Monday, 18 August 2014

A tale of Crook, Cooke - and Mr Brooke

At ten to three after I'd just read the teams out, the Doncaster time-keeper tapped me on the shoulder. "Our full-back's called Dave Scott, not Dane Scott" he said. Notwithstanding that I just read what's on the teamsheet, by 4.40pm I was left wishing that referee Mr Brooke had applied a similar level of detail.

In a performance where the interpretation of the laws at times verged on the surreal, it's been a very long time since I've seen/heard a ref so universally villified by both sets of supporters.

Despite having to negotiate his 'jazz' approach to game management, Hornets did themselves few favours in a game punctuated by loose carries, forced passes and daft errors.

Indeed, from the very first set the die was cast: Hornets fumbling at the play the ball, Doncaster forcing a drop out.

When Hornets found a bit of rhythm, they did look the more dangerous side in a tight first quarter. A great exit set after 10 minutes that began with Paul Crook's break from his own 20, ending with Lewis Sheridan's dink kick towards Doncaster's corner post. 

Doncaster's only real threat was a big gormless hoof upfield, and when the ball uncharacteristically slipped from Gaz langley's grasp first tackle it took a determined rear-guard action to repel the visitors.

Again Hornets played out a great exit set - but when Wayne English and Shaun Robinson combined to haul Hornets fully 50 metres, the ball was again fumbled on the third tackle. Hornets defence to the rescue again as Doncaster ran out of attacking ideas.

On the quarter mark Hornets broke the deadlock in emphatic fashion: a steepling bomb from Crooky, Shaun Robinson out-jumping his opposite number, feeding Lewis Sheridan into enough pace for him to step deftly round the full-back to score. Paul Crook with the extras: Hornets deservedly in front 6-nil.

Hornets repeated the play less than a minute later. This time Wayne English's gather and kick into space was snuffed out.

Doncaster needed to break Hornets' momentum to get back into the game. Their chance arrived on the half hour when a soft penalty for holding down swept them 60 metres, where slack tackling allowed Snitch to capitalise, striding through score. Sanderson the two: 6-all

Hornets immediately went back on the offensive, forcing a repeat set - but a forced first tackle pass from James Tilley went to ground and the chance was gone.

With the half ticking away, Miller produced a quite ludicrous forward pass to his winger Sanderson - but the officials didn't flinch. With Hornets defence scrambling, Doncaster worked  the ball around for Hodson to score. Uproar as the hooter sounded; Sanderson the two and the Dons in front 6-12 at the break completely against the run of play.

Unsurprisingly, the second half began with a Hornets error: the ball carried into touch off a Cooke kick. A well-spotted Gaz Langley intercept relieved the pressure.

Then another brain-fart moment. Under no pressure, Lewis Sheridan tried a one-handed pick-up at acting half, but only succeeded in fumbling the ball to put Doncaster on the front foot. Hornets defence again holding: Dons' Castle held-up over the line.

Lewis Sheridan redeemed himself on 47 minutes: a mazy, mercurial run turned the Dons defence inside out and his well-picked pass sent Stuart Littler in for a well-finished try out wide. Crooky's radar slightly off - 10-12.

Again, the momentum was with Hornets. Great defence created the platform for Joe Greenwood to launch Lewis Sheridan over 60 metres. The Dons coughing a penalty as Hornets turned the screw, ony for Greenwood to be deemed held-up over the line.

Then two moments within two minutes that opened the door for Doncaster. On 55 minutes Alex Trumper turned to chase a break, bumping into his opposite number innocuously en-route. Mr Brooke called obstruction, the penalty carrying the visitors downfield. Then the Dons got lucky, a fluffed cut-out pass went to ground and - with the Hornets defence stopped - Sanderson gathered and strolled in by the flag from 30 metres. Shocking, really. 16-10.

On the hour another aimless Dons hoof downfield created enough chaos for Wayne English to concede a drop-out and, with Hornets defensive shape all over the place, Doncaster had enough bodies in motion for Snitch to score untouched. Sanderson the two and, out of nowhere, the Dons 10-22 ahead.

Hornets dug in. But when a big hit on 66 minutes shuddered the ball from a Doncaster hand Mr Brooke - somehow - gave a penalty for ripping. However, when Joe Greenwood was gang-mugged by three tacklers a minute later a knock-on was given. Honestly…

But Mr Brooke saved the best for last. On 71 minutes, Hull's DR Australian half-back Miller dropped a pass cold in open play. He stopped, held his hand up, all the players stopped - and, somehow, Mr Brooke waved play-on. Even the visitors were incredulous.

On a 75th minute foray into Doncaster territory, Paul Crook hoisted a huge kick that was royally cocked-up by 'Dave, not Dane' Scott and, while he flapped, Crooky stayed cool to dive in and touch down. Extras added and, at 16-22 Hornets had three minutes to swipe a draw.

It looked likely when Gaz Langley embarked on a twisting run into open space, but defenders gathered to cut off his options. And, with the last gasps of the hooter fading, Sean Casey worked enough space to loft a kick into Hornets right channel, but Doncaster killed the ball to grab the win.

In the end, this was a cracking game from two teams with virtually nothing between them. How Doncaster are fourth was beyond most people in conversation afterwards - but it was Hornets' never-say-die attitude that took the plaudits. A battling performance that deserved more than the bonus point that takes Hornets above Swinton into 12th.

As for Mr Brooke, I've no idea which game he was watching, but I hope he enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed this one.