Down Under Blog: Trading top to bottom

I’ve never been fashionable. I know that might be hard to believe, but I’ve never been on the cutting edge of anything.

It took me years to get into music, comedy and TV shows that others had been raving about for years. My all time favourite band is Mott The Hoople, they broke up the year I was born. In my teens I wore a lot of Queen T-shirts, waistcoats and stone washed jeans, and when my compatriots were into the Stone Roses, I was into the Rolling Stones. I’m a bit of a throwback in other words – I like nothing better than a good pint of bitter and a fry up and a night in front of YouTube watching old editions of the gameshow 3-2-1. I highly recommend this by the way – its car crash 80’s TV of the highest order.

Nostalgia is a very potent emotion, and I do miss the days when Hull FC and Hull KR were the undisputed kings of Rugby League and international players were falling over themselves to sign for either club. Nostalgia is also a dangerous emotion, as the tendency to look at things through rose coloured spectacles can actually create a really false impression of what actually happened. I wonder if we’ll one day look back at this period in our history with such fond memories? Looking through the results of the early to mid 80’s we had some absolute shocking games, we never won at Wembley including defeats against Rovers and Featherstone of course. We had a coach in Arthur Bunting that is still today lauded as our greatest ever, but even he was prone to the odd baffling coaching decision and weird signing, and despite the huge success and winning team we built up, we generally get higher crowds today than we did back then too. Contrary to legend we didn’t win every game Peter Sterling played either, although the ones we DID win now grow in stature with every passing season.

Of course the cyclical nature of sport caught up with us and our lesser neighbours too and we both spent time in the lower divisions in the 90’s before our recent resurgences. The cool thing is that a couple of the clubs that never seemed to be a part of this cycle of boom and bust are now experiencing life looking up the ladder rather than at the top looking down. L**ds are of course the funniest ones. I can only think of a brief period in the 90’s when L**ds were anything less than genuine title contenders before the events of the past few years. When they signed Dave Furner as a coach I was genuinely worried that they would rise again as a force in the game. He’s a really knowledgeable bloke and has a big reputation as a no-nonsense man manager.

They say a fish rots from the head down, and we all know who the head of Headingley is. Gary Hetherington seems to be losing his touch alarmingly quickly, and spectacularly he seems to be a victim of the aforementioned nostalgia too. Bringing Kevin Sinfield in despite him having next to no experience, just because he’s a former legend of the playing staff and having him ride roughshod over a potentially fantastic coach is baffling from the outside observers point of view. Its great to watch as a bunch of supporters used to excellence are having to trade that for mediocrity. Not just run of the mill mediocrity either – RICHARD AGAR mediocrity. God its good.

Someone else trading top for bottom is Justin Holbrook and he’s doing it extremely literally too in leaving top of the table St Helens, who have pretty much dominated the sport this year and are still on for a League and Cup Double at time of writing, and swapping all of that success for the head coaches job at the worst run, bottom of the table side in the NRL. On the face of it, that’s a lunatic decision but you need to look deeper than that to see the truth. Most Aussie coaches come to the UK for the same reasons as players, and that is to perfect their style, their ethos, and to make their mistakes out of the goldfish bowl of the Aussie RL media. Brian Smith did it with us and Bradford, Nathan Brown did it with Huddersfield and Saints, Graham Murray did it with Leeds, Trent Robinson at Catalans too. Then they all swapped to sunnier climes and joined teams that were at best mid table NRL when they signed.

All of those names made a success of moving, Brown being the best recent example. He took over a Newcastle Knights side that had been totally screwed up by a disinterested Wayne Bennett who at the time was more interested in conducting an affair with a member of the office staff than he was with coaching the team. Brown has slowly rebuilt the team in his own image—hardworking, honest and dogged—three descriptors that couldn’t be used to describe them when he took over. Brown took what he learned from rebuilding Huddersfield and then polishing Saints and has applied it brilliantly. He’s one of the safest coaches in the NRL right now and Newcastle look like making the top eight for the first time in years.

Maybe Holbrook will do the same for the Titans? As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, they are a total basket case at the moment and are desperately in need of some leadership and steel. Interestingly Justin’s choice of Assistant is telling, Dave Furner won’t take any crap from the Titans overpaid prima-donnas, and I reckon a resurgence could be on the cards on the Australian glitter strip.

See I got right to the end of this blog without mention Dean Hadley and Jez Litten trading Top for Bottom too. Ooops.

Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.

Rich – Twitter @pommyrich

This article first appeared in Up the Cream Issue 78. For our online shop, click here

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