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.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Hornets Suffer Industrial Action

Hornets 10 - Batley 48

It was a classic case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ on Saturday as Hornets buckled under the strain of a growing injury list that left the team shored up by an ever increasing number of kids, loanees and DRs. Having lost Gary Middlehurst and Lewis Hatton in last week’s Dewsbury game, Hornets this week lost Dave Allen ahead of the warm-up, necessitating a reshuffle of the pack and the introduction of Alex Gaskell into the 17.

Indeed, Batley’s rather special brand of utilitarian industrial-process football is hard enough to overcome with a full strength side, so when Hornets took a shock lead after 13 minutes - Dec kay dancing through a flat-footed defence after 13 minutes - expectations were temporarliy raised.

But as Batley’s heavy-duty approach began to gain traction, they slowly hauled the game their way, building pressure as Hornets struggled to get out of their own half. Batley cane close after 17 minutes, but Rowe backed into the post on the last tackle when it looked easier to score. But, when Deon Cross fell victim to a spiralling bomb and Hornets were snagged offside in the aftermath, Batley sub Ward went slumping in from 18 inches. Walker the extras and Batley edging ahead.

Then more pressure from the visitors: Jo Taira snagged for a penalty attending his first tackle, then Rob Massam knocking the ball dead after Batley had stretched the defence. But Hornets stood their ground.

Starved of the ball for much of the first half hour, Hornets needed a break - which came when Danny Yates went skittering through a hole to unzip the Batley defence, but his inside pass out of the tackle  went to ground. Off the hook, Batley trundled back upfield where Hornets defence switched off on the last tackle to allow Crookes to lean in and score. Walker the two and Batley extending their lead to 4-12.

Hornets did endeavour to play some football - Seta Tala launching Rob Massam for the corner after 34 minutes, only to see him bundled into touch by the flag.

With the half running on fumes and Hornets now on the ropes,. Batley hit them with a late double whammy - Galbraith stepping up the left edge; Day backing up a Walker break - to give half-time score a decidedly lop-sided look at 4-24.

Most disappointing was that majority of the damage had been self-inflicted through poor decision-making, needless errors and frustrating penalties.

Batley began the second half with a bang - somehow bombing a 4-on-1 sitter with the last pass comically forward. This heralded a scrappy period where neither side looked capable of completing a set. The stasis was broken when Galbraith talked himself into a penalty, then a 10m addition, then a yellow card.

But it was Batley who capitalised on their numerical disadvantage. First on 52 minutes, two needless show-boating reverse passes from Danny Yates and Dec Kay led to a 50m interception try by Ainscough, Then Farrell taking advantage of some ordinary defence to score. Walker good with the boot and Batley heading for the distance at 4-36 with 25 minutes still to play.

With the result now in no real doubt, the game entered a scrappy period: the only respite coming from Billy Brickhill who went agonisingly close after Hornets had forced a 60th minute drop-out.

Hornets did get some reward for their persistence, Dec Kay backing up a Deon Cross break on 70 minutes to score his second. But the relief was short-lived, Batley’s Gledhill cruising in under the black dot after a huge line-break. This time Farrell with the two.

With the game in its death throes, Jonah Cunningham was dispatched to the sin-bin for lying in the ruck; Batley making the most of this late advantage with Brambani grabbing a try with 90 seconds remaining.

Regardless of the scoreline, this was a game so unsightly its mother would struggle to love it. Yes Hornets looked like a side struggling for shape and fluidity - lots of graft on show, but little real craft. But for Batley ‘winning ugly’ is their modus operandi. They are a side untroubled by aesthetics - preferring the application of torque, pressure and impact. And, we think, withstanding these, is the first step to overcoming them.

Let’s see if Hornets can when we get to do it all again at Mount (un)Pleasant next Sunday.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Saturday's Coming: Batley

Batley Bulldogs coach Matt Diskin probably didn’t feel much like celebrating the May Bank Holiday. Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post last weekend he said: “We have got a big month coming up. If we are going to be where we want to be at the end of the year we have to be really switched on.”

By Sunday evening, the Bulldogs had completed a peculiar heavy woollen double as - like their neighbours at Dewsbury - they fell at the death to a late, late try, going down 20-18 at Barrow. And, like the Rams, they’d led the game three times only to switch off with 90 seconds remaining.

‘Dogs assistant Danny Maun also sees may as a month full of ‘huge’ games. Speaking ahead of the Barrow game, he said in the Batley News: “The next four games are huge in our season as we play Barrow, then Rochdale twice and the Summer Bash against Dewsbury Rams.” He went on to say: “… lapses in concentration cost us and you can’t do that against the better teams.” Or Barrow, it seems.

Currently sitting 7th, it’s probably fair to say that inconsistency is a key theme at Mount Pleasant this far. Having taken Toronto close and produced a miracle win over Toulouse, they then shipped 50 at Featherstone (having conceded 40 at home to them back in March) - and then clocked off early at Craven Park.

Batley had half-back Patch Walker back from… er… a back injury at Barrow and he weighed in with a try and  three conversions. His half-back partner Dominic Brambani was also pivotal, with a couple of try assists. But our one to watch is is Lewis Galbraith. Insert your own anecdote here….

Elsewhere, prop James Brown is facing at least another month on the sidelines with a broken thumb, while Diskin recalled Alex Bretherton and Joe Chandler from dual reg. stints at Hunslet for last week’s defeat.

Hornets come into Saturday’s game with a new spring in the soul. The celebrations after last week’s last gasp win at Dewsbury a release of emotions after a brutal run of injuries and a real crisis of confidence.

There’s no denying that the lads given their chance at Dewsbury grabbed it with both hands and played with a visibly refreshed vigour - proof, if any were needed, that desire and attitude take you a long way in this game (indeed, after the game Rams coach Neil Kelly came out and accused some of his players of not trying - a brutally harsh accusation).

New boy Tyler Whittaker put down a real marker with an influential 16-point performance, and debutant Jonah Cunningham looked tidy, tight and took us forward. While it would be unfair to single any one player out for special praise, Seta Tala put in a real ‘coming of age’ performance - tenacious on defence and all but unplayable with ball in hand. Indeed, there’s no finer sight in sport than a Fijian in a Rochdale Hornets shirt tearing a Yorkshire side a new bumhole.

On the squad front, Alan Kilshaw has added a other young gun to the Hornets pack this week, signing Halifax utility forward Jordan Syme on loan. We’re looking forward to seeing him get stuck in.

See you Saturday - and bring a friend.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Dews-buried by Heroic Hornets

Dewsbury 27 - Hornets 32

This was a win of heroic proportions. Stripped of eight regulars, this Hornets side made up of kids, triallists, loanees, DRs and sheer determination produced a stunning last-play win to break a debilitating losing streak and turn up the heat on the clutch of sides above them on six points.

We wrote in our preview that desire would be the telling factor and - in what proved to be the tightest of games - every single person in the ground of a Hornets persuasion wanted it more than their Dewsbury counterpart. Indeed, the club as a whole needed this to lift spirits, boost confidence and reinstate some belief - and the scenes on and off the pitch at the final hooter revealed the relief and dissipation of the doubt that had crept in.

Dewsbury on the other hand had six regulars back in their side, but for long periods struggled to make meaningful headway against some stern defence.

Hornets began by applying some early pressure: a Danny Yates kick drawing the fumble out of Worrincy only for the ball to slip loose from Earl Hurst hands in traffic as Hornets shifted wide.

With both sides wrestling it out, Hornets got the break they needed: the impressive Tyler Whittaker pouncing on a loose Rams pass to blast 50 metres to score. Whittaker the first of a flawless afternoon with the boot to give Hornets a 0-6 lead.

Dewsbury responded swiftly. Scott striding through a stretched defence after 11 minutes to put the home side on the board.

The game was now attritional. Dewsbury making good metres; Hornets pushing the Rams back with a barrage of kicks. And when the home side were awarded a 19th minute penalty, Hornets produced some great defence as the home side ran out of ideas - and then shipped a penalty.

Upfield, the home defence was snagged again and Tyler Whittaker slotted home the two-pointer: 4-8.

Back in the grind, Hornets came close when the ball squirmed from Lee Mitchell’s grasp with the line at his mercy. Off the hook, Dewsbury turned the screw, Hornets again producing some tough defence - but having withstood the pressure, Tyler Whittaker was fooled by the postage-stamp dimensions of the pitch, sending his clearing kick into Row D. Dewsbury saw their chance - Brown hitting a flat-ball to score under the black dot, Glover the two to edge Dewsbury ahead at 10-8.

On 33 minutes all hell broke loose: Danny Yates hit very late by a shoulder charge, Matty Hadden diving in to exact retribution, both sets of players squaring off. After some admonishing chat to the captains and a bit of finger-wagging, Referee Mr Mikalauskas gave Hornets the penalty.

Hornets marched straight downfield where impressive debutant Jonah Cunningham was held up over the line. Next set the ball was worked to Seta Tala who looked to have few options - except pile it in and drag defenders over the line with him to score. Impressive. Whittaker the two and Hornets headed for the sheds 14-10 to the good.

The home side began the second half in determined mood: Speakman looked held-up over the line (and the body language of his team-mates looked to confirm it), but a try was given. Glover the extras to put the Rams back in front at 16-14. Hornets hoofed the kick-off dead, the resulting penalty taking the Rams deep into Hornets’ half - only for the home side to butcher the chance spectacularly up the narrow side.

On 47 minutes Worrincy coughed the ball cold in the tackle - no-one more surprised to get a penalty than him. Guzdek taking advantage as Hornets switched off on the last tackle. Glover on target and the home side in charge at 22-14.

But Hornets had other ideas. on 56 minutes Tyler Whittaker kept the ball alive in front of a retreating Rams defence, finding Seta Tala who powered in for his second. Whittaker on the mark, 22-20. Game very much on.

With Lewis Hatton removed - staggering after a cheap, late high shot - Matty Hadden returned to the fray as Dewsbury pressed hard - but a timely Richard Lepori interception cleared Hornets’ lines. Up the other end Hornets worked the ball to Matty Hadden who proved too strong for the Rams defence, slamming in to score on 65 minutes. Whittaker raising the flags to reinstate the lead at 22-26. Dewsbury now chasing the game.

And it was the home side who struck next: an outrageous show & go from Moore opened up the defence for him to score: then controversy as one touchie flagged the conversion as good, the other as having missed. The referee said ‘no’ and the sides were locked-up at 26-all with six minutes to play.

In their desperation, Dewsbury went early for the clincher: Moore the 75th minute drop-goal to edge them ahead and send the home fans into wild celebrations. But wait…

The Rugby League gods gave us 80 minutes for a reason - and with the clock ticking down, Hornets kept cool heads and edged the ball to within 20 metres of the Dewsbury line. Looking to get something from the game, Tyler Whittaker’s drop-goal attempt was charged down - and with a new set of six, Hornets went for the knock-out blow. With the home defence now out on its feet, the ball was worked to Dec Kay, who produced some slick footwork to leave a trail of defenders grasping at air as he weaved his way under the black dot to cue wild celebrations as the home fans streamed for the gates. Whittaker slammed home the two and - with the singing off the noisy Hornets contingent riding in their ears, Hornets played out the last tackle of the game with no dramas.

What a day, what game, what a performance. Brave, gutsy - and yes, heroic. Post game Alan Kilshaw said it was one of the finest victories of his tenure - and who are we to argue? Every single player gave every ounce they had and the appreciation of the travelling support at the end recognised that.

It was - in every sense - the transformation we needed. Now let's kick on...

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Sunday's Coming: Dewsbury

“We basically went with all of our remaining fit players. For a small squad, having eight players out is a significant number. We’re looking to bring people in, but unfortunately the cupboard is bare. There aren’t that many players about generally and it’s worrying for the game - I know we’re not the only club in that position.”

If Alan Kilshaw had said that after Hornets defeat against Sheffield, you’d find it hard to argue, given the tsunami of injuries that has crashed its way through the Hornets squad.

But he didn’t.

This was Dewsbury coach Neil Kelly speaking to the League Express earlier this week, following his side’s 64-4 demolition at full-time London. And thereby hangs part of the problem.

The financial gravitational pull of the full-time sides in the Championship has caused an inflationary ‘trickle-up’ of player quality - and salary - expectations as the sides clinging to the slipstream of Toronto, Toulouse, London and Leigh stretch their resources to stay competitive.  And this ‘forcing’ of the standard, leaves smaller clubs struggling to keep pace.

Doncaster Chief Carl Hall said this week - as his side snapped up Frankie Mariano from Featherstone -  “League 1 now is where the Championship was four years ago: if you look back, that was a real tough league and we’re getting as strong in League 1 now.” And he’s right.

What we see is a clear split in Championship ambition and capability. The ‘Big Four’ - with Featherstone and Halifax in the mix - cleaving towards - and taking players from - Super League; then the bottom half of the championship and the top half of League 1 edging closer together - all of whom are in direct competition for players of a similar standard.

It’s an interesting - and critical - issue as the game enters a period where all eyes are on the ‘haves’ at the expense of the ‘have nots’. And as Super League seeks to take greater control of Rugby League in order to feather its own nest, Aaron Bower’s interview with Carl Hall in this week’s League Express is definitely worth a look on this subject. Click here to see the full article.

Dewsbury’s loss at London was their Rams’ eighth straight loss in all competitions (they too lost at Whitehaven in the cup!) and - speaking to the Yorkshire Post  - Kelly said: Kelly said: “We have had a run of tough games and we are disappointed and upset at what has happened.”

The Rams were without influential captain Paul Sykes at Trailfinders Stadium - the victim of a hamstring injury in their game against Halifax.  According to the Yorkshire Post: “… Sykes could be facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines…” - Neil Kelly has taken Wigan stand-off, Lewis Heckford on-loan as cover.

Having fielded a patched up side in the much-improved performance against Sheffield, Alan Kilshaw must have been left wondering if he’d broken a mirror, as further injuries accounted for Lewis Hatton, Jo Taira, both Adamson Brothers and Dave Allen to strip his options to the barest of bones.

With Dewsbury in a similar boat, it gives Sunday’s game a bit of a ‘lottery’ feel - where it’ll come down to the bounce of the ball and the desire of those involved to make their own luck.  Dewsbury sit three places above Hornets in the table, amongst a clutch of sides on six points. And with Swinton playing Toronto on Saturday, you have to see this as a real opportunity to get a result at the Tetley Stadium, close the gap on the sides above and create some daylight between us and the Lions.

So get yourself over to Dewsbury: let’s make some noise, lift the lads and do our bit.

See you there.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Ghost Busted

Hornets 12 - Sheffield 38

Losing to Sheffield Eagles is a bit like being haunted. You don’t really see them coming as they creep up on you out of your peripheral vision, spook you when you’re at your most vulnerable and then disappear back into another dimension leaving you feeling somewhat disconcerted.

Indeed, much like ghosts, you never really believe they actually exist until you’re confronted by them.

It was a patched-up, hacked-together Hornets given the ghastly task of dealing with the Eagles. Cut apart and reassembled by an ever growing injury list, Hornets hadn’t got past the warm-up when they lost Lewis Hatton; Earl Hurst conscripted as a late replacement.

With triallist Tyler Whittaker drafted in at half-back and Billy Brickhill playing long-minutes at hooker,  hard-working Hornets clung to this game for longer than they had any right to - clawing themselves back within a score at one point, only for multiple injuries to finally take their toll.

Jo Taira, both Adamson brothers, Pat Moran and Dave Allen were all lost to injury and, in the end, Hornets simply ran out of bodies, as Sheffield kept trundling away in the middle distance.

The Eagles got off to a dream start, Millar the last man in a string of passes to score by the flag after five minutes. Then, cue the intervention of referee Mr Hewer, who put in a horror-show of missed incidents, a lack of attention and a shocking understanding of the laws.

Having gifted the visitors five consecutive sets on Hornets 10m line, only for them to come up empty, he handed them a sixth opportunity to run at a tiring defence. Burns plunging in from acting half on 15 minutes had an air of the inevitability about it.

Fatiguing and frustrated, Hornets continued to hold back a Sheffield onslaught, but on the half hour  Makelim (looking a couple of stones heavier then the last time we saw him in the Ron Massey Cup), rumbled into the line like a runaway bin-wagon to score. Having slogged their guts out on defence, Hornets found themselves 18-nil down.

But their response was positive: Danny Yates creating space, Lee Mitchell hitting a neat ball at pace steaming straight through Makelim to score.

Having grabbed a foothold in the game, Hornets switched off just long enough for Eagles’ lump James to burst through from a metre to score, but with half-time looming Hornets went straight down the other end where Billy Brickhill bulled his way over from acting half, Tyler Whittaker added thew two and Hornets went to the sheds only 10-22 behind.

Hornets began the second half with a bang. Sheffield prop Offerdahl coughing the ball; Matty Hadden ruthless as he stretched out to score. Tyler Whittaker the two and Hornets in it at 16-22. Game on!

As it was, Sheffield took advantage of a couple of penalties to march downfield where Ashworth was first to respond to a kick seemingly going nowhere. Fozzard the extras and the 12 point gap re-established at 16-28. And there it stayed for the best part of half an hour; Hornets pushing hard for an opening, Pat Moran looking most likely, but adjudged to be held-up. As the injuries clocked-up, Hornets were compelled to shuffle the line-up, but some heavy-duty scrambling kept the visitors at bay until the 72nd minute when Fozzard stepped away from knackered defenders to put the game to bed.

That Toole scored at the death following a scramble in the in-goal to blow-out the scoreline is neither here nor there, as a busted, broken Hornets left the field to the appreciation of the home supporters.

In the week, Alan Kilshaw had said that he was looking for a response from his side and he - we - got it. Whilst lacking fluidity and finesse, his patched-up side gave it a dig, but were beaten in the end by a side heavy on process and light on excitement.

Add a rising body-count that saw Luke Adamson go back on the field with what looks like a broken thumb, and the fact that Hornets never gave up the ghost, whilst they may be physically busted, at least the spirit remains.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Sunday's Coming: Sheffield Eagles

We never had North Queensland Cowboys second-row Jason Taumalolo down as a philosopher - but this week he spoke on the subject of doubt. Describing his personal turmoil arising from his side’s winless start to the season, he said: “After five losses you start to wonder what you are doing wrong. You start to question whether you are playing good enough footy to be at the top grade level.”

For the avoidance of doubt: if ever there was such a thing as a ‘must win’ game, Sunday’s outing v Sheffield Eagles is it.

Sheffield have been scrapping it out with Hornets and Swinton this season - their two wins over both giving the Eagles a slim advantage.

But last time out at home they were brutally flogged 72-20 by a resurgent Leigh - shipping 50 points in a disastrous first half.

Sheffield have hardly pulled up trees this season - and their primary strike weapon Garry Lo has finally (it seems) buggered off to Castleford, only to be stood down as he ‘assists police with an enquiry’ - which removes a key danger-man.

This means that our one to watch is Eagles’ new full-back Corey Makelim. The former Parramatta Eels Holden Cup player comes with some decent shop-floor experience, having played for Guildford, Cabramatta and Mounties in the Ron Massey Cup, and for Cabramatta and Mounties in the Sydney Shield (weighing in with 10 tries at the Aubrey Keech Reserve last year). Makelim also appeared for USA in last year’s World Cup. He made his Sheffield debut against Leigh a fortnight ago.

Makelim comes into a side struggling to find its rhythm - Eagles coach Mark Aston having singled out the lack of consistency from his senior players as a key factor in his side’s ordinary showing this season. Another is the growing divide between the big-spending clubs at the top of the Championship and the ‘have nots’ at the bottom end. We’ve often tagged Aston as a bloke who talks sense, and his interview in the Sheffield Star last week underlines our opinion.

- On the cashed-up clubs at the top: “When you invest the money that some of the clubs in this league have, you’d expect there to be a divide. There are four or five teams up there, the likes of Toulouse, Toronto, London and Leigh - they are all full-time. They are getting more in one day than we get in a week.”

- On their profligate spending habits: ”Some of those teams may be paying one or two players more than we are paying our entire squad.”

- On Championship survival: “What we are doing is being realistic. We are fighting at that bottom end, there is no doubt about that. We are fighting for our survival, and that is important for people to understand. It is hard, it is tough.“

- On the continual battle for success: “We have plenty of things off the field going in the right direction, and some things that we need support for. There is certainly a scrap on at the bottom end of the Championship and we just need to make sure that we survive and that is the key.”

All of which sounds eerily familiar to everyone at Hornets, who face the same challenges.

Indeed, last weekend’s performance at Whitehaven was ‘challenging’ to say the least. It wasn’t so much the defeat (as Dewsbury can testify) as the manner of it. Not so much a test of belief, more an act of apostasy.

Having reached what Alan Kilshaw described as a ‘our lowest point’, Sunday sees the start of the crawl back to some form of redemption. We read much in sport about how we shouldn’t worry about results - get the performance right and the results will come. But Hornets need a win like oxygen at the moment: by any means possible.

We’ve quoted author/thinker James Baldwin here before (he has an incisive view on the human condition) and he says: “There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.”

See you Sunday.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

A sorry state of affairs.

Whitehaven 38 - Hornets 0

I find myself writing this on Monday 23rd April. To the rest of the country it’s St George’s day, but in our house it’s my late dad’s birthday. Only fitting then that I start by apologising to my dad.

When I was a kid, he would never leave a game before the end, and he drummed into me the same principle: Games last 80 minutes and  - come hell or high water - you stay to the death. Even when we were getting tubbed, he’d walk us up to the Milnrow Rd end of the Railway Side where we’d watch the last painful minutes from a position of rapid exit.

It’s a good principle: you ask 80 minutes’ commitment from your players, so - as a supporter - you should reciprocate. No leaving to miss the traffic; no getting the uncrowded bus; no getting back for an early tea - you put your 80 minutes in.

It’s been a principle that’s been sorely tested over the years. The 40-nil at Wakefield: the last ten minutes watched from the gate. The 30-7 at Dewsbury (after we’d led 7-nil at half time), watched from the top of the popular side steps.

But at Whitehaven on Sunday, 47 years of resolve cracked and I was pretty much back at the car as the final hooter sounded in the distance. Sorry, dad - but you had to be there. Or maybe better that you weren’t…

For once, we have a quite literal nothing to report on a performance so disgraceful that I”m reminded of another thing my dad used to say: “If you’ve nothing good to say, don’t say anything”.

The facts are that a Hornets side devoid of a clue was out-performed, out fought and out-enthused by a hard-working League 1 side who cruised to victory with embarrassing ease - made worse by the fact that they played a quarter of the match with a man-short (Forster and Reece sin-binned) - and scored during one of those periods with men to spare up the edge.

Haven tries to man of the match Phillips (2), Abram, Holliday and Parker, plus nine from nine kicks from Abram did the damage - most scored from sloppy play or through frankly awful defending.

Even on the worst of days, you’d cop the 38 if any resistance were offered, but Whitehaven could have declared after 70 minutes and Hornets would have struggled to string together three meaningful passes.

If losing without a fight is unacceptable, then being annihilated by a League 1 side without offering even cursory resistance disrespects those staunch Hornets fans who’d forked out to travel to West Cumbria. All supporters ask is that it appears to matter when the team pull on our shirt.

Indeed, if you’d have pulled 13 fans from the terrace and played them at the Recre’, they’d have been flogged too - but with more dignity.

So I’m sorry. Sorry to my dad for walking out on my team. Sorry to my fellow supporters for not being able to stomach another minute of this execrable turd of a game. Sorry for questioning my faith in my club.

But mostly I’m sorry I went to Whitehaven to witness this debacle.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Up fer t'cup. Sunday's Coming: Whitehaven

Ah, the magic of the Challenge Cup. Rosettes, rattles, tin-foil trophies - living the dream…

Hornets 2018 ‘Road to Wembley’ continues on Sunday with a trip up the M6 to Cumbria’s most famous Rugby League graveyard, Whitehaven’s Recreation Ground.  Firmly established as pretty much every club’s bogey-ground, the curse of the Recre’ haunts better sides than Hornets. Indeed, having travelled up there in hope dozens of times since I was a kid, you could almost count the wins on the fingers of a boxing glove.

Alan Kilshaw understands the challenge ahead:  “Nobody ever wants a trip to Cumbria, especially not to the Recreation Ground.” he said recently. “We need to embrace it. That is what the Challenge Cup is all about, visiting the old, traditional grounds and playing teams you wouldn’t normally get to play when you are not in the same division.”

Cup Action: Carl Forster gets his hands on some silverware.
At least the RFL put our ribbons on it...

At the Recre’ Killer goes head-to-head with a very familiar face, former Hornet Carl Forster.

When Whitehaven appointed 24 year-old Forster as player-coach in 2016, he became the youngest coach in the professional game - and he’s built a team in his own hard-working, no-nonsense image.

Forster played 12 games for Hornets in 2013, appearing in the famous playoff final win at Leigh. He scored one try in Hornets colours and was a popular presence around the club. “I’m actually looking forward to playing Rochdale because I spent time there on loan and there’s some good people at the club,” he said in the Whitehaven News earlier this week.

But he’s not letting his fondness for Hornets divert his eyes from the prize: "There’s no pressure on us against a Championship side who are expected to win. That was the mindset we had for the last round and the game with Dewsbury, and it will be no different this time. All the pressure will be on Rochdale to come to a League One side and roll us over…”

Another ex-Hornet in the ranks is tackling machine James Tilley - who was a League 1 champion with us in 2016.

If winning is a habit, then the momentum sits with the Cumbrians. Currently sitting fourth in an ultra-competitive League One (just two points behind joint-leaders Doncaster, Bradford and York) Whitehaven go into the Sunday’s game on the back of five straight wins - one of which was the eye-catching 25-18 cup defeat of Dewsbury Rams.

Haven have a few injury niggles in the camp: loose-forward Stuart Howarth hs an ongoing hamstring injury, utility back Jordan Burns is due for a scan on knee injury which has seem him sit out the last three weeks, and Forster himself is keeping an eye on a shoulder injury picked up in last week’s 84-6 annihilation of the hapless West Wales Raiders - that’s 17 tries, but only 7 converted!

Foiled again: We're seriously considering it!
For any club at our level, the Challenge Cup dangles the mythical carrot of a ‘big payday’ against a Super League side - and ‘Haven chairman Tommy Todd has that in mind too. Speaking in the News & Star recently, he said: “We would really like to get through to the next round and earn a plum draw against one of the Super League clubs. That’s what we are in it for, to earn some valuable money for the club.”

Equally, a win for Hornets will see us progress into the last 16 of the Challenge Cup for the first time since 2009 - but the ‘magic of the cup’ comes at a heavy price these days.

The last round at Normanton yielded less revenue than if we’d’ve forfeited the tie and raffled off the match ball (it’s a split of gate revenue after costs). It certainly didn’t cover our costs - and that’s just one of the glitches in the Challenge Cup that the RFL needs to look at. And neither club received a penny from the BBC for the live-stream of the game.

We also learned recently that the further you go in the cup, the longer you wait for your prize money. Rather than pay out round by round, the money is accumulated and only paid out when you exit the competition. So in terms of cashflow in clubs living hand to mouth, it can actually be better to get the hell out of the cup, bank the cash and get on with your season. Not much ‘magic’ there.

Unlike Toulouse - the rest of us must suck-in, swallow hard and fulfil our obligation to the world’s oldest RL Cup competition. Certainly going another round will boost the RFL prize pot available to us (at some point in the future) - and there is still the opportunity to draw a big club and, hopefully’ play them on a day when the sun shines.

In the name of tradition, for the love of our great game and to support our magnificent club, get yourself up to Whitehaven if you can. Brunch at Tebay, lunch at Keswick, a drive through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet - and a chance to say “I was there” when we break the curse of the Recre’. It’s the cup - let’s get up for it. Embrace it...

All together: “We’re the famous Rochdale Hornets and we’re going to Wem-ber-lee…”

See you there.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Hornets Victims of RFL Whistleblower Policy

Hornets 15 - London 30

In an archetypal game of two halves, the work done in Hornets’ top quality opening 40 minutes was systematically dismantled in the second half of the John McMullen show.

Seldom have we seen the shape of a game so directly impacted by the actions of the referee. Mr McMullen was simultaneously pedantic and sloppy, picky and laissez-faire. The only consistency in his performance was his extreme level of inconsistency.

So unconfident was he in his own level of performance that, before the game, he actually asked the RFL time keeper to keep an eye out in case he missed a free-play. That he then went on to mis-interpret two, indicates that he actually knows that he doesn’t understand the laws.

As it was, Mr McMullen gifted London three back to back penalties in the opening stages which gave the visitors a platform to pound the Hornets goal-line. Four sets later - and having run out of ideas - London were stood under their own crossbar after Ben Moores mugged a napping defence to steal in from acting half-back to give Hornets an early lead.

These early exchanges set the pattern for the half. Mr McMullen working his way through the I-Spy Book of Stupid Penalties, London all thud & blunder with the ball, Hornets working hard to repel a pretty one-dimensional attack: London caught in possession twice on the last tackle.

After half an hour of mounting a rear-guard action, the pressure finally told on Hornets’ hard-working defence. Again, after multiple repeat sets, London finally managed to string three passes together, Dixon looping in as the extra man to score out wide; Sammut the extras - the crowd close to mutiny.

Hornets hit straight back: regaining the lead with a Harvey Livett penalty, then a great break by Dec Kay took Hornets deep into London territory. But the momentum was sucked out of the game when Sammut ‘old-headed’ Mr McMullen, starting a punch-up at the play the ball and giving the Broncos defence a chance to regather.

With the half ebbing away, both sides exchanged knock-ons under the visitors’ posts and, with the last kick of the half, Dec Patton slammed home a drop-goal to send Hornets into the sheds leading 9-6. Stat of the half was a Hornets completion rate of 80% versus London’s shoddy 50%.

London began the second half at a noticeably higher tempo and three quick-fire tries shifted the balance of the game: on 45 minutes, Dixon again arcing in to score - then a carbon-copy double from Adebyi (the first after a string of penalties) taking London into a 9-22 lead.

But Hornets hit back: on 56 minutes London knocked-on a Hornets last tackle kick, Deon Cross gathered the loose ball in open field and sprinted away for a certain score - only for Mr McMullen to somehow interpret the situation as a Hornets offside, rather than the Free-Play it was. Perhaps he should have consulted the time-keeper. Disgraceful.

Dixon’s hat-trick try on the hour sent the obligatory taxi-load of London fans into paroxysms: he converted his own try to extend the London Lead to 9-28.

But Hornets keep on coming: building pressure to send in Dec Kay off a short-ball for a well-worked try. Harvey Livett the extras and 15-28 a more reasonable reflection of Hornets’ contribution.

There was still time for Mr McMullen to leave his grubby stamp on the game. Hornets forced into a 78th minute drop-out found touch with a short-kick, but despite being 40 metres away, he over-ruled his touch-judge marking the point at which the ball exited the field of play to award London a penalty in front for Hornets not propelling the ball 10 metres (despite the touchy clearly indicating that they had). Shite, to be honest,

But if you thought that that was as bad as it got, the game reached a refereeing nadir in the 78th minute.

London coughed the kick-off possession, Richard Lepori gathered the loose ball and touched down - only for  Mr McMullen to bring Hornets back to feed a scrum. He clearly has no understanding of how a free-play works - and you began to think Oscar Wilde was right when he said “Once can be considered unfortunate, but twice looks like carelessness”.

Hopefully RFL Timekeeper Colin Morris had a discreet word afterwards.

In the end Hornets strove hard against a full-time side abetted by some frankly terrible refereeing. Indeed, a 15 point margin against a full-time side would be impressive enough - but for two perfectly good tries to be chalked off through some indifferent officiating sticks in the throat. 12 more points would show you just how close Hornets are to matching the supposed quality of the full time outfits in the Championship.

But we need to be given a fair-go - and, on this showing, Hornets might have to wait a little longer for a victory under Mr McMullen’s control.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

We're taking a short break to watch try and watch 20 games of
Rugby League over two weekends. See you back here for the
London Broncos game.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Northern Exposure

Hornets 17 - Manchestoronto Wolfpack™ 18

There’s a point in the story ‘The Emperors’ New Clothes’ where a child points out that the most powerful man in the kingdom is not regaled in finery, but is exposed for all the world to see.

At Spotland on Friday night, the myth woven around ‘Toronto’ Wolfpack was unpicked as they had their  very own ‘Emperors’ New Clothes’ moment, exposed within the game as a fake threat as Hornets’ part-time players led from the front from the 70th second to the 70th minute; cruelly robbed of glory as a late, late penalty spared ‘Toronto’ total humiliation.

As it was, their veneer of invincibility has been destroyed and the door is now open for other Championship clubs to follow Hornets’ lead and inject a major dose of reality into the Wolfpack’s business plan.

After the game, Alan Kilshaw commented on what he and his staff could achieve if they had their players for the same number of hours that Paul Rowley has his. Indeed, this result poses another major question about the ‘Toronto’ project: if their coach has highly-paid professional players for 30 hours a week, but can only come-up a single point better than Rochdale Hornets, then either the players hearts aren’t in it and they’re just taking the money - or the coach isn’t very good.

So which is it?

We sat in pretty close proximity to owner David Argyle on Friday night and he spent much of the time shifting awkwardly in his seat as he watched the embers of 3 million Canadian Dollars get blown away by 17 lads with bigger hearts.

Indeed, Hornets were up and running before Toronto had touched the ball: Billy Brickhill outmuscling his opposite number to a short kick off to give Hornets possession. Five tackles and 60 seconds later, Earl Hurst showed greater appetite to challenge for a high ball than Kay to score out wide. Lewis Palfrey on target from wide out. to give Hornets a blistering 6-nil start.

Toronto responded by knocking on in their first set, then shipping a penalty for a high-shot. Hornets marched straight downfield, but a promising attack was pulled-up as the ball was ripped loose in the tackle.

The visitors did rally briefly - held up over the Hornets line in the 11th minute, then the ball shipped wide for Kay to score. Brierley (clearly comfortable back at Championship level) slotted the extras for 6-all.

Hornets weren’t fazed by this at all: rock solid defence began to frustrate a Toronto attack that increasingly relied on five drives and a Brierley kick & hope.

Even when Brierley went aerial, Dec Kay was solid under the bomb, Hornets looking comfortably in control.

Home hearts skipped on 16 minutes when ‘Toronto’ broke up the right aided by the bounce from a poor pass. But the best they had was a Brierley kick followed by a knock-on. All very ordinary.

Clearly bored by ‘Toronto’s’ aimless huffing and puffing, Hornets drove the visitors back under their own posts where debutant Morgan Smith unleashed a neat flat pass for Gary Middlehurst to crowbar his way between lazy defenders and score. Palfrey the two and Hornets by far the best value for their 12-6 lead.

‘Toronto’ continued peppering the Hornets defence with an array of increasingly impotent Brierley kicks: first Earl Hurst showing steady nerves under a high kick, then Dec Kay’s fluid gather and run to clear the lines. The visitors clearly out of ideas.

On the half hour, Deon Cross reached for the intercept with open field ahead of him, only for the ball to slip from his grasp. No matter, the much vaunted Quentin Laulu-Togaga'e (looking more BLT here than QLT) knocked-on to give Hornets a late attacking platform, only for a short Dec Gregory pass to go awry in traffic.

Hornets spent the remainder of the half swatting away a procession of meandering ‘Toronto’ attacks to go into the sheds deservedly ahead at 12-6.

Hornets began the second half with a solid, steadying set. ‘Toronto’ on the other hand started nervously, Whiting’s pass finding the ball-boy with pinpoint accuracy. They followed this up by coughing a penalty at the scrum. Just garbage.

Toronto did finally break the Hornet’s defence when they exploited Dave Allan’s injury to sweep 60 metres. But having gone that far, they ended the set by simply getting tackled and handing over the ball. The next set they shipped a penalty for lifting over the vertical (put on report) and it was Hornets’ turn to show their Harlem Globetrotters’ skills keeping the ball alive across a scrambling ‘Toronto’ defence.

Having sucked their blowing pack into centre field, Lewis Palfrey hoisted a high kick to the corner where Rob Massam out-jumped Laulu-Togaga’e, producing a miracle one-handed catch to score.
Hornets 16-6 up. Total bedlam.

‘Toronto’ briefly revealed what they’ve paid a fortune for when McCrone was allowed to run to close the gap (Brierley the extras: 16-12) - but then spent the next 15 minutes prodding feebly at the Hornets defence: Dec Kay again looking quality under the high ball.

On 66 minutes, ‘Toronto’ played their last desperate card: start a fight and hope that it’d disrupt Hornets’ momentum. Earl Hurst landed a big shot, black shirts started jumping in from all directions, Kay threw a punch and, for all the world, it looked like the outcome was only going one way. Referee Mr Rossleigh showed ‘Toronto’s’ Kay and big-money signing O’Brien yellow cards - then also dispatched Lewis Palfrey similarly. Oh - then gave the penalty to ‘Toronto’…

In the resulting reshuffle, Maitua squeezed through a shifting defence to tie the scores at 16-all. Brieley hoofing the conversion attempt low and wide.

Hornets sucked in for a big finish. One more time they drove a the ’Toronto’ defence back to their goal-line - and when the ball was snapped to Morgan Smith he slotted the drop goal to re-establish Hornets’ lead. ’Toronto’s’ body language a picture.

Indeed, Hornets saw this as the chance to platy some football and put this game to bed. On 36 minutes Billy Brickhill launched the Tank Rob Massam up the left flank: straight through a flailing  Laulu-Togaga’e, he raced 50 metres, lining-up O’Brien. We’ll never criticise a winger for backing himself - Massam has a big weight and speed advantage over O’Brien - but the ‘Toronto’ full-back showed his class, hauling Massam down, with Dec Kay inside with a clear run to the line.

Off the hook, ‘Toronto’ trundled back downfield for one last attempt to bore us into submission. With Hornets defence scrambling well to repel the Wolfpack’s clueless, one-dimensional fumblings, The touch-judge seized his chance to get on telly, to draw Mr Rossleigh’s attention to an unseen offence.

Even now we have no idea what the penalty was for, but Brierley made no mistake to edge ‘Toronto’ back in front at 17-18.

With the game running on fumes, Hornets moved the ball wide in search of a break - winning a penalty for an off-the ball tackle five metres inside the visitor’s half. Hornets pointed to the posts, fans’ hearts in mouths. The impossible just one kick away.

As it was, Lewis Palfrey pulled his kick short and Toronto were able to hold out for a one-point win that broke Hornets’ hearts.

But there are so many positives: not just for Hornets, but for the Championship. On this cold Friday night in a small ex-mill-town, a club owned by 95 of its supporters took a team owned by a multi-millionaire mining tycoon to the very edge of humiliation. Proving that it IS possible to thwart ‘Toronto’ Wolfpack’s cash-laden juggernaut. That it IS possible to over-achieve when everybody believes.

But mostly Rochdale Hornets proved that its what beats underneath the badge that matters most. And money can’t buy you a soul.

The door is open for the rest of the Championship. Take your opportunity: the emperor is naked.