Sunday, 26 April 2015

Mugged!


Hornets 15 - Newcastle 16

The scoreline doesn't always tell the story - and this is the story of how a battered, broken Hornets battled to the death against an aggressive, brutalist, pig-ugly Newcastle side who bludgeoned their way to a last minute win against a Hornets that ran out of time and fit bodies.

With Tony Suffolk, Dean MIgnacca, Lewis Charnock and Mike Ratu all taken injured from the field, Hornets strove manfully with only one fit substitute for much of the second half, while Newcastle basically punched repeatedly at their weak spots until they cracked.

We've said here that decent sides find a way to win and, bereft of any real footballing craft, Newcastle's physical wrecking-ball approach did enough quite literal damage to sneak them home.

The opening exchanges were tight and scrappy: Newcastle hoofing the kick-off into the Pearl Street end; Hornets fumbling passes and catches alike under some close physical attention.

But when Hornets managed to shake off the shackles they created the first half's two real moments of quality. On eight minutes Danny Bridge broke a tackle, slipping the ball to Dale Bloomfield who skinned his opposite number; Danny Yates sniffing the chance, taking the inside ball to skate in for a great try. Crooky the two, 6-nil.

On 25 minutes It was Danny Yate's chip wide that caused twitches in Thunder-pants: Dale Bloomfield's deft tap back inside to Mike Ratu, Ratu finding Danny Bridge with space to score. 10-nil and only one side playing any football (it took 16 minutes for Newcastle to carry the ball over the half-way line).

The rest of the half was a restricted arm-wrestle. Hornets chivvying and probing as Newcastle left bodies in pretty much every tackle. Messy.

Out of nothing, the visitors did scrape up sufficient passes to send Mapals in for a try wide out on 33 minutes. But they immediately reverted to type - lunging through a ruck right on the hooter. Gaz Langley teasingly wide with the penalty. Half-time 10-4.


The second half started cagily - both teams pushing the other back with deep kicks, fishing for errors.

On 47 minutes the industrious Dean Mignacca prised a gap in the Newcastle defence; Wayne English carried the ball on, launching Lee Paterson up the right channel; Pogo drew the cover and a sweetly timed pass sent Gaz Langey in by the flag. 14-4, Hornets looking the better of the two sides.

But errors began to creep in. First Hornets made a total hash of a harmless hit & hope kick to concede a drop-out; then the defence stood off as Thunder worked the ball across the park where Meads made the extra man to score. 14-8.

With every tackle now a mauling, spoiling scrap it was inevitable that tempers would fray, but when Meads got involved in a bit of handbags with two Hornets tacklers just short of the hour, he took a soccer style dive to catch the referee's eye. Cheap, really.

Reduced to one fit sub with a quarter of the game to go, Hornets began to misfire. Forced passes, clumsy knock-ons: the harder they tried the worse it got.

It needed a steadying influence and, when Crooky slammed home a drop-goal on 67 minutes to stretch Hornets' lead to a two-score 15-8, it gave the home side and their noisy fans a scrap of wreckage to cling to.

But Hornets were busted, knackered: rocking on the ropes, desperately seeking that one chance of a knockout punch. First a short ball bounced off Anthony Walker's chest with the line begging; then Dale Bloomfield unable to reel-in a fingertip pass with the whitewash at his mercy. Out on their feet, but still playing the ony football on offer.

But the ask was too great: Brown diving through a tangle of tired bodies to touch down on 71 minutes (15-12) and Craig lunging onto a short-ball through exhausted defence on 78 minutes. 15-16 - brutally cruel.

Still Hornets pushed to the death - a pitch-long kick from the back of the scrum saw the chasing Lee Paterson and Dale Bloomfield come agonisingly close to regathering the ball. But as Hornets packed for their scrum the hooter sounded. Gutting.

We always knew that Newcastle would be a tough proposition - but, Jesus, they're a pig-ugly steet-fighting outfit  - sprawling and spoiling in every play. In Mark Mexico they have a battering ram of a player who - released from the close attentions of Tony Suffolk finished strongly and who was probably the difference.

When both teams were at full complement, there was only one side at the party. But once the reinforcements were removed, the advantage favoured the bulldozer approach.

In the end it felt like a mugging - and it's going to be a busy week in the treatment room as Tol tries to put his beaten-up side back together for next week's trip to Coventry.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Sunday's Coming - Gates… er… Newcastle


Good news: Gateshead's move over the river has taken professional rugby league to  Newcastle for the first time since 1938. Bad news: Thunder were taken over by Newcastle Rugby Limited, the holding company that owns  *nion side Newcastle Falcons.

The news came with a slight sense of deja-vu - the original Thunder sacrificing its identity in the deal that kept GatesHull FC in Super League in 1999 (Gateshead Thunder took over the Hull FC's identity in Super League and moved home games to The Boulevard. Most of the Gateshead playing squad moved to Hull FC along with their board and coach Shaun McRae).

Now effectively an adjunct to a *nion club, shipped over the river to Kingston Park (with its plastic 3G pitch) and with a squad liberally laden with Hull KR dual reg players, there's not a great deal of the old Gateshead DNA left in the Newcastle ThunderFalcons (or, as we shall call them NTF™).
The Falcon shows off his falcon. In Newcastle.

At the time of the takeover, Thunder's  Managing Director Keith Christie told BBC Sport. "It was a commonsense step. We're keen to make sure we don't forget our birthplace in Gateshead, but we have to ensure we move forward and unfortunately that means changing the name." And the shirt and the badge and the ground and the city they play in. But apart from that…

Speaking on the Newcastle Falcons website last year, Newcastle Rugby Ltd chairman Semore Kurdi said of the takeover: “I’m delighted that Gateshead Thunder has become part of Newcastle Rugby Ltd. There are a number of benefits to having both league and union Clubs within the same organisation. Resources can be shared off the field in terms of administration, marketing, medical, sports science and facilities that will be to the advantage of both clubs."

"With rugby league now re-introducing promotion and relegation between the various levels there is a clear path through to Super League. To reach Super League will be our long term goal. There is now a target date for this goal. Resources have been made available straight away to strengthen the current squad… our aim being promotion to the next tier"

Indeed, his *nion club also seemed quite keen to experience life at a different tier, currently sitting next to bottom of the Premiership with just four wins from 19 games. Ironic that they stand to be reprieved by the abolition of relegation.

And, just in case you were in any doubt about who wears the pants in this relationship, you could email Thunder's  MD on keith.christie@newcastle-falcons.co.uk

Why-aye: Stanley Gene suspects the
new logo might not fly...
On the field, NTF™ are coached by the redoubtable Stanley Gene (who is somewhere between the ages of 36 and 70 depending on which article you read) and he's been resourced to make the ThunderFalcons a success in the Toon.

In order to give his *nion paymasters the best bet of a quick return, newly cashed-up Gene has gone back to what he knows, hooking up a triumverate of top quality Kumul talent in centre Jason Tali (PNG Hunters), utility Charlie Wabo (Hela Wigmen/PNG) and prop Mark Mexico (Cronulla Sharks via PNG Hunters)

Also, in addition to NRL U20's Toyota Cup winner Jordan Meads (NZWarriors) and Ron Massey Cup Player of the Year Dayne Craig (Western Suburbs), Stan has also brought British prop Fran Welsh back from Young Cherrypickers in the CRL.

More entertainingly, NTF™ is the he latest stopping off point for agricultural Cumbrian prop Ryan McDonald.

But for all this, NTF™ still got spanked 36-16 at home to Keighley last week. In two wins from three games, NTF™ have racked up 74 points. However, while they clearly know where the line is, the 76 points they've conceded in the process suggests defensive issues.

Stanley Gene saw defeat as a good thing. Speaking in the 'Why-Aye Geordie News' this week he said: “It’s good because some of the boys are thinking they’re already there but it’s only the third game. It brings the boys back on the ground and we’ll start re-focusing for the Rochdale game.”

Conversely, Ian Talbot is a happier bloke after Hornets' cogs clicked together in last weekend's steam-rollering of Barrow.

Speaking on the Hornets website this week he said: "“There were some real good performances across the board. Mike Ratu was unplayable on that form and he’s way off being fit yet so I can’t wait to see a fit Mike Ratu because when he wants the ball a bit more he will cause havoc. Both the halfbacks and Crooky at nine have done exactly what I’ve asked them to do and took a grasp of that game."

"We are going to have to make that progression again and be even better again next week to beat Newcastle. They have had a good couple of wins, going to Crusaders and winning. We know that Stanley Gene will have them hyped up and ready to come down here, but we will give it our best shot."

Indeed, grabbing the game early will be key - with completion and confidence again the two critical factors. It's the game of the day in League One - don't miss it!


Can League Repel the Invasion of the Bodysnatchers?


25 years ago, Liverpudlian band Icicle Works released an album called 'If you want to defeat your enemy - sing his song'. TRLCRF80mins is concerned that someone at Twickenham has adopted this as a strategy to undermine Rugby League.

Gateshead Thunder's 'code switch' to become part of the 'dual-code' Newcastle Rugby Ltd. organisation got us thinking about how the *nion game seems inexorably drawn to the thing it despises most: Rugby League.

Here at TLCRF80mins, we've always said that Rugb *nion is, at its core, a severely conflicted sport.

Encoded in its DNA is an inherent hatred of league - having spent the vast majority of the last 120 years working not only to disadvantage our sport as much as possible, but actively investing time and effort to eradicate it in some territories. On the other hand, whilst it hates league, it sees in our sport the game it so desperately wants to be - fast, open, athletic, exciting. Indeed they want to be us so much that *nion has made every effort to lay claim to many RL innovations - red/yellow cards, sin-bins, video refs, blood-bins - even the play-the-ball, reinvented by the RFU as the 'Roll-the-ball' for development versions of their game.

Increasingly, *nion has wrapped itself in League's clothing, speaking our language - walking and talking in desperate imitation. The latest attempt to adopt League's brand positioning is the most audacious yet. Is there any co-incidence that on the 120th anniversary of the foundation of the Northern Union that the International Rugby Board announced the launch of a competition in the USA called the National Rugby Football League (NRFL) with plans to begin in the summer of 2015?

Branded 'the professional RuXV™ League' with the strapline 'The next real major league sport in America'  - every element of it appropriates Rugby League's vocabulary, its lexicon, its branding - even its names, here and in Australia. It is, in our opinion, a blatant exercise in the intellectual property crime of 'Passing Off' . The law of 'Passing' Off entitles a business (in this case Rugby League) to protect itself against another business (in this case Rugby *nion) from unfairly using its goodwill to gain sales/market share.  Basically, it entails one business selling their own goods/services by making themselves indistinguishable from a competitor so that people believe that they are the goods/services of someone else -  wilfully misleading the audience.

And if the use of 'National Rugby Football League' doesn't have you shaking your head in disbelief, remember that they've already seized use of the term 'Rugby World Cup' (first used by Rugby League in France in 1954 -  the first World Cup in either rugby code).  They've also taken use of the term 'Challenge Cup', via the launch of the European Rugby Challenge Cup which began this season.

Over time, the appropriation of these terms blurs the lines between codes - particularly in development areas where *nion is keen to foster the idea that there is only one legitimate code of 'rugby' and prevent entry/development of league in those territories (the USA's RuXV™ League will certainly undermine the ground gained by the USA Tomahawks in the 2013 World Cup).

Whilst we get angry and frustrated by *nion's continued knavish tricks, the silence from RL's hierarchy is deafening. If faced with such a blatant case of passing off - a campaign of activity designed to mislead audiences and trade off the back of another brand's equity - any other business on the planet would've sent the lawyers steaming in with a Cease & Desist notice -  a legal device informing a third party of the right-holders' rights, identity, and intentions to enforce their rights to an intellectual property.

Rest assured, the desire to protect its intellectiual property rights certainly flows the other way. There was an occurrence in 2004, when the NZRU sent a Cease & Desist notice to York based amateurs New Earswick All Blacks in order to prevent any compromises of their/their licencees' exclusivity to capitalise on the All-Blacks brand. At the time, NZRU chief executive Chris Moller said: "Failure to protect trademarks undermine your rights.  A trademark is a very valuable property for all organisations.  If you are in possesion of information regarding someone infringing your rights and you choose to do nothing about it, then under law you are deemed to have accepted that situation. Even though this is another sport, and an amateur organisation, we are obliged to take steps."

Having had no push back on 'Rugby World Cup' and 'Challenge Cup', you can almost understand *nion chancing its arm on 'NRFL'. And our fear is that RL's head-in the sand passivity might, eventually, do *nion's dirty work for it. Institutionally, the RFU spent a century wishing us dead, undertaking unforgiveable acts of discrimination against players who dared to throw a ball around under a different set of laws and get openly rewarded for the privilege (don't forget that, while claiming the 'amateur' high ground, top *nion clubs secretly tucked wads of cash into players' boots after games).

And let's not forget that the *nion code in France sided with the Vichy Government to criminalise League and strip it of its assets in an attempt to wipe it from the sporting map. W. Mann's review of Mike Rylance's book "The Forbidden Game: The Untold Story of French Rugby League" summarises: "The French Rugby Union's collusion with the Nazi-backed Vichy Government to ban Rugby League is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of sport. It all but destroyed a sport that was, at the time, threatening to overtake rugby union in popularity terms, even though league was only introduced to France six years earlier. Had league continued its meteoric rise, the map of world rugby - and I mean both codes - might today be very different."

"Yet there is still a sense of denial about what happened to Rugby League in France. Even today, the game is discriminated against - try asking the Catalans Dragons about their difficulties sharing a supposedly municipal stadium with union club Perpignan."


 *nion's continued - blatant - undermining of League's development is one of the reasons we feel uncomfortable when Rugby League cosies-up to the 15-man game. Indeed, every time we see a League club get into bed with a *nion counterpart, or we see a *nion squad joining a League side for 'training' so it can 'learn' from League's superior skills, our teeth itch.

Like a crocodile, they may smile broadly in our presence, but their only real thought is how soon they might bite us in half. As we started with a song reference, it's fitting that we end with one: "Never smile at a crocodile, you can't get friendly with a crocodile. Don't be taken in by his welcome grin - he's imagining how well you'd fit within his skin…"

Or - in *nion's case - just how perfectly they would fit into ours.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Hornets Saturday Super-Score

Hornets 48 - Barrow 12

Having put 50 points through Swinton last week, there were pre-match thoughts that Barrow would provide a stern test for Hornets. But from first whistle to final hooter, this was such a one-sided display of total domination, that Barrow never looked capable of competing, never mind winning.  Throughout, Hornets played high-tempo, direct football that had the Raiders in retreat for long tracts of the game. And they were in the groove straight from the off.

When Mike Ratu stepped inside to score off a Danny Yates pass after just three minutes, there were hints that that channel might prove fruitful. And when a Danny Yates’ last-tackle dink overhead was gathered by Dale Bloomfield who coolly slotted the supporting Paul Crook in for a well made try via the same route two minutes later, you could sense that Hornets might exploit it more. Five minutes gone, Crooky sound with the boot: 12-nil.

Indeed, on the next foray into the Raiders’ half, Hornets went straight back to the left centre channel, but Wayne English overshot a cut-out pass to give Barrow’s three quarters some much needed respite. With Barrow desperately trying to slow down the pace of the game, the next ten minutes saw both sides trade penalties, Barrow briefly threatening off the back of repeat infringements before running out of ideas 5 metres short.

On 16 minutes Hornets shook off the Barrow spoiling to create a quality try. A prestidigitous reverse pass from Paul Crook to Danny Bridge had the defence in all sorts of back-pedalling trouble, the ball was worked wide, Bridgey went for the return to bring the main stand to its feet. 16-0.

With Barrow now reduced to a series of soft penalties for interference, Hornets went straight back on the offensive and on 20 minutes Paul Crook slapped the raiders with a 2 metre sucker try from acting half, before adding the two. a quite resounding 22-0. 

On 23 minutes Ryan Smith was unfortunate to have a try chalked off for offside chasing a Danny Yates chip. This seemed to shake Barrow from their torpor and, on the half hour Lupton’s clever delayed pass sent Briscoe in to open Barrow’s account. Hankinson the two: 22-6. No matter. With the hooter imminent, James Tilley hit a short ball at pace from close range to crash in and score. Gas Langley adding the two to send Hornets in 28-6 up at the break.

The second half began with a rare aberration, Ryan Smith misjudging the kick-off to concede a drop-out. For the next ten minutes Barrow chucked the kitchen sink at the Hornets defence, but they were twice forced to hand-over on the last tackle close to the Hornets line. Having ridden out Barrow’s brief flurry, it was Hornets’ turn to press the Barrow defence. Under a relentless forward barrage, Barrow clung to the ropes and when the ball was shipped wide to Dale Bloomfield on 48 minutes he took advantage of the stretched defence to dive in by the flag. 32-6. 

To compound their problems, Barrow put the Kick-off into the Sandy Lane end - but Hornets failed to find touch with the resulting penalty. This heralded another scrappy period as Barrow lay bodies in every tackle in an attempt to suck the momentum out of the game. On the hour the ever-impressive Tony Suffolk carved a huge break through the heart of the Barrow defence, carrying the ball 30 metres before switching an inside pass to Ryan Smith who finished in style under the black dot. Crooky with the extras: 38-6

On 65 minutes Barrow did fashion a consolation try when Briscoe went in off the back of a penalty, but the relief was brief. Immediately Hornets worked the ball back to the left channel - Bridge to Charnock, Charnock to Ratu-  Mike Ratu crashing through retreating bodies to score Paul Crook a dead-shot off the touchline: 44-12. Barrow - again - hoyed the kick-off into the Sandy Lane end. 

With the game coming into the last ten minutes, the penalty count began to climb; Barrow now a tripping, high tackling, late tackling, interfering mess. On 76 minutes Hornets delivered the coup de grace: Danny Bridge capping his best game in a Hornets shirt, arriving like a train off a short ball to score. Final score 48-12.

No doubts, this was a quite exceptional performance. Playing off the back of a supremely high completion rate, Hornets played with poise, pace and confidence. The return of Wayne English to Full-back gave Hornets that additional frisson of attacking threat and, in Lee Paterson and Mike Ratu, Hornets had power in the three quarters that Barrow never really looked like handling. Up front the forwards out-punched their bigger counterparts - Danny Bridge and Tony Suffolk, the pick of an excellent pack, Lewis Charnock looking more comfortable at loose forward.


And so, the benchmark has been set. Someone commented as we left that expectations have been significantly raised by this performance - and they’re right. And if this is an indication of what Hornets are capable of, it’s going to be a very interesting season indeed.