Thursday, 20 July 2017

Sunday's Coming: Oldham

The headline in the Oldham Chronicle tells you everything you need to know about Oldham, petulantly screaming “Oldham focus on revenge mission”.

In an article dripping with chippy negativity, the Chronic goes on to bemoan: Oldham not finishing higher than last season’s third bottom, ‘avenging’ their defeat at Blackpool and failing to beat Hornets in three attempts this year thus far. Then it goes on to contemplate relegation - cheerful stuff.

Indeed, this has been a season book-ended by unfortunate issues emanating from the wrong end of the A627M. The Law Cup remembered for George Tyson’s rush of blood to the fists as he threw punches during the post-match handshakes, all the way through to their serious accusations against Lewis Galbraith that couldn’t be substantiated.

As it is, it’s looking likely that Oldham will end the regular season below Hornets - they are only two points adrift, but would need an 82 point swing to scramble above us.

Like most clubs in our positions, the queue for the Oldham treatment room gives round the block at this time of the season, The Chronicle reporting fresh injuries to George Tyson (knee), Matty Wilkinson (calf) and Scott Leatherbarrow (calf)last Sunday; Danny Langtree (bicep), Liam Thompson (sternum) and Kameron Pearce-Paul (sternum) carrying longer-term knocks; and Scott Turner, Phil Joy and Richard Lepori out for the season. What was Turner’s third concussion could potentially end his career; Lepori requires an operation on his damaged ankle. There will also be unspecified ‘updates’ on Gareth Owen, Jack Spencer, Adam Neal and Craig Briscoe.

Scott Naylor has this week added Wakefield Trinity full-back Luke Hooley to his depleted squad for the remainder of the season.  Whilst only 19 years old, Hooley has already been signed at Bradford Bulls, released to Wakefield Trinity and punted out on loan to Dewsbury (for whom he played in their win over Oldham - awks!). But he’s unlikely to make the side on Sunday due to an existing knee problem.

Loan deals with London Broncos’ Sadiq Adebiyi and Kameron Pearce-Paul plus Salford’s Liam Bent and Connor Williams have also been rubber-stamped for the rest of the season.

Last week, Oldham led Sheffield 12-10,after half an hour, but then went on to ship 28 unanswered points (five tries) in the 10 minutes either side of half-time, eventually crashing by 42-28 in front of just 329 people (how do Sheffield survive on crowds like that?).

Naylor’s analysis? “Our fringes struggled massively and we made Menzie Yere and Garry Lo look like world-beaters… (We’ll) need to be better defensively against Rochdale.”

However it pans out on Sunday - barring a freak result - Naylor will lead his side into an 8s where his side will face four away games. But for Hornets the door remains open to snatch the all important 8th place and the prospect not only of four home games, but - if Toulouse follow form and choke v Fev on Saturday - of dodging yet another trip to the South of France.

Regardless of their result, Toulouse will miss the cut if in-form Halifax beat a late-twitchy Hull KR.

The permutations for Hornets are pretty straightforward: a win of any shade whatsoever and Dewsbury to lose or draw at home to Sheffield and we take 8th (Dewsbury have a point more, but a points difference of 125 worse than Hornets).

So that’s it. Nothibgf less than a win will do. Given the way previous games v Oldham have e gone this season, this one promises to be another spicy, heart-stopping no-holds barred battle. And while Oldham have nothing to lose and nothing to gain except this week’s bragging rights, the 80 minutes at Bower Fold on Sunday will shape the remainder of our season.

You wouldn’t usually need motivating to get along to an A627M El Clasico - but this one promises to be special. Come on you Hornets - let’s ‘ave it.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Broncos Blow-out

Hornets 18 - London Broncos 58

In Sunday’s Observer Sports section, Aaron Bower took 1,000 words to lionise the ‘project’ underway at the Trailfinders Stadium to get London Broncos back into Super League. And ‘project’ is a good word to describe the Broncos promotion push. It’s nicely rational, speaks of process and procedure - and that’s reflected by their style of play - organised, pragmatic and productive: football by spreadsheet. Project-managed.

We spoke in our preview about London’s ruthless efficiency and, whilst it’s impressive up close, it does lack a bit of soul. Every player has a set role and it’s left to Jarrod Sammut to pull all the levers in the right order to send the points rolling off the production line. 

With only a minute gone, London signalled their intent, Sammut hoisting a huge bomb; Dec Kay a brave catch, Rob Massam a forceful clearing drive. But within two minutes, London were back on the attack and a neat blind-side sneak caught Hornets napping and Ackers strode through to score. Sammut the two (this would become a recurring theme) for 0-6.

On 7 minutes what looked like a clear London knock-on was - like Rob Massam - pulled back, only for referee Mr McMullan to give the visitors the feed. And when Sammut stepped back inside to score, it had an air of inevitability about it. Sammut with the two: 0-12.

Hornets responded with some direct football, but when Lewis Galbraith was mugged by three London players in the tackle, Mr McMullan gave a knock on. London were similarly fortunate four minutes later: the entire three-quarter line offside at a last tackle kick and, in the ensuing chaos, ref McMullan missed a forward pass in the build-up to Walker’s scrappy try. Sammut on target; 0-18.

On the quarter mark, Hornets sprang to life: Lewis Galbraith testing the Broncos right channel, but as his pass went to ground, Hornets were given a penalty. Immediately Hornets shifted the ball right, where Jake Eccleston steamed straight through his opposite number to score. Danny Yates off the touchline for 6-18.

Hornets then produced a near perfect attacking set: hard direct running to eat up the metres, a block-busting break by Ant Walker and Lewis Foster on hand to score under the posts. Lovely stuff. Yatesey on target and - at 12-18 - it was game-on.

However, when Jono Smith was compelled to end the next set with a kick, London shipped the ball into space on the left edge where that man Sammut popped-up to score, adding the extras too for 12-24.

But still Hornets hit back: Lewis Galbraith turning Hellewell inside out up the left, then a great cut-out pass to Rob Massam who piled in by the flag. Danny Yates slotting the kick from the touchline: 18-24.

On the half hour, London were pretty much gifted a try: Lewis Foster slicing his attempt at finding touch; 45 seconds later Davis mugging a retreating defence from acting half. Horrible. Sammut the two for 18-30.

Despite the setback, Hornets still strove to play some football: first Rob Massam soaring to reach for a teasing bomb, the ball slipping from his fingers as he landed awkwardly. Then Jono Smith unzipping the Broncos defence, only for his reverse pass to fall into London hands.

With the first half almost done, Hornets - for reasons better known to themselves - charged down a last-tackle kick going nowhere on half-way, handing London one last chance to attack, They did, Bienik scored. Sammut converted and Hornets went into the sheds 18-36 down. All a bit freakish.

The second half was - from our point of view - a bit of a non-event. Hornets continued to press, probe and move the ball around: London happy to play to process and keep the scoreboard ticking over - Williams in the corner on 48 minutes; on the hour a fortuitous Evans try that even the London fans couldn’t be arsed cheering; Ackers from acting half on 70 minutes and Walker up the right channel through a Hornets defence out on its feet. All very perfunctory. The London fans banged their drum, sang about Super League and retired to the bar.

In the wash-up this was a tale of two sides with differing agendas. London - as had been made clear in the Observer that morning - have pinned their future on getting back into Super League and secured a second-place finish with this result to give themselves yet another shot at the big time. Hornets, meanwhile, are looking to next week’s game at Oldham to provide a foundation for their Championship Shield challenge, where survival by any means remains the target.

It’s fair to say that, after next week, the season becomes a mathematical equation conjugated week-by-week in two point increments. Indeed - with seven shield games to come - if Hornets win next week and Bradford lose against Swinton, there’s no way for the Bulls to overhaul us, halving the risk of relegation. But more importantly a win next week gives us a realistic shot at snatching 8th place, which guarantees us four home games in the 8s.

It’s tense, nail biting stuff - but it’s what we all signed up for. So let's have it.