Monday, 1 October 2018

The Great Escape

Sheffield Eagles 22 - Hornets 32

Hornets fans travelled in good numbers to witness The Great Escape. Handed a last chance in the last chance saloon, Hornets had to better Swinton’s result at Batley to pull off another Rugby League Miracle and secure Championship football for another year.  In the bleak surrounds of Sheffield’s Olympic Legacy Park Stadium (some ’stadium’. Some legacy!) Hornets sought to defy the gravitational pull of the League 1 Ridiculous Relegation Shithouse Playoff™, needing to produce back-to-back wins for the first time this season at the home of our bogey side.

But it all started so terribly badly: Richard Lepori uncharacteristically losing a high bomb in the swirling wind, Sheffield getting to a last tackle dink into the in-goal and Broadbent touching down with just four minutes on the clock. Thomas the extras for a 6-nil lead. Three minutes later, the home side broke again, but this time chasers of the last tackle kick were deemed offside by the RFL’s uber-pedant Mr Grant.

Hornets’ gears finally engaged on 10 minutes when a Danny Yates kick was allowed to bounce and Toby Adamson gathered on the run to score: 6-4. But the hard work was very nearly undone: Tyler Whittaker dropping the kick-off, Hornets then shipping back to back penalties to give Sheffield easy, un-earned pressure.

The home side turned the screw, forcing two consecutive drop-outs. For three sets the big home pack pounded the Hornets line, but their blunt-instrument approach foundered on a resolute Hornets defence. Sheffield’s reward for 10 minutes of relentless pressure? A knock-on followed by a soft penalty. Hornets’ punishment of the Eagles’ profligacy was swift: Firstly Deon Cross intercepting a lazy pass to blast fully 80 metres to score, then - on the quarter - Lee Mitchell hitting a short ball at pace, showing good strength to bully-off defenders to plant the ball down. Mayhem amongst the visiting fans; Tyler Whittaker slotting the extras for 6-14.

With Sheffield now reduced to impotent jabbing, Hornets soaked up what little danger they offered, the only other score of the half a Tyler Whittaker penalty on the hooter to give Hornets a 6-16 lead at the break. With Swinton tanking at Batley, Hornets’ Championship future was firmly in their own hands.

It was the home side, however, who started the second half the brighter. With Seta Tala removed after just three minutes of the second half with a head injury, Sheffield took advantage of a reshuffling edge defence: Burns scoring, despite what looked like an obstruction in the build up.

Justice was served immediately, as Sheffield dropped the kick-off. Hornets didn’t need a second invitation: whipping the ball wide for Jack Fox to stride round a static defence and score. Tyler Whittaker raised the flags and Hornets looking comfortable at 12-22. Then two moments of momentum shift…

On 50 minutes Sheffield hoisted a huge penalty downfield, where Aston took advantage of a Hornets defender rushing out of the line to score. Then Billy Brickhill forced a pass coming out of yardage; Sheffield untypically incisive, with Spedding cashing in. From nowhere - and having showed no desire to play any football whatsoever - Sheffield were level at 22-all. Shredded nerves weren’t helped by Mr Grant’s ridiculous application of a Hornets team warning for an obstruction.

With Swinton taking a flogging at Batley, Hornets had 20 minutes to find a way to win, to salvage the season.

On 66 minutes Hornets took the ball deep into Eagles territory; Tyler Whittaker lofted a teasing kick into the swirling September sky - Sheffield defenders backpedalling, uncertain. Spedding now turned patsy, the ball bouncing off his chest into the arms of the on-rushing Jo Taira - the Suva Express too strong to stop. Tyler Whittaker - somehow - hitting the upright with the conversion: 22-26. The clock now our enemy.

Sheffield Steal: Tyler Whittaker seals the deal with a late try
With Sheffield reduced to five plodding drives and a rubbish hoof downfield, Hornets went in search of the coup-de-grace. It arrived with just 120 seconds of the season remaining. More good approach work from Hornets, Tyler Whittaker showing great footwork to sashay through a flat-footed defence to score the try that sent the Hornets fans into a frenzy. For good measure, he slammed home the extras. The hooter ignited scenes of joy and relief.

Once again, Hornets have defied the odds and produced another Rugby League miracle. Given a glint of hope, Alan Kilshaw’s battered, busted and broken side have risen to the challenge, and shown that we may be a small club, but we have a huge heart. All that remains is to thank Killer and his backroom staff for keeping us going right to the very end; to thank every player who’s pulled on a shirt for what looked like a lost cause at times; to thank Steve Kerr for a steady hand on the tiller when it looked like all was lost. And to thank every Hornets fan for keeping the faith - espcially in the darkest of hours.

This season has tested every one of us to the limit. But if what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, let’s push Onward Hornets, Onward.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Sunday's Coming: Sheffield Eagles

Sunday sees Hornets travel to Sheffield Eagles in what is a proper, old-skool shit-or-bust contest on which the immediate future of our club hangs.

But coming into this one, it’s Sheffield suffering the existential crisis: players seemingly no longer caring and a coach in despair.

With no win in four, we reckon it’s safe to say that morale is through the floor at the Attercliffe Common Community Kick Pitch™. After the Eagles home defeat against a busted Barrow side with only three viable substitutes (NB: also their first away win of the year), Coach Mark Aston was inconsolable. Speaking in League Weekly he said: “The team that wanted it more won. They’ll now finish above us and justfiably so. I have no complaints.”

Of his players he said: “Why do they play the game? It should be for the love of the game, not to pay your bills. If you’re not professional, would you play amateur? Go and ask some of my guys and see what they say.”

And Aston was brutally honest on his own feelings: “We’ve hit rock bottom. This will probably go down as the lowest point of Sheffield Eagles for me persojally. The good thing is we only have one more week left.”

Speaking in the Sheffield Star, he continued in much the same vein: ““It frustrates the life out of me. I do not know what that represents because it doesn't represent this club and what we stand for. There's three sessions and one game to go and then I can put it to bed and then move on because it gets more painful.”

 “Even if we won (against Hornets) would it end on a high? Not really because the performances and the mentality and what we are in that changing room is not what we stand for and what we are about. It has petered out. Does it surprise me? Not one iota.”

Grounds for Complaint: Somewhere along the line,
the vision for the Olympic Legacy Park got diluted.
In the five years since the demolition of Don Valley Stadium , the Eagles have led a peripatetic existence - and the return to the new ‘ground’ in Sheffield was heralded as a saving grace for the club. But as recently as June it was  reported that the annual cost of the Eagles using the facilities at the OLP had nearly quadrupled from an initial estimate of £30,000 - (more than they ever paid at the DVS) - to more than £115,000. Quite a bill for a plastic pitch, a plastic fence, a plastic tent containing plastic seats - and plastic Portaloos.

In the latest episode of Rugby League’s longest running soap-opera, site owners The Scarborough Group announced last month that the £5m developmnent of the site into a bona-fide 3,900-capacity stadium has finally been rubber-stamped. Development is envisaged to start next February and take a year. Designs suggest that it will will comprise a grandstand on one side and and terracing on the other three.  But don’t hold your breath…

Hornets come into this game on the back of a morale-boosting win over Dewsbury Rams. In the aftermath,  disappointed Rams Coach Neil Kelly handed in his notice stating ‘personal reasons’ for his departure.

Having already played two ‘most important games in the club’s recent history’, there’s no doubt that - in light of the restructure - Sunday’s game takes on imperative, must-win, Cup Final status. With Swinton facing an uphill task at Batley (see what we did there?), a win or a draw at the OLP and a defeat for the Lions would secure Hornets’ Championship status for another year and condemn our near neighbours to play in the Ridiculous Relegation Shithouse Playoff™.

But it means laying an almighty bogey. Traditionally Sheffield has been a graveyard where wins are scarce. Having battled through 26 rounds against the odds, Hornets now have 80 minutes to prove everyone wrong: expecially Ralph (the) Rimmer, who has been mentioning us as defacto Ridiculous Relegation Shithouse Playoff™ fodder since the restructure took place.

It’s time for every Hornet to stand-up and be counted: 80 minutes left to give everything we have - on and off the field - to salvage the season and set us up for the future. All Rugby League fans want is to watch our teams play in games that mean something - and this one is huge. Indeed, it’s gladiatorial.

We implore all Hornets fans to make one last effort to get over to Sheffield and give your all in support of the lads. It’s a big ask - but it’s a big task. We need everyone on deck. With enough willing voices, we could make this feel like a home game - and we need every advantage we can.

See you Sunday. Bring your singing voice.

Directions for Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park:

(Post code S9 3TL)

- Follow M62 and M1 to Tinsley Viaduct/A631 in Sheffield. Take exit 34 from M1
- Follow Tinsley Viaduct/A631 / Attercliffe Common/A6178
- At Meadowhall Roundabout, take the 3rd exit onto Tinsley Viaduct/A631
- At the roundabout, take the 5th exit onto Sheffield Rd/A6178
- At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto A6178
- At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto Attercliffe Common/A6178
- At the roundabout, take the 1st exit and stay on Attercliffe Common/A6178

And finally...
Half an idea for an impromptu Hornets fundraiser: Sheffield ordinarily charge £17 to get in at their games, but on Sunday are only charging a fiver. Given the saving, how do people feel about donating a tenner of that saving to Hornets? You'll still be £2 up on the deal and we can help Hornets cover some of our running costs.