Since summer rugby came along the importance of all 17 picked players has risen dramatically.
Gone are the days when a team could carry a goalkicker and stick him out on the wing (I’m looking at you “Chook” Heron), and also missing from the game are 80 minute forwards – with a few notable exceptions like James Graham, and these days most hookers.
One of the arts of being a successful coach these days is interchange management. That delicate balancing act of taking off a forward that might be wreaking havoc in the opposition defensive line, just as he starts to wane physically, so that fresh legs can carry on the good work. At Hull recently (when we have a fully fit squad) it’s something that Radders has become increasingly good at. Last season when Watts, Taylor, Mini and Sika started to flag, the introduction of Bowden, Green, Fash, Turgut , Masi et al saw us carry on our assault sometimes with hardly a drop in intensity. This however, is a very modern phenomenon.
In my early days standing on scoreboard hill at the Boulevard, Rugby league was a 15 man game (13 plus 2 on the bench, I’m not that old I go back to Northern Union days), and generally on the bench was a utility back and a utility forward. These would be the players that had just missed out on selection for the starting side, or possibly guys coming back from injury. Very rarely did a player consider himself to be lucky to be on the bench and in fact sometimes it was seen as a punishment, or a sign a player was on the outer with the club. One of the more famous Boulevard “off the bench“ performances still makes people my age go misty eyed, and to be more accurate it was actually 2 performances. Gary Nolan coming off the bench and then leaping like a black and white salmon to dispossess Leeds fullback Gallagher to crash over and win us the ’91 Premiership Semi, then repeating the heroics by somehow sneaking an arm free in a 4 man tackle and planting the ball for the winning try in the Old Trafford final v Widnes a week later, again as a sub.
Of course, as the games has gotten faster and more professional, and with the advent of many more interchanges and double the bench, we have seen the rise of “impact” players. One of the very best at Hull would have to be Jamie Thackray who could cause absolute carnage in a tired defence, and won us plenty of games by breaking the will of the opposition. More recently I still think Danny Washbrook coming on at Wembley 2016 was an absolute game breaking moment. He gave us an extra pivot, tightened up our defence, and ran his blood to water. From memory (and this is just one more great reason to dig out the DVD and watch it again), when Washy came on we were 10-0 down. The plaudits will always go to Sneyd for the 40/20 and the pinpoint kick to the corner, to Mahe for scoring, and for Shaul to get the winning try, not to mention “Tackle 52”™, but honestly I believe that Washbrook’s introduction turned that game for us.
Now, usually I explain what I’m going to go on about up front, but I’ve got on a rant early this time! My train of thought about subs started with watching the England v NZ game. The “Wall of White” looked really ordinary before Lomax went off, but bloody hell didn’t that change when Jake the Snake came on? I’m struggling to recall an international game when the introduction of a sub has caused so much of difference to a game. Tag, for his part tackled like a lion and made some bullocking runs, but Connor was a class apart. To hear the Aussie commentary team praising him, to put the radio on over here on Sunday and hear journalists and ex-players lauding it as one of the great international debuts of all time (!!) was so good as a Hull supporter. We need to tie him down to a great deal now, because if this form continues, he’ll be hot property and no mistake.
Also interesting was hearing Bennett actually admit he’d never seen Jake play in person, and had only watched videos and had other English players pester him to pick him. I’m sorry but that’s a bloody disgrace, he should be graciously retiring O’Loughlin too, and don’t get me started on how the hell Stefan Ratchford gets in that team and Shaul doesn’t even seem to get a mention.
Another great performance off the bench was in the last round of the NRL before Origin game 2. Ex Hull player (I believe he did missionary work on the east side of the river too) Josh Hodgson came off the bench against the Wests Tigers and sparked one of the most thorough demolitions of a defensive unit I’ve ever seen. He’s been out for months, since doing his knee in the World Cup, so started from the bench. The Canberra team which has struggled all year to click in attack and defence without him, suddenly all fired at once. He was probing, cajoling, kicking, and screaming instructions from the second he came on and you actually saw the Raiders physically lift. That change in direction, when a defence has just got into the grind and is therefore totally blown away was devastating to watch as a Tigers supporter, but as an RL purist, fascinating too. When Sneyd is fit, I reckon a great ploy would be to bring him off the bench in his first game back.
Then we come to Origin 2, and the incredible Kalyn Ponga. This kid is going to be one of the best ever. Thrown into the game in an unfamiliar position for him, he proceeded to make 29 tackles in just over 30 minutes, without missing a single one, charged down a kick, almost broke the line a couple of times and looked dangerous every time he got the ball. You might think that he’s got to start Origin 3 for Queensland, especially as it’s a “dead rubber” game. Problem is, Queensland won’t pick him at fullback as the emotion of Billy Slater’s farewell will mean more than properly blooding a youngster. However, bringing him on halfway through again might just work… after all, these days it’s no shame to be named on bench.
Oh and finally, Rovers continue to be linked to signing everybody, with Ryan Hall the latest name to be desperately leaked by the Hull Daily Mail to stimulate discussion about a team heading nowhere fast but oblivion. I think they’ve got more chance landing his brothers though…. Bugger Hall, Sod Hall and Eff Hall.
Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.
Rich – Twitter @pommyrich