Thursday, 21 March 2019

Sunday's Coming: Widnes


Let's start with the elephant in the room. The Widnes that comes to Spotland on Sunday is not the Widnes that tanked so spectacularly just three games into a brand new season. That previous Widnes somehow had millions of pounds worth of Super League funding - and £370,000 of its parachute payment - through its hands, yet still ended up with less than a grand in the bank.

Saved - this time - at the absolute death by a consortium comprising Chris Price, Jason Shaw, Roger Harrison MBE, Stuart Murphy, David Dean, Tracey Glendinning, and Rod Steele, it's been revealed that the club had already had an early advance of its RFL distribution - and it's gone back to Super League this week to ask for the outstanding £130,000 of the previous administration's parachute payment.

New CEO Phil Finney said earlier this week: "We're going to have to present to Super League and explain why we should continue to receive it. It will be really helpful if we can retain it." But there is no 'continuity' - the business that the parachute payment was earmarked for no longer exists. And as the new business is less than a month old, there's nothing to 'retain', surely?

With the club snatched back from the brink, everyone envisaged an exodus - but it's been a trickle rather than a flood. Adam Tangata, Krisnan Inu and Wellington Albert were all let go (Albert and Tangata have since engaged lawyers claiming a breach of contract and a failure to adhere to TUPE regulations), Academy players Sam Walters and Jarrod O’Connor were transferred to Leeds Rhinos for an undisclosed fee, Liam Hood went to Leigh and four members of the back-room staff were also laid off.

Speaking in League Express, coach Kieron Purtill said: "... last week was the first time that we almost got back to normal, with not having to worry about players leaving or being paid."

CEO Finney revealed the plan to support this 'new normal': " ...we have to aspire to finish as high as we can this season and look to getting as much central funding as possible for 2020.”

This week has seen the Chemics unable to register new signings Dom Speakman and Luis Johnson due to the new owners' business plan awaiting RFL sign-off -  and the club has also given marquee player Anthony Gelling two-weeks leave to take care of family issues.

The upshot of this chaos is that Widnes were docked 12 points and sent to the bottom of the Championship - but with five wins from six games, they've already chipped away at the deficit and see Sunday as an opportunity to haul themselves back to zero points.

Last week Widnes pipped Bradford 25-20: the bulls denied a last minute shot at victory with a try under the black dot controversially struck off for obstruction. We've watched it a couple of times - it's 50:50 at best.

Hornets come into the game following a run of the mill loss at Leigh that offered no nutritional value whatsoever. It just sits alongside all the other Leigh defeats in the back of the memory, half forgotten until the next time we dust them off.

But if history counts for anything, it's rare that we get to play Widnes at such a low-point. Indeed, when was the last time Widnes needed to beat Hornets in order to only be two points behind us?

We should spare them that indignity by beating them. It wouldn't be the worst thing to happen to them this season by some distance. See you Sunday.

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.