. But, how amazing would it have been had we been able to go there to see the new stadium and start the season in a carnival atmosphere!  Still, we all just have to be a bit patient. 

The idea of a ‘Rivals Round’ to be staged in August is a good one and despite the fact I hate Derby games, I expect the KC to be stacked out that day, if that is, we are allowed regular crowds in grounds by then. It will be perhaps the most anticipated Derby in years and is likely to really capture the imagination of the City. The fact that this time around, that weekend, they have tried to make as many games as possible proper Derby’s, is a great idea and although as I say I’m not a big fan of these matches it should be a great occasion for the game and the sport. Warrington have drawn the short straw with them hosting the Catalans Dragons whilst Salford have been paired up with Leigh which isn’t too bad a fit either. 

After my piece last week about the abuse that referee Chris Kendle had received on line from some pathetic souls who should know better, it was great to see that Referee James Child has spoken openly about his sexuality for the first time as he gave a bit of insight into some of the horrendous abuse he has received over the years. Child’s family, friends and colleagues have all been aware that he’s gay for a long period of time and he insists that his decision to speak out isn’t his ‘coming out’ story. 

He simply wants to get on with being a referee. He says that he’s quite happy to receive the sort of referee stick that he gets every week from the terraces and said of that situation, “When I run out there and make a decision, it doesn’t matter whether I’m gay or straight. What matters is whether the decision is right or wrong.”

On receiving abuse from the touchlines, Child, who took charge of his first Super League game in 2009, added: “I do receive my fair share, including a couple of death threats over the past few years that have been referred to the police. I’m not saying that’s all to do with my sexuality, but I certainly think one, if not two of those, were homophobic”. Childs has never been my favourite referee although it’s hard for me to see who is, however as was the case last week I defend his right to do his job without being harangued by homophobic idiots. I’m glad he’s spoken out and we need to rid the game of such practises and get back to more traditional communications like just grumbling at referees as we always have done …long, loud and hard, but honestly!!

Well bless my soul! At last Super League has got their corporate heads together with Sky to try and make an impact before the season starts and the outcome is that Sky Sports will be launching a pop-up channel dedicated to rugby league ahead of the start of the 2021 Betfred Super League season.

Before the new season gets going next month, Sky Sports Arena, the channel which usually shows Super League as well as a number of other sports, will show non-stop rugby league action from Monday, March 22 to Friday, March 26 – the day of the season’s start. In that period, they will be showing 40 classic rugby league games in full to get viewers up to speed for the season ahead. It’s a great idea and for me a good start to things for the 2021 season, but I was hoping for a top-class weekly magazine programme of the same ilk as the Aussie Footy Show which used to be such good entertainment when it was on Sky. If we got that and it was less like the awful Boots and All and more akin to its Australian counterpart, I really think it would be a big hit and gives us the continuity between weekends that would help keep new viewers engaged and help acquaint them with the game and its stars and personalities.  

If you ask anyone outside the RL community to name our star players they simply can’t do it, yet our game possesses some of the greatest athletes competing in sport in this country and some great personalities too, so we should be making more of them. The sports that are a success in the world get there by offering the complete deal, by extending the picture beyond games into the personalities, controversies and talking points that the game throws up and certainly not by parachuting games in every weekend and doing nothing in between. Discussions on rule changes, the detail of the game and behind the scenes exposes about players, clubs and indeed fans are simply nowhere to be seen and with scant coverage in the media our game is just a series of fixtures and little else. That’s the sort of stuff that Elstone and Co. should have been doing with the broadcaster over the past few years, still better late than never eh?

So, there we are another week goes by and a bit to chew over both at our club and across our great game. The national virus situation seems one minute to be improving and the next being set back, so we just have to hope that the ‘jab community’ continues to grow and that sport can return to something like the stuff we all enjoyed pre-2020. The weeks pass by and we all try our best to get some information and enthusiasm for the new season but it will all be so much better when we can start watching some games again. In anticipation of a lot of matches  that we can’t go to in 2021, I’ve bought a new tele which is so big it’ll probably work behind the settee as well!!! Thanks for all you support and continuing to read the Diary, I’ll be back next week but we are almost there now! Stay safe Keep believing and ….

Come on You Hulllaaarrrr!!!!!!! 

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf