Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Hornets Get Ugly

Hornets 32 London Skolars 24

Here at TLCRF80mins Towers, we've always preferred an ugly win to a handsome defeat. But, christ-on-a-bike, this game was so aesthetically unappealing it made your retinas hurt.

As the rain draped Spotland in a soggy grey sheet for most of this pig-ugly encounter, it provided a fitting backdrop for this 80 minute test of even the most ardent fan's endurance.

What made it worse was that it started so brightly. A seemingly benign clearing kick fumbled under his own posts by Skolars' comedy full-back Anthony allowed Dave Llewellyn to pounce after just three minutes; and when Chris Baines steamed in untouched after ten minutes off a short Steve Roper pass, it looked like a fairly basic afternoon's work was in prospect.

But with Referee Mr Merrick's inconsistent policing of the ruck, some sloppy handling and a rising error count, the only respite in the next 15 minutes was a Lovell try for Skolars off the back of two consecutive penalties for… well… your guess is as good as mine.

As it was, Hornets finally gained some traction, hitting the visitors twice in five minutes at the end of the half. Firstly Joe Greenwood showing good strength from close range, then Dom Speakman with a classic sucker-punch from dummy half.

With Paul Crook injured during the build-up (broken ribs - painful and could be a while to heal) 'Angry' Gaz langley took over the kicking duties and slotted home the first of his three from three.

So Hornets went to the sheds 24-6 to the good - less than fluid, but certainly better than a Skolars side that showed little in terms of craft.

Hornets' start to the second half was little more than shambolic. Stray passes, dropped ball and little appetite to go to ground to deny Skolars posession gave the visitors the chink of momentum they needed. Two quick-fire, carbon-copy tries by the flamboyantly monickered Smokie Junor - both converted by Skee - pulled Skolars back to 24-18 and, to the sound of a fast departing bonus point, Hornets found themselves scrambling to save the game.

Having battled back upfield, Hornets worked the ball to Dave Hull who simply refused to be tackled, heaving through a wall of defenders to get the ball down by the flag. Cool as you like, Gaz Langley stroked the conversion through from the touchline.

With the deterioration of the game into a sodden slog-fest - Hornets struggled to hold the line. Within five minutes, Skolars' dual-reg prop Dollapi came barelling over the line from five yards and, at 30-24, you could hear the squeak of tightening sphincters amongst the crowd of 523.

Hornets needed a cool head to settle the ship. Cometh the 70th minute, cometh the man, as Gaz Langley took the two from a 45 metre penalty to put the game beyond Skolars.

Yes, this was a hard one to watch. A wet, slippery mess of a game that would challenge the sensitivities of even the most ardent Winter-Rugby purist.

But a win is a win - and that is the most important thing given the confidence denting defeats of the last two weeks. Yes, it's irritating that we gifted a frankly awful Skolars side a bonus point, but Hornets needed a win of any kind and that's what was delivered.  However, what became clear was the level of influence Paul Crook has on Hornets momentum. Removed from the game, Hornets never really re-established their dominance and lacked incision with ball in hand and from the boot.

Whilst the performance was less than the sum of its parts, we should mention the relentless work ethic of Chris Hough, Danny Davies' desire to take the ball forward, and the emergence of Gaz Langley as Hornets new go-to man when we need to find a way to win.

With a week off now to regroup, refocus and re-energise ahead of the trip to Gloucester, Hornets can hopefully start looking up the table with purpose and determination.

And we wish Ginger General Paul Crook a quick recovery.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Hornets Pride. Bulls Progress.

Hornets 10 - Bulls 70

The Battle with the Cattle from Bradford ultimately went the way that most of the 1800 at Spotland anticipated. The Bulls were sharp, strong and steered around the park by a virtually unplayable Jarrod Sammut - but mostly they provided an object benchmark for ruthless professionalism.

Bradford took the lead after just 2 minutes. Referee Mr Hicks showed his hand early with a dubious penalty and, off the back of an easy 50 metres, Wood got lucky off a Sammut kick to score.

Another penalty after 8 minutes took Bradford upfield where a short inside ball was enough to slot Langley in by the posts. Not the best of starts. But Hornets got into the game, defending well and looking to play expansive football in a good ten minute spell. 

With Paul Crook herding the Bulls back from a series of booming down-town kicks, Bradford were faced by some determined defence. But Gale sneaked in for a last tackle sucker-try on 21 minutes after Hornets had done all the hard work defending repeat sets.

And it took a stroke of luck on 31 minutes for Bradford to breach the Hornets line again. Having resisted three consecutive sets, Hornets forced an error from the Bradford attack (a Bulls player passing the ball into an unaware Hornets defender at close range), but Mr Hicks wiped the tackle count and Chev Walker slipped in to score.

Having competed well, Hornets found themselves 24-nil down, but the breakthrough was about to come. On 36 minutes good approach work took Hornets close to the Bulls line. A lofted kick to the corner caused all manner of chaos in the Bradford ranks, the ball breaking to Dave Sutton who crashed in by the flag. Cue mayhem!  Crooky slotted the extras and suddenly Bradford looked less invincible.

But in a disappointing end to the half, Hornets turned over cheap possession and Sammut peeled off the back of the scrum for a simple try right on the hooter.

Half time 6-30.

After the break, Mr Hicks' ongoing freestyle interpretation of the laws gave Bradford a jump-start to the half.

Firstly a penalty for 'talking' after Hornets protested when Wood dropped a kick cold, but was permitted to play on. Then a questionable penalty for tackling Foster in the air, compounded by 10m when Hornets queried the decision. Having marched Bradford fully 70 metres downfield, Mr Hicks was the only person in the ground to spot a high tackle and, from this third consecutive penalty, Gale bounced through a retreating defence.

Uncharacteristically, Paul Crook hit the kick-off dead and this step-change in momentum sent Hornets spiralling into their most difficult spell of the game. 

Rugby League is hard to play when you don't have the ball, and a quickfire series of Bradford tries saw Hornets entrenched in draining defensive duties.

On 48 minutes, simple quick hands saw Bateman score untouched; then Whitehead running a fumbled Hornets pass back 60 metres to score. As the pressure mounted, good hands across the line stretched the Hornets defence to breaking point and Whitehead clocked a simple score.

But, with the reintroduction of Chris Hough and John Cookson just past the hour, the momentum was about to swing back in Hornets' favour. Firstly, Cookson timed his tackle on Purtell to perfection, snapping him to the gound to bring the main stand to its feet. Then a blockbusting run from Houghy gave Hornets the plaform to launch John Cookson from close range, showing great strength to crash through and grab Hornets second. Crooky slid the conversion just wide.

Hornets didn't hang around. Working the Bulls defence backwards, a sixth tackle dink into the in-goal again caused disarray. Sammut gathered the loose ball and set off on a circuitous run to get the ball back into the field of play - only to run into Tony Stewart who hit him like a train to force a Bulls drop-out.

But it was Bradford who got the break. On 70 minutes a teasing, bouncing grubber behind the Bulls defence was scooped up by Sammut who hit the afterburners to sprint in from 70 metres and effectively deflate a tiring Hornets.

Three minutes later another quite spectacular Mr Hicks double - a penalty that never was, followed by a 'no knock-on' that actually was - gave Bradford enough impetus to send Whitehead in for his hat-trick.

With the hooter imminent, Bradford delivered a brutal denouement, a Sammut cut-out pass giving Ex-Hornet Platt a stroll-in by the flag. 

Final score, a cruel 70-10.

Despite the imbalance in scores, Hornets gave a great account of themselves: striving to play expansive football at every opportunity and matching Bradford for a couple of lengthy spells. Certainly, that extra metre, extra kilo, extra half second that full-time status brings has a cumulative effect, but it does show the level of relentlessly professional perfomance that we must work towards.

Ultimately Bradford were a class apart, but this was a great day for Hornets. The players set a standard that the team must attain for the remainder of the season - playing with this level of effort, intensity and expansiveness against Championship 1 opposition will take us a very long way.

And, while Bradford progress in the cup, it's good to see that the Spirit of 1922 alive and well at Rochdale Hornets.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Sunday's Coming pt2: Bradford Bulls

Bulls coach Francis Cummins looks certain to make a number of changes for Sunday’s Challenge Cup tie, with a number of players come back into contention after injury.

Season-long Warrington loanee Ben Evans is expected to make his delayed debut, having missed all of the season thus far due to surgery on a long-standing hip injury.

Jamie Foster, John Bateman, Matty Blythe and Tom Olbison are also in the frame to play this weekend as Francis Cummins looks to regain some momentum after last week's flogging by a rampant WIgan. Did we mention that they got royally bent-over by the Pie Eaters? We did? Ah, good - we'd hate you to have missed that.,

With five possible changes in the line up from last week,  Cummins contrarily commented in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus:  "I can’t afford to rest four, five or six players because we haven’t got that sort of squad"… er… ok… Despite mentioning five players who didn't play last week and who might play this week in place of five players who played last week and who might not play this week,

He went on to say: "We’re limited in what we can do because we haven’t got a massive squad. But we might have a few people back, so the timing of the game is good in that it allows us to get a game under people’s belts."

As long as that few isn't more than maybe four. Or five. Or six. Or not. Blimey, we never knew that Super League was so complicated…

One thing he's absolutely sure about is that Hornets are definitely not in Super League: “We’ve got to be professional and, while we are facing a lower-placed team, it’s more about how we approach the game. On the back of the first half against Wigan, the boys are really keen to kick on again now.” But no matter how much he talks up the 'improvement' of the second half, it was as bad, it's just that Wigan were happy to park the bus and get out of Odsal with minimal effort.

We think this one has the potential to be very interesting indeed. Sunday can't come quick enough

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Sunday's Coming: Bradford Bulls

OK Hornets - are we Ready, Ready?

Due to work commitments, the preview's a bit early this week - not that we haven't written plenty already in advance of Sunday's game.

After last weekend's flogging, Bradford will be looking for an improvement on their frankly shambolic effort against Wigan (check out the video).  Not enough that Wigan jogged to an easy win, Bradford shipped 14 increasingly soft penalties - that's one every 340 seconds.

Always nosey, TLCRF80mins went for a root around their fans forum to see what their supporters thought and, by far, the most eyecatching comment was the Bulls had some time to rectify their many wrongs because 'next week is basically a week off'.

Now I'm not sure how a supporter of a team routed by a half-pace Wigan could talk about the ease of any fixture and certainly behind the scenes Bradford are taking this one pretty seriously.

The road to Wembley starts at Spotland!
Francis Cummins' desire to succeed in the Challenge Cup has already been noted, and in his programme notes for Sunday's game against Wigan he wrote: "The draw for the fourth round of the Tetley's Challenge Cup  was relatively kind to us, pairing us with Rochdale Hornets at Spotland. It is a competition we really want to do well in and we will be preparing for that game just as hard as we do for a Super League game. Rochdale will have nothing to lose and will give it all they've got and we need to be very professional in how we go about the job. On the plus side, we have some players coming back from injury which will be a big boost to our squad ahead of the Challenge Cup…"

And one of those returning is Ex-Hornet Michael Platt, whose game against Wigan  was his first back after injuring his Medial Ligament at Hull on February 10th.

Also speaking on the Challenge of the Cup in the League Express this week was Bulls Hooker Heath L'Estrange (whose most noteworthy career achievement to date was to captain Newtown Jets between 2006 and 2008).

"We were pretty happy with the draw. (Hornets)… are a good side with a great coach and I'm lookin forward to playing them. It can be a bit dangerous not knowing too much about them and there are often nerves going into games like that… we certainly won't be taking it easy against Rochdale because Franny is not that type of coach. A few guys have been playing with some niggles for the last few weeks,so if they're not right they may not play, but anyone who is fully fit will be playing."

Hornets also got a mention in the Bulls programme feature on their former academy international forward John Bateman: "… the cup draw has been kind, with a tie at Rochdale hinting at squad rotation and the blooding of some more youngsters waiting in the wings. (Bateman) 'We might get the chance to give some of those desperate to be given a go a run, but you can't take anyone lightly. We want to do as well as we can in every competition so we won't be seeing them as underdogs, just the next challenge. It will be massive for them.' "

And he's right. It is massive. A fantastic opportunity to benchmark our progress as a team and a club against one of the biggest names in the game.

Excited? You bet!

See you Sunday - and bring a friend or two!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Countdown To The Battle With The Cattle Continues

It's sometimes difficult to find news about teams in KPC1 for our previews, but with Bradford Bulls we had the opposite problem. As you can probably imagine given the 12 months that the Bulls have had, there's been so much written about them it was hard to know what to leave out!

Whilst Hornets and the Bulls have both successfully staved off the spectre of extinction in recent years, it's fair to say that the clubs have taken very different routes to survival. But the last  year reads like an object lesson in the realities of running a Rugby League club.

After a farcical slide into chaos - played out in the full glare of the media like a slow-motion car-crash - the club's previous incarnation was finally put out of its misery on 26 June 2012, with debts of over £1,500,000. 

Following a high profiile wailing and gnashing of teeth - and a bizarre interim suggestion that all of the other clubs in Super League to take a share in the Bulls - the administrator eventually accepted an offer for the club from a consortium headed by businessman Omar Khan and local MP (and former Sports Minister) Gerry Sutcliffe. The new board also features the club’s first female director,  multi-award-winning businesswoman Kate Hardcastle - a dyed in the wool Bulls fan whose key role is to develop the club’s fanbase amongst families & children and identify opportunities for women in rugby league generally. So all positive stuff.
Bradford v Wigan - Mr Whippy played a blinder.

But despite Bradford's storming start to the 2013 season, they're not out of the woods just yet.

On their resurrection, the club was only awarded a one-year probationary Super League licence. Hence the new Bulls management met with the RFL last Friday to try and secure the club’s Super League status for next season. A final decision is anticpated within a couple of weeks, with Bradford understandably keen to know their fate to the end of the current Super League licencing period in 2014.

According to the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, as a further condition of preserving their Super League status, the other 13 clubs also elected to deny the Bulls their share of the Sky contract money for the next two seasons. At £1.2m/season that's a big hole to fill (it feels a little unfair to punish a new management for the the recklessness of the previous one, but that seems standard practice) - especially as revenue appears as hard to generate at the top as it is at the bottom, with Odsal season ticket sales falling short of target figures this season.

So can we give them a game?

On the field, the Bulls had gone off like a rocket this year, but the wheels came off in spectacular fashion at Odsal on Sunday when they were brutally dicked by Wigan to leave them sixth in Super League with 6 wins from 12. 

TLRF80mins went along on our own pre-cup spying mission to try and identify those areas where the Bulls might offer a chink of opportunity. Having watched them systematically dismantled by Wigan side that barely broke into a jog, we like to think that there are plenty of opportunities to exploit the Bulls' vulnerabilities.

For the greater part of the game, Bradford were utterly wretched. As suspected last week, they look shaky out wide - particularly their right edge. Regardless of where Wigan scored their tries, the attacks that set the platform all came down the flank occupied by Kear and Purtell, aided on at least a couple of occasions by Purtell screaming out of the defensive line, leaving a gaping hole behind. Indeed, Wigan dinked a series of kicks behind the defence causing no end of chaos and doubt - not especially helped by fullback Kearney who dropped a bomb under pressure after five minutes and spent much of the next hour looking like a bloke who'd won a place on the team photo in a raffle.

Wigan persisted on picking away at Bradford's weak spot and, when the Bulls weren't scrambling to defend kicks, they were caught back-pedalling as Tomkins made the extra man on a series of probing, arcing runs. As the first half wore on, Wigan simply reverted to running straight through the middle of the field. Quick play-the-balls found the Bradford defence stretched, with O'Loughlin and Farrell slipping through soft tackles in repeated long-range forward raids. 

Bradford offered little by way of resistance. Their main strike threat comes from Jarrod Sammut the Maltese Aussie who, we're told, hasn't had a shave since before Xmas, and currently sports a beard that offers a passable impression of Jesus with a decent sidestep. Having grabbed 14 tries already this year, he's clearly their fulcrum. He pulled out his favoured cut-out pass to the left wing a couple of times - and his little 'take it right, switch it left' move, but he ploughed a bit of a lonely furrow.

Other than Sammut's occasional probing passes Bradford barely launched an attack of merit in 40 minutes. And it took primary kicker Sammut until the 36th minute to direct a kick towards a touchline (most were just booted harmlessly down centre-field). To be fair, Sammut tackles above his weight, moving out wide on the left on defence. He's got an interesting kick off technique too (yes, we got see that a lot!) - hoisting the ball high onto the defending side's 20 metre line. Interestingly, he hoofed three consecutive kick-offs out of play!

Sammut also provided Bradford's only real bright spot on 35 minutes when a 60 metre interception break came to naught as he didnt have the legs to go all the way - and his support didn't have the legs to get to him.

It was 30-nil at half time, and Wigan scored in under two minutes of the second half: Tomkins from a delicate kick through - again exploiting the fact that every time Bradford's defence had to turn it hadn't clue what was happening. At 36 nil Wigan racked the cue, played through the drills at threequarter speed and avoided any injuries. After almost an hour Bradford finally conjured up an attack, and it was that man Sammut latching on to a lofted kick (seemingly from an offside position). He converted his own try and 10,000 people spent the next 20 minutes trying to stay awake.

To be perfectly frank, Bradford were awful. Outplayed, out-enthused and simply out-organised. Wigan identified their weaknesses out wide, compelled the defence to turn at every opportunity and were tight enough on defence to nullify the Bulls' narrow attacking repertoire (Plan A: give it to Jarrod. Plan B: send in a big lad).

So, can Hornets give them a game? If we can keep the play the balls quick, move the ball wide and get the ball in behind the Bulls defence, TLCRF80mins thinks Hornets have got the personnel to make them think a bit. If they didn't like the deceptive runs of Sam Tomkins, they won't much like Wayne English's Jack-in-the-box style. The battle at half-back should be interesting too. We think that Steve Roper and Paul Crook have enough in their locker to keep their opposite numbers on their toes. Bradford played young Danny Addy at stand-off - he started of quietly and faded away, so lots of scope for the Ginger General to make him look a dick.

Certainly Hornets forwards will have their work cut-out. Bradford have a big pack that runs straight and hard. But to be honest, they don't do much else. And if you're playing Chev Walker in the second row, it's reasonable to assume that you're a bit short on firepower.

Before we went to Odsal, we were really excited about the visit of the resurrected Bulls. But, having seen them play, we want Hornets to play them tomorrow. We can't wait to see just how Hornets aquit themselves. Bradford are not invincible. There are opportunities. And we can all dream.

The battle with the cattle can't come quick enough.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Countdown to The Battle With The Cattle

After last year's Challenge Cup flogging at Leigh TLCRF80mins was disheartened. 

The world's most venerable cup competition had, we thought, degenerated into a soul-less funnel where Amateurs queue up to get stuffed by championship clubs, championship clubs queue up to get stuffed by Super League clubs, and Super League clubs pray they don't get Warrington on a good day.

But this year, the cup seems to have regained a bit of its sparkle. Notwithstanding Hornets' exciting home draw with the resuscitated Bulls of Bradford, the draw has thrown up some intriguing contests that offer a chance for glory as well as a half-decent payday.
Certainly the prospect of testing our club against one of the biggest names in Super League has got fans buzzing - and it's an occasion not lost on Bradford coach Francis Cummins 
Speaking ahead of the draw in this week's League Express, whilst he surely sees games like ours as a speed-bump on the road to cup glory - Cummins does appreciate the unique place that the competition holds in the hearts of Rugby League tragics like us:
"I have experienced the Challenge Cup as a player and as an assistant coach and I'm really looking forward to gettkng involved in  the competition again, this time as a head coach. I've been lucky enough to go back to the new Wembley and that was a great experience…"
"Nothing has ever changed about the the Challenge Cup. The history is still there and everyone wants to get to the final. Every Super League side will be hoping for one of the lower league sides…"
Currently sitting a commendable third in Super-Duper League, Bradford warm-up for next weekend's Spotland tie with a tough game against Wigan.  Cummins sees that one as a bellwether for their season.
In the Bradford Telegraph & Argus he said:
“We don’t want to look back and say we were third at Easter and then it all fell to bits. We’ve taken stock of it and have enjoyed where we are but we have to kick on now. You have a quick look at the table but we’re not going to be ruled by it… I believe we’re improving individually and as a group and I’m really happy that we’re getting the wins as well.”
The table-topping Pie Eaters will arrive at the infamous Odsal crater on Sunday with seven wins in their last eight games. With Josh Charnley, Pat Richards, Lee Mossop, Harrison Hansen and skipper Sean O’Loughlin all fit for selection, we can hope that they get a strenuous test and that Wigan soften them up nicely for us - because if history provides a guide, we'll need all the help we can get.
We don't cross paths with Bradford that often: 7 meetings since 1971, two wins amongst that number, the most famous the 19-12 victory on October 14th 1990 - Hornets only win of a disastrous top-flight season - in front of 3,626 people. Hornets outscored Bradford four tries to two that day (Cowie, Hall, Higgins, Lord), Ticker Turner converting just one. The crucial drop-goal came from the boot of Neil Holding.
That same season (December) Hornets went all the way to the Regal Trophy final at Headingley, losing 13-2 to Bradford in front of a measly 3,700.
Our most recent meeting was a 10-48 defeat at Spotland in the Challenge Cup against a Bradford side containing Matt Calland. Attendance that day was 5,466 - almost a season's attendance these days!
So, as the Bulls focus on their game with Wigan, Hornets have the bye, an opportunity for some vital team bonding and a week to plot a way to wedge a spanner in the Bradford machine (bearing in mind, against Hull FC and Castleford at this stage previously, Hornets have taken the lead!).
Here's hoping it flies by, we've not been as excited about a game for a quite a while.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Battle With The Cattle: A Look at Bradford Bulls

Highlights of the London v Bulls game on 7th April. Danger comes from Jarrod Sammut, who does a lot of damage up the middle. London do find a few holes and the Bulls look vulnerable out wide. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Bulls Hit Spotland in Challenge Cup

The draw has been made for the fourth round of the Tetley's Challenge Cup. 
We got Bradford Bulls.
Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire (anyone bored yet?)

The draw is as follows (our tips to win in bold)

Wigan Warriors v Leigh Centurions
Hemel Stags v Wakefield Wildcats 
Hunslet Hawks v Catalan Dragons 
Rochdale Hornets v Bradford Bulls
Batley Bulldogs v Huddersfield Giants 
Hull FC v North Wales Crusaders 
Sheffield Eagles v Dewsbury Rams
London Broncos v Featherstone Rovers
Halifax RLFC v Barrow Raiders 
Widnes Vikings v Doncaster RLFC 
Keighley Cougars v Warrington Wolves
Leeds Rhinos v Castleford Tigers
University of Gloucestershire All Golds v Salford City Reds
York City Knights v Toulouse Olympique
Whitehaven RLFC v WorkingtonTown 
Hull KR v St Helens 

*Spot the upset

Sunday, 7 April 2013

You can't fight progress...

Hornets 40 -  Hunslet Old Boys 4

Ah the magic of the Challenge Cup. Plucky underdog ptited against accomplished favourites. The chance to show the game what you're made of on its most venerable stage. The chance to give a good account of yourself as Rugby League's spotlight looks your way. 

Shame no-one told Hunslet Old Boys, whose sole intention seemed to be to ruin the afternoon for everyone involved.

Almost from the off, their agricultural brand of anti-Rugby League left a stain on pretty much every aspect of the game that it came into contact with. Indeed, the level of relentless commitment required to sprawl, brawl, slug and and spoil their way through every one of its 80 minutes is, perversely, admirable.

Indeed, four yellow cards for a mix of persistent foul play and dissent, plus a red for Foster after 50 minutes for throwing a mindless punch whilst in possession barely tell the tale of this rolling assault.

Chasing a kick off the back of the game's very first set, Gaz Langley copped an off the ball elbow to the face. Referee Sharpe gave the visitors the penalty. Next to suffer was Alex Trumper, subbed for treatment to a head injury after 8 minutes. He didn't return.

To their credit, Hornets kept working the ball around - occasionally forcing passes to let Old Boys off the hook. While the visiting pack seemed set on imposing themselves on the Hornets threequarter line, when John Cookson came calling off a short Steve Roper ball after 11 minutes, they were oddly absent as he skittled an exposed defence to score. Paul Crook added the two.

Old Boys were invited to test the Hornets defence after Gaz Langley dropped the ensuing kick-off, but the challenge of having to play some actual football proved too great as prop Miller spilled the ball.

Hornets marched straight back upfield where Dave Llewellyn dropped Warren Thompson's pass with the line begging. Minutes later it was Thomson again, with a huge break through the heart of a blowing Old Boys defence. He slipped a neat ball inside to Paul Crook, but the pass was deemed forward. Hornets sustained the pressure. This time Danny Davies providing the break, his pass bouncing away from a slipping Langley.

Old Boys only moment of lucid football came after 23 minuters when a dink over the top by O'Malley came to naught when the receiving player was called offside. From the resulting possession, Hornets conjured up a sweeping passing move to launch Dave Sutton into space where he outpaced the cover to score. Crooky added the extras off the touchline: 12-nil. Hornets repeated the move up the opposite wing on 33 minutes, this time Gaz Langley surging in. 

Hornets spent the remainder of the half avoiding a miscelleny of high shots, cheap shots and three-man flops to go in 16-nil to the good. Hunslet Old Boys barely worth their nil.

Hornets fans muttered darkly during the break about Old Boys' outrageously rudimentary approach. But there was much worse to come.

Hornets came out determined to play round Old Boys' decapitatory technique. and within two minutes a cute pop-out ball from Dave Hull sent Dave Sutton sprinting in unopposed from 40 metres. Crooky added the two off the touchline. 22-nil.

Sutton Bagged his hat-trick five minutes later when he embarked on a looping run across a dead-footed defence to score, again, from distance, and within five minutes Danny Davies ducked up the short side to score a well-taken try.

However, it was Foster's red-card punch on 50 minutes that really set this game on its slide into farce. Refusing to leave the playing area, Foster was brought to the attention of the 4th official and match commissioner. Simultaneously an over-reacting, beer-handed Old Boys supporter was ejected from the ground for violent behaviour by the stewards. In the ensuing melee an Old Boys player from the bench was seen endeavouring to join the skirmish. 

Under increasing provocation, Hornets kept their composure, creating enough space for Gaz Langley to duck in and score by the flag. 34-nil.

On 75 minutes, with one player in the bath and one cooling his heels for use of the shoulder, Old Boys finally got their moment of ill-gained glory, Thomson breaking the line for a consolation try.

Hornets shrugged, Crooky stroked a short kick-off for John Cookson to regather and Old Boys' had time stood under their own crossbar to contemplate their try as Wayne English's arcing run clinically bisected defenders to score. Paul Crook added the two and Ray Myers blew the hooter to put this quite dreadful game out of its misery.

Ordinarily, you see ambassadors for the amateur game applauded off the field on Challenge Cup day, but Old Boys were decidedly worthy of the disdain levelled at them on this occasion.

Certainly the game is hard enough without people trying to take your head off. But it's interesting to note that Hunslet Old Boys eschew the concept of summer Rugby League and continue to peddle a minority brand of throwback football through the winter months. Their whole approach seems like an anachronism in the modern game. And there's really no place for it.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Sunday's Coming: Hunslet Old Boys

The Challenge Cup excites the whole of the Rugby League Community and, as a club with a strong community remit, Hornets should see a kindred spirit in Hunslet Old Boys. 

Founded in 1940, The Hunslet Boys Club was established to give the young people of South Leeds opportunities to enjoy 'recreation activities, warmth and comradeship'. The poor level of physical fitness of conscripts to the armed forces inspired the club's motto of 'FITNESS FOR LIFE'  and its founders set out to promote physical and mental wellbeing in the local community.

It's not green and yellow - it's myrtle and flame.

In 2008 the club was renamed 'The Hunslet Club' and - more than 70 years after its foundation - it continues to meet the local  community's needs for both physical and life-skills training. A varied programme of vocational opportunities helps develop skills such as car & bike mechanics, construction, hair dressing and beautician skills - and the club works in conjunction with local schools to deliver accredited qualifications. Physical activities remain a core part of the club's offering. From streetdance, cheerleading and drama to kickboxing, gymnastics and football, The Hunslet Club delivers a vast range of activities - and continues a strong tradition of keeping Rugby League's (Myrtle and) Flame alive in the Hunslet district, having clocked up regular final appearances culminating in a 2012 Yorkshire Cup win.

It's interesting to note that the most famous Hunslet Old Boy is former Wigan and Great Britain winger Jason Robinson, who began his rugby odyssey as a junior in the club's colours.

Hunslet Old Boys' most recent foray into the Challenge Cup Challenge was last year, where they succumbed to the Yorkshire juggernaut that is Featherstone Rovers by 86 - 12.

Hunslet Old Boys have just played a winter season in the Pennine Premier League and, at the time of writing, proudly at the top of the table.

The Old Boys strike threat looks to come from two key sources: fullback Luke O'Malley, who has pro experience with Hunslet Hawks, is the club's leading points scorer this season, followed closely by goalkicking GB Community Lions prop Jamie Field.

Old Boys are coached by former Wigan and Halifax fullback Daryl Cardiss.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Hornets Complete Easter Double

Hornets 40 - Skolars 16

It's the games you least expect to excite and inspire that prove that Rugby League never loses its power to surprise. On paper, a hastily rearranged dead rubber against a team from the other end of the country on a freezing Easter Monday sounds like one for the purists. But this game had plenty up its sleeve to admire and enjoy

Skolars came to Spotland on the back of a) a flawless NRC record in Pool A and b) an embarrassing home thumping by Hemel Stags on Friday. Despite this contradictory form, you know what you're going to get from Joe Mbu's side. Of their last two or three visits to Spotland, Skolars have been the ugliest team we've played all season.

During the opening exchanges their… er… 'gritty' approach worked a treat - creating a slow, scrappy environment in which Hornets strove to play what little football was on offer. But, rather than get sucked into an ugly war of attrition, Hornets went looking for space - and, once dragged into the open, Skolars were on the back foot.

On 12 minutes, fullback Gaz Langley's arcing run created the extra man off the back of a scrum, and when the ball reached him, he continued to loop across the field, stepping neatly inside to open the scoring. 

Hornets continued to press and try to play expansive football, but a series of mistimed passes and dropped balls early in the tackle count made for a scrappy period of the game.

As it was, the home fans had to wait until the 21st minute for the backline to fully click: debutant Dave Llewellyn on the end of a flowing passing move to score a slick, fluid try on the right. Chris Baines hit the post with his conversion attempt.

Just two minutes later, Baines found Martin Waring in space on the left flank with a peach of a pass; Waring showing great pace and balance from 40 metres to score. This time Baines adding the two. 14-0 to Hornets.

Hornets fans had barely finished applauding when some great approach work up the right saw Barry Clark showing great strength to spin out of a covering tackle and force his way over to give Hornets an 18-nil lead.

With half an hour gone, Skolars only real contribution to the game had been a willingness to dump bodies into every tackle with the sole intention of slowing the game to a standstill. As a consequence, every time Hornets took the ball into space, they looked compelled to find an extra pass - even when there was no real opportunity. Skolars gladly took the respite of such cheap possession and - from nowhere - conjured up two quickfire tries.

Firstly McClean jinked away from a stretched defence to score, followed four minutes later by a blind side raid through a napping defence where Bloom outpaced the cover and score. McClean added the extras and Skolars  - despite being spectators for over half an hour - were back within touching distance at 18-10.

On the last play of the half Skolars reverted to type conceding a dumb penalty for lying-on: Baines took the two and Hornets went into the break 20-10 up.

The first score of the second half was critical to seize the game's momentum. It duly arrived after just 2 minutes as Hornets showed good hands up the right channel. 

Initially over-thinking the approach, a try went begging when it looked easier for Langley to score. As it was Dave Llewellyn straightened up the attack to grab his second.

Hornets went back on the attack immediately. Great hands right-to left stretched the Skolars' defence and when the ball found its way to Lewis Sheridan, he hit the afterburners to leave the visitors' defence flapping at shadows. Launching himself from 60 metres Sheridan showed the cover a clean pair of heels up the touchline to score the try of the day. Baines added the two.

Skolars only hope of preventing a cricket score was to grind the game to a halt. For close on 20 minutes they spoiled and sprawled. And with the ball in hand looked increasingly unlikely to cause Hornets any real problems. Their only real threat came when Benji Lloyd made a king-sized dog's dinner of a completely aimless last-tackle panic hoof downfield, but the Londoners couldn't capitalise on the opportunity.

With both sides now struggling to complete (and we beieve there really are some questions to be asked about how the new Rhino ball contributes to some of the handling issues we've seen this season), the game needed a catalyst to spark it back into life.

It came on 67 minutes when a break through the middle of the park by Benji Lloyd was brought to an abrupt end by a clear trip. Referee Cobb considered his options and put the offence on report. Hornets' response was to shift the ball wide to Martin Waring who planted the ball by the flag.

On the next foray into the Skolars half, a surging break from Chris Hough prised the defence apart and good hands gave Dave Hull enough space to duck in from close range. Gareth Langley took over kicking duties and neatly added the two. 40-10 and the job done.

With five minutes remaining, Skolars did find one moment of lucid football, Kolasa on the end of a smart passing move, with McClean adding the extras. Final score 40-16.

Despite its status as a 'dead rubber', this was an entertaining and competitive game. Ian Talbot rotated his squad and gave over a dozen players an opportunity to play themselves into contention for a regular first team berth - and most gave a good account of themselves.

Wingers Clark and Waring took their tries well, and centre Llewellyn made an assured debut. Up front, prop Carl Forster terrorised the Skolars pack all afternoon, sucking in defenders, eating up the hard yards and providing an endless supply of second-phase ball. His little drop-off out of the back of the tackle late-on was sublimely precocious. And keep your eye on Lewis Sheridan this season. His tenacity belies his size and his turn of pace for his try was excitingly impressive.

So, once again, a 'pointless' NRC game provides some real optimism for the season and shows that we have some real talent at the club. And with two wins from two over Easter, Hornets can take great pride in a job well done.