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.