And so, it begins ………!
I have to admit to having a good feeling good about this season for a while now, it was something that was mainly based around the fact that Hodgson had come in, approached things in a very succinct and sensible way and had immediately got all the players behind him.
Before the game Brett said that he had told the players to go out and enjoy themselves (not something you heard often from Radford) and what we witnessed was a game where the smiles on the players faces, soon put one on the faces of us lot watching at home. The match was played in a great spirit from the FC lads who swarmed around the tackles and played some great attacking stuff. What’s more for the neutral watching they certainly laid down a marker that shows we mean business.
All the hype was behind Huddersfield, their owners big spending and their new ‘Superman’ of a Coach! But I like Hodgson’s style, he speaks well, isn’t a drama queen, doesn’t try to be funny and yet he is totally focussed on what he believes is the right way to do it. As regular reader Dick commented afterwards, he certainly reminds me of a young Brian Smith and somehow, if you get what I mean, he sort of acts like a Coach. One things for sure, he had our tactics spot on and the new flamboyant style of play with which we let loose was balanced well with a lot of control and a superb showing in defence. In fact, we witnessed everything Brett had promised us in those long, long weeks before the season kicked-off.
Of course, its early days yet as it was last season, when we marmalised Leeds at the same ground on the same day, but that was under the old regime this is truly a new start and as starts go, it was spot on!!!
Despite a long and quiet closed season and the lack of crowds being back in grounds, its fair to say that the anticipation certainly mounted last week and Brett Hodgson and his Coaching staff were back to the thorny FC issue of managing the expectation of the fans. It’s always an additional problem and pressure for any FC Coach and although he has said all the right things, you had to wonder if Brett actually knows what he is getting himself into here. In many ways he couldn’t have had worse opposition for the first match either, with the ‘Cream’ coming up against the team tipped to be the dark horses of the competition. Much of the Huddersfield hype was down to the fact that they have appointed arguably the best Coach in the last couple of seasons and so at the West Yorkshire club once again, expectations were sky high. Talking to insiders in the game it was very much a case of the relaxed, calculated and friendly style of Brett Hodgson versus the no nonsense often blunt approach of Ian Watson. I thought as the game approached that the key to winning on Sunday was a case of which team handled those fans expectations best, forgot the hype and stuck to their game plan because on paper it was too close to call! On grass however it was to prove very different!
However, in the run up to the match we all looked to the first pre-game press conference of the season (which was a duel-effort with Hodgson and Reynolds representing us and Watson and Sizer the Giants) for some guidance. Of course, in the end we didn’t get that much at all. Most important for us was the fact that Sneyd, (from the triumvirate of captains we have this year), was to lead the team as Captain for the day and although whilst pleased for him, it was news that saw many of us hoping that it wouldn’t affect his game. One things for sure, we all knew that leading the team out was going to be a great honour for a bloke who has secretly wanted the position for ages.
The actual press conference itself was all pretty calm and civilised but we all cringed somewhat when we heard it announced that we had a clean bill of health because we all know that was perhaps tempting providence with our past record. So, of course when the team was announced on Friday, there were injuries, there just had to be! to spoil things, however this time I guess thankfully (if you can ever be thankful for injuries) they came to Brown and Matongo. The thing was for me that although Masi wouldn’t have got in anyway, I was I guess a bit disappointed about Jack because he was shaping up well to have a big season and I would have put him on the bench myself had he been available. Otherwise, there were few surprises really and we went with what would be most people’s first choice 21-man squad. One things for sure though, with everyone raring to go, a couple of players were going to be disappointed come game day.
A 12-30 kick-off at least tempered the expectation, the anxiety and indeed the excitement that such days bring and as the teams were announced we had dropped 3 of the expected 4 from the 21-man squad. Cameron Scott was the wildcard that we didn’t expect at all on the bench, plus we had Swift on the wing because he has shone in pre-season. With those two I remembered what I reported in here as our new Coach stated in his second interview after being appointed, “It’s a clean slate for everyone, if you impress in pre-season you’re in the team”. I had always thought that Johnson would miss out too, as Brett put his trust in Danny Houghton, who again has been a shining light over the last three months. I guess in fact our coach was being as good as his word. So, that was it, the long wait was over and off we went into the 2021 season at a windy and desolate Headingley.
The game started with Huddersfield kicking off and in our second set we got the first ‘6 again’ of our season and as we pressed on the 6th, Reynolds picked Fonua, with a speculative pass, but it was just too high. Great vision from our new recruit I thought! In the early exchanges our middles looked strong with Sao and Ma’u tackling like trojans, but a strange tip on pass from Sneyd saw the ball lost in a good position. We battled on before we got the ball back, as Sao tried to off-load when he should have hung on and Huddersfield got a set restart right on our line, but we survived 10 tackles down there to get out of jail. Compared with last year already our defence was looking great!
After what had been a strong start from us, they started to apply some pressure and the wind saw kicking difficult for both sides. Our end of sets weren’t too good because of that, but then we went down field and using the elements this time a great Sneyd skyer forced a drop out. We pressed again and a brilliant show and go and dummy saw Connor ‘playing in a dinner jacket’ walk in wide out on the right and in a gale force wind a magnificent conversion from Sneyd made it 6-0. A real mix up on the last tackle saw Sneyd get us out of jail with a touch-finder when our line was under a bit of pressure. But, after that Reynolds featured in another great passage of play before a brilliant cross field move saw Connor superbly free Griffin and Josh thrust through the line and scored out on the left to make it 12-0 to the FC.
The elements made it really tough defending the end of set kicks and as Huddersfield got another 6 on our line, but again terrier like tackling saw us home as we piled into the contact and the danger was defused. Then, more brilliant defence saw Cudjoe held upright and dragged over the touchline line. But, a good spell of pressure ended with Carlos getting caught off-side. Greenwood was held up over the line and then Bowden took a big one on the head close to the line. He went off for a head test not to return, which was a shame because he had really looked the real deal since he came on off the bench. We were under a bit of pressure then but some great tackling from Houghton, Carlos and Griffin saw us survived again. We looked a bit is disarray as several players got knocks, but we continued to tackle well. Swift broke and McGilvrey slapped him across the face for the ensuing penalty to take us down field and the half concluded with Reynolds having a push and shove with Greenwood. It wasn’t quite over yet though, because after the hooter had gone we saw a fabulous down-field move that involved an amazing inside pass from Fonua and a kick chase to the line instigated by Sneyd. It was a passage of play that I’ll remember for a long time, although in the end sadly we didn’t get the good bounce, the try it deserved went begging and the half was over. Good tackling great endeavour and a 12-point lead. It wasn’t enough score wise, but as far as the season was concerned, whatever happened now, there was a bit of spirit and focus around the FC again.
The second half got underway and as we went downfield we forced a drop out straight away with a great play by Sneyd and Swift. Huddersfield were then caught off side under the sticks and Sneyd made it 14-0 with Griffin holding the ball on the tee for him; that’s how windy it had got! We forced another drop out before a professional foul saw Edwards get 10 minutes. Fonua almost got in, but had the ball stripped and it all ended with yet another dropout after which Manu was just held up short on the 6th . We had to convert some of these close calls, for it was still only 14-0. Time and again Taylor was driving into the Giants line with real gusto, whilst the impressive Swift was looking really good on the wing and when coming inside to help his forwards. Then it was Swift who brilliantly got back into the field of play to avoid a drop out against us and we were scrapping like hell to keep them out. But our scramble defence was good and we were controlling the tempo of the game well. Huddersfield were starting to chance their arm and almost scored before a forward pass did for them.
Reynolds saw a wild pass came off a defender, before we went at them again and after some good forward play by Cator a brilliant slide rule kick from Sneyd saw live-wire Reynolds fearlessly charge through and touch down. It looked as if the game was won, but this was Hull FC and a mistake from the next set was thankfully nullified when the Giants did the same thing. A penalty under the sticks for us saw Sneyd make it 22-0 with 13 minutes to go. But as we took our foot off the gas a bit back came Huddersfield and scored after a 6th tackle mix up on our right.
As the minutes ticked down I was impressed with the energy shown by Danny Houghton who was still running hard after completing well over 50 tackles but with 4 minutes to go McGilvrey almost got in, only to be foiled by a brilliant hold up of the ball by Swift and Sneyd. Then as time ebbed away for the Giants it all got a bit messy and Gavet sailed through a massive gap to amble in. It was a defensive miscount by Reynolds, but the game was won by then and you can excuse him that, for his was a real Man of the Match performance.
Like no doubt many of you, as the hooter went I settled back in my chair with a feeling of job done for we had got our first two points of 2021. It was a bit patchy in the last quarter without Bowden able to come back on from the bench after that concussion call, but by then the game was ours. It was a match that certainly brought new hope with so much to admire from a Hull FC side playing with a smile on its face. Flourish in attack, a great effort all round and a superb defensive display brought a performance that oozed control throughout. Early days of course, but a great start for the FC.
Player wise for me Connor was good throughout and looks every inch a full-back as he marshalled the defence well and chimed into the line in a style that made the opposition scratch their heads a time or two. On the wings Swift had his best game in the black and white and Fonua looked to be continuing his good streak of form from the end of last season. Both centres played well and the half backs were just light years ahead of the Giants pair with Sneyd doing exactly what he does best and man of the match Reynolds a real threat every time he got the ball. He’s going to be great!
In the forwards Sao, Satae and Houghton were a match for the Huddersfield front row whilst Savelio is so good with the ball and although Ma’u was effective I thought out of everyone he had a quiet game. The surprise choice for loose forward was Jordan Lane who really did well and tackled everything across the park.
On the bench as I said Bowden’s stay was a short one but he really looked good while he was on the field, Taylor was brilliant in contact and drove and drove at the Giants defence whilst Cator once on the field was one of our top performers. He just chases everything and never shirks a drive or a tackle. Finally rewarded with a place after a big pre-season Cameron Scott came on for the last 15 minutes and didn’t do anything wrong. So, all round a great performance and with just Bowden’s enforced concussion period to worry about injury wise itv was as I say …job done.
Now, to other things and in modern Rugby League, where hours and hours are spent in the video rooms across the game studying other teams and devising ways of defusing their threats, it’s rare these days that a team has a real game breaker and if you like possess the much talked about maverick player. You know what I mean, a player that is impossible to read by even the greatest tactical minds and who is likely to be able to turn a game in his teams favour on his own. We’ve had a few over the years, like Terry Kirchin, Steve Norton, Garry Schofield and Peter Sterling to name a few from the days of yore, and in more recent times perhaps Albert Kelly and possibly Jason Smith are another two. However, few over the seasons can be said to have had the level of classy unpredictability that we all recognise now in Jake Connor.
He isn’t the real deal yet, but when he is, and he will be, then man will he be an asset to any club he plays for. This man has the potential to be great! I think as well that the media has recognised that too, because at every opportunity they are queuing up to interview him.
Of course, we have to do everything we can to keep Jake in the black and white so, the big question has to be, is the Club talking to Jake Connor about a new contract or not? Well, the HDM say they are, but ‘reading between the lines’ I wonder about that! Despite being out of contract at the end of the year, Connor says he has not yet considered a new deal. Instead, his only aim is to do well in the upcoming campaign. Last week in that vein, in an article that the HDM claimed revealed Connor’s intentions towards signing a new contract, he just said, “I’m not thinking about that at the minute, I’ve got a full year to kick on in a new position and we will see what happens.”
With the World Cup at the end of the year, it will be a big season for those like Jake aiming to earn a spot in Shaun Wane’s England squad. Of that Connor said last weekend, “For me, it’s all about doing well this season and other things like International recognition will take care of themselves.”
One things for sure he’s happier now under Hodgson as he ever was under Radford, as he told the Yorkshire Post, “I think Full-back is my position. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I would, with all the running about, but I’ve got a different feeling about this year. It’s probably the happiest I’ve felt as a player; I just feel like I’ve got the freedom to go do what I want again”.
Whilst discussing the effect Brett has had on his ability to play at the back he said, “He’s been massive. He’s probably benefited me more than some of the other player as he was a full-back himself. I’ve not had a run of games at full-back in the past. I’ve played it a bit but I’ve kind of got the hang of it now with the things he’s taught me. There’s still loads to improve on but I feel he’s getting the best out of me. Under Brett, it’s not the same as playing full-back last year. He has different opinions: when to do things and when not to, when to put myself in the line, being smart and it’s more about using the brain rather than other things. I’m getting the hang of it and I’m sure Shauly will, too.”
So, Jake is happy to learn from Brett and is enjoying the proposition of an extended stay at Full-back. From what we saw on Sunday that’s paying off already as well. The thing is though at 26 he has the world at his feet and it would be great to think that he will realise his potential in the ranks of Hull FC. If we can’t hang onto him when his contract expires at the end of the season, then it hasn’t got to be for the want of trying and I think that every FC fan expects that effort to be made!!
Surely, “I’ve never been happier as a player” has to be a good starting point for them to get him tied up!
Well, I got into a bit of trouble last week from a couple of readers who thought that there was no chance at all of us ever building our own Stadium, others thought that it was a too expensive venture to even contemplate, whilst some thought, nice idea but as one said, ‘pie in the sky’. I’m not going to labour the point too much again in here, but all I’ll say is yes, it’s a tall order and yes there’s a lot of money involved, but don’t dismiss it just yet!!
Now you’ve probably guessed by now that I honestly believe that out game needs a radical review and rejuvenation to make it the great sport it is in everyone’s eyes, not just those of us who are the dedicated and dwindling fans of Rugby League. I know I know here he goes again I hear you saying, but I just believe that our game is the best in the world played by some of the toughest hombres in sport and marketed by idiots. People will (all being well) be desperate to get out and watch live sport later this summer and we need to be on that bandwagon, but are we? Are we hell!
This is a massive opportunity for our sport but we have to do something quickly with the running and governance of it, if its audience and profile is to grow, take advantage and meet that demand.
Dipping into my own experience, here’s an analogy to maybe explain what I mean. When I was on the council there were times when for the good of the City and its people and because of a limited skill set in some specialist disciplines, it was necessary for me to bring in a consultant to run a service, or more likely to investigate and solve a problem. I used to bring in the best from private industry and give them a time limited period to solve it, after which a full appraisal of what they had done, how they had done it and what success they had attained was conducted with members of the council, senior officers and public user groups of the service concerned all involved. Then they were either asked to continue or their tenure was curtailed.
That was the principle but in practise all was fine until the actions of the consultancy impinged with the councillor’s or some officer’s own agenda’s, territories or indeed belief systems. In the end the only objective was to improve the service for the public but self-interest invariably got in the way. Then the meddling started and we ended up with little progress being made, or more often than not the consultant walking. Consultants then got a bad name and problems were either left unsolved or fudged. That won’t suit a few folks, but it’s how on reflection I saw what happened time and again at the Council. But do you recognise anything?? For, at Super League it was very much the same.
Robert Elstone did I believe do his best, but if his remit was to lead us to a bright new future, he was on a loser from the off. The game was and still is being run by 12 Chairman as Board members all of whom have their own agendas and the constitution of that board and the voting system was flawed from the off. You either let the boss run the game once you have appointed him, or the whole thing is destined to fail. As it currently stands there is no point having a top team of administrators to lead the League, you may as well just appoint a few ‘nodding donkeys’ to carry out the wishes of the clubs, because they are calling the shots, in what was appearing to be a ‘scatter gun’ manner.
We really need to grasp the nettle and make change happen despite the agendas of the clubs, but sadly it looked like Super League had clearly made the choice to prop up the current position and try to protect what they have rather than grow, expand and appeal to those new audiences. It looked to me that at present with the exception of Adam Pearson and a couple of other forward-thinking Chairman, the rest just want to do what they have been doing previously and hope to ride out this next couple of years or jump back in with the RFL and set the game back years. Yet the time was ripe opportunity wise to kick on and build the game again.
I noticed that Super League’s former creative director Lee Hicken was saying similar things this week. His film and production company ‘The City Talking’, were appointed by Robert Elstone in 2019 to help market and promote Super League. The Leeds-based agency was behind the Amazon series, ‘We Play League’, the ‘Inside Super League’ TV show that aired on Sky Sports last year, which I really rated and featured heavily in here. It started to open the sport up to other interested parties but sadly, with Covid hitting the game hard, Hicken’s role with Super League finished in 2020. However, he said that he was not surprised when Elstone resigned from his position and feels the system for decision making at the top of Super League is flawed.
Speaking to League Express last weekend he said, “When I read the news that Elstone had gone I was not surprised. If the remit was to make big changes and lead us to a bright new future, that was impossible with the way everything was set up… the bottom line is that the voting system was flawed. Some clubs will vote for the good of the game or league, but many will vote for their own self-interest. This creates division, small-time and short-term thinking and forces the Super League executive to create diluted strategies that have a chance of winning a vote across the clubs, rather than the right strategy for the game”.
In Hicken’s view, Super League requires a real seed change for crowds and interest to increase. He concluded, “We need massive change, I really believe that even more than before, I officially started to work with the organisation. But there needs to be a fundamental change in the structure of the organisation. Then if they can get that done, there needs to be a focus on appointing some talent (off the field). There needs to be the right people in the right positions both in the central organisation and at clubs, who are qualified and equipped to lead the change. But you could have the best CEO, the best marketing director, studios like The City Talking and Nomad involved, but if they are not empowered, to get out there and do it there is no point.”
I couldn’t agree more with Mr Hicken, he’s got it spot on, yet I couldn’t honestly see it happening . Even the RL press seem to be backing Garry Hetherington and the principle of everyone getting cosy again at the RFL. Coming out of Covid means that our game has a massive opportunity now to establish itself, with a sport’s hungry population at the top of British sport again. However, arguing clubs, the self-interest of owners and an inability in the media and at the RFL to understand the value of Super League, as the games unique selling point, when compared with the rest of the game, is making that look unlikely. What’s more I sometimes think that some in the RL press, in an effort to please all people all the time, just want the game to bump along in its cosy ‘Cloth caps and whippets image’.
I mean last week I search through Rugby League Express to find a mention of the fact that Adam Pearson had dropped the massive news that Super League were negotiating with the BBC for several free to air games being broadcast in 2022, but I struggled to find anything. Ours is a fabulous game to watch live and to enjoy on TV and the success of the NRL has proved that when marketed properly it is the best there is. But what are we doing to capitalise on that potential at a time when people are desperate for distraction and attractions? Not much at all!!!
Well not much until the news that broke last Wednesday that we had appointed an interim Chairman for Super League. It appears that Garry Hetherington felt it should be him, but the best news for the game and for our competition going forward was that honest broker, committed RL fanatic and thoroughly great bloke Ken Davy had stepped down temporarily as Chairman of Huddersfield and taken on the role. He is trusted by everyone and really rated by Adam as well. I met Ken a couple of times when I was chairman of the fans organisation FC Voices and he has been voted in by the board of the Super League following the departure of Robert Elstone, who opted to step down earlier this month after less than three years in the role. Elstone’s actions followed the fact that he felt that he had shafted by a few of the Clubs, when he was told to broker a private financing deal, only to have it then voted out by a couple of rich power-hungry owners, (well that’s how I saw it anyway).
But now Ken will take over proceedings on an interim basis, until a permanent candidate is found to take the competition forward. Everyone across the clubs trusts him and I think it’s a great move because the biggest need at present is to put the Clubs various vested interest to one side, so as to move the game forward.
This week Ken said of his appointment, ““My role is to set a discussion going on the future of Super League and how we can most effectively realign with the RFL while also ensuring that we maintain our independence and direction. That is not going to be an easy balance to achieve but I’ll be doing my best. The decision to break away was a very sound one. The RFL at that time was not giving the game the best opportunity to succeed. The RFL has now changed dramatically, with its organisation and the personnel involved and, while we absolutely can’t go back to where we were, there is an opportunity for a realignment and that is what the majority of clubs voted for”.
For me that’s a good place to start from and for me Ken Davy is the only person in that group of 12 that can do that!! In addition, the Sponsors trust him, The RFL trust him the TV companies trust him and what’s more I think that we should trust him too. Despite being 80 years old, if anyone can get the ball rolling Ken can.
It’s certainly a good move for me, and at last, some good news on that front!
Now here’s something, which I discovered whilst rooting about in the loft the other day, that I think you might find interesting Those of you who have been around the Diary for years will remember the old Drum and Monkey pub where I used to drink in Beverley. It was actually called the Royal Oak and the stuff of legends, it was my second home and a great place which closed 5 years ago. Many of my adventures in there were related in here and it was a regular haunt for Peter Gentle’s family (and Peter when he was Coach) when they were over from Australia and it was much loved as an occasional watering hole of Steve McNamara as well. About ten years ago I was made aware of a piece of rare RL memorabilia becoming available and it was something that came at quite a price, but I jumped in and bought it. Once it was ‘decided’ at home that it didn’t really fit well between Elwell’s ‘The First Born’ and the university graduation picture of Rosenberg Junior, I loaned it to the pub to display in the Public Bar, where it hung until the ‘Drum’ closed. Having dug it out the other day, I thought you’d be interested to see it so here it is ….
This is the Great Britain shirt worn by GB Loose Forward and FC legend Steve Norton when he played in the First Test against Australia in 1982 at Boothferry Park. Of course, we lost heavily to ‘The Invincibles’, in fact Hull FC, in their club game, were the team that perhaps got closest to beating the tourists that tour. For me, it’s a great example, I think, of just how shirts have changed since then, …perhaps not for the better!
Plus, here’s an interesting one as well! My pal and diary reader Rich Hall, who sits just in front of me in the East Stand, sent me this picture this week to remind me of the moment he finally demolished those famous posts at the Boulevard.
This auspicious and perhaps tragic occasion, as Broady’s razed the place to the ground, was preceded by the most bizarre Derby the Boulevard had ever seen, when Richard played his Rovers supporting pal in a drop goal challenge, which Hull FC (Rich) won 4-3. The game took quite a while though as in a rather ironic twist, the famous pitch that for so many years in the 70’s was completely denuded of grass, saw the grass so long for this ‘Derby’, they both kept losing the ball!!!
So, the first weekend of games is over and thank goodness at last the 2021 season is up and running and for me thee were some good games over the weekend, none better than our own. It’s only the start but for me there was so much to admire performance wise on Sunday. In attack the spine of which so much has been made was imperious with Connor linking brilliantly, Sneyd in complete control of the line Reynolds a real live wire beside him and Houghton belying his years and back to his 2016/17 best. In defence we could not be faulted either and so it was a great win and we move onwards to Salford next Saturday lunchtime. Its two points in the bag and as a reader of the Diary who is even more cautious and sceptical than me in a text said after the final hooter, “Just 9 more wins and we avoid relegation!”
Thanks as always for supporting a Diary which at last had some great news to partake for all FC fans. It was a good game, with no need to resort to the back of the settee because we controlled things superbly. It’s been great to hear from everyone this week and thanks for the avalanche of texts and E mails that came in as the hooter sounded, for they brought a mixture of elation and relief as we march on to round two!
Stay safe and …..ComeonyouHulllllaaarrrrr!!!!!!!