AS someone who has regularly got inside a boxing ring and spent a career battling against some of rugby league’s most fearsome forwards, Lee Radford knows all about the definition of tough.
Yet nothing, he readily admits, has truly prepared him for life as Hull FC’s head coach.
Radford became one of the youngest in Super League to hold such a position when, at the age of just 34, he was promoted from assistant to replace the sacked Peter Gentle last September.
The former prop, who featured more than 200 times for his home-town club, relished the opportunity to bring some pride back to the Black and White jersey after some woefully lacklustre displays.
Yet the task, for all his obvious desire to take it on, has been more trying and difficult than he ever envisaged.
“It is a bigger job than I expected,” Radford told The Yorkshire Post, ahead of tomorrow evening’s 222nd derby with Hull KR at Magic Weekend.
“The actual size of the job has taken me by surprise a little bit.
“I knew it would be 24/7 and all of that and it’s a fantastic place to be around when things are going good.
“But on the flip side it’s a terrible place to be when things aren’t going your way. We want to turn that around as quickly as we can.”
Things aren’t necessarily ‘terrible’ at Hull; they sit in the play-off spots in eighth, though they are out of the Challenge Cup and are seeking to avoid a third successive loss having endured their heaviest home defeat of the season when losing 44-16 against a depleted Wigan Warriors a week ago.
That said, their fans are a pretty unforgiving sort even when a legendary ex-player such as Radford – so fiery and committed – is in charge as opposed to the more relaxed Australian Gentle.
When asked if he does get much ‘stick’ from the locals, he replied: “Yes, they’re quick ... they are very demanding of success are our supporters and rightly so as we’re a big club and, with a couple of bad results, things can change quickly.
“But we know a couple of good ones can change things again.
“When you look at the table, we know if we can string three, four wins together all of a sudden we’re fourth. We don’t want to let those opportunities pass us by.”
One of the areas where Radford has come in for criticism is his searing honesty. It his refreshing to hear a coach express his feelings so candidly after a match, but sometimes it can be better to keep certain matters private.
Leeds Rhinos prop Jamie Peacock, the ex-England captain, did say recently that his former Bradford Bulls team-mate is maybe “naive” being so candid with some of his comments.
Radford was in similar form last week when, having seen them squander a 16-0 lead to lose at home to Wakefield and then be dismantled by Wigan, he said: “ It doesn’t get any worse than what I have witnessed in the last 160 minutes of rugby.”
It is certainly at times like these where he wishes he could still take to the field and lead by example either with a dirty drive out of his own 20 or another punishing tackle.
He admits: “I do wish sometimes I’d had an hour before I go into a press conference.
“But I don’t regret it. I say how it is and how I’m feeling at the time. I don’t beat around the bush. I don’t think I ever have.
“That’s how I’ll continue. I’ll wear my heart on my sleeve and I don‘t intend to change. Call it naivety or stubbornness or whatever, but I will continue to do that.”
They have not won away from home this season and Manchester – if you can label it ‘away’ being neutral ground – would be an ideal place to remedy that.
Radford has adopted some of the mind-games more akin to that city’s erstwhile football managers than rugby league by suggesting there is no pressure on his side given Rovers are the ‘form’ team.
Admittedly, Hull KR have lost just twice in their last seven fixtures but he is labouring the point; they have not won since beating Hull 21-20 at Craven Park over Easter, drew at Salford Red Devils last Saturday and are actually a place below their rivals due to an inferior points difference.
“I think it’s a decent time to play Rovers as – certainly this week – they’re playing better than us,” he said. “We looked at the game they beat us in three weeks ago and they probably ‘out-derbyed’ us; they were a little bit more physical than us.
“We know there’s not much pressure on, no one’s really giving us a chance and we don’t mind that.”
Injecting more confidence in his squad will be key.
“It’s a real tricky one,” he said, when asked how that is done.
“You’ve just got to persevere with what you’re doing, hoping it will turn its head, and try to get the boys in the right place.
“The actual effort is there but sometimes our energy is being misplaced with blokes maybe shooting out of the system trying to fix things themselves.
“I feel for the players and we’re working hard to get things fixed.”