Beaten by the better team on the night? Without doubt! Are Saints a pretty special team? undoubtedly!!!
After showings like that, it’s not easy to write these Diary’s at all, for whilst you all try and forget about it, I have to endeavour to explain how I feel about a performance that is, quite frankly, pretty hard to make any excuses for.
You know, Rugby League is a pretty simple game, often over complicated by the so called ‘experts’ whilst, for me, an ordinary fan, it’s obvious that on Friday one team just wasn’t good enough and has to learn two very basic lessons very quickly. Firstly, when you have the ball you have to endeavour to, at the very least, keep it to the end of the set, whilst when you are defending you have to try to get through 6 tackles without conceding a penalty or a six again. Possession is everything and as I say, the game is that simple and if you can do those two things consistently, then you always have a chance of winning. It’s not rocket science, but at present we are just piling pressure on ourselves because we ain’t doing either. Our discipline is progressively crumblingand so as a consequence, we are playing more and more of thegame in our own half.
On Friday we were second best throughout, but it was bound to happen wasn’t it? We watched on as a tired and listless FC team played out our worst performance of the season against a red-hot Saints side, hell bent from the off on retribution after their loss in Catalan. In essence they had the game won by half time. We simply didn’t get off the bus, we started too sluggishly and once behind, our mistakes ensured that we would never get back into it.
Still knacked after a massive defensive stint on the back of more mistakes and conceded penalties at Leeds, we simply weren’t physical enough. What’s more, our discipline is a now a real issue and if we could just halve those misdemeanoursand errors, we would exert so much more pressure in games.
It’s been gradually getting worse since the Salford game and on Friday the opposition recognised that, played to it and in a nut shell Saints taught us a lesson. They started strongly, grabbed the initiative and controlled the game, in fact the urgency and wanting they showed in doing that, meant that they probably played us at our own game!!
Those who read this rubbish regularly will know that over the years I have always been honest about my feelings, even if at times they seem ‘unpatriotic’ and even disloyal toward my team. I know that the players and Coach that we now see at the club, have the beating of any team in the competition on their day. However, I have to tell you that as I approached the game on Friday night, I was pretty none plussed about it all and unlike before the Leeds game when I had ‘MUST WIN’ indelibly stamped into my psyche, I wasn’t expecting to win this week, in fact I was, in a way, hoping that we didn’t.
The thing is I know that the spirit we have shown in this campaign can get us through any game and see us put one over the best, but doing that twice in consecutive games, against a Saints team that has only lost twice in around 9 months and who were coming off a loss, was even in my thinking, a bloody tall order!
I wouldn’t have picked to lose the way we did, but Saints were running hot and gave us something to really think about in the next 8 days. I thought before the game that the ‘Wigan scenario’, where we were valiant losers in the League and then did them the following week in the Cup, would suit us. But that was ‘glass half full’ me I guess, when in actuality the gap between us and the home team on Friday looked an immense one!
If Brett Hodgson said that he was confident and excited about the clash, I was I guess less convinced as a visit over there is always the toughest there is. What’s more I knew (because experience has proved it time and again) that sooner or later on a short turn around our all-action tackle, tackle, tackle game would catch up with us, if we didn’t tidy up our discipline and value possession. We have been over to Lancashire on some great nights in the past, but with the Cup game coming up, I was just going to sit back a bit with this one before a week of gradually getting more and more wound up about the semi-final. All the signs were against us; a short turn around, a Saints team festering after a defeat last week and a home crowd of Lancastrian ‘hot pots’ who had been locked up for 14 months, baying for blood. I guess I was just hoping to get away without too many points against us and no injuries. Both of which, sadly, were not to be.
The Saints would certainly be up for it, stung as they were by the disappointing way they succumbed to their first defeat since October, in Catalan, coach Kristian Woolf said during the week that he and his players have ‘honestly addressed’ the aspects of play that they need to put right. That made it hard, but even more daunting was the fact that we faced awounded team desperate to step it back up and put down a marker for the following weekend’s huge Challenge Cup semi-final between the same sides. So, for a team as bashed up as we were after the Leeds game and on a 5 day turn around, this was a massive ask.
We made just one change to the initial 21-man squad with Josh Bowden coming in and Connor Wynne moving over but Brett made it perfectly clear that last Sunday’s game had left a few battered and bruised and so he was waiting until after the Captain’s Run, on Thursday, to decide who was 100% to play. As an aside however it was interesting to note that at this time of the season and after some massive efforts from the team, Brett was able to announce a 20-man squad that numbered 1-22 with only number 8 Scott Taylor missing.
Then when the team was announced Andre Savelio was missing with a slight hamstring strain which shouldn’t keep him out next week. Still with substitutes Brown, Fash, Bowden and Johnstone a lot of the critics of Brett’s recent bench selections had their hopes answered.
You know as an aside, I do despair with Sky’s commentary and their ‘pundits’. Phil Clark really does talk a load of tosh at times, I mean did you hear him say before the game ‘The team that wins this will win next week, that’s what usually happens’ Yeh Phil just like it did in the last round against Wigan!! Then Jenna Brooks asked Brett Hodgson what the weakness were that he had identified in the Saints team ….as if he’s going to tell you that Jenna!!
Saints got us started and immediately put a low hard kick dead as Sneyd misjudged the bounce of it and we had to drop out. Saints drove downfield and were immediately in at the corner through Jack Welsby as we were caught short handed out wide and after just one and a half minutes we were behind. Oh dear, at 6-0 it was not good at all. They broke through again and got a bit of luck with a bat down before with their second consecutive set they were in again as Saints went 10-0 on 7 minutes. It looked to me like we were in for a drubbing as all of a sudden our defence looked like the Hull of 2018; the one that played when it wanted to. However, in the next set a brilliant collision hit from Satae shook the ball loose, we showed some real urgency and as the ball went left a great grubber from Connor put Swift in at the corner.
That rattled the home team momentarily and as Saints came down field Lomax threw the ball straight into touch and we looked to be getting back into it after a very shaky start. However terrible tackling when Saints ran it on the 6th saw Knowles go in again as our usual brilliant rear guard defencecrumbled. At 16-4 it was all but over, however then Sneydbroke down field before Sao who ran in support couldn’t put the pass back to Sneyd, as the ball went to ground and we missed out on a good chance to get back at them. Then a bit of awful luck and a shocking off load and kick forward sawSaints go in at the corner again, but somehow thankfully the video referee disallowed it, however watch it back it is still a decision that completely baffles me. We got out of jail again,with a Theo Farge try disallowed, when again I don’t know why it was, but we were certainly now at sixes and sevens. We gave penalty, after penalty away and thankfully from the third they went for goal and it was 18-4 after half an hour.
Reynolds then gave another penalty away 20 yard’s out with a high tackle on the 5th and we were just making it impossiblefor ourselves. They spread it left and Welsby was in at the corner flag, after a great shift play which had us floundering At 22-4, I just wanted half time to come and thankfully it did,but we had been outplayed by a really sharp team whose discipline was first rate and who in effect, held all the aces. We had made it really hard for ourselves as well giving penalties away and losing the ball, but they were good and indeed too good for us by half. I just wanted it to end now and dreaded what the second half would bring.
As the second half started normal service was resumed as they immediately got a second set and Welsby almost got over,but Fonua produced a good tackle and he dropped the ball on impact as he went over the line. We continued to make errors as we dropped the ball at the play the ball on the second and Saints were at us again. Lane got crashed in a tackle but got up and carried on and again we got out of jail on our line when Batchelor knocked on. It was one way traffic,although Sneyd who was running the ball more this week, broke but then put an inside pass to ground when no one was backing up.
Connor tried to take a high kick over his head and Welsbycaught the rebound behind him and dived in. So, at 28-4 we were spending too much time in our half and giving too much ball away. Our mistake rate was shocking but at last Saints made one, as Batchelor dropped the ball in the tackle. But immediately we got pinged for a ball steal as our penalty count cranked upwards and they almost got another at the corner but thankfully a brilliant tackle from Sneyd just forced Naiqama’s knee into touch. We were forcing the ball out wide to try and get some traction down field but the ball was regularly going to ground. However, then we got got a six again followed by a penalty for a high tackle on Ma’u and as we went down field Connor found a brilliant no look cut out pass and Fonua did well to go straight through two defenders to score and it was 28-10.
Cator went off with what looked like a pretty a bad calf injury and Johnstone came on to knock on straight away, at his first play the ball. I think he tries too hard to impress sometimes! We looked good going down the left but a forward pass to Griffin broke up a promising move and back came Saints to score the best try of the game as Lomax made a break and Batchelor finished it off. It was turning into a bit of a drubbing, mostly I have to say of our own making, although on the night Saints were light years ahead of us on attack where once again we spluttered and floundered with a lack of quality ball. Connor in desperation tried to smuggle the ball out in the tackle and we lost it again as the catalogue of errors continued. Next up it was Jack Brown who dropped a good pass from Sneyd. Bowden then knocked on as we simply didn’t learn about hanging onto the ball and waiting for opportunities to present themselves. It was pretty abysmal to watch really. Connor saved us in the corner with a great tackle on Naiqama and we went down the other end as a great kick from Sneyd was caught by Fonua but his pass inside went to ground, before with the final play of the game another on the money kick from Sneyd was caught by Fonua who trundled in. At 34-16 we had shared the spoils in the second half but in reality we were emphatically beaten by a great Saints side and our own errors and lack of discipline and we certainly have a lot to think about before next week’s semi-final.
Performance wise, well most players fell well below what we have come to expect. Ma’u looked pretty impressive at times, whilst Satae again hit hard and had a real go in short bursts. Plus, although he fumbled one high kick which led to a try, Connor did well at the back and came into the line when he could to create two tries,whilst Swift never stopped trying throughout. Fash had a real go again too and was possibly our best player, but most hardly shone and some like Carlos and Griffin, had uncharacteristic below par showings. I also thought that Marc Sneydtried hard, but his frustration saw him forcing the play at times, although he did at least run the ball on occasions. I was also impressed with how he got the players together at the end of the game in a huddle and for around two minutes lectured to them obviously about how they had let each other down.
But otherwise, it was a game worth forgetting and one that, in my quieter moments did pose the question are we moving back to the old Hull FC; the only that only plays when it wants to? I wanted to believe that it was all down to that Leeds game taking too much out of us, well I sincerely hope it was!
Now to the other stuff and the story of that quite amazing tackle of Carlos’s on Tom Briscoe against Leeds rumbled on last week and watching it back (several times) it is indeed an amazing piece of work by our centre. However, I suspect as well,that it’s unlikely you will ever see Tom roll over like that again before scoring as you can certainly bet in the future that he will just put the ball down, breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate the try.
However, he didn’t and Carlos’s tackle robbed the Loiners of the score that would have really cranked up their momentum at a crucial part of the game. Carlos said of the tackle afterwards, “It happened quite fast. He just kind of rolled. I don’t know why he rolled, but he rolled and then I was able to get on top of him and hold the ball up. I was quite lucky but stopping that try probably helped us win the game in the end. I was a bit 50-50 (when the decision went to the video referee). I knew I’d held him up for a little bit but I wasn’t quite sure how long he let play go on because he grounded it in the second attempt”.
A one-on-one tackle against a player approaching the line at speed is hard enough to pull off, never mind having to stop him scoring when he was on his own over the line and about to put it down, for when the attacking player is on the ground in the ‘in goal’ area it is almost unheard of. So, it was a super human effort by Carlos, but one that was helped somewhat by that ridiculous role in the in-goal area. On so many occasions the fortuitous actions of opposing players have robbed us of victories and after some dismal, dismal nights at Headingleyin the past, it was nice to get the rub of the green on that one. But I bet Briscoe was kicking himself when he watched his own actions back afterwards.
But one things for sure Tumavive doesn’t intend ever playing for anyone else after signing a 4-year deal just a while ago, as he said last week, “I love the club and if I can play out the rest of my career here that would be amazing. Before I came to Hull, I had only played a handful of NRL games so I’ve probably played the majority of my career here and it’s where I’ve played my best footy.” That, as a fan, is all you really want to hear from such a talented guy, isn’t it?
So, still no contract announcement for Adam Swift, but every time he is interviewed he seems to be hinting to the Club that he is desperate to get an extension. This week he continued that trait as he commented after the Leeds game, “This season is completely chalk and cheese compared to last year. I’m enjoying my rugby and being here with the boys. I have my own little family down here in Hull now, and I’m delighted with the way things are going right now.” One of the only shining lights in Friday’s debacle, I really do think we should keep him myself.
Several readers have over the past weeks contacted me to lament the state of refereeing in our game and not just because we have not had the rub of the green with officials, but more about the parlous state of officiating across the sport. I know as I have said in here on many occasions that the problem with all this is that many of the rules are subjective (such as when one set of fans is convinced that a ball has gone forward for a knock on, the other set believe the opposite) but it does look to be a bit of a mess when it comes to the credibility of our officials at times doesn’t it? Some former referees have even dared to question whether the RFL environment is managed appropriately, and if the whole situation is a consequence of doing things on the cheap.
Thus, as the rain poured down in the early part of last week, I thought I would have a close look at the current situation with regard to referee’s and officials at the RFL.
So, starting at the top, you’ll remember that Steve Ganson took over from Jon Sharp as the RFL’s head of match officials in 2016, having previously been acting head after Jon departed and during his tenure, there have been no fewer than 18 departures, including nine referees and nine coaches.
Phil Bentham, who resigned on 1st Marchis the most experienced departure since Richard Silverwood quit in 2016, following an internal investigation that resulted in an employment tribunal. But in between those exits, a number of promising, young officials have waved goodbye to the sport too.
When you delve into it all so dramatic have been the changes that it is perhaps best emphasised if I just list the variationssince 2015. 20 officials have refereed a Super League game in that period (that doesn’t include Australian Matt Cecchin who oversaw our match with Wigan Down Under in 2018) butnow only half of them remain active. These departures were announced or covered up, as the months went by and perhaps as fans on the terraces, we didn’t notice them so much, butbear with me a moment as I list what has exactly happened.
You’ll maybe remember that Ian Cobb retired in 2017 and he was only 30 and that, only 18 months after becoming a senior official. Then there was former Royal Marine Jack Smith who I thought was pretty good when he burst on to the scene in 2016, but by April 2017 he had also resigned. Greg Dolan was announced as going full-time, alongside Tim Grant, at the end of 2018, but hasn’t officiated a Super League game since July 2019 and of course following the decision of George Stokes to quit in 2016, not long after colleague Matt Thomason had done the same, there were calls for the RFL to act on the constant and relentless abuse of match officials.
Stokes, you may recall, didn’t hold back as he revealed in the media that the RFL were “the least professional organisation in the world”, citing the fact that several complaints about homophobia had been brushed under the carpet. Thomason said: “It’s such a shame because we both loved doing what we were doing, but the politics made it impossible.” Later that year, Sam Ansell quit as well, just seven months after being appointed to the ranks of the full-time officials. Later that yearChris Campbell was appointed and he went from full-time referee to then acting as Ganson’s deputy, before departing the RFL last year. Several Super League coaches expressed their worries about dealing with Campbell in Ganson’s absence last season when he was off ill and given an extended period of leave in October. There were problems too when top referee Ben Thaler was suspended for seven weeks after an anonymous letter accused him of making an offensive remark to another official.
If any company had a turnover like that then big questions would be asked about the culture and the credibility in the organisation; in fact when it is laid out like that its simply appalling. It must be something that is endemic in the organisation because it’s not just the referee’s either, as the backroom staff in that department of the RFL have been decimated of late too. In fact, I discovered that the RFL say they are now recruiting for two roles within the match officials’ back-office department, which has also been decimated in recent months.
Match official’s coach’s manager, Steve Presley, has retired while a number of conditioners and other coaches have departed in recent years as well, including our former forward Mike Burnett. With only a handful of experienced referees left, it remains to be seen just how the RFL are going to find the ‘coaches’ with the appropriate experience to develop the next generation of match officials. When you unpick what has happened, you realise just what an absolute mess it all is.
There is little doubt that Steve Ganson is highly thought of in RL circles having refereed in 400 games and he was featured in an article in The Mirror by Gareth Walker a couple of years ago, which I covered in here and where he was praise for his work in post-match video sessions with the other officials.
So, where the hell are we at now? Well, there are currently eight full-time match officials – James Child, Tom Grant, Marcus Griffiths, Robert Hicks, Chris Kendall, Scott Mikalauskas, Liam Moore and Ben Thaler – while a ninth, Cumbrian Gareth Hewer, is the only other name on the elite list for refereeing Super League games. Thaler is the longest serving official, having been appointed in 2015, and both he and Hicks turn 40 this year. Along with Child and Kendall, they are the only active officials to referee more than 100 Super League matches. What’s more, Hicks, Kendall and Moore were appointed to the newly formed Elite International Match Officials Panel and will all officiate at the 2021 World Cup.
According to RFL data from March 2020, there are 22 referees (including Hewerand Jack Smith) who are on the so-called select list (Grade 1), which covers Championship and League 1 games.Then there are more than 50 touch judges on the elite list for Super League and a further 37 on the list to touch judge in the second and third tiers. Under that is the emerging list (Grade 2) for academy and scholarship games, and then the entry list (Grade 3) which covers the National Conference League.
I accept totally that it must be problem when it comes to recruiting officials these days in any sport, because the scourge of social media is everywhere and who would want the abuse they get for just doing their jobs? Fan’s rant and rave about every decision that has gone against them, because sadly these days that’s what we do. In the old days the referee would be interviewed after the game and he would usually say ‘Yeh I didn’t quite see that one’ or ‘Perhaps in hindsight I got it wrong’ and that was the end of it. We grumbled a bit and then got on with it. Can you imagine that happening today and the furore there would be?
There is though, all the same, no doubt that the standard of refereeing in the current game is at best inconsistent and at worst poor. That said, nowadays we find many fans ranting on and pouring scorn on officials, just because they are the human being out there in the middle and the sole arbiter having to make decisions in a split second. All that, and a governing body who seems to have skimped on spending on officials and who pay a pretty poor salary when it is linked to the responsibility the role carries and you can see why it’s hard to get many takers for the position of referee isn’t it?
The game can’t survive without referee’s and officials but in these days and with those conditions of employment and the grief they get, who would want to be one eh?
So, there we are and now we look forward to the biggest weekend in our season so far, as for the second week we strive to get past Saints, this time in a semi-final. On paper it looks to almost be an impossible task but at least the lads will have a battalion or two of the FC Army behind them. Yet, although I’m guardedly hopeful, if it was a big ask before Friday, it is now a massive one, but the sort of challenge that the FC have thrived on in the past. We reserve our best performances for the Challenge Cup, in fact, this is our fourth appearance in the semi-final in the last 6 years so we certainly like the Cup.
The draw didn’t favour us, but I expect at the very least a much better showing than the other night. Firstly, we have to start fast and retain possession so that we play a lot more of the game in the Saints half, then we have to get our defensive game back to its awesome best and just try and stay with the opposition. They are going to score tries, but our spine has to ensure that we go with them and score some ourselves and if we are still in it with 20 minutes to go, anything can happen. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, we have to have that 2021 spirit and wanting back!!
And, that’s all there is to it!!!!
Yes, it’s a massive ask after Friday, but don’t write us off just yet! We’ll get behind the lads and see if miracles really do happen! We have to keep believing and hope that we turn up on Saturday when the world will be watching. But, all the pressure is on Saints, because no one gives us a hope in hell and there perhaps is the champions Achilles heel! As a fan of the under dogs, you simply have to believe as do the players and everyone at the club and then anything is possible!!
Thanks as always for reading the Diary for getting back to me and keeping in touch and a particular well done this week to the Castleford supporters, who despite being absolutely mullered by Leeds, chanted to their ex-hero Luke Gale, “We paid for your hair, we paid for your hair, we’re Castleford, we paid for your hair”, what’s more Gale, a good sport, put it on his twitter feed claiming it was, “The best chant I’ve heard for ages”. That’s the spirit of our great game and the sort of thing that keeps us believing in it and the people who watch it and play in it as well!
So, relish the opportunity we now have and try to enjoy the match and here’s to a great showing and a performance for us to be proud of on Saturday. It could be closer than we think so I’m already preparing the back of the settee!!!
Try to keep positive this week, enjoy the build-up …..