Monday, 9 June 2014

When Luck Breaks Down

Batley 44 - Hornets 28

We know that we can gripe about referees until the cows come home, but one moment of this game typified how this new generation of pisspoor officials have trouble applying even the most basic of the laws.

77 minutes played and Hornets pressing hard to try and snatch that all important bonus point. Lewis Sheridan scoots from acting half up the left channel, skips through the first Batley tackler, the next defender he encounters steal the ball in a one-on-one - but, being the second tackler involved in that play, it should have been a penalty. Both referee and touch-judge (under whose nose it happened) waved play on; Batley brought the ball away and the chance was gone.

Pretty bloody awful - and it put the lid on another afternoon where luck deserted Hornets and left their noisy supporters scratching their heads.

Once again, though, Hornets put their fans through the emotional wringer - coughing a penalty for holding down in the first set to give Bretherton the opportunity to gather a lofted kick and score with barely a minute gone. Leatherbarrow added the two: 6-0.

But Hornets responded in dynamic fashion. Paul Crook driving close to the line on 4 minutes; then John Cookson arriving like a juggernaut off a short ball to crash through untouched. Crooky with the extras. Game on.

On 12 minutes Hornets forced an error off a Crooky kick and quick-hands left threaded Shaun Robinson in by the flag to give Hornets a 6-10 lead.

With the game now pretty even, Hornets sought a way out of the mid-field arm-wrestle. A steepling last tackle kick from Ryan Millard was gathered on the run by the returning Joe Greenwood, but his hurried pass bounced away from the Hornets support. No matter.

On 23 minutes a mesmerising last tackle show and go from Ryan Millard carved Batley wide open and he jinked through for a great solo try. Crook good with the boot and Hornets deservedly up by 6-16.

Then, with Hornets seemingly in control and Batley going nowhere, a dropped bomb under no pressure, followed by a loose third tackle carry gave the home side a bit of a platform to play in Hornets' half.

A series of overly picky penalties allowed Batley to set up camp in the Hornets 10m zone: the three back-to-back sets they yielded finaly told when Griffin touched down. Put the assist down to Referee Thomason. 10-16.

Hornets confindence looked visibly shaken and - handed the momentum, Batley came up with two quick-fire tries: the first a 70 metre break by Greenwood, the second a pig-ugly short-range effort from Nicholson and Hornets retired to the sheds shellshocked at 22-16 down.

The second half began with Mr Thomason applying the rule-de-jour: snagging the Hornets attack for an obstruction that no-one else in the ground saw. The resulting penalty swept Batley down the hill where Hurst went steaming under the posts to score. Leatherbarrow the conversion: 28-26.

Then, disaster. With Hornets still trying to work out what the hell happened, Brown ran the kick-off back fully 70 metres to score a shocker. To add insult to injury, Leatherbarrow hit the target from wide out and, at 32-16 down, Hornets were left chasing a fast-departing bonus point.

And, to be fair, they gave it a dig. Over excitement on 50 minutes saw Woz Thompson fumble a Ryan Millard dink-through; then Millard himself stepping and dancing through to show great strength and score from 15 metres. Crooky with the two and Hornets back in the hunt at 34-22.

Immediately, Batley responded: a long-distance strike through broken field, Black the decisive pass for Greenwood to score. Add the extras and the gap extended again at 40-22.

On the hour mark, Batley hoisted a bomb more in hope than expectation: you'd've had your house on Wayne English making the simple catch. But an uncharacteristic misjudgement saw the ball slip- from his grasp and Batley took ruthless advantage, shipping the ball wide for Brown to score. 44-22.

A smart short Crooky kick-off found a touchline, and Hornets went back on the attack. A great move up the left saw Stu Littler smuggle a terrific ball to Shaun Robinson, but the winger was bundled into touch via the flag.

Now it was all Hornets. On 67 minutes batley were pulled for obstruction, but Hornets couldn't find the killer pass; then great defence forced Batley back into their in-goal to concede a drop-out.

On 70 minutes it looked like Lewis Sheridan had successfully burrowed in, but the try was struck-off for a double movement. Five minutes later Wayne English was first to react to a Batley error, snaffling the loose ball to steal away for a 40 metre breakaway try. Crooky with the two and Hornets desperately closing in on the elusive bonus point. But it wasn't to be.

The officials' appalling ball-steal decision denied Hornets a penalty deep in Batley territory, and when Anthony walker fumbled the ball at the death, the chance of consolation was gone.

Again this was a frustratingly disappointing afternoon. For 65 minutes there was nothing between these teams - and for large tracts of the first and last quarters, Hornets were the only side playing any real, lucid football.

Batley (back to full strength - and with a huge pack running off ex-North Sydney Bears half Ben Black) showed why they were Championship Grad finalists last season. And that's at the crux of it for us. We're playing decent sides who punish lapses ruthlessly - and it's nigh-on impossible to claw games back at this level.

No-one gave us a snowball in hell's chance this season. But get a couple of wins and it's hard not to let your expectations run away with you. So let's all take a deep breath and have a contemplative moment of perspective. We've had just a dozen games at this level and, for long-periods of this one, Hornets looked like the better side. We know that losing hurts, but how easily we forget how far we've come.

In closing, we offer you this: while we were losing a fast, frenetic game at last year's Championship grand finalists (and scoring some great tries in the process), Oldham were losing at Hemel in front of two men and a dog.

Who's the lucky one now?