Sunday, 17 June 2018

No Fun

London 68 - Hornets nil

There are lots of reasons to dislike the Ealing Trailfinders stadium.

Its plastic pitch makes the game a discomfiting ‘uncanny valley’ experience. The fact that all sideline seating (capacity a couple of hundred, tops) is reserved for season ticket holders leaves visitors little choice on where to stand. With no ‘opposite side’, Hornets’ loyal contingent found themselves perched in a corner, some choosing to watch from the car-park as it offered marginally more elevation. It has all the atmosphere of an asteroid - unconfined by stands or terracing, any attempt to engage with the action gets blown into the ether.

It’s also £20 to get in - yes, £20 to stand in the corner of a large plastic carpet, with the game happening ‘somewhere over there’. It’s a ball-ache to get to: notwithstanding the drive, the train, and the tube that eats half your day, it’s a just-irritating-enough half hour walk to try and find the ground hidden in one of London’s leafier suburbs, deep in the heart of *nion country.

All of this would be enough to piss off the hardiest of visiting supporters - but as Hornets sank without trace, shipping 12 tries and ten Kieran Dixon goals, it made for a difficult, disheartening, demoralising afternoon and a funereal return journey that landed fans back at 10.30pm and a hundred quid lighter.

For eight minutes, though, this was - deceptively - a decent contest. Hornets holding their own early doors. But once Broncos stand-in scrum-half Cunningham got his eye in, he single-handedly orchestrated a deluge of unstoppable one-way traffic.

Pitts opened the scoring after Cunninhgham produced some sleight of hand to unzip the defence and from there it became a parade. Dixon was next on the scoresheet, exploiting some over-eager defending, then a chip to the corner for Dixon to grab his second. On 24 minutes Pitts slipped in from the back of the ruck - and two minutes later, Pewhairangi snaffled a loose Rob Massam pass to stride untouched to the line.

Cunningham created one for himself on the half hour after a harmless looking Hornets clearing kick was returned with interest by Dixon; then Pewhairangi threw an outrageous dummy to step in and score. Dixon on target and Hornets shellshocked. 38-nil at the break - Hornets poor value for the nil.

The second half began with a freak try. Pewhairangi with a bit of a panic kick, the ball rebounding from the crossbar into the hands of the unrushing Evans. London then went ahead of the clock when Pewhairangi left Luke Adamson clutching at air to thread Walker in. 49 minutes, 50-nil

From there on in, London pretty much racked the cue. They ran a few shapes, moved the ball around and scored when the opportunity arose. Pewhairangi his hat-trick on the hour from a Cunningham kick, then Cunningham in off a Pewhairangi  kick. All very perfunctory.

Even Hornets' bad luck ran out here: returning hooker Dec Gregory removed with a head injury; Luke Adamson limping off with a knock to the knee.

The coup-de-grace came with eight minutes remaining, with Walker scoring London’s 12th: somewhere in the distance, someone clapping.

Post match Alan Kilshaw was pretty forthright: “I feel sorry for anybody who travelled from Rochdale to see that - we made far too many errors and weren’t able to defend our line.”

Can’t argue with any of that.

It was about as bad a Rugby League experience as it’s possible to have. Every single aspect of the day a blight on the soul. On the train on the way back, even we asked ourselves: “Is this really worth it?” Indeed, it wasn't so much the defeat in itself (London are a good side), but the manner of it. In 80 minutes, Hornets failed to impose their presence on the game in any way, shape or form.

If you’re looking for positives from this game, don’t bother. The only good news is that, not only did Swinton also lose, Toulouse began their annual choke-fest early this year, going down at home to Leigh - and coming to us next week on the back of a defeat.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Sunday's Coming: Laaaaandan Broncos

Sunday sees Hornets trek off ‘Darn Sarf’ to take on Laaaaandan Broncos.

Having undergone five name changes in their history - and having played at five venues in the last 15 years - The Broncos finally look to have settled at the plastic pastures of Ealing Trailfinders.

Speaking in the Guardian recently an un-named Broncos ‘spokesman’ (never a good look to have ‘un-named spokespeople speaking for your club in the media) said: “Ealing has always been known as a community-oriented borough and that’s what the Broncos are all about. We’ve an award-winning community programme which works with 23 schools in the Ealing borough. Season ticket sales have gone up a third on last year; because we’re in a stable place, people want to have a look at London again.”

Broncos? A ‘stable’ place? Whoever this person is they’re a natural comedian.

This could be a good time to catch the Broncos, as they come into Sunday’s game on the back of an energy-sapping 32-12 defeat in Toronto - making it back-to back long distance defeats following their 40-28 loss in Toulouse. In response to the Canada trip, Broncos Head of Performance Mike Eccles admits that the players have suffered jet -lag and that, in response, the squad have had a ‘low-intensity’ week in preparation for Sunday.

Having now lost six games, the Broncos have slipped off the Championship pace, conceding their place in the top four to Featherstone and Halifax. But therein lies a paradox. The Broncos are the second highest points scorers in the division by a point (behind TOXIIIC) with 617 - but while they win games, they also ship a lot of points: their 16 game average being a 38 - 21 win.

Jarrod Sammut - ready for battle.
Clearly their focus is on attack, and that’s led by bearded power-midget Jarrod Sammut - who has this week been named in Malta’s train-on squad for 2018’s Emerging Nations World Championship in Sydney, the world-cup qualifying European Championship C-South and a proposed Test against South Africa.

A product of the Sydney RL production line at Patrician Brothers' College Blacktown, Sammut started his career captaining Penrith Panthers’ Jersey Flegg Cup side to Grand Final Wins in 2006 and 2007. Though he went on to play 38 times for Penrith in the NRL, he’s made his name as a dynamo half-back here in the UK, having led Crusaders RL, Bradford, Wakefield, Featherstone, Workington and London round the park.

But he’s not just a playmaker.  If you want to assess the scale of his contribution to the Broncos cause, to date he’s scored 38 tries in 43 games - and kicked 157 goals. His games average is just shy of 12 points - so, effectively, just putting him on the team sheet gives London a 12 point start.

So shut him down and you shut down the Broncos main conduit to points.

Hornets come into Sunday looking for an improvement on a sloppy second half that saw the game at Barrow slip slowly away. Alan Kilshaw was pretty forthright in his assessment of the second 40.

“we killed ourselves,” he said. “It’s the tale of our season. One step forward and two steps back and to be honest I’m quite angry with what we served up”. Justifiable frustration after a solid first half display.

But Hornets have put in good performances against some of the top teams this year - London at home being one of them, so a good start on Sunday would make not an interesting contest. And - as there’s one shock result every season - it might as well be this one.

We know it’s a long schlep down to Ealing but if you can, get down there - every voice will count as, once again, we aim to out-sing the home fans and give the lads a much needed lift.

See you there.