Thursday, 18 July 2019

Sunday's Coming: Featherstone Rovers

Our match previews involve a trawl of our opponents' local news outlets for snippets of interest that you wouldn't ordinarily come across (yes, we read The Pontefract & Castleford Express so you don't have to) - but this week's sweep of the news-scape yielded an unusually high level of news that RL fans will find disturbing.

Featherstone fans have always been known for the robust and passionate support of their team. Indeed, that's what makes watching Rugby league at Post Office Road such a unique experience (we were at the Good Friday Super League Merger protest game against Castleford in 1995 and it was one of the most electrifying atmospheres we've ever experienced).

And, for those of you old enough to remember, life in the old Bullock Shed stand had a decidedly edgy frisson: though when we won there in a midweek game 20-odd years ago (the first win in decades) we sang our lungs out and the Fev fans were generous in defeat.

But of late, things seem to have taken a turn...

In June, Featherstone were fined after an RFL investigation into two incidents of spectator misbehaviour during their game at Spotland in May.

Having seen the club found guilty of breaching RFL operational rules -  and having received a warning over future misconduct -  CEO Davide Longo said: “Unexpected fines only impact on our spend and potential recruitment further down the line and I am sure no supporter wants this to be the case. We encourage fans to be vocal and supportive of the team, but this needs to be done in a respectful and family friendly manner.”

Then...

Earlier this month the club was hit with another fine - this time of £10,000 - following a Rugby Football League investigation, into complaints of unacceptable language by a section of Featherstone fans at a game with Bradford Bulls.

After the second fine, Longo said: “We are incurring fines that were never factored into our budgets and this will now impact on the club moving forward."

The club's response was to introduce their Crowd Care Text Service which enables supporters to report any misconduct or foul language anonymously to the head steward via a text to 07394950356. They then introduced precautionary crowd segregation for their game against Leigh.

Then...

Two weeks ago, Rovers banned three supporters from all future games after deeply distasteful comments were made online after their recent game at Halifax.

A statement from Featherstone said that the club is: "... in discussion with West Yorkshire Police around safeguarding and best practice as we look to move forward to better prevent anything more damaging the reputation of the club."


On the field, Featherstone sit 5th in the Betfred Championship - at the heart of a compacted pack chasing runaway leaders Toronto. Five points separate the 2nd to 7th place sides, with Fev just three points behind second-placed York.

Coach Ryan Carr has drawn some heat this season over what some think is an over-reliance on Leeds DR players. But Rovers' relationship with Leeds was deepened further this month, when Carr joined Richard Agar's backroom staff at Headingley, in parallel to his role at Post Office Rd.

Carr said on the appointment: “I am excited about the opportunity with the Rhinos. I know a number of the squad because of the dual registration arrangement we have between Featherstone and Leeds and undoubtedly there is a lot of talent here. I am looking forward to working with the coaching team and the players and helping out in any way I can.”

Eleven current Rhinos have played under Carr for Featherstone thus far this season.

Rhinos boss Richard Agar said that the role “... will not impinge on his duties with Featherstone and, if anything, he will get more one-on-one time with some of the guys who are playing for them on a weekend.”

Fev come into Sunday's game on the back of an impressive narrow defeat in Toronto last weekend.
Having trailed 14-0 at the break (conceding a try in the first minute), Rovers hit back to go down 22-18.

Coach Carr was fuming after the game, having lost stand-in hooker Jack Bussey to a compulsory concussion test following an attack by Toronto's former Manly grub Darcy Lussick (who once described a brawl with Melbourne Storm, that saw 10 players charged and both sides fined $50,000, as 'the best day of my life').

Rovers travelled last week minus first choice rake Cameron King (ankle injury), scrum-half Dane Chisholm (also ankle) and Ben Reynolds , whose wife was due to give birth. Reynolds will be available for Sunday’s game and Carr is hopeful Chisholm and King will also return.

Hornets come into Sunday's game on the back of an ignominious milestone. Last week's disappointing 68-nil flogging by Toulouse brought up 900 'points against' this season, giving us an average of 45 points conceded per game in 2019 (average for is 14).

Post Game Matt Calland said Hornets have to be "Harder to beat" - so if Featherstone score fewer than 45 points this weekend that, bizarrely, would be an improvement. So far this year, Fev have only scored more than 45 twice. Once against Halifax (46) and... er... against us (56). So there's your benchmark. The game against Hornets in May is also Featherstone's biggest winning margin this year.

We travel in hope. See you there.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

'Bergalled'

Hornets nil - Toulouse Olympique 68

This game marked a watershed moment: the moment when Hornets openly conceded their Championship status - effectively knocking over their king on the 2019 season.

Once again, Hornets provided a literal zero resistance to an, admittedly, bigger, stronger, faster full-time opposition - but it was the flaccid manner of the defeat that leaves a punch-drunk hardcore of fans contemplating the route to West Wales Raiders next year.

Despite a competitive first 10 minutes, three Toulouse tries in just five minutes ahead of the quarter-mark set the tone for the remaining hour - in which Toulouse scored a further nine tries.

Half of their dozen came from a single source - former Leigh/Swinton wing Bergal grabbing six tries down Hornets' brittle right edge where he encountered minimal resistance.

In retrospect, Hornets' best chance of getting anything out of this game came after 10 minutes when Toulouse's lanky lump Bretherton hit Pierre Bourrel late with an obvious shoulder charge. But, rather than reach for a card, referee Matt Rossleigh showed his invertebrate qualities by not only putting the offence on report, but also handing the visitors the possession that led to the opening try. It felt wilfully harsh.

The rest of the half became a parade: Bergal, Vaivai and Mika clocking up six tries between them to give Olympique a comfortable 32-nil half time lead.

The second half looked much the same: Marcon mugging a napping defence from acting half on 47  minutes, then Bergal grabbing his fifth six minutes later. On the hour, Kheirallah grabbed the first of a brace off an audacious Ford pass: his second, the first of four tries in the last nine minutes which underpinned the glaring gulf in class.

Not much else to say, really. Toulouse were well-drilled and ruthlessly clinical, but barely crawled out of neutral in what - at times - looked like a low-impact training run.

We can't summarise this better than TS Eliot who, in his poem The Hollow Men, wrote: "This is how the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper."