The Dentist’s Diary – 720th

All over in 20 minutes?

Well of course it was really. Although, after that second half I was all set to entitle this Diary, ‘The return of the headless chickens’, but that was perhaps a bit harsh, because we crushed them in the first half and got through the second unfocused, a tad flat, but with minimal fuss. 

The thing was that after a first half which, for me, was for such games, as good, slick and focussed as I have seen us for ages, in the second we put the cue on the rack and rode it out. We lost our way a bit and thank goodness it was Featherstone and not a Super League Club that we were up against. Of course, the conundrum is that had it been against one of our peers, that second half probably wouldn’t have happened anyway. Points difference is matter less in Cup games because all that really counts is winning! 

In our house the game was undoubtably won at half time, as apparently it was in the heads of the boys in the dressing room as well. However, for me the second half was to be expected in some ways. Brett Hodgson thought we were clunky in the first half, well, he should have seen the way we have performed at times in in the recent past, if he thought that was clunky!! 

You know there are few times in my life that I have missed an FC game at home and it’s safe to say since the end of the 70’s there are few I have missed away either and I always like to be there early and soak it all up! But, as excuses go for missing at least the start of a game, this week I think I had the best there could be, because I spent the first part of the evening at Beverley racecourse …….. getting my second jab. Good old Boris eh? Fancy giving me a 7-10pm appointment on a night when Hull were kicking off ten minutes earlier; no sense of planning at all. 

However, I got there early and the good old NHS interpreted my demise as an emergency and were very understanding, before Mrs R raced us home and in the end I missed exactly a minute of the match, which thankfully included that first Featherstone try. Incidentally there is no truth either in the rumour that after receiving a jab at the race course, you can go straight out and do 8 furlongs without breaking sweat! Although as I left one of the Dog and Duck regulars who was a steward on the door did shout a cheery, “See you in the pub” which didn’t go down too well with the medical fraternity!!

Once home, I watched the game with relative ease, as I always feel better when Rovers are out of the Cup, because the thought of them even potentially being at Wembley does little for my wellbeing at all!  Still, in the end we won (easily), and Rovers lost (heartbreakingly). So, all was well, as the FC march on undefeated in all games so far this year. That said, much bigger challenges await us, starting next Sunday and that record is likely to change, unless we get ‘our heads on’, for a  full 80 minutes against Warrington.   

You know that injection did bring a strange feeling of liberation and once home I enjoyed that first half and I guess endured the second, what’s more it was great watching the game on the settee, rather than from behind it, for even I thought that we were never going to lose. However, it’s a real bummer not being able to travel to games like this one. In fact, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a bit tired of being part of ‘a major historical event’, I want to get back to singing on the terraces don’t you? 

Looking back, I’d be lying if I said that the thought of us playing at Featherstone hadn’t bothered me this week. I know followers of this weekly tripe would say that I should man up and stop being so typically negative, but that I guess is how it get you  after so many years of following Hull FC. For years I have been accused by many of you of being ‘glass half empty’, something that I concede is a fair assumption. I guess the fact that we had started so well and found a real talismanic figure in Josh Reynolds only for him to be struck down by injury and out for up to 6 weeks was bloody typical. Yet, I should know by now that it’s the lot of the FC fan that such things happen, usually just when you think things are going well. 

The thing about the upcoming Featherstone game was that I have been let down and disappointed so many times. It was in fact only in the afterglow of a second consecutive Wembley win, that I actually started to ‘believe’ a bit and we all know what happened then; for the following season we saw a record-breaking run of defeats! But, that’s always been Hull FC for me, as they build you up to let you down and over the years this fans love affair with a club, makes me prepare myself for a problem being around the corner, because invariably one usually is. That I guess, is the lot of this dedicated and totally besotted supporter. 

Yet that’s the demeanour of a great deal of folks who read this every week as well, I know, because you tell me it is.  So, although the start of this season had been really, really positive, in the back of our minds that talk of resting players etc. when a couple of absolutely critical players are already injured, doesn’t sit well with some of us, whoever we are playing. 

Featherstone are a very good team and the memory of our last visit to Post Office Road still nagged away in my psyche and so I was just glad to get Saturday evening over with and come out virtually unscathed and with a win. It was really quiet at the first part of the week, but the news on Reynolds was not good whilst that of Sneyd was better; we thought! However, by Friday Hodgson was again saying all the right things and this was to be a test as to how focussed we could be going into a game. In the past whoever we were playing, underestimating teams and taking our foot off the gas when in front were the hallmarks of Lee Radford’s 2018/19 teams, so this was as well, a big test of Brett’s ability to influence the players. What’s more, it was one he was only going to pass in part!

The news early in the week on Josh Reynolds was a real blow to our hopes for the next few weeks and an absence of 4-6 weeks was pretty bad news. His inclusion in the team has been instrumental in our early season success and he will be really difficult to replace, for of all the players we didn’t want injured, he was the one we wanted staying fit. He was the calming influence and the go to guy in our line. Brett said of this set back, “It looks like Josh is going to be maybe four to six weeks. It’s a little bit worse than what we anticipated on his hamstring. We’re making sure he gets the best treatment he can to make sure he is fit to play”.

So, as with all injuries we just have to get on with it and it was great to see Hodgson being as good as his word and immediately resisted a ‘Radfordesque’ reshuffle. He said, “The exciting thing is Ben McNamara will come into the team. We’re excited about what he’s done in pre-season, it gives him a chance to show what he can do. As a group, we’re confident that when Ben comes in, he can fill that void”. For Reynolds however it’s hard as ‘a stranger in a strange land’ to be out injured, particularly with the protocols Covid brings, and I hope the club look after him, what’s more, let’s hope he is back soon. He should be aware that we have all already taken him to our hearts and so we all wish him well. 

When the squad for the game was announced, Bowden returned, who I thought was looking good before his concussion, to be joined by Brown, who was included after recovering from a pre-season injury. However, come the side being announced there were changes, as Danny Houghton moved to half back as Sneyd stood down as a precaution and in came Jordan Johnstone whilst another player in form, Adam Swift, was ‘Rested’ and Burita Furaimo was called in on the wing. So, there was certainly some tinkering there from Brett, for what reasons? Well, we would just have to wait and see on that one. 

 Featherstone kicked off short and got the ball back and then played the ball down the field well to score from the first set and with a Craig Hall missed conversion it was 4-0. I joined the game then and it struck me that action by poor old Craig set the pattern for him, as he was to prove again that he is a much better for us, when in the ranks of the opposition, than he ever was when playing at the FC!!!  That start just the same, wasn’t what we expected at all, was it? They knocked on from the restart and Houghton produced a great kick through to the corner for Faraimo to charge over the whitewash. Then we came back down the field and good old Craig was at it again, this time fumbling a Carlos kick twice before Tumavive picked up and was in. At 10-4 we were fully in control, but we had to quieten things down a bit. 

We were tackling well and McNamara looked comfortable with and without the ball, whilst Houghton was linking well as Featherstone were in danger of being overwhelmed. Ben then  ‘grubbered’ the ball well, it rebounded off the feet of a Welham and Griffin was in. Next up Houghton almost got in, but was pulled back for a forward pass, although the pressure was on and as we were sat on their line, a fabulous pass from Connor saw Griffin crash in. A great conversion from Jake made it 22-4. Next up we withstood a bit of sporadic pressure well, before some wonderful cross field running from Connor saw a back handed pass put Carlos in. Connor was kicking well and it was 28-4. 

The shape of things to come saw us bugger up the kick off as the ball was allowed to go dead, (mainly due to McNamara’s lack of footballing skills as he tried to trap the ball) but Ben undeterred, soon made up for that, with a great end of set kick as we forced a drop out ourselves. More untidy play saw us cough the ball up on their line, but McNamara was playing well and looked so comfortable, before a brilliant inter-passing play by Jordan Johnson on their line saw our hooker waltz in and the half ended 34-4 to the FC.

It had just to be more of the same from us because for me, under the circumstances, we were just so professional and so sharp, despite a deal of disruption through injuries. In essence we really didn’t want half-time to come, for we were going so well. 

Of course, all that was just too good to be true, but a brilliant kick-off from Connor (who pointed one way and grubbering the other), saw Featherstone have to drop out. Playing up the notorious Post Office Road slope and into a stiff northerly wind, we looked a real mess in the first set, as all of a sudden everything was much too sloppy. They got through but thankfully knocked on over the line. The next set we got all mixed up again and gave away a penalty for off-side as we appeared to have settled for the score-line and playing the game out. We had to take control again and we did enough, but they got a good try out of nothing when Ferris ran through and kicked forward, although good old Hally managed to hit the post with an easy kick, so it was 34-8. 

The FC then got down to their line and almost got in, but we lacked any sort of final ball and again we missed out. We were pretty slap dash at this point and were buggering about far too much in mid field. Featherstone got a penalty in the 53rd minute and we got pinged again for a ball steel by McNamara and then again for a high tackle and the Rovers had three penalties in a row. Our attacking thrust was certainly blunted but we were still doing enough in defence to have few worries.  However at last with all their pressure Rovers finally got over, but in so doing dropped the ball in impact, as commeth the moment our defence on the line was good. 

A kick through from Connor hit a Featherstone player and they picked up and broke down field, they should have scored again but brilliant scrambling back by Houghton delayed the play long enough for us to get around the player and out of jail. The home team weren’t finished yet either, as a good kick across field from Chisholme saw Blackmore catch it and score, although he looked well off side on our TV! 

However good you are its always hard to keep going when you’re so far in front, but our composure in attack had gone, yet had they played until midnight it was hard to see Featherstone getting near us, for we still all fought  and fought for each other. It was like watching the Hull FC of old but with such a lead, we were doing enough and I guess it was excusable. It has to be said that McNamara was one of the only players who wasn’t fazed by it at all as he kept his shape and played the right options, unlike some of his more experienced colleagues who just did enough to get the win. Fash was all bash and biff in the middle though and Cator certainly put himself about as we controlled most of the game well. 

The match fizzled out and we got the win which was in the end all that mattered, I was disappointed because as good and as professional our first half was against poorer opposition, what followed was a holding exercise.  However, in the end we won, it was job done and with a changed starting line-up, we still got home and into the quarter finals.    

 Sneyd was, we were told afterwards, withdrawn as a precaution. He was almost there but with big games coming up it was decided not to risk him, whilst during the game Manu Ma’u got a tight calf which will have to be assessed, but otherwise everyone else got through unscathed. Looking back, I guess that there were some good performances by players grabbing their chances. McNamara never really put a foot wrong and looked good with the ball in hand and Johnstone had a great game on his 2021 debut for the first team. He certainly ran acting half well, which allowed Houghton to shine in the half backs. I also thought that Connor had a great game and took over the kicking reigns from Sneydy in fine style. 

Both centres were excellent and Carlos had his best game so far, whilst Griffin was a real handful and took both his tries well. I also thought that Taylor and Satae were massive in the forwards and Cator as usual had a great game. Both wingers too carried the ball well and helped the forwards out down the middle. Although I still wonder a bit about Fonua, it’s fair to say that Faraimo grabbed his chance and took it well. Oh and  Andre Savelio is fast becoming one of the best ball handling loose forwards in the game ably assisted as he was, by Jordan Lane who is making the loose forward position his own. If anyone isn’t cutting it for me at present in the forwards then it is Ma’u who doesn’t really seem to have got going this year in attack at all. I also thought that Fash was again a real handful coming off the bench and justified his continued inclusion in the team.  

So, in the end it was job done, we took them apart in the first half but by enlarge we were not at our best, yet we got where we needed to be and as I said points difference isn’t an issue in Cup rugby, it’s all about being in the hat for the next round. But, after the last two weeks I still have to admit to being a tad disappointed by that second half and we can’t allow any of that malaise to continue into next Sunday against Warrington can we? 

Well folks the Allam’s are pissing me off again and that’s not an expression I use often or lightly, but man once again, they really are! This latest dispute about fixtures at the end of our season, which had already been agreed with them and the RFL, (but which are now apparently not guaranteed), beggar’s belief really. The story was broken by James Smailes last Thursday and if it’s Smailsey that is saying it, then (unlike some other ‘fairytailers’) it will have some credence! 

Our final two home games of the regular season are Castleford Tigers and Wigan Warriors. The Castleford game is set for either Thursday August 26 or Friday August 27, with an away game at Salford Red Devils on Monday August 30 meaning there is limited to no possibility of the game being played on any other date. The last scheduled match at home to Wigan will be played between Thursday September 9 and Sunday September 12 depending on whether it is chosen for television broadcast. Now Hull FC are understood to have been told by the SMC that they cannot guarantee those fixture dates, despite the convention always being that the club whose end of season it was, got president over the one just starting theirs!  

For me this is just the Allam’s trying to bugger us about again, because they can. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that this has all come about since Adam stated on Radio Humberside that the Allam’s were making things difficult for us, that he feared the lease renewal coming up and that he was looking at all possibilities for a new home. Most people in the A’s situation would hear that, get concerned and sit down and work it out, but not this lot! For me it just yet again shows how petty some people can be, don’t you agree? Mind you I’ll have to be careful what I say about what I know, or I’ll be getting another solicitor’s letter! 

The KC was only built by the Council because the Government gave them permission to do it on the basis that they were building a Community Stadium to be shared by at least two of the City’s professional Clubs. What’s more any City fan out there saying it should just be their Stadium should remember that without us signing up to use it, the KCom stadium wouldn’t be there at all. The Community aspect was evident from the off as local organisations used the facilities and the sports hall and both clubs successfully shared the stadium with give and take on both sides. Everyone worked together to make it work, the stadium even hosted both City and Hull FC in one day in 2007 so we could get our hard-won home advantage in the play-offs and in 2006 we even had a game during Hull Fair week, facilitated again by everyone including the Council, working together. 

For me, ever since the Allam’s ill-fated attempts to demand the Council hand over a Stadium valued at around £38m (and the surrounding land) to them for next to nothing and Adam Pearson arrived back to own Hull FC, first the community was squeezed out and now it appears, they are trying to do the same with us lot. It appears to a lot of people looking in on this situation that it’s just personal and with the limited information we have, it’s hard to not presume that we are in effect being bullied a bit here. Well that’s how the media are portraying it anyway.

Our own Stadium is the ideal solution to the problem, but then again that might not, in the end, be financially viable at all, but Adam has already said he has to consider that option. Who knows, we might, as a fan base, have to help him out! 

Still, for me this latest action is just symptomatic of a bigger issue. Top and bottom of it appears to a lot of people to be about the fact that someone out there doesn’t like Adam, or us as a Club, do they? However, it will be interesting to see what the Council can do to resolve the conflict, but even if they do, sadly history dictates that the problem ain’t gonna go away any time soon.   

Now, it was sad to hear this week of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, but amongst the tributes how good it was to have a tweet by Nick Halafihi brought to my attention, which read, “Just thought it would be appropriate to pay my respects to the royal family by sharing this photo of my Dad meeting the Duke at the 1960 Cup Final at Wembley RIP HRH the Duke of Edinburgh”. 

Incidentally Nan Halifihi was the first Hull FC autograph I ever got as a kid. He was an absolutely lovely bloke and such a friendly and approachable guy for us lads, in fact he would regularly get a ball and have a bit of a pass around with us all on the car park at the Boulevard after training.  

Well, as regular readers know, I have always been a furvert supporter of England and Great Britain when we have played internationals, although my allegiance and devotion has always been first and foremost to Hull FC. I’m not that fussed myself in having too many FC players involved in train-on camps and meaningless internationals because I’m always worried about injuries and indeed player burn out, in what is usually at Hull FC, a long and injury strewn season. So, the debates that were going on this week about Jake Connors omission from the England train on squad didn’t bother me too much at all. 

In any case Jake has played well three times this year in that position and prior to that he’s been a bit ‘in and out’ in it over the past couple of seasons, so obviously someone like Sam Tomkins has to be the international Coaches first choice for the position. I was pleased for Josh Griffin, because he is a bit of an unsung hero as far as the media is concerned, but otherwise I was quite happy for things to stay as they currently are on that front. Jake has plenty of time to prove his worth and his aim has to be to get to a position where it is impossible for Wane to leave him out come the World Cup. Much more important for me is to get him signed up to a new contract. As I’m told that Leeds have already been showing an interest!   

Well whilst we are in a diary that features Featherstone Rovers perhaps we should be asking what the hell are the RFL doing about their recent breach of Covid regulations? It appears that there was an alleged full-scale drinking session after their opening game against Batley inside stadium buildings completely against what is legally defined in current legislation. If any breach of the guidelines is proven, which, given the RFL had already handed a 10-day ban to Brett Ferres, seems inevitable, then it’s a major showing up for the game in this country, as it comes at a worrying time for Rugby League. As I discussed last week the sport has just secured another vital cash injection from the Government to the tune of £12million in the Winter Sport Survival Package, with more set to come in later in the year, too.

So, the question has to be exactly what sort of message does this incident send to Public Health England and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport? I know that in other sports breaches have come to light and indeed been punished sometimes pretty severely. But, a few beers in another player’s house is one thing, but this is an alleged gathering behind closed doors, in club premises that is condoned by a member Club. 

You see someone senior must have known about and condoned it and indeed approved these scenes. It is clearly not Steve Gill, who was so appalled upon learning of what happened that he walked away from his role as General Manager at the Club. I went into a couple of reasons last week with regard to why I wasn’t surprised with it happening at Featherstone, but what on earth were the Championship club thinking of to allow it?

The RFL simply must be seen to be acting in a swift and a severe way, with sanctions of the strongest nature coming Featherstone’s way if they are proven to be guilty of any indiscretions. That is not because Featherstone deserve punishing, but because they have shown the game up and no doubt knocked the Government funders belief in our game to manage itself! The RFL has to be seen to be sending a message out that this behaviour is unacceptable because if they don’t, believe me, other will follow.  But so far silence reigns and a fudge is muted and why are we not surprised. 

How good it was to see that the Google search doodle of the day on Friday featured Clive Sullivan on what would have been his 78th Birthday. So great to remember him and so good for the game. 

So, to other things in the game and it looks like the ill-fated and quite frankly rather ambitious cross Atlantic RL experiment is almost over, as the States have decided to go it alone and form their own League the NARL. Rather than being a set-back this is for me a really exciting development. If there is to be Rugby League in North America then personally this is, without doubt, the way to do it. The current state of the British game, encircled as it is by Covid and with us looking to find a way out of that crisis and indeed the debt it has engendered, means that we have to concentrate on re-building our British based game. That and taking advantage of the great new surge of interest there will be in attending live sporting events, means our own game has to be the priority.  Rather that than our cash strapped clubs taking jaunts across the Atlantic to play teams that are struggling to compete anyway with British Clubs. 

New York and Ottawa were lined up to follow the Toronto experiment and join our League as the RFL continued on blindly following that path despite the national pandemic that surrounds us all. Thankfully that, we are told, just won’t be happening as the two franchises and Toronto are now ‘100% done with the RFL’, and are concentrating on playing their part in the growth and development of the new competition in North America. But, many of the teams are new start-ups: including New York and Ottawa, who have not yet played a single competitive game! That I would suggest at a time such as we are living is a tall order to deliver indeed. 

The first question that sprung to mind for me was just where are all the players coming from as we heard that our ex-player Peter Lupton is to be turning out for the Boston Thirteens who along with the Brooklyn Kings are already playing RL in the USARL league. There are other player who played for the USA team in the World Cup and some of the proposed clubs will be dual-code set up’s playing Union in Winter and League in Summer. Eddy Pettybourne has become the first high-profile signing in the newly formed league. The 33-year-old prop has joined Brooklyn Kings on a two-year deal after most recently playing for Villeneuve in the French Elite One Championship.

The organisers also insist that current British players from Super League and Championship are showing an interest and the clubs are actively in discussion with those players about them crossing the Atlantic and playing for an NARL team. Most of the West Coast based clubs already play Rugby Union and see this development as just a continuation of that practise and it will certainly be interesting to see how it all unfolds. It will depend on getting the necessary finance in place and igniting the interest of the sports mad American people but I for one wish them well. The thing is anything around the world that gets more athletes playing the game and thus generating more players, a bigger player pool and that is converting more spectators has to be good for us all. But, what should we make of it all? 

Well for me, it’s a good move and the fact that we are not expecting, or indeed as a game funding, Division One Clubs to travel over to the States twice every season to play the two emerging American Clubs who intended to join us, has to be, at a time of real austerity in the British game, a sensible move. Despite the fact that I had, along with a lot of fans of the game, certainly fancied a nice trip to Toronto, I have never ever thought that in principle the inclusion of the Wolfpack was a good economic move for the game or logistically ideal for the clubs and I guess in the end, due to circumstances none of us could have foreseen that hypothesis was proved right. 

It’s bad enough having a British League with a team based in the South of France, but we have all embraced that and seen it as something that has in fact improved the game over here, but there is a lot of difference logistically in jumping on a jet for a two-hour trip to France, (which many clubs now do in 24 hours these days) and travelling transatlantic to Canada and back. Toronto was just about do-able before the international pandemic struck, but with this damn virus likely to be around for months and months if not years to come, it’s totally unpractical now. It was just never going to work and had we admitted Toronto at the time of their re-application, and brought them back into a competition been played behind closed doors in this country would have just been ridiculous. Thankfully Hetherington and Co were outvoted by the other Clubs in a move that has since been proved to be the right one. 

So, I guess we should all welcome the developments over in North America and watch them with interest. If British players feel they can make their mark there then good luck to them and if the new American League can produce players who want a crack at the British competitions it’s a win, win situation. As for the RFL, well they should give up on this over ambitious North American expansion plan which, like so many other such sorties of the past, looks to be another that was pretty unpractical. Once the funding base and lack of sustainability was revealed it was obvious that it was just not working (and indeed syphoning money from our home-based competitions) when here in the UK we needed to get back to ensuring that the domestic British game survives with all its current clubs intact. 

I hope it works out for the Americans and I welcome the San Francisco Rush, The San Diego Swell and the Phoenix Venom et al into the Rugby League fold, but you have to wonder if in the end it will just be another false dawn for the game over there. Time as I always say will tell, but at this moment in the history of our great game, it’s the best result all round for me. 

Well, we won at Featherstone and we move onwards in the Cup which is all that matters really, but it is an indication of how thin our team is when Houghton started in the halves and yet I thought he did really well there. Wembley still beckons and the dream is still alive, particularly for Diary Reader Dick Ollett who tells me his  birthday this year falls on the day of the Final. Fingers crossed for Dick then.

However, we will be playing Wigan two weeks running firstly at Wigan in the League and then in the Cup. That will be a massive quarter final and I just hope that Reynolds is fit by then! The thing is at least now we have 8 days off before we play Warrington next Sunday, which gives us the chance to get folks fit for what will be a real test of just how good we are. In a season where so far, we have played three games, one which saw us relax in the last quarter, one where we played well for 80 minutes despite some disruption and one where we again packed up at half time, we will have to be on it for 80 minutes next week!

As for this virus stuff, well things do appear to be improving, spring is coming and the cows will soon be back on the Westwood, oblivious to everything that is going on around them, and bringing a whole new meaning to herd immunity! On a personal note and as no doubt it was for a lot of you reading this, getting my second jab was a relief and you know, I recently read that during the middle age’s they celebrated the end of the plague with wine and orgies, so I’m keen to find out if anyone know if there is anything planned along the same lines when this one ends? 

Thanks as always for reading the Diary and for all you contact and reaction after Featherstone, it’s always an up and down life watching the FC isn’t it? Next week will be really tough but we are at home and whether crowds are there or not, we have to make the place a real fortress again if Brett Hodgson’s and Adam Pearson’s wishes are to become a reality. That for the FC starts next Sunday!  

Stay safe, enjoy a bit more freedom this week, get the jab when your offered it and let’s give it a real go against Warrington!

See you next week!

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf