‘Not a coaching problem’ – Jon Wilkin offers damning Hull FC verdict after Tony Smith sacking

Ross Heppenstall

“They’re drifting like an empty crisp packet across a car park,” says Sky Sports pundit Jon Wilkin of Hull FC, a club in turmoil following the sacking of Tony Smith.

Smith was axed on Thursday following the Black and Whites’ disastrous start to the season. They won 10 of their 27 games in 2023 to finish 10th and have lost six of their seven Super League games so far this year.

Yet Wilkin does not see Smith – one of the most respected and successful coaches in Super League history – as the problem. The former St Helens star believes Hull simply lack the financial muscle and ambition to compete with the biggest clubs in the competition nowadays.

Wilkin told Love Rugby League: “There’s a mismatch between how Hull FC supporters and rugby league fans generally view them as a big club – and how Hull FC actually perceive themselves.

“I wouldn’t say that they perceive themselves as a big club anymore. Financially, that’s reflected in the playing roster and for Hull FC it’s not necessarily a coaching problem.

“It’s more about having a substantial backer and a serious level of support behind them to bankroll a team that’s decent enough to go on and win something.

“Tony Smith’s record speaks for itself – he’s been one of the most successful coaches of the modern era. Changing coaches might get a slightly better performance from the team but there’s a bigger issue at Hull FC.

Tony Smith
Tony Smith

“They can cover it up by sacking the coach, but they need to decide whether they want to be competitive or not. Until Hull FC give a coach the resources to compete, I don’t think they will.

“With the current squad, I wouldn’t view Hull FC as being contenders regardless of who’s in charge. I just don’t see that they are spending up to the salary cap.

“You look at a team like Salford and Paul Rowley, who recruits smartly and gets the best out of players. Hull FC don’t seem to have got recruitment right for quite some time.”

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‘Not a coaching problem’ – Jon Wilkin offers damning Hull FC verdict after Tony Smith sacking

Adam Pearson seized ownership of Hull FC in July 2011 and under Lee Radford they enjoyed back-to-back Challenge Cup wins at Wembley in 2016 and 2017.

But not much has gone right since and Wilkin adds: “You look at Mike Coleman at St Helens, Paul Caddick at Leeds Rhinos, Simon Moran at Warrington, Bernard Guasch at Catalans, Mike Danson at Wigan and Ken Davy at Huddersfield.

“These guys have got hundreds of millions behind them and it makes it very difficult for someone like Adam Pearson to compete. I think he’d benefit from relinquishing some control to somebody who can invest.

“I don’t know whether Adam would welcome that, but I would certainly respect the job he’s done and the money he’s invested. But the clubs who are blossoming are the ones who have wealthy backers on their board. That’s not what you see at Hull FC.”

Adam Pearson
Adam Pearson

Pearson, however, insisted in an interview with BBC Radio Humberside that Hull were spending £2.35million on the salary cap following recent reports from Sky Sports they were spending under £2million.

He also admitted in the same interview that he is open to fresh investment and is speaking to interested parties about that.

Across town at Hull KR, ambition pulses loudly in an ownership structure and a team who appear ripe to win a piece of major silverware.

Wilkin says: “I look at Mikey Lewis in particular – a young, local product who fans can engage with and really get behind. Since Kirk Yeaman and Richard Horne, Hull FC have struggled to produce many players they can build a team around.

“Therefore a lot of their playing squad becomes transient and you hear some of the comments Jake Clifford made, who came over from Australia and went back. He pretty much said that it was a shambles at Hull FC and that speaks volumes for how things have been there.

“Hull is such a rich hotbed of rugby league and their focus should be on nurturing homegrown talent – Jack Charles looks a really exciting prospect and could be that player.

“Hull FC aren’t likely to make the play-offs, so I would use the rest of this year the chance to develop and give opportunities to young players. What they’re currently doing isn’t working anyway, so they’re almost in a no-lose situation.”

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