Sunday, 9 March 2014

Hornets' Day at Finishing School

Featherstone 56 - Hornets 6

It seems that every game's a school-day in the Championship - and Hornets have picked up some pretty brutal lessons in this opening month. Featherstone are the exemplar of how a club should prepare for Super League accession and - as serious title contenders - gave Hornets their sternest test to date, with a masterclass in clinical finishing.

For the first 10 minutes there was little between the teams. But when Ryan Millard dropped a simple pass on the 2nd tackle on his own 20 metre line, Featherstone pounced. From the resulting possession quick hands sent Uaisele in at the corner. The conversion slutched its way in off a post to give Rovers a 6-nil lead. 

Almost immediately Hornets put themselves under more pressure when a last tackle Rovers kick was fumbled, but the last pass in a rapid shuttle left to Uaisele was deemed forward.

Temporarily reprieved, Hornets went on the offensive. A 19th minute Crook kick to the corner saw Gaz Langley swoop in and snatch the ball from a flailing Uaisele to ground the ball. Referee Bloem the only person in the ground to consider him offside. No try.

Rovers responded with a rapid-fire interchange of passes in broken play up a scrambling Hornets right flank, and - as Gaz Langley went down with a leg injury that saw him helped from the field - Hardman scored a converted try for 12-nil.

The 24 minute saw the fulcrum on which the first half turned. A huge midfield break from Wayne English took play to the Rovers line and, with defenders gathering, Danny Davies was held inches short. Rovers drove the ball away, knocking on in the process as the ball carrier regained his fumble back off his tackler. Mr Bloem saw nowt. He did, however spot a minor infraction at the next tackle. Swept upfield by the gifted penalty Fev capitalised with a try from Ellis. And, from a potential 12-6, Hornets were 18-nil down, the momentum with the home side.

But Hornets kept coming. Joe Greenwood and Steve Marsh both drove Hornets close, but another pressure relieving penalty walked Fev the length of the field.  Quick hands and a huge cut-out pass left Sam Te'o with no chance as Sharp scored by the flag.

The half ended with a Featherstone set going nowhere until a tidy combination of passes saw winger Uaisele find Worthington inside him to score. Half Time 28-nil.

Facing a potential downhill onslaught, Hornets began the second half in the worst possible way.  Crooky uncharacteristically spilled the kick-off. Briggs went piling in off a short ball. Conversion added. Not pretty. And it went from bad to worse. From the kick-off a missed tackle opened the floodgate and Fev had players queuing up to score. Hornets fans just back from the tea-bar wondered how it could be 40-nil.

To their credit, Hornets stiffened up their act. As Tony Suffolk became an increasing pain in Featherstone's arse Hornets had their best spell of the game, but were unable to find the killer pass to unlock the Rovers stern defence.

Conversely, when Fev saw a chink of opportunity they took it without hesitation. With the home side steaming down the slope in numbers, Uaisele was first to respond to a Kain kick to score out wide. Five minutes later it was Uaisele again, this time a try from a 40 metre break off an outrageous cut-out pass. 50 nil.

Credit to Hornets as they sucked in and continued to pound the home defence. A repeat set off a threatening grubber gave them field position to launch Anthony Walker who showed great strength to score by the post. Crooky with the two and some pride restored.

Fev ended the afternoon with a 79th minute long-range effort from Sharp, but whist Hornets were well-beaten, the response from the supporters showed that they were not bowed.

It is difficult, though, to watch your team get such a brutal lesson in finshing - but the step up into this league brings with it the steepest of learning curves. Despite the disparity in the scoreline, Hornets put in their grittiest 80 minutes yet. With genuine Super League ambitions, there's no doubt that Featherstone will nail scores like this to more teams this season. And - if half chances, goal-line knock-ons and chalked-off  tries can be turned into points, then Hornets aren't as far away as a 56-6 defeat suggests. 

Indeed, next week's Challenge Cup break provides a little respite and a chance to put the lessons learned thus far into practice.