Monday, 18 March 2019

Deja-Vu at the LSV


The omens weren't good.

Wins against Leigh are few and far between. At the LSV the Centurions notched up their 13th consecutive victory in a sequence stretching all the way back to 2004. And, in that time, Hornets sides of variable provenance have shipped way more than the 46 points here.

This addition to the Leigh canon of defeats, feels harder to bear if only for the utilitarian ordinariness of the current Centurions side. Whilst it is well-drilled and smooth of movement, it does have the air of 12 panel-beaters bashing through their sets with a stoic determination.

But in Danny Richardson they had a craftsman match-winner - and regardless of how deeply irritating he might be - he proved the difference on the day: untouched by human hand and given free rein to stroll around behind the ruck adding a veneer of polish to proceedings.

In a first half car-crash of back-pedalling and penalties, Hornets looked stunned in the headlights: Richardson directing traffic as the game slid inexorably - inevitably, even - away from Hornets.

Three tries in the opening quarter (Thornley off a short pass, T. Adamson looking interested from short-range, Bentley finishing a Ridyard break) set the scene. Hornets did knuckle down to some improved defence for the period approaching the half hour - indeed even managed to test the Leigh defence - but it was brief respite.

On the half hour Pownall crashed in by the flag, with Scott Moore shown the yellow card for what looked like a badly timed accidental contact rather than the wilful high-shot indicated by referee Mr Griffiths. Leigh took full advantage of the extra man, going to the other flank where McNally scored unopposed. Richardson hit his fifth goal from five and Hornets went to the sheds 30-nill down, desperately seeking answers.

Whatever was said in the dressing rooms worked. Hornets came out the second half a different proposition: digging in hard on defence to resist a wave of Leigh attacks. For 30 minutes Hornets put up some stubborn defence to frustrate Leigh and their endlessly whining fans - but the effort emptied the tank and Leigh followed though with three tries in the last ten minutes (Bentley again following McNally break; Hood stepping through a flat-footed defence and McNally getting his second after an exchange of passes involving Ridyard and Thornley).

Just as it looked like the Hornets faithful were heading home with nothing to cheer, Hornets pushed upfield where hard-working Ryan Millington launched himself onto a delicious flat-pass from Callum Wood to score by the posts. Dan Abram slotted the extras for 46-6.

There's no denying that this was a challenging watch: the first 40 minutes a bit of a shapeless, sprawling mess in which individual efforts to stem the tide failed to cover the unit's shortcomings.

We spoke afterwards about Hornets needing to find a rhythm - and the top-start nature of the season thus far hasn't helped that: whilst the engine turns, it struggles to fire. Indeed, this was what gave Leigh the advantage: they have a clear pattern and flow - and the man to make it tick.

In the wash-up - whilst disappointed in the outcome - it's hardly a new experience. Hornets don't beat Leigh. So let's consign this to history and move on.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Sunday's Coming: Leigh

In a week to forget, there's been a few things to remember.

For starters, remember Danny Richardson? He played played 34 times for Saints last year -  scoring six tries, kicking 150 goals and ending the season in the Super League Dream team. An impressive launch pad for any young player. His reward? Replaced in Justin Holbrook's affections by Theo Fages and dumped out on loan to Leigh.

Fast-Forward to last week and Leigh ran-in six tries against hapless Swinton - with Richardson leading the charge as the Leythers cruised home 30-12. Most of the damage done in the last ten minutes of the first half when Leigh steamed in 16 points (one controversially as referee Greg Dolan allowed Leigh to play the ball after the hooter had sounded) to go in 20-nil up at the break.

Leigh currently sit plonked in 7th place in the BetFred Championship with three wins and three defeats from their six games. The win at Heywood Road last week was their first away win of the season: their most eye-catching defeat came at the hands of York the week before going down 9-8. One for the purists.

If you're looking for a hint in previous form, the stats don't make good reading on Leigh v Hornets fixtures: the Leythers having now won 12 games straight, home and away. Hornets' last win came all the way back in August 2004 when Bobbie Goulding's side of kids and misfits demolished Leigh 44-18 at Hilton Park. At 18-nil that day, the Hornets faithful were in full voice, when a Leigh fan in front of us turned round and said: "Sing all you like, we haven't started yet."  At 30-nil, Andy 'Pugwash' Birch tapped the guy on the shoulder and said: "You'll be sure to let us know when you've started, won't you?" Genius.

But that was then and this is now. As work began last week to build 103 homes (we know, we couldn't believe that either) on the site of Leigh's former home, we head for Leigh Sports Village  - which has all the aesthetic charm of an Eastern European sub-station. And Hornets travel there in the wake of the now infamously embarrassing postponement last weekend. We agree entirely that health & safety protocols must be adhered to, to ensure the safety of players, officials, staff and fans. Indeed, the ground staff must have learned a great deal from Sunday's incident, given that they were able to remove the covers in similar conditions on Tuesday.

Parking that in the past, Sunday provides Hornets with a challenging task and an opportunity to benchmark progress against one of the more capable sides in this year's Championship. Since they tanked in spectacular fashion last year, Leigh have assembled a useful looking team, but it still looks reliant on the venerable efforts of veteran Micky Higham to steer them round and haul them through. His head-to-head with Scott Moore should be worth the admission money alone.

Ultimately, most people at the LSV this weekend will expect Leigh to win at a canter; but it needn't be so, and we should look to that 2004 side for inspiration. This season has had a stalling, stuttering start for Hornets and it needs a spark to give us all a much needed boost. 15 years is too long to wait, so why not this team, this time, this season?

We could do with a game to remember - and you wouldn't want to miss that would you?

See you Sunday.