The dressing room effect

Thursday 10 March saw Hull FC unceremoniously thumped by Widnes Vikings at the Select Security Stadium, but something else happened there that night that was maybe of even greater significance.

After their unquestionably worst performance of the season so far, the wounded players from the KC Stadium locked the door of the changing room they occupied and, with no coaching staff present, had a meeting about what had just happened.

The players knew they had let themselves, the coaches, the directors, the club and the supporters down badly in a match everybody expected them to at least be competitive in, many, including myself, expected them to win.

What was said in that changing room that evening can only be speculated about which isn’t my style so I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you think might have been said, the one thing I will say is, whatever was said in there, it definitely worked.

At the time Widnes coach Denis Betts said he would never be locked out of his team’s changing room under any circumstances and he proceeded to express his disdain at the Hull FC players who took matters into their own hands.

Since that night the Airlie Birds have gone on a winning run, 4 games, 4 wins seems a pretty powerful argument in favour of what the Hull players did, especially considering this has taken in the notoriously busy Easter weekend.

First up after that night for the then much maligned black and whites was a home game against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats with Chris Chester newly installed as coach a few days before, they were dispatched 22-4 without ever really looking like a risk.

Good Friday duly arrived and Lee Radford’s men traveled to their nearest and dearest Hull KR, with nearly an hour gone in the derby it looked like maybe the win against the Wildcats was just a false dawn as the Robins took a seemingly unassailable 20-0 lead.

What happened in the last 22 minutes of that derby will go down in Hull FC folklore as they turned the match on its head with four tries and three goals to win having scored at a rate of a point a minute to leave Rovers feeling like they’d been ambushed and robbed of two league points and those all important bragging rights.

Next up saw then unbeaten Super League leaders Warrington Wolves roll into town, with former favourites Tom Lineham and Joe Westerman in their ranks, playing against a Hull side with more than half their expected match day squad sat in the stands.

Surely against such a depleted side the Wolves, conquerors of Widnes on Good Friday, would have little trouble beating a side missing the likes of Frank Pritchard, Sika Manu, Jordan Thompson, Carlos Tuimavave, Leon Pryce, Fetuli Talanoa, Mahe Fonua, Jack Logan and Mark Minichiello!

Another lead was taken by the opposition as the Wolves circled and went into half time with a 20-10 scoreline thanks to tries for the likes of Lineham, Sandow, Penny and Atkins, surely the leaders would press home their advantage in the second half, wouldn’t they?

The answer to that was an emphatic NO WAY! With tries in the first half from Marc Sneyd and Jamie Shaul the black and whites were just warming up, signalling their intent if you wish! The second half brought tries for Kirk Yeaman sandwiched between two for Curtis Naughton and with that the Wolves unbeaten start was brought to its end.

Another game, the 3rd in eight days, another comeback, St. Helens at Langtree Park were seemingly on their way to victory, 16-6 ahead, but the comeback kings were in no mood to finish their post-dressing room-gate recovery.

The same double act on the left hand side produced tries again, before a 45 metre drop goal with four minutes left put paid to the Saints in similarly dramatic fashion as the late tries against the Robins and the Wolves.

Question for Denis Betts, is a players only meeting in a changing room such a bad idea after all?

Easter Parade- Preview

It’s coming up to that time of year when Super League squads get tested, coaches sprout a few more grey hairs, supporters cheer themselves that bit more hoarse, the whole two games in three days debate rears its head again and a feast of rugby league keeps us all riveted while the men and the boys get separated.

It all starts on Maundy Thursday as the Tigers and the Rhinos lock horns in The Jungle, then after that starter we have a main course, a desert, coffee and liqueurs, after dinner treats and the Easter eggs (for want of a better way of putting it) if you please.

The Saints take on the Warriors in their little spat and while the Wildcats will try to cut the Giants down to size, the Wolves will be hungry to deal with the Viking invasion in Cheshire and the Red Devils and the Dragons will try to put out each others fire.

But on the banks of the Humber something quite different will take place as red and white and black and white will charge at full pelt into each other quite unlike any two other teams in this great feast of uncompromising sport.

In the heat of the battle between two quaintly nicknamed teams, known as the Robins and the Airlie Birds, performance will mean nothing, the result will mean everything as families, friends, work colleagues and acquaintances will be split down the middle of a divided city.

Win and you walk into work the next day, or week, with a glow and aura surrounding you like no other, lose and you want the ground to open up and swallow you and it had better be bloody quick about it.

Blood and thunder has nothing on the Hull Derby, there could be an apocalypse and it wouldn’t matter as long as you hold the bragging rights and the great, and scary, thing about it is that it comes around again and again and again.

Easter Monday is like the warm after-glow, or a chance for part redemption, with six more games as the Dragons tackle the Tigers, the Giants greet the Red Devils, the Champions at home to the Wildcats and the Vikings against the Saints.

But elsewhere the red and white half of Hull will travel to face the Warriors and the black and white half will return home to tackle two of their former employees with the men that replaced them as the Wolves come to the next City of Culture, one will be looking for redemption while the other will basque in the glow of a derby victory.

Easter is looming large on the horizon, are you excited yet about what could hatch?

Attacking Hull FC

Hull FC can attack! Yes the team known for their defending and low risk strategy are flinging the ball around with absolute abandon, and it’s working spectacularly well at the moment, as evidenced by their two games so far this year.

As we all know, their near neighbours were gobbled up and spat back out with absolutely genuine contempt, and now in their opening game of Super League Salford Red Devils have been treated with similar disdain.

It’s no joke, when the Airlie Birds make a break with one of their punishingly big forwards, there are 4,5,6 or even more players to be seen charging forward in support, both backs and forwards turning opposition players, particularly full-backs, into mere traffic wardens pointing players in different directions to the try line.

Power and drive are a big part of Hull’s game now and the pack will get lots of headlines and rightly so, but like the old saying tells us, forwards win you matches, but your backs decide by how many points and, with blistering pace and guile and enthusiasm, Hull’s backs are definitely taking full advantage of the gaps being presented to them.

As evidence of this, Hull scored 8 tries against the Red Devils, all from different try scorers, and 6 of those came from backs, with Marc Sneyd, the only back not to score, pulling his former clubs defence apart due to the time and space he was afforded behind a pack that was utterly dominant.

Carlos Tuimavave is proving to be a big success thus far, the half back is relishing playing at centre and producing breaks, passes and tries with monotonously stunning regularity.

In the process he’s leaving defenders floundering in his wake and producing gaping holes in opposition defensive lines as wide as the Humber to put his winger, full-back or himself through.

On the other side young Jack Logan is sniping and getting on the shoulder of his big forwards to get on the end of a move and, when he can’t finish it himself, he’s producing a peach of a pass to his winger or whoever’s closest to him in a black and white shirt.

With Jamie Shaul expertly positioning himself to make a break or profit from one with his searing pace and excellent vision let’s not forget that this back division has got enough to challenge, and hurt, certainly most sides in the competition.

We also need to remember the supporting cast for this back division includes the likes of Callum Lancaster and Curtis Naughton both of which Super League are certainly aware of with both having scored tries, indeed hat-trick’s to boot, against notable opposition such as St. Helens, Castleford, Widnes and Warrington between them.

So yes everybody keep lauding the pack put together by former forward Lee Radford, just don’t forget that’s not all that Hull have in their locker, either on the pitch or waiting in the wings.

The Difference in Hull FC For 2016

After two pre season games, one for a mostly youth team and one for the first team, Hull FC fans are understandably excited having seen them rack up an impressive 106 points in what were, after all, first hit-outs for the two contrasting teams employed against dual reg partners Doncaster and deadly local rivals Hull KR, but what exactly is different with the black and white’s compared to previous years?

The answer would appear to be, and genuinely is, quite simple because suddenly Lee Radford’s men have gone from a largely defensive unit that could be as miserly as Ebenezer Scrooge himself, to being an effervescent, exciting attacking side who have the players to cause mayhem in any defence in Super League.

Obviously the main evidence of this was in the Clive Sullivan Memorial Trophy match against their nearest and dearest at the KC Stadium, but looking at the game at Doncaster there was also much that showed a new attacking fluency in the Airlie Birds ranks, not the least of which was the hat-trick of young winger Callum Lancaster.

Concentrating however on the derby match, what seemed to strike most people was Hull’s enthusiasm going forward. The defence was still strong until the last few minutes, but Hull now appear to have put a threateningly organised attack along with it.

Last year the Airlie Birds were 2nd in the league for clean breaks, unfortunately their major failing was an inability to back those breaks up and turn them into tries, against the Robins however that was a problem that was ruthlessly put to bed as a rampant new-look Hull put them to the sword.

As the breaks kept coming so did the support play and, most importantly, the tries with destructive power, pace, imagination and guile all very much on display in a performance which belied the fact that it was the first hit out for most of them this year.

With a pack that carries genuine grunt, strength, power and considerable ball-handling skill as displayed already, a half-back pairing with handling, kicking and running ability, a back five with pace to burn, support play and try-scoring ability and all armed with a supporting cast of hungry and massively talented youth, it’s a combination that must have Lee Radford rubbing his hands with glee

A pack including the likes of Frank Pritchard, Gareth Ellis, Sika Manu, Mark Minichiello, Liam Watts, Scott Taylor, Jordan Thompson, Jordan Abdull, Danny Houghton, Josh Bowden and Chris Green, backed up by Jansin Turgut, Richard Whiting, Jack Downs, Brad Fash, Masimbaashe Matongo and Danny Washbrook will be the main part of any success the black and white’s have this year.

But just as important as that frightening pack will be the likes of Jamie Shaul, Carlos Tuimavave, Fetuli Talanoa, Mahe Fonua, Steve Michaels, Jack Logan, Lee Smith, Leon Pryce and Marc Sneyd who will have to take advantage of the holes that will be punched in several defensive lines throughout the season and being very ably backed up by Reece Dean, Callum Lancaster and Harry Tyson-Wilson etc.

With a squad like that 2016 could just be the year the transition comes to fruition.

Box Office Arrives At Hull FC

It was only meant to be a ‘Friendly’ as Hull FC took on Hull KR in the traditional pre season Clive Sullivan memorial trophy game, but somebody forgot to tell the black and white’s squad that were on duty with a pack that bore a striking resemblance to a full Panzer Division with one particular Tank as its leader.

It all started so well for the Robins as they took the game to their neighbours and even had the temerity to take the lead with a try and goal from Josh Mantellato early on, but their joy was short lived as the Airlie Birds took full control.

Sika Manu started the alarm bells ringing as he swatted away three defenders with ease and crashed over far too easily and it didn’t take long for them to take the lead either as another new player Mahe Fonua was given far too much room on the right to get over in the corner, Marc Sneyd was having a good day with the boot as well as he dissected the posts from every which way all over the pitch.

At this point as well the Tank made his entrance and signaled his intent with his first charge which required the attention of no less than four defenders to eventually drag him down to the ground.

The team in blue and gold then dragged themselves back up off the floor and their former black and white brought them back within two points, but there and then the contest ended as the corks began to pop and the champagne rugby league started to flow through the team in black and white.

Frank the Tank made a break, a sublime offload to local lad Josh Bowden carried on the work as the prop resembled a half-back to dash through, and the greased lightning full-back Jamie Shaul was on hand to race over unopposed with Sneyd making it a two score lead with the boot.

Straight after that another debut maker Carlos Tuimavave got in on the act to scramble over on that lethal left hand side to just about put the match to bed and it was still the first half, then he engineered a try for Steve Michaels straight from the restart to finish the game as a contest without any shadow of a doubt, and still the successful conversions rained in from the boot of Sneyd.

With his trademark ‘Great big cheesy grin’ local lad Shaul made the half-time score look even more embarrassing. With a token white flag surely spiritually raised in resignation many of those in the North Stand must have been offering up prayers to a higher force or wishing the alarm clock would wake them up from this living nightmare.

But the Tank and his teammates were not done yet and the 2nd half started in much the same way as the first had ended, only this time insult was added to injury as a former Robin, on his debut also for the Airlie Birds, unceremoniously bashed his way through would-be tacklers for the try his performance surely deserved.

Next it was the turn of the Mini Tank as the Australian/Italian with a flare for cooking, turned up the heat to barge his way over as the black and white army edged ever closer to the half century with Sneyd keeping up his 100% record with the boot.

The half century was duly passed as Frank the Tank raced away down the left and put trialist Lee Smith through a gap as wide as the Humber Estuary and once again earn a chance for Sneyd to show his pinpoint accuracy from the touchline, but how fitting that it was an ex-Leeds player who had brought up the half century as just a small reminder to what happened to this opposition when they faced the Rhinos at Wembley a mere five months before.

The former Rhino, playing for a deal, then turned provider as Tuimavave crossed again and Sneyd, with 10 out of 10, ensured a record highest score in a Hull Derby was achieved and written into the record books.

The Robins seem to like collecting unwanted records these days, but what now for the black and white half of the next City of Culture? Top 4? Challenge Cup Glory? For now they’ll take the Clive Sullivan memorial trophy and their new Hull Derby record score and with their Panzers gunning their engines and their enthusiastic super-fast backs ready to pounce in the style demonstrated against their nearest and dearest it must be said Super League, you have been warned!!

Hull FC 60 Hull KR 20, Rampant Record-Breaking Airlie Birds Dish Out Harsh Lesson ToTroubled Rovers

Hull FC took the word ‘Friendly’ ripped it up, threw it in the bin and replaced it with the word ‘Nasty’ as they walloped their near neighbours with a sizzling attacking performance which belied the attacking frailties which had dogged their season in 2015.

The Airlie Birds were in a ruthless mood for their first hit out of the year and, after some entertaining early exchanges of tries from both sides, took control and didn’t let go for the majority of the game as they squeezed the life out of a Robins side who were cut apart and gutted like a school of fish on the old fish docks which once dominated trade in this town.

Coach Lee Radford resisted the temptation to start this Clive Sullivan Trophy game with Frank Pritchard in his starting line-up as the New Zealand legend was named on the bench, the starting back-row was Pritchard’s fellow new signing Sika Manu along with 2015 player of the year Mark Minichiello and Jordan Thompson starting at loose-forward.

Curtis Naughton got the nod on the right wing after his impressive display in Hull’s first pre-season game at Doncaster seven days earlier with hat-trick scorer Callum Lancaster waiting for his chance from the bench and Scott Taylor made his debut for the black and white’s in the starting 13.

Marc Sneyd got the game started to a raucous noise from both sets of supporters and both sides started with some vigour as tackles went flying in and it only took referee Robert Hicks two minutes to award the first penalty to the visitors.

The Robins pushed forward and had the black and white’s back pedaling to force a goal line drop out from which they took full advantage for a fast cross-field move to put Josh Mantellato over in the left corner after five minutes, the Italian international added the extras to his try for a six point lead.

Hull moved easily from one end to the other with their big forwards finding meters alarmingly easy to come by with their next set taking them within ten meters of Rovers line but a delicate grubber kick from Sneyd was well watched and mopped up by full-back Ken Sio.

However Hull’s next foray to the Rovers line brought more success as Sika Manu brushed aside three defenders with consummate ease to crash over after 11 minutes, Sneyd brought the scores level with the conversion.

The next mistake came from Sio as he knocked on a regulation kick giving Hull head and feed on the Robins 20 meter line, subsequently a fast move out to the right hand side saw another new boy Mahe Fonua dive over in the corner for his first try after 15 minutes, again Sneyd added the extras to give the black and white’s a six point advantage just as Pritchard came on for his debut.

The first charge down the left from the man known as the tank was greeted with great excitement from the crowd and took the attentions of four defenders to bring him down.

However after another penalty to the visitors Rovers new signing Chris Clarkson engineered a try for Graeme Horne down Rovers rightafter 19 minutes, this time Mantellato was unable to add the conversion leaving the Airlie Birds two points in front.

From the kick off it was Hull’s turn to ramp up the defensive heat and force a goal line drop out but somehow the visitors scrambled to keep them out and then referee Hicks awarded them a fourth penalty.

The resulting attack after that penalty saw a high kick taken dead by full-back Jamie Shaul forcing another goal line drop out.

A third penalty for the home side was dispatched to the touchline and set up a scintillating move which saw Shaul scamper through the Rovers defensive line far too easily to race over from 30 meters out after a stunning break by Pritchard set the move up, another successful conversion from Sneyd took Hull two scores clear.

Three minutes later Hull were in again as Carlos Tuimavave became the latest debutant to scramble over on the left hand side, Sneyd once again added a majestic touchline conversion to take the score to 24-10 with little over ten minutes to go to half time.

Straight from the restart Tuimavave made a break down Hull’s left again and handed on to Steve Michaels for the former Gold Coast Titan to race in with measured ease as Rovers defence was cut to shreds again, Sneyd made it a 20 point lead for the home side with the conversion.

Two minutes after that Hull’s left hand side was at it again as a swift move opened up a gap on the wing for Naughton to race through and put Shaul over for his 2nd try of the match, another conversion from Sneyd made it 36-10 as the shell-shocked Robins started clock-watching waiting for the half-time hooter.

As the break approached the home side became rather casual and handed a chance to the visitors with back to back scrums in their half of the field and then in a frantic final few seconds of the half Hicks wiped the tackle count clean after a Hull player stopped a grubber kick.

Rovers were then given a penalty as Jack Logan received treatment on the pitch before bein replaced by trialist Lee Smith, however the Robins were unable to make it count as yet another error saw a pass intended for Mantellato flew into touch.

Black and White supporters were pleased to see Logan come back on for the restart and Callum Lancaster also came on at the start of the 2nd half.

Lancaster was soon involved as a slip up in the Rovers defence gave the young winger the chance to hack the ball forward but the visitors were fortuitously able to get the ball back into the field of play to avoid a goal line drop out, however they were forced to drop out after the next attacking kick.

Unfortunately that opportunity was wasted by Hull with a knock on just on the edge of Rovers 20 meter area.

The half started with a comedy of errors from both sides with the Airlie Birds looking by far the more threatening again but also looking rather too casual until the 48th minute when Scott Taylor barged his way over for a try on his debut against his former club, Sneyd inevitably added the extras from in front of the posts.

For a seemingly ‘pointless’ match both sides were giving some great effort and the home side in particular were treating their supporters to some great attacking rugby league and, despite the one-sided scoreline, Hull KR were also trying out some attractive looking moves although with far less success they did deserve some credit for trying them as the black and white supporters chanted “We want 50”.

The element of fun among the home support particularly was increased after Rovers talisman Albert Kelly knocked on 30 meters from the Hull line in broken field and the Old Faithful chanted “Are you Dixon in disguise”.

Shortly after that Hull swept up to the other end of the field and Mark Minichiello crashed overwith 23 minutes remaining on the clock, the now customary conversion from Sneyd took Hull within two points of the half century.

The black and white’s were being far too aggressive and clinical for the Robins to cope with and a visible confidence was running through the side who were, for most of their team, having their first hit out of the year after a mainly youth team had dispatched league 1 side Doncaster seven days before.

Another barnstorming break from Pritchard down Hull’s lethal left hand side then created a try for trialist Lee Smith with 18 minutes left to bring up the half century that their supporters had been baying for and sent many red and white fans scurrying for the exits, another fantastic conversion from Sneyd made it 54-10.

Three minutes later it got even more embarrassing for the Robins as Smith made a break down the left and a deft pass inside put Tuimavave in for his 2nd try, Sneyd made it 10 out of 10 conversions to bring up the record derby score of 60 points.

Hull continued to try all the party tricks to entertain their supporters whilst some of the hardy souls in red and white chanted their backing for their thoroughly and hopelessly outclassed side who must now surely look like not much more than relegation candidates after being thumped at home by Huddersfield as well last week.

They did get something to cheer as Kieron Dixon was able to cross on their right hand side with eight minutes left, Ryan Shaw was wide of the mark from his touchline conversion.

A helpful penalty then presented them with another attacking position in Hull territory but this time Dixon was bundled into touch by a fast covering black and white defence.

Dixon however repeated the dose with three minutes left as a kick from Kelly was batted onto the wing man to cross unopposed, Ryan Shaw added the conversion to bring up 20 points for the Robins.

Pritchard was named man of the match as the Airlie Birds rounded off their record-breaking win with a slow last few minutes.

Attendance 8,962

Penalties Hull 6 Rovers 6

Goal Line Drop Out Hull 2 Rovers 2

Man of the Match Frank Pritchard

 

 

Hull FC In 2016- Preview

Hull FC will hit the new Super League season with very much increased fire power after gathering some very impressive signings and an ever growing list of youth players coming through the ranks who have either already graced, or are expected to grace, Super League this year.

The marquee signing for the men from the KC Stadium is undoubtedly Frank ‘The Tank’ Pritchard, hence the tag line ‘Every Army Needs A Tank’ the 32 year old rugby league icon is sure to be a big cult hit with the Old Faithful and is a genuine coup for the competition as well as Hull.

But another very shrewd bit of business by coach Lee Radford could prove to be the signing of Sika Manu who was pinched by the black and white’s from under the noses of champions Leeds Rhinos as the lure of the strong history between the Airlie Birds and New Zealand proved stronger than Manu, and the Rhinos, could resist.

With NRL Grand Final and World Club Championship winner and Tongan international Mahe Fonua and former Junior Kiwis player Carlos Tuimavave joining the Polynesian contingent which already included Fetuli Talanoa and Feka Palea’aesina a strong bond has no doubt been formed which could prove vital to Hull’s hopes.

With top try scorer for them last season Tom Lineham, England player Joe Westerman (both Warrington) cult hero Jordan Rankin (Wests Tigers) and barnstorming prop Mickey Paea (Newcastle Knights) having departed Hull do have some rebuilding to do.

But Fonua is very much the sort of player who can blossom in Super League and fill the sizeable boots of Lineham, when a player can be seen teasing Greg Inglis before finally dotting the ball down for a try in the corner in the NRL you tend to realise you have got a cult player on your hands, and his defending is infinitely stronger than that of the flying pig which could also prove vital.

The protracted arrival of Scott Taylor has also seen Hull replace Paea with some more severe grunt that will help Hull bully teams more.

Last year Hull were 2nd in the table for clean breaks but one problem for them was an exasperating inability to finish off those breaks especially when Lineham was struggling for form or out of the team, the answers to that problem would appear to be Tuimavave, lightning fast full-back Jamie Shaul and jet-heeled youngster Jack Logan.

Halves Leon Pryce and Marc Sneyd will also have no shortage of competition from Tuimavave (signed as a Centre but who has played most of his rugby in the halves or at full-back) and youth players Reece Dean and Harry Tyson-Wilson who will start their season in the newly formed under 23s side.

Given the number 13 shirt people will expect teenage sensation Jordan Abdull to start at loose-forward, and against Salford Red Devils in their opening game he probably will, but don’t be surprised to see the rampaging Manu taking over that role against the more physical teams while Abdull will be employed with his kicking and ball-handling skills against the more defensive units.

Club Captain Gareth Ellis is expected move up to prop more this year and the established front row will be ably supported by the likes of Chris Green and Josh Bowden, whilst Richard Whiting, Jordan Thompson and club stalwart Kirk Yeaman will provide substantial support for an already frighteningly powerful looking back row that will also have Mark Minichiello in the mix.

Danny Washbrook returns to his old side so Vice-Captain Danny Houghton can maybe concentrate more on his attacking game rather than just being the tackling machine of the side.

Houghton, and Hull, should definitely benefit from this as his distribution and spark has seemed somewhat wayward in recent times due to the massive amount of energy he loses from repeatedly tackling to get his team out of scrapes that have sometimes been caused by his understandable errors, and those of his team-mates.

What will be expected of the black and white side of this divided city is open to debate with some experts expecting mid-table and a seven week hurrah in the Super 8s and at least one noted expert, Martyn Sadler, touting them for a possible top 4 finish as long as they keep the squad healthy.

Hull are the perennial sleeping-giant and the Old Faithful have had to endure many false dawns (I should know as a member of the Old Faithful) but with arguably the strongest pack in Super League, I certainly hope, it could be a very good year for the Airlie Birds.

I would say top 6 is where Hull should aim for, possibly higher, and don’t rule out a big run at the Challenge Cup if a bit of fortune favours them.