Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Sunday's Coming: Swinton Lions

In the week where the son of Swinton legend Danny Wilson stepped into quite possibly the highest profile sporting job in the world, it was apt to consider the long, dark uncertain winter of the soul suffered by the loyal supporters of one of Rugby League's most venerable clubs.

A Sporting Legend -
 and Ryan Giggs.
Swinton's pre-season near-implosion left player-coach Ian Watson late to the championship party, hurriedly assembling a squad and compelled to continue to lean heavily on the Lions'  Dual registration relationship with Warrington that has seen a parade of senior Super League names don the blue and white jersey. To some, this seemingly over-symbiotic relatiotionship exemplified all that's wrong about Dual Reg. Indeed, without coming over all Clive Griffiths, last year's 'cameos' by Adrian Morley, Lee Briers and Paul Wood left even us at TLCRF80mins reconsidering our view.

This season - with Dr Marwan Kash-Cow hovering in the background promising a new ground in Swinton in return for the club's very soul -  the relationship seems more balanced, with Kevin Penny probably the highest profile Dual Reg. name. He was recalled to his parent club last week, scoring a hat-trick in Wire's thrashing of Doncaster - but is in line for a return on Sunday.

Swinton similarly exited the Challenge Cup last week at the hands of a fairly rudimentary Keighley Cougars - and it afforded us the opportunity to take a first-hand look at this week's opponents.

What we saw was, fundamentally, the Ian Watson show. Complete with his trademark skippety-hoppety running style, his single-handed steering of the Swinton ship is the bedrock of their game-plan. 

We didn't see a great deal of structure: most plays appeared to be ad-hoc - called play-by-play by Watson - so when he wasn't involved, there wasn't a great deal of threat. His injected himself into play mid-way through most sets to effect either a short drop-off pass or a wide cut-out pass. But as Swinton began to chase the game Watson got increasingly sucked in at acting half as their only real channel of distribution.

If the ball didn't get to Watson on the last tackle, Swinton looked short on ideas - twice caught in last tackle possession, and alternative kickers finding neither space nor a corner. And with no real second-phase ball to speak of, Keighley were rarely stretched.

But Watson's importance to the Swinton effort was underlined by two vintage moments mid-way through the second half that hauled the Lions to within one score of the Cougars. A beautifully timed pass and an inch-perfect kick peeled the visiting defence wide open for two well taken tries - fair warning that, if you give him enough time and space, he can still create good opportunities.

Without the ball, Swinton's defence looked fragile under kicks.  They didn't successfully defend a kick of any kind until the 70th minute, when wing-man Worthington shipped a grubber dead. Until then they'd reeled under a series of bombs to the corners and generally flapped at anything bouncing into the in-goal.

Locked in a centre-field arm-wrestle, Swinton looked more than capable of nullifying Keighley's blunt-instrument approach (five drives by a big lad, followed by a sixth drive from a big lad) - but as soon as Keighley opened up their game, the Lions looked in all sorts of trouble. Indeed, Swinton struggled with sudden spikes of high-tempo, expansive football.

Three times (the first after just two minutes) Keighley moved the ball swiftly - doubling-up centres, with the full-back looping outside to create the extra man - and the Lions had no real answer.

The final score of 20-33 short-changed Keighley's dominance a little. While Swinton worked hard, scrambled well and gave it a good go, Keighley did pretty much everything better on the day and deserved their 'reward' - a trip to Widnes (now, that does feel like fourth prize in the raffle).

Ultimately, our observation is elementary: stop Ian Watson and the rest will follow.


Ton-up for Wayne
Hornets club captain Wayne English is set to make his 100th appearance for the Hornets against his old club Swinton Lions on Sunday.  Having had a 10 year career at Swinton, 'The Bolt from Kirkholt' came 'home' to Hornets in 2010 and has established himself as a club legend.

TLCRF80mins sends its heartiest congratulations to the best full-back never to have played Super League - and better than many who have.

RFL Preview
In-form Rochdale Hornets prepare for Sunday’s Kingstone Press Championship clash with Swinton Lions buoyed by winning three of their last four league fixtures. Ian Talbot’s side has beaten Batley Bulldogs, Whitehaven and North Wales Crusaders in that period.

Talbot said: "We’ve a few results that have turned heads. The last game against North Wales was very satisfying for us given the rivalry that’s built up."

“We are finding our feet at this level, but it’s going to get tougher from here. Maybe a few teams have underestimated us up to now, but I can’t see that happening now."

He added: “Swinton will be looking at this as a must-win game. If we get the win it puts us four points above them, so it’s a big game for both teams.”

Gareth Langley will be assessed before Sunday’s match after what was initially thought to be a rib injury was discovered to be a bruised lung. Alex Trumper (knee) and Dave Llewellyn (ankle) will not be ready for Sunday, but John Cookson could feature.

Swinton coach Ian Watson looks set to be boosted by the return of Josh Barlow, but Mick Nanyn and Danny Halliwell are both ruled out.

The Lions are also without Zach Johsnon, who was given a one-match suspension by the RFL’s disciplinary panel after being found guilty of punching in the Lions’ recent match against Leigh Centurions, but former Hunslet centre Steve Lewis could come into contention.