The Dentist’s Diary – 728th

In the end it was a disappointing outcome but boy did we give it a go!!

Welcome to the post semi-final Diary which is both a sad affair and a pretty significant edition of this waffle for me as well.

It’s always crap to lose a semi-final, of course it is. But, the thing was, in the end, we came up against a top team, the best in the British game and one that doesn’t see the L against their results very often. Warrington, Leeds and Wigan have proved that you can sign all the big names you like and still miss out on the trophies. However, truly great teams have that bit of pure magic and a certain something that is almost indescribable, but whatever it is Saints, certainly have it! 

We showed great heart, resolve and attitude particularly in that second half as we clawed ourselves back into the game. The guys dug in and had a real go and I guess we can ask no more really. We won the first quarter and couldn’t score, Saints won the second quarter and did score, twice, we got into it big style in the second half but the unfortunate injury incident to Griffin in the first half and Jakes intercepted pass near the end, were the turning points. Had the referee seen how serious the injury was and blown up straight away to stop the game, Fages try would not have stood and had Jakes pass stuck, that would have been academic anyway, for we would have won the match. On such fine margins are games won and lost. So, the score-line certainly didn’t reflect the game at all but, we all know that we really gave it a good go and that’s at least some consolation isn’t it?

There were plenty of tears in the dressing room afterwards and no doubt on the terraces too, but quite how we get up for Thursday’s game at Cas after the disappointment of all that, isanyone’s guess. 

It wasn’t like a normal week approaching such a big game for many of us, because after what happened at the Totally Wicked Stadium last weekend, we were not given a hope in hell by anyone. After last week, I had to agree with them too, I’m afraid. However, as an aside, I dwelled on the fact that we have been here before as my mind went back to other Cup performances over recent years and indeed some of our coach’s previous heroics, when he was a player. One of my favourite ‘neutral’ games over the years was the one which featured Brett as man-of-the-match for Huddersfield as they stunned holders Saints in the 2009 last-four meeting, when he delivering a brilliant display as their opponents’ remarkable Challenge Cup run came to an end. 

That day Hodgson scored the opener, set up the match-clinching try for Stephen Wild, with a trademark break and produced numerous timely defensive interventions.

It had been on our Coach’s mind as well as Brett told the Yorkshire Post, “I think even now, one of my favourite memories of playing when I came over here is still that semi-final against St Helens with Huddersfield. I absolutely loved the atmosphere of that game (at Halliwell Jones Stadium). We were the underdogs and we turned over a very good team as well”. Brett won the prestigious Man of Steel award in his debut campaign, leading Huddersfield to third spot and the play-offs for just the second time in the Giants history. So, this game certainly brought back some memories for him!

No doubt some of that came into his mind as we approached the game and it was certainly a template for the FC to work to during the preceding week, for it appeared from reading the press that there has rarely been bigger under dogs than we were for quite some time. That wasn’t so much down to us being poor, but more to the seam of form that the Saints were in. 

Saturday dawned and I woke to a beautiful blue-sky morning and decided on a 6-00am walk on the Westwood to clear my head and prepare myself for the day ahead. This was undoubtedly the biggest ‘ask’ we have faced in a semi-final since the Wigan game at Doncaster, in fact it was probably the biggest we had faced for yonks. I wished I was going, but was glad too, that by not vying for tickets I had afforded someone else the chance to experience a semi-final live. When you’re getting on in years, you tends to live a bit in the past and dwell on past glories, so as the day wore on my mind wondered back to that glorious day on 30th July 2005, when we faced Saints in a semi at Huddersfield. They were certainly in their pomp and that brilliant Johnny Kear team absolutely blew them away. I hope for some of the same, but in the 16 year that followed the game has changed so much and somehow it seemed just impossible. But let’s face it, it’s the right of every sports fan to dream. 

The loss of Joe Cator was for me a massive blow for this was a game where we would have to defend for our lives and no one epitomises that mind set better than Joe. Still Wembley beckoned, as our great Cup record continued, with our fourth semi-final in 6 years. We have had a couple of pretty putrid seasons in that period but we have a habit of raising our game for the cup and boy would we have to do that on this occasion. Before the game Danny Houghton said, “You don’t know when these opportunities will come; we’re one game from walking out at Wembley, so it’s a special occasion,” How right he was!

As 2-30 approached, on the BBC ‘Old Faithful’ drowned out the pundits waffling on and even watching on the TV it made the hairs rise on the back of my neck. Before kick-off the sun shone down on the righteous (and the Saints fans), and Reynolds went forehead to forehead to Connor and no doubt said, ‘bloody behave yourself’, (well I imagined he did anyway) we were just 80 minutes away from going back to a place where all our dreams came true just 6 years ago!!! 

We kicked off and defended the first six tackles well. But on our own first set of 6 we failed to convert the end kick and Saint came away. We were going toe to toe with them and it was a real cup tie with a skirmish early on and the ref taking the captains out for ‘a chat’. A great kick to the corner almost saw Coote dragged into touch and in the same set an incorrect play the ball got us possession back, but Saints held out as we approached their line. Satae was then very unlucky with a high tackle call as the player he was  tackling was caught as he stumbled to the ground. On 11 minutes Saints were caught off-side and Sneyd went for goal and it was 2-0. Just as we usually do after we score, Satae then drove out and knocked on at half way in our first set and Saints were on the attack for the first time. Then Reynolds caught Grace high for another penalty and we were really under the cosh, before Grace flew in at the corner on their first real attack. Two penalties on the trot and they were in, sadly after controlling the game, that was typical FC wasn’t it?

On the restart we gave 6 away again as our composure wobbled a bit before Houghton made a grab for the head and was penalised and it was soon 8-2. Our discipline once again was awful. Griffin broke out from our 20 but as he stepped clear his Achilles went, he screamed out, dropped the ball in awful pain and Fages picked up and trotted in. There was nothing wrong with it, if a player drops the ball you play to the whistle, but some referee’s seeing the obvious severity of the injury might have blown up, but we played on, it was 14-2 and I guess when you looked at the score board, just as many of the pre-game pundits expected. But that was such bad luck. 

Then we were again unlucky to get penalised as this timeSatae dropped on a ball in an off-side position. They should have converted the penalty but missed and we dropped out on the 20. However, after a bright start we were starting our sets on our own line again just like last week. We got possession back, forced a pass that went forward and were back under pressure, but thankfully Grace put his foot in touch as he dived in, as Fonua did well to get across. At last we got a 6 again, but could make nothing of it and again we were soon starting on our own line. Connor at last broke and kicked on,Coote collected but lost the ball in the tackle. We tried to builds pressure, but before we really got going Sneydproduced a forward pass. 

Sneyd kicked dead and they started with a seven-tackle set on their twenty and we were just not asserting any pressure at all and then a forward pass saved us for now. The hooter went and it was 14-2 to Saints, a score that if I’m honest, didn’t really reflect their overall dominance. 

We started the second half as we finished the first with Saints playing with tempo and intent whilst our passing was inaccurate and sloppy. Then we gave away a 6 again and Connor went down with a leg injury under the posts in a tackle from Walmsley. We broke downfield, looked to have an overlap on the 6th, but inexplicably Sneyd kicked and Walmsley cleared his lines again. Reynolds was pinged for a strip and for me he was looking out of sorts, as Saints were on our line again. They went left we gave them too much space, and Welsby was easily in, stretching to touch down. At 20-2 we should have been down and out but somehow we got it wide and a great pass from Carlos got Fonua in for a superb score, but at 20-8 was it too little too late?

We were now in the ascendancy and keeping them down-field in their own half but a stupid shoulder charge by Savelio gave them a penalty and the pressure was released again. We will never be a great team if we can’t keep our composure in such positions when we have the opposition wobbling. As they smelt blood we scrambled well under our posts and they knocked on near the line. We got into the corner with a great Sneyd kick, but Fonua just couldn’t reel the ball in to score. However, we were coming good and they were starting to panic a bit, as Saints knocked on and we were back with the ball. 

We were still spluttering a bit in possession but our forwards were giving it a real go. Saints were feeling the pressure and that prompted Fages to drop a goal to stretch it to three scores, but our heads didn’t go down. We got the ball back from a short kick-off and then got a penalty for a ball steal and we were back on their line. Then a brilliant blind side play by Houghton from acting half saw Houghton set up Carlos, who on the floor passed back to Danny and he dived in. It was a superbly worked try. Back we came from the kick-off before a clumsy high pass in the line again stopped our pressure but a forward pass from a now rocking Saints, got us out of jail. 

Great play by us downfield saw us digging deep with a great left shift, as Reynolds at last ran the ball and in went Cameron Scott and it was game on! Sneyd scooped the conversion just wide, but with 8 minutes to go Connor produced a fabulous 40/20, it was all on and Saints were rocking. Then tragedy struck as the hero became the villain, when Connor forced a pass and an interception by Regan Grace finished us off. As the Coach said afterwards on 99 out of 100 times that pass would have stuck and we would have won, but it didn’t! Then Saints got another as a deflated Connor failed to catch an up and under and that was that! We had lost, but boy had we given Saints a scare! 

It had been a great game, but the first half did for us, beforewe fought and fought to get back into it. Saints always had that bit of composure at the important times, whilst we squandered ball by conceding penalties and making mistakes,yet we had them scrambling in that second half, but just couldn’t put them away. So, no Wembley for us and the best team just won through in the end, for Saints are just so clinical when presented with a chance. Still, it was a really good game, as we stormed back in fine style. We just aren’t disciplined enough, but we were unlucky as well, when Griffin couldn’t hang onto the ball as he was injured, but that’s sport and it’s what sometimes happens. 

Performance wise I though our spine players were patchy at best but our forwards really did put it to the Saints and Danny Houghton and Satae vied for our man of the match for me. Carlos in the centre did well as did Fonua on the wing (who is starting to get some of his 2016/2017 form back) whilst Ma’uhad one of his best games for the Club. Everyone however had a real dig, but as I said before until we get our discipline and attitude right we will never be a great team, but we gave it a real go and well done to the boys for at least making us all feel proud. It was so near yet so far, but perhaps going out like this is better than going on to Wembley and running the risk of losing to somewhat expunge the superb and wonderful memories we have of the place, but that’s just sentimental old me talking and of course I’d have loved to be there and at least seeing the Club benefit from the commercial aspects of another Final appearance. But it was not to be. 

So we move onto other things and I have always admired Darnell McIntosh as a player and he’s certainly scored some good tries for the Giants over the years. He can play wing or full back and motor a bit too! It now appears that he is joining us from next season as at last we see some progress on the transfer front in a year when the club have been playing their cards close to their chest. The fact that Warrington were monitoring him closely and that Huddersfield had offered him a two-year deal, which he has turned down to join us,(apparently) is a sign at last that we are showing some ambition signing wise, as a club. Plus, with Faraimo off to join Lee Radford at Castleford, we have now freed up quota space, to bring in at least one NRL based player that Brett has identified. 

Fairamo’s loss isn’t for me a big one, he’s a really nice guy but has disciplinary issues and although he has shown in flashes that he can finish and he does give his all, somehow he has never quite cut it for this fan. With Fonua still at the Clubat present and improving and Swift our best winger so far this season, Bureto has failed to nail down a spot and to bring in a young player on a long contract who is a real speedster, is an exciting prospect. Lee Radford always likes to play with two wingers that look more like forwards so the signing of Buretowill serve him well, whilst for us McKintosh brings a new dimension and he is certainly an exciting signing.  However, although the local media were confident of their facts, what did we hear on this one from the Club? ….zilch!

I don’t know if any of you reading this have realised something, but you know the Club really have changed their attitude to news and the release of information for the fans since the pandemic. Whether that is the influence of a new Coach or a new Chief Executive is something for conjecture, but for me things have certainly changed. I have said in here so many times that despite massive press speculation there is no news whatsoever on re-signings to some critical players. I mean just look at last week while the Daily Mail released another ‘Hull FC move for … story’ about McKintosh, the Club were completely silent and from Hodgson’s post-match comments on Friday until the following Wednesday there was nothing. The Mail were making it up and the RL papers repeating old stories, whilst as fans in semi-final week, we had nothing to read and no indication as to what was happening. For me the silence on re-signings and incoming players is deafening!

However, after Press Day Danny Houghton was in pensive mood this week when he talked of the importance of the team doing well for the people of Hull, he said,  “We’re such a close-knit city and to see what’s happened to it has been really bad – hopefully we can see the light now and those that have been hit the hardest can make small steps towards rebuilding their lives”. Danny, one of only two forwards on the field not to be substituted in the heat of Leigh on Saturday, had a fine game again against Saints. But, if ever there was a great indication of someone being a ‘Prophet in their own Land’ it is Houghton. He gets stick from some fans, but I simply can’t understand it and put it down to the fact that he is just that and if you like, ‘part of the furniture’. 

I remember when Kirk Yeaman was treated in the same way, hailed as washed up and too old by some of the “inteligencia” on line, but after being sent to Donny to play a few games, he was fired by his history at the Club to have one last shot, he came back to star in that Cup winning team of 2016 and knowing him as I do that was simply because of his love for Hull FC! Indeed, Richard Horne was even criticised by a few when he played for us for the same reasons, but folks forget that now. It’s strange that local players are hailed more after they have retired, than they are whilst they are here. 

These are not just one Club men, but great players as well and for me Danny is in the same mould and certainly not letting us down, in fact what he might lack a bit with age, he makes up for by giving 110% and at 32 he’s still as passionate about the FC as any supporter at the club. You only had to look at his face, when he was sat on the bench late on in the Saints League game, to know that, after all this time, it still bothers him and still hurts him.  

OK, some won’t agree with me, but I am allowed my opinion too, I know Danny well and I know how much he loves his City and his Club and what’s more he ain’tplaying too badly either for me. He also knows that when he can’t contribute, he will chuck it, but for me that is a way off at present. I knew that he had Covid last season and that he considered himself lucky to come through it pretty unscathed. He confirmed that this week when he said, “I had COVID myself, but to be fair it wasn’t too bad for me. I can understand that those that have had it have suffered, I was lethargic and not myself so to speak.It’s been pretty devastating really”.Whatever anyone else might try to make you believe, he’s FC through and through and a top bloke, who no doubt shed a few tears on Saturday night!!

As to the dramatic U turn made by the RFL on Academies on Friday, well why are we not surprised? Firstly, let me say that thank goodness sense has prevailed and we are as a game pursuing the opportunity to have as many Academies as possible to mobilise the community game and bring young players through. But man, what a U turn it was. The RFL are a shambles and no mistake and this climb down by Rimmer and Co. only days after he went on Sky to defend their decision to cut the number of Academies so vociferously, is just embarrassing.Embarrassing. ….but predictable!!! 

Over the years the RFL have made blunder after blunder and in my opinion much of the parlous state that the game finds itself in just now, is down to them. Look at the last few weeks for instance! Featherstone, after they won their first game of the season, have a full-blown party in the club house, organised by their Director’s, which was totally against the law and directly in contravention of covid regulations. The RFL suspended one player for 10 days but otherwise we hear nothing further. Good example for the public there them boys? 

Then there was a furore across the game after the garbled explanation of the choice of venue for the Semi-Final games, before we have this disaster around Academies. In any commercial organisation or indeed in Government, having defended that last decision so personally and so vociferously, the reversal of it, under public pressure, would have seen the Chief Executive resign  … but that ain’tgonna happen at the RFL is it? 

Quite frankly, I’ve had it with that lotcompletely, for they are overseeing the demise of our game and yet seem incapable of reversing that decline, because they are still focussed on their own agendas and incapable of making decisions that drive the sport forward. Thank goodness that for Academy’s at least, sense has prevailed, but what a showing up and how does it look in the national media where we desperately need to be taken seriously as a sport!!  

So, I see that Leigh have sacked their coach, as the competitions basement club who are now cut adrift, make what is probably one last throw of the dice, to survive in the top division, when in essence they were always on a hiding to nothingfrom the off. However, I have to say that I’ve got a great deal of sympathy for ex-Coach John Duffy. The club came into Super League at fairly late notice, so they were on the back foot already, all the decent players available had already been snapped up by the other 11 Super League clubs and The Centurions have no junior team to feed players into their first team. In addition, they got a reduced cut of the SKY TV money. They resemble a very new team in all aspects of the term with Liam Hood the only player who has been at the club for longer than 12 months, so you can understand how there will be problems getting the side to gel together on the field, can’t you?

Leigh spent the least amount on personnel in the competition and generally in sport you get a strong correlation between what you spend on players and where you finish in the league. This is of course why relegation in such a small League is a farce, because I doubt a bloody miracle worker could have saved them from day one never mind now, but I guess time will tell on that one. 

So, there we are! We are not going to Wembley, it is a watershed moment in our 2021 campaign, in the reign of our new Coach and perhaps in the history of our great Club, who knows eh?

But, I’m sorry to say, ‘there we really are’ in more ways than one, because after 16 years of writing around 6000 words a week, almost 730 episodes and in excess of 4 million words(some of which have actually been in the right order), I have reluctantly decided to call it a day, at least on the weekly element of these Diaries. 

After Saturday it just seems an opportune moment to do it,however let me say straight away, you ain’t getting rid of me that easily because I’ll continue to do the odd edition, when there are big issues surrounding our Club or the game, but of late, after Covid and indeed longer term, since the amazing happenings of 2016, I have in all honesty, found it harder and harder to keep this guff going every week. 

For getting on for two decades this journal has, week in week out, taken over my life. Admittedly pre and post Wembley in 2016 and 2017 it was the greatest thing in the world to do, but trying to vary things, find new angles and unearth thepositives over seasons that have feature more downs than ups,does get waring in the end. Well, it does when instead of sitting down to write about it, you would often rather crawl away and grieve on your own when things go wrong. 

In addition, I think anyone who reads this regularly will agree that my writing has lost ‘it’s edge’ a bit of late and perhaps,other medias and bloggers, have to take the place of this weekly rubbish, for whatever you are doing and whoever you are, time marches on and you have to recognise that you must stop sometime. 

I was 54, just retired from the Council and unable to write a shopping list, when I wrote the first Diary back in 2005 and although I still enjoy doing it at times and particularly keeping in touch with the dozens of readers who have stuck with me over the years, actually spending around 15 hours every week for 16 years, writing and researching stuff is just getting too much. 

I have always approached stories with the same attitude; if its positive let the celebrations begin, savour the moment and embrace the success. We as fans invest our time, money and passion in 13 blokes running about for 80 minutes every week in the most famous kit in the game, while we provide the soundtrack singing the most famous anthem in the RL world;so let’s celebrate when they are doing well. If they ain’t and things don’t go as planned, I’ve always tried to give the owners, coaches and players the benefit of the doubt and hope their intentions were good, even if the results were not. With around 900 readers on a bad week and hundreds more on a good one, we are in some ways still going strong and I’m sorry if some reading this are now disappointed by my news. 

However, in my defence, I guess few journalists, never mind fans in our game, or indeed any other, have written so much,about one team, week in week out and done it for so long without a break. All that and I wrote three books about the FC in my ‘spare time’ as well! 

I have written The Dentists Diary through family issues, illness and pandemic and even when on holiday I have sat down in San Diego, New Orleans and Nashville and in Las Vegas, Lisbon, Tenerife the Rockies in Canada and loads of other places, just to keep it going and to continue what I hope was a point of contact for the FC family. I have been praised and abused, had myself and my family threatened by one or two mindless Dobbins fans (but admittedly, not for a few years now) and in turn been thanked by so many who have at times used the Diary as a bit of a life-line (their words not mine). Believe me, it has been a brilliant ride, but sometimes you have to draw a line and after weeks of considering my position, for me as we depart the Challenge Cup at the final hurdle, that time has now arrived.

As I say if we are under threat as a Club or being buggered about by the SMC, playing in a Final, threatened by relegation, or at the centre of controversy I’ll be doing a Diary and will trail it as usual on RL Fans, but there will no longer be weekly editions of this drivel, because for me I think the time has come and enough is enough.   

However, if going out of the Cup provides an opportune time,the real truth is guys the Covid epidemic had a big effect on me, bigger than I could ever have predicted and when it all kicked off I was struggling mentally for a few months. I was in a bad place and I serialised the books during lockdown in here because I simply couldn’t write a full diary. I’ve sorted that now, but the legacy it has left me with is a somewhat distorted view on other things and some of them really do get to me now. Things that shouldn’t bother me at all see mebecoming overly involved in it all. That legacy has seen metend to get too wound up in results and at times furious with the Allam’s, the RFL and the officials and all that’s not too healthy at all really. 

However, if the pandemic changed my rationale, like so many other fans in my age group 2016 and that amazing day at Wembley changed my life and my perceptions of Rugby League and my beloved Hull FC forever. It was almost as if the unthinkable and indeed unimaginable had manifest itselfbefore my eyes and we had done it all and anything that followed (including Wembley 2017) was secondary to that one great achievement and indeed that one great life changing moment. Since then, I’ve thrown myself into supporting the FC but it’s all been a bit ‘second best’ if I’m perfectly honest. 

I can’t stop loving the club and never will, for this is not about that at all. I’ll continue that love affair, follow the club intently and be keeping my seats, and thus my financial commitment and investment in the FC, as long as I and/or the club exist. I’ll be at games home and away because supporting my Club hasn’t stopped being enjoyable, it’s just that writing up games, searching for news and trying to be objective about the club has become more and more of a preoccupation rather than the labour of love it once was. What’s more, as I said earlier, news from the Club is getting scarcer and scarcer as well, which frustrates me too ( I know it shouldn’t but it does). 

I guess I just want to go back to being an ordinary supporter, to rant about the FC in the pub, or on message boards, but do it when I want to and not feel obligated to do it on a regular basis in a structured weekly way. I even want to be able to switch the TV off (from behind the Settee) in frustration at times, without having to worry about needing to write about a game afterwards. Does that make any sort of sense? I guess in a nut shell, I just want to go back to being a rank-and-filesupporter again and not have to sit down after every game and try to reflect what I and thousands of others have seen, as I lay bare my feelings in public. All that said I’ve absolutely loved the experience.

So that’s where I am, I’ve tried to explain and perhaps in here I haven’t made my feelings very clear, but mental health is a strange thing to explain, understand and quantify, particularly if you haven’t suffered from it. If things don’t affect you that way, you won’t get that bit at all, but believe me its real. However, I expect many reading this can associate with what I’m saying about Wembley in 2016, or at least empathise with bits of it for that day was for many the pinnacle of their sporting lives. Indeed, in some cases, like with me, the zenith of their whole lives!

Joe Bennett who has managed this site and been with me through thick and thin, has been a massive support and I will be eternally grateful for what he has done for me over the years. Week in week out he navigates through his shift work and his family responsibilities to post the Diary for me. He’struly a great bloke and has over the years become a good mate. He’ll be back with me when it returns in the future, for sure. 

What’s more, all the encouragement I have received and still get from loads of readers, has been so inspiring and I have made some great friends many of whom I wouldn’t recognise if I met them in the street, yet through the power of the internet, they have become life-long buddies. They have made this decision so difficult, however, as I approach my 71stBirthday, you have to finish sometime, but Joe and I have kept the site open to use in future and there will be more occasional Diary’s to come I’m sure, so watch out on RL fans for news of that. 

I could now try and list everyone who has helped, but that would be unfair because it runs in to hundreds over the years. But thanks to everyone, too numerous to mention, who has engaged with my weekly ramblings throughout the past 16 years, for your weekly support, contact, disagreement, information and comment has been truly humbling. It means the world to me to know that even one pair of eyes has seen what I have written. It’s certainly been a real blast and trust me, we’ll speak again soon! 

If Diaries of late have been hard to produce, this has been the most difficult and I realise I have repeated myself a bit but I wanted to try and tell the truth and in my own garbled way I have done my best. As I said earlier, some folks have even described the Diary as a life-line at times and I hope that they forgive me. However, although I like to think that in some small way I have always been there as a weekly sounding board for the supporters of the greatest RL team in the world,it is you, the long suffering, loyal and dedicated FC fanatics who have always been the real carriers of the flame and you always will be. Tough times are undoubtably ahead, but keep that flame burning, keep it guiding you and keep it safe!

And whatever you do ….

Just Keep Believing!!!!! 

Faithfully Yours