Monday, 26 November 2012

2013 here we come!

Here are Hornets fixtures for 2013. Starting with a revamped, but no less convoluted, Northern Rail Cup in March (is it REALLY too complex to play round robin group games to give every team a fair go?) and the Co-Operative Championship 1 programme kicking off on Good Friday at Whitebank.

So print 'em out - stick 'em on the fridge and buy yourself a sat-nav. 

Northern Rail Cup

The 2013 Northern Rail Cup will begin with eight teams from the Championship One competition in a group stage.

Group A is: Oldham, Rochdale Hornets, Gateshead Thunder, North Wales Crusaders

Each club will play four games, two Home and two Away. Three games will be between clubs in their pool with one game played against a club in the other pool.

Round 1
Sunday March 3 
Rochdale Hornets v Gateshead Thunder (3.00pm) 

Round 2
Sunday March 10
Oldham v Rochdale (3.00pm)

Round 3
Sunday March 17
North Wales Crusaders v Rochdale Hornets (2.30pm) 

Round 4
Sunday March 24
Rochdale Hornets v London Skolars (3.00pm) South Wales v Oldham (2.00pm)

Co-operative Championship

Round 1
Friday March 29
Oldham v Rochdale Hornets (3:00pm) 

Round 2

Round 3
Sunday April 28 
South Wales Scorpions v Rochdale Hornets(3:00pm)

Round 4
Sunday May 5
Rochdale Hornets v North Wales Crusaders (3:00pm)

Round 5
Rochdale Hornets v London Skolars (3:00pm)

Round 6
Sunday May 26 
Gloucestershire All Golds v Rochdale Hornets (3:00pm)

Round 7
Sunday June 2 
Rochdale Hornets v Hemel Stags (3:00pm)

Round 8
Sunday June 9
Rochdale Hornets v Oxford (3:00pm)

Round 9
Sunday June 16 
Gateshead Thunder v Rochdale Hornets (3:00pm) 

Round 10
London Skolars v Rochdale Hornets (3:00pm) 

Round 11
Sunday June 30 
North Wales Crusaders v Rochdale Hornets (2:30pm) 

Round 12
Sunday July 7 
Hemel Stags v Rochdale Hornets (3:00pm) 

Round 13

Round 14
Sunday July 28 
Oxford v Rochdale Hornets (3:00pm) ]

Round 15
Sunday August 4
Rochdale Hornets v South Wales Scorpions (3:00pm)

Round 16
Sunday August 11
Rochdale Hornets v Gateshead Thunder (3:00pm) 

Round 17
Sunday August 18
Rochdale Hornets v Oldham (7:30pm Premier Sports)

Round 18
Sunday September 1
Rochdale Hornets v Gloucestershire All Golds (3:00pm)

Monday, 20 August 2012

Hornets Cheer - As Barrow Choke

Hornets 24 Barrow 18

It was a robust and clinical Hornets that finally torpedoed Barrow's chances of winning CC1. Hornets were as inventive, determined and enthusiastic as Barrow were, frankly, soft - and, with the scoreline flattering a flaccid Raiders, Hornets turned in a supremely cohesive performance.

Not once in 80 minutes did title-chokers Barrow breach the Hornets defence under their own steam. Of their four tries, three came directly from Hornets errors and the scrappy fourth from a last-tackle kick. Indeed, under a relentless pounding from the Hornets pack and a dual aeriel bombardment from Crook and Hough, Barrow spent most of the afternoon going backwards.

With the early exchanges played in the visitors' half, Wayne English's wriggling run on 7 minutes mesmerised the defenders sufficiently to create space for Dayne Donoghue to crash through and score. And within minutes, Donoghue was again tormenting the Raiders - this time unzipping the defence for Paul Crook to sail through for a well-crafted try.

With Barrow going nowhere, Hornets set-up camp in the Raiders' 40, causing havoc in the ranks and forcing repeat sets with a series of teasing in-goal kicks. But it was Barrow who got the lucky break: a ball squirming from a Hornets hand, a freakish bounce and two tries in quick succession from Ballard and Larkin to give the visitors an undeserved lead.

But Hornets didn't panic. Working the ball back downfield, Steve Roper found Wayne English on a looping crossfield run, the defence bammboozled as he ghosted through a huge gap to score. Hornets in front at the break by 14 to 10.

Hornets began the second half playing high-tempo, high impact football and it took Barrow just six minutes to succumb.  English again scampering across the face of a panicking defence, hitting Jonny Leather at pace for him to scoot in at the flag. Fantastic stuff. For good measure Paul Crook slotted the extras from the touchline.

Barrow again capitalised on a Hornets error for Shaw to score and, eventually, scored a try of their own making when a kick hit more in hope than expectation pinballed through a crowd of bodies for Larkin to find himself in the in-goal with the ball. 

But it was Barrow's last hurrah. In the final 20 minutes Hornets gave no quarter, repeatedly compelling Barrow to start under their own posts; their only hope a stream of lead-footed hoofs downfield. And with a punch-drunk Barrow desperately flailing, Hornets ended strongly: Crooky's dink into the in-goal causing the pre-requisite panic; Dayne Donoghue keeping his head to plunge through and touch down.

Ultimately, this was a commanding performance and a terrific win - demonstrating just what this Hornets side is capable of. Indeed, on yesterday's evidence, there was only one side on show that looked capable of competing at a higher level. And it wasn't Barrow.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Look Out, Here Come: Barrow

And now, the end is near and so we face the final… er… home game of 2012. How time flies…

It's been a long, frustrating, circuitous road and, having looked nailed on to gain promotion from Champonship 1 as champions, Barrow seem to have a dose of the yips. A 48-34 defeat to Workington at Derwent Park last week has pulled both Town and Doncaster right back into contention with two games running - and Worky have a game in hand!

With Town left with Oldham, Gateshead and Hornets to play, there's a palpable swing of momentum away from Craven Park - which will make Darren Holt's side even more desperate for a win at Spotland.

In fact it's a bit of a Cumbrian exodus on Sunday - Barrow at Hornets, Town at Oldham - so the A627M axis could play a major role in deciding which of these two Cumbrian clubs gets the £50k prize money for winning the league - if only by influencing their respective points differences.

But Holty's being philosphical about the possibility of Barrow chucking away the title.
“To be honest we’ve been a bit down in the dumps. It was a bad result, but also it was a disappointing performance. It was a game we could have won, never mind got a bonus point from. It was one of those days when nothing went right for us and it wasn’t a great performance."
Ah, it happens to the best of us, Darren. But he does appreciate that his strategy of recruiting the very best of local talent has turned Barrow around: 
“We’ve looked back to where we were at the start of the season and how far we have come since. Expectations have risen as we have gone on, and to be honest, the game against Workington was the first time where the players haven’t done themselves justice, as they have done through the course of the season."
But, while Holt talks up his team's chances, between the lines you sense that Barrow's ship has sailed: “… in the whole scheme of things it has been a very successful season and we are not out of it yet. There is a still a chance. It’s out of our hands now … we need to look forward and just hope that someone else does us a favour, and that if we look after ourselves, things will take care of themselves.”
On the home front, we heard last night that ten players from Hornets and South Wales Scorpions have been charged following the… er… frank exchange of views just before half time last Sunday.
Gary Middlehurst, Phil Braddish and Chris Hough have been charged with Grade C fighting offences while Steve Bannister and Dayne Donaghue have been charged with Grade B fighting offences.
But South Wales' fighting, it seems, is considered less serious - Luke Kell and Nathan Mossop charged with Grade B fighting offences from the same incident while Joe Bullock has been charged with a Grade A fighting offence.
South Wales’s  'Mr Angry' Dom Crosby has also been charged with a Grade B head-butt head-butt on John Cookson while substitute Jason Howells has been charged with a Grade C offence for entering the field of play to punch Houghy in the back of the head.
In a strange way, the end of the season can't come quickly enough - and for us it does come a week early. After Monday's Barrow report, TLCRF80mins will be pulling down the shutters on the 2012 season. We'll miss the Workington game because we'll be somewhere else next week - great planning on our part :D
Hope you've enjoyed the resurrection of TLCRF80mins, we'll be open for business through the close season with our proudly biased view of all the news that's fit to blog. Cheers.

Monday, 13 August 2012

'neath Contempt

Hornets 42 Scorpions 12

I don't know what it is about Welsh Rugby League teams but, having now seen both North and South varieties in quick succession, it seems pretty clear that they come to scrap. Quite literally in this case.

Whilst Hornets had completely bossed the first 40, a couple of 'interesting' decisions from the officials had tempered their dominance and kept the Scorpions in the game.

Hornets opened the scoring on 13 minutes off the back of a booming Paul Crook 40/20, Crooky adding the extras. Then Hornets had two tries struck off within a minute: Middlehurst for obstruction, English for a dubious forward pass.

Scorpions took played their 'get out of jail' card, working the ball back upfield where Gilbert was first to react to a Davies kick through.

But Hornets hit back almost immediately, Middlehurst's skittling run setting up Roper to score under the black dot from 30 metres.

Again Hornets were denied an almost immediate score, a flowing break up the left flank led by Chris Hough slotted Roper under the posts - only for the touch-judge to inform referee Merrick that Houghy had entered the field of play as subsititute in an offside position. Bedlam in the stands. From the resulting penalty Scorpions sent James crashing in, Hawkes converted and - astonishingly, we found the scores locked at 12-all coming into the final seconds of the half. 

With the ball going nowhere, Gary Middlehurst was goaded into throwing a punch and all hell broke loose. As all 26 players slugged it out in a series of rolling brawls, it was clear from the glee in the Scorpions directors area that this was all part of the plan.

In the wash-up, Middlehurst was sent-off for punching, Phil Braddish for running in to protect Steve Roper who was being kicked on the floor; Roper dispatched to hospital with a suspected concussion. On the Welsh side Mossop displayed all the traits of 'small-man' syndrome, yapping and snapping all the way to the dressing room, whilst sub Howells was red-carded for rushing off the bench to hit Chris Hough from behind. Nasty.

Referee Merrick finally restored order - commanding the teams from the field separately to avoid re-ignition. But with the teams starting the second half 11 v 12 (Scorpions having lost an unused sub), it was clear that there would be some major re-shaping required.

And it was Hornets who regained shape and composure most effectively, beginning the half with a well-taken Bloomfield try. As the Scorpions frustration began to leach into every tackle, Hornets kept their cool, overcoming their numercial disadvantage as Crook sent Jonny Leather in at the corner. On the next possession in the Scorpions half, Hornets worked a similar trick up the opposite wing only for Andy Taylor to be bundled into the corner flag. Hornets now completely on top: South Wales looking to stem the tide by any means necessary - a penalty count of 13-5 indicative of their growing desperation.

As it was, when John Cookson steamed the ball in just past the hour mark, Scorpions' Crosby finally succumbed to his anger-management issues - a flailing arm, followed by a headbutt, followed by a red card - followed by a hail of boos from a now incensed home crowd. Now with momentum and parity, Hornets went in search of the coup de grace.

From the resulting penalty Stephen Bannister blasted through for Hornets fifth try of the afternoon, followed three minutes later by Dale Bloomfield's hat-trick - slicing through to score.

Three minutes later, Hornets went ripping through a flailing Scorpions defence, Bloomfield turning provider to send Andy Taylor in by the flag. And, with South Wales now visibly punch-drunk, Hornets lifted for a big finish - Jonny Leather providing the knock-out punch in the 79th minute. Crooky cool under pressure to slot the extras from wide out.

So - with yet another ugly win over a Welsh side devoid of any real footballing capability, Hornets deserve credit for finding the wherewithal to play some tidy rugby under such difficult circumstances. To nil the Scorpions in the second half - 20 minutes of which were played at a numerical disadvantage - shows great attitude and commitment.

And that in itself is a firm base to build on for next year.

Friday, 10 August 2012

RFL Ban Stanky from RL. Thanks a lot, Red Hall.

An RFL Operational Rules Tribunal has banned John Stankevitch from all involvement in Rugby League matches or the business of Rugby League with member clubs.

Stankevitch was deemed to have committed blatant and deliberate misconduct in his wilful disregard for RFL Operational Rules in his failure to pay fines imposed by two earlier RFL Tribunals.

Stankevitch was fined £1,000, £500 of which was suspended, after being found guilty of misconduct for abusing a match official following a Northern Rail Cup tie between Rochdale Hornets and Keighley Cougars. The Tribunal also ordered Stankevitch to forfeit a further £250 which had been suspended from a previous misconduct charge.

Stankevitch failed to pay the fines by the given deadline and did not exercise his right to  appeal and have a full re-hearing.

In handing down their decision, the RFL Tribunal ruled that under Operational Rule D1.12 (b) (v), Stankevitch is banned from the following activity:

-        Involvement in matches;
-        Attendance at Rugby League grounds on matchday;
-        Involvement in the business of any member club.

Involvement in this context includes both paid and voluntary involvement. Though I'm not sure they could impose this legally, surely it's a restriction of trade.

The penalty will remain in force until full payment of the fines due is made. Stankevitch has also been informed that he has the right to appeal this decision pursuant to Operational Rule D1.33.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Look Out, Boyo - Here Come South Wales Scorpions

Something different this week, in that our match preview comes to you from sunny Amsterdam! 

So, whilst I avoid being offered bizzare sexual acts from 18 stone Latvian women, South Wales Scorpions coach Dave Clark remains a chipper chap after Sunday's 36-24 defeat in the Welsh derby against North Wales Crusaders. "I took a lot of positives out of the game," he said - which nicely balances the wheelbarrowful of negatives we took away from London Skolars.

He singled out Irish prop Tom McKeown  for praise, alongside former Welsh Student player Thomas Morgan. Clark has also blooded a raft of youngsters including 18 year-olds Alex Jones, Luke Kell and Osian Phillips.

But the defeat looks likely to condemn the Scorpions to a 9th place finish, so Clark will be using the last few games to help prepare for 2013.

On this Sunday's game, he said: "It will be a tough trip for us as Rochdale are still looking to get into the play-offs and they'll want to bounce back after losing at London Skolars last week. They're a bit up and down this year, but I watched their game against Crusaders and they dominated that from start to finish.
"They play very well at home and it'll be a big challenge for us. We'll have to be at our best to get a result."

As for Hornets, we need a win to wash away the ghastly aftertaste of last week's awful defeat.
Other than Dale Bloomfield, who took a knock to the knee, there are likely to be a few other changes to this week's squad  - mostly due to performance rather than injury.

Stanky  said: "I was bitterly disappointed with some of the lads' performances last week. I got the sense some of them have made their minds up that we're not going to get promoted and that they didn't put in 100 per cent. That's just not good enough… there have got to be changes, because we can't allow performances like that.

"There's plenty to play for in terms of contracts for next year, and we want to finish the season on a high.
We've got a tough game on Sunday, and two more after that against Barrow and Workington, but there are no excuses."

Monday, 6 August 2012

Shambles Squared

Skolars 56 Hornets 36

To misquote TS Eliot: so this is how the 2012 season ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper?

On a weekend when Team GB cleaned up a raft of golds at London 2012, Hornets travelled to the capital only to deliver a 24 carat omnishambles. On previous showings, you know what to expect from the Skolars: given the opportunity (and a referee with no control over the ruck area) they'll suck you into a spoiling battle of perpetual niggling and, once your frustration reaches boiling point, your discipline cracks and your shape goes, they'll bludgeon you with their blunt-instrument approach.

And so it was in this pig-ugly, messy affair that saw Hornets on the wrong end of a ridiculous 16-8 penalty count. But, despite the fact that, at times, this barely resembled Rugby League, Hornets contrbuted to their own downfall with some shoddy defence.

Hornets were caught napping after just 45 seconds as Bryan cruised through a static defence to give Skolars the lead. But Hornets shook themselves down and edged in front with well worked tries from Stephen Bannister and Dayne Donoghue.

But Hornets allowed Skolars back into the game, asleep again as Hopkins strode through to tie the scores at 12-all. Hornets then had their best spell of the game. A Paul Crook 40/20 provided the platform for Dale Bloomfield to score. Then Bloomers turned provider slipping the ball to Steve McDermott who jinked in. At 24-12 Hornets looked to have steadied the ship, but right on the hooter they nodded off just long enough to allow Skee in for a soft try. Half time Hornets up 24-18, but the momentum now with Skolars.

Hornets began the second half in similar fashion to the way they started the first; Anthony catching a last-tackle kick under his own posts, then given sufficient space to run the length of the field to score. 

Then came a spell of 'you score, we score' - two awful defences trading tries to stretch the scoreline out to 36-34 in Hornets' favour (Danny Ekis, then Adebesi, then Mclean, then Steve McDermott). And all the time, the game degenerating into a fragmented mess as the penalty count began to soar. Steve Roper was the first valve to blow, sin-binned for dissent on the hour.

Skolars took full advantage. With Hornets all over the place, McLean grabbed two tries in a minute for his hat-trick. And with Hornets shipping penalties every time they were asked to defend, Skee gleefully accepted, pushing the game further from Hornets' reach. Steve McDermott was next to feel the ire of referee Cobb, dispatched for persistent infringements in the ruck (risible under the circumstances), then Danny Price followed for dissent as Skolars were awarded a scrappy try after they appeared to knock on in the in-goal. A fitting end to such a shite afternoon.

The clutch of Hornets fans making the trip left the ground bemused and angry at such a feeble effort. Certainly this felt like a game of little consequence, of a team (barely) going through the motions and praying for the season to end.

The long-slow walk/tube/walk/train/drive home (and the bitter smell of a hundred quid burned) gives you ample time to ruminate on the reasons why this was so bloody awful.  A patched-up backline missing English and Leather? A front-row missing Cookson? A referee with no real grip of the game and whose 24 penalties indicates a total lack of control? Well, yes to all - but not nearly enough reasons for allowing Joe Mbu's unique brand of 'anti-football' to prevail.

Indeed, in every aspect, Rugby League doesn't get any worse than this - and it's those who suffered a long, expensive, disappointing day that deserve a medal.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Stanky News

Stanky takes charge! "I want to concentrate the majority of my time bringing money to the club. I want to bring in hospitality and sponsorship, and looking at ways of raising revenue, and crowds as well as getting kids through the gates."
Click here for latest

Stanky explains all to Jack Dearden
BBC Manchester interview Thursday evening
Click here to listen

Report from the BBC Sport site last night said:
John Stankevitch steps down as Rochdale Hornets coach"John Stankevitch has chosen to step down as coach of Rochdale Hornets but will remain at the club in a new role. BBC Radio Manchester reports his assistant, Chris Hough, will take charge on a temporary basis."

This follows yesterday's announcement here:
John Stankevitch steps down as Rochdale Hornets coach | Love Rugby League

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Look 'aht, 'ere comes Lahndan Skolahs

Formerly the whipping boys of CC1, London Skolars these days are a very different kettle of… er… jellied eels.

Robust, well organised and motivated by Skolars old boy Joe Mbu, they're on a bit of a roll - last week slamming SW Scorpions by 64 to 6 - the second successive match they'd hit the 60+ mark - after being 6-nil down. Warning signs there.

And with places in CC1's pointless end-of-season playoffs still up for grabs (just think of the revenue…) Sunday's game still carries some weight. Hard on Hornets' heels with 20 points, a win on sunday would catapult Skolars up the table. Given that Oldham are likely to get a nasty dry humping up at Barrow, this game looks like the battle for 5th. But with Whitehaven at home to high-flying Doncaster, a Cumbrian defeat and a Hornets win once again closes the gap to three points - Hornets with a marginally better points difference of just 2. So racking up the points would help - especially if Doncaster can deny 'Haven the bonus point. All very complicated.

As Lenny Kravitz once said "Baby it aint over til it's over" and Hornets need to keep their foot on the gas for when Whitehaven blow-up (for which we remain ever-hopeful)

But Mbu remains bullish: "It's wide open at the moment, with both the Welsh clubs and ourselves in with a real chance of dislodging Oldham and Rochdale", he said earlier in the week. And, given the opportunity to rub it in: "We've beaten (Hornets) down here in consecutive seasons and, with so much riding on the game we'll be looking for a hat-trick." Hopefully, he'll spend Sunday evening quetly reviewing those words while he begins his planning for next season.

As always, it'll be the hard-core Hornets who make the trip 'Sarf' - but hopefully there'll be enough of us to make a bit of noise and give the lads a lift.

John Stankevitch steps down as Rochdale Hornets coach

John Stankevitch steps down as Rochdale Hornets coach | Love Rugby League

Monday, 30 July 2012

A Lesson in Economics

Hornets 12 Whitehaven 31

For the first 40 minutes this was a collossal battle. But - despite giving everything - Hornets eventually succumbed to Whitehaven's superior expenditure.

Once again this game proved an object lesson in how signing PNG internationals and ex-SL mercenaries can provide mediocre teams with just enough class to scramble out of this division.

However, it was Hornets that started with a bang. Just three minutes in a neat interchange of passes threaded John Cookson through a glaring gap only for referee Mr Turley to strike off the try for an obstruction only he saw.

And three minutes later, swift hands up the left fed Wayne English on an arcing run through a flat-footed defence. Mr Turley again adjudging obstruction and no try.

Haven capitlised, taking the ball upfield where Hornets allowed the peripatetic Rooney enough space to skip through tackles and score after nine minutes.

But Hornets stuck to the plan and - after 15 minutes - some great approach work by the forwards gave Paul Crook possession 10 metres from the Haven Line. Crook dinked a teasing grubber into the in-goal and was first to react, pouncing on his own kick to score. Mr Turley happy this time. Crooky added the extras and Hornets were level.

With Hornets pack making good metres in the tackle and Wayne English wreaking havoc coming into the line, Whitehaven were driven backwards and a good period of pressure came to fruition when tidy hands from Tony Stewart fed Jonny Leather in on 30 minutes. Crook added the two and Hornets had the lead they deserved.

But with the half ebbing away, a lapse of concentration at the ruck gave Rooney the half second he needed to burst into space and slip Palfrey in under the black dot. Rooney added the extras and the sides went in locked up at 12-all.

The second half began in similarly tight fashion. For 18 minutes the game had a chess-like feel - move and counter move: both sides producing unrelenting defence. It fell to Haven's PNG international to break the deadlock - Parker loping away from the cover defence, creating just enough space to send Calvert in by the flag.

But Hornets weren't done. With Sice coughing the restart kick-off, Hornets laid seige to the Haven line, the best chance of a repeat set falling to Dave Newton who fumbled the ball with the Haven defence back-pedalling. From the resulting possession Rooney kicked a casual 40/20 and quick hands from the scrum saw Parker score. Rooney added the two - and a drop-goal two minutes later to shut out the bonus point.

While a tired Hornets scrambled, scrapped and struggled to maintain their shape, Haven found enough space to squeeze Hamzat in at the corner. And with a last minute Hornets drop-out failing to go ten metres, Sice added a gift two points to all but seal the season for both clubs.

There's no doubt that Hornets were beaten by a better team on the day. No arguments about that at all. Rooney was allowed sufficient space to boss the game and Parker is way too good to play at this level.

Whilst the defeat brings a whole host of future challenges firmly into focus, it's not the end of the world. On the other hand, a win was absolutley imperative for Whitehaven who have wagered big on gaining promotion. Indeed, I'd loved to have been a fly on the wall in their dressing room at half time. As would their bank manager, I imagine.

And, whilst it's disappointing from a Hornets point of view, the big-spending four in Championship One continue to laugh. All the way to the bank.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Look Out Here Come: Whitehaven

Forget whatever other sporting events might be happening elsewhere in the country this weekend. The only game of any meaningful import takes place at Spotland where Hornets are on the verge of running down a fast-fading Whitehaven and relieving them of the fourth promotion spot.

And you can smell the fear from here.

Having been bent over by Barrow to the tune of 48-16 , Whitehaven coach Don Gailer reckons his team will '…come back stronger against promotion rivals Rochdale Hornets'. 

But they didn't get a flogging by Barrow because they were the poorer team; oh no.
Gailer reckons it's because 'haven were 'rusty after 18 days without a match'. Er… right.

Reaching for a small onion, he said: “With six games left, no team should have to sit out two weeks and it hurt us really badly. You can prepare on the training field all you want, but there’s nothing like match fitness.”

Mate, if your team's not match fit with six games of the season remaining, have a look at yourself. And he's getting his excuses in early: “Three games in six-and-a-half-weeks hasn’t been an ideal preparation. But we just have to get on with it. You can do as much work as you want on the field but it doesn’t beat a battle. You can’t emulate match pressure on the training field.” 

Well, he'll get as much pressure as he can handle on Sunday, as  Hornets victory by 13 or more will see them leapfrog Whitehaven into fourth place and leave Gailer staring down the barrel of life in the League of (Slow) Death next season.

Unsurprisingly, Gailer is talking big talk to talk up his sides chances, big-style. Gazing in Churchilian fashion into a setting Cumbrian sun (maybe), he pledged “We will fight back. There’s no panic and with five games left we know what we can do.”

But there's one thing that Don and TLCRF80mins does agree on. This week he said, "All the games are huge from here on in – every one’s as big as the other" - and he's dead right.

That Hornets have clawed their way back into contention as the season comes to the boil is a fantastic feat - but the job's not over til it's over. This is the first of five cup-finals we have to win. And these are - let's face it - the only games that really matter this summer.

Sunday's game v Whitehaven is proudly sponsored by TLCRF80mins.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Hornets Turn The S-Cru

Hornets 34 NW Crusaders 6

Despite North Wales Crusaders best attempts to spoil, niggle and grind this game to a standstill, an impressive Hornets packed them off back to Wrexham with a lesson in focus, control and clinical finishing.

While their Welsh counterparts tried everything in the book to take the momentum out of the game, Hornets played some neat football around them - and with three tries struck off for dubious forward passes, this drubbing could've been even more comprehensive.

Crusaders' gameplan was obvious from the off. Whilst the Hornets forwards ripped into some stern defence, every tackle brought two, three - sometimes four attendees to lie on for as long as referee Sharrad would allow. Hornets finally found a way through after 14 minutes when a cracking cut-out pass from Gary Middlehurst found Jonny Leather who blasted 70 metres downfield, held just short by some desperate cover. A quick play the ball and some smart handling worked the ball across the field for Dale Bloomfield to score in the corner. Paul Crook - cool as you like - stroked over the extras.

Five minutes later, Hornets conjured up a second for Bloomers - Steve Roper jinking into space with the supporting Wayne English providing the crucial pass. 

With 20 minutes gone, Crusaders had created precisely nothing, but got a lucky break when a searching pass from Crook was plucked out of the air by Sheen, who ran it back under the Hornets posts. Johnson added a simple two - and that was the last the scoreboard would see of the visitors.

Hornets forwards continued to make good yards, and a blockbusting break from Gary Middlehurst created just enough room for him to find Steve Roper with a delicious one handed pass, Roper outpacing the cover from 30 metres to score. Crook added the extras and Hornets went in at the break 16-6 to the good having totally dominated the first 40.

Hornets began the second half as they'd finished the first: props Braddish and Ekis - ably supported by the redoubtable Danny Samuel - drove the Welsh back upfield, and Steve Roper terrorised a back pedalling defence, taking play to the edges where Hornets had a clear upper hand in strength and pace. With three minutes gone, Roper unzipped the Welsh defence to send Wayne English coasting in, only for Mr Sharrad to call play back for a seemingly invisible obstruction.

Hornets regained advantage from a Welsh error, and - from the resulting scrum - Roper and English repeated the feat, this time to the referee's satisfaction. Crook added the extras followed shortly after by a penalty and, with the Welsh blowing out of their not insubstantial arses, it was clear that the visitors were a busted flush. Their solution? Lie on a bit more in an attempt to stem the tide.

For 15 minutes, it appeared to work, frustrating Hornets and fans alike. It even gave Crusaders the opportunity to launch the odd attack, but laboured approach-play and some impotent jabbing was nowhere near enough to break down Hornets stern defence.

Having shot their bolt, North Wales were driven backwards - a string of penalties giving Hornets the position and possession for Steve Roper to find Wayne English with a slick short ball - English somersaulting in for a spectacular try.

With time ebbing away, Hornets sucked in to deliver the coup de grace: slick hands at pace saw Tony Stewart find Jonny Leather with a pinpoint pass: Leather hitting the afterburners to score by the flag. Nice.

In the end, this was a good old-fashioned flogging - the scoreline hugely flattering a North Wales Crusaders side who played no discernible football in 80 minutes, and whose sole objective was to rip the momentum out of the game. Their impressively noisy fans deserve better.

As for Hornets, over the last three games, they've scored 96 points and conceded just 10. Impressive stuff. More importantly, it now puts us within striking distance of Whitehaven - the next visitors to Spotland. Win by 13 or more next week and we go fourth. 

Game on.

You may recall that, when Crusaders beat our U23s in a pre-season friendly, one of the more excitable sons of Glyndwr shouted loudly in my face how they were going to win the league (amongst other things). I said to him (quite calmly, under the circumstances) not to get too excited and that, over the two league games, Hornets would score 100 against them. As it was we managed an aggregate of 86-24. How about that then, eh? Eh?

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Look Out, Boyo - Here comes NW Crusaders

Whales, yesterday.

Having flogged hapless Gateshead on consecutive weekends to the tune of 108 points North Wales crusaders are probably the form team in Championship 1's also-rans chasing pack.

Having played a game more than both Hornets and Whitehaven and with a minus 96 points difference, their local paper's exhortations that the Crusaders are "… back in the promotion hunt…" stretches even the most optimistic outlook to extremes. 

But coach Clive Griffiths is a happy chap. Reaching for an aquatic metaphor, he said: “There’s five games to go and I’m sure that there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge yet. We’re happy to be where we are the moment." So why spoil such contentment? A Hornets win on Sunday would pull us closer to Whitehaven and leave the Crusaders in their 'happy place' - which suits us here at TLCRF80mins Towers just fine.

However, Clive's had his calculator out and continues to fuel unrealistic expectation with a combustible combination of maths and hubris. According to the Daily Post, Griffiths: "… says his players know a top-four place is still not mathematically out of their grasp and are motivated right until the final day, which could see a winner-takes-all game against Whitehaven…" Played, no doubt, on the moon given the likelihood of that too.
Griffiths has also said this week: “The league table is always in the back of your mind. If Oldham hadn’t got that late drop goal on the weekend, then we would have been sixth." And if I had tits I'd be my sister, Clive.

A 12-man Hornets bent the Crusaders over to the tune of 50 points earlier in the season, but they do seem to have toughened up their act since then, with Andy Gorski and Dave McConnell following the scent of new fivers down the A55 after being loaned out by Swinton. 

Ultimately, Griffiths sees their season hanging on the next three games (against Hornets, South Wales and the Skolars): "… (they) are going to be vital." he said. "If we’ve any hopes of getting in the play-offs, we’ve to get a couple of wins in these games.”

Good luck at Neath and London.

Friday, 13 July 2012

A Design for Life

Or: how a bit of radical thinking could stop Rugby League from eating itself.

Let's face it, while Rugby League is the greatest game in the world, the structure of the semi-pro game outside SL sucks. Indeed, there may be those who might suggest - given the ongoing debacle at the Bankrupt Bulls (or 'Bradford Bust', depending on your preference) - that Super League sucks as well. 

But wherever your loyalties lie, pro- and semi-pro Rugby League in the UK needs reviewing with a critical eye, rather than us all adopting the fingers-in-ears la-la-la not-listening everything's-rosy approach favoured by Sky and those fans of SL teams now critically dependent on suckling at TV's teat.

Championship teams with genuine ambitions of playing at a higher level are compelled to take part in a three-yearly scramble for promotion with no guarantee of success, and Championship 1 teams look set to play in the 'League of (slow) Death' (©TLCRF80mins 2012) where they'll compel lads who have work on Monday morning to travel for 16 hours  to some of the RFL's far-flung development backwaters to play in front of tiny crowds. On a human level alone, this is frankly ridiculous.

Maximising costs and minimising potential audiences (by effectively killing away support), seems the wrong way round to us - so we've put on our thinking caps to try and find a structure that would increase intensity of competition, boost crowds, manage costs and stimulate sustainable development, progress and growth.

A league model designed to accommodate 4 divisions of 10 determined by league positions at the end of the season. Based on recent placings, the divisions would be:

Division One: Wigan, Huddersfield, Warrington, Catalan, Hull, St Helens, Leeds, Bradford, Hull KR, Salford.

Division Two: Castleford, Wakefield, London B, Widnes, Halifax, Batley, Dewsbury, Leigh, Keighley, Featherstone.

P&R similar to RFU/PremierRugby model - which we've adapted and added to below.

At Division 3, in order to cap travel time to around 3 hours one-way, reduce the associated cost/travel burden on clubs (Gateshead to Neath is 6 hours 2 minutes according to AA RoutePlanner - ridiculous for part-time players playing in front of 300 people), and maximise potential away support, we'd consider splitting into two conferences as follows:

Division 3 North: Swinton, Hunslet, York, Workington, Barrow, Oldham, Whitehaven, Hornets, North Wales Crusaders, Gateshead,

Division 3 Midlands & South: Sheffield, Doncaster, London Sk, SW Scorpions, Northampton, Hemel, Gloucester, Coventry, Bristol, AN Other

In all divisions, teams play each other three times to give them 27 games. The first 18 games are played as regular home & away rounds with gate receipts kept by the home club (as currently). The venue for last phase of 9 games to be determined by the aggregate score of the first two games between clubs, with winner getting home advantage and gate receipts split (as in the Challenge Cup). 

The 'Back 9' could be promoted as 'The business end of the season' and they'd have significantly more purpose and interest than four meaningless NRC games.

Top two in each conference to play off to be Division 3 champions. Champions go up to Division 2.

Minimum standards for promotion to Super League.

Automatic promotion and relegation between the club that finishes bottom of Super League and the club that wins the Championship. Promotion and relegation would, however, be subject to the Minimum Standards criteria which require certain standards to be met across all areas of a professional club's business.

Clubs wishing to play in Super League would have to fulfil a list of criteria to be determined by the RFL and agreed by Championship clubs. This 'minimum standards plan' might cover areas including stadium specification &  ground tenure, club administration and key roles, financial status & business/budget plan for playing at a higher level, community development programmes, medical & safety, marketing, plans to increase attendances, plans for adherence to the salary cap and playing/contractual commitments. The purpose of the minimum criteria would be an attempt to ensure a base level of on- and off-field standards for all clubs to operate by.

Clubs wishing to play in Super League would be asked to submit their minimum standards plan to the RFL by a predetermined deadline. If their plan meets the standards, the club would be granted a 'promotion licence' that would remain valid for three years. Their submission would then be reviewed when/if a club finishes top of the Championship, to validate that the standards remain in place. 

Clubs could review/up-grade/amend their plans at any time during that licence period, but the revised plan would replace its predecessor only for the remainder of the licence period. Clubs which did not submit a minimum standards plan at the outset would not be permitted to submit one during an existing licence period, but could do when submissions were invited for the next period.


Yes, yes - we know that this isn't 100% perfect, but what we're pretty sure of is that our proposed structure contains more concerted thinking on the state of the (semi)pro game in the UK than has been done by the RFL in the last ten years.

And it doesn't take much - a bit of lateral thinking, a little consideration for the players & the fans and a love of the greatest game in the world. Things clearly in short supply at Red Hall.

Monday, 2 July 2012


Gateshead 0 -  Hornets 32

This was a scrappy, bitty game that never really gained any rhythm or fluidity. An almost over-keen Hornets often forced passes or took the wrong option, while a frankly impotent Gateshead could still be playing now and be no closer to scoring.

Despite a completion rate struggling to reach 50%, Hornets were clearly on-top throughout and got the first strike in early doors when Paul Crook snuck through  flimsy tacklng on half-way to out-pace and out-muscle the covering defence to score; his conversion attempt fading the wrong-side of the upright. 

With Hornets playing the only discernible football on offer, there was an air of inevitability about Gary Middlehurst's 12th minute try off a crafty Steve Roper pass. Again, Crook was uncharateristically awry with the boot. 8-nil.

And so it stayed until the break, the game locked in a fumbling, stumblling stasis. Hornets doing everything but score, Thunder struggling to complete sets. At least the sun was out.

Hornets started the second half with, visibly, more purpose. With Roper and Hough bringing the forwards onto balls at pace and Wayne English chiming into the line at every opportunity, Hornets adopted a much more direct approach. With both Gary Middlehurst and Phil Braddish fumbling try-scoring opportunities, the opening score of the second half took ten minutes to arrive - Jonny Leather showing good footwork to jink in and score. Crooky broke his duck and the game was afoot.

Following some neat approach work, Wayne English's mesmerising run sucked in defenders and his neat drop-off pass found Chris Hough in support to plunge through defenders to score on the hour.

Gateshead's sole contribution of interest came shortly after when willing lummox Waller responded to being held up short by headbutting Dayne Donohue. His red-card was followed by yellows for Hornets' Dave Newton and Thunder's Walsh. Hornets responded by marching upfield where Gary Middlehurst strolled in for his second off a tidy inside pass. 26-nil and a somewhat more accurate representation of Hornets' dominance.

There was still time for Paul Crook to bookend a 16-point contribution with a stepping, dummying try by the posts. And at 32-nil, it'd be churlish to complain too vociferously. If Hornets had beaten Gateshead by 52-20, it'd look like a proper thrashing - but the same wining margin with a nil at one end offers greater satiafaction.

And I'd rather have an ugly 32 point win than a pretty defeat any day of the week.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Look Out Here Come: Gateshead

Filtrona Park yesterday:
almost exactly like the Bernabeu

Why aye, let's howay to Gateshead, man. Or, more specifically, Filtrona Park in South Shields - home of South Shields Mariners (not to be mistaken for the Hunter Mariners, though both are close to Newcastle).

After a promising start - and a decent showing at Spotland earlier in the season - Gateshead have seen normal service resumed and sunk like a rock to the bottom of Championship 1. 

Thunder have now gone 57 matches since their last win against London Skolars in March 2010. Having shipped an average of 45 points per game, the currently winless Thunder have two bonus points to show for the first half of the season and come to Sunday's game on the back of a brutal 78-6 flogging by Doncaster.

Beleaguered coach Kevin Neighbour wasn't happy: "I felt we let ourselves down… the lads worked hard over the last couple weeks on the back of a much improved performance against Barrow. Looking back the weekend off was no good for us at all. We now have consecutive games which we can work on week to week. I'm sure everyone will hold their hands up for all the things we didn't do…"

Kev's honest analysis was that it was: "… a very harsh lesson learnt and it's time to put things right for next week's challenge of Rochdale."

Indeed, the game poses challenges for Hornets too. Sunday sees Oldham travel to fourth placed Whitehaven, and a win for either party there makes a win at Gateshead absolutely essential if Hornets are to stay in touch with the leading pack.

A healthy win for Hornets and defeat for Oldham would open up a bit of daylight behind and put us in the box seat in the chase for fourth. But a win for Oldham would draw Whitehaven closer - making a win even more imperative. And with Oldham stariing to slip in the points-difference column a convincing Hornets win at Gateshead would make a big difference.

Buoyed by the fantastic win at Whitebank, this is a road-trip well worth making to give the lads a boost. So fill yer car, get up the A1 and let's get behind the lads.

Reports today that the North East has suffered heavy rain and flooding in some parts, but forecasts for the next few days and the weekend look much better.