Saturday, 30 March 2013

Easter Monday's Coming: London Skolars

In the Rugby League press, there's much been made of London Skolars rampage through the NRC's  Pool B this season. Three wins from three, 100 points scored, only 16 conceded - the caasual RL fan could be forgiven for thinking that the capital's second team has somehow transformed into a lean, mean, red & green winning machine. But wait…

Closer examination shows that, unlike Pool B's 'Group of Death'-style inclusion of the three likely KPC1 promotion candidates, the Skolars have hardly been stretched thus far. A 26-4 home win over new-boys Hemel Stags, a 54-12 thumping of South Wales Scorpions at the Gnoll and an unconvincing 20-nill mudbath win over makeweight university side the All Golds (of whom coach Brad Hepi this week said "Most of them are writing dissertations at the moments, so their minds are elsewhere" - very professional) are hardly the stuff of legend.

Indeed, bar the win in Wales Skolars havent really been tested thus far. Something Joe Mbu recognises.

In this week's League Express he says: "I'm looking forward to how the team goes, because it will be another step up and we will need to raise our game. Hopefully we'l go there and do outselves justice because for ther last two years our trips to Rochdale have not been easy."

And they come to Spotland with their plans for the 2013 KPC1 season already requiring some adjustment. A cursory glance at Good Friday's results show that, under genuinely testing conditions when it really mattered, Skolars got an Easter thumping at home from Hemel Stags by 26 points to 8.

Here at TLFRF80mins towers, our experience of Hemel Stags is that they're a bit of a blunt instrument - big across the park and playing simple direct football, so it'll be interesting to see how Skolars react against a 'footballing' side like Hornets.

Whilst this game is a dead competition rubber, it does offer Ian Talbot - and Hornets fans - an opportunity to cast an eye over some of our emerging talent. And, let's face it, a Hornets game on Easter monday of any type has to be significantly better than any of the alternatives. So wrap up warm, bring a friend and give the lads your support.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Pragmatic for the People

Oldham 18 Hornets 28

This was a victory of substance over style, of function over form.

Having fallen foul of the 'curse of Whitebank' less than a month ago, Hornets sought to lay the hoodoo and get the 'proper' season underway with a crucial win. 

Taking a practical, no-frills approach built on the foundation of a big pack,  it didn't take long for the visitors to assert themselves.

On 7 minutes an intricate interchange of passes between Wayne English, Steve Roper and Dave Hull cut a swathe through Oldham's right centre channel; Hull standing strong in the tackle to drop the ball back to Roper who scampered from 20 metres to score. Crooky coolly slotted the extras to give Hornets a 6-nil lead.

With Hornets reduced to 12 men when 'Angry' Gaz Langley was yellow-carded for apparently holding up a quick restart, Oldham huffed and puffed up the middle to little effect. Hornets, having absorbed their one-dimensional pressure, ground the ball back up the hill where Wayne English scrambled through a tangle of arms and legs to score out wide. Crooky pulled the conversion attempt wide.

With Alex Trumper and Danny Davies targeting Dallimore on defence, Hornets continued to play a solid, direct game: Oldham's only real progress aided by some pretty liberal interpretations of the laws by the referee. But the visitors stuck to the task, rewarded on the half hour when Chris Baines jink-and-go from close range left a flat-footed defence suckered to stretch Hornets' lead to 14-nil. Crooky's laser-guided boot slid the conversion home from the touchline and at 16-nil Oldham looked a busted flush.

Their only real attack of the half came after 35 minutes off the back of a very peculiar refereeing decision. An aimless Oldham bomb was gathered in flight by Wayne English, who found himslef penalised, it seems, for turning his shoulder towards the onrushing tacklers. Oldham's quick tap caught the Hornets defence out of shape and, two sloppy missed tackles later, Langtree slipped through to get Oldham on the board. Dallimore added the two: 16-6.

The hooter signalled the end of a superbly executed first half and Hornets fans stamped chilling feet in anticipation of a repeat down Whitebank's infamous slope.

But the A627M 'El Classico' always has a few twists and turns up its sleeve and Oldham began the second half with a visibly increased intensity.

On 50 minutes a huge break through the Hornets line launched fullback Lepori on a 60 metre footrace to score (16-12) and on the hour Files capitalised on an appalling decision after Dallimore had dropped the ball cold out the back of a tackle. A puzzling penalty had Hornets on the back foot, Files steamed in from close range and - from nowhere - Oldham somehow had an 18-16 lead.

As the ground announcer attempted to whip the home fans into a state of apoplexy, Ian Talbot sent John Cookson and Alex McClurg back into the fray and Hornets got back to first-principles of completion, steady yards and a good kick-chase. 

The effect was almost immediate.

Hornets made good ground off the back of Trumper and Baines drives; Wayne English chimed into the line and caused havoc amongst the Oldham defence - pinballing off scrambling defenders, and John Cookson exploded onto a neat short pass to plant the ball by the post. Crook converted: Hornets back in front by 22-18.

Oldham fans headed for the gates. With 15 still to play. Maybe they sensed what was coming.

With Hornets now back in the groove, Oldham struggled to make headway against some determined, hard-hitting defence. Conversely, Hornets continued to drive the home defence backwards both with ball in hand and via a barrage of booming Paul Crook kicks, each augmented by an enthusastic chase.

And it was such a kick in the 71st minute that sealed the game. Crook hoisted the ball skywards toward Agoro who, having been rock-solid all afternoon coughed the ball under pressure for Dave Hull to snaffle it and scoot in by the flag. Just for good measure, the Ginger General Paul Crook smacked the conversion through from the touchline as the Hornets fans sang in an emptying Whitebank. 28-18

Hornets strove manfully to deny Oldham the bonus point: Crooky going closest, held-up over the line, but it wasn't to be.

This was a satisfying, gratifying win. yes, an opening 40 of ruthless precision was followed by a ten minute wobble that gave Oldham a chink of hope. But the strength of character required to regain control, get back to the gameplan and to execute it with ruthless pragmatism was to be admired. 

Ultmately, this is how good you need to be week-in week-out to get the hell out of this league. While the finish line is a long way away, this was a great start and fans at the Western-end of the A627M can take great confidence from this result.

(Attendance 664)

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Friday's Coming: Oldham

At last!

With the Kingstone Press Championship 1 season upon us, I don't know what you can glean from this year's NRC that will give you any real indication of what we can expect.

If the cold facts of the group tables are to be believed, Oldham are as almost as good over four games as NW Crusaders are over three - and London Skolars are the best team in the KPC1 with a 100% record and the biggest points difference. As for Hornets, juggle the conundrum of  two disappointing defeats to Oldham and the Crusaders, but still a postitive points difference - and still a better points difference than Oldham. Plus the fun of the obligatory dead rubber to come against the Skolars on Easter Monday. And all this for a chance to play in the NRC final curtain-raiser - they could've got four kids teams in to play tag for less hassle.

And so we come to the very serious business of kick, bollocking and scrambling our way out of this 'League of (Slow) Death™' by any means possible. That we start with a trip back to the Elysian Field that is Whitebank is an opportunity to put right that which went so spectacularly wrong t'other week in that pre-season warm up competition thing.

There's no doubt that Whitebank's idiosyncracies (a pitch that defies physics by sloping in all directions at once, a surface like Verdun, Spartan facilities and a view that requires a periscope) is worth a score each way up/down/across the slope, but one would imagine that a) Hornets couldn't possibly play as badly as they did in the NRC and b) Ian Talbot now knows what his best 17 is.

But, if reports are to be believed, the busiest person at Hornets this week has been our physio: Dayne Donoghue continues to struggle to shake off his knee injury, Wayne English is still under treatment for the eye injury picked up at Wrexham, Chris Baines and Alex Trumper are both carrying knocks and Mike Ratu's sprained ankle could see him sidelined for a few weeks - so Friday's game poses quite an interesting compendium of challenges.

Oldham come into the game having come away from the Gnoll with a half-decent if 'ugly' 24-12 win over the Scorpions - having been 4-nil down for much of the first half hour. Whether Hornets postponement works in our favour, given OIdham's five-day turnround remains to be seen.

Certainly Scott Naylor understands the importance of the A627M El Classico: "A game against Rochdale isn't an ordinary game" he said. And we agree.

It's a bit of a shame that one of world Rugby League's oldest rivalries gets played out in the 'forgotten' tier of the British game.  Yes, playing in KPC1 helps pioneer the game in new areas; yes the presence of Hornets and Oldham gives the competition the credibility it so desperately needs and, yes, it'll be a tight, nerve-shreddingly competitive season. But whilst we slug it out here, you can't help thinking that there's a better party happening somewhere else. Involving Hunslet, probably. Or Sheffield.

Rivalries aside, here's hoping that both Hornets and Oldham get the hell out of here at the first time of asking. It'll be better for our clubs, better for the game - and it'll piss off NW Crusaders in the process.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Other Hornets Pioneer Dual Registration Route to Success

When the words 'Hornets', 'partnership clubs' and 'season-long loans' appear in the Sunday papers, it's hard not to sit up and take notice.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the current Dual Registration debate was exclusively a Rugby League phenomenon, but it seems that a visionary European football club owner Giampolo Pozzo - owner of Udinese in Italy, Grenada in Spain and now Watford in the UK - sees sharing talent around as a conduit to longer-term stability, growth and success.

Pozzo's pioneering 
'talent sharing' approach has been proven to work across his other two clubs. But it hasn't gone down well in some quarters, where 'traditionalists' - primarily coaching teams below Watford in the Championship - see it as a deviation from 'the British Way', rather than a methodology for delivering rapid success as a catalyst for sustainable success.

Ultimately, regardless of the code of football, there are two basic elements to the squad-building equation: clubs will always need to find players from somewhere, and decent players will always look for a game at a level that befits their talent. If the way these two elements are conjugated is changing, the fundamentals of the output remains pretty much the same. 

If clubs down the ladder can build skills, knowledge, confidence and momentum that will carry them forward, it must be an experiment worth trying. Like all innovations, 'talent sharing' needs pioneers to iron out the wrinkles, smooth out the glitches and find ways to make it work.

And if both Hornets clubs achieve their goals this season, their pioneering spirit just might establish a talent-sharing path that leads to stability and success for more clubs in the future.

Read more about Watford FC's 'Dual Registration' philosophy

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Skolars Game Off!

Due to snow.

Rearrangement details when we have them.

Wrap up warm, folks!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Sunday's Coming: London Skolars

In the Rugby League press, there's much been made of London Skolars rampage through the NRC's  Pool B this season. Three wins from three, 100 points scored, only 16 conceded - the caasual RL fan could be forgiven for thinking that the capital's second team has somehow transformed into a lean, mean, red & green winning machine. But wait…

Closer examination shows that, unlike Pool B's 'Group of Death'-style inclusion of the three likely KPC1 promotion candidates, the Skolars have hardly been stretched thus far. A 26-4 home win over new-boys Hemel Stags, a 54-12 thumping of South Wales Scorpions at the Gnoll and an unconvincing 20-nill mudbath win over makeweight university side the All Golds (of whom coach Brad Hepi this week said "Most of them are writing dissertations at the moments, so their minds are elsewhere" - very professional) are hardly the stuff of legend.

Indeed, bar the win in Wales Skolars havent really been tested thus far. Something Joe Mbu recognises.

In this week's League Express he says: "I'm looking forward to how the team goes, because it will be another step up and we will need to raise our game. Hopefully we'l go there and do outselves justice because for ther last two years our trips to Rochdale have not been easy."

In this year's lop-sided NRC, Skolars only need a bonus point on Sunday to qualify for a flogging in the knockout stages and a likely pounding by North Wales in the Plate/Bowl/Saucer final at the Shay - though their massively superior points difference should see thenm through even if the Scorpions beat Oldham convincingly - which we hope they do.

By far Skolars' most interesting player is Michael Worrincy. Having played in Super League for both Harlequins RL and Bradford Bulls, and in the Championship for Leigh. In 2011, he also spent a year down-under, signed for Penrith Panthers, but playing for their partner club Windsor Wolves in the New South Wales Cup. Prior to joining Skolars he had a brief sabbatical from competitive rugby, playing *nion at London Irish.

As for Hornets, once again we bat out the NRC with a dead rubber. A shoddy second half at Wrexham leaves Ian Talbot's side trying to 'not finish third' in a four team group where Gateshead were provided as cannon-fodder.

In collating Ian talbot's thoughts on last week, one might surmise that he's not a happy chap. Hornets' head coach, said: "They took their chances and they had better ball control, so that told in the end… we were 50 per-cent overall (completion rate) and they were 75 per-cent in that second half… we made too many handling errors to come away with the win… we made some dumb decisions and let them off the hook."

None of which we disagree with here at TLCRF80mins Towers - but it's obvious that, once the team deviates from the starting 13 it looks less cohesive as a unit, and once we have to reshuffle players things go awry. So plenty to work on.

As it is, Sunday exists in order to provide the opportunity of a winning run-up at the serious business which begins back on the Elysian fields of Whitebank on Good Friday. Dead rubber or not, we NEED a win to get our spirits up, our confidence back and to bolster our belief that - even if we can't get out of the NRC group - we can get the hell out of Kingstone Press Championship one at the first time of asking.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Cru-de but effective.

Crusaders 30 Hornets 16

The thing about Clive Griffiths is that you know what you're going to get. He's perfectly open about the tactics he employs to shut teams down. And when his team contains the agricultural Ryan MacDonald and the portly talents of Jono Smith, you get an inkling that it'll be a fairly fundamental afternoon.

And so it proved. With the super-sized Welsh pack pounding a relentless furrow down the middle for most of the afternoon, lucid football was at a premium. Indeed, any deviation from this blunt instrument approach was likely to be the difference twixt winning and losing.

For 70 of the 80 minutes, there was little between the sides. Locked in a messy arm wrestle and scrambling for any scraps of open play.

The home side were first to settle and when Johnson tracked a Moulsdale half-break he was slipped into space to score after just five minutes. In characteristic style, the home fans almost wet themselves.

But Hornets kept their cool. Working hard off a good kick-chase game, they edged themselves downfield, where they produced carbon-copy tries through the right centre channel in quick succession. Lee Gaskell showing good balance to step through, followed by Danny Davies hitting a pass at speed. 12-6 Hornets.

However, Hornets couldn't maintain the momentum. Having withstood back to back sets, a series of cheap penalties, questionable 50:50s and the compulsion to force passes gave the Crusaders easy yards. And they capitalised with McConnell slumping in from a yard to send the home fans wild. 12-all.

With the half ebbibng away - and Crusaders camped in the Hornets 20, a straightforward pass from Durbin was fumbled by Middlehurst and Lee Gaskell gathered the loose ball to outpace the cover over 80 metres to score. Crooky hooked the conversion attempt and Hornets went to the sheds 16-12 to the good.

The first score of the second half was crucial and it was the home side who shook off the shackles to find the ten minutes of flowing football that seized the momentum and, ultimately, the game.

On 52 minutes, a jinking lateral run by Durbin was allowed to progress unhindered and, when the defence finally made up the ground a neat over the top pass to Massam created just enough space for him to score out wide. Johnson slotted the extras and Crusaders had the lead.

On the hour Hornets' luck took a turn for the worse as debutant Mike Ratu ws stretchered from the field with a serious-looking ankle injury, collapsing in a heap whilst tracking back into the defensive line without a player within 20 metres.

Shuffling a now heavily reshuffled backline, Hornets' shape was found wanting as, again, Durbin replicated his earlier break, this time Massam hitting the flag on his way over the line, but the officials certain that he'd grounded the ball. 24-16 to Crusaders and, suddenly, this was starting to look like a bit of a battering.

For the last 15 minutes, the game reverted to type. Locked solid in the forwards, Hornets continued to turn over cheap possession and subject themselves to set after set of relentless defence: the only real yardage being made from Crook's booming downfield kicks and a creditably enthusiastic chase.

As it was, the coup de grace came after 75 minutes. Having again defended repeat sets, Hornets defence was out on its feet, so Crusaders did what they do best: send a big lad steaming in from two yards - Stephens piledriving in to send the home fams into paroxysms of mawkish singing.

There was just enough time for ex-Hornet Middlehurst to get himself noticed. Chasing down a long kick, he left a little something in his tackle on Gaz Langley. Langley reacted uncharacteristically, launching a hopeful headbutt in Middlehurst's direction. Referee Mr Brooke produced the red-card. Middlehurst departed the scene laughing under the congratulations of his team-mates.

A disappointing end to a disappointing afternoon. Having matched the big Welsh pack and nullified the Crusaders strike players for the greater part of the 80 minutes, a 50% completion rate, an inability to snap back into shape and a clear lack of a 'Plan B'  when play got bogged down ultimately cost Hornets a game that was closer than the scoreline suggests.

As it is, barring a disaster at Hemel, it's Crusaders who progress out of the NRC group. And for Hornets? Some heavy-duty recalibration and a return to the basics ahead of the real business of this crucial Kingstone Press Championship One season.

This morning's Rugby League press reports have Paul Crook as the Hornets player dismissed for 'punching'. It wasn't - it was Gareth Langley for his retaliation to Gary Middlehurst's tackle. All you have to do is pay attention, boys.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Sunday's Coming: Crusaders

It's shit or bust weekend in the Northern Rail Cup. 

With two whopping wins from two -  last week's 30-4 victory over hapless Gateshead backing up their brutal flogging of Oldham -  North Wales Crusaders are in the box-seat for winning Pool A. Having overcome difficult conditions  - including dog-shit on the pitch - at New Craven Park last week, Clive Griffiths was delighted with the win. “We’re delighted with the win”, he said. 

He also went on to say: “We had a target to keep them at nil up until half-time, which I don’t think we’ve ever done before, and we managed that…"  -  all part of his strategy to build match-winning platforms on the back of a big defensive effort.

Once again Griffiths gives us a big clue to the way Crusaders tick in his summary of the Gateshead game: "… apart from the kicks over and a few spins out of the tackle, they didn’t really break us. We put huge focus on improving our collisions and line speed in pre-season, so to see what we’ve been working on come off is pleasing." 

He also seems to have got roly-poly playmaker Jono Smith to what he describes as, "…  an extra level of fitness."  "Now he can do a full 80 minutes easily," said Griffiths, undoubtedly to the dismay of the caterers at the Racecourse Ground. But he is a tricky handful to play against and, playing behind a pack potentially containing Phil Braddish, Dave McConnell, Ryan Macdonald, Adam Bowman and Gary Middlehurst, I think it's safe to expect a gargantuan forward battle.

They also have ex-Super League wing Stuart Reardon in the side, who weighed in with two tries last week - so danger out wide as well.

Victory for Crusaders on Sunday would guarantee them a place in the Northern Rail Bowl/Plate/Saucer curtain-raiser to the NRC final. A defeat would leave Crusaders and Hornets in a last-round points-race against Hemel Stags and Pool B leaders London Skolars respectively to secure a day out in sunny Halifax on July 20th 

With two games to play, Oldham are also in with a mathematical chance of progress. They look set for a win against Gateshead at Whitebank on Sunday, though their current -20 points difference might prove too big a hurdle to overcome.

So we reckon all eyes are on Wrexham on Sunday - and if Hornets are be in with any chance of achieving target-one for 2013, a win is essential. Anything else and the NRC once again becomes a meaningless pre-season trial series - and freezing our arses off at Whitebank will all have been for nothing.

And I quite fancy Halifax in July, so here's hoping we see the best of Hornets on Sunday.

Challenge Cup Round 3 Draw

The Tetley’s Challenge Cup third round draw has been made. 
The 18 ties will be played over the weekend of April 6 and 7.

Hornets will play at home to Pennine League Premier Division side Hunslet Old Boys - currently sitting 4th in their competition.

The Draw in full...

Featherstone Rovers v Thatto Heath Crusaders
Blackbrook v York City Knights
West Hull v North Wales Crusaders
Dewsbury Rams v Myton Warriors
Sheffield Eagles v Leigh East
South Wales Scorpions v Doncaster RLFC
Workington Town v AS Carcassonne
Halifax RLFC v Oxford
Batley Bulldogs v Gateshead Thunder
Skirlaugh v University of Gloucestershire All Golds
Ince Rose Bridge v Hemel Stags
Swinton Lions v Toulouse Olympique
Siddal v Keighley Cougars
Rochdale Hornets v Hunslet Old Boys
Leigh Centurions v East Leeds
Whitehaven RLFC v London Skolars
Hunslet Hawks v Oldham RLFC
Barrow Raiders v Leigh Miners Rangers

Monday, 11 March 2013

Cold Comfort

Oldham 26 - Hornets 10

On lots of fronts, this was one to forget. With Whitebank redolent of Arctic Tundra, it was always going to be a quite literal uphill task. But, compelled to shuffle key playmaker Paul Crook to an unfamilar berth at loose forward to accommodate Saints' Dual Reg loanee Lee Gaskell at stand-off, Hornets struggled to find any real fluidity. 

To his credit, Crooky dug in and celebrated his 100th Hornets appearance with a well-taken try, but by the time he was switched back to stand-off after 65 minutes - with Gaskell moved to centre - the damage had pretty much been done.

In reality, Hornets were architects of their own downfall. A procession of cheap penalties and dropped balls gave Oldham ample opportunity to build momentum. Indeed, the biggest puzzle was why it took them 20 minutes to get over the Hornets goal-line.

As it was, a short-range sucker-try from Gee broke the icy deadlock, followed swiftly by a well taken try by Agoro who shrugged off a challenge that Martin Waring won't want to see in next week's video session. 10-nil Oldham. 

Hornets did rouse themselves upfield sufficiently to launch probably their only tangible attack of the half: Paul Crook responding first to a bouncing ball to skate through and score. Uphill into the biting wind his conversion attempt drifted wide and the supporters of both clubs endeavoured to reinstate circulation to frozen fingers as Hornets went in trailing 10-4 at the break.

The second half started with two pieces of Dallimore skill that took the game beyond Hornets' reach. Firstly a well-executed one-one-one steal from Gaz Langley saw him stroll in from 20 metres; secondly, he beat a flapping defence to his own neatly lofted chip. Both came either side of a close range Jordan Hand try, but it was token resistance from Ian Talbot's men.

The coup-de-grace came on the hour when Dallimore dinked a teasing grubber behind the Hornets defence for Bloomfield to touch down. And if that wasn't enough, Dallimore also dinked over a penalty just to rub it in.

The last 20 minutes was a bit of a non-event. Oldham's big pack making easy yards up the hill, Hornets finding a little more relief courtesy of some booming downfield kicks from Crook. 

In the end, when there's not a great deal between teams, desire and a sense of purpose takes you a very long way. But for long periods Hornets were a flabby, rudderless mess: short on ideas, light on poke and lacking direction. Oldham kept it simple and direct - and it worked.

There were few real stand-outs in the Hornets side: Wayne English drove diligently from the back, but was well policed; Danny Davies ran hard and straight all afternoon and looked Hornets' most dangerous forward - and Paul Crook worked his arse off at loose forward, but was seldom in a position to extert any direct influence on the game.

The week before, Clive Griffiths had said that shutting down Oldham's half-back combination of Palfrey and Dallimore had been key to the Crusaders win. It wasn't some great coaching secret - he said it in the paper. And on the internet. Ultimately, in giving them too much time, too many opportunities and too many options, Hornets proved him right.

All up, a cold, miserable day at the office for all concerned. 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Sunday's Coming: Oldham

Hornets and Oldham are like a couple locked in a beautiful, dysfunctional relationship. They might drive each other crazy, but they just can't leave it alone. And when the sparks fly, it feels… well… a little bit exciting.

Both halves of this highly charged equation come into Sunday's game at Whitebank on the back of contrasting early-season fortunes. While Hornets flew out of the traps with a clinical dismantling of a hapless Gateshead, OIdham were brutally flogged in Wales by Bassey-esque 'big-spenders' Crusaders by 48 to 12.

A close contest for half an hour, Oldham lost their way a bit and paid the price - shipping an incredible 30 points in the 11 minutes either side of half-time. Reports suggest that the team-spirit that pulled them through the Law Cup against a lop-sided Hornets struggling to accommodate late additions in key positions went AWOL. Having described the defeat as “totally unacceptable”, Scott Naylor was left scratching his head.

"… we totally disregarded everything we had been working on…" he said in the Chron. “… we were soft in defence and I’m really disappointed about that. I can accept the opposition scoring a great team try, but when they score because they merely run over or through a defender and not much effort is shown in the tackle that is hard to take."

Conversely, Crusaders' Clive Griffiths revealed how he'd locked Oldham down - a big pointer for Sunday: "… we knew Palfrey and Dallimore would be dangerous with their kicking games… we set out to put pressure on them and shut them down, and I think we succeeded."

The Oldham side v Crusaders was: Niall Evalds, Mo Agoro, Danny Samuel, Jon Ford, Richard Lepori, Lewis Palfrey, Jamie Dallimore, Jason Boults, Sam Gee, Liam Gilchrist, Josh Crowley, Danny Langtree, Mark Hobson. SUBS: Adam Files, Will Hope, Michael Ward, Jordan Walne - similar to the Law Cup line-up, with the addition of Evalds, Ford, Hope and Waine on Dual Reg. deals from crisis hit Salford who sacked Phil Vievers last Sunday.

Finally, wrap-up warm on Sunday. Met Office forecast for Oldham at 3pm reads: temperature 1° (from a high of 3°), wind gusts of up to 35mph, wind chill feels like:  -7°, 20% chance of rain. If you're thinking of investing £10 in one of the new Hornets woolly bobble hats, now's the time!

RFL Preview
Oldham v Rochdale Hornets (3.00pm)

Oldham coach Scott Naylor will pick from full strength for Sunday’s mouthwatering Northern Rail Cup derby with Rochdale Hornets. Naylor’s squad will be trying to recover from their 48-12 defeat against North Wales Crusaders last week, but Naylor insisted: “The score didn’t reflect the game. It made it look a lot worse than it was. We need to work on certain things and make sure we don’t switch off for 10 or 15 minute periods this week.”

Hornets coach Ian Talbot is also reporting a clean bill of health after last week’s 58-16 win over Gateshead Thunder. Talbot said: “Oldham will have improved since we played them a few weeks ago. I expect them to be a much tougher proposition, especially at their home ground. It’s going to be as much about how we deal with the conditions as how we deal with the opposition.” 

Some searing insights from the RFL's PR machine there...

Monday, 4 March 2013

Hornets Hammer Th-underwhelming Gateshead

Hornets 58 - Gateshead 16

Poor Gateshead never knew what hit them. Within five minutes of their season starting, they were 10-nil down and looking like the busted flush we've come to recognise. And it was a class double punch combination from Paul Crook that caused the damage. Consecutive 40/20s in the 3rd and 5th minute gave Hornets good field position. Firstly Wayne English sprang into the line creating sufficient panic in the Thunder ranks to jink through and score; than guest centre Tommy Makinson hit the last in a string of passes at pace to score wide out.

Gateshead stemmed the tide for a while, scrambling, sprawling and trundling upfield on the back of Referee Cobb's somewhat freestyle interpretation of the laws. Having withstood three repeat sets in their own 20, Hornets defence finally cracked when Thunder sent in the big-lad, substitute Stearman belly-flopping in from two yards to send ther visiting fans wild.

Hornets shrugged and hit straight back. First Jordan Case launching Tommy Makinson from 30 metres for a well-taken try, then good handling up the right flank where Gaz Langley planted the ball by the corner flag. Half time 22-6 and Hornets in control.

The second half began much like the first - but the two crucial kicks came courtesy of the visitors. Gateshead hoofed the kick-off into the Pearl Street end and, off the back of the resulting penalty, Chris Baines blasted through a hole to score. Gateshead then wellied the next kick-off into the Wilbutts Lane stand. Hornets marched back downfield where Steve Roper found Alex Trumper arriving like a train and slipped him in by the posts off a tidy short-ball.

Gateshead got lucky just before the hour mark: Hornets passing slickly through the gears, only for Johnson to snaffle an interception and win the 70 metre footrace. No matter. On Hornets' next foray to the Gateshead line, Carl Forster showed impressive strength to wriggle free and spin under the black dot.

Hornets went looking for the killer punch. Steve Roper's booming bomb was gathered by Thunder full-back Hardcastle, but the impact of Wayne English's scything tackle shook the ball free in the in-goal and Paul Crook showed great awareness to dive in and score.

Gateshead's response was a freak try after a scuffed kick to the corner appeared to go into touch. All the players stopped, the touch judge looked confused, Beasley put hand to ball in the in-goal more in hope than expectation and Mr Cobb confounded everyone by giving the try.

But it was a small respite.  Good hands to the right found Tommy Makinson who hit the afterburners to skip away from a flailing defence to notch a top-class hat-trick. And, with Ray's finger on the hooter button, there was just enough time for the impressive Danny Davies to bludgeon and bully his way through a mob of defenders and stretch out a cheeky arm to plonk the ball down by the post. Crooky made it nine from ten to wrap up a well-executed win.

Notwithstanding Tommy Makinson's guest appearance in place of Tony Stewart, this was a victory made by some very familiar faces. Wayne English was imperious at the back, Steve Roper teased & cajoled, John Cookson channeled his inner half-back and Benji Lloyd was an almost unplayable jack-in-the-box. But by far the stand out performance was from Paul Crook. He oozed compsure and class througout - and his kicking game was a midge's shy of perfection.

Overall this was an assured start for Hornets. Yes, Gateshead were a bit of a flabby mess and Hornets will face much sterner tests in the next few weeks, but as a launch-pad for 2013 this was as good as it could be.

Also worth mentioning is the great effort from the Hornets fans. An attendance of 508 was almost 100 more than at Hunslet in the Division above, and only 70 fewer than at Swinton. A good day for the club all-round