The Dentist’s Diary – 722nd

Heroic, battling stuff and a real war of attrition! 

But it’s another win and another two points. 

Ok, let’s say from the off there were a few problems and issues in our attack, which a few have been quick to jump on, we looked jaded and it wasn’t pretty at all, but we won!! It’s very easy in these situations to cite a lack of attacking ideas, mistakes and discipline issues, but we were pretty knackered and, when you scrape away at the surface of the circumstances that surrounded the game, it was a fine effort that ended in the best possible way. 

For me as a bit of an old stager, it reminded me of some of those epic backs-to-the-wall encounters we witnessed at the Boulevard in the 70’s (usually against Leeds) when the opposition threw the kitchen sink at us and everything including the referee was against us winning. Yet just like so often back then, somehow we hung in there and battled through to the end. On this occasion it appeared to me that the Officials favoured a Wildcats victory and the Sky commentators certainly did, so in the end the final outcome was all the sweeter really! 

Yes, it was probably our worst performance under Brett Hodgson but there were some mitigating circumstances and I think we saw 17 real heroes out there. Again, for me, it was a game we simply wouldn’t have won last season, so well done to Brett and to our defensive Coach Gareth Ellis. I love the way that although they were off-side at the play the ball for one of their tries, one of their scores was an interception, we were denied a try by the video referee at the end and we had to play with a forward short and a ten-minute sin-binning, we just got our heads down and got on with it. In fact, in that period with 12 men on the field it was us that scored, not Wakey! 

If you spoke to the players last week, it was apparent that the aftermath of that marathon game against Warrington had made for a very, very tough few days. Even the Coach alluded to that fact when he said this week, “We’ve already spoken about it (the fatigue), this is another big test for us as a group and we’ll be treating it like it is just that,” 

As fans we all know that to succeed we had to try and make our home ground a fortress, because over the years we’ve given too many visiting fans a good day out at the KCom. But, our first two showings there, although lacking that cutting attacking edge, have seen us battle like we haven’t done for a couple of seasons and I simply love the passion and togetherness this current FC team displays. Long may that continue.

It was always going to be hard to back up for this game and in the lead up to the match I was considering the probabilities of it just being one too far for us. It was invariably a big ask and as I said last week on RL fans, the odds were stacked against us from the off. A few of the ‘experts’ on there told me not to be so stupid and we would win easily, but in such circumstances re-hab after a game to prepare for the next is critical! However, with no ice baths and no swimming allowed straight after games, you invariably start on the back foot. Quite frankly, as an aside, I don’t understand why that is the case at all, for both can be done with distancing, if necessary, but Gareth Ellis, in his Yorkshire Post column last week, indicated that such preparations are just not allowed at present. 

So, when you consider we were following the longest and thus toughest game that Super League had seen since Golden Point was introduced, which was played on a hot afternoon against a very good Warrington outfit, it was a big, big ask whoever we were playing. 

Throw in the fact that the team we were against were on a 7 day turn-around and Brett, Gareth and Co. were really up against it. Wakefield are a team fighting for their lives, with a coach under threat and with an assistant coach who definitely felt he had a point to prove against the Club that rejected him. For me it had to be the biggest test of our new found spirit to date. Brett said on Tuesday. “We’ve got our squad reasonably fit, so we don’t think we’ll make too many changes. It’s up to the 17 on the field to perform at the level that we want again”. Now, far be it for me to say,  “Who are you kidding Brett”, but practically speaking the fact that our Coach was so adamant that nothing much would change selection wise, was probably borne out of the fact that with injuries and suspensions, our current small roster saw few options as to who to bring in anyway.  

To counter that situation, our Coach was bullish about the game and perhaps gave us a great hint as to what has gone on before he arrived at the club, when he said, “They’re all big games, that’s part of our process this year. There’s no game that we’re not going to treat with the value it deserves. I think that’s what has happened in the past and potentially that’s caused inconsistent results”. So that left us all asking, “Did we really treat games as separate entities and prepare differently based on the perceived strength of the team we were playing?” Well, that sort of hints at the fact that we did and if so it explains a lot. 

When the teams were announced Hodgson again said that he felt we would need to grind this one out (and how right he was to be proved). But he was as good as his word, making just two changes as he brought back the fit again and fresh Sao and the one I expected, which was the inclusion of Jordan Johnstone to bring a bit of verve around acting half, if ‘tackle-man’ Houghton was feeling it a bit. 

Wakefield kicked off but our first set didn’t get us out of our half as both clubs used the high kick early and our wingers were already doing a lot of work down the middle. On our third set we made the first mistake when Cator fluffed a pass and with Westerman looking handy Wakey pressed and Sao knocked on their ‘end of set’ kick. They pressed again but thankfully they then knocked on as Wood fumbled the ball in a good position. A great kick by Sneyd saw the Wakey winger knock on and once we got on their line, a great pass from McNamara put Savelio in on the bump and we took an early 6-0 lead. We defended another barrage on our line from Wakey as already some tired bodies were having to do a lot of tackling. We messed up a poor off load and they were looking dangerous. 

A great swirling kick from McNamara saw Jowitt knock on as we started on their 10. Taylor was held up over the line after a good passage of play but we got another set and Griffin was held short before Connor threw a reckless high pass into touch and a good phase of FC pressure came to nought. Next up, Griffin gave away a high tackle penalty and Wakey were at us again as we conceded a drop out, before yet another set went to Wakefield and after a game like last Sunday’s, we were doing far too much tackling for me. 

Immediately another penalty to Wakefield followed and after a goal line drop out, we were into our 4th set defending our line, yet we prevailed, but on the half-hour we had already done a hat full of tackles more that the Wildcats and we just had to value the ball more. We got away and broke down field before a penalty under the sticks saw Sneydy give us all a rest, as he went for goal and despite the odds, we took a rather unconvincing 8-0 lead. 

Carlos had to concede another drop out, as Wakey piled on the pressure again before Bowden went off with a hyperextended elbow and in a game when we needed every ounce of strength across the team, we were now down on troops as well. Back down the field we came and almost got in, before an interception from a Connor pass saw Kershaw get Wakey the try they had threatened for so long; it was certainly a killer blow for us with just 3 minutes to go. And to put the cherry on it, Faraimo was sent off for ten minutes after a crash tackle that saw Jowitt need a head injury assessment and not return. As the half ended we were back deep in our own half, with our backs to the line. 

So, at half-time with a battle-weary squad, a player down for the first 9 minutes of the second half and Bowden off for the rest of the game reducing our rotating forwards to just three, it all looked pretty bleak to me. Could we hang on and see it out? Well last year I would have said no, but with this lot you never can tell!

As we restarted the second half we had somehow to try and get through the next 9 minutes with a bit of damage limitation. However, the worst of starts we could have imagined saw us forced back over our own line as we had then to drop out. Luckily Wakey knocked on under our sticks and we breathed again. Then we biffed and bashed our way down field before a superb kick from Sneyd saw Swift leap brilliantly to score in the corner. We had certainly come out battling but it was a hard conversion for Sneyd, however, gulping air in, he nailed it and it was 14-6. 

Faraimo came back on without us conceding which was a feat in itself, but then just as we all breathed a bit easier, they came back to our line and a great kick through saw James Batchelor slide in to make it a four-point ball game again. It was well engineered and the only one of their three tries that didn’t have an element of luck in it. We got a penalty to get us down field, but then McNamara knocked-on near their line. Then came another Wildcats penalty on our line, but after we had tackled for 3 consecutive sets in our 10-yard area they forced it in the last play of the set and we all breathed a little easier. Quite frankly, under constant pressure we had done so well in defence as, time and again, a third tackler came from nowhere to hack a player down. However, we couldn’t seem to produce much with the ball to get us out of trouble. 

Back on the field after a rest Taylor picked out his man and executed a perfect bell-ringer of a tackle on the effective Westerman which had ‘Welcome home’ written all over it. That was ‘a captains knock’ in every sense of the word and it lifted our spirits before we were pinged for off-side by Thaler who was giving us absolutely nothing, as the penalty count moved to 6-2 to Wakefield. With another bit of luck Wakey got a charge down of a kick that went straight to Leno who galloped in for Wakey to tie it up. The thing was the referee asked the video ref to check the offside, but Lino was off-side before that at the play the ball, but that bit went completely unscrutinised. As if by poetic justice however, Lino missed with the kick but at 14-14 the game was in the melting pot. We got back onto their line, but going blindside from acting half Jordan Johnson knocked on. 

Having to listen to the Wildcats fan club in the Sky commentary box was chronic by this time and so I switched the sound down because there wasn’t a good word for us despite some heroic stuff in defence. They simply didn’t appreciate what we were doing here and indeed the circumstances under which we were doing it. 

We played a real ad lib and scrambled end of set, as a short kick through forced a knock on. Then, from nowhere, as Connor, who they had kept quiet all night, ran a great line, he faked to pass wide but instead hit Carlos with a short ball and we were in. It was so simple and yet brilliant as Sneyd, by now out on his feet, had another hard kick, but landed it again, as he went 17 from 17 for the season! 

Then visibly flagging, he missed another two drop goals that would have sealed the game, before it looked to everyone except the video referee like Satae had got the ball down in the tackle, but it was disallowed. So, as the clock ticked down and Wakefield looked crest fallen, we restricted them to their own half and the game fizzled out. 

We were all rung out watching it but we had squeaked home with two more points and man, what a fighting spirit we witnessed as we came off that harrowing energy sapping Warrington match just 5 days earlier. Wakefield put in their best performance of the year, we lost Bowden and only had two big rotating forwards left, before we lost a player to a sin binning as well. So, for effort it was certainly 11 out of 10 and as games go and with our hope of making it Fortress KCom, you should ignore the ‘Poor old Wakefield’, brigade for this was, make no mistakes about it, an heroic performance. 

Player wise Connor defended well and produced the one bit of magic that won us the game, Whilst Faraimo worked hard and Swift was for me pushing for man of the match. He has certainly shown his worth and his try was a superb bit of skill whilst the number of carries and tackle bust he made was phenomenal. In the centres Griffin and Carlos made good yards throughout and Carlos finished his try with a great line run. Sneyd battled on and was obviously struggling for fitness whilst his kick for the Swift try was a real piece of skill and with an unblemished goal kicking record, it was his conversions from difficult angles that got us home in the end. McNamara did little wrong as well he linked in the line, set up the first try and has a great ability to kick the ball on the sixth and plant it behind the waiting catchers. He’s doing OK for me! 

Up front Taylor, Sao and Satae were immense in everything they did and our back three again shone as Cator got through a truck load of work and ran himself to a standstill. Houghton tackled everything as always and worked acting half well but the strain of the other game was to make an impact and Johnstone did well for me when he came on to crank the speed up a bit around the play the ball. Fash too, left nothing on the field as well as he completely drained himself. So, all in all a great showing under the circumstances and well done to everyone. 

So, to other things and after the Warrington game there was a bit of criticism of Ben McNamara on social media, which baffled me somewhat. The kid is 19 and playing in perhaps one of the most difficult positions there is in the game and one that few youngsters succeed in until at least they have grown into it a bit. I guess that criticism comes from the fact that he did few things that really stood out, but instead concentrated on doing little wrong and not letting his colleagues down. I think it was pretty unfounded really as he was against Warrington our fourth highest tackler with 42 and the top tackler outside the forwards, so he hardly shirked his responsibilities did he? What’s more his error rate is always low. He is just playing the percentages at present and for a kid so young that has to be admired. 

I can’t remember seeing him force a pass against Warrington or Wakey so his maturity has to be admired as well. Josh Griffin certainly rates him too when he said this week of Ben replacing Josh Reynolds, “Josh is a big loss, but we have confidence in Benny Mac. He was awesome in pre-season, and we all want to see him take his chance”. He added about Brett Hodgson’s philosophy, “The ethos that Brett Hodgson is building is that when we lose a player, the next one comes in with no dip in the overall team performance.” 

Ben McNamara himself commented this week, “I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s probably just what I needed at this point in my career – to get some games in at the highest level. And obviously, not being able to play week in week out, it’s good to get an extended run of games in the first team and build some combinations.” Ben was also complimentary about Josh Reynolds who has supported him ever since the Australian joined the club and Ben concluded, ““He’s helped me a lot and just watching him training has been good for me. He’s always encouraging me in training whilst he’s been out and it’s good to know he’s supportive of me.” 

Everyone has to learn and often with young players in such critical positions it’s hard to balance the need to get experience, with an inability to fit comfortably into that position and not appear to be a weak link in the team. I think that Ben has a big future in the game and hopefully at our club and for me for such a young player he has done really well so far. 

Now, our Coach was certainly in praise of the efforts of Danny Houghton after the Warrington Marathon and of course his super human effort in breaking the ‘Super League tackles in a game’ record was something very special. But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised after we remember those years of being the Man of Steel’s top tackler and that amazing history making intervention in the 2016 Cup Final. The man is a freak in so many ways on the field and yet he is also a great clubman and FC through and through. His Testimonial year a couple of seasons ago was welcomed by the fans and supported so well by everyone, as our hero received an astonishing amount at the end of his 12 months in the spotlight, every penny of which was happily given and richly, richly deserved. 

I say that because he has never ever been anything but close to the fans and a thoroughly good bloke on and off the field. Along with most of the rest of the local lads in the squad, he had a couple of seasons where he looked a tad listless with his lot in the team, perhaps in a sort of corporate Wembley malaise or even post his testimonial which is, believe me, a stressful year for a player. However, now they all look rejuvenated and have got their mojo’s back; which indicates again that it was certainly time for change at the top. 

Danny has what the experts call ‘an amazing engine’ and can keep going and then go again when others are out on their feet and indeed he has always maintained that he actually prefers to stay on the field, rather than to be subbed after a while or introduced late. As I have often said of Danny, he is ‘A prophet in his own land’ and as such some fans have been quick to criticise him and blamed him when things have gone wrong. It happened to Richard Horne and it happened to Kirk Yeaman, as well, as with some fans they were only really appreciated when they were gone. It’s a fact of sporting life I’m afraid! That’s the territory that goes with local lads made good, but Danny shrugged that off and just got on with it and we should all appreciate a guy whose loyalty and efforts will be remembered in the annals of Hull FC for many years to come.  

Personally, I have told you before how appreciative Danny was with how I helped with his Testimonial Year and how he turned up at our house out of the blue, to thank me for that and dedicating the last book to him, (through which the fans who bought it, all donated well over a fiver to the appeal). He is such a lovely fella, who has never had any intention of playing for anyone else but Hull FC and yet for all his effort and dedication and indeed at times his super human endeavours, he has never got international recognition. However so impressed has our new coach been with his efforts on the field and his leadership off it that he has singled him out for praise this week. For me he is a top bloke and a player that I always appreciate is running out there for me as a fan.   

Now, the discussions that went on in the RL media this week about who should be our first-choice wingers, was an interesting one because with a smallish squad we still seem to be in a position to have three good wingers and one promising rookie to call on. We started with Fonua and Swift who went quite well, but Hodgson took the opportunity to rest Swift against Featherstone and instead brought in Bureta Faraimo, who for me grabbed his chance, as he became the first FC winger this season to score a try. 

However, choosing the best two isn’t that difficult a task because in my opinion Swift has been a revelation thus far, Faraimo took his chance well and as well as attacking and tackle busting with ease he carried the ball up with the best of them (19 carries) against the Wire, his defence looked really sound, whilst Fonua has, as I said last week, flattered to deceive a little! In those glorious 2017 and 2018 seasons he was a much-feared performer who opposition players visibly didn’t like facing and who it was impossible to leave out when fit.  

However, since then, he’s been good at times, but he’s just not had that edge and I think that he has even more to give than he has been seen to be providing at present. As a stalwart of the 2016 and 2017 Wembley finals he will always be up there as a ‘Hall of famer’ for me, but it’s not always easy or indeed wise to return to the scene of past glories, particularly if you do it in an attempt to emulate them. I love the bloke to bits, but he’s third in line for a wing spot at present and if Swift is a gimmi at present, then I believed perhaps Faraimo has done enough to be given another chance there as well if he isn’t banned this week.

The news that Connor Wynne has gone on loan to York for a month, with a recall clause included, is good for both the player and the team. I have  said in here on several occasions that in my opinion he has certainly got a spark of something as a player particularly going forward and linking in the line, but he desperately need some experience. I guess had Jake not been such a success at full-back, then with Jamie Shaul’s injury this would have been Connor’s chance but things transpired against him so the move to York could be very beneficial. York certainly have an impressive squad this year and although they have spluttered a bit early in the season, Connor will no doubt benefit for some game time. I’ll certainly be following his form with interest.    

It never ceases to amaze me what the media dig up to try and sensationalise and at times put fans and players into a state of concern and doubt. This week it was the turn of the ubiquitous ‘Serious About Rugby League Rumour Mill’ which is usually a list of made-up fabrications to sensationalise situations that don’t even exist. For weeks they have been upsetting Castleford fans as they list a catalogue of possible destinations for Jake Trueman and now it appears that they have turned their attention to Jamie Shaul our injured full-back. In this week’s edition they stated, “Jamie Shaul’s future is apparently undecided given how well Jake Connor has started the 2021 campaign. Shaul is out of contract at the end of the year”. Of course until Jamie has fully recovered and has a new contract that is all absolutely true, but just a complete none story for me …… and for the club I’m told as well. 

 Now, the claim by the Hull Daily Mail that Ben Crooks try last week for the Dobbins was the quickest ever, was of course absolutely right, but they were wrong when they intimated that one by Tim Jonkers was the second fastest, as Club Historian Bill Dalton pointed out to me this week when he said, “James Smailes claim that Crooks Try for the Dobbins was the “First Try in single-digits” was not true. As usual, the press decided to focus on Tim Jonkers (Saints) Try in 14 seconds against Wakefield in 2002. But, it was a comment that took me back to a really cold night on Tuesday 6th October 1992 at Don Valley, where it was Sheffield v Hull FC in the Yorkshire Cup Semi-Final. In that game Lee Jackson scored after 9 Seconds when he charged Gary Jacks attempted return kick from Hull’s start”. I remember being there at Sheffield that night and I agree with Bill that boy it was cold.  

Meanwhile after my trip down memory lane last week to all those grounds we had visited in the past that were no more, Bill added the following statistic, “You took me back a long way in the Diary with mention of all those old Grounds. As you know, I have a file which carries a record of every single Ground we have ever played on since 1895. Believe it or not, there are 141 of them, including 5 in Australia and NZ in 1983 and about 13 which staged only Friendlies. (One of those, Newcastle NSW, I visited in 1992 on the GB Tour). Man 141 different venues for the FC that’s some list of venues isn’t it? Great stuff again Bill thanks.  

Well once we had all got over the fact that the great Super League scandal of last weekend had nothing to do with Rugby League (who probably along with Sky championed the name in sport in the first place) no doubt we all took great interest at Football attempting to tear itself apart and making a fool of itself on the back of the greed of a few owners. I have in here in the past expounded the virtues of those Manchester United fans and if you like heroes who, because of the Glazers antics, broke away from the club they all loved, and set up from scratch FC United of Manchester, as a fans owned club.  What’s more nothing I saw with this latest fiasco made me feel that they were wrong to do it. When the Super league rubbish all collapsed the sight of the owners concerned grovelling to the fans with light weight apologises was pretty pathetic. That said it cut little ice with the supporters involved and it will be a long time before some forgive those owners, who were just chasing the money at the expense of the whole footballing community in this country, if not across Europe. 

Mind use there’s always someone ready to make hay isn’t there? Last week I saw a couple of supporters from RL’s Championship Club’s likening that situation to the position of Super League Clubs in our game, as the continuing debate about TV funding and its distribution rumbles on. Yes, there have been talk in the past of the Super League breaking away from the rest of the game and indeed the premier competition has split from the RFL to form its own administration with, it has to be said, varying success. But is there really any sort of comparison there? 

None of the talk of such moves was ever intended to line the pockets of the owners in our game, as the soccer stuff was, but rather to try and stop the constant trend of them having to dip their hands in those pockets, just to keep their clubs and so our domestic game alive. Plus, it was looked at as a way to help underpin development and stop the constant yo-yoing of promoted clubs and the damage it did to them. That one issue is without doubt one of the game’s biggest challenges and one that no one seems to have an answer for. 

However, I think that many share my views that although there should always be the scope for Clubs down the competition to attain promotion to Super League, (for they should always be able to dream), in its present form that dream is invariably likely to crash and burn after one season in the top division. There is no reason why one club can’t be promoted every year providing that the senior competition is big enough (say 16 teams) to sustain the chance of them staying in, but with the gulf in finances and just 12 Clubs in the top echelon, there is scant opportunity for any promoted team to find the players needed to build a team that could survive, when they are given such a very tight window. 

Not only is it almost impossible for a promoted club to stay alive in the top division of the game, but it is an absolute recipe for disaster for a Super League club if they are relegated. In our game it’s all too volatile and although we should never ever take ‘a giant pair of scissors’ and cut off the top of the RL Pyramid (as the 6 soccer clubs attempted to do last week), we have to try and find a way to make membership of the top division more sustainable, so promoted clubs can build, instead of just fire-fight, whilst we give relegated clubs a pathway to get back.  

We have to find a better way of managing the volatility that currently exists and look at ways by which promoted teams can gain more stability in the top division. If a team can survive one season, then a bigger league gives them a chance to build and bed in. However, it’s ironic I guess that the youth development, player pool enhancement  and player recruitment in the game was at its best in those years when franchises were in place. But on the other-hand back then, the bottom of Super League was an absolute none event in the final weeks of the season when the clubs down there had little to play for.  

So, any talk of sorting out our game and where the bulk of the Sky money goes is not, like the European Football Super League, based on the greed of the owners, but in a need to just survive as a sport. If it becomes a necessity that we have to channel the bulk of the TV money to the Super League Clubs, it is because they must be able to recruit the top players to keep the quality of the game up, why? Well, it’s the only way we can keep our main paymaster, Sky TV interested in supporting the sport as they currently do. The better Super League becomes the more our game from top to bottom will prosper by attracting more viewers and thus we get the TV income and convert more new comers to attend games and watch the sport. The fact is whether the RFL like it or not history proves that TV companies simply are not interested in covering Championship games! And Super League Clubs can no longer survive on gate receipts alone. Sadly, at present it is a fact of life that without the bulk of the Sky support going to Super League clubs the game will just not continue.  

Rugby League may be skint, but as a game it is an innovator and a leader in the development of sport and so as far as Football is concerned they should look at our game and adopt the one thing that would sort all their problems out; a division-by-division salary cap. But in football that’ll never happen, it’s too fundamental a change, because the owners and indeed the fans of the rich clubs like their position and ability to out buy each other, simple as! I think that the one thing that is killing football is the size of the wages that the players get and the rake off that the agents receive and I think a salary cap would sort that out. But of course, as usual in here that’s just my rather jaundiced and perhaps too simplistic view of things. 

So, there we are! For me Fridays was a gutsy hard-working performance under severe duress and we are still undefeated in 4 games and have the second-best defence in the League at present. It’s now a slightly longer 6 day turn around to the Wigan game, which is undoubtably going to be our biggest test of the year so far. We have Bowden definitely out and Griffin and Sneyd with issues so our squad could well be stretched to the limit for this one, but we’ll just have to see how it goes. For me the biggest plus of the year so far is the spirit we have shown and when defeats come as they will, we have to lose those games with that same spirit. On Friday we made a few mistakes and our discipline dipped a bit as well, but a lot of that was down to what we had been through before the game. However, we never let it bother us and we just stuck at it and took everything Wakey had to throw at us. I can accept anything, including defeat, in such circumstances, because the lads are running their blood to water for the cause and that’s all you can ask really. I was so proud of them all when the final hooter went!

I’ll get a lot of criticism for being too up beat this week, but for  me I just love the spirit and the will to play for each other that this group of players now has. Thanks as always for sticking with another Diary. Bigger tests lie ahead but it’s another two points (or whatever you get these days) another brave performance and another win and at this end of the season, when everyone is feeling their way around a bit, that’s money in the bank and one can ask no more!

Keep Believing, Stay safe, get Jabbed and 

Come on you Hulllaaarrr!!!!   

Faithfully Yours