Sunday, 29 January 2017

Hornets v Warrington goes to the Wire

Hornets 22 - Warrington 24

Hornets belied the freezing Mancunian monsoon conditions to take a Warrington side peppered with SL names to within one kick of an amazing draw.

With seconds remaining on the clock, a last ditch push up the left channel created just enough space for Jones to score by the flag to tie the scores. Livett snatchng the win after the hooter with a monster of a conversion off the touchine.

Up to that point, the result had hung teasingly in the balance in this evenly contested game in which the momentum ebbed and flowed like the rising tide of standing water on the playing surface.

The early pressure came from the Wolves as Hornets errors gifted them repeat sets, and it took a late intervention from Miles Greenwood to prevent a Savelio try after 8 minutes, scrambling across to force a knock-on in goal. Similarly, it took Danny Yates tracking back to come up with a last ditch ankle tap on 14 minutes to halt a dangerous kick return from King.

Having ridden out the early storm, Hornets went on the offensive courtesy of a Lewis Galbraith who mesmerised a retreating Wolves defence as he dribbled the ball soccer-style fully 70 metres, only to be outnumbered by defenders with the ball bobbling into the in-goal.

Now Hornets were forcing errors on a scratchy Wire attack, and when Joe Taira landed a lump-hammer of a fend to flatten Philbin on 19 minutes, you could feel the momentum shift.

Indeed, with Warrington reduced to five one-out drives and a big hoof into the rain, Hornets looked favourites to break the deadlock. On 22 minutes a tricky Lewis Palfrey kick forced a drop-out - and when Hornets went wide, Miles Greenwood made the extra man to crash in and score. Palfrey the extras and Hornets good value for a 6-nil lead.

Warrington’s introduction of Daryl Clark sparked the visitors onto life: noticably quicker and more direct from the ruck. And it was Clark who rushed a back-pedaling defence to open the Wolves account on the half hour mark: 6-4.

And It was the visitors -  again taken forward by Clark - who found time to launch a kick towards Rob Massams corner, Blythe first to the tap-back to score. Out of nowhere, Warrington in front at 6-8.

During Clark’s 17 minute cameo appearance, Hornets defended seven sets in a row - but with the hooter imminent, Hornets drove downfield for one last charge. After a great approach set, Hornets went right, Lewis Palfrey stabbed the ball into the in-goal and Jake Ecclestone showed the greater appetite to shrug off defenders and score. Palfrey a stunning touchline conversion and Hornets into the sheds to defrost ahead at 12-8.

With both coaches making significant changes at the break, the early second-half exchanges were scrappy and niggly. And when a downpour of diluvian proportions arrived, conditions deteriorated further - both sides struggling to play any meaningful football. Warrinton were first to settle, King hitting a short-ball at pace to score, Livett the two to edge the Wire in front at 12-14. And then Hornets switching off just long-enough for Dwyer to take advantage, prying through a gap stretch the visitors’ lead to 12-18. Hornets were then snagged offside at the kick-off. Frustrating.

But as the game entered the last quarter, Hornets sucked in to put in a strong finish. With Warrington pinned on their goal-line Danny Yates lofted the ball over Jones’ head, Rob Massam outjumping his opposite number to score a well executed try to close the gap to 16-18. And when Hornets went wide after 75 minues, Jordan Cella muscled his way through a mass of defenders to put Hornets in front. Palfrey landed the two from wide to give Hornets a deserved 22-18 lead.

With the game almost gone, Warrington launched a last-gasp attack up the right channel, where Jones and Livett combined to swipe the game from under Hornets’ noses. Harsh.

As the Hornets supporters in a noisy 548 crowd cheered their team from the field, they could reflect on a very positive pre-season. Two commendable performances against Super League opposition where they matched both for long periods, and a dominant win over a team in their own competition.

So now the real stuff starts - and, on the evidence of the last three weeks, Alan Kilshaw and his coaching team have a few selection headaches ahead of them. Exciting times. Let’s have it.