Thursday, 26 February 2015

Sunday's Coming: South Wales Scorpions

According to the South Wales Evening Post, in the 10 previous meetings between Hornets and SW Scorpions, we've won seven of them. But if - as the financial sector is always so keen to tell us - that past performance is no guarantee of future returns, Hornets will need to be primed and ready to go as Mike Grady brings his evolving side to Spotland.
Mike Grady - back in the other dugout.

These days, Scorpions are essentially a Wales Rugby League Development vehicle - run by the  WRL as the gateway to the pro-game the top of the Welsh 'pyramid': effectively a rep-side for the best of the Welsh Conference, with players signed from clubs across the principality.

And that's an area that Grady  - a familiar face to many at Hornets - having spent a lengthy spell as Ernie Wise to Chris Campbell's Eric Morecambe back under the old regime - knows well: his other role being coach of Wales 'A' Dragonhearts, the representative side for the Welsh Community game. He's also coached a Wales Select XIII who took on the full Wales side in a World Cup warm-up game.

And he's had an interesting, varied and circuitous career! Having started out at Warrington Wolves academy, he followed Paul Cullen to Whitehaven.  He then swapped the Cumbrian riviera for French Elite side Racing Club Albi, before returning to play for York City Knights, Oldham Roughyeds and then Hornets, where he had a bit of a low ley career - a handful of appearances. But it's a broad mix of experience that seems to have served him well as an emerging 'Young British Coach'.

Having initially joined his oppo Campbell coaching Warrington Wizards in 2010 (who have since returned under their parent Woolston's umbrella) - he played and coached them to a league title in his own right. And, as such, he's the man responsible for giving us Jono Smith.

Mike joined the Scorpions at the start of 2014 - to find a club in flux. Since the club left its Neath home, it's had a bit of a perpatetic existence, playing at  four different "home" venues in the last year: Maesteg, Blackwood, Cardiff Arms Park and Mountain Ash - which will be their base for the 2015 season. Except when they play Crusadaers in the Cymru Derby, which will be played at Cardiff Arms Park.

And it was at the Arms Park where the Scorpions flogged the newly formeed Cardiff City Rugby League side (formed in a merger by Cardiff Demons and Cardiff Spartans) by 82-12 in a pre-season game earlier this month - scoring 60 of those points in the second half!

Ashley Bateman:
just say 'no' kids...
Ahead of the inaugural 'League 1 Cup'  Mike Grady said of their trip to Spotland: "It'll be a very tough start to our season." And it just got tougher, with experienced international winger Ashley Bateman recently banned from all sports for two years after testing positive for the anabolic steroid oxandrolone and its metabolite, epioxandrolone following an out-of-competition test in November last year. Bateman was the record appearance holder for the Scorpions with 101 games. Now he's just 'that steroids bloke'. Daft lad.

Having had a stuttering, but unbeaten pre-season Ian Talbot faces that coach's most enjoyable problem - a selection headache. Having seen, most of the squad grab some game time, we're glad that Tol has to whittle some impressive showings down to 17 players.

TLCRF80mins has been impressed with Ryan Smith's sharpness, Dean Mignacca's industry and what looks like a proper handful in the pairing of Ste Marsh and Tony Suffolk - and the return of Dale Bloomfield gives us a strike winger to match Gaz Langley's eye for the goal line. Exciting stuff.

Our 2015 journey starts here folks - so let's start as we mean to go on. Get behind tha lads, give it 100% and enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Centurions freeze out Hornets with late chiller

Leigh Centurions 28 - Hornets 28

On a bitterly cold night at the misnomered Leigh Sports Village Pavillion (it conjures up images of an English swath nestled in the shadow of a classical Victorian clubhouse when, in reality, it has all the charm of a prison exercise yard), a strong Leigh reserve side featuring the fading Super League talents of Michael Platt and Martin Aspinwall gave Hornets a robust test in this final pre-season hit-out.

Playing a brand of high-tempo, direct football, the Centurions pulled and stretched Hornets around the park for 80 minutes, supplementing their expansive attack with some occasionally vigorous defence, providing an altogether more authentic experience than a half-century blowout against Conference opposition.

And Leigh went at it straight from the gun: James Tilley called upon to pull off a text-book man/ball/touchline tackle to prevent an early break. Hornets responded well with some direct attack of their own: a break by Dale Bloomfield foundering on a misplaced pass; Danny Yates' dink forcing a drop-out. Indeed, when quick hands in the 11th minute slotted Bloomers in by the flag for the first of his four try haul, it felt like an inevitability. Crooky, uncharacteristically, beginning a poor night with the boot, sliding the conversion wide.

Leigh came back with a vengeance and, when the impressive Reynolds launched a lofted kick into the Hornets in-goal Pitman (we think - from 75 metres away through the gloom) took advantage of Hornets' hesitancy to deal with the bobbling ball to score. Reynolds good with the two: 6-4.

Hornets' torpor bled into the restart - a huge Leigh break up the left centre channel saw Reynolds finish the job from 40 metres. He added the goal and the decent Hornets following shook its collective head. 12-4.

Then it was Leigh's turn to wobble, dropping the kick-off. Impressive debutant Danny Bravo went close for Hornets; then Danny Bridge snagged for a double movement as he reached for the line.

Reprieved, Leigh marched straight up the other end where Brad Hargreaves fielded another teasing Reynolds kick, only to get dragged into touch by his own corner-flag. From the resulting scrum fast-hands sent Cox in on the opposite wing. 16-4.

The introduction of Dean Mignacca settled the Hornets ship, his coaxing and chivvying from acting half visibly lifting Hornets' tempo. On the half-hour Hornets hustled the ball left via hand and foot for Dale Bloomfield to grab his second; 16-8.

With the half ebbing away, a big scrambling break took Dean Mignacca deep into Leigh territory. And, as Hornets built pressure, some swift - if scrappy - handling sent Dale Bloomfield in for his hat-trick try on the hooter. Half-time 16-12.

Hornets began the second half in neutral: dropping the kick-off possession and standing off Reynolds as he found Hansen in support to stretch Leigh's lead. Reynolds the two: 22-12.

The game entered a lengthy period of almost tectonic attrition - both packs locked in a physical mid-field battle  that tested tempers as well as defences. On 58 minutes, there was a forensic investigation by the referee as Sam Brooks appeared to accuse a Centurion of biting and - in the aftermath -  James Tilley backed-up well to score from close range. Crooky with his first of the evening: 22-18.

With Hornets looking like the stronger finishers, Leigh sought respite by all means possible: the referee losing patience with a series of persistent offences, and disapatching home prop Spencer with a yellow-card on 74 minutes. Hornets sniffed a chance of redemption.

Quick-hands wide put Bloomers in for his fourth; two minutes later a great interchange of passes created just enough space for Danny Yates to squeeze in. Crooky with the extras and Hornets in front at 22-28 with four minutes to play.

Leigh hadn't quite finished. A well-executed short kick-off saw the home side regather the ball and, when the ball found Reynolds, it seemed obvious that his teasing kick into the in-goal would result in a try. Which it did. We suspect it may have been Foster with the touch-down - again hard to say from our viewpoint through a tangle of limbs. Reynolds capped an excellent evening's work with the conversion. There was just enough time for a last-ditch Danny Yates drop-goal attempt to scud teasingly wide, leaving most spectators retiring to the warmth of the bar feeling that a draw was a fair result.

The question here is: what have we learned? Well, this was a curate's egg of a performance: some good, pacy attack surmounted by Dale Bloomfield's eye for the line; some decent defence in patches and a clear willingness to dig-deep and work hard. On the downside, rolling subs didn't help much - and there's a bit of a lack of 'match sharpness' that will come in the next week or two.

Ultimately, Leigh provided a high-quality prototype for what we can expect over the coming months - and it looks like an intriguing prospect. Let's hope it warms up soon, though...

Monday, 16 February 2015

Hornets get buzzy... er... busy against hardworking Heath

Hornets 60 - Thatto Heath 14

Phew: writing pre-season blogs mirrors the process of playing pre-season trial games. You don't really have your eye in, lots of things get in your way and by the time you've worked out what's working, the season is upon you and you just have to go with your best shot.

Equally, Sunday's hit-out against Thatto Heath proved a trial in pretty much every aspect. With the office printer and Spotland's tannoy system choosing to go tits-up (one ceasing working, the other buzzing like a jar of angry bees whenever we plugged pretty much anything into anything else), it was a bit of a kick, bollock and scramble that just about got us to making announcements - even if it remains impossible for six grown people to identify a try-scorer from 100 metres way.

Despite the tribulations (and the buzzing), it was Thatto Heath that started brightest: a teasing kick from Stott snaffled by Leicester to open the scoring. Hornets stood under their crossbar after just three minutes. You could have heard a pin-drop - if it weren't for the buzzing.

Hornets did find a bit of rhythm after 7 minutes, keeping the ball alive to send Lee Paterson in by the flag. Not long after more tidy handling up the same channel threaded Dale Bloomfield into much the same spot. This time Gaz Langley good with the boot for 10-4.

On the quarter, a nifty break by Matt Hadden and Woz Thompson unzipped the Thatto Heath defence, only to be pulled back for a forward pass. No matter: one minute later Dean Mignacca picked out Danny Yates, Yates found Danny Bridge arriving at pace and he crashed through to score. Gaz with the goal 16-4 and the small crowd… er… buzzing.

A parade of rolling substitutions and positional changes don't always make for fluidity and, while Hornets stuttered a bit in the second quarter, Thatto Heath kept plugging away - and when Gaz Langley shipped a daft penalty for a ball steal on 33 minutes, a lofted kick from Stott saw Walsh leap, gather and score in Gaz's corner. Karma, man…

16-8 at half time: Thatto Heath looking steady, Hornets playing well under par.

The second half was a completely different kettle of… er… buzzing fish- with Hornets playing with more pace, puropse and focus.

After just two minutes, James Dandy showed impressive pace to burn through off a Danny Yates ball (Gaz the two), then quick hands from Dean Mignacca to Wayne English who fired a looping pass for Dale Bloomfield to score (gaz off the touchline), then a mercurial show & go from Wayno who cruised through a huge hole to score. 32-8.

As the hour approached two of this season's Dannies conbined again: Yates to Bridge, nice and simple from close range, followed three minutes later by James Dandy's dummying thirty metre run after some slick passingin the halves. Gaz good with the boot 42-8.

It was Gaz Langley who struck again on 68 minutes: a good winger's finish after a sumptuous Wayne English break, converting his own effort for 48-8.

Two minutes later, Thatto Heath got their reward for sticking to their gameplan - Wakefield dummying in from close range, Quinn converting: 48-14.

Hornets' response was immediate, this time it was John Cookson popping up in the right hand channel to score, though the whole of the press box swore it was Danny Davis, who was actually sat in the dugout at the time. Thankfully, you could barely hear the erroneous announcement for the buzzing…

Hornets brough proceedings to a close on the 77th minute when a huge Ryan Smith/Jordan Case break ended with Wayne English grabbing his second in style.

Final Score 60-14.

So what have we learned? Firstly, that the gap between RL League 1 and the Conference Premier Division is somewhere in the region of 40 points. Secondly, that when Hornets new half-back combination clicks, it gives willing runners lots of options. Thirdly, that Dean Mignacca gives us a good combination of industrious poise with a drop of mongrel. Fourth, that Ste Marsh scares the crap out of us with his new 'Colonel Kurtz' haircut.

But mostly, that  - while still a bit ring-rusty - a lot of the guys in the squad look like they'll be giving Tol a bit of a selection headache come April.

And that's really got us buzzing.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Reality Checked

Mayfield 6  Hornets 44

For those fans who believe in the myth of the Rugby League pyramid, this looked - on paper - like a potentially close encounter. Mayfield, newly promoted to the NCL premier league; Hornets, freshly relegated into RL's League; both teams sitting - ostensiby - one tier apart in the RFL's wonderful new structrure. But the reality of the situation depends, we guess, on your perspective.

Indeed, by the time Mayfield wing Rob Kershaw ran off a Matt Calland pass in the 68th minute to score off the home side's first clear break, a ring-rusty Hornets had clocked up a fairly rudimentary 38 points.

To be fair, Mayfield began the game with some robust defence. But when Danny Yates dinked a short kick into the corner after 7 minutes for Dale Bloomfield to touch down, to give Hornets a 4-nil lead, it was only a matter of time before more followed.

But the home side dug in:  the game plodding through a scrappy, shapeless period; the home fans lifted by a brace of Calland drives at Danny Yates (half his size and half his age). Both times Yates standing his ground.

On 17 minutes Hornets got over the line, but were pulled back to receive a penalty for being tackled without the ball. Quick hands to the right sent in Brad Hargreaves for a try by the flag. 8-nil.

Three minutes later a good Hornets chase off a long kick forced a drop-out and, from the ensuing possession a neat inside ball found Wayne English arriving at pace to score. Crooky now with his eye-in for 14-nill.

Then a quick-fire two tries in two minutes to effectively end the game as a contest. Firstly Dale Boomfield outpacing the defence to score off a beautifully lofted Ryan Smith kick; then some great ticka-tacka passing between Dale Bloomfield and Dean Mignacca up the same left channel created space for Deano to open his Hornets account. Crooky with both conversions and Hornets comfortable at 26 nil.

The half ended scrappily, Hornets on the wrong end of a rising tide of facial injuries: Alex Trumper removed with a broken jaw that requires immediate surgery.

The second half began with a big centre-field-bust by Dean Mignacca, ended by a crunching high tackle that saw him removed groggily. The nature of rolling substitutions gave the game a bit of a shapeless feel as both sides sought a bit rhythm - and the momentum was gifted to Hornets in the 50th minute when Mayfield's Sam Butterworth was shown a red card for swearing at a touch-judge.

Hornets response was immediate; Ryan Smith skating untouched through a retreating defence to score. Crooky the two, 32-nil.

On the hour Dave Hull was first to respond to a teasing cross-field kick, gathering to walk past his opposite number. This time Jordan Case with a somewhat unorthodox style to convert: 38- nil.

Kershaw's try after 68 minutes gave the 'field fans something constructive to cheer and give the home side a late fillip. But when Wayne English and Brad Hargreaves
combined to break up a rare attack in the 70th minute, it led to a rush of blood for the home side who blew their hard-won field position with a daft penalty.

Hornets went straight downfield where Danny Yates scooted in from 25 metres off a James Tilley break. Jordan case the two - and all done at 44-6.

Even as a first hit-out, this was a pretty good effort:  though it seemed that the locals  had genuinely imagined that the difference between the NCL and the lower reaches of the semi-pro game was much smaller.

Here at TLCRF80mins, we know that pre-season games serve a specific purpose of trying combinations, getting players up to speed and identifying areas for fine tuning. Indeed, some might suggest that the results are incidental.

A Mayfield supporter said to a Hornets fan next to me on the way out: "It must be nice to win one…". And yeah, he's right - always nice to win, whatever the circumstances. 

Here's to plenty more in 2015.