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?
Hull FC proved they have sheer guts and determination to claim the first derby bragging rights of the Super League season in thrilling fashion at the KC Lightstream Stadium.
Being 20 points down after nearly an hour the men from the KC Stadium produced a comeback some would have thought impossible in the pressure cooker that is the Hull Derby.
Full-Back Jamie Shaul was the main catalyst with a 60 meter try and then a fabulous kick-return which set up the position for a try by Vice-Captain Danny Houghton five minutes later.
Coach Lee Radford brought Mahe Fonua back into the starting 13 as the former Melbourne Storm man returned from injury that had kept him out since his debut on the opening weekend of the season.
Frank Pritchard was restored to the starting line-up as well after starting from the bench against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and former Rovers prop Liam Watts came back into the starting side as well as Josh Bowden dropped to the bench.
Feka Palea’aesina was brought into the 17 for his first appearance of the season for the black and whites as Sika Manu dropped out for the first time in his debut season.
The first drama came within the opening minute as Josh Mantellato returned a deep kick from Marc Sneyd and appeared to drop the ball in the tackle which Carlos Tuimavave pounced on to score only to be controversially denied by video referee James Child.
The Robins were seeing most of the ball and territory in the early stages but a resilient defence from the black and whites was continually keeping them out with some superb scrambling.
The home side took the lead after 13 minutes as Ryan Shaw crossed in the right corner after a peach of a pass from Ken Sio, Mantellato was off target with the touchline conversion attempt.
Hull were able to build sustained pressure for the first time on the home line with a penalty and then forced a goal line drop out but, after the tackle count had been wiped down a knock on by Watts relieved the pressure for the Robins.
Big hits were flying in with great regularity as Scott Taylor and Ben Cockayne were making themselves felt by their opposition on both sides with some particularly fearsome hits.
Hull were again denied by the video referee, correctly this time, as Danny Washbrook touched down after competing for a Sneyd kick with Cockayne and knocking on.
Hull then tried to be too elaborate with a back-flip pass which was intercepted by Sio who went 60 meters after 30 minutes, Mantellato was successful with the conversion this time to make it a ten point lead for the home side.
Hull were being their own worst enemies with some stupid mistakes from forcing passes that weren’t on or trying too hard when they got near the home side’s line.
Mantellato was presented with a penalty bang in front of the posts and duly obliged to stretch their lead to 12 points with two minutes to go to half-time.
A scrappy first half was then brought to a close as Rovers hooker John Boudebza took a pathetic swan dive from a nothing shoulder charge which ignited a bit of fisticuffs and gave the home side a penalty which led to nothing after the hooter had sounded.
The Robins got the rub of the green early in the second half being given a harsh penalty after losing the ball at the first tackle.
The Airlie Birds first push at the home line came from a penalty but a forward pass from Sneyd brought the chance to an end frustratingly.
Another attack by Hull asked more questions of the Robins defence but again the home side stood firm until Mantellato was able to pouch a last tackle kick from Danny Houghton.
Video referee Child was called upon again as Iain Thornley somehow held off two defenders to role over the line after 51 minutes to be awarded the try, Mantellato was on target with the conversion from wide out.
Another penalty came to the home side from a high tackle on talismanic scrum-half Albert Kelly, Mantellato made it a 20 point lead for them.
A short kick off from the Airlie Birds presented the home side with more possession and territory but this time a knock-on stopped their momentum.
Just as the Robins were contemplating a first nilling of their great rivals in the Super League era the black and whites finally got on the scoreboard with a beautiful offload inside by Kirk Yeaman putting full-back Jamie Shaul away down the left to go 60 meters on the hour, Marc Sneyd added the extras from wide out.
A superb flowing move involving eight passes then put Houghton over beside the posts to establish there was still a game to be played, Sneyd then added the conversion to bring Hull back within eight points of their neighbours.
Hull were suddenly in the driving seat as the seesaw nature of the game afforded them some territory and possession at last which was being exploited by some frantic attacking moves and passing.
Another penalty then saw Houghton put Fonua over with nine minutes remaining to put them back within one score, Sneyd was wide with the conversion but from a seemingly hopeless position the black and whites had all the momentum at 20-16.
In an unbelievable turnaround Steve Michaels then brought the Airlie Birds level as Fonua put him away down the outside and the Australian calmly rounded Cockayne to score with five minutes left to play, Sneyd gave the Airlie Birds a two point lead with the conversion.
The frantic pace of the game was suddenly stopped with less than two minutes left after an injury to Kirk Yeaman brought a stop to play.
Passionate defence from the black and whites then saw them close the match out to claim the unlikeliest of wins.
Penalties- Rovers 9 Hull 7
Goal Line Drop Outs- Rovers 2 Hull 0
Man of the Match: Jamie Shaul
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?
Neil Hudgell is looking forward to the 10th year for Hull KR in Super League, a season which sees him with the same relaxed demeanor but one which barely masks a burning ambition.
First he harks back to the beginning of his time as chairman when he saved them from financial and Rugby League oblivion: “We were at the bottom but just slightly coming out of the bottom, we were in administration and Don Robinson had bought the club on behalf of a company called Gain Group and acquired the stadium.”
Then his path to the top job became clear: “Peter May and Colin McNichol had been brought in as two local businessmen and two lifelong supporters of Rovers and then I came on board as a sponsor, got to know the lads and started to do some legal work for them and then I became a director.
“Basically they all jumped off leaving me more or less on my own so I brought back Phil Lowe, Paul Lakin came on board and that was like 12 years ago.
“We’d bottomed out, there was no money in the kitty and we were in the National League sort of mid-table, going nowhere and treading water.
Then another name was mentioned regarding the transformation the club was going through at that time. “Of course I got Rob Crossland in as well so that was sort of bottom but just turning upwards slightly.
“Then we had Malcolm Reilly as coach alongside Martin Hall and that never worked so Malcolm left and Martin resigned so short term we brought Harvey Howard in who didn’t work out.
“The sort of the beginning of the real upward turn was when we recruited Justin Morgan, heard about him via Tony Smith, he came from Toulouse who he got to the Challenge Cup semi-final that year in 2005.
“Interviewed Justin and he started just towards the end of that season, the year we won the National Rail Cup but flunked on promotion.
“So Justin said about the dead wood he wanted to push out so we pushed them out and gave him maximum salary cap in the National League as it was then and we more or less recruited a new team.
“James Webster was one the other Australian was Tangata-Toa but the main ones and probably the mainstay of the side that got us into Super League was probably Ben Fisher at hooker, Ben Cockayne at full-back those two.
“Gareth Morton had a big kicking boot on him and Webster was instrumental as well and Michael Smith in the back row, so we sort of constructed a team that we thought would be good enough to get us up but also to get Super League contracts because the whole thing at the time was you’d got to get a side that was good enough to keep you up as well as get you up because there’s this idea that if players are knowing that they’re not going to be good enough to perform in the elite then when it comes down to the cut and thrust of the end of the season they might not give their best because they might talk themselves out of a job.
“So we invested heavily and eventually it paid off and we got promoted and got to a Challenge Cup semi-final.”
The first season in Super League in 2007 is obviously a source of great pride for this very relaxed but competitive man and a glint appears in the eye as he talks of early successes as his side won four of their first five games in the top-flight:
He said:”Four of our first five games we beat Wakefield at home, last minute, Ben Cockayne scored.
“Then we won away at Huddersfield and then I think we lost at home to London but then we won at Wigan and beat Leeds, so we won four of our first five so that meant we were never bottom of the table all season.
“After those first five we lost six on the trot and then we had the Paul Cooke saga, Paul came over first game we just lost narrowly to Huddersfield but then we beat Hull FC at magic and then we beat Wigan again so Paul gave us a bit of catalyst when we’d hit a bit of a trough.
“Then we had another trough and we brought in Rhys Lovegrove and we rallied at the end, we beat Salford and Hull again to ensure our safety but we were never at the bottom of the league the entire season and I think that was a mind-set thing because it was always going to be either us or Salford.
“A big week was when we won in Catalans on Bastille Day and Salford lost so that gave us a 4 point push and that momentum to stay above them and stay up.”
We then moved onto the subject of fans expectations after that early success and the answer is very strongly delivered: “Well expectations are always high in Hull no matter what, you win three games and people think you’re gonna be world beaters, fans now I think would have expectations beyond where we would normally sit which is about the bottom half of the top 8.
“There’s a top 4 that’s usually there or thereabouts and Huddersfield are just sort of battling to get in there as well now and then there’s a clutch of clubs battling it out for the next four positions and we’re sort of bottom of that and that is our natural rank if you look at the side, the support base and the facilities.”
We then move onto the Tony Larvin episode and whether it was difficult for the club to move on from that, the reply is very swift and decisive: “It’s interesting you raise that, I didn’t think it had credible legs at any point and if you actually follow the media coverage the whole time there was nothing that anybody said in the club that would give any encouragement that it was gonna happen.
“The whole publicity came from Tony himself and the Hull Daily Mail got hold of that and decided in their infinite wisdom that they were gonna run the story or a series of stories around it so it was never, it never got off first base in my mind.”
There is clearly still a wish in this engaging man’s mind to see Rovers as a self-financing club as the subject is broached: “Yes I think anybody in any business wants to make a profit or, if not, to at least break-even.
“Rugby League in the main is an expensive luxury for those who own the clubs there’s only a few who are profitable, I mean Leeds sit miles ahead of anybody else and the likes of Saints and Wigan that are profitable but possibly have some historic debt, or certainly would have had historic debt.
“We’ve probably made an honest surplus on last year but that’s because of Wembley and the boxing but that’s an unusual year but on the whole rugby is still not a cash rich sport.”
Another subject to be chewed over is what the man himself thinks is his proudest achievement as chairman of Hull KR, this draws a slightly less sure than normal answer: “Err I dunno, getting into Super League, staying in Super League, getting to Wembley, I don’t think we’ve got the proudest moment yet because we’re still working on it but at this point in time I suspect probably getting out the gutter and actually becoming a serious contender at the top table, being in Super League and when you look at the day-to-day durge I suppose being in Super League for 10 years is a bit of an achievement.”
Ground improvements are the next subject but are plans imminent to put another stand at the opposite end of the ground to the newest stand at the KC Lightstream Stadium? “Yeah there are plans for another stand but the key at the moment is to fill what we’ve got, we’re not at capacity so there’s no pressing urgency but I’d like to finish the ground off in the next two or three years.”
The conversation then turns to the academy merger and the subsequent decision by Hull FC to run an under 23s team, are there any such plans for Rovers, the answer leaves no doubt whatsoever: “No it’s not on the horizon, I don’t think there’s any need if that’s what Adam wants to do then that’s up to him.”
Looking at the season just past there is obviously some regret and some things that could maybe have been done differently: “You can always learn and develop I think, certainly key parts of the season where we lost players, every club has injuries but we really suffered especially with our halves.
“Our front row was also very light at times during the season as well, I think we were really disappointing in some games and maybe our preparation could have been better.”
Inevitably the 10th year in Super League comes into the conversation and Mr Hudgell clearly has certain wishes for the milestone season: “A solid top 8 finish, another cup run, good football that people want to see and increased crowds.”
Finally we get to the subject of the structure of the game now with the new era of the Super 8s and whether he would like to see anything change in the current structure: “I don’t like the structure, I think the fact that we’ve now got it democratically voted in by the narrowest margin means we’ve now got to stick to it, rugby league tends to chop and change and I don’t think that’s good for the game.
“My view is we stick with what we’ve got, in terms of the product I don’t think there’s a lot wrong with it, I think I would change the video referee and how that operates, but on the whole n o I don’t think there’s a lot wrong with the product.”
The idea of giving out the league leaders shield and a World Club Series place after 23 rounds and then starting the Super 8s teams on 0 points again draws a reply relating to a conversation he had with Adam Pearson: “We said do you wanna finish 8th or do you wanna finish 9th, if you finish 8th it’s a seven week hurrah at the end of the season.
“If you finish 9th you’ve got the jeopardy of the middle 8, now we never moved out of third gear apart from half a game against Leigh and against Wakefield, apart from that it was just plain sailing so there was no jeopardy and it was very flat.
“I don’t think there’s any hardened fast or easy solution other than there’s always winners and losers in any play-off system.”
Hull KR supporters could therefore have plenty to look forward to over the coming years with more changes afoot and a chairman with a burning desire that comes across as clear as a bell.
The name of John ‘Jack’ Harrison is synonimous with the history of Hull as a hero in two very different elements which still resonate today with the people of Hull and beyond.
Jack was born on 12 November 1890, he was the fourth of seven born to John and Charlotte Harrison and lived his early life in Williamson Street and Newbridge Road, close to Hull KR’s home ground on Craven Street.
His father was a plater and boilermaker at Earle’s Shipyard so Jack came from a very humble background, but his parents worked very hard to give him the best start in life they could, at the time when university places were the almost exclusive right of the wealthy they worked hard enough to get him a place at what is now York St. John University.
Whilst he was in York Jack trained to be a teacher and also represented his college at Swimming, Cricket and also in Rugby League for which he had exceptional talent.
Jack signed amateur forms to play for York Rugby League club and he appeared in five games for them and scored three tries in the process.
Jack qualified as a teacher in 1912 and returned to his hometown when he gained a post as a teacher at Lime Street School, when he returned everyone expected him to sign for Hull KR because of his East Hull roots and the fact that his father had supported them and indeed York had occasion to believe that Rovers had made a dodgy approach to sign him while he was playing for them but Jack said they had approached him before he ever turned out for York.
In a surprising move Jack opted to sign for the black and white side of Hull and made his debut for Hull FC in September 1912, he went on to score 17 tries in 29 games in his first season at The Boulevard.
The 1913-14 season was a triumphant one for Jack and the team as they achieved what the team had been built for and won the most famous competition in World Rugby League the Challenge Cup. Hull, who had a few years before become the first team ever to lose three consecutive Challenge Cup Finals, beat Wakefield Trinity 6-0 in the final at Thrum Hall, Halifax, and it was Jack who scored the decisive second try to wrap up the victory.
On 1 September 1914 Jack married his sweetheart Lillian Ellis and they set up home in Wharncliffe Street, Chanterlands Avenue, married life obviously suited him as he then went on to score the club record of 52 tries in the 1914-15 season, a record which still stands to this day.
Of course by the end of that season World War 1 was raging all over Europe and on 4th November 1915 Jack signed up for the East Yorkshire regiment and was sent for officer training at Inns of Court Officer Training Corps and was subsequently commissioned as a temporary 2nd Lieutenant.
On 25th March 1917 Jack became a war hero by leading a patrol in No Man’s Land and capturing a prisoner and, for setting an outstanding example, he was awarded the Military Cross, the citation for it reads: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He handled his platoon with great courage and skill, reached his objective under the most trying conditions and captured a prisoner. He set a splendid example throughout.
Jack was tragically killed at Oppy Wood in northern France on 3 May 1917 ina show of extreme bravery to try and save the lives of the men of his platoon as they were held down by heavy machine-gun fire, for his bravery and self-sacrifice he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the citation for this award says:
For the most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice in an attack. Owing to darkness and to smoke from the enemy barrage and from our own, and to the fact that our objective was in a dark wood, it was impossible to see when our barrage had lifted off the enemy front line. Nevertheless 2nd lieutenant John Harrison led his company against the enemy trench and under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, but was repulsed. Re-organising his command as best he could in No Man’s Land, he again attacked in darkness, under heavy fire, but with no success. Then turning round, this gallant officer single-handed made a dash at the machine-gun hoping to knock-out the gun and so save the lives of many of his company. His self-sacrifice and absolute disregard of danger was an inspiring example to all. He is reported missing; presumed dead.
There is a memorial to him outside the KC Stadium but some people are now calling for his memory to be honoured in the form of a statue at the Cenotaph in Hull City Centre
Hull FC have been in existence for 150 years and one of their club records has stood for 100 of those years.
Jack Harrison was born on 12 November 1890, he was the fourth out of what eventually became seven children to John and Charlotte Harrison. The family lived in Williamson Street and Newbridge Road in East Hull, near to Hull KR’s home ground on Craven Street, Jack even attended Craven Street School.
John (born in 1861) was a plater and boiler maker at Earle’s Shipyard so Jack came from a very humble, but well-to-do, background and his parents were determined to give him the best possible start they could in life so worked tirelessly enabling Jack to gain a place at York St. John’s University at a time when university places were the exclusive right of the wealthy.
While studying there Jack represented the college at swimming, cricket and rugby league, it was this that attracted the attention of York rugby league club and persuaded them to sign him as an amateur. Jack played 5 times for York and scored 3 tries for them.
In 1912 Jack qualified as a teacher and returned to his hometown where he would teach at Lime Street School, everyone expected he would sign for Hull KR because of his East Hull roots and the fact that his father supported them, indeed York had grounds for suspicion that Rovers had made an illegal approach to try and sign him while he was playing for them, but Jack scotched the rumour saying they had approached him before he turned out for York, so it was a big surprise to everyone when he signed professional terms with Rovers hated cross-city rivals Hull FC.
He made his debut for the black and white’s in September 1912 and went on to score 17 tries in his first season for the Airlie Birds. At the time that Jack signed Hull were in the process of putting together a team with the express purpose of winning the Challenge Cup having suffered the fate of being the first team ever to lose 3 consecutive finals in the most famous rugby league competition in the world.
In the 1913-14 season that aim was achieved as Jack scored the second, and decisive, try in the final played at Thrum Hall in Halifax against Wakefield Trinity which Hull won 6-0.
On 1 September 1914 Jack married his sweetheart Lilian Ellis and they set up home in Wharncliffe Street and then Chanterlands Avenue in West Hull. Married life obviously suited him as he then embarked on his record breaking season for the side from The Boulevard scoring 52 tries in the 1914-15 season (not 1913-14 as some publications would have you believe.)
Jack never played rugby league again after that season feeling his place was in the classroom and with Lilian and their new son Jackie before he enlisted for the East Yorkshire Regiment on 4th November 1915 and he was selected for officer training at the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps and was subsequently commissioned as a probationary 2nd Lieutenant.
On 25th March 1917 he won the Military Cross, the citation for this award reads as follows: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He handled his platoon with great courage and skill, reached his objective under the most trying conditions and captured a prisoner. He set a splendid example throughout.
Jack’s battalion of the Hull Pals were then sent to the fight at Oppy Wood in northern France and it was here, on 3 May 1917, that Jack was killed in action. Seeing his men being pinned down and systematically slaughtered in No Man’s Land by fierce German machine gun fire Jack, showing total disregard for his own safety and armed only with a pistol and a mills grenade, dashed single-handed towards the machine gun nest, tragically he was shot dead but only at the time when he threw the grenade at the machine gun which subsequently fell silent and never fired again.
As a result of this outstanding piece of bravery Jack Harrison’s number 6 platoon were able to get to safety and regroup. Unfortunately his body was never found having either sunk into the quagmire of mud that was the battlefield or been blown apart by the heavy artillery shells that hit the battlefield constantly.
His wife was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George 5th in March 1918, the citation for the award which appeared in the London Gazette on 14th June 1917 reads: For the most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice in an attack. Owing to darkness and to smoke from the enemy barrage and from our own, and to the fact that our objective was in a dark wood, it was impossible to see when our barrage had lifted off the enemy front line. Nevertheless 2nd Lieutenant John Harrison led his company against the enemy trench and under heavy rifle and machine gun fire, but was repulsed. Re-organising his command as best he could in No Man’s Land he again attacked in darkness, under terrific fire, but with no success. Then turning round, this gallant officer single-handed made a dash at the machine gun, hoping to knock-out the gun and so save the lives of many of his company. His self-sacrifice and absolute disregard of danger was an inspiring example to all. He is reported missing; presumed dead.
He is the only professional rugby league player to have won the Victoria Cross and it seems highly unlikely that his record of 52 tries in a season for Hull FC will ever be beaten so his name truly belongs in rugby league folklore but not just for his record-breaking try scoring exploits, hero is a word used far too often and easily these days but, in my humble opinion, Jack Harrison defines the word hero.
It was billed as the 150th anniversary year of Hull FC, despite the feeble attempt at billing it as the 15th anniversary by a small amount of fans from the other side of Hull, but while the Airlie Birds can point to clear progress on their dismal 2014 Super League campaign and the fact that they currently hold the bragging rights over their close neighbour’s Hull KR having won the derby series 2-1 and finished above them in the table the end of term report once again looks back at a very frustrating campaign when the sleeping giant failed to awaken from its slumbers.
It all started rather well as a black and white army converged on the birthplace of the game Huddersfield as a new look FC side started their campaign in emphatic fashion by inflicting an embarrassing defeat on the Giants who most experts expected to be genuine Grand Final contenders, nil-ling them in the process.
The next game saw a single point defeat to Warrington Wolves in Hull’s first home game of the season, despite that setback everything still looked very positive as Lee Radford’s men looked very competitive and able to handle the inevitable extra pressure that came with such a landmark season doubled with the start of a new experiment for the First Utility Super League with the tag line of “Every minute matters”.
The first alarm bells started to ring with a shock defeat at big spending Salford when the Red Devils found it far too easy to score points against a side who had only conceded one try in their opening two games, which was scored by the reigning Steve Prescott Man of Steel Daryl Clark.
Hull’s next game, at home against eventual treble winners Leeds Rhinos, almost encapsulated the Black and White’s season in 80 minutes, holding a deserved 12-0 lead at half time Hull were applauded off the pitch and seemingly back in the groove as they produced some of the best rugby they had played up to that point in the still fledgling season, what followed was frankly quite embarrassing as the Rhinos cut loose and scored 43 unanswered points too easily in the second 40 minutes.
Playing away to eventual Grand Finalists Wigan Warriors in their next game the Airlie Birds showed some genuine dogged determination, guts and pride but fell just short by a single point for the second time in the campaign, although a better more controlled pass in the last minute would surely have seen them gain the reward their efforts deserved as 2014 player of the year Fetuli Talanoa would surely have scored a match-winning try if the ball hadn’t flown into touch.
After that near miss at the DW Stadium Hull finally gave their fans something to shout about as Catalans Dragons were brushed aside far easier than the 11 point winning margin would seemingly suggest. Hull were then unlucky in defeat away to Castleford Tigers and then came the lowest point of the season without doubt as Hull KR breezed into the KC Stadium and left with the two points and bragging rights on offer far too easily as the Airlie Birds produced probably their worst performance of the season and almost gift-wrapped the game for Chris Chester’s side.
After that contemptuous low the Old Faithful still traveled in large numbers to the home of reigning champions St. Helens in the first game of the now annual Steve Prescott Memorial Trophy and a stunning comeback that few would have thought possible at the start of the Easter Weekend was capped by one of the tries of the season from full-back Jamie Shaul as Hull banished the memories of the previous Thursday night with a stirring 20-28 victory at Langtree Park.
Next up for the Airlie Birds was a home game against Widnes Vikings, on that evening Tom Lineham proved once again what a potent finisher he is with a hat-trick including two 95 meter interception tries, after that the Airlie Birds hit the road to Wembley dispensing of Sheffield Eagles at Bramall Lane in comfortable, if not entirely convincing, fashion before returning to Super League matters with a truly dismal performance against Huddersfield Giants in which Hull only just avoided the ignominy that they inflicted on the Giants on the opening weekend with a very late try by Steve Michaels.
The following week was quite a comedy with next opponents Salford Red Devils asking the Airlie Birds to postpone the game due to the injury and suspension crisis they were going through which Hull, understandably, flatly refused so the game went ahead as scheduled, despite their pleas and protestations the team built expensively by Dr Marwan Koukash arrived much healthier than first envisaged, sporting seven internationals, a spirited performance almost saw them through, but once again a gutsy comeback which was crowned by an individual barnstorming try by Setaimata Sa saw Hull eek out a victory that would have been predicted.
Lee Radford then told his side to take off the shackles and start to attack with more purpose, this appeared to be going slightly wrong for Hull in the next game away to Warrington Wolves but, yet again, Hull showed a spirit that proved they never knew when they were beaten as they came from 10 points behind in the last 10 minutes to grab a priceless victory with a drop goal from Marc Sneyd with just three seconds remaining on the clock to send the Old Faithful into very noisy raptures and gain sweet revenge for their single point defeat earlier in the year.
Castleford Tigers were the visitors to the KC Stadium in the 6th round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup and a hat-trick from new young signing Curtis Naughton saw the previous years beaten finalists put to the sword in sizzling fashion as more evidence of Hull taking off the shackles was put on full display.
However the positive mood that was sweeping the team and supporters was soon dampened down as Saints came to town and won an arm wrestle game although not by enough to rob Hull of the Steve Prescott Memorial Trophy.
Magic Weekend, however, delivered another high note as close neighbours Hull KR, holding smug bragging rights since the Easter derby, were taught a very harsh lesson as they were thoroughly whipped by an arrogant Hull in record fashion as they ran up a record 46 points in a competitive derby topping the 44 points they had hit Rovers with in 2008, at this point I suppose for the benefit of certain friends that Rovers do still hold the record for the biggest winning margin by 36 points in 2007.
The following week saw Hull travel to Widnes for what was seen as a defining match as both sides were competing for the coveted Super 8s spot with just 1 league point separating them, with the Vikings storming into a 12 point lead it was fast starting to look like a forlorn journey for Hull, however another Tom Lineham hat-trick allied with a try from Leon Pryce and a delicious kick and gather try by Marc Sneyd swept Hull home to a convincing victory.
Unfortunately after that success Hull’s season began to almost implode with defeats away to Catalans Dragons and Leeds before being unceremoniously dumped out of the cup by the Rhinos at the KC Stadium and then an embarrassing defeat at basement side Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, in this topsy turvy season however the Black and White’s rallied once again and, in their second double header, they gained revenge over the Wildcats, by now being coached by former Hull coach Brian Smith, with a victory which maybe wasn’t really deserved but, after a three game losing streak, it was a priceless victory which breathed much needed new life into a faltering season.
The top 8 cause was then further aided with another gutsy comeback victory at the KC Stadium against Castleford Tigers as the Tigers were given little choice by the intensity of Hull’s performance but to surrender an eight point half time advantage.
The game that mattered most though was taking place in front of the Sky cameras the following Friday at the KC Lightstream Stadium as the biggest rivalry in Super League was pushed to the forefront with the promise of victory holding the key to the door of the much vaunted Super 8s and defeat promised the ignominy of a place in the dreaded Middle 8s and the knowledge that it was your closest rivals who would have put you there.
Everything seemed to be going wrong in the derby match, losing their two most influential players Leon Pryce and captain Gareth Ellis to injury in the heat of the battle in the first half, trailing 12-4 when they lost Ellis to a snapped Achilles Hull looked in desperate trouble on a ground where only Leeds and Castleford had previously triumphed this season, but that fast growing resolve was soon on show again as Hull out-fought and out-thought their nearest and dearest enemies to take charge with another stirring comeback which saw them take the lead by half time and then produce a masterclass in how to control an opponent and a game at arms length to wrap up the points, the bragging rights and the place in the Super 8s in one evenings work which led to jubilant celebrations among the Old Faithful.
With so much attention and emphasis having been placed on the derby match it was probably not a surprise that the first phase of the season for Hull ended with a whimper as Wigan Warriors arrived at the KC Stadium and inflicted a heavy defeat on the home side.
The Super 8s was something of an anti-climax for the Airlie Birds due to the fact that they were playing teams who were in some cases superior sides who were always expected to be pushing for the semi-finals and a trip to Old Trafford and the Grand Final, having started brightly away to Castleford with two early tries the old frailties once again took over and Hull slipped to an unfortunate defeat but nobody could really say the Tigers didn’t deserve their victory.
The following week Hull again traveled to the home of the defending champions and, as on Easter Monday, Saints were ambushed by yet another comeback, including another hat-trick by Curtis Naughton, and soundly beaten 22-32.
The epitaph on this season will show that Hull lost all of their last 5 games, however it must be said that is far from the end story under the circumstances. With a growing injury list which included Gareth Ellis, Leon Pryce, Josh Bowden, Chris Green, Steve Michaels, Jordan Thompson, Setaimata Sa, Joe Westerman, Kirk Yeaman, Fetuli Talanoa and Dean Hadley for at least some, if not all, their Super 8s games Hull could possibly have been excused for asking to delay some games due to their unprecedented injury crisis, however no such Salford-like request was forthcoming, or even entertained, by the Black and White’s as they put their trust in youth.
A week before their Wembley date against Hull KR, Leeds rolled into town and rested some stars although not many as they still had Challenge Cup Final places up for grabs, Hull had some senior stars playing, such as new joint-players of the year Mark Minichiello and Liam Watts, but there was also more than just a smattering of under 19s players present in the match-day squad and, indeed, the 17 man match team, the Rhinos inevitably won but, according to Rhinos coach Brian McDermott afterwards, only because they got a few opportunities that only men like Ryan Hall and Rob Burrow could finish despite their inability in certain quarters to breakdown an enthusiastic Hull side.
Unfortunately the down side to using lots of youth is sometimes it breeds inconsistency and so it proved as Warrington Wolves were handed the points on a plate at the Halliwell Jones Stadium two weeks later, more injuries ensued in that game and Hull were only able to name 18 men instead of the regulation 19 in advance of the trip to Wigan for their one and only appearance in front of the Sky cameras in the Super 8s the following Friday.
In a match that was seen as a chance for the battle-hardened Warriors, who were just coming into top form, to put a severe dent in Leeds Rhinos points difference advantage at the summit of the table, Hull had to name seven youth players and were given no chance and were indeed tipped to succumb to a worse beating than 60-0 thrashing the Warriors had inflicted on a similarly severely under-strength Hull KR earlier in the season but somebody forgot to give the script to the kindergarten Hull side.
Although the Warriors squeezed out a thoroughly and totally undeserved 30-24 win a Hull team containing Curtis Naughton, Jordan Abdull, Jack Logan, Masimbaashe Matongo, Jansin Turgut, Brad Fash and Jack Downs left a more than lasting impression on the crowd in the DW Stadium and, no doubt, had fans of other teams sat at home glued to their television sets and cheering them on as they gave Shaun Wane’s side the fright of their lives.
Hull then returned home for their heritage week games against Huddersfield Giants and Catalans Dragons, with youthful enthusiasm on their side, but also a great deal of in-experience, the Airlie Birds fall to two more narrow defeats that could surely have been avoided with a bit more know-how.
The 14 point margin of victory for the Giants looks much more comfortable than it was, a point made very succinctly by coach Paul Anderson, the four point victory for the Dragons didn’t flatter them but could again have been avoided by Hull if only tries had been scored further infield rather than right in the corner every time.
Reaching the Super 8s was set as a minimum requirement by owner Adam Pearson at the start of the season and that was duly achieved. There was also some major highlights in the season for instance the two victories over Hull KR, the manner of them and what both meant to the supporters cannot be overestimated and the emergence of some genuinely exciting youth is a major plus.
The down-side, it was yet another false dawn in a lot of ways, certain players have clearly just been taking money from the club and not giving much in return and, in my humble opinion, Tom Lineham should never have been sold but that’s now water under the bridge and we’ll have to get used to the sight of him in primrose and blue.
The up-side, Hull FC do have a lot of very exciting youth that they need to keep hold of in future, the likes of Jack Logan, Callum Lancaster, Jordan Abdull, Jansin Turgut, Brad Fash, Jack Downs, Masimbaashe Matongo and Curtis Naughton are all seemingly very exciting players and that’s before we think about the likes of Reece Dean and Harry Tyson-Wilson.
Future. It’s no secret Hull do have some financial problems mainly due to having to pay off dead wood with some big money plus the big payout to Willie Manu but with great support, season pass membership sales, merchandising etc I’m sure they can get over the worst of it.
New Signings. Frank Pritchard, Sika Manu, Scott Taylor, Danny Washbrook, Carlos Tuimavave and Mahe Fonua are genuinely very impressive additions especially the forwards who will be added to an already mean pack that is bristling with quality.
Controversy. There is clearly absolutely no need for a ‘Super Academy’ merger with Hull KR.
Positive. The creation of an under 23s side with Richard Horne as its boss will give certain players more chance to develop and will hopefullt dispense with the ridiculous dual-registration idea.
John ‘Jack’ Harrison would be my choice of subject for a documentary about a famous person from Hull.
Jack Harrison was born in Hull on 12 November 1890 his father was a plaiter and boilermaker in Earles Shipyard. he studied at St. John’s College, York (now York St. John University) where he was captain of the Rugby club and also represented them at Cricket and Swimming.
In 1911-1912 he played 5 games for York Rugby League club scoring 3 tries but then he returned to his hometown in September 1912. Back in Hull he was invited to join Billy Batten playing at Hull FC who were in the process of putting together a team with the express purpose of winning the Challenge Cup after they became the first team to earn the dubious distinction of losing three finals on the trot.
He set the Hull FC club record of 52 tries in a season in the 1913-1914 season, a record which he still holds to this day and was one of two try scorers for Hull as they beat Wakefield Trinity to win the 1914 Challenge Cup Final.
In 1915 he joined the East Yorkshire Regiment and was trained as a temporary 2nd lieutenant receiving his commission on 5 August 1916 and was posted to 6 Platoon, 11th Batalion.
On 25th March 1917 he lead a patrol into No Man’s Land and was awarded the Military Cross for ‘Conspicuous Gallantry and Devotion to Duty’ while handling his platoon with great skill and achieving their objective under the most trying conditions and capturing a prisoner.
On 3 May 1917 he was ordered, along with the rest of his brigade, to attack Oppy Wood Pas-De-Calais when they became pinned down by machine gun fire.
In the following engagement, after two failed attempts at leading his platoon to their objective, Jack single-handedly made a dash towards the machine gun hoping to knock out the gun and save the lives of many of his men, tragically he made the ultimate sacrifice in this action.
For this action he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross which was given to his wife Lilian in March 1918 by George V.
The only memorial to Jack Harrison is a plaque on a small stand outside the KC Stadium and I personally, along with many others, believe there should be a more prominent tribute to him such as a statue either outside the KC Stadium or in Hull City Centre.
Their team may have been soundly beaten in record fashion by cup kings Leeds Rhinos at Wembley on Saturday, and the rain may have been tipping down but that didn’t stop hundreds of Hull KR fans from turning out to welcome their heroes home at Hull City Hall this afternoon.
Even rival fans from Hull FC and Leeds Rhinos braved the elements in Queen Victoria Square to join the party that signaled the Robins player’s return from the clubs first Challenge Cup Final in 29 years.
With banter aplenty supporters of the rival clubs stood side by side to generate an atmosphere that not even weather that would have sent the bravest of ducks running for cover could dampen.
This was all about fun, not dwelling on what might have been, it was the game of rugby league showing the world that even the greatest of rivalries can bring people together and friendship and comradeship can blossom even in the strangest circumstances.
The friendly game and the friendly city came together and showed everybody that this game is about more than just results and trophies.
As Chris Chester and his team were brought onto the balcony, despite their 50 point drubbing on Saturday, they were welcomed with raucous chants which showed genuine appreciation for their efforts to get to the Wembley showpiece in the first place.
Supporters who had been left shell-shocked, dejected and embarrassed on Saturday once again found their voice and, after a public apology, saluted chairman Neil Hudgell.
Rovers must now pick themselves up, dust themselves down, and get on with the business of trying to secure their Super League future starting with a home game against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats on Sunday, but at least they know they’ll go into battle with a loyal backing from the same fans who they so badly let down on the biggest stage.