Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Sunday's Coming: Batley

Hornets move from the sunny foothills of the Pyrenees to the shimmering heights of Mount (un)Pleasant, Batley in search of the win that gets 2019 off the launch pad.

Coming up against the twin behemoths of Toronto and Toulouse in the first two games presents a distorted picture and this weekend gives Hornets a chance to take a more accurate reading of our Championship potential - against  Batley team also looking for its first two points.

Batley started their campaign with a narrow 18-22 home defeat by Barrow before getting spanked 42 -14 at Featherstone. Last week saw the 'Dogs mount a huge second half comeback to fall just short - going down 20-18 at Halifax, having trailed 18-nil at the break. And it came at the hands of three of our four to watch.

The first Batley try was 'Made in Rochdale': Jo Taira's short Pass sending Paul Brearley under the black dot. Their last was a typical Danny Yates effort - backing up a break before stepping inside defenders.

Our fourth Batley player to keep an eye on is Dom Brambani. Having begun his career playing in the Bycroft Cup in Queensland, Bradford born Brambani 'came home' in 2010 and his career since has been a bit of a Tour de Yorkshire, starting at Castleford then onto Halifax, then Dewsbury -sandwiched between two stints at Sheffield (where he clicked up 176 games). He joined Batley in 2016. His most interesting stat? In his UK career he has scored SIXTEEN drop goals. That puts him in Paul Harkin territory (ask your dad).

So, much like last week, we have two winless teams desperate for points: can you really have a relegation four-pointer before February is out?

Hornets' game in Blagnac showed promise in patches. Any neutral watching the first half-hour would have struggled to pick out the full-time side, and in the last quarter Hornets matched their hosts in the arm-wrestle. Most of the damage was done in the 15 minutes either side of half time: two quick-fire doubles plus a try on the hooter effectively blowing out the scoreline. The main cause was the concession of cheap penalties late in the tackle count: four times Toulouse were piggy-backed upfield where Jonathan Ford prised the defence open.

Indeed, when Hornets played Toulouse in their own half, they were reasonably well-contained and full of errors, but once you put them on the front foot on your own 20m line, you're in all sorts of trouble.

The good news is that Carl Forster will have Scott Moore, Stu Howarth and Seta Tala available for selection this week which should give the team a more balanced look.

It is a big one this weekend. In the Betfred Championship 'League Within a League', Batley are an immediate competitor - and we need to be taking wins from the sides around us. With the Bulldogs under pressure to deliver and Swinton finding an increasing number of ways to lose, a win by any means gives us a crucial head start.

Games that really mean something this early in the season are pretty rare  - but this one sets the true tone for the weeks to come. Let's get over there in numbers, make some noise and make a difference. See you Sunday.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Toulouse? Or not to lose? That is the question...

Toulouse 42 - Hornets 12

People will just look at the scoreline here and make a judgement.

But for the second week running, the BetFred Championship's smallest club faced off against the might of the competition's fun-time big guns. Another week, another opponent  packed to the gunnels with NRL and international experience - and another visible improvement by Hornets that augurs well for the vital games over the next few weeks.

Given the punishing start to the season, it's an interesting thought experiment to compare and contrast the styles of Toronto and Toulouse - and there are noticeable differences. Toronto are a machine: they tick, they whir, their cogs engage and they efficiently hand you your arse with a polished confidence verging on conceit. Toulouse, on the other hand, have more flair - but they are prone to errors, play off the cuff and they see their arse a bit if the game's not going their way.

And so it was on Saturday: an underwhelmingly casual Toulouse side matched stride for stride in the first half hour by a hard-working Hornets: and when Elliot Jenkins dinked a neat kick behind a sauntering Maurel for Brandon Wood to score after 14 minutes, it was a fair reflection of Hornets dominance. Dan Abram slotted the extras off the touchline and it was Gallic shrugs all round in the main stand.

Toulouse finally deigned to play off the back of a rush of soft penalties late in the tackle count/ Piggy-backed upfield, louche cannon Jon Ford unleashed his whip-like pendulum of a pass three times to set up Marguerite, Robin and ubiquitous irritant Kheirallah. He also snuck in for one himself when Parata turned provider.

Having contained Toulouse for 30 minutes, Hornets went to the sheds 22-6 down: Imperative that they scored first after the break.

Ah...

En route back from le pissoir, we heard Mr Mannifield blow his whistle to start the second half and, as we crested the steps to return to our seat, we were just in time to see Marguerite put the ball down by the flag - effectively killing the game as a contest.

It was another penalty on 47 minutes the gave Toulouse a platform to attack: Ford again the fulcrum in a swift shift that saw Bergal reach through defenders and score.

But Hornets weren't quite finished, producing a 20 minute period of steady pressure that culminated in DR loanee Sitaleki Akauola crashing through from close range. Dan Abram the two and Hornets once again looking pretty tidy. Indeed, they went straight back on the attack, but a teasing Dec Gregory cut-out pass was snaffled from the air by Robin who went 70 metres to score.

There was still time for Barthau to capitalise on a tiring Hornets defence, on the end of a move - yet again - involving that man Ford.

In the end, this didn't look like a 30 point ball-game. Indeed, in comparison to previous years' league fixtures here, this one shows a decent improvement.

The weight of expectation is huge down by the Garonne: we were told that the club president went into training this week and read them the riot act.
You could sense the palpable relief in the ground at TO's first win of the season: you really would think they'd won a final.

As for Hornets, the real business starts next week against a Batley side struggling to find its stride: no wins from three and a narrow defeat at Halifax at the weekend despite being gifted 14 penalties to six. Certainly, the last two results win't define Hornets season. Toulouse will do something very similar to at least half the clubs in the Championship this season - and Toronto were one minute away from nilling promotion rivals Widnes at the weekend.

People will just look at the scoreline here and make a judgement - but they'll be wrong. Mostly because they weren't actually there to see this game unfold.

The RFL BetFred League Within a League starts next week at Mount Pleasant. The hard work starts now.