Hornets 58 - Gateshead 16
Poor Gateshead never knew what hit them. Within five minutes of their season starting, they were 10-nil down and looking like the busted flush we've come to recognise. And it was a class double punch combination from Paul Crook that caused the damage. Consecutive 40/20s in the 3rd and 5th minute gave Hornets good field position. Firstly Wayne English sprang into the line creating sufficient panic in the Thunder ranks to jink through and score; than guest centre Tommy Makinson hit the last in a string of passes at pace to score wide out.
Gateshead stemmed the tide for a while, scrambling, sprawling and trundling upfield on the back of Referee Cobb's somewhat freestyle interpretation of the laws. Having withstood three repeat sets in their own 20, Hornets defence finally cracked when Thunder sent in the big-lad, substitute Stearman belly-flopping in from two yards to send ther visiting fans wild.
Hornets shrugged and hit straight back. First Jordan Case launching Tommy Makinson from 30 metres for a well-taken try, then good handling up the right flank where Gaz Langley planted the ball by the corner flag. Half time 22-6 and Hornets in control.
The second half began much like the first - but the two crucial kicks came courtesy of the visitors. Gateshead hoofed the kick-off into the Pearl Street end and, off the back of the resulting penalty, Chris Baines blasted through a hole to score. Gateshead then wellied the next kick-off into the Wilbutts Lane stand. Hornets marched back downfield where Steve Roper found Alex Trumper arriving like a train and slipped him in by the posts off a tidy short-ball.
Gateshead got lucky just before the hour mark: Hornets passing slickly through the gears, only for Johnson to snaffle an interception and win the 70 metre footrace. No matter. On Hornets' next foray to the Gateshead line, Carl Forster showed impressive strength to wriggle free and spin under the black dot.
Hornets went looking for the killer punch. Steve Roper's booming bomb was gathered by Thunder full-back Hardcastle, but the impact of Wayne English's scything tackle shook the ball free in the in-goal and Paul Crook showed great awareness to dive in and score.
Gateshead's response was a freak try after a scuffed kick to the corner appeared to go into touch. All the players stopped, the touch judge looked confused, Beasley put hand to ball in the in-goal more in hope than expectation and Mr Cobb confounded everyone by giving the try.
But it was a small respite. Good hands to the right found Tommy Makinson who hit the afterburners to skip away from a flailing defence to notch a top-class hat-trick. And, with Ray's finger on the hooter button, there was just enough time for the impressive Danny Davies to bludgeon and bully his way through a mob of defenders and stretch out a cheeky arm to plonk the ball down by the post. Crooky made it nine from ten to wrap up a well-executed win.
Notwithstanding Tommy Makinson's guest appearance in place of Tony Stewart, this was a victory made by some very familiar faces. Wayne English was imperious at the back, Steve Roper teased & cajoled, John Cookson channeled his inner half-back and Benji Lloyd was an almost unplayable jack-in-the-box. But by far the stand out performance was from Paul Crook. He oozed compsure and class througout - and his kicking game was a midge's shy of perfection.
Overall this was an assured start for Hornets. Yes, Gateshead were a bit of a flabby mess and Hornets will face much sterner tests in the next few weeks, but as a launch-pad for 2013 this was as good as it could be.
Also worth mentioning is the great effort from the Hornets fans. An attendance of 508 was almost 100 more than at Hunslet in the Division above, and only 70 fewer than at Swinton. A good day for the club all-round