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.”

Then...

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.

Then...

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

'Bergalled'

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 Houl├Ęs, (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 TO13.com 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.