This has been a pisser of a week.
Not enough that Ben Moores has had his season truncated for what appears to be time-wasting; or that Gaz Middlehurst has broken his thumb; or that Jono Smith took another brutal, targeted head-shot that could see his season ended too. Not enough, even, that - by some Rugby League miracle - Swinton came up with a win at in-form Dewsbury on Monday.
All of these would be bad enough to take, but the news from the RFL disciplinary that Lewis Galbraith has ‘no case to answer’ following his sin-binning against Oldham - during which Oldham scored the try that gave them the winning margin - is a bitter, jagged pill to swallow.
Once again, incompetence of the officials and the unwillingness of the RFL to do anything about it have cost Hornets two points and shunted us closer than ever to Oldham and Swinton.
Add Monday’s debacle to the sending off of Jordan Hand at Heywood Road (a game that Swinton won by a point) and the dismissal of Matty Hadden at Batley (another game that slipped through our fingers on the back of a numerical disadvantage) and you have three pretty ordinary refereeing decisions that have had major impacts on our season.
Here at TLCRF80mins, we’re not big on bagging referees - but to misquote Oscar Wilde (again) to be wrong once is unfortunate, twice looks like carelessness. But three times? And who do Hornets turn to for reparation in such cases? Who compensates the players’ loss of winning pay, the club’s loss of two points and - if the worst should happen - who makes up the dramatic drop in central funding?
Week in week out, clubs, players and coaches are held responsible for their actions. You miss one small detail on match day and the RFL’s match commissioner is in your ear; criticise the officials and they slap you with a fine. But who holds the officials to account? They never have to explain their decisions: it’s a free pass to make game-changing errors with no comeback.
After every game, coaches front-up and face questions on their side’s performance - good and bad.
Will Gareth Hewer be compelled to face RFL questioning on his performance? Will he face a ban if found guilty of an inability to correctly implement the laws?
Sunday sees Swinton come to Spotland. With the Lions having shoved their huge debt to the back of the kitchen drawer and forgotten about it until October, Stuart Littler seems to have got his charges ticking over and - as mentioned - they arrive on Sunday on the back of a shock 28-35 win at Dewsbury Rams.
Leading 22-6 after 35 minutes, the Lions had enough daylight to fend-off a late, late Rams comeback. Stand-out on the day was centre Chris Hankinson who weighed-in with a try and seven goals for an impressive personal 18-point tally.
With the three clubs above Bradford now squeezed airlessly tight by Monday’s results, this is the most must-win of must-win games. It was always likely to come to this and here we are.
A Hornets win on Sunday would leave Swinton needing to win both their remaining games to overhaul us. An Oldham win too would see the Roughyeds leapfrog Swinton into 6th. It’s a time that calls for cool heads, concentration and strong resolve - from everyone.
The run-ins for this Greater Manchester three-way Rugby League challenge are:
Hornets v Swinton
Oldham v Toulouse
Sheffield v Hornets
Swinton v Oldham
Bradford v Hornets
Toulouse v Swinton
Oldham v Dewsbury
The maths remain pretty simple: as they’ve always been - match or better Swinton and Oldham’s results and we stay up.
It’s edgy stuff and you wouldn’t want to miss it. See you Sunday.