The Dentist’s Diary – 695th

In Any Kind of Weather!!

A committed and spirited performance saw a depleted FC go down fighting, but for once, the game itself was bigger than the result! 

Occasionally as a fan, you are really proud of your club and your players. When that happens, it’s usually because of some brilliant fighting performance or for some magnanimous gesture towards the community. However, sometimes your heroes do something over and above what anyone could expect, which makes them shine out as an example to everyone. 

Those times are pretty rare and yet we saw one this week. What’s more when we got out on the field we didn’t let anyone down at all. We might not have won, but boy, playing the Cup Finalists, ill prepared and 13 men short, we had a real dig and everyone at least had a go.   

I know that every Club agreed that they would standby to step in at short notice and Castleford did the same for us when we had that outbreak in the early days, but we now have cases in camp again ourselves, so the reality was a lot different to the original principle, made as it was in less harrowing and less testing times. 

We played Leeds in a home game, yet did it at Headingley with one player having being diagnosed with the virus, three more isolating through the games track and trace set up and 9 out injured; all that in a match that was only re-arranged 22-hour’s earlier. And, after everyone at the Club had taken a pay cut from day one of the crisis!

To stand in was a great and magnanimous gesture by the whole organisation and in honesty, looking at some of those who took to the field carrying injuries, it’s pretty unlikely that we had any more ‘fully fit’ players than Castleford, but the call came, we did the selfless thing and the club and especially our players have to be congratulated for that. What’s more, as I say, once again we were poor in some aspects (the same old aspects) of our game but we had a go and I was proud of the lads at the end. 

But man do we need to get this bloody season finished. 

695 The Dentists Diary

Some keyboard Warriors actually said on social media that we only played to get the broadcast payments you get as a club, for televised games. That is just cynical and believe me it isn’t a significant sum anyway and a few thousand quid won’t make that much difference at all in the bigger picture of things at present. 

2020 as a rugby season will not be remembered for much at all really; besides perhaps, the chaos it involved and the memory of a sport fighting for its very life. It’s a fact that these days, results are pretty inconsequential? No one besides perhaps the fans of the clubs involved, will really remember the Final’s but the selfless actions of some players and clubs across the game and the way everyone pulled together to keep the sport afloat, will be remembered for decades and long after this bloody virus is just a horrible nightmare. 

Adam Pearson told it how it was before the match at Headingley kicked off, as he again played heavily on the relationship we have had with Sky over the past 25 years and how important it was that we got fans back into stadiums for games. But let’s face it, I can’t really see that happening can you?  

There could hardly have been a worse, prepatration for the match could there? I settled down to watch it with Adams words about it being a risk, ringing in my ears and with my own hopes pinned on the players getting through unscathed and keeping the score down. What’s more, I expect most of you reading this were little different to me on that one. 

I would never trivialising what is a serious Covid situation at the club either, but I’m only human and guess as well it’s fair to say that like me, most of you spent some time scrutinising those omitted from the squad and trying to work out who it was that had it now. 

The team that was picked looked OK but had not even had a ‘captains run’ and we certainly looked a bit thin on the bench. However, the spirit of the players who straight away and unanimously agreed to play was all that we were admiring and I just hoped that we could put on a decent show. As fans it’s a good thing that we never lose our sense of humour and sure enough just before kick off my pal Sarah text to say “Bloody Headingley eh, typical, we aren’t there and it isn’t raining!!” 

We kicked off and two sets in Leeds got the first penalty as Bowden pinched the ball. Immediately Sneyd gave another away but a mistake by the Rhino’s got us out of jail. Griffin then hit the Leeds full-back in the air on the end of a set and we had conceded three penalties in just 7 minutes and you just can’t do that. Then at last we got to their line and Connor fed Fonua who came on a great line to score the first points of the game, but surprisingly Sneyd missed the conversion. 

We pressed on and looked lively and after everything that had gone on in the last 24 hours we were really having a go. A brilliant break by Scott on the end of a great cut out pass from Connor got a 80-yard gain and we were eventually held up over the line. However, some great play by Sneyd and then a superb pass from Ben McNamara put Savelio in and the first quarter certainly wasn’t turning out as we expected at all. The boys were having a real go! Back we came down field and Johnstone was held up and Faraimo just couldn’t control a kick from Sneyd and we blew a try in the corned. It could have got us 16 points up and I thought at the time it could have been a turning point in the tide of the game. I was to be proved exactly right. But, a great chip and chase from Sneyd into their 20 almost came off, but Leeds just defused it. 

Then Sneyd became the villain and lost the ball one on one and down the field came Leeds, before Scott lost it in the air and Walker palms it back for Handley to score. In the next set we gave 6 again away and Leeds were on the charge and Handley was in again at the corner. So as can happen in such circumstances, after all that hard work, in just two minutes we were level again. 

Leeds were getting on top and we needed some ball to take the pressure off a bit. Cameron Scott was put under pressure with a kick again but he got up brilliantly to defuse it.  Leeds looked likely to score but thankfully Scott again came to the rescue getting a foot to the ball, but we had to drop out. We needed to hold out but conceding another set killed us and just on the stroke of half time Walker crashed in and it was 16-10 to Leeds.   

The Rhino’s had looked sloppy at times, but no taking it away from the FC in that we had had a real go and like Brown and Bienek had got some game time too, although the latter looked a tad ineffective to me. However, I don’t think any of us thought that, with Leeds really on the front foot,  the second half would be anything but a bit of a torrid affair. Still we’d had a real dig and I was enjoying the endeavour if not the game. 

The second half started off were the first finished as Handley went for the high kick in the corner, but thankfully knocked it forward. Leeds looked really fired up and came at us full tilt. Scott was scrapping manfully, but was certainly being targeted as he knocked on again and we were back on our line, before Donaldson crashed in under the posts and we were in big trouble. We’d handed over possession twice and suffered for it as we trailed by 10. Then, our poor demeanour that has come out so many times in the last couple of years surfaced again and in the very next set Handley broke to score and we looked to be heading for the drubbing some of us probably expected. Two tries in 6 minutes and we looked to be done for. It was sad after how we started, but Leeds had taken control of the game the momentum was with them and at 28-10 we looked beaten already. Our bench wasn’t as strong as Leeds and it showed. 

We started to force things and in desperation Griffin threw the ball into touch, before Cameron Scott did well to defuse a high kick in the corner. As a team we were simply being too  profligate with the ball and it looked as if Leeds held all the aces.  We were getting no luck as a wayward Leeds pass hit Sneyd and we had to drop out, before Bowden hit the ground and stayed down with what looked like a dislocated shoulder although it turned out to be a stinger.  A great move downfield featuring Connor and Scott saw us held up for the third time in the game when Connor just couldn’t get the ball down. Jake Connor then kicked on the third and planted a brilliant 40/20 and a great drive by Griffin in the next set saw him score. What an effort to come back it was, because before that bit of real magic we had looked down and out. Then Sneyd sniffing a chance threw a ‘loose’ ball into touch and the position was lost.

Briscoe knocked a big kick on and we marched into their half and on the third tackle Sneyd got another brilliant 40/20. Tails up again we drove at their line before Johnstone crashed in under the posts and after a video referee intervention he was in and Sneyd converted to make it a 6-point ball game. It’s quite amazing how often teams score when they get a second set of six and at this point we looked to be in the ascendancy again, and we were making a real game of it again. Scott battered a pass down as again luck wasn’t on our side and then poor old Cameron was put under extreme pressure again, he fumbled  and Sutcliffe scored. 

At 34-22 a canny short-kick off from Sneyd got us going, but again we squandered the ball. Fash again gave away a stupid penalty and man isn’t he good at that!! We got in the red zone again and Faraimo almost got in before ending up in touch near the corner flag. Sao gave away a daft penalty as time ebbed away, but Gale missed an easy drop goal. Then ‘final nail’ time beckoned as Handley intercepted to race away and score. Connor had desperately tried to spread the ball wide Handley stood in the line and a valiant effort was all for nought. 

I guess as far as the league is concerned it was a game we had to win, but we had a real dig and the score didn’t really do that effort justice, because we lost the game, but had squandered enough chances to have won it. However, I guess that we gained plenty of friends by just turning up at all.   

So still mistakes and still missed tackles but you certainly couldn’t fault the effort at all and although again our goal line defence was suspect, we did some really good stuff, moved the ball well at times and all the players who stood in tried hard. Savelio ran his blood to water, Connor was again a success at full back and Sneyd really did work to get us moving although in honesty he had a poor game by his usual high standards. On the other hand McNamara didn’t put a foot wrong, although he faded when the pack did. Back from injuries Griffin dug in from the second row, he still looks good when given ball in space.  Bienek was disappointing and didn’t show much at all but, Brown looked effective with the ball and worked really hard. 

I’m still not a fan of Brad Fash myself and after that showing I still ain’t, but Fonua continued his improved form, whilst on the other wing Faraimo’s form dipped for the first time for a while. However, in the end for me, both Carlos and Ligi Sao were head and shoulders above the rest as both put in massive shifts. I also like Johnstone at acting half where his pass selection is getting better and better and he certainly took his try well.  I should also give a special mention for Cameron Scott who was bombarded with kicks and left isolated at times when faced with much bigger players, he made a few blobs but he never stopped battling and did some really good stuff as well. He looks good running with the ball and he is certainly a player benefiting from some game time. 

Those three times held up over the line and that Faraimo miss in the first half could all have gone the other way and who knows we might have grabbed a win that would have probably stood as one of the top ten FC victories of all time, but it wasn’t to be. However, perhaps, as I said earlier, it was all about a lot more than winning on Thursday! 

You have to keep smiling though and as reader Ian said in a text at the end of the game, “I feel just like a Rovers fan …moral victory and all that!”

As a footnote it was interesting to hear Brian Carney’s comments at the end of the Sky broadcast, when he very carefully said, “Andy Last is I guess on trial and there are some rumours percolating that Hull FC are closing in on a head coaching appointment”. Which was as I say an interesting one to throw into the conversation so late in the programme and if you saw it, you will have noticed just how cagey and careful Brian was with his words. I got the distinct impression that perhaps he knows something we don’t! Last, Powell, McDermott, Ward or even Steve McNamara? One things for sure the guessing games have already begun!     

So, on we go and you know, I do feel a bit for the Salford fans who have for years been starved of any sort of success. Not since back in 1969 when they lost 11-6 to Cas. in front of over 97,000 fans, have they been at Wembley. They must be so proud and excited yet after all those years they return to play in front of absolutely no one. All the loyal red devil fans have been robbed of that sparckling experience that surrounds the game on tyour big day in the capital and that hardly seems fair at all. We all know what’s that’s all about and we wouldn’t swop our adventures in North West London for anything would we? 

All of a sudden Salford supporters find themselves through to the Challenge Cup final, but can’t attend a game played at an unusual time of year, in an empty stadium and at the culmination of a competition that has been buggered about, slotted into the League schedule and totally devalued by circumstances beyond everyone’s control; well at least everyone outside of the RFL. You only really had to win two games to get there! 

That said, I hope Salford win, because every neutral will be backing them, for they deserve it as does their superb Coach!  They play way above themselves and indeed above their means, but the passion and never say die, 80-minute attitude, of every player shines out every time they play. Perhaps as the fixtures pile up the infections grow and the season looks like it won’t get finished at all, we should have scrapped the Challenge Cup. But try and tell the Salford and Leeds fans that! Sadly though, whoever wins it they will have won ‘The Competition that Never Was’ but at least their name will go on the Trophy and into the history books. 

Sadly though, they won’t even be able to be presented with that Trophy ‘up the steps’, and have those brilliant life changing images to cherish forever as we all do,  but rather they will be handed the trophy as they leave the pitch at the end.  Fact is however, these are such strange times and whether you talk about the Super League Trophy or the Challenge Cup most people out there just shrug their shoulders, because folks have lost a lot of  interest and everyone just wants this cockamamie season to be over. All that said I do hope Salford win!!

We are though as a game, looking to next year already and I see that the RFL have bowed to the inevitable and announced that Dual-registration is to be scrapped for 2021, or so it’s strongly rumoured anyway. It’s not something that I have particularly liked however now it appears that the system has reportedly been replaced by season-long loans. It would appear that the Championship Clubs voted against its continuation into 2021 and I’m not sad about it at all. I guess I’ve always thought that if I were a fan of a Championship Club I’d have never liked  itinerant journeymen players shipped in and out on a weekly basis depending on the needs of a nearby Super League Club. However, for the big clubs the problem will now be getting game time for players outside the starting 17, week in week out next year and it will be interesting to see how the game sorts that one out won’t it!! 

With no reserve teams next season, the choices for young players will narrow still further and clubs will face making calls, as to whether or not they keep junior staff. The simple fact is the vast majority of them are not ready for regular Super League action at the age of 18 or 19. So, is keeping young players on the books and then sending them out on loan the answer? 

Well maybe, but if Covid is still a problem next year, will players be allowed to be in two “bubbles” at the same time; training full-time during the week before linking up with their part-time loan club at weekends? If there’s no reserve grade, they need to be playing regular, full on rugby league for their development. At Hull FC we can only pick 17 players every week and when we’ve got a 34-man squad, there’s going to be people unhappy and ill prepared. However, like Rovers are doing already, many Clubs will be cutting back on the size of their squads because of the shortfall on Sky money and that could well see a lot of really good prospects giving up the game all together. What a disaster that would be!!! 

.So, we are returning to the KCom for a third game in the last few weeks against the Castleford Tigers on 18th October. Do I care that much? Well if I’m honest I don’t really. Of late I’ve been more concerned about us having to play 3 games in 9 days rather than where they are actually played. It could be on the moon as far as I’m concerned (with no doubt a similar atmosphere). Look, of course it will be good to see the lads run out of that KCom tunnel again, but nothing can replace the feeling of being there when a big game is coming up and we are playing well; hard though it is for many of us to remember such times. These days, as I say, the ‘new’ games come and go, without me paying much attention to where they are happening. 

But it will be a long time before things can get back to anything like normal on that score. As I’ve said on a few occasions, if they were to announce that crowds could go back tomorrow, at 70 with a dicky chest, I’d be too scared to go anyway!! If I’m honest, it’s not the being there to watch a game, or not that bothers me that much these days, but rather the fact that I miss the camaraderie, the friendships, the pals I only see at rugby, the banter, the conjecture, the walking up to the Stadium together, the meeting up at half time and the feeling, at the end, that whether its gone right or not, your amongst kindred spirits and all in the same boat. That’s the stuff I miss the most, for it’s the community and being amongst it, rather than the games themselves, that I long to return to. 

I’m not on my own there either, because quite a few of you have either contacted me or stopped me to chat about how you feel. A typical piece of correspondence arrived in my Inbox from Steve Ball this week and he echoed those sentiments exactly. 

 Good bloke is Steve and someone who gets perfectly what being a devoted life-long FC fan is all about and yet, like many of us, this disastrous disease has changed him as well. In his Email he said, “It has been a strange season and hard to get into it, I have not missed going to the KC, but I have missed going to the rugby with my dad and my mates.  Missed having a bite to eat and a few beers before-hand and offering a prediction, team choices, stories etc. But I’ve certainly not missed the crazy situation in and out of the car park and the wait at the turnstile even thought, the crowd is about 10k”.  

So, I think Steve’s E Mail and some others I have received, indicate that although everyone’s is a bit preoccupied and perhaps less enthusiastic about the actual games, most of us are really missing the experience and being part of something so much bigger, something that all gathering together at the KCom offers, in both good times and bad. What’s more I think that in a world were plenty of things that we love have been temporarily taken away from us, having that wonderful all-embracing belonging removed, has left a big hole in our lives. Well it has in mine anyway!

Now, wasn’t it great to see young Ben McNamara doing so well on his debut last week and in a difficult game on Thursday and how proud his Dad must have been over in France to watch his son take the field and continue the family tradition? I said last week how Bill Dalton had contacted me to indicate that Ben was the third generation of McNamara’s to play for our club and that like his father Ben score on his debut. The thing is of course that although as the Coach of another team he has to be careful with his comments, there is little doubt that Steve and the McNamara’s are a family that is steeped in Hull FC. 

In his comments in the Daily Mail about his son’s debut and his coaches words afterwards Steve said, “As a parent, Andy’s comments are everything you could wish for. It’s not about whether your kid’s got talent, it’s about how they conduct themselves, how they prepare themselves and how professional they are. As a parent that makes me really proud. It’s about those other qualities and as a parent I was pleased to see and hear that’s how he’s been conducting himself at training. It was great for him to step in and play his part in a tremendous win for the club, they needed it and Ben knew that. He spoke to me on the day and his concern was making sure the team won and being able to sing Old Faithful after the game”.  

That was grand and I guess understandable sentiment, but then he added, “It was actually really good to watch the game and support Hull FC and support your son and not be a neutral, but be a fan of the club again in a lot of regards. I really enjoyed it and I was so pleased for the whole club that they got the win, I thought they deserved it.”

Well to me as a fan, a Super league Coach admitting that he actually supports another club in his down time, is certainly something, particularly when it’s your team. Steve hasn’t seemed to have got a good rap from a few FC fans over the years, me included, but I’ve learned to my cost in the past, that in fact he is a good bloke and that comments like the above are typical of a really decent guy. 

How do I know, well one day in here I’ll maybe share a story about Steve McNamara, that will prove to everyone what a bloody good bloke he is. For now, take my word for it, for he certainly is one and he’s a pretty proud Dad top boot. . 

Well, that interview last week with Rovers half-back Ryan Brierley was certainly an eye opener wasn’t it. I thought that the guy was very honest about how he loved the fans and the players at Hull KR, but he simply couldn’t exist any longer on a salary of £14,000 a year. It might be a reflection on the parlous state that Rovers find themselves in, but across the game, I doubt he or his club will be on their own on that one. It makes you wonder just what other players at other Clubs are on though doesn’t it? To put your body on the line week in week out, suffer injuries, have to bear all the rigours of the testing scheme for Covid, move and live away from home and yet come out with £270 a week, before tax, is appalling really and a real refection on what a shocking state our game is in. He could earn more stacking shelves in a Aldi! 

So, let’s talk Commentators for a while and consider the fact that when you watch an NRL game, the standard of commentary is such that even with no supporters in the stadiums, it enhances and indeed enriches the game you are watching. The NRL crew are whimsical, but always about the game they don’t fall out and where necessary they criticise the officials which I think keeps the referees on their toes. Can we say the same for that lot on Sky? 

Well I certainly can’t and as you’ll know if you read this regularly I even get to the point of switching off the sound altogether at times. Our lot seem to think that it’s funny to argue and score points off each other, talk about anything but the game and even at times appear to be supporting one club over another. As for the invidious situation that John Wells finds himself in, well that needs sorting for televised Castleford games at least, for at present it’s a disgrace, that weakens the credibility of our game in the eyes of the viewer. 

Can’t the RFL and Super League see that it is cheapening our product and at times making us a bit of a laughing stock. Someone said on RL fans this week that the Toronto debacle shouldn’t be the biggest issue in the game at present because we should be looking to sort out our commentators and the TV company’s presentation and perhaps as well our officials and referee’s. Boy do I agree with that one. 

The BBC coverage of the Challenge Cup is better but not much. The in-game commentary is pretty well done, but one has to wonder just how Jonathon Davies keeps his job, because as an in-game pundit he’s bloody awful. He struggles with the rules makes inane and occasionally absurd comments and regularly gets his facts and players names wrong. The other week when we were playing Wigan in the Cup, he called Marc Sneyd, Sam Sneyd!!!  You have to wonder how he has kept his job so long. John Kear on the other hand oozes knowledge of the game and the players and just brings enough northern ‘sense’ to his commentary to be credible, without appearing to have just emerged from the pit lift. However, for me, it is Sky that need to be taken to task about their portrayal of the game although that’s hardly likely as we continue to suck up to them for obvious reasons.

Now my old mate Billy Watson who has been reading this for years contacted me this week, to take me to task about my long diatribe’s week in week out, about having to protect the 11 Super League Clubs who are battling to keep the game alive, and not splitting the TV money any further than those clubs. Of course, that is the Toronto debate. 

Quite frankly too, when the Wolfpacks new owner turned up to talk with the Club Chairman, ill prepared and possessing a case that was full of holes, I think as I said last week, he was lucky to get a stay of execution myself! Although that indicates that perhaps the Clubs really want them in the fold again.  However, Billy asked me if I knew just how many failed attempts there have been at expansion, and I thought I’d look back and see what I could discover. However, I didn’t need to go that far to find a plethora of broken promises and failed efforts. 

The latest new addition was when Toronto arrived on the scene in 2017. But, prior to that, there was Toulouse (2016), Coventry (2014), Hemel, Gloucestershire and Oxford (all 2013), North Wales Crusaders (2012) and South Wales Scorpions (2010). A fourth club was planned for 2013, but Northampton Rebels pulled out before even making it, despite them being chosen from an initial seven applicants. North Wales were established from the ashes of the failed Crusaders Super League franchise, while their relocation from South Wales to Wrexham contributed to the creation of South Wales Scorpions, who have since twice rebranded and now known as West Wales Raiders.

If that wasn’t complicated enough, Toulouse returned to League 1 for 2016, having previously played in the Championship from 2009 to 2011, while Coventry are arguably the success story of the decade as they continue to do their best to organically grow the game in the Midlands. Well done to them, but it’s hardly a great record is it!!!

Then, Oxford and Gloucestershire withdrew in 2017, with vague plans to merge to form Bristol never coming to fruition, while Hemel followed in 2018 after selling their “licence” to Ottawa Aces, who plan to be the latest expansion attempt in 2021. The professional ranks also lost Blackpool Panthers back in 2011. And that all since that year. I could go back further to the early 80’s when it all started, but that would I fear take up at least two Diaries. So, Billy mate, it’s easy to see that the game is not that good at expansion with teams on the same continent, in normal times, so with what’s going on now in extremely abnormal times? …Well I’ll leave it to you to decided.  

So there we are, recently we’ve had an edition of the Diary covering two game, followed by one that featured one and now today’s which wasn’t supposed to feature a match at all, but in the end …..did. It’s all just Crazy isn’t it!! The end of the season can’t come quickly enough in a campaign the likes of which none of us have ever seen before or want to see again. 

The selfless gesture of the Club to play that Leeds game this week and the circumstances surrounding it will live a lot longer in our minds, than the game itself. Sometimes, somethings, even in sport, are more important than just winning. Sometimes it’s about standing up to be counted, doing what is right in the bigger picture and putting principles, the rest of the game and perhaps the rest of your season before yourself. There are some sports where it’s never ever seen, but Rugby League isn’t one of them and our history is littered with examples of such an ideology.

However, now we move on to playing Huddersfield on Tuesday providing all is well test wise etc. but then again ….who knows who we will be playing? 

Thank’s as always for all your correspondence and support as the Diary steams up towards its 700th edition and the 17-year anniversary of the first edition. Let’s hope everyone at the club and out there amongst the FC family get through the next week unscathed and I’ll look forward to being with you all again next week.

Stay Safe Everybody! 

Faithfully Yours