Hornets 6 - St Helens 62
Wearing our positive head, we can say that pre-season games are there to be lost. To iron out wrinkles, try a few combinations, look at familiar faces in unfamiliar positions. To experiment, trial and learn.
And so it was that a St Helens team featuring a smattering of Super League names amongst their next generation of stars provided Hornets' sternest test yet in preparation for the 2014 season.
|Line-ups - a few familiar names in the Saints side|
With a line-up featuring ex-Hornets dual reg. regulars Carl Forster and Joe Greenwood, Saints looked dangerous across the park - but for 10 minutes Hornets competed on a par and looked pretty comfortable.
However, when Saints hit the gas, Hornets' challenge rapidly disappeared into the distance.
A huge break up centre field by Dwyer looked to have come to nothing as his hurried pass inside bounced - seemingly forward - to ground; the loose ball was snaffled by an on-rushing Fleming who had the momentum to push past Benji Lloyd. Referee Mr Turley was happy with the approach, Charnock added the extras and Saints had a tenth minute lead.
Whilst a constantly changing Hornets plugged away gamely for the remainder of the half, Saints hit their rhythm and showed their clinical side. Whilst Hornets turned half-chances into chances, Saints turned half-chances into points.
On 13 minutes Makinson launched a huge last-tackle cross-field bomb - more in hope than expectation, it has to be said - and Ade Gardner was first to react, out-jumpiing Benji Lloyd to score. Charnock good with the boot for 12-nil.
Six minutes later, Hornets gifted Saints a repeat set from a dropped ball and the visitors shipped it through quick hands for Carl Forster to duck in by the posts. Charnock with the two.
Despite some improved Hornets resistance, Saints ended the half with a five minute double whammy: first, good yards made through centre field provided the platform for Clough to barrel in under the black dot; then Forster the fulcrum as Wheeler's neat pass slipped Charnock under the posts. Charnock with both conversions and Hornets looking punch-drunk at the break 30-nil down.
Hornets started the second half with noticeably more puropse and after just three minutes a neat Steve Roper dink behind a flat-footed Saints defence saw Hornets man of the match Wayne English dive through to score. Crooky with the two and Hornets awake at 30-6.
Unfortunately, it just served to get Saints revved up and when they they engaged the cogs just four minutes later, they didn't look back.
47th minute: a lightning break from Tommy Makinson, outpacing the cover to score. Charnock with the goal.
49th minute: Wheeler's kick to the corner; Gardner out-jumping Kyle Buckley-Mayall. Charnock's first miss of the day.
55th minute: Slick hands across the line for Galbraith to score by the flag. Charnock with the two.
62nd minute: repeated pressing up Hornets' weaker right defence found space for Rochdale's own Jack Ashworth to stride through and score. Charnock wide with the conversion.
70th minutes: a twisting long-distance strike from the mercurial Galbraith turned the Hornets defence inside out for a well-taken solo try. Makinson with the two.
73rd minute: some suspect Hornets defence as Tisdale jinked and stepped through a series of flaping tackles to score. Makinson with the two.
Phew - whirlwind stuff!
In the end, Saints showed some real class, not only in the speed and slickness of their execution, but in their organisation and structure. And one suspects that Ian Talbot will be scratching his head this morning, as an exercise designed to clarify plans for a starting 17 leaves him with a few questions still to be answered.
Whilst accepting that - in three or four years - most of the lesser known names in this Saints side will be plying their trade at the highest level, we're not really sure what was learned from this game: other than this iteration of Hornets remains a very definite work in progress.