Monday, 7 May 2012

Of Pilgrims and Progress

Doncaster 48 - Hornets 26

After the doubts of the last 7 days, it was a small, but hardy knot of the Hornets faithful that chose to test their faith with a trip to Doncaster.

And if it's better to travel in expectation than to arrive, you have to consider just what those expectations are. Certainly the most realistic of Hornets fans would have hoped for any improvement on the previous encounter with Donny. But, my, though they got their wish in the end, they had to wait a long time for their reward.

The early encounters were pretty even: Donny fashioning a try from a Chris Baines chargedown as Fawcett capitalised on a static defence and fed Colton in for a try by the flag.

But Hornets dug in and scrapped back, with Danny Davies slipping a neat pass to Dale Bloomfield who crashed through his opposite number to score out wide.

At four-all after 20 minutes, the game looked evenly poised, but by the time the half time hooter sounded, Hornets had shipped four tries as Doncaster gained momentum - piggy-backing upfield off needless penalties and finding the killer pass when it mattered. Spiers on 21 minutes (route one from short range), Colton on 22 minutes (overlap out wide), Kesik on 29 minutes (slumping in from acting half) and Fawcett after 32 minutes (off a neat pass resulting from a Cooke kick) looked an awful lot like last week as the teams retired at 26-4.

Whatever was said in the sheds at the break had the desired effect, as Hornets came out fired up and playing slick, high-tempo football for the first time in weeks.

With only two minutes gone, Danny Davies shrugged off his opposite number, blasted into space and threaded Dale Bloomfield in at the corner. Then, from the kick-off possession Hornets - courtesy of monster drives from Danny Ekis and Phil Braddish - powered close to the home side's goal line, where quick hands found Dean Gorton who steamrollered  the home centre on his way to the line. Three minutes later, it was Davies again, terrorising  Waterman, accelerating away to find Paul Crook with a well-picked inside ball. Crook in turn found the supporting Paul O'Connor and, with the extras added, three tries in nine minutes had the home side wobbling (and the home fans silenced) at 26-20.

It was clear that Doncaster needed a break to stem the momentum and it came via an uncharacteristic fumble from the ever-reliable Paul Crook. Doncaster settled the ship with a steady six and worked Chris Spurr in for a try after 55 minutes. The game swung again.

Quick-fire tries from Fawcett and Butterfield left Hornets forcing passes in desperate pursuit of a bonus point, but to no avail. Despite good hands from Phil Braddish to score under the black dot with time ebbing away, there was still enough remaining for the languid Cooke to produce his one pass of the day to send Hodson in at the corner.

In the wash-up, Hornets were well-beaten, but they did show character to drag the game back within reach and with a little luck this may have been a closer encounter.

What is becoming clear is that the gulf in this division lies not in ability, but in teams' ability to gamble large amounts of money on a marquee player they believe will be the difference between 4th and 5th. As one Doncaster supporter helpfully pointed out yesterday: "the reason you don't like Cooke is that you can't afford him". Very true - but six into four don't go and at least one club is going to find out that they couldn't afford whichever ex-Super League basket-case the've gambled their season on either.

And you have to ask yourself, in the modern game - especially at our level - whether that's progress of any sort.