Monday, 16 March 2020

Strange Times.

York 70 - Hornets 12

We live, it seems, in strange times.

Last year, Hornets fans saw their side systematically dismantled 60-nil away at York. Having travelled this time with positive expectations, this game served as a reminder that Hornets is a club in transition.

Despite working hard - and improving last year's 'nil' - Hornets succumbed to a York side that was half a yard faster, half a second smarter and devastatingly more creative out of the back of the tackle where second phase ball repeatedly found Hornets stretched and scrambling.

Having moved the game to Post Office road due to Coronavirus concerns at Bootham Crescent, York were out of the blocks quickly: winger Bass grabbing the first of a hat-trick out wide after just 7 minutes. He was followed to the line in quick succession by Clarkson and Robinson to give the 'home' side a 16-nil lead by the quarter mark.

Hornets did rally, though. A tricky, weaving break from Lewis Sheridan swept Hornets downfield, but as Hornets rushed to support, an attempt to pass saw the attack break down.

York took full advantage of the let-off, scoring two tries in as many minutes through Marsh and Butterworth.

With just two minutes of the half remaining, a solid Liam Whalley tackle led to a scuffle, the Hornets man dispatched for ten minutes. 12-man Hornets then shipped another penalty from which York moved the ball wide for Butterworth to step through and score. Half-time, a shell-shocked 34-nil.

Hornets started the second half with noticeably more intensity - and got their reward with two close range Lewis Sheridan tries in the opening ten minutes. But it was brief respite.

York kept the scoreboard operator busy with scores coming at a steady pace: Marsh with his second, Bass with two more for his treble, Johnson skating in off a cute dummy, then Robinson at the death to bring up the 70. An object lesson in power and support-play.

As York go into the hat for round six, the immediate future for the game hangs in the balance as the country goes into an increasing lock-down to combat the spread of Coronavirus.

Super League clubs meet with the RFL today (Monday) to discuss what happens next. We're told that Championship and League 1 clubs are due to meet on Tuesday.

Late last night (Sunday), the BBC was reporting that RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer had said that rugby league would '... continue to follow government advice and allow games to go on until a point when either mass gatherings are banned, which could be as early as next weekend, or there is a positive test in the sport...'

This was followed by an announcement from Toronto Wolfpack that four of their players were self-isolating after reporting mild coronavirus symptoms, that they had stood-down their entire playing staff and that the club was "... waiting for a directive from the League's governors".

So we watch and we wait. Strange times indeed. Now wash your hands.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Sunday's Coming: York City Knights

Ah, the magic of the cup.

Pretty much exactly three years ago, Championship Hornets went to Bootham Crescent to play League 1 York, slipping on the banana skin to go down 26-20 in a frankly awful display in which Alan Kilshaw's side clawed their way back to 20-all only to fall at the death.

Those of us who've been following Hornets for longer than is sensible know only too well that York - in all its iterations - has always been a bit of a graveyard.

Take last year, for example. A bone-shuddering 60-nil flogging to a high-flying Knights was hard to stomach and was the most painful nail in Hornets' relegation coffin.

But wait. What goes around comes around...

This year, League 1 Hornets make the trip to Bootham Crescent and we find York languishing in the Championship's basement bereft of a win and only kept off the bottom of the table courtesy of Whitehaven's leakier defence.

Without a win in pre-season too, York have had a pretty ordinary start to 2020, shipping over 100 points in just four games. Their only win so far was 22-24 shock Cup victory down at Ealing Trailfinders - but just last week London Broncos came up to Bootham Crescent and left with the league points. Swings and roundabouts.

London raced into an 18-0 lead after 25 minutes, but York grabbed two late first-half tries to go in 18-12 behind at the break. Beyond that - nowt happened: the second half remaining, literally, pointless.

London's Aussie import via Toulouse Rhys Curran scored two identical tries: a shift left, then capitalising on soft goal-line defence in York's right channel. York's two tries both came when a slow-turning Broncos defence failed to react to kicks into the in-goal.

But Knights' coach James Ford is taking a lot of positives from the defeat: "I’ve taken a lot of positives from that," he said in the York Press. "I’m really heartened by our efforts and our performance against a really good side... We’ve taken a lot from it." Bar the points, obviously.

So where did it all go wrong for them? "... we’ve been held up, passed slightly off target or kicked a little bit short or a little bit far... unfortunately we just lacked a little bit of creativity and organisation in their 10,” said Ford. Ah, barely anything to fix, there.

Despite losing four consecutive league games, Ford retains his self-belief: “We are not losing our self-belief and the players are not losing their self-belief. It’s going to take more than a couple of defeats for me to lose my self-belief."

Off the field, York's shiny new LNER Community Stadium was due to be finished in time for their game against Fev on 22nd March. But it isn't.  Ironically named after a train operator, the stadium has been subject to multiple delays and has repeatedly failed to arrive on time (this stuff writes itself sometimes). The inaugural game was due to be a double header with Toronto's game v Wakefield, but now both will take place at Bootham Crescent.

Stadium operators GLL and builders Buckingham have not yet scheduled the test events required to allow it to open to the public. GLL said this week "There are no structural issues with the scheme – the completed work will be of the required high standard and we’re working hard to put in the finishing touches and get all the right certification before a game can be played."

Three test events have to occur to enable a safety certificate to be issued and before any games can be played. As of the 6th March, no dates for the test events had been announced.

GLL blamed '... poor weather...' and said that progress continues to be made towards completion. Surely, they just have to put the posts up: how hard can it be?

Hornets go to York with nothing to lose and a sizeable bogey to lay. Having started the season with a convincing win over Keighley, Hornets can travel with a bit of confidence. And we're confident too: confident that York won't score 60 and confident that we'll score. Which will be a major improvement on last year.

So, get three mates in the car and get yourself over to York. Let's get together, make some noise and make a day of it. You never know: the magic of the Cup just might work in our favour. See you Sunday.