Sunday, 21 July 2019

They Think It's All (R)Over

Fev 50 - Hornets 6

Only the most delusional optimist could cling to the mathematical possibility of Hornets staying up after this run-of-the-mill defeat to a pretty ordinary Featherstone Rovers.

At Post Office Road in front of a muted crowd, Hornets' hardy knot of loyal followers were treated to a display that captured this stinking year in microcosm: a brief flurry of hope that descended into a meme of Homer Simpson backing into a hedge.

The hope came courtesy of a high-tempo start that had Featherstone going backwards. Determined defence laid the platform and, when Shaun Ainscough piled through Dagger to score on 10 minutes, you could hear a pin drop. Dan Abram added the extras, the Hornets fans sang, an old guy in a Fev shirt made the 'wankers' gesture at us - all was well in the world. For four minutes.

Typically, Hornets spilled the kick-off possession, Fev built some pressure and Makatoa piled in. Chisholm added the extras and 'wanky grand-dad' gave us a loose handed wave. Then came the familiar second quarter collapse that saw Featherstone score three decidedly soft tries in 15 minutes.

Firstly King sped out of acting half on the last tackle to score; then Hornets right edge was caught napping for Briscoe to capitalise. Then on 35 minutes, replacement hooker Connor Jones took a leaf out of King's book: slipping out of the back of the ruck to mug a static defence.

Having started brightly, Hornets went to the sheds 20-6 down.

The first five minutes of the second half effectively decided the game. Pierre Bourrel looked to have scored for Hornets after just three minutes, but his effort was ruled out after referee Aaron Moore consulted his Guide Dog. As a Hornets fan near us said: 'if it weren't for bad luck, we'd have no luck at all'.

Off the hook, Featherstone marched straight back upfield where Harrison was slotted into open field to score. Chisholm on target and Rovers with the momentum at 26-6.

Within four minutes the home side were in again. This time Golding (who, for most of this game seemed mostly concerned about ruining his ridiculous man-bun than getting stuck in) found the wherewithal to get on the end of a break and score.

Hornets did briefly hang on to the tailgate of this rapidly departing game, but finally succumbed to the inevitable, conceding three tries in the last 12 minutes (Day, a brace: Walters the other) to take Featherstone past the 45 point average.

Adding insult to injury, pedant-in-chief Mr Moore gave Featherstone their 14th penalty on the hooter (Hornets received just four in 80 minutes). Chisholm slammed it home from near half-way to bring up the 50.

The Hornets faithful applauded and headed for the car-park: partly disappointed in another defeat, partly relieved that this soul-sapping season is pretty much all over.

Let's Do Maths!

- With six games remaining, the maximum number of points available is 14.
- Dewsbury and Widnes are already on 12, Batley on 13. Hornets have a -664 points difference.
- If Dewsbury win at Spotland next Sunday, they'll go onto 14 points. Hornets would then be unable to catch Dewsbury, leaving Widnes and Batley the only teams we could catch (13 &12 pts respectively).
- If Hornets beat Dewsbury, we stay alive for another week, when we face Batley. If Batley win (15pts) and Widnes get a win at Sheffield on the same day (14pts) Hornets are relegated.

Having taken 1 win from 21 games, Hornets would have to produce a run of six straight wins, including Leigh at Home, Toronto away, Halifax away and Bradford at home. 

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Sunday's Coming: Featherstone Rovers

Our match previews involve a trawl of our opponents' local news outlets for snippets of interest that you wouldn't ordinarily come across (yes, we read The Pontefract & Castleford Express so you don't have to) - but this week's sweep of the news-scape yielded an unusually high level of news that RL fans will find disturbing.

Featherstone fans have always been known for the robust and passionate support of their team. Indeed, that's what makes watching Rugby league at Post Office Road such a unique experience (we were at the Good Friday Super League Merger protest game against Castleford in 1995 and it was one of the most electrifying atmospheres we've ever experienced).

And, for those of you old enough to remember, life in the old Bullock Shed stand had a decidedly edgy frisson: though when we won there in a midweek game 20-odd years ago (the first win in decades) we sang our lungs out and the Fev fans were generous in defeat.

But of late, things seem to have taken a turn...

In June, Featherstone were fined after an RFL investigation into two incidents of spectator misbehaviour during their game at Spotland in May.

Having seen the club found guilty of breaching RFL operational rules -  and having received a warning over future misconduct -  CEO Davide Longo said: “Unexpected fines only impact on our spend and potential recruitment further down the line and I am sure no supporter wants this to be the case. We encourage fans to be vocal and supportive of the team, but this needs to be done in a respectful and family friendly manner.”


Earlier this month the club was hit with another fine - this time of £10,000 - following a Rugby Football League investigation, into complaints of unacceptable language by a section of Featherstone fans at a game with Bradford Bulls.

After the second fine, Longo said: “We are incurring fines that were never factored into our budgets and this will now impact on the club moving forward."

The club's response was to introduce their Crowd Care Text Service which enables supporters to report any misconduct or foul language anonymously to the head steward via a text to 07394950356. They then introduced precautionary crowd segregation for their game against Leigh.


Two weeks ago, Rovers banned three supporters from all future games after deeply distasteful comments were made online after their recent game at Halifax.

A statement from Featherstone said that the club is: "... in discussion with West Yorkshire Police around safeguarding and best practice as we look to move forward to better prevent anything more damaging the reputation of the club."

On the field, Featherstone sit 5th in the Betfred Championship - at the heart of a compacted pack chasing runaway leaders Toronto. Five points separate the 2nd to 7th place sides, with Fev just three points behind second-placed York.

Coach Ryan Carr has drawn some heat this season over what some think is an over-reliance on Leeds DR players. But Rovers' relationship with Leeds was deepened further this month, when Carr joined Richard Agar's backroom staff at Headingley, in parallel to his role at Post Office Rd.

Carr said on the appointment: “I am excited about the opportunity with the Rhinos. I know a number of the squad because of the dual registration arrangement we have between Featherstone and Leeds and undoubtedly there is a lot of talent here. I am looking forward to working with the coaching team and the players and helping out in any way I can.”

Eleven current Rhinos have played under Carr for Featherstone thus far this season.

Rhinos boss Richard Agar said that the role “... will not impinge on his duties with Featherstone and, if anything, he will get more one-on-one time with some of the guys who are playing for them on a weekend.”

Fev come into Sunday's game on the back of an impressive narrow defeat in Toronto last weekend.
Having trailed 14-0 at the break (conceding a try in the first minute), Rovers hit back to go down 22-18.

Coach Carr was fuming after the game, having lost stand-in hooker Jack Bussey to a compulsory concussion test following an attack by Toronto's former Manly grub Darcy Lussick (who once described a brawl with Melbourne Storm, that saw 10 players charged and both sides fined $50,000, as 'the best day of my life').

Rovers travelled last week minus first choice rake Cameron King (ankle injury), scrum-half Dane Chisholm (also ankle) and Ben Reynolds , whose wife was due to give birth. Reynolds will be available for Sunday’s game and Carr is hopeful Chisholm and King will also return.

Hornets come into Sunday's game on the back of an ignominious milestone. Last week's disappointing 68-nil flogging by Toulouse brought up 900 'points against' this season, giving us an average of 45 points conceded per game in 2019 (average for is 14).

Post Game Matt Calland said Hornets have to be "Harder to beat" - so if Featherstone score fewer than 45 points this weekend that, bizarrely, would be an improvement. So far this year, Fev have only scored more than 45 twice. Once against Halifax (46) and... er... against us (56). So there's your benchmark. The game against Hornets in May is also Featherstone's biggest winning margin this year.

We travel in hope. See you there.

Sunday, 14 July 2019


Hornets nil - Toulouse Olympique 68

This game marked a watershed moment: the moment when Hornets openly conceded their Championship status - effectively knocking over their king on the 2019 season.

Once again, Hornets provided a literal zero resistance to an, admittedly, bigger, stronger, faster full-time opposition - but it was the flaccid manner of the defeat that leaves a punch-drunk hardcore of fans contemplating the route to West Wales Raiders next year.

Despite a competitive first 10 minutes, three Toulouse tries in just five minutes ahead of the quarter-mark set the tone for the remaining hour - in which Toulouse scored a further nine tries.

Half of their dozen came from a single source - former Leigh/Swinton wing Bergal grabbing six tries down Hornets' brittle right edge where he encountered minimal resistance.

In retrospect, Hornets' best chance of getting anything out of this game came after 10 minutes when Toulouse's lanky lump Bretherton hit Pierre Bourrel late with an obvious shoulder charge. But, rather than reach for a card, referee Matt Rossleigh showed his invertebrate qualities by not only putting the offence on report, but also handing the visitors the possession that led to the opening try. It felt wilfully harsh.

The rest of the half became a parade: Bergal, Vaivai and Mika clocking up six tries between them to give Olympique a comfortable 32-nil half time lead.

The second half looked much the same: Marcon mugging a napping defence from acting half on 47  minutes, then Bergal grabbing his fifth six minutes later. On the hour, Kheirallah grabbed the first of a brace off an audacious Ford pass: his second, the first of four tries in the last nine minutes which underpinned the glaring gulf in class.

Not much else to say, really. Toulouse were well-drilled and ruthlessly clinical, but barely crawled out of neutral in what - at times - looked like a low-impact training run.

We can't summarise this better than TS Eliot who, in his poem The Hollow Men, wrote: "This is how the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper."

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Saturday's Coming: Toulouse

The choking started early in Toulouse this season.

They've already suffered seven defeats this season - and last week's home loss to Bradford saw them cede second place in the table to York.

Needless to say, the local press went in pretty hard. La Depeche said (rough translation): "It was a shambles... For the (third) time this season, TO Lost on their home field, to the chagrin of their coach, Sylvain Houlès, (who was) annoyed by his players' mistakes."

Houles said  "We gave them too much ball that they knew how to exploit... They not only scored on our mistakes, but when we got back into the match, we allowed them to react. So many faults, lost ball, it is rare and it is not normal. It must be quickly remedied."

And all the pressure is on Toulouse this weekend, La Depeche in no mood to cut TO any slack: "Next Saturday, in Rochdale, facing the 'last of the class' (bottom of the league), we must not fail."

What is clear this season is that Toulouse's veneer of invincibility has been shattered - and they're going to have to find another gear if they're to avoid another disappointing and expensive year of Championship failure. Indeed on their own website they describe their current wobble as a' "... negative spiral in which they are stuck". Sounds like a team low on confidence and doubting their credibility as serious challengers to us.

Speaking to this week, their Samoan forward Constantine Mika described it as 'frustration':  "It's a lot of frustration because we (have) conceded defeats with small margins. We are not at our best, but we are not far off. I think there are just 2-3 details that we need to work on to see our efforts end in victories."

Mika sees Saturday's game as an opportunity for a misfiring TO to reset its ailing promotion bid: "Our pursuers have caught us at the top of the rankings, we must win again this weekend and start again," he said. "We lost our second place in the standings. Now we have to make sure to take it back."

When asked if he saw a game against the bottom side as a good opportunity to 'rebound', Mika was circumspect: "... we shouldn't worry about the ranking of our opponent. We put ourselves in this situation, and the position of the teams we faced has (had) nothing to do with it. Now we have to consider every game as a final and prepare ourselves as such. It does not matter who is (higher in the table)."

TO threats come from the usual suspects: Aussie pair Mark Khierallah and louche canon Jonathon Ford, who remains the slow-turning cog at the heart of the Toulouse Machine. Stop him, and the whole thing runs less effectively. But it's easier said than done as he lopes from play to play looking to unleash that pendulous whip of a cut-out pass that cuts sides open.

Houle will be missing Bastien Ader, Andrew Bentley and Rhys Curran for the game. Dean Parata, Tony Maurel, William Barthau and Maxime Puech will also not make the trip.

Former Swinton Lion Ilias Bergal returns to the squad. Paul Marcon returns from a hamstring injury and Jordan Dezaria and Pierre-Jean Lima are also added to the squad.

Hornets come into Saturday's game on the back of a schizophrenic performance at Widnes: Possibly the best 40 minutes of the season, followed by a sloppy, shoddy second half that saw the Vikings run away with the game (well, jog away with it, really).

Mostly, though, we're just glad that Saturday's game is happening! Spotland's ground staff continue to have 'issues' with the pitch, leading to the postponement of the Dale's pre-season friendly against Blackburn on Sunday (we're hearing reports of another re-seeding following our game).

Having begun remedial work 10 days late - which forced Hornets to move the Swinton game to Mayfield, causing an absolute shit-storm and costing our club thousands in lost revenue - the Stadium's pitch contractor has advised 'to avoid two games in two days being played on the pitch'.

And while the Stadium says the schedule of games over the next month is 'extremely demanding on a newly laid surface' it's no different to previous years and Hornets have a glut of home games precisely because we are compelled to play away from home for six weeks while the work is done.

Ultimately, despite a shuffled Toulouse side low on confidence and doubting its plausibility as genuine promotion contenders, Hornets will still have to bring their A-Game on Saturday to get anything out of this contest.

Certainly the first half at Widnes gave a good indication of what Matt Calland's side is capable of when it focuses. We just need more of it.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Bad Chemistry

Widnes 40 - Hornets 12

This was an archetypal game of two halves that turned on a decision by Referee Gareth Hewer in the 45th minute. Trailing just 12-6, Hornets punched a hole in a flat-footed Widnes defence for what looked like the try likely to level the scores. But Mr Hewer's freestyle interpretation of the laws of parallax deemed the pass forward.

Handed the get-out-of-jail-free card, Widnes marched up the other end and scored: 18-6, all the momentum and shattered Hornets left scratching their heads.

The early omens weren't good. Widnes on the board on their first meaningful attack after a minute and a half: Hornets caught cold when veteran prodigal lump Ah Van broke up the left to slot Roby in for the opener. Owens hoofed the conversion attempt into the tea-bar.

Five minutes later, Ah Van got one for himself: Owens displaying the kicking skills of Douglas Bader.

Hornets slowly crawled on top of the game, Adam Lawton and Kyle Shelford pushing Widnes backwards. And for 20 minutes the game became a close-quarters tussle that had the home fans shifting nervously in their seats.

On 25 minutes a breakthrough. Good approach work from Hornets, Jordan case combining with Pierre Bourrel to draw Ah Van in-field, debutant Kevin Brown the recipient of the wide pass to score by the flag. Oscar Thomas on target from the whitewash and Hornets back in the hunt at 8-6.

Just past the half hour, Pierre Bourrel almost cracked the Vikings' defence with a dainty dink into the in-goal, but the ball squirmed away from a host of chasing Hornets fingertips. Widnes replied by marching downfield where Owens somehow got the ball down despite the attentions of a clutch of defenders. His conversion attempt the worst of his three thus far and Hornets headed for the sheds at just 12-6.

Hornets began the second half at pace. The ball worked quick-smart up the right edge, but what looked a clean-cut try from 100 metres away was pulled back by Mr Hewer. You could sense the momentum shift.

On 50 minutes Craven managed to wrestle the ball down for 18-6 before Owens grabbed his second to extend the lead off a Gilmore kick into space that Hornets simply failed to read.

On the hour, Mr Hewer again demonstrated his inability to judge direction when a launch and hope cut-out pass - a full three metres forward - was plucked from the air by Ah Van. No whistle was forthcoming - and that was the point at which you pretty much knew the game was up.

Three minutes later, Ashall-Bott was on the end of a mirror-image move up the opposite flank - both teams engaged in handbags after Callum Wood gave him a gentle nudge after scoring. In the ensuing kerfuffle Wood and Widnes' Cahill were sent to consider their actions for 10 minutes.

Widnes the quicker of the two sides to settle, Owens with his hat-trick try off an Ashall-Bott kick. Hornets having shipped 5 tries in just 16 minutes.

The remaining 18 minutes of the game were reduced to a prodding contest. Widnes happy to jab Hornets back into the corners: Hornets poking and pushing, with little to show until Callum Marriott crashed in for an 79th minute consolation try.

In the end, a promising first 40, surmounted by a disapointing second period in which Hornets struggled to go with a Widnes side that opened the throttle. But games do turn in small incidents. At 12-all after 42 minutes you'd have a very different game, but it wasn't to be.

A disappointing end to a very disappointing weekend for our club.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Sunday's Coming: Widnes

It's not been the best of weeks at Widnes.

Widnes were once a global Rugby League powerhouse. In the 10 years between 1975 and 1984, The Chemics played in seven Challenge Cup finals and were christened 'The Cup Kings' by an adoring media. In the 1978–79 season they produced a rare quadruple - the BBC2 floodlit trophy, Lancashire Cup, Premiership and Challenge Cup. They also beat the Ashes-winning Kangaroo tourists for good measure.

Then in 1989 they overcame the might of the Australian competition again, beating Canberra Raiders 30-18 at Old Trafford to become the first legitimate world club champions. Their starting thirteen scares us even now: Alan Tait, Andy Currier, Jonathan Davies, Darren Wright, Martin Offiah, Tony Myler, David Hulme, Joe Grima, Phil McKenzie, Derek Pyke, Kurt Sorensen, Paul Hulme and Richie Eyres.

Fast forward 30 years and the world is a very different place.

Widnes currently sit 11th in the Championship table, facing the very real possibility of a trip to West Wales Raiders next season.

Having clawed their way back into the black on the league table with a convincing win at Spotland earlier in the season, subsequent defeats to Batley, Dewsbury, York and Leigh put a huge dent in any possible playoff ambitions. Then came last week's eye-popping 62-nil, eleven-try flogging at Odsal. Described in the Runcorn & Widnes World as "A performance of staggering ineptitude..." - this on-field bombshell landed just 48 hours after a statement announcing that the club was switching to a part time model.

Having been through similar turmoil with Leigh last year, Widnes coach Kieron Purtill must wonder if he's somehow walked under a ladder with a broken mirror on Friday the 13th and accidentally kicked a black cat.

The statement says:

"As a Board, each and every one of us who has the privilege of helping to lead this great club recognises the significance of our responsibility. We want to build, with you, a new era for the club. Fundamental to that is our values of transparency, integrity and honesty."

A concept I think all right-minded Rugby League supporters can get behind.

It goes on: "We are still feeling the effects of relegation and administration. From those perilous moments when the club’s future looked to be in jeopardy through to right now, the support of our fan base has been incredible."

"However, we have also been deprived of revenue streams that have been fundamental to the running of the club in the past, and had to honour many of the liabilities of the previous incarnation of Widnes Vikings. We’re making progress against these challenges, but there is much still to do - and naturally, this sets the course for our season ahead and ones to follow. "

"... we have spoken to our players and staff to inform them that next season, Widnes Vikings will operate a part-time playing team.... this reflects those values of transparency and respect, which are so important to us."

"The reality is that with our projected income for next season, Widnes Vikings cannot sustain a full-time first team environment."

The numbers involved are eye-watering for a club like Rochdale Hornets: playing in Super League in 2018, Widnes received £1.9 million in central funding from Super League. Following their relegation to the Championship, they were due to receive £800,000 as central funding.

But after the previous administration hit the buffers in February (notably, with less than £1,000 in the bank - having had millions of pounds through its hands in their seven seasons in Super League ), £250,000 of the parachute payment was withheld by Super League, along with 50% of the club’s Academy funding, believed to total £70,000.

Based on their current league position (exacerbated by the 12-point deduction), the statement says that the "... central funding figure we are likely to receive is approximately £250,000. As a result, we as a Board need to ensure that the club is running within its means."

Read the full statement here

Counter to Widnes' flaky away form, their home form looks pretty solid - five wins in succession at the Halton stadium - and they see a quick-start and gaining early momentum as the keys to gaining the advantage on Sunday.

Having lost wingers Ryan Ince, Owen Buckley and Jayden Hatton to injury, it's heavily rumoured that Patrick Ah Van is on his way back to the Halton Stadium having been playing in France.

Hornets come into Sunday's game having seen yet more changes to the squad. This week has seen Ellis Gillam and Ben Morris became the 14th and 15th players to depart the club as part of Matt Calland's remodelling.

They've been replaced by Wigan academy second-row Ben Kilner and York three-quarter Kevin Brown (both on loan). They join Pierre Bourrel, who made an impressive debut against Swinton last week, scoring two tries on debut.

The challenge here remains galvanising the multitude of new bodies into a cohesive unit. Ordinarily a trip to Widnes would be the most challenging of places to try new combinations - but this has been no ordinary week.

All the pressure is on Widnes to prove that the last 7 days hasn't completely ripped the rug out from under their season. Hornets on the other hand have absolutely nothing to lose.

See you there - in the South Stand.

Monday, 1 July 2019

The Pleasure Principle

Hornets 28 - Swinton 36

Abraham Lincoln said 'You can't please all of the people all of the time.' What he didn't make clear was that you can't please some people any of the time - no matter how hard you try.

Indeed, the lead-up to this local derby was trying on pretty much every front, starting when the Dale casually let slip last week that their pitch remediation - the whole reason we've been playing away from 'home' for the last six weeks - is running later than the Titanic.

Cue the chaos of trying to find an alternative venue at a cost that wouldn't cripple the club.

Accepting the opportunity to play at Rochdale Mayfield (keeping the game in the Borough) thus sparked a social media skrike-fest from the club that's hauled their long-suffering fans round a dozen grounds outside their borough since the Lions left Station Road. So much for empathy within the Rugby League's dysfunctional family.

As it was, the 550 or so at the Mayfield Sports Centre were treated to a combative, pulsating game that hung in the balance until the last minute. Hornets succumbing to a late error that gifted the visitors the try that exaggerated the scoreline.

Having had the best of the early exchanges, Hornets got an early fillip when Lions' wing Butt was yellow-carded for a trip. Hornets then worked the numbers up that channel where James Worthington slipped Shaun Ainscough in to score. Hornets extended their lead just four minutes later when Adam Lawton took advantage of a retreating defence to wrestle through defenders and plonk the ball by the post. Dan Abram the extras and Hornets looking comfortable at 10-nil.

But narcolepsy struck on the half-hour; Hornets switching off to allow Moore, Wells and Ashton to register a ten-minute treble that gave the visitors a 10-14 lead against the run of play.

The hangover continued after the break. Hornets with the first attack, a high kick to the corner returned 80 metres by Lepori who found Ashton in support to score after barely a minute. Hansen the two: 10-20.

The introduction of Hornets' new French half Pierre Bourrel paid instant dividends, mesmerising flat-footed defenders to weave through and score with pretty much his first touch, sparking a last quarter in which the game ebbed and flowed.

On the hour, Butt found space to score out-wide to restore the visitors' superiority, but the sin-binning of Moore for a brutal head-shot on Burrel left Swinton short in the middle of the park and the Frenchman got off the floor to produce another mercurial stepping effort on 64 minutes to put Hornets back in the hunt at 22-24. Game most definitely on with 10 to play.

Another momentary lapse in concentration allowed Hansen to slip through and score (converting his own try), but Hornets hit straight back, moving the ball to the left edge where Brandon Wood finished in style. Dan Abram the two off the whitewash. 28-30 with three minutes to play.

Hornets sought to drive the ball out of yardage, but - with Swinton hands all over the ball - Dan Abram was deemed to have knocked on. And as the hooter sounded, Swinton shipped the ball wide to Butt who sealed the game for the Lions.

Whilst this was a pugnacious, whole-hearted derby in the old-skool tradition, it was another game that slipped from Hornets' grasp; the game turning on a handful of tiny percentage errors.

As it was, Hornets fans left with mixed emotions. Gutted that their side had lost this one, but pleased with the obvious improvement in performance. Needless to say, Swinton's noisy following celebrated like it was 1969 - and, strangely, the surroundings didn't seem to matter much any more.

Seems that pleasing some of the people some of the time is the best we can hope for.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Better? You Bet.

Sheffield Eagles 42 - Hornets 24

Hornets fans travelled to Sheffield more in hope than expectation - and what expectation there was, was modest. But what the Rochdale contingent in a sparse crowd on the best Friday evening of the summer got was a vastly improved performance against a Sheffield side whose modus operandi appears to be to bore sides into submission.

God alone knows how a side this tedious sits sixth in the Championship. They trudge and gripe from play to play at the pace of a bin wagon and pray that Millar - who showed a decent turn of pace out wide to grab a hat-trick - turns up on the end of any move involving more than two passes.

After the game Eagles coach Mark Aston pretty much admitted that he thought Sheffield could just rock up and Hornets would roll over. "It was torture," he bleated, producing a small onion. "York beat these by 60. We haven't got the mentality, discipline or respect."

What he really meant to say was that his one dimensional bunch of plodders played as well as Hornets allowed them to.

Indeed, Hornets silenced the home crowd (more of a 'gathering', really) after just two minutes: Dan Abram following a kick into the in-goal to touch down as defenders looked for someone else to blame. Abram the extras for a 0-6 lead.

Three minutes later the home side was reduced to twelve when Meadows interference an attempted quick play-the-ball earned him a yellow card. The home fans blamed the referee.

Against the run of play, Sheffield did manage to lug the ball to Millar who finished well. Walker's conversion brought the Eagles level on 16 minutes.

Hornets' response was to dig in: some determined defence repelling a series of increasingly dull one-up drives.

With the half-hour approaching, Dan Abram looked to have scored again, only for Mr Worsley to deem him held-up in goal. Sheffield rode their good upfield for Davies to score and give his side an undeserved lead.

Hornets regained control within four minutes: Callum Marriott showing good strength to shrug off tacklers and plant the ball down. Abram the two for 10-12.

It looked likely that Hornets would take the lead into the break, but the Eagles got a slice of good fortune to score a freak try. A kick going nowhere saw the ball spin crazily on the plastic surface, twitching agonisingly beyond Dan Abram's grasp. A series of panicked Sheffield passes - one off the back of a Hornets defender's head - saw Meadows score through a wrong-footed defence, Walker added the two for 16-12: both coaches' half-time team talks suddenly flipped.

Sheffield began the second half with noticeably more determination, two rare moments of lucidity enough to edge the game away from Hornets. Firstly Meadows gathering a Thackeray kick, then Millar off an Ogden pass for 28-12.

Hornets regained their composure. Oscar Thomas' kick-off found a touchline and, from the resulting possession, the balk was whipped wide to Brandon Wood who finished in style by the flag. Dan Abram nailing the kick from the whitewash.

On the back of an escalating penalty count (12-6), Sheffield gained some late momentum: Meadows and Moran with tries beyond the hour mark. Hornets continued to press, though: Callum Marriott grabbing his second after the Sheffield defence abdicated responsibility for dealing with a towering kick.

With the hooter imminent, Sheffield one more picked out Millar, who skated in to score.

In the wash-up, this was a massively improved performance, impacted on by a freak try before the break and a third-quarter where Sheffield found their playing boots. Other than that, Hornets matched - if not bettered - a fairly prosaic Sheffield for long periods of this game.

Afterwards there was a sense of optimism - of a corner turned. Sheffield, on the other hand, chose to celebrate their win by moaning. There's just no pleasing some people.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Friday's Coming: Sheffield

PLASTIC FANTASTIC? Sheffield's Olympic Legacy Stadium
In what can only be a sick practical joke, Hornets travel to Sheffield - on Friday evening. If negotiating the M62/M1 on a Friday teatime wasn't a big enough pain in the arse, a tailspinning Hornets face an Eagles side fresh from a proper thumping of Batley at Mount Pleasant. Leading by 18-12 at the break (having led 18-nil after half a hour) Sheffield piled in with six second-half tries down the hill to win 54-24 - stand-off Pat Walker kicking nine from nine attempts on the way.

Post-match, Eagles boss Mark Aston was modest about the win, saying: "We were too good for them". And if you wanted a real kick in the guts, Pat Moran scored two tries.

As always, Sheffield have flown under the radar a bit this season. Indeed, if we didn't have to think about them twice a season, they'd barely register a blip on ours. Sitting sixth with 10 wins from 17 they look hard to beat - but a closer look reveals them to be a bit leaky: they have the highest points against in the top 7.

After ending a three match losing streak, Aston said this week that he could "see the confidence come oozing back" into his side.

If only the same could be said for Hornets. Sunday's 60-nil defeat to a workmanlike, well-organised York marked a new low-point in this difficult season. Remodelling the squad mid-season was always likely to prove challenging: blending a new influx of players into an existing squad or imposing a new coaching regime would be tough enough individually, but together it's proving a difficult combination to crack.

In search of that elusive combination, we hear today that Swinton have signed Scott Moore in a straight swap for former Wigan prop Kyle Shelford. As Scott Moore's (former) sponsor, we remain ambivalent on that. One benefit being that Ben Moores will get more game time and we're always a better side with him on the field.

What was previously frustration that the squad was performing below its potential has, the last couple of weeks, become resignation that damage limitation is a more realistic expectation. Last year we nicked a last day win on Sheffield's tacky-placky kick-pitch. This time - with their faith stretched thin - all fans are craving is an improved performance. To go to Sheffield and lose with dignity would be enough, we think.

See you there.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

An Ode to Nothing

York 60 - Hornets 0

Zero, zilch, de nada.
Nought, nowt, a blank, a duck.
This trip to York proved pointless
As the Knights just ran amok.

All optimism faded
Fans put through the mill
As at the end the scoreboard read
York sixty Hornets nil.

Not so much a contest
More a hard-to-watch procession,
As Hornets shipped eleven tries
Two weeks in succession.

Ten minutes, nothing in it
The City Knights contained,
We never thought we'd win it
But nil-nil it remained.

But two dropped balls proved fatal
(One last tackle, one the first)
And when Salter ran through Williams
You kind of feared the worst.

The next time York came down the field
We thought their chance had gone
But Mr Moore gave Marsh the score
And not the clear knock-on.

Hornets got two penalties
Infringements back to back
Which brought an opportunity,
A platform to attack, but

They couldn't make a breakthrough
As Oscar Thomas let
himself get tackled in possession
On the last play of the set.

York's response, a huge break
Up the left edge, three on one.
Marsh in for his second,
The game had all but gone.

Confirmed two minutes later
A cheap penalty; quick hands
Whiteley scoring by the flag and
Bedlam in the stands.

An awful half brought to a close
With defence of some concern.
Stock slumping in to score
Off an 80 metre kick-return.

Half-time twenty six nil.
Hornets in reverse.
But what had gone so badly
Was to get a whole lot worse.

On forty two a walk-in try
That made the home fans laugh
After Hornets went and knocked-on
In the first set of the half.

Then Hornets put the kick-off dead
An error - pretty poor
The fans shook their collective head
And braced themselves for more.

On fifty Callum Marriot teased
So close, held-up in-goal.
Hornets kicked high for the corner
But Whiteley saw the hole

Out-jumping Shaun Ainscough
He fed the ball to Vaivai
Who hit the afterburners
As Hornets waved him bye-bye.

Then Teanby on the hour -
A walk in by the posts -
Cue the heavy shower
And Hornets chasing ghosts.

Five minutes later Vaivai
Sent in Whiteley from a scrum, before
A huge break up the guts saw Scott
Add four more to the sum

Then a carbon copy scrum-move
With Vaivai feeding Whiteley
For the easiest of hat-tricks -
And we don't say that lightly.

In the end, this was a shocker
A battering. A rout.
Two weeks and twenty two tries shipped.
All confidence blown-out.

And the Hornets fans left shellshocked
This was a bitter pill,
As at the end the scoreboard read
York sixty Hornets nil.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Sunday's Coming: York

And so the Hornets summer roadshow heads to York. The Knights are a bona-fide, 24 carat bogey team that over the years even good Hornets sides have struggled against. And this season the respective trajectories of both clubs are heading in opposite directions.

On the last five occasions the clubs have met, Hornets haven't come up with a single win - and it includes a challenge Cup defeat when York were in a division lower. The average is a 17-32 defeat benchmark. And, given our recent form, we'd take that.

York come into Sunday's game tucked into the Championship's chasing pack behind Toronto and Toulouse. Sitting fifth on points difference behind Leigh and Featherstone, York have been the competition's shock package - 10 wins under their belt already and impressively narrow defeats to both Toronto and, last week, a weakened Toulouse. The French side were missing big hitters Johnathon Ford, Bastien Ader and Rhys Curran - with Mark Kheirallah removed in the 15th minute with a shoulder injury.

York led deep into the game, but a controversial refereeing decision from James Child effectively handed the French side the points.

For a brief period last month, Knights coach James Ford was much fancied for the vacant Hull KR job. But now without that distraction, his eyes are focused on Championship playoff glory, indicating this week that his side are 'not far away' from usurping Toulouse as a serious challenger.

Speaking in the York Press this week he said: "Ultimately we just need to be able to beat Toulouse in a one-off game, don't we." We can confirm that this is eminently possible.

Hornets fans would take beating anyone in a one-off game at the moment. But going into Sunday's contest on the back of a new season-low defeat at Dewsbury, confidence is on the floor.

We appreciate that re-shaping a team mid-season is a tough task, but we seem no closer to a win now than we ever did. All we can hope for are signs of improvement, that the spine of the side gets settled and that everyone within the club - and those outwith - continue to pull in the same direction.

If Dewsbury was the nadir, York is the first step back. See you Sunday.

Sunday, 9 June 2019


Dewsbury Rams 66 - Hornets 10

It's said that the secret to success lies not in how you start, but how you finish. Having begun both halves of this game with second-minute scores, Hornets' performance degenerated into a raging bin fire of errors, missed tackles and soft penalties.

Having seen last season turned around by a win at the Tetley stadium, the hardy band of Hornets fans travelled with optimism - and when Brandon Wood crashed in from 20 metres for Hornets' opening score with only 120 seconds on the clock, there was a brief flicker of optimism. But within five minutes Dewsbury were ahead.

Aging journeyman Liam Finn took his side close, Day picked out Trout arriving at pace and he squeezed in to score. Finn converted the first of his 11 goals (100% with the boot on the day).

Hornets did battle briefly: Adam Lawton's huge break up the guts of the Dewsbury defence came to nought; Shaun Ainscough's try in the corner struck-off for a forward pass. Nothing between the teams for 20 minutes. And then the collapse: Dewsbury grabbing three tries in 12 minutes to seize control of the game.

On the half hour a hit and hope downtown kick fumbled. From the resulting scrum a neat pass from Sykes sent Morton skating through a huge hole. Then Hornets forcing a pass out of the back of a tackle, only for Walshaw to snaffle the ball and stroll 30 metres to score.

With a minute of the half to play - and clinging on until the break imperative - Hornets switched off, allowing Knowles to offload in a tackle that looked all but completed; Day the beneficiary of some frankly awful defending. All Hornets' good work undone: 24-10 to the Rams at the break. Hornets fans looking skywards in frustration.

The second half began like the first - but ended much, much worse.

Hornets pressed early, Scott Moore (sponsored by TLCRF80mins) took responsibility in an attack going nowhere to plunge in and score. Dan Abram the extras and Hornets back at 24-10 with 38 minutes to play.

Then disaster. Hornets shipping four increasingly soft tries in just 10 minutes:  Morris with carbon-copy pushover efforts, Martin twisting round defenders, Garrett a walk-in off a Morton pass. 48-10 with almost half an hour to play. Hornets went into meltdown: Dewsbury gifted six consecutive penalties (as part of a 13-7 penalty count), passes forced, defence in tatters. Day capitalising with a try just past the hour, scoring from close range.

There was brief respite, before Dewsbury went for the big finish with two tries in the last five minutes: Martin taking another easy offload to jog in, Annakin swatting off attempted tackles for 66-10.  With three minutes remaining, the realistic fear was that Hornets would ship 70 points. At Dewsbury. Thankfully, the stadium clock bore no resemblance to the time remaining and Hornets were put out of their misery by the final hooter.

All-up this was a mess. Hornets effectively background scenery as Dewsbury racked up some scary stats: eleven tries, eleven goals; biggest win in 10 years; gifted 13 penalties, Finn hitting his career 500 point mark.

As always we try and wring out some positives, but there were none.

Trying to reconstitute a squad half-way through a season was always going to be a tough ask, but this was just horrible. The most extreme test of faith possible, with no real signs of salvation.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

One for the Amnesiacs.

Batley 38 - Hornets 18

In 10 years' time, the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup will be the answer to a trivia question alongside the Captain Morgan Trophy, the Amoco Cup and the Buddies Cup as another half-forgotten Rugby League knock-out competition that got ditched because it got in the way of the real business of league football.

History will show Hornets' involvement to have been brief. Sunday afternoon at Mount Pleasant saw Hornets and Batley spar their way through a low-octane affair in which pretty much everyone involved looks like they could have found something more useful to do. Except Referee Mr Pearson, who joyfully whistled his way through a 9-6 penalty count that, at times, threatened to drag an already slow game to a standstill.

From a Hornets point of view, the damage was done in the third quarter of the game when Batley plodded four tries up the hill in just 15 minutes to leave Hornets chasing the shadow of the ghost of a game that wasn't really there any more.

Batley opened proceedings after just 4 minutes. Hornets had fumbled the ball in their first set, compounded it by conceding a penalty and, off the last tackle, the Bulldogs fed 'The Hardest Working Man In Rugby League' James Brown in for a close range try.

After a scrappy period of knock-ons, cheap penalties and some freestyle interpretations of the laws, Hornets' cogs clicked on a rare foray into Batley territory: Oscar Thomas producing a neat flat-pass to send in his half-back partner Zac Baker. Dan Abram slotted the extras and Hornets had an uphill lead at 4-6.

Hornets responded with a first tackle knock-on.

On the quarter-mark, Batley got their noses back in front when Galbraith picked his way through a retreating defence; Jouffret the conversion for 10-6.

Hornets responded well: a Zac Baker bomb fumbled by Brambani, a little concerted pressure, and Brandon Wood scrambling through defenders to plonk the ball over the line. Dan Abram with the two off the whitewash to regain the lead at 10-12.

Hornets responded by cocking-up the kick-off to concede a drop-out. Luckily Batley couldn't capitalise. And, just when it looked like Hornets would take a lead into the break, Brambani hoisted a speculative kick into the in-goal, where Downs found no challenge forthcoming to score an easy try. Jouffret with the conversion to give the home side a 16-12 lead.

The first 15 minutes after the break were a bit of a disaster, as Batley produced a four-shot combination that effectively sealed the game. On 45 minutes: gifted a fortunate possession at a scrum after having appeared to knock-on, Bulldogs' Hooker Leak sneaked in from acting-half. On 49 minutes: simple interposing was enough to send Brambani skating in. On 54 minutes - having conceded a penalty in possession - Hornets backed-off Manning all the way to the goal-line (32-12). And, finally, Jouffret scoring off a loose-ball after Mr Pearson saw a Hornets defensive knock-on in the build-up. 20 minutes to play: 38-12.

Hornets responded briefly: Shaun Ainscough in at the corner after good hands going right; Dan Abram - again - off the touchline. Consolation: just.

The last 20 minutes played out like an obligation being fulfilled; the game over as a contest and both sides with looking like they wanted out. To add insult to injury, the heavens opened too. A metaphor for the mood.

Having played almost the ideal first-half up the slope, Hornets squandered a great platform for progress in one sloppy quarter - the positive being that we can now focus on the league.

All-up an afternoon to forget.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Sunday's Coming: The 1895 Cup

A RUM DO:  The ill-fated
Captain Morgan Trophy.
Way back in 1973, the Rugby League had a brilliant idea.

It thought it saw an 'imaginary void' in the season's already busy fixture list (back then teams played 30 games in a league season, plus the Challenge Cup, Plus the Players No.6 Cup, plus the Lancashire Cup). To fill this 'void' they concocted a meaningless knock-out competition - The Captain Morgan Trophy (sponsored by the, then, 'sophisticated' Rum brand).

The draw went like this: to the eight winners of the first round of the Yorkshire Cup, were added
the seven winners of the first round of the Lancashire cup PLUS the Lancashire team losing in the first round by the smallest margin.

To try and force a bit of cross-pennine rivalry into an already convoluted format (and to increase the chance of a Lancs v Yorks final) the Yorkshire sides and the Lancashire/Cumbrian sides (who played in the Lancashire Cup), were drawn into two 'pools' of games that kept the two groups apart in Round one.

Hornets' involvement was brief. First Division Hornets went to Second Division Workington in Round One - and lost. 22-13.

The final between Warrington and Featherstone was played on a Saturday afternoon at Salford in front of 5,000 barely interested fans. The Wire won a tryless game 4-nil. It was a metaphor for the competition.

Reports say that the competition 'failed to catch the imagination of the public, or the clubs themselves' - code for 'it was a rubbish idea that no-one wanted'. The Captain Morgan Trophy was scrapped after one season.

Fast Forward to 2019 - and the Rugby League has had a brilliant idea.

It thinks it's seen an imaginary void in the fixture list . Into this void it's crowbarred the - as yet unsponsored - 1895 Cup. And, like it's rum-flavoured predecessor, it has a beautifully convoluted format.  In round 1 eight League 1 teams played in a knock out round. Round 2 sees teams from the Championship - minus Toronto and Toulouse - chucked in with the winners from round 1.

But that's not the best of it. Not only are the RFL going to drag it out for five rounds, the final will be played at Wembley. After the Challenge Cup final.

Yes. After.

So while the Challenge Cup final's losing fans have already baled for the coach home and the winning fans have decamped for the nearest pub to celebrate, two unlucky Championship/League 1 sides will get to see their teams run round in an empty Wembley whilst the BBC packs away the cameras.

THE SWEET F.A. CUP: No prize money.
Straight from the RFL's Operating Laws
Given this, the 1895 Cup is clearly named after the anticipated attendance for the final. And if the thought of playing in an empty Wembley doesn't thrill you, it's worth noting that "... There will be no prize money in the first year, but gate receipts up to and including the semi-finals (but NOT in the final) will be shared in accordance with Challenge Cup rules." So getting to the final will ensure clubs incur a huge cost in transport and accommodation. Seems like getting canned in the semis is the best option financially.

Speaking of which...

The RFL launched this "... exciting new chance for players and supporters to taste the magic of Wembley...." (Ralph Rimmer, November 2018) without contemplating that two Championship sides might still be involved in the ACTUAL 'exciting chance for players and supporters to taste the magic of a relatively full-(ish) Wembley': Bradford and Halifax involved in an upcoming all-championship Challenge Cup Quarter Final - just 160 minutes away from Wem-ber-lee's main event.

So could Bradford and/or Halifax go all the way to the final of both?

Yeah, but... no, but...

Obviously the RFL has hacked together a beautifully labyrinthine solution. If Bradford or Halifax get to the semis of both competitions "... the 1895 Cup semi-final will be put back until the Wednesday after the Challenge Cup semi-finals (to be played on Saturday July 27) – so if the Championship club then lost their Challenge Cup semi-final, they would have a second chance to reach Wembley via the 1895 Cup."

"If a Championship club was to win their Challenge Cup semi-final, then the loser of the other 1895 Cup semi-final (to be played on Sunday July 28) would get a second chance on the Wednesday (July 31)."  Got that?

RECYCLED: The iPro Cup is back, everyone!
And what of the1895 cup itself? You'd imagine that such an exciting new competition would warrant an exciting new trophy to cement its status within the game. No such luck. Eagle-eyed Rugby League geeks will have noticed that the 1895 Cup is, in fact, the old iPro cup with a new logo stuck on it.

The iPro cup was retired after just three seasons after clubs voted to scrap it because it interfered with the domestic league season.

Sound Familiar?

Hornets travel to Batley on Sunday in Round two of the 1895 Cup. See you there.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Leaky Hornets Sunk at Barrow

Barrow 54 - Hornets 10

Hornets' slow-motion car-crash of a season reached crisis point in the shadow of the Devonshire Dock Hall submarine works. A new nadir of disappointment, with Barrow made to look like world-beaters and Jamie Dallimore given all the time and space required to torpedo Hornets' hopes of climbing off the bottom of the table.

In contrast to the weather, the game started brightly enough: Hornets riding out some early pressure, then coming up with a try on their first meaningful attack - our view partly obscured, but announced as Zac Baker (and since as Jack Johnson) - but a close range stepping effort to give Dan Abram a simple conversion. That was as good as it got.

Having gone straight up the other end, Barrow levelled the scores on 9 minutes (Puara slipping in from the back of the ruck) and took the lead on 12 minutes when Susino ran a good line off a Dallimore pass. He was followed to the line just two minutes later when the ball was worked to Cross to score by the flag. Dalimore off the touchline and the game heading for the distance at 6-18 before the first quarter was up.

But worse was to come. Hornets clung scrappily to the coat-tails of the game for 10 minutes, but the half ended in a blitz of points up the right edge as their confidence crumbled.

On 29 minutes a freak try as the ball somehow stuck to Raiders winger Amean, capitalising on his good fortune to send Spedding in at the corner.

Hornets surfaced briefly on the half hour when they moved the ball to send Brandon Wood in, but it was cold comfort for the traveling fans. Barrow's response, an 8 minute hat-trick for Amean: fastest to react to a Dallimore kick into the in goal; striding in untouched from close range; then a real sickener as he intercepted a shocking first-tackle pass to go 90 metres untouched.

Half-time 42-10. Just awful.

In contrast, the second half was more attritional. Barrow happy to let Hornets jab flaccidly at their defence for 20 minutes before going downfield to score twice in their only two second-half attacks, both just past the hour mark. First Mossop and Jono Smith combining to send Ritson through a huge hole, then Dallimore pushing a kick behind a static defence for Toal to score Barrow's ninth try of the afternoon. Dallimore landing his ninth kick from nine for 54-10.

At this point, we'd usually sieve the rubble for some meagre positives - but unless you count lunch, there aren't any, really.

From a supporters' point of view, this was a tough one to take. It would have been hard to envisage such a gulf between two sides separated by only a point at start of play.  As it is, this result hauled Barrow out of the relegation zone and leaves Hornets stranded at the foot of the table.

To add insult to injury, Swinton stole a last minute win and now look out of reach in 10th. The challenge now becomes 'find two more wins than Widnes and Barrow'.

At least there's some respite next week as we head to Batley to play in the utterly pointless 1895 cup.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Sunday's Coming: Barrow

BARROW: a graveyard, earlier today.
Welcome to the first game of the second half of the season - and we head for Barrow: the graveyard of so many hopes over the years.

If you're seeking any consolation from last Saturday's emotional trauma (and believe us, the pickings are transparently thin), Hornets did manage an exceptional 40 minutes: while - on Sunday - Barrow were roundly pounded by an effective, if unexciting, Sheffield Eagles.

Barrow lost 30-18, but the outcome was given the veneer of a contest by two Barrow tries in the last five minutes, long after the Eagles had clocked-off for the day. Interestingly, The Raiders were ahead 8-6 at the break - Sheffield piling in four tries in the third quarter (three of them in six minutes) to take the game away from Paul Crarey's side. Speaking in the NW Evening Mail Crarey said: “We probably played for 55-60 minutes, but that 20 minute block is letting us down." And he felt that the scoreline wasn't reflective of the effort his side put in: "There was a lot of effort put into today’s game and the scoreline didn’t really reflect that," he said. Wise words, mate.

Looking ahead to this week's encounter Crarey said: “Rochdale showed a big improvement at the Bash and they have improved. I think they put the cue in the rack at half time and, in this division, you can’t afford to do that. We know how important (Sunday's) game is and Matt Calland is a good coach and will have them well prepared.”

Certainly, both ours and Barrow's performances at the Summer Bash leave both sides in search of redemption this week - and both sides will see this as a potential springboard for the back-half of the season.

Indeed, the challenge remains the same - be better than Swinton: a challenge now rendered more difficult than it ever was. The mathematics, though are simple: Hornets now need to gain five more points than Swinton in the 14 games remaining to reel them in. Three more wins than them, effectively. A task complicated by the fact that Swinton host Dewsbury on Sunday - sitting one place and one point above them.

Yes, we know that Widnes sit amidst the back-runners in this pack on 4 points, but with 8 wins already this term, you have to assume that, having already shrugged off their -12-point punishment, they'll creep back up the table as we head for September.

Barrow sit next to bottom on three points - and haven't taken a single point since February. Their only win of the season came in Round 1: a 22-18 win at Batley. Their only other point came in Round 4 with a 20-all home draw with Dewsbury. Their first game of March was a 20-8 defeat - at Spotland. It's been downhill for both clubs since - especially Barrow was they'e gone even longer than us without a win.

Barrow's form has been a bit of a mystery to us, as they have a side containing some redoubtable talent: Lewis Charnock, Tee Ritson, Jarrod Stack, Jamie Dallimore, Deon Cross and Jono Smith. And don't forget Papua New Guinean trio Stargroth Amean, Wartovo Puara Jr and Willie Minoga - all signed from Queensland Cup side SP Hunters. There's something clearly failing to click at Craven Park. Let's hope it continues for another week at least...

Paul Crarey does have Martin Aspinwall and Dan Toal back in his side after lengthy lay-offs - and he has identified areas for improvement: “If we could just control the game for longer periods, instead of pressing the self-destruct button by giving the ball away 30 metres from our line or trying to score with every set, or not playing the ball correctly and giving penalties away. It’s about being patient and getting to the back end of kicks and then getting some repeat sets.”

We read that as an opportunity to pressurise them into making poor decisions. Indeed, it was a high level of defensive pressure that harried Swinton into errors in the first half last weekend - and in tight games you need all the scraps you can feed on.

Beyond the half-time brew at Blackpool, it's all a bit of a lamentable blur - but it underpins the scale of the task in hand for Matt Calland and his coaching team. Certainly losing is a bad habit to break, and Hornets haven't really been in the position of locking down a game this season.

But we travel in hope that the second half of the season will be an improvement on the first. So let's shed that particular skin and go again. See you at Craven Park.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

All Aboard The Emotional Rollercoaster

Hornets 30 - Swinton 40

This was a dizzying, disorientating defeat that left Hornets' sizeable and noisy support reeling in the aftermath. Having crackled with invention and ideas before the break, Hornets spent the second 40 minutes running through treacle - whereas Swinton found their feet, gained momentum and sped away, leaving Hornets fans with a collective 1,000 yard stare; brains whirring in disbelief.

Swinton started the brighter, ahead after just five minutes when they lofted a kick up Hornets right edge for Butt to out-jump Shaun Ainscough; Smith converting. Hornets' response was swift: Luis Johnson taking the ball to the Lions' line, Scott Moore producing a pinpoint pass to Brandon Wood who crashed in to score. Dan Abram the first of a perfect afternoon with the boot.

Hornets went straight back on the attack, fuelling their progress by feeding off Swinton's escalating error-count. Indeed, they looked certain to extend their lead when Shan Ainscough broke up the right with support in his wake. Ainscough opted for the inside pass to James Worthington, but  - somehow - the centre fumbled the ball with the fans already on their feet.

Two minutes later, Hornets attacked the same spot, this time Dan Abram stepped off his right to leave defenders clutching at air, slipping Dec Kay in by the posts. Abram the two, and Hornets looking good value for the 12-6 lead.

But Hornets were hit by an almost immediate sucker punch: some frankly awful defending up the right channel ushering Halton almost 40 metres to score: 12-10

On the half hour, Shain Ainscough reciprocated - exposing Swinton's defensive frailties up the same edge to dive in for the 100th try of his career. Dan Abram the two off the whitewash and Hornets' supporters in fine voice.

With the game approaching half-time, Harvey Livett capitalised on a Swinton error to kick the ball into the in-goal and win the foot-race to touch down. Abram the extras: Hornets comfortably in-charge at 24-10.

The talk in the stands was that Hornets had to score first after the break to quell any threat of a Swinton comeback. As it was, Swinton scored within a minute of the restart (Ashton up Hornets' left channel).

Hornets looked to have steadied the ship four minutes later when Shaun Aisncough grabbed his second to extend Hornets lead to 30-14. But 36 hours later, we're still processing what happened next...

Swinton found an extra gear - and Hornets, simply, couldn't go with them. Just ahead of the hour, Swinton produced a double-punch combination: back-to-back tries from Lloyd and Hansen - the latter after the defence failed to snuff-out a kick going nowhere. Hornets clung to the ropes for 13 minutes.

Then again two tries in two minutes. This time Fairclough and Paisley crossing through a flat-footed defence - the latter this time a walk-in off a Dec Kay Fumble. With 14 minutes remaining, Swinton held a Lazarus-like lead at 30-34.

Hornets hauled themselves off the canvas to go in search of redemption, but Swinton were resolute. As time ticked down, all it needed was was one chance. One chance...

It came in the 75th minute when Hornets were awarded a penalty within striking distance of the Lions' line. Like a punch-drunk boxer running on muscle-memory Hornets probed for an opening, but that one last swing proved fateful. With Swinton short on numbers up the right, Harvey Livett launched a huge cut-out pass towards Brandon Wood - only for Ashton to snatch the ball from the air and run 90 metres to administer the coup-de grace. Smith finally found his kicking boots to seal the deal at 30-40.

Whilst the post-mortem on this one will be disturbing and complex, it requires the answer to a single question: how can a team that played with so much vigour and dynamism before the break fall apart so badly?

36 hours on, we still don't have a clue.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Saturday's Coming: Swinton Lions at the Summer Bash

WELCOME TO BLACKPOOL: Time for Hornets to kick arse beside the seaside. 
(Photograph: Dougie Wallace from 'Stags, Hens and Bunnies: A Blackpool Story')

It's apt that the Summer Bash at Blackpool comes at the mid-point of the season, because this year's game agains fellow cellar dwellers Swinton provides the point around which our season could tip one of two ways.

Win and we could leapfrog Barrow, off the bottom of the competition (assuming the Raiders lose in Blackpool to Sheffield) and within points difference of Swinton, over whom we have a game in hand (admittedly, it is a points difference of 136!).

Lose and Swinton head off into the middle distance on 6 points, leaving Hornets looking for three more wins than the Lions in the back half of the season to overhaul them.

It is - literally - a pivotal game.

If last month's meltdown at Heywood Road was this season's nadir, Saturday at Bloomfield Road provides an opportunity for redemption and renewed optimism.

The remainder of the Championship season has effectively been boiled down to a three-way shoot-out involving Hornets, Swinton and Barrow. The aim? Finish top of this triumvirate of underachievement. A task made even more interesting by the trip to Barrow the week after Blackpool. Indeed, if you needed further proof of the importance of the next two weeks, Swinton's only two wins of this campaign came against Hornets - and at Barrow.

Everyone will know by now that Hornets v Swinton has been bumped back to a 3.30 kick off so that the weekend can open with a game that no-one's really interested in (T'onto v TOXIIIC) and which should guarantee an empty stadium for the cameras.

The new kick-off time means that Hornets' game now clashes with Catalan v Wigan at the Nou Camp in Barcelona. It also means that, in order to accommodate Dragons v The Pies, our game has been moved from Sky's mainstream sports channels, now hidden away behind the red-button. Those of you hoping to record our game will have to set your boxes for the replay at 10pm on Sky Sports Arena. I'm glad they've told us that now - because that would have been a very tricky sell to sponsors six months ago.

Swinton prepare for Saturday's game with a raft of injuries. Forwards Will Hope, Ben Austin and Jamie Acton have been joined by Lewis Hatton who has had surgery on a finger injury and will be out for six weeks. Swinton's depleted pack will feature former Hornets Gavin Bennion and Billy Brickhill. Michael Ratu is unlikely to play.

Hornets come into this game needing a win like oxygen - and the performance against York last weekend shows clear signs of improvement. Indeed, we reckon it's the closest we've got to York for quite a while, given their formidable bogey-team status. The inclusion of the four recent acquisitions looked pretty seamless and the spine of the team looked pretty solid (we like Ben Moores at Loose forward as he poses a running threat).

So we travel in hope, at least. Saturday gives the whole club a chance to regain some equilibrium after a challenging first half of the season. It's certainly a great opportunity for the fans to get together, make some noise and enjoy the event.

If you're still considering your options for Saturday, we urge you to get over to Bloomfield Road - even if it's just for our game. Tickets are still available from the club office - and everyone Hornets sells helps offset the costs incurred in participating in the Summer Bash.

So do yourself and the club a favour: get over to Blackpool and bring your singing voice. 'Kiss-me-quick' hats are optional. See you there.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Hornets Put In A Knight-Shift

Hornets 18 - York 24

There's not doubt that the outcome of this game feels like a corner turned. Ignore the fact that York clung on for a win that served to underline their credentials as an unconvincing third-placed outfit - forced into scrapping and scrambling by a patched-up Hornets side with its cracks grouted by loanees, trialists and players filling-in out of position.

While the high-flying Knights foundered and flailed (held, yet again, to a single second half try), Hornets looked organised, energised and workmanlike.

Hornets started with a bang: two Dan Abram 40/20s in the opening exchanges putting the visitors under early pressure, but it was the Knights who took the lead against the early run of play: working the ball tidily around the middle of a retreating defence for Marsh to score under the black dot, then full-back Bass making the extra man on a looping run from the back of the scrum for 0-10 after 16 minutes. York now with some momentum.

They capitalised on the quarter mark when Whiteley broke up the guts of the Hornets defence to be reeled in by Jack Johnson. But Hornets coughed-up a sloppy penalty on next play and York smuggled the ball wide for the otherwise hapless Mazive to find space by the flag.

Hornets continued to drive forward and were rewarded for their persistence on the half hour mark when a neat dink into the in-goal caught defenders napping, Lewis Sheridan quickest to react and get a hand on the ball. 6-14.

Having clawed their way back into the game, Hornets switched off with seconds of the half remaining: Bass reprising his extra-man role to score a carbon copy try to send the visitors in 6-18 up at the break.

The second half began with a flurry: Hornets applying pressure from a steepling Sheridan bomb, York contributing a knock-on. From the resulting play Joe Ryan was forced dead-in-goal to let York off the hook. Jack Johnson was then held-up in goal, but Hornets cane up with a poor last tackle option.

After 10 minutes of one-way traffic the pressure finally told: Liam Carberry hitting a flat-pass from acting half to crash through defenders and score. Abram the two and Hornets back in the race at 12-18.

Almost immediately, York produced a response: Blagbrough in off a short-pass after Robinson had stepped his way through the middle of the Hornets defence. 12-24: Hornets now in a 20 minute run chase. York's response? Go where they're comfortable - suck the daylight out of the game and turn it into a scrappy mess; happy to concede penalties and knock-ons to dissipate any possible momentum.

But Hornets strove to play what little lucid football remained. As the game drew into its closing phase, Hornets shipped the ball wide to Brandon Wood who showed great strength and determination to bypass Mazive and - somehow - plant the ball in the corner. Dan Abram a quality kick from the touchline and Hornets within range of a point at 18-24.

With 10 minutes remaining Hornets threw the kitchen sink at a York side happy to rope-a-dope their way to the final hooter. Their desire to park the bus almost backfired on 75 minutes when Dan Abram chased his own 50 metre downtown kick into the in-goal where Slater took an age to make his mind up: Abram a finger-tip away from the touch-down. York happy to concede a drop-out and stagger to victory.

Indeed, Hornets were the better side for long tracts of this game: enthusiastic, hard-working - enterprising, even. Certainly they looked organised and committed to the cause, which is a noticeable improvement.

As for York, if this is how good you have to be to be third in this competition, we can go into the second half of the season with at least some optimism. And with Swinton - at Blackpool - just round the corner, we can at least travel in hope.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Sunday's Coming: York City Knights

We have good news and bad news.

The good news is that we have it on excellent authority that the posts are already up for Sunday's visit of York City Knights. So well done to the currently depleted Spotland Ground Staff as it was a bit breezy earlier in the week.

The bad news is that - since the Stadium debacle back in March - the RFL's darlings on this side of the pond have been on a relentless run of form that has taken them to fifth in the table with eight wins from 12 games. What caught our eye is that they've played eight of those 12 games at home - with only two of those being defeats, both to teams above them in the table (Toronto and Sheffield).
York's last three defeats have all come away from home.

Apart from the the tonking of Barrow (56-nil!) and a 22 point winning margin over Halifax, this has all the hallmarks of a team that gets the job done (they have the second smallest positive points difference in the competition). Indeed, in the last month they have bookended a narrow four-point loss in Toulouse with wins over Widnes and Batley, by seven and four points respectively. So staying in the arm-wrestle is absolutely key to competing with James Ford's side.

This was evident last week when York almost came unstuck against Batley, as the Bulldogs ramped up their second-half defensive effort to get within a score of nicking the game. Leading comfortably by 22-10 at half time, York found Batley's high-intensity approach after the break difficult to manage, the visitors restricting the Knights to a single second-half try as they chipped away at the margin, but were beaten by the clock.

Having had a look at the highlights, Batley capitalised on York's flaky right edge, isolating Judah Mazive on three occasions to score.

In the last week, Ford has been quoted in York's local press as asking for 'more support' from his board if his side are to sustain their early season form. He wants investment in his squad and in his side's training 'environment'. But his immediate concern is the injury crisis that has his squad down to the bare bones. He said: "We're going to struggle to field 17 players next week. We picked up another couple of injuries (against Batley)".

Hornets come into the game on the back of an all-too familiar pumping by Featherstone Rovers - which will, no-doubt, have given Matt Calland a few extra things to consider - though we do hear on the grape-vine that local reinforcements are on the way.

More than anything, though, the club needs a confidence-boosting performance - and instilling belief is the biggest coaching challenge of all. See you Sunday.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Plus ça change...

Hornets 10 - Featherstone 56

So, anything happen while we were away? Other than the departure of Carl Forster and the appointment of 'the fans' choice' Matt Calland as his replacement?

Chucked in at the deep-end with the game against his former club Featherstone looming, Calland only had a couple of sessions with the squad before getting a fairly abrupt assessment of the scale of the task in hand.

In a championship that's becoming increasingly stretched between full-time and part-time, haves and have-nots, Fev have had - by their standards - a pretty ordinary season thus far. They arrived at Spotland sitting in 7th with a six-and-six record, but boarded the bus home having demonstrated the clear existence of two parallel championships within the one competition: Hornets reduced to chasing shadows at times as the visitors rammed home ten-tries in a one-sided contest.

Those anticipating some sort of messianic miracle were instantly disappointed: Hornets started the game with a knock-on and 45 seconds later Rovers rake King slumped in from acting half. Chisholm added the extras and Fev were up and running.

With the lion's share of the early possession, Featherstone added to their early score with a quick-fire double whammy: Harrison hitting a short-ball to score under the black-dot on 10 minutes, followed by Chisholm in the same spot after a prestidigitatious exchange of passes up the guts of a sloppy defence. Chisholm converting both and Hornets 18-nil down with 12 minutes gone.

Hornets rallied briefly around the quarter-mark when a rare attack saw the ball shifted wide for Shaun Ainscough to score by the flag for 4-18

There was brief respite as the game became scrappy, which suited Hornets. But when Featherstone found themselves with space to work off a 25th minute penalty, quick-hands worked the ball to Carey who scored out wide.

Hornets ended the half with their best spell of pressure, forcing a drop-out, but getting snagged in possession on the last tackle - a feat they repeated just four minutes later.

The sides retired to the sheds at a modest 4-22.

Hornets started the second-half brightly: Luis Johnson held-up in-goal. But the pressure was short-lived as Featherstone again produced a three-minute two-punch combination that sucked the air out of the contest: Hardcastle with a walk-in through a flat-footed defence, Cooper under the sticks after another huge break up the heart of the Hornets defence. Chisholm on-target and, at 4-34 with half an hour remaining, it became a question of 'how many'?

Featherstone added another double either side of the hour: Carey in the corner after a sweeping move that had Hornets clutching air, then Cooper straight through the middle from 25 metres. Too easy: 4-44.

With 10 minutes remaining Hornets centre Ben Morris stole the ball from a bemused Davis to score (Abram the two) - but Featherstone produced yet another rapid brace: Makatoa in off a short-ball, Golding from close range gliding through a defence gone AWOL. Chisholm on target to give Featherstone a rudimentary 10-56 win.

From a Hornets supporters point of view, this was the difficult first step on a journey of rehabilitation as the new coaching team seeks to reignite what looks increasingly like a side with a confidence crisis.

In the media surrounding Calland's appointment he said that coaching Hornets is 'the job he always wanted'. And supporters now have the coach they always believed could improve Hornets' fortunes.  The test for both starts here.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Hornets Suffer the Chill Factor

Salford 76 - Hornets 6

It was a evening of cold comfort at the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday nights as a Hornets side fresh from a day at work froze in the face of a Red Devils onslaught.

Steered effortlessly round the park by Jackson Hastings, Salford ran in 13 tries; with Chamberlain and Inu sharing 12 goals equally. Conversely, Hornets looked big on graft and light on craft, struggling with the pace of Salford's attack right from the whistle.

Salford were 18-nil up on the 9 minute mark with tries from Burke, Evalds and Dudson: running at twice the rate of the clock didn't augur well. There was some intense debate amongst the noisy Rochdale contingent in a frugally thin crowd as to whether Hornets should've taken the two points at 6-nil to avoid the duck.

By the half-hour mark, Hornets had stemmed the torrent to a mere 34-0 before Shaun Ainscough followed a Dan Abram kick into the in-goal for Hornets' only score of the night. Cue the singing from the Hornets fans.

Indeed, most of the singing came from the Western end of the AJ Bell stand, the home crowd applauding further tries from Chamberlain, Tomkins, Evalds and Bibby politely. All the atmosphere of an asteroid,

Hornets went to the break at 40-6.

The second half looked much like the first, Hornets back-pedalling as Salford added tries by Bibby, Evalds (twice in four minutes), Griffin, Lui and Inu.

By some distance the highlight of the second half  was the banter between the Hornets fans and the poor frozen in-goal judge at the Western End who had - literally - nothing to do and even went for a pee at one point.

Post Match Hornets assistant coach Anthony Stewart said: "The effort was good but we didn’t expect that score. There were some positive performances from some of the lads but others were not on top form."

“Salford are a team that attacks really well and it was a top performance from them. We will take the positives and move on from there but we needed more from some of our lads tonight.”

In the end it was a disappointing show all round. Salford coach Ian Watson had put a rocket up his players in the week and, on the night, went with his strongest available side. Salford were sharper, bigger, faster and far superior in every department. It's a shame that the people of Salford don't get behind them in numbers.

As it was, it was the worst of all worlds: a thumping away from home and no big Cup dividend to soften the blow. And, as attention turns back to Good Friday's absolute must-win Championship dog-fight of a game at Swinton, Hornets put their Cup dreams back on ice for another year.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Friday's Coming: Salford

UNHAPPY CHAPPY: Ian Watson runs out of fingers to
count the ways in which Salford are awful at the moment
Salford are riding on the crest of a slump at the moment. Four straight defeats has seen the Red Devils slide down the Super League Ladder to a heady 7th - with a worse points difference than bottom club Leeds.

Ex-Hornet - and former tippy-toed half-back - Ian Watson is an unhappy coach. Speaking after his side's 23-6 home defeat to Hull, he envisages changes: "After that performance there will need to be changes," he said in the League Express this week. And he thinks the problem lies between his players' ears: "We need to re-shape; not the way we play, but some individual mentalities."

Ooh, do name names, Watto: "... the guys who are playing should be taking their opportunities and not leaving me to make that choice. At the moment I feel like I have to make the choice and that's the problem. We have said the same thing over the last four weeks, We are not saying the same things again next week. We will be making changes." But who? Who's been idling around for a month? We need to know!

Watson has been missing a few first choice names of late, but Junior Sa'u and Tyrone McCarthy should be back for Friday night's game.

He's disappointed with his players, though: "They're a committed group, but we're desperately disappointed. We've come up against four big teams and we should have won the majority of the games. We're putting pressure on ourselves. We feel as though we're beating ourselves at the moment." Excellent, long may it continue. If only we knew where it was all going so terribly wrong.

"We're not starting games well, and good teams don't let up in patches of the game. We're our own downfall and we're lacking experience in certain areas, as well as composure."

As if that's not enough, over in UKIP's preferred RL read 'League, Weakly', Watson also revealed: "We are not building enough pressure on the opposition goal line and it's  coming back and biting us."

He went on: "It's the same old same old. We are talking about errors and poor discipline (they lost the penalty count 7-9)."

"They held the ball, we didn't hold the ball enough once we got into those right field positions, especially in the first half when we bombed a couple of chances and they went down to 12 men."

There's never really a good time to catch a Super League side, but this does sound like a Salford outfit foundering in the grip of a confidence crisis. Which we are delighted to hear.

Hornets go into this tie on he back of a curate's egg of a performance against a pretty ordinary Halifax side. For 50 minutes, Hornets matched the visitors and showed decent resilience, before the game slid almost imperceptibly out of our reach. But if we can maintain a good level of performance more evenly over the 80 minutes and Salford continue to wobble, who knows? We think that the miracle is unlikely to happen - but we've seen Rugby League miracles happen.

Ultimately, it'll be good to see Hornets go round at the AJ Bell - even though it means navigating the bloody M60 on the first Friday night of the Easter Holidays. Whoever came up with that one needs pulling through with a pineapple.

We're pretty sure if we'd've played it at home on a Sunday at 3pm we'd get a bigger crowd.

But we are where we are. Get there if you can - there a few Hornets fans getting together in the main/AJ Bell stand, so let's fly the flags, make some noise and get behind the lads.

See you there,

Monday, 8 April 2019

Whistle While You Work

Hornets 24 - Halifax 48.

This was the archetypal game of two halves, hamfistedly glued together by an over-officious refereeing performance that saw Hornets slammed 15-5 in the penalty count.

For 40 minutes Hornets matched a Halifax outfit that looked like it'd much rather be somewhere else, but in the second half they were swept away by a tidal wave of unlucky breaks, dubious decisions and a Halifax side that had clearly had a rocket up their arse at half time.

But it was Hornets who started with a bang, Lee Mitchell hitting a short-ball at pace after just two minutes to glide under the black dot. Abram the extras - and on target again with a penalty five minutes later to give Hornets a comfortable 8-nil lead.

But on 10 minutes, Mr Crashley made his first intervention. Fairbank's break up the guts of the Hornets defence had defenders scrambling back, loanee Jack Higginson adjudged to have loitered too long in the tackle and shown the yellow card.

Halifax took instant advantage of their numerical superiority, Tyrer racing onto a kick into the space vacated by Higginson to get Halifax on the board; Tyrer improving his own try. 

Almost immediately Hornets were gifted an opportunity to respond: a frankly awful pass from Laulu-Togagae fell to Lee Mitchell, but Hornets panicked the ball wide where the last pass bounced harmlessly into touch.

On the quarter-mark, Tyrer again exploited Higginson's absence to grab his second try of the afternoon to give Halifax the lead at 8-10.

Higginson's return paid immediate dividends: Hornets executing a neat, looping shift up the right channel where he proved too strong for a retreating defence. Hornets back in the box-seat at 12-10.

With the game approaching the half hour mark, Mr Crashley became increasingly whistle-happy. The result was a sucker-punch double for Woodburn-Hall - the first coming from a blatant obstruction.

But Hornets sucked in for a big finish and got their reward in the last minute of the half when Ellis Robson out-muscled three defenders to plant the ball down. Dan Abram with the two and Hornets with the momentum at 18-22.

Indeed, Hornets began the second half in similar fashion, Ben Moores denied two tries in rapid succession. First his lunge to touch down his own kick into the in-goal was ruled out, then his reaction to a sloppy carry by Fleming was penalised as 'ripped'. Halifax, then marched straight upfield where Sharp went in by the flag. It kinda set the tone for what was to come.

As Mr Crashley became increasingly pedantic - and Hornets became increasingly frustrated - Halifax eventually crawled on top of the game.

Woodburn-Hall grabbed his third after a period of sustained pressure and - on the hour - Laulu-Togagae used a static attacker as cover to create a big enough hole to step through. No obstruction call was forthcoming.

We then saw a bit of refereeing that resembled a Two Ronnies gag. Hornets defence hit hard in the tackle, tipping the Halifax ball carrier onto his back. Whilst the travelling fans bayed for a 'tipping' penalty, it was obvious that the player concerned hadn't passed the vertical. However, at the conclusion of the NEXT tackle, Mr Crashley blew and gave a penalty for his interpretation of the offence that had happened the TACKLE BEFORE.  Just awful.

Despite this, Hornets continued to plug away and it was Ben Moores who went closest, the ball slipping from his fingers with the line begging as he looked to push a pass to Brandon Wood.

As the game moved into the closing stages, Halifax struck with a late brace: Saltonstall spinning away from defenders; Laulu-Togagae allowed to step through from close range.

Last word, though, went to Hornets: Carl Forster piling through defenders to score on the hooter, Dan Abram with the conversion.

This game was a great example of how big momentum shifts can hinge on individual moments: Dan Abram's attempted intercept that slipped from his grasp, Halifax scoring from the resulting scrum; the wayward pass to Brandon Wood off a Halifax error when Hornets were a man down; Ben Moores double denial early in the second half. Add the added impetus of Mr Crashley's surrealist interpretation of the laws and you can at least see how the game slid slowly away from Hornets.

Yes, it's frustrating - infuriating, even. This is a pretty ordinary Halifax side, but they capitalised on every opportunity that came their way. Maybe the need to be more ruthless is the lesson to take away from this one.