It’s been another funny old week, but things have looked up a bit for yours truly and all being well I should be having my jab tonight (Saturday) at Beverley Racecourse which has already made me feel a bit better about things in general.
At the FC pre-season continues with a new loan signing and with Josh Reynolds continuing to be the darling of the media, whilst once again I’ve scraped around and found one or two bits of stuff to talk about.
Later in here I celebrate the fact that we have at last got together with the NRL and discussed rule alignment between the two competitions. Some of the changes that we’ve made are a bit baffling and one strikes me as being pretty unnecessary, but thank goodness we have at last gone some way towards gaining some parity across the sport, which hopefully in the end will see us all playing to the same rule book in both our domestic and international competitions. We ain’t there yet, but at least it’s a big improvement, which immediately makes our game so much more understandable for the uninitiated and more credible as a World sport.
However, back here in Hull it all came a bit out of the blue, but on a dark and wet Wednesday, it was nice to read some real news and to hear of another FC ‘signing’ all be it a trialist who no one had heard of! What’s more it was even better to hear that we had been back to the armed forces to grab a potential replacement for Ratu. Our ex-winger, now playing for Bristol, always maintained that there was a great untapped source of exiled foreign players at present in the British armed forces and it was good to see we had followed up on that and giving Fijian rugby union winger Mitieli Vulikijapani the chance to join the club on trial for the remainder of pre-season. I’ve had a look at him and quite frankly for me, he doesn’t seem to be as big or as fast as Ratu, but Naulago was pretty special! In my mind the guys a freak and someone we should have tried with all our might to hang on to. In the end he wanted away and the Armed Forces were keen on the move too, so he was off, but I’d be surprised if we see another RU Forces Trialist as good as him.
The new Fijian has no experience of rugby league, but has represented the Army in the 15-man code, while he has also featured for a number of clubs as an invitee in the Premiership Sevens. He’s playing down the leagues in Union at present, so don’t hold your breath on this one, but we apparently see something in his ability and playing style which warrants a closer look at him, so what is there to lose? .
Although the 13-man code is new to him, the FC hierarchy see potential in his skillset as a player and are keen to see him in action on the training field in a RL environment. He’s certainly adaptable and has played as a winger, centre or full-back although I’m told he will train as an outside back with us. If he comes off he will be a big plus for us, simply because we have searched high and low for a winger but failed to come up with anything. However, as I say don’t expect too much, because although we are somewhat ‘blinded’ by the success of Ratu, it should be remembered as well that a lot of these type of signings, in the past, have come to nought, so we’ll just see how it goes.
One things for sure though and that’s, if this guy signs for us permanently, he will become the latest in a long line of spelling challenges for your diarist!! So, for me, if he is to be a success at Hull FC, a knick-name is required and quickly!
Well, I watched a few of the ‘lowlights’ of Hull City’s departure from the ‘Toytown Cup’ the other night against Lincoln City and it raised a major question with me. As I watched I found myself asking, ‘After years of the Allam’s and the City fans telling us it was rugby the buggered the KC pitch up for them, and after a full year without any rugby being played on it, what the hell was that muddy morass about?’
From what I could see the playing surface was appalling to say the least and I don’t think I’ve seen it as bad as that, even after we’ve followed City, played 80 minutes on it next day and done it in pouring rain!!!! One goal mouth was like a ploughed field. You know I have always maintained in here that it was the sliding tackles and skidding that goes on in football that has done the damage to our playing surface and now I feel that has been proven without doubt. I hope that those that have blamed rugby league in the past, will button it in future, but I doubt that they will.
Well now moving on and in the past few seasons when we have played well, I have, when I look back, tended to say that certain players have raised their game to get us to where we want to be, but rarely have I said that the team itself has played fantastically across the board. Since the two Wembley runs when we were driven on by the ultimate wanting of firstly breaking the hoodoo and making history and then having got a taste for it, doing it again because it felt so good, it’s been hard to see a unanimous wanting across the team. There have been occasional exceptions like the play-off game against Warrington last year when it was hard to say anything but that the team itself played well throughout, but otherwise ‘complete’ team performances have been pretty rare.
However now it seems that our Coach has brought a bit of NRL thinking into the team and has thus decided where we need to concentrate with regard to the psychological side of things. It’s clear to me that he has identified that the major problem with our group as a squad of players is that Hull FC have been a team of individuals and factions, that has by and large failed to bond as a unit.
This week Brett told the Yorkshire Post, “I think the best defensive teams – which we are trying to improve on – are the ones that are happy to work for each other, so there is a lot being concentrated at present around that. I think there were a lot of players last year playing individually well at times but as a collective they had a lot of work to do, so we are trying to get those combinations working together and moving forward defensively. We’ve invested a lot of time in developing off-field the culture and behaviours that we are trying to instil here,”
So, it’s all about consolidating as a team and a unit this season and it will be great to see how we pull that off, because last year, with the exception of the opening game against Leeds at Headingley and that Warrington game at the end, at times we played well individually and that brought some results, but we were hardly a cohesive unit. I think that getting some real consistency across the team is the right way forward, but getting a group of players that has in the past appeared to be split into different cliques, back together again as one, is a big ask and it will be interesting to see how our new Coach handles it.
Talking of that sort of thing, I could never understand the yearly ‘ho ha’ about target setting. Lee used to make a big play of the fact that early on in pre-season the lads had got together and set their targets for the forthcoming season. However, we were, understandably, never actually told what they were. Then at the end of the season it became apparent that that they were in fact all aiming to win in the Grand Final and be successful at Wembley. Let’s face it, if you’re going to set targets what else should any player in Super league aspire to?
‘In real life’ target setting has always been an important part of any mangers armoury, be it in private industry or public service, but for me, the only ones that were ever useful in the organisation going forward were the ones that were realistic attainable and measurable. In rugby it could be the number of tackles a player makes on average in a game or even the number of tries a game the team scores on average across the season. They would at least have been measurable and at least a yardstick with which to measure progress don’t you think?
What’s more targets need to be re-evaluated, changed and refreshed every year, otherwise they become stale and useless. Usually, under Lee Radford, the team set these aims and objectives early on and invariably they appeared to be the same sort of stuff every year, so it was interesting and refreshing to hear that Brett Hodgson isn’t setting any this year, well, not for now at least.
He says that he wants to concentrate on getting the basics right before any such talk is contemplated and he’s looking at the season one game at a time and just aiming to ensure that we make a good start. Perhaps he feels that the whole process of target setting within the group had become stale and he is trying to come at it from a different angle. It’s always difficult when a new Manager comes into any group of established and settled staff because they need to change things to impose their presence, whilst not break what isn’t currently broken.
Brett Hodgson might say that he is enjoying his job at Hull FC and that he is relishing the challenge, but I bet it ain’t that easy and deep down he’s pretty nervous!
He needs to change things though, and so we were also told last week that there would be no decision on a Captain and Vice-Captain going forward although Danny Houghton and Scott Taylor are making a good job of leading in training at present. Again, that’s part of Brett’s ‘suck it and see’ approach to getting the team united and together, but of course that gets us all as fans, thinking ‘more globally’ about potential candidates for the roles outside those two. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if in the end both players stayed in their current roles, for it could make un-necessary waves if they were removed. But as I say it does pose the question who else could be in the frame for the job?
Of course, there is Josh Reynolds, who is for all of us an unknown quantity, he makes all the right noises and says all the right things, but it’s hard to gauge how he is looked upon by the other players and what influence he is having on the squad at present. Players like Gareth Ellis arrive at a club with a presence and aura which immediately gets them respect and admiration from their peers. Whether Josh has got that, remains to be seen, because we simply don’t know enough about him.
He’s passionate enough and he’ll certainly lead by example on the field, but when you balance that with him being a new broom and the disruption that appointment could cause, I’m a bit lost on that one. Of the rest of the players, Carlos is well thought of and a great player, trainer and person, but is he a leader; well surely if he was, then wouldn’t he have immerged by now? Of the rest, only Sneyd really warrants a mention, simply because he is the driver of the team on the field, out there he is always vociferous and makes his presence felt, but does he have the respect off the field that is needed to be the Captain? I can’t answer that, but he’s never ever been in the frame and there must be a reason for that. As I say my moneys on no change, but if Danny were to be replaced for whatever reason then for me Scott, (a local lad as well, who loves the club and is obviously really motivated on winning for the fans) would be my choice, but it will be interesting to see what Hodgson thinks. To change things will ruffle a lot of feathers with ‘Club Hull’ and no mistake, for Danny is a great guy and really well liked, as is Tag, however the Coach will have to decide what he feels is best and act on it. However, as long as the decision is made on merit and not on who are his mates, it will certainly be an improvement on what’s gone before.
Anyway, back to Josh Reynolds, who is certainly making some strides forward with his aim of getting established with the media and then making a name for himself in the world of Super League. At a time when once again news is on the sparce side it’s hard to not find him in some publication or other having his say. He was at it again this week when he said of switching from Down Under, “It’s obviously a very different experience from back home but it’s a challenge, in fact with the conditions and adapting to things on and off the field, it’s probably the most I’ve been challenged in pre-season to be completely honest. I didn’t play much for the last couple of years but I feel really good. I’m not going to try to set the world on fire straight away, I just want to get back to doing the little things right. I feel when I do that, is when I play my best footy.” As far as the media in concerned Josh is certainly the poster boy of Hull FC at present, let’s hope, when he gets out there on the field, his actions speak louder than his words!
With the advent of the World Cup this year there are high hopes that England under new Coach Shaun Wane will do well, if not at last actually win the thing on home soil. The issue is of course, when all the commitments the domestic game has to delivering every week for Sky kick in again, (in what is already a truncated season), the chance of getting the whole International squad together to play some warm up games is going to be more difficult than ever. There are however moves a foot to re-introduce a one-off England v The Exiles game in which we can expect a few of our squad to be involved in the opposition. Indeed, Josh Reynolds has already indicated a desire to play in the team. Reynolds, who made four appearances for New South Wales from 2013-14, said: “I think it’s a pretty cool concept. If I did get the opportunity to play in it, I’d be keen to do it. I suppose it would be a bit of fun whilst also getting them ready for the World Cup.”
The Exiles was formed in 2011 to provide competitive mid-season opposition for England in the build-up to the 2013 World Cup and indeed our new Coach, who played in Super league for 5 years for Huddersfield and Warrington, made three appearances, captaining them to a 32-20 victory in 2012. The concept was dropped after that World Cup, but is expected to be brought back ahead of the 2021 tournament, with, we expect, Shaun Wane’s England set to take on a Super League-based team of Australasians on the last weekend of June.
Brett Hodgson is certainly looking forward to it as he said this week, “I really enjoyed playing for the Exiles. I thought it was a brilliant concept but for whatever reason it wasn’t given the legs it needed. I absolutely support the English game and I want England to be successful at the World Cup. In order to do that, they need to play high quality games mid-season and there’s nothing better than having the Exiles back”.
Now, we heard last week that the RFL Board had ratified the recommendations from the RFL Laws Committee for the 2021 season. On January 20 the Laws Committee held a virtual meeting and received presentations regarding the Covid pandemic, head contact and concussion and were then availed of the new laws to be introduced in the NRL for 2021 by Aussie Head of Elite Competitions, Graham Annesley. As I said at the beginning of the Diary, I was pleased that at last the two competitions are at least trying to get together on this, because, when we can’t even agree on the rules that the game is played to, we look so amateurish when compared with other sports.
They apparently discussed at length the emergency law introduced for the restart of the 2020 season in July, which removed scrums and replacing them with a handover of possession and due to the ongoing situation in the country that change will be retained, but thankfully with the shot clock application now removed.
However, that situation will be kept under review, and the hope is that the emergency law will be removed, and that scrums will return, before the end of the 2021 season, certainly at Betfred Super League level. That is because there is a need to prepare players for the Rugby League World Cup in the autumn (with Rugby League’s International Laws still including scrums).
In addition to that it was decided that we would introduce 6 law changes for 2021 which will be applied at all levels of the game. We didn’t adopt all the NRL changes, which I described in here back in December, rejecting two that have been introduced by the NRL for next season. These are where the “Six Again” Law that was introduced in 2020 for ruck offences, and in the NRL includes10 metre offside infringements and the awarding of two points for drop goals kicked from outside the 40-metre line.
All that said I do think going through the changes, that our game is getting all to complicated and technical for the average supporter.
Here is what my take is on the changes coming in this season:-
1. 20/40 Kick
Where a player kicks the ball in general play behind their 20 metre lines and the ball finds touch, otherwise than on the full, between the opponents 40 metre line and the goal line, the kicking team shall recommence play with a tap kick. But you can’t rush the restart because the tap kick may only be taken when the Referee blows his whistle to restart play. This will only occur when all match officials are in position and ready to officiate.
2. Ball Steal.
The ball can be stolen from the player in possession at any stage prior to a tackle being completed and when there is only one defender effecting the tackle. If there are two or more defenders effecting the tackle and the ball is stolen a penalty should be awarded except if the player in possession is attempting to ground the ball for a try. That was a difficult one for me to understand at first but it means that it changes the previous situation whereby a defender would be penalised for stealing the ball if other defenders had been involved in the tackle then dropped off, but now it’s about one on one at the point of the steal.
3. Lateral position of scrums.
Where play is recommenced by a scrum, both teams must be properly bound and packed within 30 seconds from the time the Referee has verbally indicated that the “scrum clock” has started. The team with the loose head and feed may elect, within 5 seconds of the Referee verbally indicating that the scrum clock has started, to move the scrum to: (a) 10m in from touch (b) 20m in from touch (c) Centre field. Each team must nominate two players on the team sheet prior to the match as able to inform the referee where the scrum should be set. If both nominated players are off the field, one additional Player may be nominated to the Touch Judge by the Head Trainer during the match.
If the team does not elect to move the scrum, or 5 seconds elapses prior to the team with the loose head and feed nominating where the scrum shall be moved to, or there is confusion as to where they would like the scrum moved to, the scrum will be formed at the point of the infringement, but not closer than 20m from the touch line or 10m from a goal line.
The scrum can only be moved to one of the nominated points on the same side of the field to where the infringement occurred. If the scrum clock is not started due to an injury, or a reason outside of the team with the loose head and feeds control, they are required to advise the Referee of the nominated position as the Referee moves to check on the injured player.
That one seems to be engendering a lot of fiddling around for me and of course this will only come in when scrums are reintroduced!
4. Restart of play after ball crosses the touchline.
Play the ball restart after the ball, or player carrying the ball finds touch. (note – would previously have been a scrum) The play the ball will be 10 or 20 metres from touch or mid-field, nominated within 10 seconds by the captain. The default position will be the 20-metre mark.
5. Incorrect Play the Ball.
A handover is to be ordered where players do not make a genuine attempt to play the ball with the foot. (note – would previously have been a penalty). This is a really good idea providing that the officials as are consistent with its application.
6. Scrum Break.
Where players break early before the referee has called “out”, the referee will award a full penalty. The team receiving the penalty will have the option of re-forming the scrum. If the scrum is re-formed and players again break early, a further penalty will be awarded and one of the offending players will be sent to the sin bin.
For me those are welcome changes because as I have often said in here although I don’t like constant fiddling around and gimmicky stuff I welcome alignment of rules across the two leading Rugby League competitions. What’s more how good was it for the two competitions to actually get together to discuss this? That I hope will bring a closer working in future, an aligning of the rules and the disappearance eventually of that ridiculous ‘International Rule’s’ scenario.
That said some of them are too complicated and picky for me for me and I’m sure new converts to the game will wonder at times as players nominate where restarts take place etc. what the hell is going on!
Now in closing this week I’m going back to the late 50’s early 60’s for a real blast from the past that might interest a few of you reading this because you know, before I managed to scrape through my 11 plus exams in 1961 (when I was a lad at Chiltern Juniors), like all kids my course in education was set to go in two distinct directions. If you passed the dreaded test (3 papers, Maths, English, and General Knowledge) you went to a Grammar or Technical High School, if you didn’t then the Girls went to Chiltern Senior Girls and the boys went to the dreaded Boulevard High School. All the hard cases and tough guys from the Hessle Road area invariably ended up at the latter and it was a place renowned for ‘making good lads of em!’. Just near the Boulevard and next door to the club’s adopted Church St Matthews, it was a school that was at the very heart of the community as well.
Now, you’ll remember that I told you a couple of editions ago about a chance meeting I had with my pal Tommy Ball who is actually a guy that often reminds me that he was one of those Boulevard Boys (as they were known down Airlie Street).
Tom talks with great pride of the year that their B team playing in the Hull schools league won every league match and having won the Championship, they went on to win the Ombler Shield and their version of the Challenge Cup as well. Tommy played in the team throughout that great unbeaten 1958/59 season and sent me an extract from the school magazine that year which I thought you’d find interesting. In that season they played 15 regular season games scored 556 points with only 34 conceded!!!!!
Tommy played for the Boulevard C, B and A through 4 years and in that time that bunch of lads only lost 5 games in total! He went on to represent Yorkshire Schools against Lancashire as well and it just brought right back to me what a hotbed for Rugby League development the school system in Hull was back then.
I thought you really appreciate from this stuff just how much rugby league was played in schools back then and how good it was for the professional game to have all those participants to draw on. I remember back at Chilton Street, how important Rugby league was to the schools across the City and no doubt across the North of England and I guess it’s a case of ‘How things have changed’ really. Anyway, for your amusement is a copy of the School magazines write up of the season and a picture of the team (I don’t know which one is Tommy but there looks to be a few rum lads in there!!)
Tommy went on to play for the FC A team in the sixties so those halcyon days at Boulevard High Scholl certainly stood him in good stead. As he said when he sent me the extracts, “I told you we were good!!’
So that’s it for this week and thanks so much for sticking with me through another Diary that covers a week when nothing much happened at all….. again! It was great to hear from you all during the past 7 days as it seems once again, we are all just sitting it out and wondering what comes next. Thanks so much for your continued support, its hard at present but I’m having a go! The Diary will be back next week all being well, so stay safe, look after yourselves and keep believing!
AND FINALLY, before I go, a little bit of happiness in these trying times. Just a few weeks ago, I received a video of my good mate and Diary reader Adam rocking his new born daughter Ophelia to sleep, as he sang, ‘Old Faithful’ to her. Now, here’s a pic of her wearing her new best outfit and practising her ball skills!
Congratulations, to Roxie and Adam, Ian and Sarah and
….. Come on you Hullaaarrrr!!!!!
Great News in Tough times!