Tuesday, 27 August 2013

"I have hope in March that I might share in the glory of September…"

In quite possibly the world's greatest Rugby League poem 'Ode to a New Season', Thomas Keneally writes of his excitement and optimism as a new season approaches. In it he weighs his hopes against the possibility of glory at the season's end. And now we find ourselves staring down the barrel of September with glory seemingly as distant and elusive as it was in the cold of late February.

It's been a frustrating, fragmented and, at times, fractious summer. Too infrequent fleeting glimpses of hope erased by withering defeat against Skolars, Crusaders, Scorpions and, most irritatingly, Hemel. Spare a thought for the hardy few that swallowed all four.

It's been an enlightening season too - the dawning realisation that the Kingstone Press Championship 1 has proven far more competitive than anyone dared imagine. Gateshead and the All Golds finding their feet late in the season to stir up the top four; Hemel bringing the blunt-instrument juggernaut of their Conference momentum into the semi-pro ranks; Oxford, a ready-made side of obstinate utilitarians; South Wales - awkward grafters we've never really been able to work out; Skolars, the league's ugliest side, spoil you to a standstill and feed off your frustration - now seemingly in a position to sign ex-SuperLeague players as the power in London shifts; Oldham, always competitive, but prone to lapses (Oxford/All Golds); key though is their ability to summon up a win when it really matters. And Big Spending North Wales Crusaders™, clearly not here to make friends, but in signing each of their key competitors' best players have simultaneously strengthened themselves and weakened their opponents. If only they had the decorum to win with grace…

This Sunday brings the University of Gloucestershire All Golds to Spotland for the first time. Driven off the field by two of Rugby League's good guys in Lionel Hurst and Brad Hepi, they found a bit of form at the back end of the season, and got a couple of deserved wins under their belt. Interesting to see Brad get his boots back on to play alongside his son Tyla in their narrow defeat by Gateshead. Most impressive though was their recent draw against Oldham at Whitebank, striking twice in the last three minutes to grab a share of the spoils. A reminder that you can't take any side for granted in this competition.

Indeed, in our last push for a favourable playoff draw, there's no room for complacency

With Skolars grabbing a bonus point in last Friday's defeat to Crusaders, they leapfrog Hornets into third. Assuming a Hornets win against the All Golds (sorry Lionel) , a win for Skolars at Oxford on Sunday would compel a 4th placed Hornets to travel to London in week one of the playoffs - though we would get a second bite at the cherry as highest placed loser, playing the winner of 5th v 6th - currently Hemel and Oxford - at home in week two.

But however it plays out, we'd have to win four consecutive games to secure promotion. For those who love a quadratic equation, here's the play-off format:

Week 1
3rd-placed club v 4th-placed club (Match A)
5th-placed club v 6th-placed club (Match B)
(2nd-placed club have a bye to Week 2)
Week 2
2nd-placed team v Winner Match A (winner to Play-off final, loser at home in Week 3) (Match C)
Losing team Match A v Winning team match B (loser eliminated) (Match D)
Week 3
Losing team Match C v Winner Match D (winner to Play-off final, loser eliminated) (Match E)
Week 4
Kingstone Press Championship One play-off final: 
Winner Match C v Winner Match E

So here we are, fellow Hornets - crunch time.  The point at which our 'hope in March' becomes harsh reality. 'Glory in September'? Only one way to find out. Come on Hornets, let's go and make it happen.