Monday, 18 February 2013

A Law Unto Itself

(Or how an old rivalry holds a lesson for Rugby League)

Hornets 20 - Oldham 22

You've got to love the Law Cup. An attendance of 819 was greater than five out of the seven Championship games on Sunday - and only 1,000 fewer than at the London V  Wakefield Super League contest. 

As our game goes through an uncomfortable evolution, this pre-season challenge with one foot rooted in Rugby League's rich past shows, amply, what's possible when games mean something to those who watch them.

Whether they mean quite as much these days to those who play in them is a quite different matter.

Two teams full of new faces and a conveyor belt of subsitiutions meant for a scrappy game light on passion and offering only fleeting glimpses lucid football, but Oldham settled into a groove quickest as Dallimore threw a hand at a Palfrey kick in to a crowded in-goal to open the scoring.

But disjointedness was the theme for the day. A period of both sides struggling to maintain any meaningful possession - and referee Mr Brooke refreshing his knowledge of the laws by attempting to work his way through all of them - was ended when a Hornets dink through the defence ricocheted off the referee for Benji Lloyd to touch down. Mr Brooke brought play back and gave a scrum.

As it was, swift hands to the right fed Chris Baines through a gap to score, but Oldham hit back with Lepori jinking through to score on the half-hour to go 12-4 up.

Hornets finished the half the stronger, with Steve Roper and Benji Lloyd going wide  for Dave Sutton and Gaz Langley to score on each flank. Half time, Hornets 14-12 to the good.

Oldham began the second half at a higher tempo, playing much more directly - and it paid off after just four minutes as Fildes ducked in for a sucker try, followed by a Ward try off a Dallimore pass shortly afterward. 12-22  and Hornets, frankly, a  bit of a rudderless mess.

This was rectified in the last quarter with the return of Baines - and the shuffle that put Benji Lloyd in at stand-off. Suddenly Hornets had both width and go-forward - as they scrambled back into the game. First a lightning break from Steve Roper ended by Lepori's try-saving one-on-one tackle; then the ball shipped swiftly through to Martin Waring who scored out wide. Chris Baines slotting a cool conversion. 20-22 with five minutes to play and, suddenly, a game on our hands.

It was Steve Roper again who provided the spark for a frantic attack, then Alex Trumper and Gaz Langley unzipping the Oldham defence - only for Waring to fumble the last pass with the line at his mercy.

With seconds remaining, Oldham fluffed the resulting play-the-ball and Benji-Lloyd's last ditch 'hail-mary' into the Oldham in-goal bounced harmlessly out of play.

If there's any lesson to be learned from this game, it's that both teams can get significanly better. Both sides had periods on top - and spells where they looked utterly clueless. And it's interesting that - in teams containing lots of new players - that the only real focused football came from both established half-backs Roper and Dallimore.

From Hornets point of view, there's no doubt that the team missed the threat of Wayne English and the steady hand of Paul Crook, but in Benji-Lloyd, we may just have unearthed the sort of sparky talent that defences struggle to pin-down. Whilst he started slowly at full-back, his move to stand-off revealed some genuine attacking potential.

Utimately, when such a venerable contest played between two of Rugby League's oldest rivals is decided by a missed conversion in front of an enthusiastic bumper crowd, perhaps there's hope for us all yet.