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.