Monday, 16 July 2018

Saturday's Coming: Toronto

When we wrote about Toronto back in March, we were taken aback by the sheer volume of media hype surrounding the club. Journalists were falling over themselves to toe the party line, spit out the soundbites and create a sense of frontier excitement around what is essentially a load of ex-Leigh sluggers and ex-NRL journeymen coached by Paul Rowley. And fronted by Nobby off the telly.

A parochial sporting media desperate for any sense of pioneering exoticism lapped it up. The Rugby League revolution would be televised. For a tenner a month, on Premier Sports.

But amidst the hoo-ha, they let the facade slip in that now infamous televised Challenge Cup game at Warrington. The tactics used to bully weaker teams were put under the extreme scrutiny of multiple camera angles, a referee’s microphone - and a Wolves side in no mood to be pushed around on their own patch.

In less than an hour, 18 months of PR-induced sheen was tarnished. Toronto revealed as a bunch of narcissist gobshites with a thug complex.

Four months on from our original piece, Toronto have already won the Championship: racing undefeated through the season on a wave of hubris (a draw at Barrow and a one point win at Spotland their ‘low points’). 

It seems, though, that all-conquering success has come at a price. 

Toronto are no longer seen simply as the uber-expansionist’s giant-leap into an exciting North American unknown. Previously considered a ‘concept’ - a conceit even - the reality of Rugby League’s Wild West adventure is now on Super League’s horizon.

And it’s not a reality they like the look of.

In League 1 and the Championship, clubs have - for two years - been voicing concerns over the way the RFL has bent over backwards to accommodate Toronto.

Notwithstanding weakened teams flying out there for a flogging (Batley travelled with only 16 players - one of those was assistant coach Danny Maun who’d come out of retirement to play); the administrative burden of arranging 23 visas; visa issues leaving players stranded at Manchester Airport; the costs incurred by feeding 23 people for four days; bending the operating laws to play games to a timetable that suits them; Air Transat flying teams out of Manchester and back to Glasgow (with teams having to pick-up the £1000+ tab for a coach to get players back to the North West) while the RFL fly officials back via Air Canada to Manchester; no limit on overseas players and the uneven playing field of a mining magnate shovelling cash into a bottomless pit of dubious potential - it is a difficult trip for players to go out there and perform to the best of their ability.

As such, clubs have been ‘beta testing’ the Toronto experience on behalf of the RFL for two years - and the list of snags goes on and on and on. But amidst clubs’ valid concerns about Toronto’s negative impact on the credibility and integrity (and this is a theme we’ll come back to) of the competitions they’ve butchered, no-one at Rugby League’s top table has given much of a shit - until now.

Logic v Logistics
Unless you’ve been stranded in a Thai cave for the last six months, you’ll have noticed that Toronto have run-away with the Championship to become racing certainties for promotion to Super League.

But now they’re on Super League’s radar, the ‘elite tier’ of the game are having doubts about the validity and credibility of Toronto’s potential inclusion in the top flight.

In a brutally honest interview with last week, Hull KR Chairman Neil Hudgell voiced that - at Super League’s highest level there is a “… cautiousness about the Toronto experience…”

Whilst admitting that they could open up new TV markets in North America, Hudgell appears somehow surprised that the problem with Toronto is “… the logistics of getting there, and fixture scheduling!” The fact that 26 other clubs have been banging that drum unheard for two years gives you some insight into the contempt for which the game outside Super League is held. But wearing our most munificent hat, we should be glad that someone else is actually listening.

Pretty much everyone has already wondered exactly how Toronto have managed to inveigle their way into our game and re-write the operating laws to suit them. Now - better late then never - Hudgell (and SLE Ltd) is now on the same page as the rest of us.

“There’s some due diligence that still needs to be done with Toronto, that should have been done before they were allowed into competition.” he said. “Super League clubs are being asked to deal with some of the issues, that should never have been issues if the due diligence had been done in the first place.” Yeah, true - but clubs on far smaller budgets, far fewer resources and part-time playing staffs have been dealing with those issues already. Only now Toronto are coming your way do you see the tsunami of bullshit trailing in their wake.

Smoke v Mirrors
To his credit, Hudgell sees the passion of the ownership to deliver Rugby League in North America, but has his doubts about the authenticity of the Wolfpack project. “I’ve met the owner of Toronto (David Argyle),” he said.  “He’s a very passionate guy and he’s a top businessman, and there is some potential, but at the minute I think the jury is wondering about the longevity of it, and how it fits with the Super League competition.”

Much like it fits with the League 1 and Championship competitions, Neil: deeply uncomfortably. And when you peel back the veneer, you’re left with something that’s somehow less enticing.

“On the logistic side of it, as on the strategic side of it, there’s no way they can repeat this year’s championship, without compromising the integrity of the competition,” said Hudgell. “And if weather-wise, climate-wise they can’t play at home for three months, that really is a serious problem that has to be addressed.”

So after two years of smoke and mirrors, has the game finally had its ‘emperor’s new clothes’ moment?
Is the circus that is Toronto Wolfpack about to run out of road? If Neil Hudgell and Super League have their way, it just might.

“I have a real long-standing issue about integrity, compromising integrity, and there are things that compromise integrity of the competition,” Hudgell said. “Fixtures are one, Visas another… there’s a whole range of things that the game needs to tackle on that.”

Maybe we should just be grateful that people with a level of influence in the game  are finally seeing the light. “I don’t want to be downbeat on the Toronto experience,” Said Hudgell, ”… but I do think it hasn’t been given the necessary due diligence, before they were given entry to the competition.”

The full interview with Neil Hudgell is here

Excitement v nervousness
If you thought Hudgell was a lone voice, think again.

Super League Europe Ltd’s new Propagandist Sock-Puppet in Chief™ Robert Elstone revealed in ‘League, Weakly’ that he is ‘nervous’ about Toronto’s potential promotion. Quoted in an article quoting him in a podcast (and quoted by us having listened to said podcast), Elstone said that he’s “… asked for a report on Toronto.”

Indeed, Elstone is a very diligent chap: “I’ve asked for due diligence done to date. I’ve asked for projected future due diligence.”  He also seems very interested in terms: “I’ve asked what the promised terms are in terms of any commercial arrangements and I’ve asked where they sit in terms of minimum standards.”(sic)

He went on: “One of the minimum standards, I think, is playing a home-away season - so I don’t know the answer to that.”

His big concern seems to be the potential longevity of the project v the potential ROI on SLE’s potential investment.

“Toronto is an opportunity (but) really, honestly (they) make me slightly nervous.” he said. “In one sense they can be exciting, but anyone who’s been in the sport a long time knows there isn’t  a great track record in making those expansions stick.”

Elstone v Argyle
Elstone sees Toronto owner David Argyle as key to any real long-term success: “We are ultimately backing the intentions and actions of one individual. His actions to date have been positive. His intentions are great today, but we can’t be certain they are going to be great in five years’ time.”

So is Toronto an expansion too far for a Super League newly obsessed with realising the value of its participants? “We can’t afford to turn our back on anybody in that respect, but it’s clearly very random. (when) You talk about expansion, you would go where there’s a natural footprint of players, participation, audience. There isn’t that, but there’s a guy who’s prepared to invest in making sure that there’s a future there.”

So is Super League rolling out the red carpet in anticipation of a Canadian invasion? “I think we have to proceed with optimism, but with a degree of caution on it.” Hardly a resounding fanfare.

It seems, ultimately, Elstone’s money might be on another runner. “I really like the idea of Toulouse,” he said.

Sixth Sense

Hornets 32 - Leigh 54

There were long periods in this game where a neutral would have struggled to tell which of the sides involved had spunked a million and a half quid up the wall, and which one was a part time team on a tenth of the budget.

Indeed, Leigh’s eventual victory - bloated by two late, late tries against a valiant Hornets defence out on its feet - merely entrenches their sixth position (given wins by Featherstone and London).

Which feels about right to us - on this showing Leigh probably are the sixth best side we’ve faced this season and we reckon we’ll see them again when the shield comes round.

Battled out in front of the Championship’s second biggest attendance of the day this was a pendulum of a game in which the momentum swung both ways.

Leigh got off to a scorching start, three tries in the opening 16 minutes - Larroyer up the guts from distance, Hall dummying his way up the left edge and Crooks off a flick pass so far forward as to look deliberate - had the visitors up with the clock at 16-nil. Needless to say Leigh’s sizeable following were very happy at this.

Then Hornets shook themselves to life. On 18 minutes Rob Massam piled straight through his opposite number to get Hornets on the board at 4-16.

Five minutes later, Richard Lepori perfectly read a wild Leigh pass going nowhere, snatching it from the air to run 50 metres unopposed - exposing Leigh’s chronic lack of pace out-wide in the process.
Morgan Smith banged home the extras and at 10-16 we had a game on our hands.

Hornets turned the screw further on the half hour when Ben Moores burrowed in from acting half on the last tackle for a real mugging of a try. Morgan Smith the two and Hornets level at 16-all. Bedlam!

Leigh were then snagged offside at the kick-off. With the visitors now visibly wobbling, Hornets marched straight downfield where the Suva Express arrived at full speed onto a short ball  - Jo Taira taking defenders over the line with him to give Hornets the lead. Morgan Smith raising the flags: Hornets 22-16 up.

The Leigh fans now less happy, bleating for offside at every play the ball and forward at every pass - but mostly just skriking after being forced to swallow 22 unanswered points.

With the half ebbing away, Leigh did summon up the wherewithal to play some football; Bailey in after a frantic exchange of passes. Reynolds added the two and the sides went to the sheds locked at 22-all.

It was, by some significant distance, the best first half of Rugby League at Spotland this season. Played at breakneck speed with Hornets on top for long periods.

The second half began with possibly the worst try conceded at Spotland this season. Hornets unable to complete a last tackle kick, Leigh barrelling the ball into the corner where they knocked on, the loose ball gathered by Lee Mitchell in what was the free-play - but he then dropped the ball. Leigh regathered and - with pretty much everyone in the ground anticipating a Hornets scrum, Referee Mr Race waved play-on. Mata’utia put the ball down. Just embarrassing for the game.

Mr Race continued with his dadaist interpretation of the laws as Leigh knocked on the kick-off, but were waved to play-on. Ben Moores felt moved to question Mr Race’s optician’s prescription and was shown the yellow card. Disgracefully bad officiating.

Mortimer scored from the resulting play, so at least the Leigh fans were happy (22-32).  But 12-man Hornets weren’t done. A lofted kick into the end-zone saw Rob Massam soar like an eagle to snatch the ball from the reaching fingers of Bailey and touch down to close the gap to 26-32.

With the momentum edging back their way, Hornets produced a flawless 80 metre set to drive Leigh back into the corner. And when Mata’utia hit Ben Moores high and late on the last tackle, they looked a bit of a ragged mess.

As it was, they managed to pin George King in-goal to force a drop-out and send Hall into the line as the extra man to score through a stretched defence. Their composure just about reghained. On the hour, the reintroduction of Leigh captain Hansen paid dividends when he ran hard and straight at a tiring defence. But Hornets weren’t finished quite yet.

Another interception by Richard Lepori swept Hornets upfield. With defenders gathering, he fed Morgan Smith who tied defenders in knots before shipping the ball back to Lepori for his second. Leigh chasing shadows. Hornets within touching distance at 32-44.

Hornets continued to press and probe, but it was evident that the tanks was close to empty. Indeed two late tries from Mortimer and Dawson exploited that to blow-out the scoreline.

Despite the result, Hornets were magnificent. Showing guts, craft and a never say die attitude that augurs well for the next phase of the season. Again, this game served to remind everyone of the standard that this side is capable of playing at. And if we can carry that into the shield, Hornets have a shot at confounding the odds.

As for Leigh, you’d imagine that a full-time side would have to do better than shipping 32 points to a part-time outfit to fulfil any real ambition of going up. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Saturday's Coming: Leigh

Relativity is a fascinating thing - especially in the universe of expectation that is the Betfred Championship.

If - when - Hornets chase down the stupefyingly dull Sheffield Eagles to finish 10th, we’ll have had another season beating the odds. Success. Crack open the Pomagne.

But if you’re Leigh, burning a million quid to end up favourites for the shield would be a catastrophe.

In a super-competitive top four, Leigh currently sit 6th - usurped by the sheer audacity of Halifax and Featherstone: two points shy of Fev (with a superior points difference) - and with the little matter of London squatting like a speed-bump in 5th, with a one point advantage.

But whatever Leigh do, they struggle to make headlines beyond the one-man tsunami of column inches that is Derek Beaumont. If you took a cursory glance at the frankly astonishing amount of coverage he gets, you’d think that he just releases a monthly statement about how he’s not walking away from Leigh. A closer look reveals that the outspoken Centurions owner is - it seems - a walking magnet for a media hungry for controversy.

Indeed, only a month ago there were reports that Beaumont had been fined £7,500 (£2,500 suspended until the end of next season) for breaching RFL operational rules relating to conduct and social media use. The RFL says that, having pleaded guilty at an Independent RFL Operational Rules Tribunal, Beaumont was fined because his comments on social media breached rule D1.1(b) Conduct prejudicial to the interests of the Game and improper conduct; Rule C2.6 Failure to adhere to Codes of Conduct; Rule C2.10 Behaviour Standards; C2.11 Behavioural Standards - Unacceptable Behaviour. He was also found guilty of breaching both the RFL’s Respect Policy and Social Media Code of Conduct.

Leigh began the season in disastrous fashion - losing five of their first six games. In terminating the contract of coach Neil Jukes, Beaumont claimed full responsibility for the start that Leigh have struggled to overcome: “… I am still very much involved in the fight to get this Club into the top four of the Betfred Championship from where it can kick on to regain its place in Super League.” he said in March.

“It is a challenge that is becoming increasingly more difficult but is not insurmountable at present. I take full responsibility as the owner of the Club for the position it finds itself in. Ultimately any decisions the Club has made have been under my leadership and I have agreed with them and enabled them to happen.”

Since then, tyro coach Kieron Purtill has steadied the ship and got Leigh playing closer to their potential. But he understands the expectations at Leigh Sports Village. Speaking ahead of their recent Challenge Cup tie with Salford (which they won 22-10), he admitted: “There are massive implications for the club if we’re not in the top four - on and off the field.”

“We’ve got to be there. Everyone knows the funding in the Championship isn’t the same. We invested heavily in our squad so there’s going to have to be cutbacks or things addressed if the money’s not there.”

With the pressure on, Derek Beaumont has responded the way he always does - by chucking a bucket of cash at a former NRL player. This time it’s former Gold Coast Titans, Newcastle knights and Sydney Roosters utility back Brendan Elliot, who scored 19 tries in 39 NRL appearances.

Speaking in the Leigh Journal this week, Beaumont  said: "It is a very difficult period at the Club as it really is up in the air as to where we will finish, but I have to make decisions on the basis that we will make the four to put us in a good place to mount a challenge to return to Super League, if we do, as it will be too late once we know our fate.”

"There will also be a further announcement of another overseas player this week which will complete our recruitment for the season, and I believe with everyone fit and free from suspensions, we will have the quality to be serious contenders in the Qualifiers should we make them.”  Leigh have also signed former Salford prop Adam Walne from Huddersfield Giants.

Last week, Leigh pulled off a 12-man comeback to win convincingly at Mount (un)Pleasant. The Centurions played 74 minutes a man short after Jamie Acton was red-carded for a high tackle.

Trailing 12-4 at the break,  Leigh stormed back scoring 26 unanswered points to win 12-30. Harrison Hansen and Ilias Bengal weighed in with two tries each.

Hornets come into Saturday’s game on the back of a confidence-boosting victory over Swinton. What mattered last week was not so much the nature of the win - only that we did. Indeed, we are delighted that Alan Kilshaw’s lads can run for 80 minutes, because we needed every last one of them to grab the points.

Leigh, of course, will be a wholly different proposition - though they are prone to lapses in focus, evidenced by their seven defeats this season. Indeed, they have points in them - having shipped the most in the top six with 442 in 20 games. That’s an average of 22 per game!

After the Swinton game, Alan Kilshaw said that getting anything from the remaining three fixtures would be a bonus - but this competition chucks up a few freak results every season, so why not this one? Leigh are more scared of losing games then they are interested in winning at the moment - and Hornets have nothing to lose.

All the pressure is on Leigh. Let’s turn the screw.

See you Saturday - don't forget, it's a 5pm kick-off.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Smith Stars in The Late Show

Hornets 28 - Swinton 26

On the hottest day of the year, Hornets and Swinton served up a nail-biting, blockbusting barnstormer of a game that gave us knavish tricks, heroics - and a grandstand finish worthy of any great piece of theatre.

For 80 minutes both teams went toe-to-toe, in a relentless battle of wills. Swinton hell-bent on breaking the game up: loitering in tackles, sprawling and spoiling - and not averse to some stone-cold gamesmanship (the worst culprit, Bracek, who - late in proceedings - lay as if shot in the in-goal to give his team time time to recover; only then to jump to his feet and acknowledge the hail of boos from the home fans. Pretty cheap we thought).

Hornets on the other hand strove to play some expansive football -  but too many times the last pass to an edge was misjudged. Given the contrast in styles and the sheer bloody-mindedness of the participants, what unfolded was a fascinating contest.

Swinton raced into an early 0-12 lead courtesy of a 40/20 that led to walking anger-issue Tyson finding space to score, then the Lions capitalising on a Hornets penalty to send Brown in up the edge.

Hornets hit back almost immediately. Having forced an error the ball was shifted to Seta Tala who engaged the cogs to grind his way through a mass of defenders to score from 20m. Smith the extras, 6-12.

Swinton stretched the lead courtesy of a couple of Hankinson penalties - the first of which led to 26-man handbags after Hornets forced a knock-on from the kick-off.

While Swinton were more than happy to feed on penalty scraps, Hornets stuck to the task of trying to play football - and were rewarded on 23 minutes when good hands through the channel saw Seta Tala draw the winger to send Richard Lepori in: 10–16.

If it were not hot enough, the introduction of Jo Taira raised the temperature. Virtually his first contribution was to land an almighty bell-ringer of a tackle on Brown to force a drop-out, only to be judged to have applied a shoulder. He then got snagged for the high shot that allowed Hankinson to take another 2 points (10-18), but he made amends two minutes later when he boomed in off a short ball to score. Unstoppable.  Morgan Smith added the extras and you could feel the momentum shift.

As the game headed for the break Hornets threw the kitchen sink at Swinton, who were now a mess of petulance and errors. Indeed, as much as Hornets didn’t want half-time to come, Swinton clung to the ropes desperate for the hooter.

Half-time, a head-spinning 16-18.

The second half continued where the first had left off: Swinton all niggle and cheap penalties, desperate to stem any momentum. and when Barlow milked a 45th minute penalty in embarrassing fashion, Hankinson added yet another two (16-20).

The game now attritional, both sides refusing to yield.

Swinton - somehow gifted a mystery penalty - again ignited a scuffle in the aftermath, but Hornets continued to move the ball. Seta Tala bundled into touch on the hour with support and tackles top spare. But it was a rare moment of fluidity as both sides struggled to establish a rhythm.

As the visitors sought any means to breach the Hornets defence, an acting half kick into the in-goal on 68 minutes pinball around, Jones the first to react and touch down. Hankinson a simple conversion and Swinton ten points clear with eleven minutes to play.

Hornets sucked in for one last big push. A great 75th minute approach set lay the platform and when George King came blasting onto a short, flat ball five metres out, he wouldn’t be denied. Morgan Smith the two: 22-26 with four minutes to play.

Hornets went straight back on the attack, again putting the ball through hands - but the last pass to Rob Massam was hurried and over-cooked.

All Swinton had to do was play out the set, kick it long and the game was theirs.

But wait…

The set was perfectly executed: five one-man drives. The ball was sent to Hankinson to dispatch downfield, but Morgan Smith saw one last opportunity and stretched every sinew to charge down the kick. As the ball fell behind the helpless Hankinson, Smith gathered it on the run to dart 30 metres and plant the ball under the black dot to tie the scores. Cue mayhem! The main stand on its feet; Alan Kilshaw skipping up the touchline punching the air. Bloody marvellous.

Morgan Smith then the coolest man in the ground to add the conversion and give Hornets the lead for the first time with less than a minute remaining.

Pretty much everyone anticipated one last Hail-Mary short kick-off, but Swinton elected to kick harmlessly to the 30m line. Two tackles later it was all over: the home fans delirious, the Swinton fans shellshocked.

Having scored five tries to three, it’s clear that Hornets had the footballing edge. And lovers of irony will see the chargedown of Hankinson’s late kick as redress for Swinton’s penalty-pinching tactics.

As Hornets gird-up for a horrible run-in, we can do so with confidence. This was a blistering team effort, every one of the 17 giving every ounce they had. It was a good afternoon to be a Hornet.

In the wash-up, this was a game that had everything. Passion, commitment and a heart-stopping finish. That the bottom end of the Championship is somehow dismissed as a sideshow for those with Super League ambitions is criminal. This was Rugby League in its finest, purest form.

Simply breathtaking.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Sunday's Coming: Swinton

There’s not a lot of leeway in Sunday’s game against Swinton.

Last week the Lions scraped past Dewsbury, which hauled the Rams back into the Championship’s ‘Relegation Shit Fight’™. The result squeezed Swinton ahead - now 8 points to Hornets’ 6 - leaving Hornets no real choice other than to win on Sunday to maintain touching distance of the teams above.

The grey lining within the grey cloud that is the 2018 Championship season is that, having suffered three consecutive drubbings, Hornets points difference has been shot to blazes, so even a win will not be enough to lift us off the bottom of the table.

But 8 points would put us within a draw of Dewsbury in 10th and within two points of Sheffield (both of whom have far superior points differences).

Having come back from an early 10 point deficit, Swinton raced into a 12 point lead, but Hankinson’s red card opened the door for a late Dewsbury fightback. Ironic that it was his earlier drop goal that proved the difference in the end. Panto Villain George Tyson also weighed in with a brace of tries.

Once again, we come into an increasingly rare home game needing a big response on the back of a battering. The less said the better about last week’s disappointing showing at Post Office Road. We know they’re a decent side, but…

For the past month, this Sunday’s fixture has looked like the most likely win of a tough run-in, so we find ourselves - again - seeking a win at all costs ahead of Leigh, Toronto and Halifax. Jesus, just typing that makes me shake my head.

For us, this regular season  - and this criminally imbalanced Championship - can’t end soon enough. Let’s get to the 8s where there are 14 points up for grabs in as good a shape as possible and set about salvaging the season from there.

With so much on the line, Sunday’s game should be an intense affair (especially if the last two Spotland encounters are anything to go by). Two of the game’s oldest local rivals going at it: it’s what Rugby league is all about. We’re banking on a bed-wetting thriller.

See you there.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Hard Times

Featherstone 80 - Hornets 4

“If you wish to reach the highest point, begin at the lowest…”
Pubilius Syrus

Pubilius Syrus was a smart bloke - pretty much the inventor of the soundbite and the guy from whom Shakespeare stole most of the phrases we think of as his.

But he was wise bloke too - and we’ve looked to his relentless optimism for inspiration as Hornets slipped beneath a tsunami of points at Post Office Road.

Crazy though it sounds, this game was a contest until the 20th minute. Had Hornets not dropped a Featherstone drop-out and gifted the home side possession for Walton to score and Hardman to convert to make it 12-nil, it would have felt like a good first quarter, but the introduction of Leeds DR utility Brad Dwyer on 21 minutes effectively changed the complexion of the game.

In the 19 minutes before the break, Dwyer scored four tries - pretty much at will; an unplayable force at the heart of a Featherstone side too big, to strong, too fast and too smart in every department.

Hornets did play some football of note at the start of the second half: kick to the corner by Tyler Whittaker deflecting off a defender, the ball whipped wide to Rob Massam who scored by the flag.

But it was a brief respite for the knot of Hornets fans stood shellshocked in the sun.

In 18 minutes after the break, Dwyer grabbed two more tries to equal Featherstone’s tries in a game record, Lockwood competing his hat-trick too. We can’t lie - it was tough to watch, as Featherstone racked-up 14 tries. Some of them painfully soft : Hornets shipped tries on the hooter in both halves.

Post match Alan Kilshaw attempted to pick through the debris: “I don’t think its a good competition at the moment, the way it’s structured. At the start of the season you get your funding and you know where people are going to finish. I’ve got a mixture of lads there who’ve played League 1, amateur, bottom-end Championship or Academy - against a team who are pushing for Super League.”

With the AGM looming, everyone will be looking for a quick fix - but what Kilshaw says is true. Clubs with vastly superior funding will always batter clubs who scrape by hand-to-mouth. And whilst it IS bloody horrible to watch, as a fan-owned club, the fans have a level of responsibility to help deliver that ‘fix’.

Our mate Pubilius Syrus said: “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm” - and he’s right. When we’re winning, getting to finals, gaining promotions, everyone wants to take their share of the glory. But if we win as a club and lose as a club, everyone should also want to take their share of meeting the challenges our club faces on a day-to-day basis.

Last word goes to Pubilius Syrus: “Where there is unity there is always victory."

A wise bloke indeed.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Sunday's Coming: Featherstone

The win at Sheffield sparked wild
celebrations in Featherstone
With just five games remaining, Championship teams begin their last mad scramble for regular season points - and Alan Kilshaw and John Duffy come into Sunday’s game looking for wins. But for decidedly different reasons.

A form-book-busting win for Hornets could lift us off the bottom of the Championship (if Swinton were to slip-up at home to Dewsbury). And if you think that never happens, you only have to go back to last year when a late Lewis Palfrey penalty snatched the points for a jubilant Hornets. It’s likely, however, that conditions on Sunday will be somewhat more favourable for a potent Rovers: the village Pit Ponies intent on sticking it to the cashed-up show-ponies of Manchestoronto, TOXIIIC and Leigh.

A Rovers win on Sunday would see John Duffy’s side maintain their hot pursuit of Toulouse in second place (the French side travel to Sheffield - flogged 40 to 6 by Fev last week - so we can’t see past an Eagles defeat there).

Having lost half-backs Martyn Ridyard (shoulder - 2 months) and Tom Holmes (knee - season-ending), Duffy is talking a lot about ‘grinding out wins’ at the moment as he’s adjusted his side’s playing style to compensate for the loss of his first choice halves.

This week he said in the Yorkshire Post: “We are grinding out some good results at the minute, we are sticking to our plan and I’m really happy for the boys.” On Fev’s website, the theme was similar: “We have simplified things over the past month or so, given the injuries we have suffered, and are grinding out the results. It is now about kicking on and sticking to the plan as we work towards the end of the regular season.”

‘The plan’ seems to be to take on teams up the middle of the park. Of new halves pairing Matty Wildie and Anthony Thackeray, Duffy said: “(They have) really bought into how we want to play. They have got that game plan going for us with Keal Carlile through the middle…” and: “ (against Sheffield)… we stuck to what we wanted to do and built pressure and scored some fantastic tries with just pushing through that middle area, which is where we wanted to go.”

A big fev pack going up the middle -  whoever would have imagined such a thing?

But it’s a plan that seems to be working. in the last three games Featherstone have ‘ground out’ huge wins: 42-18 at Dewsbury, 52-4 against Barrow and 40-6 last week. That’s 134 points in three games - suggesting it’s not all forward grunt at Post Office Road.

Thackeray grabbed a brace of tries as Featherstone cruised to their easy win at Sheffield. Rovers ‘wunder-winger’ Luke Briscoe (signed by Leeds two weeks ago, played for them against Catalan and loaned straight back to Fev) weighed in with his 30th Featherstone try of the season after backing up a break by former Hornet Shaun Robinson. Keeping him off the scoresheet would be an achievement in itself.

Ian Hardman and Josh Hardcastle also scored two tries each in what looked like a fairly straightforward win: so threats all over the field. And Gareth Hock - the archetypal loose cannon.

Duffy has also added Hemel’s ex-Bradford Academy prop James Thornton to his squad and he could be in line for a debut on Sunday.

Hornets were buoyed this week by the loan signing of Gav Bennion for a couple of months. Gav was an absolute bulwark of last season’s side - and comes to us knowing exactly what its takes to grind out a win at Featherstone.

Hornets come into the game having shown noticeable improvement against Toulouse last week. Despite a scoreline blown-out by three late tries, Hornets looked purposeful and capable of creating chances. Certainly the necessary addition of new faces doesn’t help with continuity, but the effort was there for all to see and new boy Jack Fox looked a threat every time he carried the ball.

The whole point of playing in the Championship is to test yourself against teams with genuine Super League ambitions, to grow, to learn, to improve. That hard lesson continues on Sunday, but it’s still a privilege to watch our club play at this level. We should remember that sometimes.  And it’s a privilege that clubs very similar to us - Oldham, Keighley, Hunslet, Whitehaven, York - don’t have.

And - as we saw last year - miracles do happen at Post Office Road.  You wouldn’t want to miss another one, would you?

See you Sunday

Monday, 25 June 2018

Toulouse Too Hot.

Hornets 14 - Toulouse 70

The logic is irrefutable. Put a team of try-hard part-timers up against a million-Euro bunch of dead-eyed mercenaries and you’re only ever going to get gunned down.

In this foregone conclusion of a game, there was little joy for any of the stakeholders as it played out to script and the Toulouse wagon kept on rolling. At the reins, two of the Championship’s most enigmatic players: Jonathan Ford and Mark Kheirallah. The former giving the impression that he does bugger-all, whilst what he does makes a vast difference; the latter giving the impression that he makes a vast difference when, in fact, he does bugger-all of substance.

Ford is a languid, louche presence - not so much backing up, more uncoiling in back play to launch that whip of a cut-out pass, before retreating into the shadows for a deserved nap. Kheirallah is an angry wasp - all noise and bluster, acceleration and a decent boot his only real contribution.

Behind this insouciant double-act dances a chorus-line of hired goons - standover men whose job is to supply muscle on-demand and bludgeon you into defeat. Quite literally in this case as - with just three minutes on the clock - Danny Yates was hit late by lanky meat-head Bretherton. With the Wigan loanee dispatched to consider his actions, Tyler Whittaker hit the spot to give Hornets a 2-nil lead.

Shaken by the impertinence, Toulouse came crashing back with a quick-fire Mika double whammy: the first piling in fro close range off a short-ball, the second after the visitors had milked back-to-back penalties: Ford releasing a flat-pass into space for the big Samoan to slump in. 2-12.

After Billy Brickhill hoofed the kick-off into the Sandy Lane end, Toulouse went straight back on the offensive, this time the ball was worked to Kheirallah who strolled in. Clearly exhausted by his efforts he put the conversion wide: 2-16.

But Hornets continued to press and probe. Rob Massam going agonisingly close in the corner, succumbing eventually to the weight of French numbers. Toulouse responded by putting on a 70 metre move begun via a sloppy tackle and ended by Kriouache for 2-20.

Hornets went back to Rob Massam on the half hour; a last tackle bomb slipping from his fingers in the in-goal.

Off the hook, Toulouse marched straight upfield where Bouzinac drilled in through a tiring defence from acting half. And with the half ebbing away, Barthau cut through a hole to score under the black dot. Half time 2-30: the scoreline not really reflecting Hornets’ effort.

The second half began in the worst way possible. Toulouse gathered the kick-off and, two minutes later, sent Puech rumbling in off a short pass. But Hornets hit straight back: Hepi coughing the ball, Jack Fox exposing Ford’s sloppy defensive qualities to stride away and score. Whittaker the two and a palpable lift in the home-fans’ spirits (8-36).

As the game became scrappy, Toulouse kept the scoreboard ticking over: Barthau stepping through, then Kheirallah hitting the afterburners to feed Barthau in for his third.

Hornets meantime refused to lie-down - some impressive defence from Jack Fox and an attempted intercept from Richard Lepori that bounced agonisingly from his hands. On 65 minutes Hornets got their just rewards. Again it was Jack Fox stepping through a lazy Ford tackle, the ball worked to Lewis Hatton who plunged in to score. Whittaker the extras for 14-48.

As the game entered the last 15 minutes, Toulouse’s full-time fitness eventually told as Hornets wilted in the heat - four late tries blowing out the scoreline First Canet off a pendulous cut-out pass from Ford; then Kriouache stepping through after a Hepi break up the guts of the defence. With five minutes remaining, Ford again unleashing that pass for Ader to score and - on the hooter - Kheirallah touching down a Hepi toe-poke into the in-goal. Final score a bloated 14-70. In the midst of this, Ben Moores yellow-carded for dissent.

In the wash-up there are two undeniable certainties about Toulouse. One: if you let Ford dictate the pace and direction of the game, you’re pretty much done. Yes, he’s a lazy bugger stealing a living at a level way below his capabilities, but he’s the switch that flicks his team into life. Second: Toulouse Olympique remain a hard team to like. They ooze disdain for the Championship and - for the main part - soullessly work their way through the playbook until the hooter tells them to stop.

Hornets on the other hand showed some nice touches and kept grafting in the face of insurmountable odds. But you can sense the frustration caused by a multitude of daft errors that repeatedly gave Toulouse the opportunity to bombard them.

Ultimately, using our logical head, we maintain that these are not the games that will define our season. Hornets need to stay in touch with Swinton, Dewsbury and Sheffield - and make games against the teams around us in the 8s a priority.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Sunday's Coming: Toulouse

Mark Khierallah: Né dans l'arrondissement
Français de Darlinghurst.
On a weekend of international sport, there’s only one game in town - and Toulouse come to Spotland on Sunday on the back of a rare defeat; downed 16-18 by Leigh in Albi last week.

Clearly, we’d love to think that this heralds the the point in the season where they quietly fade into a mid-table malaise - so we went in search of clues: starting with reports on the Leigh defeat (All translations are ours, courtesy of our O-Level French and a bit of Google translate).

In their post match analysis (‘The Centurions Spoil the Party’ - ah, bless), TOXIIIC said on their website: that the result was “… regrettable for TO, whose outcome was not deserved, but who were confronted with cold English realism.” Ah, we love it when they get bitter over a 2-point loss.

The first wobble in Toulouse’s annual choke-fest? They hinted as much in their match report, saying: “(Toulouse) stalled in the race for the Top 4 against a direct competitor, and will start again next Sunday in Rochdale…”

Having led 16-14 after the break, TO’s reporter produces a small onion and cries about how two Leigh penalties snatched the win for the Leythers after TOXIIIC had two try claims struck off.

Leigh’s win was built on determined defence. Or, as La Depeche put it in their report: “The big defensive pressure imposed by the English damaged the beautiful mechanics of Toulouse.”  So getting amongst them reduces their effectiveness.

In summary, sheep-farmer and part-time coach Sylvain Houles said: “"Our execution and our passing work were poor. It's frustrating because (the game) was largely winnable. But they put us under a lot of defensive pressure and made us make mistakes.” He concluded “ We lacked control, playing too early or moving the ball too early - our timing needs reviewing”.

As we know, TOXIIIC don’t deal with defeats too well, but genuine local French prop Maxime Puech is looking at it philosophically (with a shrug, we assume): “We did not seize opportunities to score. We were unclear when (Leigh) showed up. We had to be ’sharper’ in our game. We made too many mistakes. And we didn’t always defend very well.”

He went on: “We’re still in the race, but this failure can put you under pressure before going to Rochdale and then Sheffield.”

“Let's not forget that last year we lost to bottom teams. (We) do not take any team lightly and prepare (for) all the matches as if we are facing big guys. And it's about going to Rochdale before thinking of Sheffield.

When asked last week whether promotion to Super League remains realistic goal this year, Toulouse president Bernard Sarrazain was pretty circumspect for a man into this for a million Euros a season: “We have never been so close to the ‘summit’. But it's going to be complicated. It's been 10 years that we have been working on it. There are teams of (a) very high level. Our first goal is to finish in the top four of the championship (then play) the finals. To achieve this, we have to win five of our last seven games.”

With five defeats already, Toulouse cling precariously to second place on-points difference from Featherstone - and only a point ahead of Halifax who have the same number of wins.

Ones to watch are stand-off Jonathan Ford (the championship player with by far the greatest gulf between his ability and the effort he expends) and fullback Mark Kheirallah, French League’s Australian poster-boy after he once scored a try against Australia in a game where France got flogged.

Toulouse are likely to be missing Aussie second-row Rhys Curran. who has damaged a wrist, but they have taken Wigan prop Joe Bretherton on loan until the end of the season.

Hornets come into Sunday’s game on the back of a frankly horrible performance at London that had no merits whatsoever. Having been forced to endure the worst view in British RL, the long-suffering Hornets fans had their faith tested to the limit as London handed out a brutal lesson in creativity and defensive dominance.

If it’s true that Hornets always respond to a poor performance by producing a better, grittier display, then this is the weekend to do it. The key is staying with Toulouse for as long as possible. Winning set-to-set on attack and defence will lay the platform. And keeping Ford quiet will be key.

Don’t forget: Sunday’s game has been moved to a 4pm kick-off to avoid a clash with popular quiz show ’Catchphrase’.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

No Fun

London 68 - Hornets nil

There are lots of reasons to dislike the Ealing Trailfinders stadium.

Its plastic pitch makes the game a discomfiting ‘uncanny valley’ experience. The fact that all sideline seating (capacity a couple of hundred, tops) is reserved for season ticket holders leaves visitors little choice on where to stand. With no ‘opposite side’, Hornets’ loyal contingent found themselves perched in a corner, some choosing to watch from the car-park as it offered marginally more elevation. It has all the atmosphere of an asteroid - unconfined by stands or terracing, any attempt to engage with the action gets blown into the ether.

It’s also £20 to get in - yes, £20 to stand in the corner of a large plastic carpet, with the game happening ‘somewhere over there’. It’s a ball-ache to get to: notwithstanding the drive, the train, and the tube that eats half your day, it’s a just-irritating-enough half hour walk to try and find the ground hidden in one of London’s leafier suburbs, deep in the heart of *nion country.

All of this would be enough to piss off the hardiest of visiting supporters - but as Hornets sank without trace, shipping 12 tries and ten Kieran Dixon goals, it made for a difficult, disheartening, demoralising afternoon and a funereal return journey that landed fans back at 10.30pm and a hundred quid lighter.

For eight minutes, though, this was - deceptively - a decent contest. Hornets holding their own early doors. But once Broncos stand-in scrum-half Cunningham got his eye in, he single-handedly orchestrated a deluge of unstoppable one-way traffic.

Pitts opened the scoring after Cunninhgham produced some sleight of hand to unzip the defence and from there it became a parade. Dixon was next on the scoresheet, exploiting some over-eager defending, then a chip to the corner for Dixon to grab his second. On 24 minutes Pitts slipped in from the back of the ruck - and two minutes later, Pewhairangi snaffled a loose Rob Massam pass to stride untouched to the line.

Cunningham created one for himself on the half hour after a harmless looking Hornets clearing kick was returned with interest by Dixon; then Pewhairangi threw an outrageous dummy to step in and score. Dixon on target and Hornets shellshocked. 38-nil at the break - Hornets poor value for the nil.

The second half began with a freak try. Pewhairangi with a bit of a panic kick, the ball rebounding from the crossbar into the hands of the unrushing Evans. London then went ahead of the clock when Pewhairangi left Luke Adamson clutching at air to thread Walker in. 49 minutes, 50-nil

From there on in, London pretty much racked the cue. They ran a few shapes, moved the ball around and scored when the opportunity arose. Pewhairangi his hat-trick on the hour from a Cunningham kick, then Cunningham in off a Pewhairangi  kick. All very perfunctory.

Even Hornets' bad luck ran out here: returning hooker Dec Gregory removed with a head injury; Luke Adamson limping off with a knock to the knee.

The coup-de-grace came with eight minutes remaining, with Walker scoring London’s 12th: somewhere in the distance, someone clapping.

Post match Alan Kilshaw was pretty forthright: “I feel sorry for anybody who travelled from Rochdale to see that - we made far too many errors and weren’t able to defend our line.”

Can’t argue with any of that.

It was about as bad a Rugby League experience as it’s possible to have. Every single aspect of the day a blight on the soul. On the train on the way back, even we asked ourselves: “Is this really worth it?” Indeed, it wasn't so much the defeat in itself (London are a good side), but the manner of it. In 80 minutes, Hornets failed to impose their presence on the game in any way, shape or form.

If you’re looking for positives from this game, don’t bother. The only good news is that, not only did Swinton also lose, Toulouse began their annual choke-fest early this year, going down at home to Leigh - and coming to us next week on the back of a defeat.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Sunday's Coming: Laaaaandan Broncos

Sunday sees Hornets trek off ‘Darn Sarf’ to take on Laaaaandan Broncos.

Having undergone five name changes in their history - and having played at five venues in the last 15 years - The Broncos finally look to have settled at the plastic pastures of Ealing Trailfinders.

Speaking in the Guardian recently an un-named Broncos ‘spokesman’ (never a good look to have ‘un-named spokespeople speaking for your club in the media) said: “Ealing has always been known as a community-oriented borough and that’s what the Broncos are all about. We’ve an award-winning community programme which works with 23 schools in the Ealing borough. Season ticket sales have gone up a third on last year; because we’re in a stable place, people want to have a look at London again.”

Broncos? A ‘stable’ place? Whoever this person is they’re a natural comedian.

This could be a good time to catch the Broncos, as they come into Sunday’s game on the back of an energy-sapping 32-12 defeat in Toronto - making it back-to back long distance defeats following their 40-28 loss in Toulouse. In response to the Canada trip, Broncos Head of Performance Mike Eccles admits that the players have suffered jet -lag and that, in response, the squad have had a ‘low-intensity’ week in preparation for Sunday.

Having now lost six games, the Broncos have slipped off the Championship pace, conceding their place in the top four to Featherstone and Halifax. But therein lies a paradox. The Broncos are the second highest points scorers in the division by a point (behind TOXIIIC) with 617 - but while they win games, they also ship a lot of points: their 16 game average being a 38 - 21 win.

Jarrod Sammut - ready for battle.
Clearly their focus is on attack, and that’s led by bearded power-midget Jarrod Sammut - who has this week been named in Malta’s train-on squad for 2018’s Emerging Nations World Championship in Sydney, the world-cup qualifying European Championship C-South and a proposed Test against South Africa.

A product of the Sydney RL production line at Patrician Brothers' College Blacktown, Sammut started his career captaining Penrith Panthers’ Jersey Flegg Cup side to Grand Final Wins in 2006 and 2007. Though he went on to play 38 times for Penrith in the NRL, he’s made his name as a dynamo half-back here in the UK, having led Crusaders RL, Bradford, Wakefield, Featherstone, Workington and London round the park.

But he’s not just a playmaker.  If you want to assess the scale of his contribution to the Broncos cause, to date he’s scored 38 tries in 43 games - and kicked 157 goals. His games average is just shy of 12 points - so, effectively, just putting him on the team sheet gives London a 12 point start.

So shut him down and you shut down the Broncos main conduit to points.

Hornets come into Sunday looking for an improvement on a sloppy second half that saw the game at Barrow slip slowly away. Alan Kilshaw was pretty forthright in his assessment of the second 40.

“we killed ourselves,” he said. “It’s the tale of our season. One step forward and two steps back and to be honest I’m quite angry with what we served up”. Justifiable frustration after a solid first half display.

But Hornets have put in good performances against some of the top teams this year - London at home being one of them, so a good start on Sunday would make not an interesting contest. And - as there’s one shock result every season - it might as well be this one.

We know it’s a long schlep down to Ealing but if you can, get down there - every voice will count as, once again, we aim to out-sing the home fans and give the lads a much needed lift.

See you there.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Being Boiled

Barrow 20 - Hornets 6

There’s an urban myth that claims if you put a frog into a pan of hot water it will jump out, but if the frog is put into cold water which is then brought to a boil by slowly increasing the heat, it will not perceive the danger and will allow itself be cooked to death.

And in the steaming heat of Craven Park, Barrow gradually turned up the second-half heat to leave Hornets realising far too late that the game as a contest was long dead.

Indeed in a locked-up, air-tight chess-game of a first half, there was no clue at all to just how this game would edge away from Hornets grasp.

With Dec Kay defusing an early aerial bombardment with aplomb, Hornets made rapid progress downfield where Seta Tala went close. Gifted a penalty for a late high shot on Danny Yates, Hornets worked the ball to Deon Cross who went over the line. After much debate, it was decided - we think -  that a double movement occurred: Referee Mr Smith somewhat light on clarity.

But Hornets continued to press - going wide on the last tackle only for the last pass to Rob Massam to be deemed forward.

With defences on top, flowing football was at a premium. Twice the home side had rare opportunities: the first ending with Rob Massam crash tackling his opposite number into touch, the second with Barrow knocking on with the line begging.

The first clear-cut chance of the half fell on 24 minutes to Barrow winger Toal, who coughed the ball into the in-goal when it looked easier to score. Dec Kay’s consequent break to half-way came to nought when he too knocked on.

Hornets were penalised for appearing to contest the resulting scrum and Barrow applied some concerted pressure: held-up over the line, then forcing a drop-out - then knocking on.

Both sides were now struggling to prise the game open: Deon Cross bundled into touch as he attempted a blind-side sneak; Barrow coughing the ball first tackle after Hornets had been snagged for obstruction playing an out-set in their own half.

In the end, it took Dallimore’s milking of a 35th minute penalty to break the deadlock: 2-nil.

As the half drained away, Rob Massam hit the defensive line with a punishing drive, Barrow’s Crellin got his body position all wrong and came reeling out of the tackle completely pole-axed. He was stretchered from the field after an extensive delay.

On resumption it was Barrow’s turn to get snagged for a ‘ghost obstruction’ - and there was just enough time left for Mr Smith to come up with a quite ridiculous penalty (Hornets exchange passes, Dallimore sticks a hand between and knocks on - Hornets penalised for obstruction. We know - us either…).

Dallimore banged over the penalty from in front and the teams retired to the sheds tryless at 4-nil.

A pretty good show all-round, we thought. a tight, combative contest…

The second half started with an error after just 40 seconds - a forward pass in the kick-off set, set the tone. Two minutes later Barrow pressed on the 20m line, but a Dec Kay intercept carried the ball clear - only for him to force a reckless pass to the lurking Smith. Barrow worked the ball wide where a three on-one on Rob Massam was enough for Hulme to score. 8-nil.

Hornets responded well with a direct set, but Deon Cross threw a crazy interception pass that Stack snaffled. Barrow’s set ended with Rob Massam knocking on under his own posts.

On 54 minutes Barrow hit Hornets with a real sucker-punch; Dallimore picking out Fieldhouse round the back of a scrum for a simple try. 12-nil.

On the hour, Barrow wunder-prop Bullock picked a path through the defence where Jo Taira had his back turned, aimed his not insignificant bulk at Danny Yates and Dec Kay and physics did the rest. 16-nil - and the game disappearing into the middle distance.

Hornets produced one moment of inspiration on 70 minutes: Tyler Whittaker with the break, dropping the ball onto his toe for Seta Tala to score (16-6).  Then Hornets dropped the kick-off…

After ten more minutes of Hornets ending good sets with poor options, there was just enough time left for Bullock to shove his way through four defenders to score the softest try of the day. The game, in the end won  - and lost - by a multitude of imperceptible incremental shifts.

The adjective most used after the game was ‘disappointing’. But we have to be careful that this game doesn’t become a metaphor for a season, where we’re slowly boiled but don’t notice until it’s too late. And where any chance of survival - like the frog - lies dead in the water.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Sunday's Coming: Barrow

As Hornets look to be coming out of an injury crisis,  Paul Crarey is juggling bodies at Craven Park as his Barrow side continues to struggle with a lengthy queue at the treatment room and a dent in their bank account.

Whilst the week off between Barrow’s shock defeat at Blackpool and Sunday gives him some respite and recovery opportunities, Crarey staunchly refuses to seek a DR agreement and sees the situation as an opportunity to blood some emerging talent.

Speaking to the North West Evening Mail this week, he said: ““We'll go with what we've got until the well runs dry. I haven't asked for anybody and the board have said 'if any money comes available, you can have someone', and that's fine. If not, we're not going to bankrupt the club and we'll stick with what we've got and see if that's good enough to get us until the end of the year.”

Of late, Crarey has been leaning heavily on the experience of his captain Martin Aspinwall, who turned out at prop in the Raiders’ last-ditch 22-all draw at Swinton a couple of weeks back. He concedes that the Raiders are less effective when Aspinwall is off the field - but he can’t give him a long-shift either: “He's solid through the middle and when he's off there, the talk goes and we sit down a bit in the middle. We can't leave him on massively because it's unfair on him and we'll probably lose his quality.”

At the opposite end of the reliability scale, 12 weeks ago Barrow signed former Warrington three-quarter Gene Ormsby until the end of the season. Ormsby was on trial at Salford and also on Swinton’s radar. Crarey saw him then as a good signing: “He's a good signing.” He said at the time. “He's a winger, but he can play centre in the Championship and he's played there before. He's an outside back and that's somewhere we've needed to strengthen…”

But in a late twist, this week Ormsby has asked to be released from his contract due to difficulties in travelling to Barrow. It’s highly unlikely he’ll feature on Sunday, with Tom Loxam in the frame to play at centre

Rethinking his opinion of Ormsby, Crarey said in the North West Evening Mail on Thursday: “Gene Ormsby is struggling with the travelling and he wants a release now because he can't do that, so it's put us in a predicament going into this week with the injuries we've had. I’ve put in the hands of the board and with Gene for them to sort out, so it's left us in a bad position.”

Crarey, is also without utility back Andy Litherland due to a recurring back injury.

Talking of ‘bad positions’, the Raiders have this week pleaded for the Barrow public to back the club in bigger numbers, as crowds are currently falling below the board’s budgeted forecast - compelling Crarey to tighten the purse strings.

Despite a four-figure average, crowds have fallen below the 1,200 budgeted for - and Crarey has made it perfectly clear this week that: “…  if we get over that 1,200 then we'll be able to strengthen the team.”

“That's the only way we are going to be able to bring players in… we won't put the club in financial trouble and that's why we'll go with what we've got.”

Hornets go onto Sunday on the back of a gutsy win at Swinton, built on the foundation of a well-executed first 40 minutes in which the high tempo and willingness to move the ball had Swinton in all sorts of trouble.

With Gas Middlehurst and Luke/Toby Adamson back in the side - and Ben Moore calling the shots from acting half - Hornets looked better balanced, but it was the half-back axis of Danny Yates and Tyler Whittaker that made the whole machine tick - and they’ll have to be on-song on Sunday to nullify the threat of Barrow’s short-fused playmaker Jamie Dallimore.

Whilst we don’t want to delve into complex mathematics so early in the season, a win at Barrow - and a win for Swinton at Sheffield - could hoist Hornets out of the bottom two. Defeat then for Dewsbury  (at home to Featherstone), would leave them only one point above Hornets. Interestingly Barrow have only one win more than Hornets - but three draws have given them a three point cushion in the dogfight at the bottom of the Championship.

But all of that is moot without the win - and the more fans voices we get up there, the greater the contribution to supporting the lads. So make a day of it: pack your lunch, fill your car and let’s make a bit of noise. See you there.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Hornets Turn Up The Heat As Swinton Set The Bar Low

Swinton 18 - Hornets 25

On a hot day at Heywood Road, Hornets stepped off the bottom of the Championship with this battling win against a Swinton side that had come to scrap. This was an ill-tempered encounter - instigated mostly by Lions’ walking anger-issue Josh Barlow -  the bearded barmpot who not only spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin for running into a fracas, but who also talked himself into a red-card for dissent late in the game.

Indeed, Barlow set the tone for the game. As Hornets strove to play football around Swinton’s histrionics, the home side niggled, griped and left something in pretty much every tackle. Jonah Cunningham and Gary Middlehurst’s blood-soaked head injuries evidence of some fairly agricultural treatment.

Swinton pressed hard in the early stages, repelled by some tough Hornets defence. But when Tyler Whittaker stepped into daylight on half way after 15 minutes with a mercurial break, he found Danny Yates on his inside to give Hornets the lead. Whittaker the extras for a 0-6 lead.

But it was short-lived. Hornets loose-carried the kick-off, Swinton worked the ball to Lloyd and he found space to score. 4-6.

Hornets went straight back on the attack. Some tasty approach allowed them to build some pressure on the Swinton line, and when Ben Moores took a sideways step to create some space on the quarter-mark, his neat pass found Gary Middlehurst who reached through a tangle of defenders to score. Whittaker no mistake, 4-12.

Hornets were in again on the half hour after Tyler Whittaker had been deemed held-up in the in-goal. The ball was shipped to Rob Massam who piled through three defenders to score out wide. Whittaker a great conversion from the touchline and Hornets in complete charge at 4-18.

The introduction of Barlow saw the game take a turn for the worse - and when he went steaming into a brawl just after the half-hour he was given ten minutes to consider his actions. To say that Stuart Littler wasn’t pleased is a bit of an understatement.

As it was the 12-man Lions bickered and battered their way to the break: Hornets ahead and good value for their lead.

Hornets began the second half in comedic fashion - retrieving the kick-off Chuckle-Brothers style “to me, to you” as the ball bobbled around. Mr Grant decided someone was offside, but Swinton couldn’t capitalise.

Instead Hornets marched straight downfield where Tyler Whittaker, Danny Yates and Dec Kay ran a sublime line to feed Deon Cross into space to score. Whittaker with the two. Hornets Looking good at 24-4 - Hankinson’s try for the home side on 55 minutes looking like consolation at 24-8.

The game then locked-up. Swinton steadying the ship, Hornets forced into multiple changes now struggling for rhythm. Indeed, when Hornets elected to take the two on 65 minutes it looked like sensible shout, but Whittaker under-hit his effort for his only miss of the afternoon.

On 73 minutes Swinton produced their one moment of innovation: Hankinson’s kick from the base of the scrum, the gathering Tyson reeled in by a terrific tackle by Richard Lepori, but the home side first to react - Lloyd scoring a sitter through a stretched, retreating defence: 12-24.

Tails-up, Swinton sniffed an opportunity, but when Barlow barrelled his way to the corner-flag only to be bundled dead-in-goal, he opened a fire-hose of profanity at the touch-judge. Mr Grant showed him the red card and Barlow got an early shower and a five minute start on the buffet.

Hornets’ response was to put the game to bed. The pack piled the ball downfield, Yatesey feigned left, the ball shipped right and Tyler Whittaker there coolest head on the field to slot home the drop goal.

There was just enough time for Hankinson to score a late one for the Lions - his dink into the in-goal pinballing twixt legs and post, before he touched down amongst the mayhem.

But it mattered not. Despite two late tries giving this the veneer of a contest, Hornets were by some distance the better side. The improvement on the previous week was vast - the returning Ben Moores providing a solid anchor at the ruck.

In game where several players caught the eye (debutant Jack ‘the’ Fox looking very useful with ball in hand), we chose Tyler Whittaker as our man of the match. In the end, his contribution proved the difference on the scoreboard, though he was ably supported by a gutsy team performance.

We wrote last week that a win at all costs was imperative - and the lads delivered. The bar is set: and we move on to Barrow.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Sunday's Coming Again: Swinton

In an eerily familiar case of deja-vu, Hornets go to Heywood Road on Sunday seeking revenge on Swinton Lions for last week’s defeat at Bloomfield Road.

Post match Lions coach Stuart Littler singled out Josh Woods and Jack Hansen for praise, but for us it was George Tyson who set the tone for Swinton’s win: his blunt instrument approach delivering a brace on the day - making it 8 tries in 11 appearances for him. A decent strike rate.

Swinton come into Sunday’s game in an unusual position: off the bottom of the table and unbeaten in their last two games, they have some momentum and, as Littler also said in his post-match interview, Sunday now becomes more important as we try and claw Dewsbury and Sheffield back into this desperate, ugly shit-fight at the bottom of the Championship (maybe he didn't use those actual words, but the sentiment is the same).

The real pisser, though is that - despite seemingly being unable to buy a win for the last two months - both Dewsbury and Sheffield (somehow) had a rush of blood at Blackpool and came up with victories. How? Not a clue, but it makes a win on Sunday - by any means possible - imperative.

However you assess it, last weekend was disappointing (to say the least). Having delivered a first half littered with errors and a second half going backwards, Hornets will need a major improvement this weekend if they are to return Swinton to the foot of the table.

In his post-match post-mortem Alan Kilshaw recognised Hornets’ poor set completion, game management and sloppy finishing as key factors that saw the game drop away from his side - particularly in a second-half that’s hard to watch.

Anyway, onward (as a previous iteration of Hornets used to say)…

Good news for Sunday is that Jonah Cunningham has joined us until the end of the season and we also have ex- Workington prop Joe Ryan and former England Academy utility back Jack Fox on-board to bolster the ranks. Welcome on-board, gentlemen.

The other positive to take into Sunday is that the Hornets fans played a blinder in Blackpool - and a repeat performance on Sunday will give the boys a much needed lift. It’s only a short trip - so fill your car and get over to Heywood Road.  A club that sings together… er… wins together (or something like that).

See you Sunday.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Summer Bashed

Hornets 12 - Swinton 38

BATTERED: Philosophy is a dish
best served with chips
Philosophy finds you in the strangest of places - and if ever a Hornets performance required you to be philosophical it was this car-crash at the Summer Bash.

Queuing in the rather excellent C-Fresh chip-shop post game, the guy behind the counter revealed himself to be a perspicacious philosopher with a deep insight into the human condition.

“What happens in Blackpool,” he said whilst counting out the mushy-pea fritters, “stays in Blackpool”.

And in the aftermath of Hornets’ clunking collapse under the gaze of the world’s TV cameras (yes, we received a couple of texts from exiled Hornets in the Antipodes asking “WTF happened there?”), it’s advice that we could all do well to heed.

Though in this context, it’s a big ask. The roller-coaster of being a Hornets fan demands that you suffer the lows of, say,  Whitehaven so that you may enjoy the modest heights of winning at Dewsbury - but those points on a season’s map go mostly unnoticed. The Summer Bash, however, shoves clubs used to playing beneath the cloak of anonymity blinking into a global media spotlight - an unforgiving Sauron’s Eye that reveals you to the world for extreme scrutiny.

And it’s that level of brutal exposure that makes leaving this ‘happening’ in Blackpool a bit of a struggle.

The first half gave little indication of what was to come. Swinton hit the front when Waterworth mugged a switched-off defence after 8 minutes, then Hansen coughed the kick-off to give Hornets possession deep in Lions territory; Lepori slotted in at the corner with some neat passing 90 seconds later.

Six-all after 10 minutes; all very tight.

From here, though, both sides struggled to find any real rhythm as the game became a scrappy shambles in which completed sets came at a premium: Hornets probably just shading it on ‘artistic interpretation’, looking more keen to at least move the ball around before dropping it.

With both sides looking desperate for half-time, Swinton conjured up a moment of rare lucidity that launched Tyson through four sloppy tackles to score. Swinton ahead at the break by 12-6. Shrugs all-round - Hornets fans thinking aloud that they’d seen their side come back from a greater deficit last year.

What they hadn’t reckoned on was that, by the time Hornets next troubled the scoreboard, Swinton would have slammed 26 unanswered points through an increasingly fragmented defence.

Swinton began the second half with noticeably greater purpose - and when Barlow slipped a neat ball for Hope to score just two minutes after the restart, hearts sank.

The next half hour was hard to watch. On 47 minutes Tyson slumped in from a metre - the video referee convinced he got the ball down despite no real evident to prove that.

On 53 minutes Paisley returned an awful grubber kick fully 95 metres before being reeled in and hauled down by Richard Lepori - only for Woods to score on the next play after Deon Cross’ attempted interception slipped agonisingly from his fingertips.

Then just past the hour Hankinson fed Paisley into a hole to score from close range and Swinton racked the cue at 38-6.

For the remaining 20 minutes Hornets crashed around in search of a break: Dave Allen producing a very similar effort to Tyson’s ‘doubtful’ try earlier, only this time the Video Ref seeing something entirely different.

By the time Jonah Cunningham dropped in for a 75th minute no-consolation-at-all try, Hornets fans were already contemplating the lure of a chippy tea in the last of the afternoon’s sun, another lovely weekend ruined by a wretched result.

And it was wretched - reflecting poorly on the team, the club and its fans. Not only was this a chance to get this challenging season back on some sort of track, it was a rare chance for Rochdale Hornets to make a good impression with the eyes of the sporting world on us.

In the face of such disappointment, just about the best anyone can do is act on the words of the Sage of the C-Fresh Chip-shop.  Put this one down to a terrible mistake, move on - and never speak of it again.

If you’re feeling particularly masochistic , you can watch the highlights here.
Sky Sports Highlights

Friday, 25 May 2018

Has the Summer Bash Killed the Video Ref?

“… we can't rewind we've gone too far. Pictures came and broke your heart, put the blame on VCR.”

You might have seen the hoo-ha around changes to the Video Referee’s powers at this year’s Summer Bash. The RFL will ‘trial’ new decision-making parameters for the Video Referee  - with a reduction in the number of  things that the match referee can send upstairs.

The video referees’ remit has been reduced to making judgement on just three areas of the game:
1: the grounding of the ball,
2: is a player in-touch/touch in-goal
3: has the ball/a player gone over the dead ball line.

Pretty simple!

The RFL were forced to concede that the concept of the
Video Ref had got out of hand...
There will be none of Stupid League’s “I have a try/no-try” ‘live’ decision pantomime - nor will the Video Referee be able to check for obstruction, foul play, onside, offside or challenges in the air.

The RFL are packaging it up as a trial to see what happens if you ask referees to do their job and stop creating false tension for the TV cameras. They said: “We have worked hard in recent years and have seen the amount of time it takes for a decision come down significantly, but we are always willing to discuss new ideas and receive feedback from our partners. The Summer Bash offers the perfect opportunity to conduct a trial across six games and we will be interested to receive feedback from fans, players, coaches and the broadcaster following the event blah, blah, blah…”

Sky Sports Head of Rugby League, Neville Smith, said: “Sky Sports and Rugby League were pioneers in video technology ‘in-game’ and we will never stand still looking to improve what we offer fans.” Yeah, right, you Murdoch sock-puppet...

Run through the TLCRF80mins Bullshit detector, that translates as: “We invented this blight on our game and made it so integral to the viewing experience that we forgot what people actually came to watch. Having ruined the viewing experience at the top level for fans in the ground and at home, we will never stand still looking to improve ways to keep people paying £58 a month to watch Huddersfield v Salford.”

So, in short, the Video Ref. at Blackpool will have a quiet day because there will be:

No ‘live’ calls from on-field match official
No checks for obstruction
No checks on foul play
No checks on-side or offside on kicks
No checking challenges in the air and
No checks of knock-ons in general play/ or scrum, head and feeds, even if the ball is out of play.

The Video Ref. CAN still be called on for:

Checking 40/20s: but only where ball is kicked from (ie inside the 40) -  but not where it goes out!

PLUS, on:
Goal line drop out / 20m tap decisions the on-field ref must give a restart decision, whereupon the Video Ref can have no more than two looks. If the footage is inconclusive the game restarts with the referee’s original decision.

So, in short : basically the game will be trusting the officials to make the same decisions they make every week in the Championship, with the Video Ref effectively reduced to an in-goal judge.

Given that life happens in real-time and not at 32-frames-per-second in stop-frame, the Video Referee has distorted key moments in the game to one man’s five minute contemplation of one 32nd of a second frozen in time. The fact that finger-tip, ball and ground are all in fleeting contact for less time than it takes to blink makes a mockery of the game. Let’s hope this is the beginning of the end for this stain on the game

Thursday, 24 May 2018

The Summer Bash is Coming: Swinton Lions

And so, to Blackpool; scene of last year’s transformational triumph that kickstarted our season into life - and boy do we need a repeat performance.

Both Hornets and winless Swinton come into Sunday’s game desperately craving a victory to catalyse what has been a complex and challenging year for both sides.

But Barrow Raiders, it seems, are a significant factor in both teams’ seasons thus far.

Until last weekend, Swinton’s only point of the year came from a draw at Craven Park - and Swinton come into this week’s game on the back of yet another draw against Barrow Raiders: deprived of victory by a Jamie Dallimore penalty with the last kick of the game after a Barrow forward had milked a dubious penalty.

Swinton Kicker Chris Hankinson missed four from five attempts at goal. Ouch!

One of Hornets’ two wins this year was against an irksome 12-man Barrow at home and, ironically, Barrow could do both us and Swinton a favour by thrashing Sheffield in the first game of the Bank Holiday weekend.

Why? Because a Sheffield defeat and a Hornets win will haul Hornets out of the bottom two at the expense of the Eagles (Hornets currently with a +32 points difference over Sheffield).

It would require a Swinton win by 40 or more for them to scramble over Hornets in the league table - but in closing the points gap, it would turn up the heat at the bottom of the Championship

A Dewsbury defeat against Batley in the last game of the weekend will leave Hornets only a point behind the Rams (who somehow tossed away a 14-nil half-time lead to end up scraping a draw at Halifax last week). Lots of intriguing permutations.

Our one to watch on Sunday is Hornets fans’ favourite panto-villain George Tyson. He weighed in with two tries last weekend (that’s 6 tries in 10  appearances for Swinton) - and 10 minutes in the sin bin for hitting a Barrow player on the ground (seems Lions may change their jerseys, but not their spots).

Hornets come into the game on the back of a vastly improved, hard-working performance at Batley. But for a couple of indeterminate calls from the merry whistler, the outcome could have been very different. Certainly the return of Richard Lepori and Earl Hurst gave the backline a more robust feel - and having Dave Allen back gave the side a visible boost in workrate alongside Lee Mitchell who put in a major shift to clock his best performance yet in a Hornets shirt. And we’ll need more of that commitment to the cause on Sunday if Hornets are to maintain our 100% record at Bloomfield road.

So is The Bash Box Office?

It does promise to be an interesting day on Sunday - especially amidst great debate on both sides of the world on the crowd-pulling capabilities of multiple-header events. Down-under, controversial Murdoch sock-puppet Buzz Rothfield of the Daily Telegraph has accused the NRL of double-counting crowds at double headers in order to artificially inflate average attendance figures. The NRL has defended the way in which it calculates attendances - but both parties remain locked in a war of basic arithmetic over whether every fan watches every minute of each game played.

Over here, there was media concern over attendances at last Week’s Magic Weekend, the combined attendance of 64,000 down on the last four years. Most interesting is that since its return to Newcastle in 2015, day-two has produced a significantly smaller attendance. This year’s day two crowd of 25,400 the lowest day two figure since Edinburgh in 2010 - and that included a Humberside derby!

Blackpool’s Summer Bash shows an equally interesting attendance pattern across its three year life. Day one has grown year on year (2015 - 8,050, 2016 - 9521, 2017 - 11,567) - boosted by the presence of fallen Super League ‘giants’ Bradford, Leigh and Hull KR. But day two has DECLINED year on year (2015 - 7,021, 2016 - 6,391, 2017 - 4,807). So is playing on the Sunday the ‘graveyard slot’?

However you look at it, you have to think that day one this year has more ‘box office’. Halifax and Featherstone will generate some atmosphere and would ordinarily draw a decent crowd in its own right, similarly Leigh v Leigh ‘Old-Boys’ Toronto. The other fixture on Saturday is Barrow v Sheffield - the third time these teams will have met this season, Barrow having secured two convincing wins. (a third could do us and Swinton a big favour).

But you have to worry about this year’s Sunday attendance - featuring six teams with average home attendances of sub-1,000. Toulouse v London carries the risk of starting proceedings in a vacuum. Toulouse fans don’t travel (even to Blagnac, some might argue) and whilst London’s following will be noisy, it won’t be huge. It will also be the fourth time that Batley and Dewsbury get to contest a Heavy Woollen derby at Blackpool on day two. The two met on good Friday at  Mount Pleasant in front of 1,100 people.

Which leaves Hornets v Swinton. Certainly the scene is set for this to be the most hotly contested game of the weekend - probably the only one that has the potential for meaningful impact and serious jeopardy. Again, though, in the current RL climate, a fixture of such importance might  pull in 1,000 (guess we’ll see the week after).

It’d be fair to assume that the RFL are relying on people committing to the whole weekend, but even the most RL obsessive Barrow or Sheffield fans might take some persuading to stick around to see Batley v Dewsbury through to the death.

So what can we - as Hornets and as RL fans - do to make Sunday a day to remember. Firstly, get to Blackpool and get behind the team; let’s make some noise, generate a buzz and whip up a bit of atmosphere (you can bet that the Swinton fans will). Secondly, wear your colours, bring your scarf and wave your banner (if you have one) - this is our club’s moment in the national TV spotlight, so let’s give the cameras something to look at. Thirdly, try and get there in time for Game one - see cheering against Toulouse as a warm-up for the main event.

Finally - there’s still time to get your tickets from Hornets. Every one our club sells reduces the amount we basically have to pay the RFL to play at Blackpool (they charge us for a pile of tickets and we have to sell as many as possible to get our money back). Call Steve Kerr today on 01706 648004 to buy yours.

Tickets for the day are unreserved so fans can sit anywhere - there was talk at Batley last week of gathering as close as possible behind the dugouts, but wherever we gather, let’s get sat together and be that vital 18th man.

See you Sunday.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Unlucky Hornets Go Close

Batley 23 - Hornets 14

As Mount Pleasant baked in the afternoon sun, Hornets game agonisingly close to stealing this one from under Batley’s nose.

The somewhat distended scoreline belies how close this game was. It certainly doesn’t reflect the fact that, for large tracts of this game, Hornets were the only side wiling to play lucid football of any description and - but for two harsh refereeing calls - we could easily be writing up an entirely different outcome.

Indeed, while the Batley machine churned away in the background, Hornets produced some of their most fluid, dynamic football of the season thus far - and at the heart of this was a towering performance from Lee Mitchell, who covered every blade of grass on attack and defence in a perpetual motion display that Batley found hard to handle.

Facing a literal uphill first half, it wasn’t the finest of starts for Hornets - making a complete hash of the kick-off to give Batley an early platform. The home side pressed hard but were held-up in goal - then they knocked on. Phew…

Hornets responded positively, shoving Batley’s plus-sized pack back up the hill: Earl Hurst wiped out late by a high shot en-route: Referee Mr Dolan opting for just a penalty. Hornets’ retribution was swift. Fast hands across the park found Dec Kay in the line and his pinpoint cut-out pass found Rob Massam who acrobatically finished in the corner in front of the celebrating travelling support.

Batley got a lucky break on 14 minutes. Mr Dolan appeared to stop play for a Batley forward pass, only to give the home side a mystery penalty. Brambani taking advantage to step through a retreating defence to score. Walker the extras and Batley ahead 6-4.

The home side then capitalised on this momentum shift: a huge line-break by Batley lump Rowe  sending Harrison under the black dot. Walker on target to extend Batley’s lead to 12-4.

With the momentum in their favour, Batley sucked the game into a midfield battle where they feel more comfortable and which restricted Hornets’ desire to move the ball. But on 28 minutes, Hornets produced a moment of free-play magic: Dave Allen forcing a Batley error, Danny Yates gathering the loose ball, launching Rob Massam up the touchline. The Welsh flyer burned 70 metres up the slope and, with defenders gathering, found Deon Cross in support to score the try of the game. Wonderful stuff. Tyler Whittaker added the extras and Hornets were back in the chase at 12-10.

But Batley regrouped, played through their sets and - on 32 minutes - Farrel produced a nice drop-off pass for Bretherton to score. Walker the two and Batley eight points to the good down the slope with half-time looming.

There was still time for Hornets to go close: another attack up the left, but Rob Massam was bundled into touch as he lunged for the corner. Half time 18-10 - and Hornets looking forward to playing downhill.

The second half began with both sides exchanging drop-outs - between which Dec Kay was helped from the field with a leg injury.

As Hornets shuffled the backline (Richard Lepori to Full-back, Alex Gaskell onto the wing), Batley capitalised: Farrell mugging defenders from close range with a cheap dummy. Walker comedically wide with the conversion attempt and Hornets left in search of two scores at 22-10.

Hornets continued to press: a big last tackle kick from Danny Yates falling to Rob Massam who was harried into touch; then Earl Hurst unable to find a way to the line as the defence appeared to part.

On 67 minutes Hornets looked to have the break-through: Lee Mitchell with the break, his pass sending Alex Gaskell into acres of open space - only for Mr Dolan to deem the pass forward. The travelling support unconvinced.

Then Mr Dolan found a knock-on in Danny Yates’ last tackle chip & chase. Frustration.

On 70 minutes, Batley rumbled to life long enough for Farrell to drop a goal that left Hornets needing  three scores to win. And two minutes later, quick-hands wide found Rob Massam with space to round Ainscough and score.

With the clock ticking down (and Batley effectively having parked the bus), Hornets continued to push forward and when Jordan Syme split defenders up the channel to break downfield to launch Deon Cross towards the line, he too was pulled for a forward pass. Agonising stuff.

So, don’t read too much into the scoreline: this was a performance of determination, dynamism and dexterity that deserved more. But, again, we saw in Batley the ability to dictate the pace and pattern of the game at key times - to suck the daylight out of the game and grind it into stasis. Indeed, someone commented afterwards that not only do they know how to play the game, they know how to play the referee - and it’s that kind of ugly nous that comes with experience.

But the Hornets positives were there for all to see: a significantly improved performance and a clear mandate for the players to be expressive and expansive. The noisy appreciation of the travelling support proof that things are heading in the right direction - and the knowledge that a clutch of players are close to a return should give everyone heart for the back half of the season.

While Hornets were battling at Batley, Swinton tossed away what looked a likely win to hand Barrow a draw with the last kick of the game. Which tees up next weekend’s game at the Summer Bash nicely - if ever two teams needed a win…

Again, we urge all Hornets supporters to get themselves over to Blackpool and get behind the lads. There are still some tickets remaining at the club office, so don’t leave it too long (call in at the office between 10am and 4pm, or call 01706 648004).

This year seating is unreserved, so It’s easier for fans to get together and make some noise: the tenuous plan after yesterday’s game was for Hornets fans to meet in a block as close to the back of the dugouts as possible. So wear your colours (if only so we can find each other), bring your singing voice and let’s have another day to remember.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Deja-Vu: Batley

it’s with a sense of deja-vu that we head for Batley’s Mount (un)Pleasant for part two of this back-to-back fixture ‘double-header’:  the ‘Dogs having the advantage after last week’s win over a busted Hornets who tried hard but eventually buckled under the strain of a mounting injury list.

A Hornets team pulled out of shape, backfilling with willing bodies, was the perfect foil for Batley’s industrial ‘play-by-process’ style. The game was a series of object lessons in exploiting weaknesses: Force errors, build pressure, exploit uncertainty, run big guys at small guys, run quick guys at tired defenders, suck ‘em in, switch it out. Indeed, Batley played their way through the procedure and die-cut themselves a comfortable win.

Whilst it might be a style untroubled by aesthetics, it is ruthlessly effective So how do Hornets chuck a spanner into the ‘Dogs… er… cogs?

Whilst it was frustrating, last year’s trip to the Mount gives us a big pointer. As Batley ground through the gears, Hornets played a high-tempo, expansive game that  - courtesy of two preposterously poor refereeing decisions - very nearly paid off. Only when Hornets got sucked into the home side’s ‘process’ did Batley make progress.

In his video preview, Alan Kilshaw did confirm the return of Dave Allen, Earl Hurst and Richard Lepori to the squad for Sunday, so there’ll be an uplift in experience in key positions as Hornets look to gain some momentum ahead of next week’s trip to Blackpool.

Indeed, we are told that the club still has some tickets remaining for the Blackpool Bash, so why not come and join us for a great day out.

Meantime, see you Sunday.