Sunday, 17 September 2017

That joke isn't funny any more...

Bradford 72 - Hornets 16

On the way to witness the final death-throes of Bullmania, we passed a circus. But whatever clownery was taking place inside that big top was nothing compared to the base-comedy that was to unfold at Odsal.

Referee Andy Sweet turned in a grossly unfunny slapstick performance that had everything -including a game where the wheels fell off.

Indeed, his loss of control and farcical decision to reduce Hornets to ten men 15 minutes in gave Bradford the opportunity to work the numbers - scoring four converted tries and killing the game as a contest with over an hour remaining.

Hornets had started brightly - an early penalty took them upfield and a bustling break by Lee Mitchell had defenders scrambling, only for the last pass to float agonisingly beyond Kev Penny’s reach.

Bradford responded with some direct football and on 6 minutes Bentley (playing his last game before he takes his ridiculous haircut to St Helens) scrambled in at the corner on the last tackle. In keeping with the comedy theme, Aston hooked the conversion attempt hilariously wide.

Bradford then coughed a spiralling kick-off and Hornets were gifted a penalty on the back of it, but loose hands on the first tackle let the Bulls off the hook.

On 10 minutes Halafihi finished off a sweeping 90 metre move - scoring off an outrageous forward pass. Aston on target for 10-nil.

And then Mr Sweet had his brain fart. Yes, Gav Bennion clattered bulls kicker Keyes somewhat tardily, but Bradford responded by piling in on Jo Taira! Having pulled the ensuing brawl apart Mr Sweet sent Bennion and Taira to cool off for ten minutes. Bradford’s career irritant Scott Moore was also given 10 minutes to consider what happened to his career.

Immediately Bradford shifted the ball wide where Chris Riley landed a bell-ringing shot on his opposite number, incurring the attention of a picky touch-judge. From the resulting penalty Bradford worked the numerical advantage for Kirk to score. Aston the extras for 16 nil

Hornets were then reduced to 10 - Lewis Foster dismissed for dissent - and Bradford used the advantage to its maximum. Tries for Hallas, Oakes and Ryan stretched Bradford’s lead out to a ridiculous 34-nil. The home fans positively tumescent - just like the old days, but with 17,000 fewer fans.

On the half hour - and back to the full complement - Hornets strode upfield where Jordan Case slipped under the black dot off a peach of a Jo Taira pass. Yatesey the two and the Hornets contingent at last with something to cheer.

This heralded a period of Hornets pressure - Kev Penny producing a miracle catch - but Bradford benefited from a loose pass to clear their lines.

With half time approaching, Mr Sweet showed he was as gullible as he was hilarious: Peltier milking  a penalty, Caro the try. And with the hooter imminent, the piece de resistance. Mr Sweet gifting Bradford a penalty after the ball was dropped cold in the tackle, Keyes tapping the ball to himself in back-play more in hope than anticipation and, with neither the defence nor the referee set, ran 50 metres to plant the ball under the black dot. Mr Sweet eventually catching up to give the try. Just ridiculous.

Half-time 46-6: only the Bradford fans laughing.

The second half was quite possibly the longest 40 minutes of the season. Bradford kept the scoreboard ticking over, Hornets found the space to score two well-taken tries: the first finished acrobatically in the corner by Chris Riley and converted from the whitewash by Danny Yates; the second a beautifully weighted kick from Lewis Palfrey gathered and touched down by Jack Holmes.

Additional Bradford tries came from Peltier, Moore and Aston to blow out the scoreline and bring this farce to an end.

But you have to look at the bigger picture. This was a Hornets side shorn of half a dozen first-choice players - and of the lads who took the field, a fair majority were patched-up to play.

And, while the Bradford announcer screamed of ‘bringing the glory back to Bradford’, the reality is that they’re heading for Hemel and we’re not. Indeed. it’ll be interesting to see how many of yesterday’s 3,000 Bulls fans in attendance will still be there in a year’s time. Certainly, they had fewer fans singing yesterday than Hornets.

So here we are. the 2017 season has been and gone. The hope at the outset was always  that we would finish 3rd bottom. As it was, we finished 9th - exceeding expectations (if only slightly). Despite the naysayers, the pundits and the gobshites who had us nailed-on for relegation, Hornets proved everyone wrong. In the end, we scrapped, scrambled and clawed our way to another season in the Championship.

As Hornets look to build from here, Bradford’s future looks less certain. The likelihood is that Geoff Toovey will leave, followed by at least half of this team. Were a more pointless 70 points ever scored?

Finally, a big shout to the Hornets travelling support who have been superb all season. Though we may have come in a taxi, at least next season it won’t be a taxi to South Wales. See ya Bradford.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Sunday's Coming: Bradford Bulls

Odsal Top: Geoff Toovey's strip-cam career was short-lived
And lo, the season draws to a close with a beautiful stroke of symmetry - 2017’s final away-game mirroring the first, with a trip to the Odsal Crater.

Way back in snowy February, Hornets produced a powerhouse performance to beat Bradford 22-14 and stay top of the Championship for a second amazing week. What a journey it’s been since then - for us and for Bradford.

Not too long ago you’d have got ridiculous odds on a season ending with Hornets secure in the Championship and Bradford en-route to the game’s third tier. But here we are…

And if that seems like the punchline to a particularly surreal Rugby League joke, you have to admire Lee Smith’s sense of humour. The Bradford winger sees Sunday as an opportunity to sign off Bradford's relegation season with a home win as a ‘reward’ to their fans. But his recall of this season’s other two games against Hornets is decidedly flaky.

"Rochdale have got us a couple of times…” he said this week in an interview with the Bradford Telegraph and Argus’ relentless Bulls propaganda machine. “… I missed the first game because it was full of snow! They nicked that one and did it again when we were over there a few weeks ago. We probably should have won that day."

We suggest he goes back and watches the videos. Bradford were a distant second best on both occasions - particularly in the Spotland game where two-try Jo Taira ran riot, leaving the Bulls laundry staff with the unpleasant problem of working out how to remove stains from the inside of shorts: Hornets eventually doubling the Bulls tally by 28-14.

Lovers of irony will appreciate that Bradford have run into some (too) late form - winning four of their six shield games thus far and have plenty of positive momentum to carry them into their preparations for life in League 1.

To counter the bad news, the T&A’s hype machine has been in overdrive this week, continuing the trumpet the Bulls in a blatant attempt to sugar-coat the drop. Our favourite from a wave of excitable newspeak is: “The Bulls, who have won ten of their 29 games, have picked up three more points than Sunday's final opponents Rochdale – and would also have finished above Swinton and Oldham without the penalty.”

Exciting times: The Bradford derby with Keighley is ON!
And Lee Smith is buying the pointless hype: “If you took those 12 points back, we'd be safe…” And if I had tits, Lee, I’d be my sister…

For me, though, one reader comment on Smith’s Argus article sums up Bradford’s situation better
than any we’ve seen. Reader ‘Wolford6’ wrote: “We were once the best team in Britain and World Club Champions. Now we are the 12th best team in Yorkshire…”

In the dugout - and definitely not eyeing up the NSW Origin job - Geoff Toovey says it would be good for his side to end a tough season on a high. Again in the T&A: “It's been well documented how tough this season has been for everyone and to go out on a high would be good.”

Yeah - not if we have anything to do with it, Geoff.

I doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to suspect that, since being mentioned in the Media as a possible candidate to try and mop up the mess left behind by Laurie Daley (the Blues have won only one series since 2006 - and only six games from 15 under Daley’s tenure), Toovey’s had an eye on the door.

Speaking to ‘The Papers’, Toovey said last week: “It is a wonderful endorsement that the papers are talking about that but there is nothing official at this stage. It is a great job, a big challenge, and something that I would be interested in – but at the moment it is just in the papers." … er… BECAUSE YOU’RE TALKING TO THE PAPERS GEOFF!  The Australian footy press are also heavily touting Toovey as potential coach of Gold Coast Titans next year. Either way, it’s gotta be better than going to Coventry…

Last week, Toovey’s distinctly un-Origin-standard Bulls scraped a win at Dewsbury by 16 points to 12. Against a Dewsbury side missing gun half-back Gareth Moore and which also had five-eighth maestro Paul Sykes sin-binned, Bradford did just enough to edge a scrappy game three tries to two - one of which came from sizeable unit Ross Peltier who has been Bradford’s best forward in the two games against Hornets this season.

While Bradford fans are busy Googling directions to Hemel, Llanelli‎ and Haringey this winter, Hornets fans can look forward to another season in next year’s Championship (and trips to Toronto, Toulouse and - possibly - Perpignan).

A heartbreakingly narrow defeat at Wake-… er… Sheffield on the back of a performance of poise and swashbuckling bravado showed what Alan Kilshaw’s side is really capable of - and whetted the appetite for further adventures in this competition next year.

With key players already committing to 2018 and, we imagine, some strategic additions to add some extra punch and nous - the prospect of proving people wrong yet again is a delicious one to contemplate.

Back in the present, though, Hornets travel to Odsal seeking an unprecedented triple over Bradford. Missing Gaz Middlehurst, Jono Smith, Ben Moores, Rob Massam and Ant Walker, it has the feel of an awkward outing. But, as we’ve already said, proving people wrong is something this side is very good at. With nothing to lose the shackles are off, and another bold performance would be a fitting way to celebrate the accomplishment of 2017’s mission.

The end of season party starts Sunday - most likely on the popular side opposite the main stand (weather permitting). Let’s hope it won’t be snowing: see you there.