ONE hell of a battle, TWO precious points, THREE departing Heroes and ‘FOUR Seasons in One Day!!!’
It was as tight a game as you could ever imagine and excruciating to watch at the end. However, it was also 2 points that kept our season alive ….but only just, although there were certainly 3 departing heroes out there who were worthy of all the accolades they received. Nonetheless, all that said, what a nerve racking night it became. It was a game that firstly plunged us all to the depth of the way we played four seasons ago and then raised us again to the heights of the best of the fighting spirit we have shown in the last two campaigns. In fact, it was a match that spanned 4 years of FC performances in just 80 minutes of rugby. It was good, it was bad and at times, boy was it ugly! But after a game that certainly was ‘Do or Die’ we are still alive, but only by the skin of our teeth.
Of course, in the bigger scheme of things, I guess you couldn’t ask for more drama as a neutral and the TV guys got what they wanted as far as the much vaunted jeopardy was concerned. However, for us lot, sat with our heads in our hands, it was, in that last two minutes, almost impossible to watch, for then, it was only Minichiello’s heroics, charging out of the line to somehow defuse those two drop goal attempts, that got us home.
The week ahead will certainly be a nervy one as we all become a Salford supporter for a day and it will be a good old fashioned time for the fingernails as well, as the fans nervously bite theirs and the team prepare to fight and scrap as they just hang on by theirs!!
The first half on Thursday was played (due to our inability to retain the ball) almost completely in our own half and at times it was downright awful as we looked unsettled, listless and somewhat ineffective against an all action Wakefield team who had absolutely nothing to lose. If this was indeed ‘Do or Die’, I commented at half time, “It looks decidedly as if we are dead already!”
However, in the second half, although we still failed to fire properly on attack, we showed so much desire and wanting and in the end just got home in the most dramatic of circumstances. You know, I’ve always thought that a team arriving back out on the field after half time, way before the opposition, usually denotes that they’ve had a real ear bashing and although we’ll probably never learn what actually was said, we certainly improved ten-fold after the break. At least we retained possession throughout that crucial second period of the game.
In Beverley on Thursday, desperately trying to keep my mind off the game I immersed myself in all things horticulture and got stuck into starting to work on the annual garden clean up. It was a nice autumnal afternoon as the black clouds and heavy showers thankfully passed by at regular intervals over to the West. Those dark clouds were however perhaps only moving on to gather over the KCOM because what lay ahead for all of us was an at times torrid evening, that after what we had seen in the last three weeks was both worrying and baffling as the whole gambit of jeopardy and emotion was laid bare before us.
It was without doubt both physically and mentally draining and you could almost feel a bit of pity for Wakey, because we had been in their boots and seen such scenario’s on so many occasions in the past. However, it did, in the end, transpire to produce some amazing drama and believe me by the final hooter came I was totally and utterly wrung out!
As a cool night in the East Stand seats awaited us, we prepared for a battle, the magnitude of which was almost impossible for us all to contemplate; we knew it was going to be hard but not that bloody hard!!!! It was the final home game of another good season and a chance to wave farewell to those three heroes of two back to back winning Wembley campaigns. That said I guess, the aesthetics of it all were somewhat lost on me, as I was getting pretty twitchy about what was, we were all told, a season defining game. But, I comforted myself by contemplating the fact that we always rise to the occasion in such circumstances and Let’s face it, I mused, we are a big game team and we can cope with such challenges! Can’t we?
However, by half time I wondered exactly what had happened as we trailed by 6 points to a Wakefield team that looked sharper, faster and who undoubtedly appeared to actually want it more than we did. They honestly deserved a bigger lead and only some heroics in the tackling department, particularly with a string of real last ditch efforts by Shaul, Houghton and Washbrook, saved our bacon and kept us in the game. Matches, like that one, are all about completion rates, being patient, valuing the ball and playing the game in the oppositions half, all of which we saw, but only from the visitors, who managed the first 40 minutes brilliantly. We ended the half with Shaul in the sin bin for a late but necessary ‘linger’ in the tackle which probably saved another try, but the team that had been so often hailed as ‘the experts’ at managing such situations and grinding out results, spluttered and stuttered and we were unable to complete a single set in the first 25 minutes.
Wakey were certainly up for this one and had all week been making all the right noises as far as getting one over us to keep their top four chances alive was concerned and in that first half as far as their fans were concerned they certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, they performed well throughout and it was more our improvement and excellent second half ball retention, than ‘Trin’ tiring or dropping their intensity, that eventually just got us home.
But, if the Wakey faithful were enjoying it then for us lot writhing in our seats it was frustrating, exasperating and at times excruciating to watch and yet as I say, for all the oppositions dominance and obvious desire we only trailed by 6 at half time.
We all knew we had it in us, but as the game unfolded we didn’t look settled at all and that restless, dysfunctional first half performance led to an uneasy half time as we all questioned what we had seen and wondered just what was to come from a team that we knew could do so much better. They had obviously studied the short flat pass from Sneyd coming across the line and that was apparently that. Well it was as far as our first half tactics were concerned anyway. So much dropped ball and miscommunication lead to precious little else attacking wise although Fonua’s try was a treat to behold and you know, when he is coming down from a catch with his back to the line, there is only ever really going to be one out come isn’t there? But that score on the end of a superb Sneyd kick was a shining beacon in a dark and soulless first half from the FC.
What we didn’t expect was for our big aggressive pack to be outplayed by the Wakey forwards. They started off hot and bossed the middle of the field in the early exchanges making more forward progress than we did and then as the half unfolded they had in Miller and Finn two half backs who used the cut out pass to set their wide players in motion. The Trinity certainly utilised the wings much better than we could.
We simply lost far too much ball, much of which was down to Kelly who was a real ‘butter fingers’ as he simply couldn’t hold the ball at all. It was quite bemusing from a player who has been so dependable of late, but Mrs R in her usual and infinite wisdom explained it all away quite neatly when she said, “Yeh, but that’s what happens when they start dying their hair”.
In such situations as we found ourselves in at half time, these days we have some faith. That belief is built on what we have seen over the last two campaigns and on the memory of some brilliant turn arounds in the final 40 minutes, none more so than in the two semi-finals and finals we have won. Lee would get them in the changing rooms and sort ‘em out wouldn’t he?
Thankfully it seemed he did and as soon as the second half got started, things appeared to be a lot better and although we still couldn’t seem to get the play flowing as we had done in the previous weeks, with almost perfect ball retention and a completion rate of 95% (only one incomplete set and that the one which ended with a disallowed try for obstruction) we were able to exert the pressure. This led to a brilliant solo try and a great 4th drop goal of the season, under pressure, from Sneyd augmented by a good (and fairy-tale like) try from departing ‘Captain Fantastic’ Ellis. What I like about Sneydy in such drop goal situations is that just like an American Football quarter back he moves back into ‘the pocket’ behind the line and thus lengthens by about 10 meters the distance of the kick, but that ploy and the players he puts between himself and the opposing tacklers does at least give him the time to steady himself and pot it. That drop goal saw us grab a 7-point lead and with it an additional and precious one-point advantage that we were never to surrendered.
It was as close as any game end can get and subsequently it was a case of ‘fortune favouring the brave’ and there was none braver than Mini for in the end it was probably those two ‘charge downs’ (one that hit him on the chest and one where he literally sprinted out of the line and did enough to put the Wakefield player off) from our second rower that just got us home, as Liam Finn twice attempted and twice failed, to at least give the Wildcats a share of the spoils. That desire and sheer wanting from a man, playing, by and large, on one leg, in the twilight of his career and at the end of a gruelling game and season, won it for us, at a time in the game when the more emotional went to the toilet to hide and the most hardened of fans looked away as “I can’t watch this”, was heard all around where we were sat.
It was interesting afterwards to read of Lee Radford’s comments about our half backs and their inability to get the team moving. For me, although Albert had a stinker of a first half he worked hard to compensate for it in the second, when he pulled off a couple of really important tackles, whilst Sneyd although in and out of the action, certainly got one of the best half back tries we have seen for a while and his ‘cool as a cucumber’ and brilliantly worked drop goal under great pressure, got us home in the end. So, even if those guys had an off night they were both instrumental in our eventual victory. For me though the main conundrum surrounds Connor and where we play him, because one things for sure, whether it’s his obviously class and inventiveness, or the fact that he just winds the opposition up relentlessly, I don’t know, but we certainly look a lot better team when he is on the field.
However, boy will we miss Fonua! How I wish he was staying for he’s such a talent and a real character in a British game that is pretty devoid of such individuals, but most of all I think he’s a guy who it is so hard for the opposition to read. Even if they know what he intends to do (and usually they don’t) often they can do little about it at all. As I said earlier, his catch and score in the first half was quite amazing before he gobbled up the yardage to help out the forwards time and again. However, if you remember nothing else remember that heart stopping one on one tackle on Grix that shook the KCOM to its foundations. Talk about you’ve been ‘Fonua-ed’.
Up front once we started to keep the ball the foundations for our victory and resurgence in the second half was built on great team work and effort from Taylor, an imperious Watts, Mini, Gareth and Washy whilst I have to say that Bowden had a brilliant game and really got ‘up close and personal’ with a Wakefield pack that in the first half managed to run over us a time or two. The loss of Manu just before kick-off was a real worry, he had a bug that was to have side-lined Washy as well, but Mr Reliable Danny was drafted back in late on and he never let us down at all. However, somehow we hung on and in the end it was a famous if somewhat fortuitous victory which was harsh on Wakefield, but a season saver for us. One things for sure though, play like we played in that first half again on Friday and we’ve had it!!
So well over 2000 words so far and have you spotted what was missing? Yep that’s right not a single mention of the referee and what a refreshing change that is!
I have spent a lot of time in the past few Diaries taking our at times inept officials to task, so how nice it was this week, to not find myself discussing the referee at length in my deliberations or indeed on Thursday as we left the game. I’ve not been a fan of Mr Bentham in seasons past but this year he has been pretty reasonable and he is without doubt the best we have at the moment, as he showed I think at Wembley. A 5-4 penalty count (to us) showed a game that was allowed to flow but just look at one instance that could have cost us the win on Thursday night.
Had we had say Childs or Hicks with their “I’m in charge and my word is law” attitude, we might have shared the spoils at the end as that drop goal attempt went just wide. “I’ve got a successful drop goal” said the referee to the video official as his assertions were clearly discernible on the TV, but he added, “But I want you to check it Please”. We are however left to wonder how many others would have done that or just gone with their decision. Perhaps it was the cheers of a section of the FC fans sat behind the trajectory of the kick or the frantic dancing and waiving of the solitary two Hull fans in the North end behind the posts or even the baying of Minichiello and several other Hull FC players that the ball had missed the post, but something made him think twice, when he believed it was a goal. Who is to say another referee on another day wouldn’t have done just that, well no one of course but it certainly makes you think doesn’t it?
Nonetheless, Phil Bentham did utilise video help and as the replays rolled, it was clear that Finn’s attempt narrowly went wide left of the upright. So credit where credit is due and well done to him for that and indeed for what was by and large a good showing from the official on the night! There I’ve said it!
As a final thought on Thursday night what about that pathetic little band of Rovers fans sat in the North East Corner with the Wakefield supporters. Could you be bothered? No, neither could I and it was good to see that in the end they all went home with their tails between their legs! What a pathetic effort that was! If you’re going to get one up on your neighbours do something original (Brooksy and Co hired a plane to trail a message over their Stadium last year you’ll remember) and if you can’t go one better at least try to be innovative and rent a poster site in the town centre or hire one of those new city council rolling advertisement/message boards, but don’t turn up, waiving one of your mothers best bed sheets, with ‘Rovers are Back’ daubed on it. However, it was nice of you to give your obvious mortal enemies a nice injection of income having in fact paid to end up looking like a set of clowns. Get a life guys, get on with your own thing. I wouldn’t even go to Caravan Park to watch Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott! Still thanks for all those 23 quids as you invested your ‘hard earned’ in Hull FC, for it was much appreciated but off you pop now and we’ll see you all next year, when your back playing with the big boys!
So to the rest of the week and that game on Sky on Friday was hard to call wasn’t it? As another second rate game in the middle-eights, I couldn’t decide who I wanted to win. I rolled up back home from the pub at around 7-45pm still relieved that we had got that win, but although I wouldn’t want the Dobbins to prevail at dominoes, I was also quite interested to see what would happen were Catalan to end up in the Million-Pound Game, simply because I’d love to see what the RL would do should they lose it!!! Super League Europe, my arse? In the end the Frenchmen and Steve McNamara prevailed and got the two valuable points in what was none the less a poor performance. Despite a new Coach and an owner who looks like he will blow a fuse at any time, the lads from Catalans ain’t very good at present are they?
Now, here’s a great picture sent in by reader, Sammo Sampson, of his grandson Elliot Morgan.
It features young Elliot and Hull FC’s Clubman of the Year Albert Kelly taking part last Monday in the Clubs very successful ‘Takeover Programme’. Elliot certainly loved meeting Albo and trains with Wyke Cubs to Lions at County Road and was there when the guys visited his school. They are only 4 to 5 year olds but they all had a great afternoon with several of the first team players. Well done Hull FC for getting the players and the Challenge Cup out there to inspire the kids, for they are the future of our beloved Club and indeed of the game of Rugby League in general! Top Stuff!
Well there was certainly some feedback from last week’s offering and after I said in here that I had had probably received the most response from readers between the game against Wigan and the publishing of Diary number 554, what followed that last edition was a veritable shed load of other remarks from people who had read what I’d had to say and by and large agreed with it. Correspondence in fact came from all over the world, most if not all of which I have to say, supported my views on the game, the administration, the officials and the judiciary. Reading it back now, it’s perhaps all a bit over the top at times, but what you have to understand is that I often write this straight after I get home from the game and although sometimes it reflects the match I watched, its bound to be a bit ‘raw’ be it in the aftermath of a great, shocking or controversial performance; or indeed after a travesty of justice the likes of which we undoubtedly saw in that Wigan match.
The fact that of late, due to logistical issues, the Diary is published and out on a Sunday evening, also I think adds to the immediacy of what I write as well and often it comes straight from the heart rather than from the head. I hope that’s something that you the reader appreciates and indeed enjoys about this weekly rubbish, because if you want cold analysis, spin, or excuses you can read them in the media, on the Club site or in the press releases emitting from the ‘Propaganda Dept.’ of the RL. I try to tell it not so much how it is, as how I feel it and see it as a fan, and when I stop doing that for whatever reason, then I’ll stop writing the Diary. I hasten to add that everyone who contacted me as an ordinary fan and reader in the most part agreed with my sentiments, however some in ‘other places’ didn’t quite concur with where I was coming from; but this is by a fan for the fans, so that’s just tough!
When you look back on the daylight robbery that was the Wigan game, you have to take into consideration that although it was certainly a tough encounter it was always going to be such and we at least needed to be performing on a level playing field. Wigan, always play it on the edge, they always have done and they ain’t about to stop that any time soon either. But you know although it’s worked for them over the years this fan just hopes that we don’t get to resorting to some of the strokes they pull, you don’t have to go down that route or indeed to become a team of thugs for 80 minutes just because you’re playing Wigan.
But, and it’s a big but, when you play them you need a strong official and that’s a commodity that in modern rugby league, is decidedly thin on the ground. After my rant in the last Diary I got E Mails and posts from ex senior refereeing officials, ex-players and even a few fans who had already walked away from the game as everyone wanted to add their ‘Two-penneth’ about the issues I raised last week. I could in fact have filled a whole edition of this blog with their comments and well thought out posts and E Mails too. I thank everyone who got in touch and it’s sufficient to say that it’s so heartening to know that others feel as I do and that I’m not on my own in my frustration.
As for several readers concerns about the fact that I said that I’d just about had enough and was even considering falling out altogether with all this stuff, well don’t you feel like that sometimes? Doesn’t the futility of complaining and the bomb proof position of the powers that be in our game wind you up as well? The fact is, I’ll never stop supporting and following my team, it’s been a life-long love affair and they are everything to me, however the very fact that it even crossed my mind that I might just get that disenchanted one day with the game, or more specifically those who run it and officiate in it, has still, after 57 years of watching it, to be a concern. But as I say, in such situations it’s just great to know that you’re not on my own.
So the fallout from last week’s game rumbled into this week as the disciplinary process unfolded on Monday and I always though I knew what had happened with the Liam Watts incident and having got home after the game and watched it back, I was pretty sure that he had seen McIlorum coming, changed the ball to the other hand and prepared to fend off the tackler to protect his own rib cage. It was head to elbow rather than elbow to head! However, who knows what the result would have been had he appeared in front of the ‘Magic 8 Ball’ that is the disciplinary panel, as the ‘shake it up and just see what decision tumbles out’ process unfolded. The unpredictable state of that process was even reflected in the views of the pundits who reckoned Liam would get anything between SOS and 5 games!
The fact is, having seen the decision of the RL judiciary on Monday afternoon, I guess I was pleased and yet I found myself pretty upset, because their report of the incident, which almost amounted to no charge to answer, just infuriated me more, because quite frankly the inadequacy of a referee and the knee jerk reaction of the video referee (which was I’m convinced based on the severity of the injury rather than the actually offence) had probably seen us lose a game we would have won had we had 13 men on the field for 80 minutes. Why didn’t Hick in his indecision just put the whole incident on report and sort it out later. It’s not as if referee’s aren’t of a mind to usually do that to fudge a difficult decision is it? The fact that the statement completely exonerated the player and yet he is given Sending off Sufficient, beggar’s belief as well; sufficient for what? To hand the game to the opposition? It all baffles me a bit but then again why are we not surprised eh? It’s not the first time we have been left scratching our heads over the officials and it’s certainly won’t be the last either.
In Codgers Corner this week I want to go right back to the 1981 season when we were doing our best to get over that defeat at Wembley against the Dobbins the previous year and doing it in the finest possible way, by winning lots of games. We had been knocked out of the John Player Trophy at the semi-final stage by Barrow but in the League we were second and going well.
That February we were having a mild spell in a winter that had seen us not lose many games at all through the weather and although we had experienced a lot of injuries early in the season, we were going well, and had just beaten Featherstone, Halifax and Bradford in successive matches. Leeds came to the Boulevard on a breezy cold afternoon when we were at the peak of our attendances in that decade and 15,119, packed the ground, to create a white hot atmosphere that only the visit of the old enemy from Headingley could generate. It was the First Round of the Challenge Cup and a really tough draw, but none the less all the talk in the papers in the week before was about getting back to Wembley and revenging that torrid defeat the previous May.
The game kicked off and Hull were immediately into action, with Skerrett, Stone and Norton well on top of the Leeds big men Rayne, Eccles and Harrison. Norton had been Captain that year but it seemed to have affected his form and so Charlie Stone had taken over, although both players had been doubtful through injury right up to the eve of the game. That afternoon however what was unfolding in front of a mesmerised audience was one of the most devastating team performances of the season. Nonetheless, after 18 minutes we had not turned our superiority into points and we were all starting to wonder if Leeds would snatch the first try. Then from a scrum Pickerill fed Barry Banks who surged past Dyl and as Atkinson came across to tackle him and he should have gone outside to Graham Bray, he turned back inside and found Norton. Twenty yards out Knocker ran into some heavy traffic but beat one then another Leeds player, as he stepped and dodged his way through before waltzing past the Leeds full back Neil Hague to score under the posts. What a try that was and we all knew that with the shackles of the captaincy lifted Norton was back in his most devastating form.
Sammy Lloyd stroked over the goal and our confidence grew as another try looked on the cards. Almost immediately we witnessed probably the move of the season. Newlove and Wilby exchanged passed and sailed past McIntosh and Atkinson before Wilby fed onto Bray out on the wing. He got the ball some 60 yards out, he ran at and beat Hague and although Rayne caught him a yard out, Bray crashed over and the crowd went wild. Their happiness however soon switched to anger as Referee Billy Thompson ruled that Bray had in fact performed a double movement and he ruled the try out. The partisan threepenny standers went mad and that song about the ‘Little wooden whistle’ (with the mandatory string of obscenities at the end) rang out from the terraces.
Next Newlove broke down the middle and fed Banks but a great chance was lost when he turned the wrong way and ignored Crane on his outside. The pressure was mounting and mounting on Leeds, as we went in for the kill. Pickerill almost scored before, in the 39th minute, Stone slashed the Leeds cover to pieces with a brilliant angled run and Banks charged through to score. Lloyd again goaled and we went in 10-0 up at the interval.
Five minutes after the break Lloyd was on target again this time with a penalty. This came from another brilliant Norton break where he fed Skerrett with an underarm pass and the Second Rower ran off down field. He kicked ahead and was blatantly tripped by Hague who in doing so, saved a certain try. Two minutes later the under pressure Leeds defeat cracked again, as Banks, playing what was one of his best games for the black and whites, burst through and was tackled high by a desperate Kevin Dick. Lloyd again converted the penalty this time from the touch line.
At 14-0 the game was won and although Leeds saw a lot more of the ball we tackled like demons and kept them pinned in their own half for most of the time. Mick Crane came on and took over from the injured Pickerill and Paul Woods made some great punching busts (quite literally) through the opposition’s line. A late inclusion for the injured Ronnie Wileman, Tony Duke shovelled the ball out in the scrums and Tim Wilby was solid in the centre. In the last minute Terry Naylor scored a desperate, late consolation try and Dick converted before the referee blew the whistle and we had got through to the second Round of the Challenge Cup. Over the fences we went to congratulate the boys on a great win and you know those were such great times and I never fail to be excited all over again when I write about them! Great memories!
Sadly, the tragic news of Steve Evans death, aged 59, whilst on holiday in Sardinia, only arrived as I was putting this edition of the Diary to bed and so I’ll spend some time next week looking at a player who lit up many a rugby league field in the early 1980’s. He was a super bloke and my thoughts go out to his family and friends. RIP Steve Evans.
So, had we won last week against Wigan that would have now been it and next weekend would have been academic. Had we lost on Thursday that would have been just about it as well, but for more tragic reasons. However, we are still in there and it’s still all to play for on Friday at Wheldon Road. Hull FC are our team and however much people (including some of our own fans) faun over Castleford, we have to get behind our lads and hope that they can do it. One thing is for sure, if we play at the top of our game we will.
However, it will be a tough task because this Cas team is good, there is no doubt of that and they have even been hailed, a little too much I believe, as ‘the future of the game’, however we have beaten them twice and almost rolled them the other time in their own back yard, but now, unless Salford can beat Saints on Thursday, our season will be riding on this one. Credit to the Tigers too, they have looked good and entertained, but they ain’t unbeatable. As Mark Minichiello said this week, “We can beat anyone if we bring our top game” and I believe he’s right ‘on it’ there.
We’ve got that Challenge Cup in the cupboard and indeed if you press the pause button now, to have won that trophy back to back and been within one win of the Grand Final last year and two of it this, surly shows two years in which our Club has somehow established itself right at the top of the British game. The problem of course is, lose on Friday and after winning that Challenge Cup Final, we will only be left with the memories of the recent Leeds and Wigan games, both of which we lost after some controversial refereeing decisions. I hope that isn’t the case I really do! Those games have gone but the circumstances under which we lost them could fester a long time, unless we progress this weekend.
It’s a massive game that will be preceded by a nervous old week, much debate and a bit of trepidation, but that’s what we buy into when we follow our team and to echo what my pal Steve Ball shouted after me last Friday about the Wakey game, and as I hurried through Beverley, “It’s all just part and parcel of being an FC fan isn’t it?” and of course he’s right, for its never an easy ride for us lot.
Thanks so much for the biggest postbag ever this week and for all your support and comment in writing, by E Mail, by text and as I bump into readers around the place. One lady even sought me out in my seat at the Stadium to talk about her support for my views on the RL and referee’s and it was also great to hear from Northern Soul Neil, Billy Johnson, Carl, Stuart in Spain, Graham Hall, Terry Peacham, Frank Ozark in Brazil and the dozens of others, too numerous to mention, who over the last 7 days have taken the time to discuss the game of rugby league with me. I hope you all keep in touch.
Thanks so much for your support and for sticking once again with another Diary. I wholeheartedly agreed this week when my pal Sammo said, “I really fancy us in the semi-finals but the hard part is going to be getting there” Boy was he spot on with that one!! But, let’s all go to Castleford on Friday sing our hearts out and bring home a famous two points, but, in the meantime, don’t let it get to you, try to stay cool (and perhaps even do a bit of gardening) but most of all get behind the boys and