Last week was good… this week was excellent!!
……….. and I loved it!!!
We had to win to make sure that the dreams of last week could become a little more of a reality and more important still, we had to perform for the whole 80 minutes. We did all that and indeed I found it as easy to watch as I had any FC game for ages; we were just in so much control.
The fact is, we all thought we looked OK last week, but you can never be sure with Hull FC particularly when the C word that has evaded us for so long comes in; for consistency is something that has evaded us for a few years now. I guess most people reading this would have only been convinced that things really had changed for the good when we had seen how we performed under adversity and whether some disruption would see us revert to ‘headless Chicken’ rugby, such as we have seen so many times before in the last few years.
There is little doubt that with both half-backs and an influential Prop off the field we certainly coped well and with Houghton fitting seamlessly into half-back and Carlos operating next to him, we kept our shape and our pattern and saw the game out, only conceding one try throughout the whole 80 minutes.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Hull FC with all this positivity about, if there wasn’t a fly in the ointment as there is with both our influential and at presently charismatic half backs crocked in the same game! We just have to hope it isn’t too serious with either!
There is no doubt that when all three are on the field Connor, Sneyd and Reynolds are, with Houghton, perhaps the best spine in the competition, yet they will always be ineffective without a strong forward performance that puts the opposition onto the back foot. Our 6 were superb again this week and there has to be some big praise for Cator, Taylor and Fash who came onto the field and really stood up from the bench. That extra push when the foundation had been laid, was what in the end saw Salford’s forwards out on their feet at the end of each half. What’s more when that spine was decimated by injury so strong was the forwards pressure on the opposition, that our make-shift play making department still looked really good and more importantly when we had to change things around, we kept our shape.
Well, for someone who no longer works and for whom the last year has week in week gone by in such a mundane way, the Easter weekend was a strange affair indeed! With Friday feeling like a Saturday and Saturday like a Sunday and the forcast of snow on Monday, come lunch-time on Saturday I was all over the place and a Saturday 12-15pm kick-off was perhaps the last straw, as for this aging individual, confusion reigned!
I watched Salford last week and I was quite impressed with the way that, for long periods, they had hung in the game with Saints and in fact it was only in the last quarter when they folded to the pressure. Veteran half back Kevin Brown was the guy that made them tick and everything seemed to come through him, plus with good width and some big uncompromising forwards, this was, I decided, another tough game for the FC.
For the second week running we faced a team with a new coach in Richard Marshall. I knew that after that defeat to St Helens he would be desperate to show the Salford Club that he was the man for the job. What’s more his players would be keen to prove that they were still a good team, despite losing their previous talisman of a Coach to Huddersfield. This was going to be one tough outing and we had to approach it just right!
The Red Devils of late have always been a team that on paper at least, usually played way above their actual potential and one that has often ‘flown on the wings of adversity’. Their Coach had been banging on all week about them being up for it and hell bent on gaining retribution for last week’s poor showing against the Saints. So, I decided, we were going to have all our water on to beat them.
The issue last season was our inconsistency. That was shown at this point in proceeding in 2020, when after a great win at Headingley we struggled at home against Rovers, before finally overcoming them. Thereafter we went quickly downhill until a moment we will all never forget, when our Coach was fired ‘almost live’ on Sky TV after the Warrington game. This season we have to be more consistent if we are to get anywhere and that for everyone at the club is the big challenge.
So, all the talk at training last week was around consistency and keeping going where we left off at three quarter time against Huddersfield, but with Masi Matongo joining Jamie Shaul out injured for months and Jack Brown and now Josh Bowden still unavailable, injuries were starting to bite into out uncharacteristically small squad. Across the game most clubs are suffering, as the speed and aggression seems to have cranked up a notch again this year and the casualties are starting to come thick and fast.
When the squad was announced there were few surprises with only the inclusion of another back in the form of Connor Wynne when we had in effect lost a forward in Josh Bowden. That was a surprise and we all thought that it possibly showed just how thin our squad actually is. Salford approached the match with a pretty clean bill of health, but had a couple of players withdrawn at the death and I was pretty pleased that the mammoth Pauli Pauli and winger Inu were out.
Our team was announced and it was very much ‘as you were’ really, with only Brad Fash coming in to replace Bowden and with Brett Hodgson resisting the temptation to start with Taylor and instead, good to his word, he kept everyone else in a winning team as they were last week.
Well, the Mail reckoned that Taylor was captain of the day although Danny Houghton led the team out and at 12.15 prompt we kicked off and went set for set for the first few minutes. A brilliant off load from Connor to Swift then saw us charge out of our 20 and a penalty took us to their line, but Savelio, rather uncharacteristically, knocked on. Reynolds was unlucky to get pinged for a knock on as well, when for me, it was definitely a case of interference but we had to give up our second good field position. It was very nip and tuck and a tight start before we had a let off when Brown kicked short on the sixth, only for them to get the bounce and recollect, but we held on under pressure next to our own line.
A good early kick from Houghton drove them back and then on the next set we saw Fonua get a penalty for a fortuitous ball steal when he again ran at a group of forwards with the ball in one hand. He scares me to death at times because I don’t like those carries at all. “Carry it in both hands” said Mrs R. and I couldn’t agree more with that one!
We saw some great handling in the line spoiled by a wild pass from Ma’u that went into touch. Then we were caught off-side and put under pressure, but got a penalty ourselves after which a kick through by Reynolds just saw Salford survive. We were probing and prodding without too much luck and then as we went forward well, Fonua lost the ball again. We had squanders a bit of good ball and we had to stay calm after our 4th handling error in 20 minutes. Then at last it clicked as a cross-field passing move saw Connor brilliantly delay his pass and put Savelio, who ran a brilliant line, through a massive gap to touch down and it was 6-0. An ambitious chip and chase by Connor then almost came off for him, but it was a hard game and we were really ‘at it’ as Sneyd got hit across his head and Lannon got 10 minutes in the bin. Sneyd decided to go for goal and after 25 minutes it was 8-0. Next up, Jake Connor got smashed in the head, but was OK after treatment although straight after that we were caught offside and Salford got a relieving penalty to get them back to our end before they got 6 again, but we resisted 9 drives at the line and read the final kick superbly to come away again. Taylor was on and driving hard, as was Fash who made a great 20 yards up-field, with three men on his back. However, we were having no luck with the referee and Cator was penalised before Taylor shook the ball loose with a real ‘bell ringer’ of a tackle close to our line and we survived again. We blew a try when a pass to Josh Griffin from Manu Ma’u was forward and we had without doubt blow a few opportunities which I hoped wouldn’t be our undoing later in the game.
But ‘Commeth the moment ….’ and with less than 2 minutes to go a break out saw Connor get through the line again and a ‘straight’ pass to Reynolds saw him gallop in on half-time and it was 14-0 to us. After 38 tough minutes there were 4 players supporting that break all in space as we kept going to the death to get the break we needed before the hooter. lt was so far so good, but a long way to go yet and it crossed my mind that I’d take that score line and finish it there, if I could, yet I hadn’t been troubled at all during an absorbing half that had flown by. In short, we had controlled things really well.
Salford Kicked-off to launch the second half and we got down field. We were pinning them back to their line and then a kick early on the 4th tackle by Sneyd saw Reynolds charge through under the posts, the build-up was slick and structured and the execution by the two half backs just scintillating. Then disaster appeared to strike as Reynolds went off with what looked like an upper leg injury. We didn’t have time to worry about what that would mean to our spine though, as Swift broke down the wing and kicked inside for Griffin to chase and touch down. The Reynolds loss (with a hamstring tweak) was still a worry and now we had to put that behind us and press on and not drop off at the end, as we had done last week. We got close again but Lannon stole the ball at the death.
The Red Devils chances had been severely limited as our forwards bossed the middle and the influential Brown was left on the back foot and pretty anonymous. Salford however did manage to get down the field and Swift had to knock the ball back as we conceded a drop out and an accidental off-side got them the ball back. As they smelt a score Griffin jumped out of the line and we were undone out wide, as Salford sailed in wide out and it was 26-4. We could have been further disjointed as Sneyd went off with a thigh injury, but with Houghton slipping seamlessly into his place we settled things down a bit with a good straight penalty from Connor to grab 2 more points.
Then we went down the field and Savelio was almost in on the right as we seemed to have regrouped really well. Like last week, we played some smart rugby at the end of sets catching them in goal and forcing dropouts. We pressed their line and on the 6th everybody’s man of the match Jake Connor dropped the goal. We were now playing the game in the Salford half and the opposition simply couldn’t cope with it. Soon we were witnessing a great crash tackle from Taylor to celebrate his return to the form of two years ago, before a ‘Batemanesque’ line run by Cameron Scott saw him shoot over off a great Cator short ball and Connor added the extra’s. At 35-4 it certainly reflected a great showing by us and despite the disruption of two worrying injuries, this week we played to the death in what was a fine, fine performance.
At the end I wondered why I had worried so much before the game started because quite frankly we got through the wrestle of the first 30 minutes, got a try at a critical point at the death of the first half and then completely dominated the second 40 minutes right through to the end and did all that, with no slacking off at all this week! In a word, we pretty much demolished ‘em.
So, I guess my assessment of our player performances goes something like this. I thought that at full-back Jake Connor was our man of the match. He looks like he is really enjoying himself, his two try assists were brilliantly created and when our half backs were off, brimming with confidence, he stepped up to dictate play for the last 20 minutes. On the wings Swift was again one of our best performers and had a fine afternoon, whilst Fonua again looked to be a real handful and made yards both out wide and in the middle. But as I said earlier, I just wish he would carry the ball in both hands when he approaches the impact!! But that’s just me. Griffin is without doubt one of the best centres in the game at present and this week Carlos was not far behind him.
Before he was injured, Reynolds was again an inspiration and what a signing he is, as he directs play and chases everything, whilst the same goes for Sneyd who played a massive part in everything we did and hasn’t missed a goal kick yet this season.
Up front, the front row again laid the platform and swarmed into the tackle time and again, whilst we must have one of the best ‘back threes’, around with Savelio in the form of his FC career, Jordan Lane a tireless performer throughout and Man M’au despite a couple of wayward passes, a real threat and as strong as ever.
The bench made all the difference, because in fact we saw the tempo increase as they were introduced. Taylor is back to his absolute best he obviously now has a coach that he can get on with, is focussed and intent and is loving his rugby again, although a haircut really can’t come soon enough! Brad Fash was a revelation and grabbed his chance with both hands. He made yards with the ball and was on hand time and again to assist in the tackle. Cator was …. Well Cator and again proved a real live wire from the bench whilst you could see why Brett has so much faith in Cameron Scott as when he stood in as injuries struck, he again made a seamless transition into the line and score a great try, from what was obviously a well-practised play with Cator.
So, all round a really satisfying, flamboyant, yet controlled performance. A Grade One hammy for Reynolds is a worry, but hopefully Sneyd’s dead-leg and Sao’s high ankle strain will not be too serious. Most importantly we look like a team that is together and enjoying ourselves and one that, although staffed by mostly the same personal, is light years away from that listless divided outfit with an often-defeatist attitude that we saw at the start of last season. Lasty started that change as much as he could, being one of the fixtures at the club, but new broom Hodgson has certainly made a real difference. Of course, the acid test will be what things are like when the wheel comes off a bit, but for now it’s a case of what a difference a bit of good coaching makes eh?
Now to other things and I was pretty pissed off with the arguments between the SMC and Hull FC again his week and let’s face it, I’ve been there in here, on more times than I’d care to remember. This time as usual it’s Hull City that are getting the preferential treatment as far as usage is concerned, but on this occasion as it is their season end then, by the rules laid down in the tenancy agreement they do get preference. It’s just the factthat it appears we are arguing again that gets me.
It all started last Thursday when Super League announced that four of the round six games scheduled for the weekend of May 15 and 16, will now move to Monday May 17 to coincide with the Governments Roadmap which indicates that’s the date when we might, if all goes well, allow supporters to attend matches. Only Leeds Rhinos’ home game with Wakefield Trinity will remain as planned for Friday May 14 to allow Super League to fulfil their broadcasting commitment to Sky TV. That just left our game which was listed as ‘Date to be Confirmed’.
We apparently made an application to the Stadium Management Company to play the game on the Monday, but we have not been allowed to switch it so as to allow supporters in as yet, much to (according to the Mail) our owner’s frustration and anger. Adam’s been openly talking of late about us looking for our own home, but that still looks, I know, like pie in the sky, none the less you can see his point can’t you, for there seems to be no harmony whatsoever between the two parties.
Remember the days when we used to have our ‘Captains Run’ for home games on the KCom pitch and our goal kickers could pop down there to get a bit of practise in the ‘game day environment’ during the week, just as Hull City’s team could? Yeh, I do as well …..Just! But that can’t happen now for we are not allowed to do it. So, although this incident is a storm in a tea cup, it just emphasises how this running sore between the two parties just goes on and on.
I bet people like Pat Doyle the ex-Leader of the City Council, with whom I worked closely on the Stadium project when I was at the authority, are lamenting the situation that has developed after all the ‘blue-sky vision’ that went into creating a home for the Cities two senior teams to share. Share being the operative word of course! For back at the turn of the century it was certainly an iconic venue that all the City could be proud of and indeed it was along with the team sharing arrangement, a set up that was held up nationally as an example of good practise.
Pat, the then Director of Industrial Development John North and a host of Council officers worked their socks off to make the dream a reality. What’s more, once open it all worked fine until the present owners of the Football Club moved in, but since then things have gone down-hill, the relations between the tenants and the SMC have disintegrated and the Council, through a need to avoid spending vast amounts of money on maintaining the place, appear to have withdrawn from any sort of involvement in the stadium at all. Adam Pearson has already indicated that he expects to be worked over by the SMC come the 25-year tenancy review coming around in 2027 and the Stadium itself is looking jaded and in need of some maintenance work and a bit more than just a lick of paint.
It’s a year since we have played in front of a crowd and all our owner and Board want to do is get a game in before the SMC closes the place down to refurb the pitch, (which despite the lack of rugby being played on it, has been in a right mess this winter), until the end of June. The Catalans match would be played in front of a reduced crowd and would not bring in much revenue for us. However, it is seen by Adam as a chance to reward us lot the season pass holders, who have gone so long without being able to attend matches and yet stuck by the Club financially through some lean times. It’s all once again a bit of an embarrassment really, but why are we not surprised?
Ideally of course, the fact is that a new home, as muted recently by Adam, would be a home of our own and would be a great thing for the Club. But, why the hell should we ever even be contemplating moving away from such a wonderful purpose-built Stadium and one that is generally accepted to be the best, or at least the most complete in British Rugby League, just because the SMC make life difficult for us?
The user agreement was constituted from the off to ensure that it worked perfectly for all parties and any disputes and clashes were, back then, soon sorted out amicably. We played a game adjacent to a City fixture and often the day before or the day after and even managed to deliver a play-off game in Hull Fair week. There was a real ‘can do’ attitude around the usage of the Stadium and everyone including the fans of both teams co-operated and worked together. The fact is that the principle of the place is still first class and in normal circumstances it would work as well as it did for all those years after it opened. Only one thing has changes since then and we all know what that is! It’s all so sad and I guess it’s just a real frustrating situation really.
Now at Hull FC at present there is certainly little doubt that even above a good solid defence and an attractive attacking game, the major priority for our coach is that we perform at a good skill level, retain and value the ball and do the right things consistently. That consistency is absolutely key but it only comes when everyone is pulling in the same direction. Now it seems that the splits and cliques that were about in the final months of Radford’s reign have been broken up and everyone is on board and playing for each other.
There is an air of togetherness and ‘There’s no ‘I’ in team’ about the squad, who certainly appear to be playing with smiles on their faces. Hodgson has got them into that mindset now, but keeping it that way when times invariably gets tough, will be the challenge. However, there is no doubt that 3 months of instigating and then nurturing phycological change within the squad has been successful, particularly when it has been aided by introducing into the group a new signing who embraces all those principles and who has helped develop the culture further.
After the Giants game Brett said, “We told them to go out and enjoy themselves. We looked comfortable and the players looked like they trusted each other and trusted the processes we’ve put in place, which again is what we asked of them. We spoke of just having that defensive intent for 80 minutes.” That certainly continued this week but of course, keeping that whole culture going and keeping everyone involved and happy when not everyone can play every week and there is no reserve grade rugby to showcase your case for inclusion, is a major task.
Hodgson is aware of that though and he added last weekend after the game, “Doing that each week is key, though. We’re buoyant, as you’d expect with a win on day one. But our challenge is to make sure we’re at the consistent level that we want to be. We don’t want to be the team that is up and down and doing the same things that has happened the last couple of years. That’s the big challenge for us”.
Players tell you that the thing they like about Hodgson compared with what went before, is the fact that he is approachable and you can float your ideas with him. There is a long way to go and there will be tough times ahead at one point or another, but as a human being and an astute judge of situations and the people involved in them, Brett has certainly passed the first two tests. But, for him as well as the players there may be tougher ones ahead!
Thinking back to last week, I decided that one of the lasting memories of that first game against the Giants were the glimpses we got on the ‘stream’ of Gareth Ellis, out on the field talking up the players at every break in the proceedings and it was also good to hear his voice shouting encouragement from the touchline when the game was in progress. I wondered a bit about his appointment as Assistant Coach, simply because good players don’t always make good coaches and more importantly because I had myself become so tainted and affected by the ‘Club Hull’ principle of internal promotions amongst all the ‘old pals’ at the Club.
However, what I’ve seen so far indicates that he has transferred his verve, enthusiasm and most importantly his leadership skills into his new position. Everyone says that he was a great guy to play with and a real leader on the pitch and indeed a great all round team mate, all of which we must have hoped would be transferable skills and it looks at present as if they were. So, well done Gareth!
Now, as someone who in his past, young and daft days, was a ‘serial bank loaner’ I guess the biggest lesson I learned, eventually and to my cost was that the money is great, until you have to pay it back. That life lesson came back to me this week when it was announced that Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden had announced an additional £16.7m in loan support to protect Rugby League as the Covid stuff rumbles on.
You’ll remember that the sport’s UK governing body, the Rugby Football League, received £16million in government coronavirus pandemic loans last May. It was then announced in November that a further £12million had been made available as part of the sports winter survival package. This figure has now been revised with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirming the top-up loan now amounted to £16.7million. In addition to that, a grant of £1.45million has also been made for community clubs, including the women’s game, plus £300,000 of grassroots financial support had been provided through the Sport England Tackling Inequalities Fund.
The thing for me in all this is as I say, welcome though the support is at this time, the fact that as a game with reducing income streams and shrinking TV deals we one day have to pay a good deal of it back. I wonder if once we are through this pandemic stuff that, with such a burden on the clubs and the game in general, the hardest times financially for the game are still to come, as we try to pay back around £35m in Government loans. Me thinks the financial fallout from all this lot is going to be a long haul!
How great it was to read last week about the popularity of the games played on the first weekend of the season as the prime-time fixture of Hull KR v Catalans Dragons recorded the highest match TV audience for a regular season game in 15 years. The record comes almost 25 years to the day that Super League started when Paris St Germain defeated Sheffield Eagles in Paris on 29 March 1996.
Not only did that Catalans v Rovers game attract big viewer numbers, but with all six Round One games being broadcast on Sky Sports the whole thing proved a hit with fans as match audiences over the entire weekend were up game on game five per cent on the 2020 average. These numbers follow on the back of other recent record-breaking TV viewing figures from the 2019 and 2020 Betfred Super League Grand Finals, showing that the competition is as popular as ever. It also shows, I think, what a great game we all support and how, if handled properly, it could rise again and become a real sporting attraction both for TV viewers and live-audiences alike. Do you think that with the regularly muted rumour that in 2022 several games will be broadcast live on terrestrial TV still alive, this could just be the catalyst that brings this about?
Now next up at the weekend it’s Cup rugby again and it’s a competition I’m finding it hard to get an angle on this year. I guess it’s not the same with so many teams not even starting in it, however I guess on paper the Challenge Cup draw was reasonably kind to us. That said, anyone that was at Featherstone the last time we played them in the Cup will remember what carnage that game threw up when the ‘Flatcappers’ adopted tactics that can only be described as criminal. You’ll remember that John Duffy was the Coach and he was later sacked by the Club, as they cited gross misconduct, before he jumped ship to Leigh Centurions. He’s come on a lot since then, but his tactics were dubious at best that day and I think I remember it all started when Taulapapa took Shauly’s head off when he didn’t even have the ball and the referee gave nothing, citing the fact afterwards that it was just a badly timed tackle.
From that moment onwards the official lost control completely and all hell broke loose as Carlos and Fetuli Talanoa went off injured and Josh Bowden copped one that kept him out for months, an injury some might say he has really only just got over. We finished the game with just 10 men having gone into it with Kelly, Sneyd, and Taylor missing. Led by the ‘animal’ that was Gareth Hock it was just thuggery, a disgrace and a real showing up for the game of Rugby League. Let’s hope things are better this time around and they should be, because their current Coach James Webster is a genuine sort of guy.
I have to admit to over the years having a soft spot for the supporters of ‘The Colliers’, (as they were once known) and I’ve certainly had some great times there both in the ground and in the social Club. But that game disappointed me and they do seem to have a bit of an irresponsible approach to the game at times. I saw a couple of things behind the scenes that I wasn’t particularly impressed with when I worked there at the Richard Whiting Testimonial game and this week’s revelations about a post-game ‘party’ and rumours of fans in the ground after their first game of the season, ( actions that appear to have been condoned by the Club themselves) which went against all the Covid restrictions imposed across the game, hardly dispelled my views!
All that said, make no mistake about this one, it will be really tough, because they have recruited well and are joint favourites to get promoted. It’s a hard place to go to play and if they ever do get promoted there is little doubt that their compact ground and intimidating crowd with be a big asset. On Post Office Road they are a force and perhaps we should be pleased that we don’t have to face their home crowd this time around!! We will have to be totally professional and totally focussed and although folks out there are saying we could rest a few and give some youngsters a run, for me if we really want to win the Cup again, we play our strongest team. It will be their Cup final and as I say they will make it really tough for us.
However, just for now let’s all bask in what was again a fine performance against Salford and one that made me very proud to be an FC fan. As I said earlier I certainly didn’t fear that we were under threat of losing at any time during the game and for me, never has the back of the settee seemed further away. I just enjoyed watching the way we played and the system and structure we are using these days. The little things have been brought to the fore and the players are doing exactly as they are asked by the Coach and sticking to the plan. We have dummy runners a plenty, forwards willing to make the hard yards when they are asked to, players backing up in numbers and in defence there’s always a player going in low and hard to stop progress in the tackle. Just small changes, but ones that make so much difference across a game.
Sport is a hard master and it has a way of turning around to bite you, I just hope that isn’t going to happen this Saturday night when we go to Featherstone. But for now, we have 4 points from two games, I love the way that we are playing rugby with a smile on our faces, we have a coach who can get them to do exactly what he wants and we are shaping up well. It won’t last forever, of course it won’t, but for now, well I’m just going to enjoy it for the next few days and I suggest you do the same!!
Thanks for reading another Diary, enjoy the rest of Easter, wrap up warm and I’ll be back again next week.
Keep believing and