Monday, 16 December 2013

North Wales Crusaders on Dual Registration...

The Leader: 26th February 2013
'The dual registration agreement…  allows Super League clubs to farm out players not in their plans to get some game time at teams further down the food chain. Crusaders are one of very few Championship or Championship One teams to shy away from such a deal - much to the delight of the players...'

Owain Brown declared: “From a player point of view I would not be happy if I had trained all pre-season and then someone from a Super League club played the first game.” 3rd march 2013
Crusaders v Oldham match report
"Crusaders handed competitive debuts to Gary Middlehurst, Stuart Reardon, Phil Braddish, Ryan MacDonald and Steve McDermott, while Oldham brought in four dual-registered players from partnership club Salford City Reds…"

The Leader: 12th March 201
Crusaders v Gateshead match report
“We’re delighted with the win”, Clive Griffiths said...  'A number of dual-registered players from Hull KR with Super League experience turned out for Thunder...' 16th March 2013
Crusaders v Hornets match preview
'… Hornets have had the luxury of fielding some quality Super League players such as Lee Gaskell and Tommy Makinson, who scored a hat-trick in the win over Gateshead Thunder, so far this season. But Griffiths is just concentrating on his own squad despite the difference that the dual-registered players can make at this level..'

Clive Griffiths: “They’ve stacked their team with dual-registered players in the past few weeks…  I expect them to do the same against us, so we’ll just have to see what kind of team they turn up with…" 16th April 2013
'North Wales Crusaders don't fear anyone'
Ryan Macdonald: "(Skolars) are building themselves up saying ‘we’re doing alright’ - but apart from the dual registration players they don’t have anyone new…" 18th May 2013
Swinton v NWC match preview
Clive Griffiths: "There are all sorts of rumours flying around as to who's going to be dual-registered for them…" 6th June 2013
'Crusaders star McConnell confident of early title party'
Dave McConnell: “Oldham are coming to our place and we don’t know what type of players they will have in with the dual-registration system, it is like pot luck each time we play a team with that agreement…"

Daily Post: 29th June 2013
Hornets use dual registration - and Clive Griffiths wants his men to rise to the battle
'North Wales Crusaders head coach Clive Griffiths wants his players to treat Rochdale Hornets’ use of dual-registration as a challenge...'

Clive Griffiths: "We don’t know who we will be facing this weekend, but you can look at that in two ways – and it will be a good challenge for our boys…" 22nd July  2013
Clive Griffiths: “We’ve no dual-registration with anybody and it’s been about real team work. Togetherness has brought us through…" 23rd August 2013
Skolars v Crusaders match preview
On Skolars, (Clive Griffiiths) said: “There’ve grown, recruited strongly and benefited from dual registration this year…" 16th December 2013
'Widnes have announced a partnership with newly-promoted Championship side North Wales Crusaders'
Clive Griffiths: "Denis (Betts) and I are on the same wave length when it comes to loans and dual registrations. It's going to be a long, physical and demanding season and a professional partnership with Widnes will certainly prove an added advantage."

Vote for Ian Talbot and Carl Forster

The League Express Reader's Poll for 2013 sees two Hornets nominated.

In the Championship 1 player of the year category, Carl Forster is nominated - and he's up against 'Big Spending North Wales™' own roly-poly bundle of fun Jono Smith, Oldham's Jon Ford, All Golds' Tyla Hepi and Skolars' Dylan Skee.

In the Championship 1 coach of the year category, Ian Talbot is is nominated - he's up against Oldham's Grand Final losing coach Scott Naylor, 'Big Spending North Wales™' Clive Griffiths and a couple of other blokes who won feck-all.

So click the link below and get your votes in for Carl and Tol - look on it as a chance to deny Oldham a couple more trophies.

Get Voting!


Sunday, 15 December 2013

Hornets 2014 squad numbers

Apologies, we've been away for a couple of weeks and while we were away Hornets announced the 2014 squad numbers. So, the squad currently getting flogged in pre-season is:

1 Wayne English - Full Back
2 Gareth Langley - Wing
3 Dave Hull - Centre
4 Danny Davies - Centre
5 Ryan King - Wing
6 Paul Crook - Stand Off
7 Steven Roper - Scrum Half
8 John Cookson - Prop
9 Alex McClurg - Hooker
10 Warren Thompson - Prop
11 Chris Baines - Back Row
12 Alex Trumper - Back Row
13 Jordan Case - Back Row
14 Sean Casey - Scrum Half
15 Benji Lloyd - Wing
16 Liam Gilchrist - Wing
18 Matty Crow - Back Row
19 Casey Mayberry - Centre
20 Joe Bate - Prop
21 Chris Tyrer - Prop
22 Mike Ratu - Centre
23 James Dandy - Hooker
24 Tony Suffolk - Prop
25 Ste Marsh - Prop
26 Adam Bowman 
(on trial) - Back Row
27 Andrew Ball (on trial) - Back Row
28 Matt Cooper 
(on trial) - Prop

Monday, 25 November 2013

Three and In - Friendlies Announced

Hornets will prepare for the exciting 2014 Championship season with three pre-season friendlies.

First-up in just 47 days time will be Keighley Cougars at Lawkholme Lane on 12th January. Hornets will then host St Helens on 2nd February, with supporter-owned Hunslet Hawks at Spotland a week later on 9th February.

The Eagles Have Landed - 2014 on the Launch Pad

Hornets start our 2014 Championship campaign at the Owlerton greyhound/speedway/Rugby League stadium - the new/old home of Sheffield Eagles.

In a mouthwatering clash of 2013 Grand Final winners, it's a little bit of history repeating. 

Those of us of a certain vintage will recall a dim and distant trip to Owlerton back in September 1984, where Hornets were served up as sacrificial lambs as opponents for Sheffield's first ever ever game in the pro ranks. Sheffield fielded a one-armed winger and Hornets' marquee Australian Import Derek Schafer broke his leg in a bizarre game that Hornets duly lost by 29-10.

More on that closer to the time. Meantime, get the fixtures stuck on the fridge and prepare for a season back in the... er ... medium-time playing real clubs with real fans at real grounds. Excited? Too right...

Hornets 2014 Kingstone Press Championship fixtures are:

Round 1
16/02/2014      Sheffield Eagles v Rochdale Hornets 2.00pm
Round 2
23/02/2014      Rochdale Hornets v Dewsbury Rams 3.00pm
Round 3
02/03/2014      Rochdale Hornets v Keighley Cougars 3.00pm
Round 4
09/03/2014      Featherstone Rovers v Rochdale Hornets 3.00pm
Tetley’s Challenge Cup
Round 3 – weekend of March 15-16
Round 5                   
23/03/2014      Rochdale Hornets v Batley Bulldogs 3.00pm
Round 6
30/03/2014      Leigh Centurions v Rochdale Hornets 3.00pm
Tetley’s Challenge Cup
Round 4 – weekend of April 6
Round 7
13/04/2014      Rochdale Hornets v Whitehaven  3.00pm
Round 8
18/04/2014      North Wales Crusaders v Rochdale Hornets 2.30pm
Tetley’s Challenge Cup
Round 5 – Weekend of April 27
Round 9
04/05/2014      Rochdale Hornets v Swinton Lions 3.00pm
Round 10
11/05/2014      Rochdale Hornets v Workington Town 3.00pm
Round 11
18/05/2014      Rochdale Hornets v Halifax 3.00pm
Round 12
25/05/2014      Doncaster v Rochdale Hornets 3.00pm
Round 13
01/06/2014      Barrow Raiders v Rochdale Hornets 3.00pm
Round 14
08/06/2014      Batley Bulldogs v Rochdale Hornets 2.00pm
Round 15
15/06/2014      Swinton Lions v Rochdale Hornets TBC 
Round 16
22/06/2014      Halifax v Rochdale Hornets 3.00pm
Round 17
29/06/2014      Keighley Cougars v Rochdale Hornets 3.00pm
Round 18
06/07/2014      Rochdale Hornets v Featherstone Rovers 3.00pm
Round 19
13/07/2014      Rochdale Hornets v Barrow Raiders 3.00pm
Round 20
20/07/2014      Workington Town v Rochdale Hornets  3.00pm
Round 21
27/07/2014      Rochdale Hornets v Leigh Centurions 3.00pm
Round 22
03/08/2014      Rochdale Hornets v North Wales Crusaders 3.00pm
Round 23
10/08/2014      Dewsbury Rams v Rochdale Hornets 3.00pm
Round 24
17/08/2014      Rochdale Hornets v Doncaster 3.00pm
Round 25
31/08/2014      Whitehaven v Rochdale Hornets  3.00pm 
Round 26
07/09/2014      Rochdale Hornets v Sheffield Eagles 3.00pm

Championship play-offs 
Start: weekend of September 13-14
Grand Final: weekend of October 4-5

Tetleys Challenge Cup
Quarter-finals – Weekend of June 8
Semi-finals – Weekend of August 10
Final – Saturday August 23

Monday, 21 October 2013

Reasons to be Tearful: 1-2-3

Saturday was an emotional day. The long-awaited visit of the Fji Bati on the day when Hornets celebrated both its successes in 2013 and the richeness of the history of the game in Rochdale made for a stirring cocktail that proved just how deeply this game of ours can get under your skin.

For us here at TLCRF80mins, the day was epitomised by three moments.

Moment One: 
After the pre-match coin toss, the sight of world Rugby League legend Petero Civoniceva embracing 'Rochdale's own' Voate Drui was a moment to savour. Two Fijian brothers in Rugby League bridging both generations and hemispheres. You'd have to have a swinging brick for a heart not to be moved by the warmth of ths gesture.

Moment two:
Seeing Fiji Bati line up for the kick-off. The idea of 'playing Fiji' had existed as a great concept - but here it was, for real. A stunning list of NRL names, led by a true legend of the game.

The game itself was almost incidental. Due to holidays and work commitments, it was an unfamiliar Hornets side that strove superbly against an unstoppable demonstration  of Fijian power and pace. But strive they did. Led from the front by a spectacularly combative Chris Hough, a Hornets side wearing its Fijian tribute jersey for the last time gave it everything they had. The ever-reliable John Cookson, guest prop Adam Bowman and a returning Dayne Donoghue went toe-to-toe with a world class pack, landing some big hits; the right side double-act of Danny Davies and Gaz Langley took it to Wes Naiqama and Akuila Utate all afternoon and Wayne English proved that it doesn't matter who you are, you WILL get skittled by him at some point (he pulled off two world-class one-one-one tackles in the first half that brought the crowd to its feet).

Ultimately, though, this Bati side is something special. With speed and size all over the park, Rick Stone has an exciting team on his hands and they were a class above anything we've seen in Super League this season.

Let the record show that Fiji Bati scored 14 tries: three for Korbin Simms, three for lightning-fast man-of-the-match Kev Naiqama, two for Jason Bukuya and one apiece for Akuila Uate, Apisai Koroisau, Peni Botiki, Newtown's Kane Evans, Semi Radradra and Vitale Roqica. Wes Naiqama kicked five goals, Savani Jeqesa four and Koroisau and Radradra one each.

Hornets came closest to scoring at 74-nil when an inch-perfect Chris Hough grubber was snaffled and grounded by Matty Crowe, only for referee to disallow it for a borderline offside. On a special day, a bit of a churlish decision, we feel.

Final Score Hornets nil - Fiji Bati 78. Attendance 920.

Quoted in League Weekly, Rick Stone said: "The score didn't reflect the effort Hornets put into the game. They shirked nothing in defence and we've got a few bumps and bruises to show for it. Full marks to them -they put in a terriffic effort. We wanted this game to get a feel of the stadium ahead of the Ireland game and also to connect to the local community and we did both of those, while getting a very good hit-out against a Hornets side that was fully committed and provided us with exactly what we needed… I would like to publicly offer our gratitude to everyone at the Hornets club for giving us this opportunity."

Moment three:
After the game the Bati were friendly, gracious and happy to pose for photographs, sign people's programmes/flags/bodies and chat about the game and the forthcoming World Cup. At the close of the post-match speeches, Chris Hough invited the Fiji side to share with us their team hymn and they generously treated us to a poignant end to a fantastic year.

Stunningly sung with heart, soul and passion, it was a goose-bump inducing moment that will live with those present forever. Tears were shed. Joyous, emotional stuff.

Our best wishes to the Bati for the contest ahead. Next Monday, Rochdale becomes Suva for the day. They're our brothers too, now - let's get behind them.

Here's that fantastic Fiji Bati Hymn. Thanks to all the guys for making it a great day for our club

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Saturday's Coming - Fiji Bati

It's not often we get to write a match preview like this. 

On Saturday Hornets are proud to welcome the Fiji Bati 'home' to Rochdale. Whilst this may not be the most important game to be played at Spotland in this remarkable year, it is by some way the biggest.

It's a unique relationship that began in the early 60s with the arrival of Orisi Dawai, Joe Levula, Laitia Ravouvou, the mighty Apisai Toga and - Rochdale's adopted sons - Voate Drui and Mike Ratu. To read more about Hornets' Fijian adventure, there's a great article here from the Telegraph

Fast forward to today. Talking of names that make the hairs on your neck rise, Fiji are led by one of the biggest names in World Rugby League -  Petero Civoniceva. 

Welcome to Rochdale - Petero starts to think that he
should've packed a cardigan...
Petero retired from the NRL at the end of 2012, but has spent this year  with Queensland Cup side Redcliffe Dolphins. If you need reminding of the sheer pedigree of this guy, he played in the NRL for 15 years (235 games for Brisbane Broncos, 74 games for Penrith Panthers), played 33 times for Queensland and 45 times for the the Kangaroos. A genuine Rugby League legend.

If that's not enough, the Bati pack includes the wrecking ball skills of the Slammin' Sims brothers Ashton, Korbin and Tariq who bring a wealth of heavy-duty NRL experience.

The turbo-charged Fiji backline comes packed with pace in the form of Uate, Koroibete and the Naqaima Brothers Kevin and Waisale. But most impressively to us tragics here at TLCRF80mins, the squad includes former Newtown Jet Kane Evans.

Fiji's potent strike threat was evident in In their final warm-up game before leaving for the UK, as Wests Tigers Fijian rocket Marika Koroibete bagged a hat-trick as the Bati blitzed a Fijian Residents side 50-12 in Nadi.

Fiji coach Rick Stone said the game was "… a good warm up…" - we assume he meant for the challenge posed by Hornets.

“Having a game will give us more confidence and moving us forward, get some combinations and we will be a lot better for the RLWC," said Stone.

“The squad has a lot of experience among them as the majority of the players are based in overseas clubs who have a very good exposure of rugby league such as Petero in the squad will be a real boost the World Cup."

Speaking in the Fiji Times this week (not a paper we get to quote often), Stone pledged the total commitment of his squad to carrying Fiji's colours with pride in the UK: "While we cannot predict the results of the matches, what we can assure the public is when the team go out to battle, they will give their best."

Trust me, Rick, to us Rochdalian Rugby League fans it doesn't get much better.

Bula, Fiji. Welcome home.

Fiji World Cup Squad is:

Peni Botiki (Saru Dragons)
Jayson Bukuya (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks)
Petero Civoniceva (Redcliffe Dolphins)
Kane Evans (Sydney Roosters)
Aaron Groom (Asquith Magpies)
Ilisavani Jegesa (Nabua Broncos)
Marika Koroibete (Wests Tigers)
Apisai Koroisau (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Daryl Millard (Catalans Dragons)
Ryan Millard (Burwood United)
Kevin Naiqama (Newcastle Knights)
Waisale Naiqama (Penrith Panthers)
Alipate Noilea (Collegians Illawarra)
Tikiko Noke (Lautoka Crushers)
Vitale Junior (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks)
Ashton Sims (North Queensland Cowboys)
Korbin Sims (Newcastle Knights)
Tariq Sims (North Queensland Cowboys)
James Storer (Collegians Illawarra)
Kaliova Nauqe (Fassifern Queensland)
Akuila Uate (Newcastle Knights)
Eloni Tui Michael Vunakece (Wyong Roos)
Sisa Waqa (Melbourne Storm)
Semi Radradra Turagasoli Waqavatu (Parramatta Eels)

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

TLCRF80mins' video tribute

Thanks to everyone who made Sunday such a special day. We've begged, borrowed and nicked a few pictures of the day and created our blog's own small video tribute to everyone at Rochdale Hornets, on and off the field. We have a great club - and a great challenge ahead. But let's enjoy the moment. 

The future's bright - the future's red, white and blue. Take it away...

(Note: a couple of people have reported problems with watching the embedded video, so we've added a You Tube option as well. It's up there in the top right hand corner)

Monday, 30 September 2013

Aint No way We're Coming Last!

Oldham 18 - Hornets 32

Go on, pinch yourself. 

After the game, Ian Talbot said to me: "Tomorrow, if someone asks when your club last won a trophy, tell them 'Yesterday' ". Indeed after a wait of 91 years, Talbot has succeeded where dozens of Hornets coaches have failed, and brought silverware back to a club that's waited an awful long time between drinks. As the realisation slowly sinks in today that next year's derby will be Halifax, Hornets' promotion to the Championship caps an arduous season -  a fantastic reward for a year of hard work on and off the field.

In the run up to the final, Oldham's half-back Palfrey spoke of how Paul Crook's semi-final performance had given him a lesson in kicking. Here he was reduced to a spectator as Crooky sprayed the ball around the field with aplomb, constantly turning Oldham around and unleashing his varied repertoire of in-play kicking. Oh - and he finished the day with a 100% six from six place kicks. Superb.  
Two cups for the price of one! (photo: Louise Lewis)

Hornets started from the gun, a teasing lofted Paul Crook kick into the in-goal behind Agoro found Martin Waring with space to leap and gather, but the video referee adjudged that he hadn't grounded the ball. No matter. Within two minutes Hornets were back on the attack, Steve Roper turning the ball inside to the impressive Dave Llewellyn who stepped through to bring the sizeable and noisy Hornets contingent to its feet.

It took Oldham 15 minutes to launch anything resembling an attack, but when they did it paid off,  Ford scoring wide on the left, Palfrey adding the two. Six-all.

With the game locked in a tight arm-wrestle, Crooky's kicks compelled Oldham to begin their sets deep in their own half -  but when Palfrey attempted to replicate this approach after 20 minutes, the result was very different. Having hoyed the ball into a waiting Hornets defence,  Alex Trumper capitalised on strong breaks from Gaz Langley and Dave Llewellyn to find Danny Davies with enough space to glide through for a well taken try. Crooky with the two. 12-6, Hornets the better side.

With the half ebbing away, Hornets launched another attack. Strong forward approach play took them close and John Cookson bludgeoned his way through several defenders to plant the ball on the line for what looked a perfectly good try. Referee Leatherbarrow referred it upstairs and the video ref somehow saw a knock-on. No Try.

Oldham played their get out of jail card well. A good set took them 60 metres, but when a last tackle kick was knocked-on by Agoro and fumbled forward through a series of hands, Hughes touched down under the Hornets' posts more in hope than expectation. Mr Leatherbarrow asked the video ref for his view and, astonishingly, he pointed to the spot. Palfrey added the two and - instead of Hornets going in 18-6 up - Oldham had been handed a lifeline to go in at 12-all.

Oldham started the second half on the front-foot, their forwards making good yards to take them within 20 metres of the Hornets line. But when Palfrey lobbed a kick to Cookson stood a good five metres offside, the danger seemed to have passed. Instead, Mr Leatherbarrow passed the decision to the video ref who stunned the Hornets contingent by giving the try. Out of nowhere, Oldham 18-12 in front. Hornets didn't panic.

Crooky continued to make Oldham fag the ball from their own line, and when he planted an inch-perfect kick into the Oldham in-goal just before the hour, Palfrey's arse fell out and he hoofed it dead. From the resulting drop out, Hornets pounded the Oldham line and when the ball was worked left to Dave Hull, he wriggled through a mass of limbs to get the ball down. Crooky with the two. 18-all and coronaries all round.

Five minutes later saw Mr Leatherbarrow award the first penalty of the game as Oldham were caught offside 30 metres out. Cool as you like, Paul Crook stroked the ball between the sticks to edge Hornets in front - and you could feel the momentum shift.

With Hornets playing error-free, controlled football, Oldham found themselves struggling to get across the half-way line - their only exit a series of aimless hoofs downfield with no chase game to speak of. As Oldham began to blow, Hornets sucked in for a big finish.

On 70 minutes a Paul Crook kick was charged down. Hornets sent the artillery steaming at the heart of the Oldham defence, Cookson, Forster, Greenwood driving them backwards. And when the ball found its way to John Cookson he launched himself through a mass of Oldham defenders to plant the ball down. Hornets fans in raptures as Crooky added the two to give Hornets a 26-18 lead with nine minutes to play. (Apologies to Cooky, we initially incorrectly identified the try-scorer as Dave Llewellyn - though our excuse is that we were 100 metres away and jumping around at the time).
This is how it feels to be Hornets!
(Picture: @bucket&sponge)

You could tell Oldham were gone. They began forcing passes, playing panic football, handing over cheap possession. On 75 minutes Hornets delivered the coup de grace. Carl Forster's pass to Gaz Langley; Langley slipping his defender to carry the ball 40 metres through open field; with Oldham defenders closing in, he slipped a peach of a ball inside for Wayne English to score a try worthy of winning any game. Hornets fans in ecstasy: Oldham fans heading for the exits in their hundreds with five minutes left to play. Crook with the two. 'ave it!

Oldham ended the game much as they'd spent the previous 80 minutes - trudging back after a Paul Crook kick to start again on their own 20 metre line. It was beautiful to watch.

Though not quite as beautiful as watching Paul Crook and Wayne English become the first Hornets skippers in 91 years hoist a trophy as Hornets fans sang "We are going up". Emotional stuff - grown men in tears. 

All that remains is to say thank you. Thank you Ian Talbot for becoming an instant Hornets legend - the first Hornets coach in living memory to deliver a trophy. Thank you to the players - every single one who's pulled on our colours this season - you've done us, your familes and yourselves proud. To the Hornets co-operative board - proof of what's possible when fans come together. To the back-room staff - you may not get to run with the ball, but you do carry us through the season. And to you, the supporters. we've waited a long time - a lifetime - for this, so enjoy the feeling.

Great work everyone. Job done.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Final Final Countdown (No.5)

Time to 'Dare Mighty Things'.

"It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short: again and again;
who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions; 
who spends himself in a worthy cause; 
who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, 
and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs - even though checkered by failure - than to rank with those timid souls who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat"   

Theodore Roosevelt

There are 37 professional/semi-pro Rugby League clubs in Super League and the Championships. Come Sunday at 2pm, the 2013 season will already be over for 31 of them. 

It's strange: I never really contemplated what I'd write ahead of a Hornets appearance in a Grand Final. But here we are...

It's looking like Oldham  will be at full strength in Sunday’s promotion-deciding 'Finale di A627M ElClassico' - and Scott Naylor's taking a laid-back approach

"We won’t be killing ourselves in training this week," he said in the Oldham Chronic. "The emphasis will be on staying calm and relaxed. We don’t need to do anything differently. We’re getting ready for a game of rugby, just like we have all season." As long as it's the same preparation they put in for the semi-final, that'll work out nicely, thanks.

Indeed, Naylor's started the mind games: “Come Sunday we’ll be relaxed. But we’ll also be ready. That’s the key.”  Wow, the power of psychology!

Naylor says he won’t announce his line-up until the day before the game, but it'll probably have an eerily familiar feel, with Palfrey and Ford their go-to strike players. With typical Roughyed hubris,  Lepori said this week: “A club like Oldham, with the history it has and the support it gets, should really be in the Championship, playing at that level.” Whitebank neatly airbrushed out there. 

Actually, as we're a club 'like Oldham', perhaps he means us? We'd bring so much more to the Championship. Like showers…

Meanwhile, Oldham prop Michael Ward - a maths teacher - insists defeat to Hornets in Sunday’s Championship One play-off final 'isn’t an option'. Actually, of the three available, it is. Even you should be able to conjugate that equation, Mr Ward. Perhaps Ofsted should have a quiet word…

In the Hornets camp, Ian Talbot adopts a more contemplative approach, insisting it would be a ‘fairytale’ if his side wins on Sunday. Tol said: "We've been through a lot of adversity this season. There were times when I was questioning what I was doing, and quite a lot of this squad were playing amateur rugby last season."

"They've got better and better as the season's gone on - wouldn't it be a fairytale if Rochdale were to get promoted?" 

While it looks like Ian will have a fully fit squad to select from, he believes that our playoff odyssey this year has annealed his team for the battle ahead.

 "Our last two games have been bruising encounters where we’ve come up with last-minute plays to win. That bodes well for us, because we know if we have another tight game we can come out on top. The lads have already shown they’ve got the determination. Play-off games are renowned for being tight affairs and our boys have been through that a couple of times already."

Paul Crook too spoke this week of Hornets' singular focus for this season: “Everyone at the club has one goal in mind, that’s promotion to the Championship, and we’ll be going all out to ensure we get that this weekend.”

As each of us prepares for Sunday, it's worth remembering that we ask an awful lot of the lads who pull on the shirt on our behalf. We get up for work on a Monday morning happy or sulking depending on the previous day's result. They do it too - but battered and sore. Sunday is their reward for a season played out to the death, with every last drop wrung from it. When most others have faltered, the guys who carry our colours have found that extra yard, that extra tackle, that extra pass - that extra kick - that's pulled us through. It may not have been perfect, but they found the character and the courage to do what 30 other teams couldn't.  It's been an extraordinary effort.

So, let's all suck in one last time and give it everything we have left in the tank.  It's time to dare greatly - because who dares, wins.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Final Countdown No.4

History starts here - for both finalists

Stop Press: The Manchester Evening News has finally remembered that Hornets exist. And, thankfully, they understand the magnitude of of the weekend to come. "Rochdale Hornets are preparing for one of the biggest games in the club's history," they said - though that depends on where you start counting. 

Chair of the Hornets co-operative Mark Wynn expressed how much this weekend means to what is essentially a four-year old venture carrying the weight of 91 years of expectation. Speaking in the MEN, he said: "We are all really excited at the moment, people have worked really hard. We are not so much nervous as we know we have, so far, done the best we can do.”

Whilst Hornets' participation in this weekend's final is a fantastic validation of the community-focused, supporter-owned model, the rumblings from the Oldham camp emanate from a very different end of the spectrum.

Where Hornets directors, officials, players, fans - and even the media - are buzzing about the possibility of being the first Rochdale Hornets team since 1922 to bring home a trophy, it's interesting to see - ahead of the biggest game of the season - that the real Oldham story seems to be focused on the potential takeover by Salford Red Devils owner Marwan Koukash.

With Chris Hamilton  this week reporting 'positive' talks and Koukash bullish as ever saying: "Why can't I take charge of three clubs? I know I can and I fully intend to…" it gives Sunday's game an extra angle of interest as it becomes a battle of contrasting orthodoxies: one club seeing its future secured by big ideals, the other looking to secure its future through big money. One where the fans buy-in and the club becomes theirs - the other where the ownership of the club is taken out of the Oldham community and placed under the patronage of another club, where it becomes something else: a subsidiary, a trading name. Not really our cup of tea here at TLCRF80mins Towers, thanks.

All of which brought us to the point where we came to wrap-up this article. We considered a rousing call to arms, an emotional cris de coeur, a plea for passion and belief. But we really couldn't beat the words of Hornets' senior statesman Ray Myers, speaking in the MEN.

“It will be a bit special if we win - and more so because of who we are playing. We have got to think about winning now.” 

Amen to that Ray, amen.

The Final Countdown No.3

Finally - a Final that will Finally Cure My Finals Blues?

A former Hornets chairman once said (on national TV) "We're a very modest club - and some people say we've a lot to be modest about".

Whilst his tongue in cheek comment about Hornets' long history of under achievement was meant to be a light aside, it did - does - reflect that, as Rugby League clubs go, we do tend to go an awful long time between drinks.

Our Challenge Cup win in the 1921/22 season was reported in that year's annual report & accounts with a single line that says how well the lads played, that it was a commercially successful venture and that the board looked forward to doing it again sometime soon.

As it transpired, a couple of semi-final apprearances in the 50s were as close as we got to achieving that goal.

When I started watching Hornets in 1971, we'd already gone 50 years without a sniff of glory, but in my first season we reached the Floodlit Trophy final v Saints at Knowsley Road, losing by 8 points to 2. I didn't go, and I don't remember watching it on TV. Though I was only six.

The following year, Hornets marched to the Players No. 6 Trophy final at Wigan where we played the pre-lupine Warrington, losing 27-16 in front of a crowd of 9,347. I went with my dad. It was the biggest crowd I'd ever stood in. I wore a bobble hat and scarf and a Hornets rosette I got from Trevor Butterworth's. All I really remember is that we had to move to get a good view, that Warrington Hooker Kevin Ashcroft murdered us in the scrums - and that I didn't remember there being this many Hornets fans at the Athletic grounds when we played Bramley in the semi-final.

But losing a final in February didn't hurt for long, as at the season's end we got promoted to Division One. I'd been there two years and seen two finals and a promotion. I thought "Wow - watching Hornets is brilliant!"

As it was, we yo-yoed our way through the next few years, sinking for the last time in 1977. We were to spend a long time out of the spotlight.

By the time we got our next sniff of glory in the 1989/90 promotion season, I'd had almost 20 years to realise that the reality of watching Hornets was often a long way short of 'brilliant'. And, by then, I'd been going home and away for close on 10 years so had actually found a way to double the frustration. Character-building stuff.

Despite a disastrous year in the top flight - pretty much burning a hundred grand to get one win all season - we did, somehow, manage to sneak our way to the John Player Trophy semi final at Headingley on 22nd December. We were bored to a 13-2 defeat by a ponderous Bradford Northern in front of 3,500; our impotence broadcast live to the nation on GrandStand. Ruined my Christmas.

The following season - having been dispatched whence we came - Hornets shocked the Rugby League world by reaching the Lancashire Cup final at Wilderspool. The last four in the competition were Wigan, Saints, Hornets and Carlisle. We drew Carlisle at home. Book the coaches!

As it was, we gave a fantastic account of ourselves, leading twice through tries by Darren Abram and Ronnie Duane, only to succumb to the brutal cheating of Paul Bishop to lose by 24-12.

Fast forward to this week. 22 years is a very long-time without a big day out. As Gareth Walker reminded us, it's the longest hiatus in the UK professional game between finals of any description. Excited? You bet.  It's been an up and down season, but we're 80 minutes away from breaking my - our - finals duck. 

And I was right when I was six - watching Hornets IS brilliant. Let's bring it home - we're overdue a party.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Final Countdown No.2

Crooky Drives Oldham (Ginger) Nuts

Featherstone, Doncaster, Keighley, York. On Sunday Hornets aim to join a decidedly Yorkshire-looking band of clubs to have beaten Oldham in Grand Finals.

Having tasted defeat on four consecutive years, Oldham have taken a bit of a sabbatical from the final of late, but are determined to go one better in what will be this season's most febrile A627M El Classico.

In the Oldham Evening Chronic yesterday, Chris Hamilton was bullish: “The players are chomping at the bit to get back at Rochdale in the final. We want to do a job on them, make no mistake.” 

But we sense that they have one General concern.

We think it's interesting  that - whilst the Oldham Evening Chronic reports our recent one-point win at Whitebank as a 'blip' in what they see as Oldham's divine right to promotion - all they've done is fixate on Paul Crook.

In their immediate assessment of the Qualifying Semi-Final the Oldham paper said: "Paul Crook’s master-class in kicking a rugby ball in wind and rain inflicted a painful blow to Oldham’s promotion prospects at a cold and drenched Whitebank. Crook’s uncanny ability to plant the ball exactly where he wanted it, despite atrocious conditions, gave his side the vital edge in a 23-22 play-off triumph"

And again, in their report of Oldham's thrashing of the Skolars on Sunday they say: "A week ago (Lewis) Palfrey, on his own public admission, was given a lesson by his opposite number in the Rochdale side, Paul Crook…"

Palfrey himself admits: “I hold my hand up. Paul Crook gave me a lesson in how to handle play-off rugby…"

Looking forward to Sunday's tutorial already.

For stats fans, those Oldham Grand Final losses were:

2007 - lost 24-6 to Featherstone at Headingley.

2008 - lost 18-10 to Doncaster at the Halliwell Jones, Warrington.

2009 - lost 28-26 to Keighley at the Halliwell Jones, Warrington.

2010 - lost 25-4 to York City Knights at the Halliwell Jones, Warrington.

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Final Countdown No.1

Hornets v Oldham - The Only Show in Town?

Has the elimination of Halifax and Featherstone from the Championship playoffs moved Hornets v Oldham to the top of the bill?

With the winner-takes-all element of what is one of our sport's oldest Derby matches, you might be forgiven for considering the mouthwatering Hornets V Oldham crunch clash to be the real headline act of next week's finals weekend. 

And, with the added frisson of promotion up for grabs, if the A627M El Classico is as tight, taut and heart-stopping as it has been this season it could leave Batley v Sheffield looking like a severe case of 'after the Lord Mayor's show'.

Both Hornets and Oldham have regularly had crowds on a par - and occasionally better - than both Batley and Sheffield this season. And it's certainly conceiveable that supporters from both sides of this venerable fixture could outnumber their Championship counterparts.

When you compare aggregate league meeting attendances between the finalists this season there's very little in it. The two Batley/Sheffield games yielded an aggregate of 1822; the two Hornets/Oldham games yielded 1751. The biggest gate from the four being the 1107 at the televised Hornets v Oldham fixture in September.

Over the season, the Championship Clubs have the edge - but not by much in Batley's case: averaging 784 over the season in comparison with Hornets 630 and Oldham's 689. Sheffield Averaged 942. Batley went over 1,000 twice. OIdham twice and Hornets once. Sheffield edged over the 1,000 mark ten times and maxed at 1253. Hornets top attendance was the 1,107 v Oldham, whose biggest gate was the 1,209 v Crusaders. Though God knows where you put twelve hundred people in Whitebank.

So the potential's there for The A627M El Classico to be the game of the day - on and off the pitch!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Hornets wring out victory at the death

Oldham 22 - Hornets 23

There was much discussion before the game about whether Whitebank could be the RL world's least hospitable semi-final venue. Played through a relentess downpour of diluvian proportions, it was clear that the team best able to cope with the appalling conditions would gain a significant advantage.

With little open football on show, this was a war of squelchy attrition. Indeed, we wrote last week that teams of strong character find a way to win. And, whilst every single Hornets player on show gave absolutely everything to the cause, with three from three conversions, two 40/20s, two huge penalties, a try-making grubber and a one-man exhibition of flawless tactical kicking, it was worth every single penny of our twelve quid to watch Paul Crook kick Oldham to an absolute standstill.

But Oldham were first to exploit the conditions, hoisting an awkward spiralling kick to the corner after 6 minutes. 
Gaz Langley looked to get a nudge in flight, but Mr Hewer was satisfied that no offence had been committed and Ford pounced on the loosened ball to score. No matter.

Led by Crooky's rader-guided boot, Hornets began their ascent of Whitebank's slippery slope. A series of punishing kicks had Oldham schlepping back to gather possession in their own in-goal; an enthusiastic defence perpetually willing to chase them down and pin Oldham in their own 10 metre zone. And it paid dividends after 17 minutes.

Crook smacked a massive 40/20 up the slope and good approach work saw Carl Forster crash over the line, but unable to ground the ball.

Forster then turned provider: finding the onrushing Joe Greenwood with a sweet short pass and he bustled and wrenched his way in to get the ball down. Crooky added the two, followed by a cool penalty up the hill into the wind 10 minutes later to give Hornets a slender 6-8 lead.

Just past the half hour, another monster Crook 40/20 took Hornets deep into Oldham territory, where, this tme, John Cookson went agonisingly close to scoring, felled inches short. Oldham made a spectacular mess of the resulting possession - Whitehead spewing the ball under no pressure into the arms of the Jordan Case who dived in through an agog defence to score a sitter. Crooky made no mistake to send Hornets in at the break 6-14 ahead.

Oldham began the second half as they did the first. A teasing Palfrey dink through from close range took a couple of deflections, Hughes quickest to react to haul Oldham back into the game at 12-14.

The arm-wrestle continued, both sides keeping it tight, but Crook's kicking gave Hornets the upper-hand, turning Oldham's defence around again and again. And when Oldham transgressed on 50 minutes, the Ginger General coolly stroked home the 45 metre penalty to stretch Hornets lead.

On the hour, it was Crook again who unlocked the Oldham defence. Great approach work from the Hornets pack drove Oldham back under their own posts and, as the defence rushed out on the last tackle, Crooky slipped a slide-rule kick past the left post for Wayne English to ghost in and score. Fantastic stuff. Crooky with the two: 12-22.

Now it was Oldham's turn to dig in and chase the game - and they came up with two quickfire tries for winger Agoro, who'd looked like he'd much rather be somewhere else for most of the afternoon. The first was a last tackle squeeze-in by the flag (Palfrey's conversion attempt well short into the wind); the second off a Palfrey chip that caused chaos behind the Hornets defence. Palfrey this time good for the two and - out of nowhere - the game locked up at 22-all with four minutes to play.

Hornets didn't piss about. Stern defence restricted Oldham to completing sets in their own half and after a couple of 'range-finders' first from Wayne English and then by Paul Crook, Hornets launched the crucial attack of the game. Again the forwards ground Oldham back down the hill and, with tackles to spare, the ball found Crooky with enough time and space to launch the 30 metre drop goal that sealed the victory. Quite simply, bloody stunning.

There was barely time to restart the game and the hooter signalled celebrations as Hornets take their place in the Kingstone Press Championship 1 Grand Final.

And that's well worth the soaking.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Sunday's Coming Play-Off Special: Oldham

Due to the vagaries of our modern stop-start summer season, by the time we rock-up at Whitebank on Sunday, Oldham will have gone four weeks without a competitive game. Undefeated in the last nine games of the regular season, almost a month's hiatus twixt games could easily kill any momentum.

However, having grouted the gap with a couple of friendlies, Scott Naylor is confident that his side won't go into the Sunday's A627M El Classico undercooked. Speaking in the Oldham Chronicle he said: “We’ve seen already this season how passionate Oldham-Rochdale games can be and this one will be especially so because there is so much riding on it. Our record against them is pretty decent - three wins out of four - and if we turn up and give 100-per-cent there’s no reason we can’t beat them again."  I love how Oldham count the Law Cup when they win it, but dismiss it when they don't.

Whitebank here we come!

The only possible change to the squad which pipped Hornets by five points last month involves Salford Red Devils' Dual Reg player Jon Ford who is back in training after dislocating an elbow. Clearly, using Roughyed logic, even daring to have a DR player in the squad makes Oldham Salford's reserve side.

Come 4.40pm on Sunday, the winners will go straight through to the final at Leigh Sports Village on Sunday, September 29, while the losers must gird their loins and play again - at home - on Sunday Sept. 22 to the winners of the London v Hemel game.

Here at TLCRF80mins towers, we're hoping for a week off while Oldham play Hemel.

So, stuff three mates into the car and get yourself to Whitebank early to get a half decent view of proceedings. The A627M El Classico is a coronary on a stick at the best of times, but Sunday's game should have a little extra fizz. We can't wait.

UPDATE RFL Official Preview/Press Release

Oldham coach Scott Naylor is hopeful Jon Ford could feature in Sunday’s Kingstone Press
Championship One play-off final qualifier. (You heard it here first, folks).

Naylor said: “The fact he’s well enough now to join in training again has given us a lot more hope.”

Rochdale Hornets captain Wayne English is rated as ‘less than 50/50’ by coach Ian Talbot ahead of Sunday’s showdown. Talbot said: “Wayne’s been key for us this season, but he missed training on Tuesday and we’ll assess him again on Thursday.” (This was written ahead of Thursday night's session).

Talbot added: “Last week we didn’t produce the best performance, but we got the result. I’d settle for another bad performance on Sunday if we get the result we want."

“There’s lots of local rivalry and tradition involved between Rochdale and Oldham. This is the fifth meeting of the season and they’re ahead so far, so we’re gunning for it. We’ve already been to Whitebank and got a win this season, so that gives us some confidence.”