Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The Birth of a Classic(o)
The Law Cup was first played for in 1921 to raise money for the Rochdale and Oldham Infirmaries  - and was originally known as the ‘Infirmaries Cup’.  As recorded in Hornets' Annual Report and Accounts from that year, a local MP – Mr A.J.Law – provided “a handsome Silver Cup for the Competition” and the winners received gold medals “the gift of Rochdale and Oldham gentlemen”.

At the first game, everyone concerned, including the players of both Clubs, gave their services for free contributing to a donation of £348 3s 7 ½ d to each of the two hospitals. Following the creation of the NHS, proceeds from the match in the 1948/9 season were distributed to local charities and the cup was referred as the ‘Charity Cup’. During the 1949/50 season it was decided that the majority of the proceeds would be used “for fostering of junior Rugby League games" - and the trophy renamed The Law Cup named after its original benefactor.

To date, the Law Cup has been contested 67 times -  including a replay after the first game at Rochdale ended in a scoreless draw. The replay a week later at Oldham was won 12-2 by the Roughyeds.

Oldham have won the cup 44 times to Hornets 20. The cup was  shared in 1954 and 1976, both games drawn.

The record attendance for a Law Cup game is 14,000 for a 34-0 Oldham home win in 1926 - just edging out the 13,900 present at the Athletic Grounds three years previously, when Hornets won 13-5.

A bit of needle
Don't come running to us when you hurt yourself.
It wouldn't be the Law Cup without a bit of spice chucked into the mix.

This week the Oldham Chronic bent the truth a little, pointing out that twelve of the previous 15 Law Cups  have been contested at Spotland, with only three played:  "... on the Oldham side of Summit Hill."

Scott Naylor was happy to get a little dig in. Speaking to the Chronic last month he said: "This is a game with our close rivals that doesn't need bigging up. Like all derbies, it's a massive game for both clubs and both sets of fans and it's nice that Rochdale are coming to us for a change."

"Their new coach, Carl Forster, is clearly more comfortable at the thought of coming to Oldham for a pre-season game than were some of his predecessors."

But Naylor has a short memory. Indeed, it's not entirely fair to blame Hornets for not wanting to play in Oldham when Oldham don't always play in Oldham.

Yes, it will be the first Law Cup to be played 'in Oldham' since 2011 (when Tony Benson's side  won 34-28)  - but we did quite happily travel to Stalybridge in 2017, winning that one 24-12.

As it stands., Oldham currently hold the venerable trophy having won 28-24 at Spotland last January - and if last weekend's pre-season results are any indicator - this year's Law Cup promises to provide a serious challenge.

A look at Oldham
Notwithstanding Hunslet Parkside's shock win over Fev, the most eye-catching result of last weekend was Oldham's 24-10 win at Big Spending Barrow. And, whilst Paul Crarey was careful enough to lay down a carpet of excuses, the Raiders side did contain Spedding, Dallimore, Charnock, Crellin, ex-Salford forward Walne, Jono Smith. And Deon Cross. Oops!

Reports suggest, though, that Barrow were out-enthused by Oldham - so no room for complacency.

Indeed, Naylor has put together a useful looking squad for 2019 - and it's one that's hotly tipped to win League 1 (even by Garry Schofield!).

Our four to watch out for are:

Ben Calland: The second rower is product of Salford's academy and (as Ray French might say) a 'former Blackbrook amateur' who cut his teeth playing for Corrimal Cougars in the Illawarra competition down-under. Sacked off a promising Judo career to play Rugby League. Did we mention that he's Matt Calland's brother?

Ritchie Hawkyard: the vastly experienced utility back is a former Scottish international with 378 pro- and semi-pro games under his belt. Having started his career at Bradford Bulls, he spent nine years at Swinton before moving to Keighley Cougars. Featured last week at Fullback.

Scott Law: Former Halifax and Hornets prop with huge experience. Keighley's 2018 player of the year played 200 games for Cougars over a nine year stint. A proper 'old-skool' prop who takes teams forward.

Zack McComb: the Huddersfield U19s product was signed last year from Siddal. Prior to that he had a stint at Batley that saw him play on dual-reg with Oxford and Gloucester All Golds. He weighed in with two tries last week playing outside former Hornets three-quarter Jack Holmes.

Hornets, are you ready?
CRATE STUFF: Bring your own terracing
Sunday sees Hornets' first trip to the newly-named Vestacare stadium since its refurbishment and the installation of a lovely 3G pitch. The newly configured ground also comes with the now infamous 'touchline wall' at the grandstand end - though we are assured that the RL touchlines are moved in to avoid any potential collisions. Spectators are still advised to bring a beer-crate to stand on though as the refurb didn't include raised standing on the touchline.

Hornets come into the game off the back of a thorough test by Mayfield. It's fair to say that it was hard to gauge a team performance given the permutations used, but what was clear is that the class of 2019 brings a sleeves-rolled-up work ethic and a willingness to do the hard yards on attack and defence.

The nature of the game did give us a chance to check out individual performances and there were a few that caught the eye. Early doors Jack Cottington and Ryan Millington got through a ton of work, Seta Tala put himself about and Dec Gregory looked sharp. In the second half Scotty Moore (Sponsored by TLCRF80mins) showed some deft touches as he engaged the footy cogs for the first time in a year, Shaun Ainscough looked solid going forward and mopping-up at the back. And Lee Mitchell looked every inch skipper material. Lots of positives.

Sunday is the next step towards galvanising individual capabilities into a team performance - and, for sure, Oldham are a very different proposition.

However it plays out, the A627M El Clasico never disappoints. Two traditional rivals going at it for 80 minutes. What's not to like? See you there.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Up and Running

Rochdale Mayfield 12 - Hornets 18

Drizzle Kicks: a bit of a damp one at Mayfield
Every day is a school day and, at late notice, Hornets class of 2019 assembled at a soggy Mayfield Sports Centre to take on Rochdale Mayfield for its first lesson of the year. With a squad including 13 new signings, there was much for Carl Forster to learn as his heavily rotated side saw off an impressive Mayfield side which played with an eye-catching combination of directness and off-the cuff spontaneity.

Indeed, a clash of styles was evident as Hornets' structured approach was countered by Mayfield's desire to take risks and go off script - and it made for an entertaining (and occasionally fractious) contest.

The new Hornets era began with Seta Tala losing the flight of the kick-off and gifting Mayfield an early attacking chance. As it was they forced the ball into touch and when Dec Gregory bought a penalty from non-square markers, Hornets eased 80 metres upfield, but were unable to build early pressure.

Mayfield too struggled to capitalise on early possession and when handbags loomed after a Hornets break off a dropped pass, the home side were stretched up the right channel where Seta Tala opened the scoring to give Hornets a 0-4 lead.

Mayfield hit back: forcing a drop-out off a Sheridan dink into the in-goal - and then looking to have scored, only for referee Mr Smail to spot a forward pass.

With the rain now persistent, the game became scrappy and it took until the 28th minute for new-boy Callum Wood to skip across the face of a retreating defence to extend Hornets' lead. Tyler Whittaker with a simple conversion and Hornets looking comfortable at 0-10.

But the home side produced a maverick, touch-finding kick-off to build some momentum and when Hartley followed a 33rd minute kick into the in-goal, the Hornets defence hesitated just long-enough for him to touch down. Hartley added the extras and - as the gloom gathered - the sides headed for the sheds at 6-10.

A much-changed Hornets emerged for the second half  - and Mayfield took advantage forcing an early drop-out driving Dan Abram backwards with virtually his first touch. Things got worse when Mr Smail snagged Hornets for offside at the drop-out. Mayfield took full advantage. Connaughton arriving at pace to crash in from close range; Sheridan popped over the extras and Hornets fans raised eyebrows as Mayfield too a 12-10 lead.

It didn't take long for Hornets to seize back the initiative: Stu Howarth lofting the ball into space, Brandon Wood winning the race to touch down (12-14).

Three minutes later Hornets went left again, this time some neat interplay unzipped the defence for skipper Lee Mitchell to score: 12-18.

With conditions now the dominant factor, quality football was at a premium and it took an old-skool kerfuffle involving Seta Tala and the entire Mayfield side to raise the tempo a little.

How They Lined-up
Hornets were first to respond: Scott Moore showing a deft touch, kicking long for Shaun Ainscough to chase, the winger harrying the cover into touch. Mayfield then produced a last hurrah of their own - held up over the line after a neat chip and chase.

In the end, Hornets had just enough in the tank to see off a Mayfield side that looks more than capable of putting in a serious challenge in the NCL Premier league this year. And in doing so, there was a lesson to be learned by both sides.

Whilst looking for structure, shape and execution, Hornets could learn from Mayfield's desire to back themselves in moments of impromptu creativity. In contrast, the surety of a disciplined structure would give Mayfield a platform to play the way they want  and reduce the risks in doing so.

All up, this was a tough hit-out for both sides, with RL in Rochdale the real winner.

And with Oldham springing a suprise victory over Barrow at Craven Park, next week's Law Cup should provide another test of Hornets' progress.