Thursday, 16 August 2018

Sunday's Coming: But Killer's Going!

A week is a long-time in Rugby League - and what a week this has been. Ahead of this weekend’s clash, both Hornets and Featherstone have been dealing with the challenges of life in an increasingly difficult Championship.

Edged out of the top four by Halifax, Featherstone don’t have a great deal to gain from schlepping round the Championship shield. Along with fast-imploding Leigh, Fev bring a 16 point advantage into this competition and, with only 14 points available over its seven protracted weeks, they face a series of dead rubbers before taking their guaranteed spot in the final. The flaw in the system brutally exposed - though the arse might drop out of Leigh long before the final comes round.

Featherstone come into Sundays game on the back of two results that are eyecatching for different reasons. Two weeks ago they made history when they became the first side to beat Toronto on their own patch - a 16-man Fev squad claiming a 30-12 win over a clearly ‘not-arsed’ Wolfpack preparing for the Super 8 Qualifiers.

In contrast, Rovers struggled to a 26-12 home win over Batley last week - having been locked at 6-all at the break. With Batley ahead on the hour mark, it took a quick-fire triple from Thackeray, Cooper and Maskill to wrench the game away from the Bulldogs.

The win came at a price for Fev, though: Scott Wheeldon with a leg injury in the first minute - and his replacement Sam Brooks removed with a eye socket damage.

Off the field, the failure to reach the top four has sparked some deep introspection at Post Office Road. This week Rovers’ General manager Davide Longo was in the spotlight as he offered answers to questions on the club’s intentions and viability going forward - given that the club had invested heavily in personnel yet  - in the words of his coach John Duffy - “…  not achieved what we wanted to achieve…”

On finishing 5th in a four-horse race, Longo said: “Featherstone Rovers will experience a potential 55% cut in central distribution funding, therefore immediate action is required in order to remain sustainable.”

In an extensive interview on the club’s website, he admits that Feathewrstone “… rolled the dice…” on making the top four, but maintains: “This was a calculated risk from a club who wanted to push on after securing our status as the country’s best part-time club last season, but as is necessary in sport, we had a plan for if this did not materialise as expected.”

“We are now executing that plan, by reducing the deficit and cutting where we need to cut.”

In terms of where those cuts will fall, he said: “It is imperative that we reduce the playing budget, but we are in the process of a thorough recruitment operation” and: “We are in communication with the coaching staff over the current situation. There will be a need to reduce the number of coaching staff in our setup for next season, but we are consulting with them to come to a solution.”

Click here for the full interview.

Meanwhile…

Hornets fans were rocked this week by the bombshell news that Alan Kilshaw will leave at the end of the season. In a club release this week he said: “I believe I have taken the club as far as I possibly can under the increased restrictions.”

In what has been a challenging season beset by financial concerns, budget disparity and a relentless injury list, Hornets have stuggled hard against what Killer says are: “… a unique set of circumstances out of the control of the playing and coaching staff which has impacted and halted the progression we had made in 2016 and 2017.”

Having delivered Hornets’ first League Title win of any kind for almost a century in the odds-busting win in Toulouse in 2016, Killer went on to defy the odds again last year, keeping Hornets in the Championship. But this year has seen the squad and the club stretched to breaking point in its battle for Championship survival

“I count myself incredibly lucky to have coached such a historic and traditional rugby league club and thank each and every player and member of support staff who I have worked with during my time here.”

He went on: “Finally I would like to thank the supporters and members of this club who have stood by me and the players and have backed us week after week during my tenure. Keep turning up and backing whoever comes in next because a club is only as good as its members.”

With six games to go, there’s still the opportunity for Hornets - and Killer - to go out with a bang. There remains a chance that Sheffield could blow-up and, with nothing to lose, Hornets could spring a shock or two.

Given Alan Kilshaw’s ability to upset the bookies, whilst there’s still even the slimmest of chances, we wouldn’t write the season off just yet.

See you Sunday.




Monday, 13 August 2018

All Very Ugly

Barrow 17 - Hornets 10

This was a tense game that tested the emotions. A game of three-quarters and a quarter, where Barrow took advantage of two fortuitous incidents to grab just enough momentum to edge this game beyond a despairing Hornets’ grasp. For 60 minutes, you couldn’t squeeze a fag-paper between these two teams: Barrow one-dimensionally throwing big lads at the Hornets line; Hornets committed, resolute - arguably the best defensive performance of the year.

The game began with a bang. Barrow’s wunderkinder Joe Bullock skittled with less than a minute on the clock: dismissed for a head test. Plenty of work for Adrian Lam to do on his tackling techinique.

Barrow then gifted a penalty for a spurious high-shot - only for Lee Mitchell (having his best game in Hornets’ colours) to absolutely monster Dallimore: Barrow forced into a poor last tackle option.

With barely time to catch breath, Hornets went on the attack: first chasing down a huge kick (only to get snagged again by referee Mr Griffiths) then Dion Cross embarking on a weaving run, only for the last pass to fall to Barrow winger Loxham - who was summarily pounded by Lee Mitchell and led staggering from the fray.

Clearly frustrated, Barrow were reduced to niggling at every tackle: Dallimore now following Mr Griffiths around the field begging for penalties and continuously skriking like a mard child. Hornets’ response was to keep playing what little football was on offer and, when Morgan Smith was hit high on a foray to the posts, he picked himself up and tucked the penalty away: 0-2.

In pantomime style, the playing of Mr Griffiths now spread to the crowd: they shouted for a penalty and he responded in Pavlovian style - and the referee was once again in the spotlight when - on 20 minutes -  Hornets debutant Ryan Millington executed a perfect one on one tackle only for Mr Griffiths to deem that he’d tipped Carter over the vertical. Which he hadn’t.

And when a Barrow player took a South American soccer-style dive at a play the ball, Dallimore waved his arms like a car-dealership inflatable  promotional character and Mr Griffiths obliged. All a bit cheap.

The game was now attritional - both sides coming up with errors. And when Carter ducked into a Seta Tala tackle on 26 minutes, more home-side histrionics saw him yellow-carded.

Barrow’s response to gaining a man advantage was to send a series of lumps lumbering at the Hornets’ line. Not only did Hornets respond with some sterling defence, they added another penalty via Morgan Smith to go 0-4 up.

The half ended with Dec Kay removed from the field with what looked like a shoulder injury (incident one): Miles Greenwood pressed back into service. There was just enough time for a Barrow break up the left off a loose ball, culminating in a mystery penalty. Them more one-man rumbling until the hooter delivered much needed respite.

Hornets began the second half with puropse. Lee Mitchell driving close to the Barrow line, then Billy Brickhill plunging in from acting half for what looked like a perfectly good try. Five feet away, Mr Griffiths put whistle to lips, but his attention was drawn by more Barrow bleating to the touch-judge 40 metres away who claimed to have seen a knock-on. No try (incident two).
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No matter. Hornets went straight back downfield where a last tackle Yatesey kick into the in-goal sqirmed away from a lunging Miles Greenwood.

Off the hook, Barrow resumed the arm-wrestle: stifling any opportunities to play football. Their only concession to entertanment was a steepling bomb on the hour-mark from which they gained a drop-out. Bartes piled the ball back towards the Hornets line and Smith arrived like a runaway bin-wagon to  crash his way in and ground the ball. Dallimore the extras and Hornets 6-4 down.

Two minutes later, Hornets looked to have snaffled possession back in a good position when Pat Moran stole the ball one-on-one - only for Mr Griffiths to misinterpret the associated Law and give Barrow another gift penalty from which they forced a repeat set.

On 65 minutes, Mr Griffiths again yielded to the Dallimore’s endless nagging to give him a penalty that he gleefully kicked. And whern Tyler Whittaker arrived late at a tackle on 70 minutes, Dallimore extended the home-side’s lead to 10-4.

Reeling, Hornets repelled a series of Barrow drop-goal set-ups, but when Johnston finally got one away to give the Raiders a seven point lead with four minutes remaining, you sensed that it’d be enough.

As it was, Barrow capped a pig-ugly performance with a union-style pushover-try in the 77th minute: Susino under a pile of bodies: Mr Griffiths this time happy that the ball had been grounded.

To their credit, Hornets kept playing to the death: a show-boating Dallimore produced a quite awful chip & chase, Miles Greenwood steamed the ball back up the Hornets right-edge and he drew tacklers to send Dion Cross over on the hooter. Smith the two - final score 17-10.

There’s no denying that this was hard to take. We speak sometimes about how a side needs a bit of mongrel in it to drag them through. Here Hornets gave every ounce only to be edged by a team that’s pretty much all mongrel: 26 penalties tells its own story.

The outcome is that Hornets - and Swinton (who choked to ship 34 second-half points at Dewsbury) - now need snookers to stay up. Sheffield have replaced Barrow as the team to chase, but Hornets will need four wins with six games remaining. And for Sheffield to lose four. Not impossible - but incredibly difficult.

Finally a mention for the Hornets fans who gave a great account of themselves - raising the roof even though they were massively outnumbered. Though their post-match appreciation of Hornets efforts was marred by an accusation - by an animated Barrow fan - that other Barrow fans had racially abused Hornets players.

A test of the emotions indeed...