Whitehaven 48 - Hornets 12
The Recreation Ground isn't the happiest of hunting grounds for Hornets. In 40 years I can count wins up there pretty much on one hand.
So maybe I shouldn't have been surprised that, by the time Chris Baines boomed in for two tries in two minutes, somewhere around the 70 minute mark, the vast majority of Whitehaven's damage had already been done. Leading 42-nil at the time, 'Haven had put in an impressive shift of high-tempo, well-drilled, focused football that Hornets struggled to cope with from the off.
There was a threat the first time the home side carried the ball - ruthlessely direct as Parker embarked on the first of a relentless series of bullocking runs through Hornets' right centre channel. Hornets held-out, but a minute later Parker repeated the plan, powering into space to give Thorman a walk-in. Seyomour the extras; 6-nil.
It was Parker again on 6 minutes, this time using Thorman as a foil, stepping through some very ordinary tackling to score. Seymour the two for 12-nil. Not yet ten-past three and it felt like it was going to be a long afternoon.
Hornets did, briefly, get to try and play in Haven's half: a Crooky bomb knocked on in the in-goal; a passage of panic football sending the last pass to ground.
Urged on by the baying home crowd, referee Leatherbarrow chose a play the ball at random to snag Hornets for offside. A minute later, Hand was scooting in under the black dot from close range off a soft last-tackle sucker-pass. Seymour good with the boot; Haven back up with the clock at 18-nil; Hornets just looking lost.
On the quarter mark, a moment of lackadaisical defence that had the sparse Hornets following raising eyebrows skyward. Burns seemingly going nowhere on the last tackle somehow managed to ground the ball whilst attended by four defenders. Just awful. Seymour the two, 24-nil.
Hornets were under the cosh again 90 seconds later. A soft penalty for a high tackle swept Whitehaven downfield, then a penalty of indeterminate origin (no signal from the ref, but we suspect interference), then Thorman strolling through to score by the posts. Too easy. 30-nil wth the conversion - and Hornets in all sorts of trouble.
And when you're swimming against the tide, things don't tend to go your way. On the half hour a 'Haven player knocked-down a Wayne English pass, but Mr Leatherbarrow gave the home side the feed. An awful decision. Hornets then tackled Parker without the ball to concede a penalty - but the resulting try was struck-off for obstruction. It didn't feel much like relief.
Hornets ended the half with a neat break up the left by Lewis Sheridan and Shaun Robinson, but Liam Gilchrist put a simple pass down under no pressure. Then Stuart Littler uncharacteristically fumbled a Ryan Millard pass. The hooter couldn't come soon enough. Half-time 30-nil.
Hornets began the second half looking more the part, with a period of concerted pressure. A huge bust from Joe Greenwood rent the home defence asunder, but the white jerseys gathered to halt any further progress; Shaun Robinson was adjudged to have knocked-on as he reached out to score; a big Wayne English cut-out pass bounced teasingly from Gaz Langley's outstretched hands. For ten minutes Hornets pressed and probed, but couldn't crack the home defence.
Conversely, at the other end of the field, a dubious penalty off a crunching hit by John Cookson gave 'Haven good field position. They elected to kick for goal. 32-nil to the sound of 756 people snoring.
The locals were roused from their torpor just two minutes later: a big break by the impressive Doran sent Burns in by the flag. 34-nil.
As the hour clicked round hawk-eyed Gaz Langley went for the intercept, but the ball slithered from his grasp to gift 'Haven a repeat set. This time the Hornets defence held-firm. But just two minutes later, Whitehaven produced a really neat interchange of basketball-style passing for Crellin to finish in syle. Seymour from in front; 42-nil.
Hornets finally clicked with just ten minutes remaining. Chris Baines steaming in off some good approach-work; then a great break by Shaun Robinson and Wayne English for Bainsey to score from 40 metres. Crooky good with both conversions, 42-12.
Normal service was resumed almost immediately. Another darting Doran break, this time Newton the beneficiary, scoring under the posts. Seymour the conversion and - mercifully - the hooter at 48-12.
Whilst we always try to look for the positives, there were precious few here. Yes, the second half had all the appearance of a contest, but the damage was done in a first quarter where Hornets chased shadows. From our point of view, Hornets lacked two key elements, a leader and an attack-dog - a player who gives you that bit of unpredictable 'mongrel' that unsettles the opposition. Indeed, whilst we're usually loath to praise any opposition players here, Lee Doran led his side superbly and 'Haven full-back Shaun Ainscough backed his mad-eyed mongrel act with some impressively decisive, incisive running.
As for Hornets, we look like a team limping towards the end of a long, hard season. But it's been an education for all of us. Maybe that's the lasting positive?