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.