The ‘Mantra’ of this Blog is fast becoming “There can be absolutely NO Excuses this time”
…….and with the owner giving the Coach and players everything they need and all the playing staff, with the exception of Joe Westerman and Rich Whiting, back in full training by mid November, there is simply no way that there can be any excuses come February. A brilliant launch and a great new home shirt has seen the place beginning to buzz and as season tickets start to sell in numbers again and the away shirt is out on Saturday, everything off the field is starting to build towards the coming season.
In the end of course nothing is any good if we don’t perform on the pitch and although we have recruited well, with a difficult looking start we have to hit the straps from day one. There is little doubt too that the new structure for the League and the need to avoid the bottom four places ensures that some of the bigger Clubs who usually allow themselves the luxury of a slow start will be ‘in there’ from the off and so it’s the most intense start to a season ever; and more worryingly still one of our most difficult for many years. If, in a long season, there is any ‘taking their foot off the accelerator’ for the big boys, then it will probably be when they have ensured a top 8 finish by round 23, but then again with the points being carried over to the ‘Super 8’, that’s pretty unlikely too.
This week at Castleford, Widnes and Hull KR the talk has been all about a fast start, so everyone knows the importance of getting out of the blocks from week one. It will be foot down and full throttle from the first minute of the first game and nervous old me is still not convinced we can cope with that. However, my fears are borne out of what has gone before in the last few years, rather than any insider information or anything ‘technical’. And there is little doubt that when you look at the team it’s really well balanced with some leaders, some class, some old heads, some youngsters, some local lads and some real tryers. In fact it looks the best for a while and on paper pretty good, but rugby isn’t played on paper is it?
The group dynamic is of course as important as anything and that bond and team spirit will take time to reveal itself, however as I say, there is little around at present to suggest we shouldn’t at least arrive at the start of the campaign in good nick. We have Steve Michael arriving at training today, which will then just leave Rich Whiting, (who is continuing his re-hab), not completely fit to train. Even Joe Westerman put in an appearance at training before being allowed a two week break to take a holiday with the family, but otherwise we are just about up to full strength in camp.
That’s a massive turn round from what we have seen at this point in previous campaigns when players were still being signed and trickling back from abroad or taking delayed holidays because of international duties. There are just no excuses this time around and the early conclusion of our transfer business, new training equipment and no expense spared on a week in Portugal and last week’s two days away at Elsham Hall, means that our owner has given us what is needed to ensure we get the best possible preparation. Our Coach has been given everything he has asked for and although our training base at YPI is not ‘Ideal’, it’s of a better standard than most in Super League and something else that Pearson is working to improve in the coming weeks.
So it’s so far so good, the stage is set, already the anticipation is starting to mount and everything that can be done has been done. Now it’s all down to Lee Radford and the players who have to take full advantage of what is I guess an ideal launch pad. When you consider some Clubs are still looking to sign players, with others seeing their signings not arriving until before or just after Christmas, we could not have a better advantage at this stage. If nothing else, we are now so well set up for the new campaign that this is now the ultimate test of our Coach, our Coaching set up and our recruitment. As I said at the start, there are simply no excuses this time!
Things seem to have started well and it’s pleasing to see that ball work is being integrated into the usual fitness and strength regime of this time of the year. I remember once, I think it was under John Kear, when we didn’t touch a ball until after Christmas, which is ludicrous really. Now as fans we have to follow the example of our administration, put our money where our mouth is and get behind their efforts, ……and then of course hope! You know, when you’re a supporter who can’t ‘walk away’, you want so badly to believe it’s going to happen this time around, but in the end all you can do is hope and that’s the bit that is most difficult thing to deal with really!
Adam Pearson was a good listen on Sports Talk last Thursday as he broke the news that we were trying to arrange a cross code game with Bath who are also 150 years old next year. Although, with a date for the game one of the main issues, I do believe that some details are still very much up in the air. It will I think have to be a sort of ‘consolation’ for an early exit in the Cup, because such an occurrence would at least provide an opportunity on the weekend of a Cup round, before Bath start their season. This year there is no international break or a week off for an Exiles game and it’s full on from week one to early September. A mid week clash would be out too, because Hull fans wouldn’t be able to travel as they would want to. But the Bath club are certainly keen to host the famous Hull FC and it will be a great occasion if it comes off. It was also interesting to hear from Adam that we should all be pleased that Scott Taylor has only signed a one year deal with Salford, but then again, he did remark to a lot of fans after the forum that his name was on the bottom of an FC contract, so that just confirms that Scott’s very likely to get his wish and be playing back in Hull at the FC in 2016.
Talking of our owner I saw Adam last Thursday when I went to the KC and he is certainly throwing himself into the hands-on ‘Chief Executive’ role, spending at least 4 days a week, every week, at the Club at present. He said on the radio that any thoughts of buying into a Football Club again is on hold until we are winning things which bears out his recent and more involved presence at the Club. It’s a great interview and one you should try and listen to on the BBC’s ‘listen again’ facility, before it goes off on Thursday. There are lots of other clues about what’s happening and as always everything our owner says oozes enthusiasm.
If you listen you will even hear him playing down his relationship issues with the SMC saying that everyone gets on and I believe from what I’m hearing from the SMC itself that in the last two weeks that relationship has improved a bit, however I don’t know if that is because there is a genuine thaw in the hostilities or just that it’s part of the process leading up to the Allam’s selling Hull City (something that a few senior businessmen and politicians in the City would indicate privately is not that far off) However the interview on Sportstalk is good stuff, so have a listen if you can!
Well we appear to be back to square one with Joe Arundel don’t we? His future is up in the air again, after the centre’s trial at Newcastle Falcons apparently collapsed predominantly, we’re told, because he didn’t want to try his hand at Rugby Union. Now we find out that the centre, who cost us £40,000 from Castleford, has had an operation and will be out anyway for 6 weeks. Well that’s the information the fans got, but was he ever going to Newcastle in the first place or was it as Adam Pearson put it on the radio on Thursday, “Just a Red Herring”? We’ll probably never know the answer to that one, however what is certain is that the nightmare of those ridiculous contracts brokered by Shaun McCrae continues and our owner, already under pressure from the demands of the SMC and falling gates, has now to decide whether to stick or twist as far as paying Arundel off is concerned. To many of the fans ‘stood on the touchline’ Joe appears to be hell bent on milking as much as he can out of his outstanding contract with us.
He may be the innocent party but to a lot of supporter’s it appears that the player, who hasn’t even been given a squad number this time around, looks happy to sit back and take his wages without making any effort at all to look for another position; or, indeed take an opportunity at Newcastle when it presented itself. Who will now want to sign a player with that sort of outlook on such a big wage? I would hazard a guess, no-one!!! Speaking to us at the fans’ forum last week, an obviously relieved Adam revealed Arundel was set for a switch to Newcastle in an attempt to earn a full-time contract in the north east, but as I say, it appears that was all smoke and mirrors and he has had an operation instead! So, in the end, who knows? But the media now claims that, “he is now understood not to be that keen on trying his hand in the 15-man code”. It’s all a bit strange really!
Bradford couldn’t afford his inflated wage and nor can anyone else in Super League, so no doubt we will hear all the “I’m staying to fight for a place” stuff once he’s fit again, but for this fan that’s all now wearing a bit thin, because the cap means in essence he hasn’t got a cat in hells chance of securing a place. He’s a nice bloke but that’s of little consolation to a lot of fans to whom it looks as if he has taken a page out of Shannon McDonald’s book and is sitting it out to coin it in!!! There is little room for manoeuvre, because I don’t believe his wage is counted within our cap allocation at present and so we can’t register him or give him a squad number, even if we wanted to. With our Club in a bit of a financial hole and a massive effort being staged to get income coming in again, his perceived attitude is hardly endearing him to the FC fans as they shell out for passes, so let’s just hope its sorted soon.
I’ve only spoken to a couple of players this last week, but the two day break the previous Thursday and Friday at Elsham Hall certainly seems to have gone down well. The first day included meetings and a 15 mile hike, while on the second day there were further discussions before they all went paintballing. However there is little doubt that one of the talking points in the camp this week is the fitness and eagerness of young Curtis Naughton. In fact word is that he is likely to put a lot of pressure on Jamie Shaul for the fullback spot having turned up at his new Club in really good nick. Word is that after the first full week at YPI he’s already vying for the accolade of fastest player on the Clubs books! He’s an exciting prospect who is keen to learn, so let’s just hope that early promise reaps benefits next season.
Well at least I know some of you out there are paying attention! Last week I was bombarded by texts and E mails about my references to Trevor Carrot, Andy Doughnut and Gary Divot and the fact that at one point last Monday, Codgers Corner was displayed in triplicate!!! My apologies for that, I’m pretty useless at this at times I know, but on this occasion I have an excuse as my spell checker apparently started to take no notice of the ‘IGNORE’ button as it started to make it up itself. Then when I spotted it and Joe at blackandwhites tried to rectify it for a short time we got three versions of the archive spot for the price of one! A new version of Word seems to have sorted that out so thanks for all those who thought it was a great joke and let me know about it! James Lullaby indeed! I really do try my best but as time moves on that seems to fall a bit short! Anyway, this week I hope that it’s back to normal with just the usual smattering of bad spelling and poor English that you the readers have grown to know and love over the years. Sorry Everybody!
I was told in the shop on Friday that sales of the new shirt had reached unprecedented levels in the first week and records had already been broken. It is a great shirt and it will be hard to better it in years to come! Looking around the League there are a few nice strips appearing like those at Saints and Warrington, while there are some absolute howlers too like the Castleford and Salford home strips. However the away shirt of the year has to go so far to…… Wakefield!!
The next bit I found pretty incredulous really, but guess what Josh Hodgson has tattooed in a loop round his right forearm? Believe it or not the inked phrase actually states, “Opportunity doesn’t knock, it presents itself when you beat the door down” Oh the irony of it!!!!! Talking of ‘the man who I wouldn’t want fitting a cat flap in my door’, it certainly made me smile last Thursday when I bumped into a staunch Rovers fan in Morrison’s. Last time I saw him he was going on and on about Hodgson and “how great it was that a Rovers player is playing for England”. Now however, almost as if by magic, he left Rovers at the end of last season!!! You couldn’t make it up could you?
I told you last week about my little adventure as part of the Shirt launch when at Beverley Station a little bloke ran off the train and pinched the 5XXX shirt I had hung on the Station sign. Well the next bit is absolutely true, as the story took another twist when I was told that later that day the Club shop at the KC received a call and a voice at the other end said, “I got myself a shirt this morning at the ‘free Launch’ and it’s much too big, can I pop in and change it?” Cheeky Bugger!
Well I Guess it was to be expected really last weekend when, after our usual early exit from the 4 Nations and an unenviable record of 1 win from 9 attempts against the Aussies and Kiwi’s, there were calls for Steve McNamara’s head. I can understand peoples frustration too as I was a bit bemused (again) by his substitutions in the New Zealand game because for me, had we left Clark on then we would have won. However, and this is the bit I can’t understand, if Steve had planned to substitute a player who struggles to play 80 minutes anyway, what was the thinking behind him not picking someone on the bench capable of going into dummy-half and doing a job? The quicksilver number 9 didn’t look to be that fatigued and was running them ragged, but the minute he was withdrawn the shape of our game changed completely and the Kiwi’s grabbed their chance. By Clarke came back we were 16-8 down and despite a valiant effort the game was lost.
In fact once again in both the games against the ‘Big two’ we were ‘nearly there’ as we have been so many times in the past few years, but with the exception of that fine win over the Kiwi’s at the KC in the World Cup, it’s always bloody nearly! Someone once said that the only time that nearly is good enough is when you’re lobbing a hand grenade and it’s hard to argue with that! We have closed the gap on McNamara’s ‘watch’, we have now got some great young prospects and Steve seems to have got a lot of things right, but discipline off the field and a consistent inability to ‘get over the line’ in the big games are too major flaws still not addressed. They are, if we are honest, also issues that would maybe over 3 years have seen a Club Coach ‘walk’…….. ages ago!
There is certainly little doubt that he will keep his job and I’m pleased for him, because no one wants to see anyone get the chop, but it’s interesting to note that, in the aftermath of our exit from another competition when we were beaten again by the ‘Big Boys’, the only two people defending the status quo coaching wise, were the men who make the decisions, Nigel Wood and Ralph Rimmer at the RL. I’m fed up of International rugby anyway….well I’m fed up of being third best and I guess perhaps my feelings are fuelled by the fact that it all smacks of Hull FC’s ‘so near and yet so far’ 2014 season. AND however you dress it up, so near is no bloody good!!!
We got very close ourselves several times last season but on most occasions fell short at the last hurdle and were always unlucky, ill-fated, riddled with injuries, the subject of bad refereeing decisions etc. etc, but all the excuses in the world didn’t cut the mustard with the FC fans, many of whom wanted Lee Radford’s head on a plate. And, had it not been for a heartening end to the campaign (when there was little at stake but pride) they might well have got it!! The thing is of course that when you are a week in week out fan of any domestic team you ‘get’ completely the rationale that all that matters in the end is winning. If you can win and look adventurous and exciting all the better, but winning is everything! So, after another early international exit, the ensuing outcry for a change at the top at international level is quite understandable, isn’t it?
Of course it’s all sweetness and light at Redhall as everyone is back slapping and celebrating what is in fact another failure; why don’t they just shut up instead of trying so desperately to justify themselves and their decisions. But, then again no one does self serving nonsense quite like the Rugby Football League do they? It was not so however in the RL press, where Danny Lockwood was baying for the sack, with Garry Schofield gleefully trailed in his wake with recriminations and calls for a change. However there were also criticism’s of our tactics and leadership from the level headed Andrew Voss, while quite surprisingly even ‘Mild mannered businessman’ Martyn Sadler cited the fact that Steve, “Doesn’t bring a winning culture to the job”. Sadler stated that if Macca is to be given until the end of his contract which runs to the conclusion of the New Zealand games next season, and is then to depart, then he should be replaced by someone based in England, who is already a head coach. Even Craig Murdoch in the Mail had a bit of a go.
If the eradication of off field drinking and Hodgson like incidents plus the need for the mental toughness to ‘find’ a win when behind, are the top requirements, then with a team that is increasingly looking to have the necessary talent, it’s hardly surprising that in the media the name of the Wigan Coach is already ‘in the frame’. I have to say that if there is to be a change then because of the short period the players are together for International rugby, he has exactly the ‘tough as teak’, no nonsense approach that is needed. But of course, little will change, and why should it because now there is little to be lost by sticking with what we have for the ‘manufactured’ Kiwi 3 Test Series that’s coming up at the end of the 2015 season. It at least gives McNamara a chance to redeem his position and for us to win a series again.
However down at the Rugby League, Ralph Rimmer said straight after the Aussie game, “Those young men, and indeed all the players involved in the England squad, coach Steve McNamara and his staff should feel very proud of where the national team is right now, (On a plane home before the final?), as should the club’s who are producing such fantastic talent.” Adam Pearson commented at the forum that Wigan (and no doubt a few more) are totally dissatisfied with the Board of the RL and it was something that was making their regular meetings very difficult. As eminent blogger League Freak said of our administration this week, “They are just all full of self congratulatory bullshit and the type of Rose coloured glasses view on failure that makes me sick, The Rugby Football League is like a bad parody of a governing body these days. The sooner the organisation is dissolved and a new governing body is running the game in Great Britain, the better”. I really can’t disagree with much of that can you? As always of course these are just my views!
However there are no such problems down under, where the game is also looked upon in a positive light, but with good cause. I have to say that the final of the 4 Nations last Saturday morning was arguably one of the best games of Rugby League I have seen for ages. Immediately it finished I wound it back and watched it right through again and the quality of Johnson at half back and the power of the ‘Hair Bear Bunch’ of new Zealand was just amazing to see. Sometimes watching the British game you tend to forget just how exciting to watch and just how effective a running, jinxing half–back can be. Had we got to the final at the expense of Australia, we wouldn’t have lived with the Kiwi’s in that form would we? I was mightily impressed myself and it only went to affirm the old expression that backs score the try’s but forwards win you matches. Great entertainment and what a game to whet the appetite for next season!
I was in the Club shop last Thursday looking at the amazingly large 6XXXL shirts they are selling when Bill a pal of many years who was getting his season pass commented, “I only know one FC player that could fit nicely into that mate” So this week in Codgers Corner I want to go back to the 89/90 season and the advent of that very person, Noel ‘Crusher’ Cleal. In over 57 years of watching the best game there is I have seen some characters and some pretty intimidating and awesome players but he took the biscuit! Just occasionally you actually come across a player who has the physical presence to do the ‘bullying’ for all the team on his own! I remember a few; Mal Menninga was maybe one and Billy Boston another example of a player who opponents just couldn’t handle; Crusher also fitted that bill to a ‘T’.
It was the second season under Brian Smith who had in the previous season masterminded a trip to Old Trafford where we were defeated in the Premiership Final by Widnes. Expectations were high but after ten games we had lost four and drawn one, in fact looking at the three seasons that Smithy was in charge, we were always notoriously slow starters. Brian was doing everything he could to improve the team and had introduced imports Liddiard and Foulkes from down under but was looking for some beef and power and someone to capture the imagination of the fans. Then the news broke that we were courting one of the most extraordinary and ‘wildest’ players the game had seen. Looking like the ‘Wild man of Borneo’ and reputed to spend his time off wrestling wild pigs in the outback, Noel Cleal was a real phenomenon and a player that had terrorised both his own countrymen in State of Origin and players from other nations in international games. In 1985/86 he had been over and played for Widnes when he scored 12 tries in 16 games.
When it was announced that he had signed for us the game certainly took notice, he took time to settle but the first match in which he really made an impact was against Salford at the Boulevard on 15th October 1989. That Sunday afternoon around 7000 fans witnessed a display of such power and aggression that the whole City was talking about ‘Crusher’ from then onwards. The national media said that he ‘Had the Salford defence quaking in their boots’ as Hull and Cleal went on the rampage’.
Noel Cleal was renowned for being the biggest roughest player in the game when at the Sea Eagles and before he came to us!
If Hull Fair had just finished in Walton Street, Cleal’s ‘Circus’ was just beginning at the Boulevard. After the trials and tribulations of the start to the season this was to be the day when the jigsaw started to fit together with Smith easing Noel in, by playing him at centre as opposed to his more accustomed role in the pack. The game kicked off with our new signing seeing little of the ball as the forwards from both sides concentrating on driving down the middle. Salford’s Brook-Cowen almost got through, and a couple of sorties into our 25 must have worried Brian Smith stood up there in the top of the stand in his ‘Crow’s Nest’. It was hardly surprising then that Salford took the lead in the 8th minute when Jones beat Eastwood and Liddiard and put Adrian Hadley in, but within two minutes we went in front. At last Cleal got the ball in a flowing move when slick passing between Windley, Liddiard and Cleal saw Eastwood head for the corner and brush full back Steve Gibson aside to score a try that he converted. At 6-4 we settled down a bit and Chico Jackson making his debut on the wing, where he was a surprise inclusion in place of Dane O’Hara, had a couple of good runs following early balls from Cleal.
After an Eastwood penalty our debutant winger got himself on the team sheet as Folkes brilliantly switched play to the blindside and Steve Crooks sent out a precision pass to Jackson who put his head down to plough in at the corner and we were 12-4 in front. Another penalty followed before great work by Lee Jackson and Andy Dannett saw full back Nolan held just short and leaving a wake of three Salford players flat out behind him. The experiment of using Richard Gay at 6 and Nolan at full back was working well and after a further Eastwood penalty as half time approached Hull were well on top at 14-4 before a massive ball and all hit by Cleal that saw his opposite number Bragger left needing lengthy attention, had the crowd buzzing as the players trooped off the field.
The second half started as the first had finished as Wilby broke down field and made 30 yards from the kick off although he limped from the tackle and was later replaced by Welham. With just 6 minutes gone Gay brilliantly opened up the Salford cover and sent Jon Sharp careering through to be felled by Sharrett and Rampling 30 yards out. A quick play the ball saw Lee Jackson pass straight to Crusher Cleal who set off towards the Salford line, Brown, Worrell and Evans all flew off him as he scattered them like skittles and two other Salford tacklers showed a deal of hesitation when it came to confronting the big man. Crusher crashed on and producing a great ‘head of steam’ he crossed the whitewash for his first try in the black and white shirt. It was a fabulous sight that even had the fans in the ‘best seats’ on their feet and cheering long after referee Asquith had given the try.
Cleal clearly ‘blowing’ a bit, was substituted by Brain Smith and Doherty came on and took over in the centre before immediately dropping a ball that Evans gleefully pounced on to score the visitors second try. Then it was the turn of debutant Chico Jackson again. A shrewd inside ball by Dannett in the tackle, found Windley who shot away from the area of the ruck and found some space. Despite it only being the second tackle he threaded a great grubber kick through towards the corner flag and Chico scooped the ball up from his boots, to slide over the line for his second try. It was turning out to be quite a debut!
Back on came Crusher after a ‘Blow’, to the obvious dismay of the Salford team. He replaced a limping Liddiard in the centre and soon he was in the thick of the action again. Salford had visibly lost the appetite to tackle a player that simply seemed impossible to put to ground. In fact the referee was having difficulty calling held because Cleal kept moving forward even with five players on his back and round his legs. His tackling too left players on the floor struggling to get up. The big man was now rampant and as Windley put him through again he drew a nervy Burgess at full back before this time passing to Eastwood who roared over in the corner and it was starting to look like a rout. A second consecutive conversion from Eastwood left the score at 32-8 and there were still 17 minutes to go.
Sub Paul Welham scored another five minutes later and the game finished with the move of the match. Cleal hit Jones (so hard that he crumbled in a heap) and then released Sharp who ran across the visitor’s line at half way, looking for a gap. He passed to Gay who was in one, and he set off down field. As the cover came across our off half found Welham who switched the ball back inside for Doherty to gallop in under the posts and Eastwood 8th goal from 9 attempts, made it 44-8 and that’s how it ended, although a great win was tarnished somewhat as Windley hobbled off four minutes from the end with an ankle injury.
We all stood and applauded the team at the end and Brian Smith came out onto the pitch to join the adulation for a great win and a man was more like a bulldozer than a rugby player and who had run riot causing visible mayhem and confusion. As a team it was a great two points and although we had spluttered a bit in the first half, in the second we had witnessed a blistering exhibition of attacking football and the arrival of a real enforcer at the Boulevard! Great memories of a times under Smithy!
Well it appears that it isn’t just Hull New Theatre and Caravan Park that have regular Pantomimes as the Club are inviting all junior supporters to attend a Christmas Pantomime event at the Walton Street Club on Sunday 7th December., It’s another marketing promotion to engage the kids, its free to junior season ticket holders and they get a free gift on entry as well, so it should be a great afternoon. Tickets are priced at Adults – £5 Juniors – £3 Under 3’s – Free and of course junior pass holders are free too. I don’t mention it here for any other reason except for the fact that I think it’s a blooming great idea as is anything that attempts to get as many people of whatever age involved with the Club.
So there we are, and in a week when we found out that Jordan Rankin’s favourite bit of English cuisine is Yorkshire Pudding with Ice Cream, when Salford launched their Christmas range with the strap line ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like KouKash!’, when Wakefield went into the fancy dress business and West Hull were simply amazing at Widnes, with just 12 days left to the season ticket deadline, it’s all to play for. I said earlier that all we can do now is support the Club in what they are trying to do and hope, because in the end hope is all we have as fans, but with 59 days to go to the first pre-season game and the four nations now out of the way, we all face 8 weeks without any rugby at all!
I guess the message now has to be that we should all get behind the Club if we can and I’ll end another Diary by thanking everyone for continuing to follow these ramblings and for contacting me in such numbers at such a quiet time. The new away shirt is out this coming Saturday and whether you like the design or not, rest assured that the Diary will be back next week with all the reaction!