Well, we wouldn’t have won that last season (or the season before or the season before that), would we?
The rain poured down much harder than you could ever appreciate on TV and how many times have we been stood there on that open end at Headingley with rain running down our necks and out of our shoes, being mullered by 30 points?
If I’ll always take a win, then I am in my high heaven if my team is fighting like hell against the opposition, the crowd and the elements and playing with passion and pride. There is littledoubt that this team, this season, meets that criteria perfectly and I was so proud of the lads come the final hooter yesterday. That defence was brilliant which was all we’ll really remember, because despite our discipline and ball retention being woeful at times, we saw resistance and zeal of the first order, but boy, did we make things hard for ourselves.
A lot of the ‘Doubting Thomas’s’ were critical afterwards, but we beat Leeds in their own back yard, broke a few Leeds fans hearts in their first attended game back and got two very valuable points, and you can’t knock any of that can you? All I will say to such protagonists is ‘Just imagine how good we could be?’ Because, I think that with our current Centres and Houghton, Sneyd, Reynolds and Connor in the spine, come the dry pitches, we will really worry a few teams attacking wise as well.
That said, that second half was so hard to watch, I was behind next doors settee!!!!! But still great stuff and a great win, because after all ‘We All hate Leeds’ don’t we?
I just love the togetherness and the resolute way whenever anyone is struggling in a tackle, two more are in there helping him out. The times a player selflessly crashes in on a standing tackle to take the opposing players legs and slow the play the ball down is quite amazing. Sneyd again proved to be the master of kicking on a skiddy pitch and Connor too, had a massive game, creating two excellent tries and organising our defence brilliantly. In the end despite the errors, penalties and ‘six again’s’ conceded, we hardly missed a tackle as we hung in there, as if our lives depended on it. For me that great ‘hold up’ of Briscoe over the line by Carlos was the defining point of the game, but everyone gave their absolute all for 80 minutes and as fans we can ask no more.
In the build-up, the fact we have, (besides Taylors set back), avoided any serious injuries thus season so far, made for a squad with just one change which was the inclusion of young McNamara. Sunday dawned dry and chilly but it was apparent that by kick-off time there would be some rain about at Headingley, news which in the end, just heralded the coming of another deluge. Our attack has spluttered of late at the best of times so the conditions and a partisan crowd would hardly engender much hope of open rugby, however, when our team was announced it was only on the bench where there was a surprise, when Fairamo was preferred to Brown, while in such inclement weather, I would have had the young prop in there myself! But, what do I know?
It was Sunday night, at a bouncing Headingley, in pouring rain and certainly a big test of our fortitude and togetherness. Watching the preview on Sky, you would have thought that there was only one team playing in the game, but as they longed for Leeds to win, at Hull FC we are used to that aren’t we? As the teams came out it was great to see Yeamo exchanging pleasantries with Richard Agar and giving him a big hug and not so good to see so many fans stood shoulder to shoulder, without much evidence of masks.
Leeds kicked-off on a slippery short mown pitch but the first set finished with a brilliant 40/20 from Sneyd, before camped on their line we just failed to get to a short kick from Marc. Still, we got it back after a big tackle on Briscoe. Sneyd grubbered through but our chase was poor, yet we forced a drop out and all the early pressure was ours. We needed to get some points from, it but all we got was Sao pinged for a knock on at the play the ball. Leeds knock on again, but it came to nothing as we saw tons of early FC pressure and nothing on the scoreboard. Griffin stole the ball illegally in the tackle and after a six again against us on the line Sutcliffe got in on the right. In some ways I thought it was typical FC press and press, get nought, concede a penalty and six again and leak a try. So, we were down 6-0.
Luke Gale judged a short 6th tackle kick brilliant and we had to drop out before Houghton broke brilliantly down-field and Connor produced what can only be described as a magnificent cut out ‘no look’ pass to put Swift in. A great Sneyd conversion made it 6-6. Then true to type really, we immediately conceded 2 ‘another 6 restarts’. Swift was unlucky not to collect a loose ball and knocked on and we were under the cosh again, soon though we were caught off-side and they got a penalty on our line but thankfully (for me at least) Leeds elected to go for goal and we trailed 8-6. Next up, Lane almost broke the line, but couldn’t hold a short pass, because of the slippery ball.
Leeds went in again, but knocked on in the build up after a great Myler chase, but back we came and Griffin broke the line brilliantly to put Swift in again. The score was made by a great delayed pass to Griffin by Sneyd that put the centre into a hole and so we went into the lead 12-8. We moved wide and almost gave away an interception, but back we came to camp on their line and force a drop out. Then another great pass from Connor saw Griffin brilliantly catch the ball one handed step the floundering Konrad Hurrell and charge in so with a minute to half time we led 18-8. Connor kicked an end of set play out on the full, but time ran out and we went in with a bit of an unexpected, but I guess deserved lead. So far as the rain poured down it had been the Connor and Griffin show.
We restarted the second half and immediately gave away a penalty as Ma’u went too high, but we held out and got a penalty of our own. They forced a drop out as Connor saved our bacon at the back before we went down their end and forced a goal-line restart ourselves and then a second! From there on in much of the game was played out in our 20-meter zone, as first they got a set restart and then we conceded another, but Leeds knocked on under great pressure from Savelio. Connor saved us again at the back, but he conceded another drop out. We were now under the cosh, our discipline was shot and Leeds marched back into our half and put us under more pressure.
The Rhino’s pressed and pressed and at last Briscoe got over before in the defining action of the half for Hull FC, Carlos somehow, brilliantly held him up and then another contested score for Leeds was ruled out by the video referee from a knock on. Somehow we had to calm things down and get into their half but mistakes came on a regular basis and we were soon under pressure on our own line again.
Leeds were back at us and we were doing everything we could to give them the ball back. We grabbed a loose ball but Sneyd knocked on as we continued to pile pressure on ourselves and then they got another penalty, as we had defended an unbelievable 6 sets on our own line. We at last got down-field but gave away another penalty and although our backs to the wall defence was brilliant, our discipline was in danger of being our downfall. I couldn’t watch, but we continued to battle and battle and although they scored through Briscoe at the death somehow we got home with some brilliant defence, particularly in the second half in our red zone. I was completely wrung out at the end and my heart was banging in my chest as the hooter went, but what a great two points that was!
We had shown up for each other from minute one of the game and our rear-guard action was superb, we fought and fought and constantly turned up for each other, but man we made it difficult for ourselves and something has to be done about our discipline and about the mistakes we make. Performance wise every one of the 17 was a hero, Connor and Sneyd controlled the game when we had the ball and Connor organised the defence from the back and everyone else was a tackling, fighting hero.
Big raps go to all the forwards whilst both our centres had the measure of their opposite numbers and Griffin in particular made Hurrell look decidedly ordinary. Houghton led us brilliantly and commanded acting half and a special mention from me for Brad Fash. I have never rated the guy, but man has he come of age this year and did he throw himself into that one.
So, all in all it was a great performance, spoilt perhaps by the conditions, but who cares, we won and we march on. It would just be good, to preserve our hearts a bit, to have a blow-out win now and again without the drama, but looking at the fixtures coming up, that aint gonna happen any time soon is it?
So, to other things and with regard to the responses I received after the revelations by Adam Pearson about the situation with the Allam’s, many of you were, like me, understandably concerned, but I also realised as well that some folks just don’t seem to understand just how serious this all is. At present we may have to play our last two home games away from the KCom and more and more restrictions and barriers to our progress are being put in our way by the SMC and of course the Allam’s. Something is going to have to give and I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of it by a long chalk.
Sadly, it would appear that after a 3-month chase, we have missed out on the best British Prop outside Super league as Warrington look to have won the race to sign Karl Harrison’s son James from Featherstone Rovers. He was someone that we targeted for next year before the season started, but the ex-Batley second rower, who has been transformed into a prop, has decided to cross the Pennines. He’s a great prospect, but he’s slipped through the net and is destined to join Powell’s 2022 renaissance at Warrington.
At the FC another week goes by and we are still waiting to hear who’s names we have secured on new contracts, who is staying and who is going and indeed if the rumoured re-signings we have made (according to the local press) are true. In mid-week rumours abounded that Man Ma’u’s agent had circulated club about his availability for next season, even though our Coach was saying that he wanted to retain his services and that he is an important part of our plans for the future. Brett was gushing in his praise for the player, emphasising his importance to the team, but we hear nothing at all from our administration about our plans with regard to his retention. The same goes for most of our current out of contract players as we wait to see which imports will be released to give Brett some room to bring in his ‘own’ people. The thing is, all this silence does appear, to all us lot looking in, as if we are struggling to come to terms with players doesn’t it?
So, what exactly is happening here. Well, already this year there have been a one or two really high profile ‘big money’ moves for 2022, which makes you a bit scared about who we are likely to lose, because in a year when there has been much more early transfer activity than usual, we haven’t signed many of our out of contact players at all. For me the recent comments of both Saints and Wigan, about the cost of the Pandemic and the parlous state of two clubs that we thought were amongst the richest, is worrying indeed, because if they are struggling what is happening at some of the less financially stable outfits.
I think everyone is looking to cut their cloth but one or two ‘Billy big Balls’ clubs have, if you like, made a statement with ‘big money’ signings, which has made for an inflated ‘market place’. That raises the expectations of other out of contract players’ and their agent’s, so that those in, if you like, the ‘rank and file’ of out of contract players across the game, are expecting more and thus struggling to come to terms with clubs. At our Club for instance, it is hard to understand how a player in the GB ‘train on’ squad like Josh Griffin can get sorted in double quick time, but others are still not confirmed or indeed apparently not being spoken to at all!
Could it be monetary issues? Well, I often wonder just how the pandemic has affected the finances of my Club and indeed the game in general and although Adam tells us regularly that we have lost a lot of money, it’s hard to actually speculate on how much. However, we did discover this week, from a Rugby Football League spokesman, that a total of 20 clubs, including all 10 of the English-based Super League clubs in 2020, received a share of the original £16 million loan made available by the Government last spring.
Apparently the governing body is now working its way through applications for the second Government loan of £16.7m and six clubs have so far submitted what have been successful bids. The rest have until the end of July to get their applications in. The RFL has not disclosed payback details of the £32.7m worth of loans, but it is thought clubs are being given 10 years to pay them back at favourably low interest rates and there is also the possibility of repayment holidays if clubs find themselves in further difficulties.
This week Wigan Warriors Operations Manager Kris Radlinski revealed exactly how the lack of fans impacts on the individual Clubs. The Warriors played in front of a crowd for the first time in over a year last Monday night, when they defeated local rivals Leigh. Like us they play in a stadium shared with a football club and as such like the FC, they will have to wait longer than most other sides for their first match with their own supporters present, with their next home game not until mid-June.
But Radlinski praised the importance of supporters to Wigan and the sport as a whole, saying the game could not have survived the coronavirus pandemic without their ongoing support. He then revealing the scale of the losses the Warriors incur without them. Which is something that is pretty common to all Clubs.
“Every game without fans is a loss to this club approaching £100,000,” Radlinski told Rugby League Live and its pretty certain that Adam has lost around that amount per game at the FC, if not, with the way the SMC have screwed us, a lot more. Kris elaborated by saying, “Without the support of our fans and the Government backing, this club, and every other club, would have ceased to exist. Fans across the sport donated their season ticket money last year, when they could have rightfully asked for a refund. This year, big numbers bought season tickets completely blind as to what was on offer. It was a huge show of confidence for the sport. The rugby league business model isn’t rocket science. Clubs are reliant on ticket money from fans, retail, sponsorship, hospitality and central distribution. All these different elements have been affected by Covid-19. The sport belongs to the people and we can’t forget that”.
Radlinski certainly laid it on the line for the Wigan fans and what’s more, Man, I worry about our beloved Club I really do and one things certainly for sure, it’s going to be a while before we and the sport sort this lot out isn’t it?
Well, we got the Academy nod and well done to everyone at the Club who has been instrumental in that decision. However, I think I maybe disagreed with elite licences in principle although it’s not just the RFL this time but the Super League Clubs who have had a hand in it too. Then I looked more closely into it and realised that the panel, which included an independent scrutineer from Sports England, had meticulously appraised the various Academies and based their decision on those that had been most successful at getting players down the pathway to Super League and where there were ‘duplications and overlaps’.
For me it’s a great idea rewarding Newcastle for all the great work they have done in what is not really a RL City and the same goes for London. Yet I still find bits of the whole process baffling, because they denied Castleford a license because of their location and the catchment of other Clubs which must refer to Leeds and Wakey, yet Wigan, Saints and Warrington all get one as once again the RFL come out with a reason for doing something, before shooting themselves in the foot with the explanation of how it works. Let’s face it the decision is great for us and the whole set up we have at Bishop Burton, linked to the college, must have stood us in good stead.
However, the decision was completely opposite to what many at the other side of the City were expecting, particularly after the Dobbins loud trumpeting of their set up, with John Bastian at the head, who they hailed as the best thing since sliced bread in youth development. There was certainly the loud thud of toys being thrown out of prams over at Caravan Park!! Interestingly as well there’s certainly been a lot of finger pointing at the RFL from fans, but I’ve seen very few raising any sort of anger at their own clubs for not getting their house in order to make sure they get a license.
Now I assume if nothing changes we will pick up all the best talent in the City, be allowed to run a senior academy team (whilst Rovers will have to play their youngsters in College Leagues) and continue the pathway for kids to progress to Super League if they are good enough. So, it’s big news for us, but surely if you want to produce as many players as possible, as a game don’t you have to have as many Academies as you can get? However, as I said earlier well done to everyone at the FC and I wonder now if the attraction of a move to Castleford with his mate Lee, is quite as attractive for Rob Wilson, to whom much of our success has to be attributed. It’s a funny old game isn’t it?
It was interesting to note over the last couple of weeks that although there is still three quarters of this season still to go the Warrington Coach in waiting and the new Castleford supremo Lee Radford are both completely changing the dynamic of the teams they are to inherit with signings that signal a change of tactics on the way for both clubs. What’s more, Powell looks to be taking his mates and best players from his old Club to Warrington, let’s hope Radford isn’t intent on doing the same, although from what I’m hearing, he’s having a go and so watch this space on that one!
Well now on a lighter note, for years it has been a bone of contention with fans but finally, it seems as though the forward pass debate could soon be coming to an end. I read this week that the NRL are set to trial two new technologies later this season to determine whether a pass is thrown forward or not.
It is reported that they has received two approaches from different companies, who employ inventors who believe they can definitively determine whether a pass has been thrown forward or not. One of those is Sportable who are based in London. They use the method of inserting a microchip into the ball to track whether the ball leaves a players’ hands forwards or backwards. The other technology uses limb-tracking technology to determine whether the trajectory of the pass goes forward or back.
A spokesperson for the NRL said of the development, “All we have agreed to at this stage is in training matches to determine whether the technology meets our needs. If we’re convinced it is accurate and suitable, we would need to build a business case to take to the commission”. So, can technology solve an issue that has bugged fans for as long as the game has been played? Somehow I doubt it myself!
On Friday I was talking to Bill Benson and Harry Fredrickson who have been fans just about as long as I have. We got chatting about our current team and indeed about the fact that in Jake Connor for better or worse, we have a great player but also a real character, in a game that is fast becoming devoid of them. Jakes ‘Cheeky Chappie’ image and our chat together certainly got me thinking and I promised the guys that I would feature a look back on something we have never been in short supply of at our club; real characters like Jake!! There is no doubt that there is always a place in the hearts of the fans for those players who, be they good or bad on the field, brought a bit extra to our enjoyment of the black and whites, and often a little extra in the dressing rooms too.
My mind went back to a great centre we had in the 60’s called Dick Gemmell, he was an international and quite a serious sort of bloke most of the time, but that demeanour actually hid a guy who possessed a wicked sense of humour. Dick once played with a really bad ankle injury, he had to, because it was the Yorkshire Cup final in 1969, (which we eventually won by beating Featherstone 12-9). After the game I remember he stated with a big smile that he had actually bandaged up the good ankle and left the bad one uncovered to throw the opposition off the scent and stop them targeting his bad injury.
Then, my thoughts went to the great Mick Crane, who I have already featured here in the Diary and who everyone has a story about. You could write a full diary just centring on his pranks and idiosyncrasies. He was the king of the characters and must have infuriated every coach he played for, but as fans we just loved him. Renowned for going missing on away trips as he visited the betting shop to back the ‘Gee Gee’s’, he often turned up for training with a bag of chips from Crimliss’s in Airlie Street and even used to pop off the field for a swift drag ‘blagged’ off someone smoking on the fence of the Threepenny’s.
I remember when we signed the three great New Zealanders in the early 80’s Leuluai and O’Hara arrived first with Kemble following on a few weeks later. The initial two wrote home to Gary Kemble to tell him what it was like at the Club and concluded by saying about Mick, “We actually have a guy here who has a swift cigarette in the tunnel before we run out” But if Mick was the greatest character we ever had, then there are certainly plenty of others that spring to mind, who were not far behind!
I remember once in a game at the Boulevard in 1979 when Paul Woods, that doyen of the ‘Coat hanger’ tackle, and one of the hardest players I have ever seen play rugby league, tried to sneak a few yards on a conversion attempt from the touch line in front of the Threepenny stand. The referee spotted him and immediately moved the ball back to the whitewash of the touchline. Paul placed the ball, took 4 strides back to the metal fence, wiped his boot, climbed over it, cleared the crowd and prepared his run up from 3 steps up the terracing! The place was in uproar, even the referee laughed but sadly, he missed the goal!
Then there was, John Maloney, who used to turn up at games in his Father’s company Bentley and at the other end of the spectrum, “Super” Alf Macklin, who regularly turned up for games at the Boulevard on a bike, sometimes with a pot of paint on the handlebars! Alf could get you ‘anything’ it seemed and his ‘supply chain’ was always in demand in the dressing rooms. He was a real joker as well, and once furtively taped Coach David Doyle Davidson’s pre-match talk. The following week David was just about to launch into his usual stereotypical speech ‘gung-ho’ when Alf started the tape recorder and said, “Don’t worry boss and save your breath for the touchline, I’ve got last weeks on tape”.
Whilst I am remembering ‘Super’ Alf he had another idiosyncrasy in that he would not eat hotel or restaurant food and so his Mum, (who I knew well, as she worked at the Council as a cleaner), packed him up every week with some sandwiches. It is said that there was always a fight between his team mates at any meals out on the ‘road’, as apparently you could be guaranteed an extra plate of food, if you could get to sit next to Alf!!
Another amazing character I remember was Jack Kinsley the clubs physio in the 70’s. He was a hard man and the players hated going to him when they were injured, in fact Kenny Foulkes once told me that they would play injured rather than have their injuries ‘manipulated’ by Jack. I remember once seeing him put two of Tony Duke’s fingers ‘back in’ on the field after he had dislocated them, before turning to the Threepenny’s and feigning crying whilst pointing to Tony. Dukesy was a tough as teak and not know for ‘busting a move’ on the dancefloor, but man, did he dance that day!!! Chris Davidson was another great halfback who used to love a laugh! He was also a local publican and at one particular game, whilst he was incumbent at the Kingfisher, he made a couple of mistakes and took a lot of abuse from an individual on the Threepenny Stand, who it turned out was one of his regulars. How do I know that fact? Well, Chris walked over to the touchline looked over to us in the stand and shouted, “Don’t bother coming in tonight Harry, your barred!”
Even the great Arthur Keegan had his quirks, because despite playing for our club for 12 years he never moved from his home in Dewsbury. Arthur loved living in the West Riding, and also, for several years, he refused to drive and used to travel by train 3 times a week to Hull and never complained! Then there was Vince Farrer who started the exodus of great players from the West Riding to the Boulevard in the late 70’s. He was renowned for being a ‘bit careful’ with his money. He had the clubs bonus system worked out to a ‘T’ and would give his colleagues a running commentary during games on how much they were owed by the points we had scored whilst pointing out how much certain mistakes had cost them as well. Farrer was big friends too with Charlie Stone, Clive Pickerill and John Newlove, all exiles from the West Riding, and these 4 were always getting up to something. On one trip to Australia with the British Lions, on arrival Down Under, Charlie had his case searched by customs. The guy found nothing, but Charlie just said “I hope you’re going to repack that because it took our lass two hours to get the lid shut!!” Indeed, talking of cases after an end of season jolly to Tonnes to play the French outfit in a friendly it was not until Knocker Norton got home to his house in Castleford and his wife opened his case, that he realised that he had left all his clothes in the wardrobe in France. If you knew Knocker when he was at the Boulevard, you will know that is eminently believable!
I once saw the 1980’s players at an after match get together in the Mermaid pub near Hessle that is sadly no more. That night one of the young players was a bit down in the mouth and had been that way for a couple of weeks because his girlfriend had packed him in. Farrer, Newlove, Pickerill and Stone soon disappeared into the gents with a hold all and appeared about ten minutes later in full drag, wigs make up and all!! They were all posing as replacements for the youngsters lost love!!!
That great forward of the early 70’s, Mick Harrison was another real card. He was most famous for always starting the games of “Off Ground” tig the players used to play on the girders of the old Boothferry Bridge, when they stopped at the Café there for a break on their way to away games. Then there was the late great Tony Dean whose Bobby Ball impersonation (usually performed with that other doyen of the practical joke the late great Ronnie Wileman (as Tommy Cannon) was a regular post-match attraction and well, I could go on, however I for one feel that some of these characters have just done their bit, often in hard times, to make my enjoyment of the club I love a little more fun and who knows perhaps I’ll remember their antics a lot longer than I remember their exploits on the field of play?
Talking of ex players how sad it was to read of the loss this week of our top try scoring half back of all time Tommy Finn. What a player he was as he was playing for the FC when I first started to watch the Club before he formed a great partnership with George Matthews. He learned much of his trade from the great Roly Moat and although the power pack of the 50’s was starting to get old, he still followed the big lads around and playing off what ball they produced before he scooted away down field. He struck up a great partnership with Johnny Whiteley and played for us for 10 years from 1955 to 1965. His biggest claim to fame was probably when he went to the blind side at a Halifax scrum and intercepted an attempted pass from their scrum half to their winger, to scorch away and score a critical try in our famous Championship winning victory in 1956 at Maine Road Manchester. He was a great player and I’m sure you join me in extending your thoughts to his family and friends at this time as we lose another massive hero of the black and white.
So, there we are and where exactly do we go from here? Well, I guess its St Helens on Friday as we face the current Champions on a five day turn around. That game at Leeds will have taken a lot out of us, but what a great backs to the wall scrapping performance it was. After months and months of just wanting to be proud of our lad’s efforts again and to see some togetherness and a feeling that they all want to play with each other, at last we have all that in spades.
Hodgson has done a brilliant job on the pride the passion and that never say die defensive resolve. The rest will follow I’m sure, but it’s great to have my heart full of pride when a game ends and to see 17 blokes who want to play till they drop for the badge, the fans and me! We can all ask no more, as we show enough in flashes with the ball through Connor, Sneyd and Reynolds, to indicate come the hard dry grounds, that we could even be the real deal this season. Can we dare to dream? Well for three or four days we can at least!
Thanks for all your support and for sticking with me through another diary. Stay safe enjoy the next few days and revel a bit in that great team spirit and wanting that we saw on Sunday. Bigger tests and better teams await us though! So, it’s certainly tin hats on again on Friday!!!
Keep believing …why? Well because at times this lot are proving to be just a little bit special!