Sunday, 31 August 2014

Hornets Hit Hard by 'Haven's Rec-ing ball

Whitehaven 48 - Hornets 12

The Recreation Ground isn't the happiest of hunting grounds for Hornets. In 40 years I can count wins up there pretty much on one hand.

So maybe I shouldn't have been surprised that, by the time Chris Baines boomed in for two tries in two minutes, somewhere around the 70 minute mark, the vast majority of Whitehaven's damage had already been done. Leading 42-nil at the time, 'Haven had put in an impressive shift of high-tempo, well-drilled, focused football that Hornets struggled to cope with from the off.

There was a threat the first time the home side carried the ball -  ruthlessely direct as Parker embarked on the first of a relentless series of bullocking runs through Hornets' right centre channel. Hornets held-out, but a minute later Parker repeated the plan, powering into space to give Thorman a walk-in. Seyomour the extras; 6-nil.

It was Parker again on 6 minutes, this time using Thorman as a foil, stepping through some very ordinary tackling to score. Seymour the two for 12-nil. Not yet ten-past three and it felt like it was going to be a long afternoon.

Hornets did, briefly, get to try and play in Haven's half: a Crooky bomb knocked on in the in-goal; a passage of panic football sending the last pass to ground.

Urged on by the baying home crowd, referee Leatherbarrow chose a play the ball at random to snag Hornets for offside. A minute later, Hand was scooting in under the black dot from close range off a soft last-tackle sucker-pass. Seymour good with the boot; Haven back up with the clock at 18-nil; Hornets just looking lost.

On the quarter mark, a moment of lackadaisical defence that had the sparse Hornets following raising eyebrows skyward. Burns seemingly going nowhere on the last tackle somehow managed to ground the ball whilst attended by four defenders. Just awful. Seymour the two, 24-nil.

Hornets were under the cosh again 90 seconds later. A soft penalty for a high tackle swept Whitehaven downfield, then a penalty of indeterminate origin (no signal from the ref, but we suspect interference), then Thorman strolling through to score by the posts. Too easy. 30-nil wth the conversion - and Hornets in all sorts of trouble.

And when you're swimming against the tide, things don't tend to go your way. On the half hour a 'Haven player knocked-down a Wayne English pass, but Mr Leatherbarrow gave the home side the feed. An awful decision. Hornets then tackled Parker without the ball to concede a penalty - but the resulting try was struck-off for obstruction. It didn't feel much like relief.

Hornets ended the half with a neat break up the left by Lewis Sheridan and Shaun Robinson, but Liam Gilchrist put a simple pass down under no pressure. Then Stuart Littler uncharacteristically fumbled a Ryan Millard pass. The hooter couldn't come soon enough. Half-time 30-nil.

Hornets began the second half looking more the part, with a period of concerted pressure. A huge bust from Joe Greenwood rent the home defence asunder, but the white jerseys gathered to halt any further progress; Shaun Robinson was adjudged to have knocked-on as he reached out to score; a big Wayne English cut-out pass bounced teasingly from Gaz Langley's outstretched hands. For ten minutes Hornets pressed and probed, but couldn't crack the home defence.

Conversely, at the other end of the field, a dubious penalty off a crunching hit by John Cookson gave 'Haven good field position. They elected to kick for goal. 32-nil to the sound of 756 people snoring.

The locals were roused from their torpor just two minutes later: a big break by the impressive Doran sent Burns in by the flag. 34-nil.

As the hour clicked round hawk-eyed Gaz Langley went for the intercept, but the ball slithered from his grasp to gift 'Haven a repeat set. This time the Hornets defence held-firm. But just two minutes later, Whitehaven produced a really neat interchange of basketball-style passing for Crellin to finish in syle. Seymour from in front; 42-nil.

Hornets finally clicked with just ten minutes remaining. Chris Baines steaming in off some good approach-work; then a great break by Shaun Robinson and Wayne English for Bainsey to score from 40 metres. Crooky good with both conversions, 42-12.

Normal service was resumed almost immediately. Another darting Doran break, this time Newton the beneficiary, scoring under the posts. Seymour the conversion and - mercifully - the hooter at 48-12.

Whilst we always try to look for the positives, there were precious few here. Yes, the second half had all the appearance of a contest, but the damage was done in a first quarter where Hornets chased shadows. From our point of view, Hornets lacked two key elements, a leader and an attack-dog - a player who gives you that bit of unpredictable 'mongrel' that unsettles the opposition. Indeed, whilst we're usually loath to praise any opposition players here, Lee Doran led his side superbly and 'Haven full-back Shaun Ainscough backed his mad-eyed mongrel act with some impressively decisive, incisive running.

As for Hornets, we look like a team limping towards the end of a long, hard season. But it's been an education for all of us. Maybe that's the lasting positive?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Sunday's Coming: Breaking News


In shock breaking news, Batley and Doncaster have had the three points recently deducted for fielding an ineligible DR player, reinstated. 

After being presented with fresh evidence relating to previous historical breaches of Operational Rules by other clubs which had not faced similar sanctions, the Operational Rules Appeals Tribunal at Red Hall overturned the points deductions this afternoon (Thursday).

Clearly The has a major impact in the Championship relegation fight with Batley moving out of the drop zone thanks to their 73 points advantage over Whitehaven.

Indeed, despite having won a game more than Batley, 'Haven now have to overhaul the points difference in just two games -and rely on a Bulldogs slip-up to keep them in the Championship.

Batley's gain also pulls Workington and Keighley back into the mire, as two Batley and Whitehaven wins would exceed their current points totals if both clubs lose their remaining two games.

Workington go to Leigh on Saturday; on Sunday Batley host Swinton and Keighley travel to Dewsbury.

If Batley win (42 points) and Hornets pull off a win at the Recre' (Haven 39 with one game to play) Batley would only need a bonus point at Doncaster on the final day to sink Dave Wood's side.

Everything to play for then!

Official RFL Match Preview
Tom Carr (knee) is Whitehaven’s major doubt ahead of Sunday’s crucial Kingstone Press Championship clash with Rochdale Hornets. Whitehaven need two wins in their final two league fixtures if they are to secure their position in the second tier in 2015.

Coach Dave Woods said: “We’ve just got to concentrate on our own performance. We need to be confident and get three points.”

Hornets, who are one point above Swinton Lions and 10 points clear of Barrow Raiders, are determined to finish in 12th position. Coach Ian Talbot said: “We’ve got a target now of trying to stay out of the bottom two, and a result this week would go a long way to us doing that."

“We can then say that it’s the restructure that’s relegated us, because in a normal year we’d have survived if we stayed out of the bottom two.” He added: “We want to finish on a high, and get some confidence for next year."

“We’ve moved on from our Sheffield defeat, but we also know that any game up at Whitehaven is always tough. Brett Seymour is one to watch, they’ve some experience in the pack, and dangerous outside backs in guys like Jessie Joe Parker. It’ll be a good test for us.”

Talbot has no new injury concerns ahead of the trip north.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A Sad Sunday's Coming

Being a Whitehaven fan at the moment must really mess with your head. After a singularly 'meh' season, they find themselves in a most peculiar position.

Lose their last remaining two games and they could get relegated. Win their last two games and - if Batley and Keighley stutter - they could find themselves in the playoffs. So fine are the margins in this harsh restructuring season.

With the Marras' season in the balance, it's Batley who find themselves hovering over the trapdoor after their recent three-point deduction for fielding an ineligible DR player.

Indeed, Whitehaven only have to match Batley's remaining results to condemn the Bulldogs to a most unexpected drop - from Grand finalists to relegated in a season would be a spectacular crash.

Up at the Recre, 'Haven coach Dave Woods has taken a laid back approach to the last two games, giving his side the Challenge Cup weekend off to recharge the batteries before his side's final push.

Interestingly, both Hornets and 'Haven come into Sunday's game on the back of defeats to Sheffield - though Whitehaven did nick a bonus point. It was a result that disappointed Dave Woods. Speaking in the News & Star he said: “We were all disappointed with the result…” Wise words, mate...

More interesting words from Woods' captain, ex-Hornet Lee Doran. Also interviewed by the News & Star this week he said of his side's precarious balancing act:  “I don’t think we’ve had our fair share of luck this season, and I feel that pound for pound we are one of the best sides in the league. We haven’t got the biggest of budgets but Dave’s done a great job."  We thought it was an interestingly ambiguous use of the word 'pound'. Maybe it's just us…

And Finally…

As the last embers of Hornets' 2014 Championship adventure fade, it was with a heavy heart that I sat down to write this piece ahead of our trip to Whitehaven.

The unexpected passing last week of our loyal fellow Hornet Andy 'Pugwash' Birch leaves us all shocked - and leaves a huge hole in the lives of those of us who've shared countless Sunday afternoons with him over the years.  Having supported Hornets since 1966, Andy's support had been rock-solid for almost half a century and - despite his recent health issues - he was one of the first supporters to buy a ten year Hornets season ticket. Few have worn their passion for our club so prominently on their sleeve, and his commitment to the cause has been unstinting even through the darkest of days.

Whilst we contunue - as ever - 'onward', the journey won't be quite the same without him. But wherever the game takes us in support of Rochdale Hornets - starting with the Recre on Sunday - Puggy will always be with us.

See you Sunday.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

It's Sheffield Wednesday!

Apologies, but not much of a preview ahead of Hornets trip to Bawtry Road School playing fields for Hornets' re-arranged game against Sheffield.

As observers of the game will know, the Eagles have had a pretty awful season playing at the Whtebank of the Championship, Owlerton. They've struggled for home form on its postage stamp of a pitch littered with speedway track cinders and dog-shit. Indeed, if Hornets had played them there on the opening day of the season as planned, there was every chance of an early upset - especially given that Sheffield had had virtually no pre-season and had never played on their own field.
Sheffield, Wednesday: Balls

Fast forward to August, however, and they've negotiated a move to the Sheffield Hallam University sports ground, which gives them the rare chance to play on a decent, full-sized pitch - having had 99% of a season to get their act together.

Needless to say, here at TLCRF80mins we're pretty pissed off with Sheffield - work commitments mean we won't be there tonight and, because we're travelling with work tomorrow, there'll be no match report. Again another apology.

So all we can do is wish everyone making the trip the best of luck. i would be sweet and fitting if we could spoil their big night on their new home ground.

Here's the RFL's Official Preview

Sheffield Eagles coach Mark Aston has urged his troops to “put on another show” when they host Rochdale Hornets in Wednesday’s Kingstone Press Championship fixture.

The match, which will be played at Bawtry Road, provides an opportunity for in-form Sheffield to claim a fourth consecutive win. Eagles were 36-28 winners against Whitehaven on Sunday, and could climb into fifth place with victory against Rochdale.

Hornets coach Ian Talbot said: “Sheffield are a very dangerous team.

“They always come good towards the back end of the season, and they’ve started to string a few results together in the last month. They’ll be a threat to anybody who plays them in the play-offs.”

Talbot, whose side are also backing up after playing on Sunday, added: “It’s a very difficult task for part-time players, but we’ll go there and give it our best shot. We were frustrated we didn’t get a win on Sunday, but we’ll dust ourselves down and get on with things."

“We’ve got three games to go, and we’re trying to make sure we finish above Swinton. Taking something out of this trip to Sheffield would help us do that.”

Michael Knowles and Peter Green could come into contention for the hosts, while Hornets pair Sean Casey and Jordan Case are both unavailable.

Monday, 18 August 2014

A tale of Crook, Cooke - and Mr Brooke

At ten to three after I'd just read the teams out, the Doncaster time-keeper tapped me on the shoulder. "Our full-back's called Dave Scott, not Dane Scott" he said. Notwithstanding that I just read what's on the teamsheet, by 4.40pm I was left wishing that referee Mr Brooke had applied a similar level of detail.

In a performance where the interpretation of the laws at times verged on the surreal, it's been a very long time since I've seen/heard a ref so universally villified by both sets of supporters.

Despite having to negotiate his 'jazz' approach to game management, Hornets did themselves few favours in a game punctuated by loose carries, forced passes and daft errors.

Indeed, from the very first set the die was cast: Hornets fumbling at the play the ball, Doncaster forcing a drop out.

When Hornets found a bit of rhythm, they did look the more dangerous side in a tight first quarter. A great exit set after 10 minutes that began with Paul Crook's break from his own 20, ending with Lewis Sheridan's dink kick towards Doncaster's corner post. 

Doncaster's only real threat was a big gormless hoof upfield, and when the ball uncharacteristically slipped from Gaz langley's grasp first tackle it took a determined rear-guard action to repel the visitors.

Again Hornets played out a great exit set - but when Wayne English and Shaun Robinson combined to haul Hornets fully 50 metres, the ball was again fumbled on the third tackle. Hornets defence to the rescue again as Doncaster ran out of attacking ideas.

On the quarter mark Hornets broke the deadlock in emphatic fashion: a steepling bomb from Crooky, Shaun Robinson out-jumping his opposite number, feeding Lewis Sheridan into enough pace for him to step deftly round the full-back to score. Paul Crook with the extras: Hornets deservedly in front 6-nil.

Hornets repeated the play less than a minute later. This time Wayne English's gather and kick into space was snuffed out.

Doncaster needed to break Hornets' momentum to get back into the game. Their chance arrived on the half hour when a soft penalty for holding down swept them 60 metres, where slack tackling allowed Snitch to capitalise, striding through score. Sanderson the two: 6-all

Hornets immediately went back on the offensive, forcing a repeat set - but a forced first tackle pass from James Tilley went to ground and the chance was gone.

With the half ticking away, Miller produced a quite ludicrous forward pass to his winger Sanderson - but the officials didn't flinch. With Hornets defence scrambling, Doncaster worked  the ball around for Hodson to score. Uproar as the hooter sounded; Sanderson the two and the Dons in front 6-12 at the break completely against the run of play.

Unsurprisingly, the second half began with a Hornets error: the ball carried into touch off a Cooke kick. A well-spotted Gaz Langley intercept relieved the pressure.

Then another brain-fart moment. Under no pressure, Lewis Sheridan tried a one-handed pick-up at acting half, but only succeeded in fumbling the ball to put Doncaster on the front foot. Hornets defence again holding: Dons' Castle held-up over the line.

Lewis Sheridan redeemed himself on 47 minutes: a mazy, mercurial run turned the Dons defence inside out and his well-picked pass sent Stuart Littler in for a well-finished try out wide. Crooky's radar slightly off - 10-12.

Again, the momentum was with Hornets. Great defence created the platform for Joe Greenwood to launch Lewis Sheridan over 60 metres. The Dons coughing a penalty as Hornets turned the screw, ony for Greenwood to be deemed held-up over the line.

Then two moments within two minutes that opened the door for Doncaster. On 55 minutes Alex Trumper turned to chase a break, bumping into his opposite number innocuously en-route. Mr Brooke called obstruction, the penalty carrying the visitors downfield. Then the Dons got lucky, a fluffed cut-out pass went to ground and - with the Hornets defence stopped - Sanderson gathered and strolled in by the flag from 30 metres. Shocking, really. 16-10.

On the hour another aimless Dons hoof downfield created enough chaos for Wayne English to concede a drop-out and, with Hornets defensive shape all over the place, Doncaster had enough bodies in motion for Snitch to score untouched. Sanderson the two and, out of nowhere, the Dons 10-22 ahead.

Hornets dug in. But when a big hit on 66 minutes shuddered the ball from a Doncaster hand Mr Brooke - somehow - gave a penalty for ripping. However, when Joe Greenwood was gang-mugged by three tacklers a minute later a knock-on was given. Honestly…

But Mr Brooke saved the best for last. On 71 minutes, Hull's DR Australian half-back Miller dropped a pass cold in open play. He stopped, held his hand up, all the players stopped - and, somehow, Mr Brooke waved play-on. Even the visitors were incredulous.

On a 75th minute foray into Doncaster territory, Paul Crook hoisted a huge kick that was royally cocked-up by 'Dave, not Dane' Scott and, while he flapped, Crooky stayed cool to dive in and touch down. Extras added and, at 16-22 Hornets had three minutes to swipe a draw.

It looked likely when Gaz Langley embarked on a twisting run into open space, but defenders gathered to cut off his options. And, with the last gasps of the hooter fading, Sean Casey worked enough space to loft a kick into Hornets right channel, but Doncaster killed the ball to grab the win.

In the end, this was a cracking game from two teams with virtually nothing between them. How Doncaster are fourth was beyond most people in conversation afterwards - but it was Hornets' never-say-die attitude that took the plaudits. A battling performance that deserved more than the bonus point that takes Hornets above Swinton into 12th.

As for Mr Brooke, I've no idea which game he was watching, but I hope he enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed this one.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Sunday's Coming: Doncaster

Last last year, Hull FC brought West Tigers' tyro half-back Jacob Miller to the UK in a vain attempt to save their season. Having fast-tracked through the grades at Leichhardt due to their own injury-pocalypse he was chucked into the limelight at just 20 years old. Suddenly finding himself on the other side of the world, cast as Saviour in the Rugby League's most critical city, it's obvious to anyone with eyes and the smallest amount of humanity that burdening a young man with such an unreasonable amount of expectation wouldn't do either party many favours. Indeed, after struggling to replicate the form that catapulted him to prominence, Miller finds himself farmed out to Doncaster and told to 'prove his worth'.

His impact at the Keepmoat can be measured by his performance last week: scoring two tries and making a third as the Dons over-ran Workington 36-10. Clearly it's a level of contribution that Paul Cooke would be keen to retain, but with Hull's half-back 'musical chairs' in full effect this week he could find his side shorn of Miller's strike potential.

However that plays out, Doncaster's relationship with the Dual Registration system looks a bit strained at the moment with the club charged by the RFL for fielding ineligible Hull FC player Ben Crooks against Keighley on Sunday July 27. Doncaster have their case heard by an independent tribunal today (August 14): a guilty verdict could result in a fine and/or a points deduction.

Operational transgressions notwithstanding, Doncaster sit comfortably in 4th place in the Championship with 15 wins and a draw from 23 games. And with a big-money  2nd place finish still within their grasp, each of their remaining three games carries huge importance.

While Hornets have just four games of their Championship adventure remaining they have incentives to finish outside the bottom two still to play for. Third bottom in any other season would've been deemed a huge success for a club of Hornets' size. However, this year's over-zealous pruning of the Championship leaves three clubs taking the drop who ordinarily would've stayed up - and with that comes a £15,000 compensation payment from the RFL: effectively the difference between the RFL distribution in Championship one and the one in the division above.

And, as someone once said, every little helps.

See you Sunday.

Rochdale Hornets coach Ian Talbot must overcome a mounting injury list if his side are to secure a shock victory in Sunday’s Kingstone Press Championship clash.

Hornets, whose relegation has already been confirmed, are without Ryan King, Chris Baines, John Cookson, Lewis Sheridan, Ryan Millard and Warren Thompson.
Talbot said: “The injuries have hit us hard at the back end of the season, and we’re backing up on Wednesday away at Sheffield, so we’ve got a big challenge in front of us.
“When we went to Doncaster early in the season Paul Cooke was very influential, so we’ll be looking for an improved performance. We like playing at home and we’ve caused one or two upsets, and hopefully we can cause another.”
Jordan Case could come into contention for the hosts, while Doncaster have been dealt their own blows with the news that Kyle Kesik (broken hand) and Mike Kelly (foot) look like missing the rest of the season.
Doncaster coach Paul Cooke said: “The news about Kyle and Mike is not ideal, but we’ve had to deal with injuries all year.”
He added: “We desperately need to win this game. With the two teams directly above us (Featherstone Rovers and Halifax) playing each other, it gives us the chance to narrow the gap on one of them.
“But Rochdale are carefree, and they’re not a bad side at all. They troubled us at our place, and we’ll have to be on our guard.”

Monday, 11 August 2014

No-ah Miracle for Hornets

And so it came to pass that in the land of the Dews, a biblical deluge did fall from the heavens to wash away the Hornets disciples' hope of a miracle that never came.

Despite leading twice in a quite literal end-to-end game - and matching a big, mobile Rams side for long periods - honest graft wasn't enough to sustain the challenge and, ultimately, a third-quarter momentum shift was enough to tip the game Dewsbury's way.

The early exchanges were pretty even. A 3rd minute, last tackle burst from Gaz Langley went close, countered by some direct running from Pryce.

With nothing twixt the teams, it took a huge 13th minute break from Sean Casey to unzip the game. With Dewsbury's defence scrambling, a last tackle dink from Lewis Sheridan caused just enough chaos for Stuart Littler to dive in and score. Crooky the two and Hornets comfortable at 0-6.

Almost immediately Hornets were back on the front-foot. A steepling bomb from Crooky, Stu Littler challenging - but deemed offside, the home side off the hook.

On the quarter it was Sean Casey again tearing a huge 60 metre rift through the heart of the Rams defence, but in his eagerness to sustain momentum, with no support within touching distance he played the ball back to no-one and Dewsbury - again - exhaled.

On 22 minutes a moment of bizarre officials-fail spared Casey further blushes as he fumbled a Rams 40/20 into touch. Somehow Hornets were given the feed at the scrum and the locals went into 'cheat'-chanting overdrive. 

In a microcosm of the season, Hornets dropped the ball first tackle, then conceded a penalty, then conceded a shoddy try as Gallagher trundled in from 10 feet. Hemmingway the two 6-all.

Dewsbury capitalised as a shell-shocked Hornets tried to snap back into shape: a Gallagher ball putting suppoerting runners into acres of space, but with a three-on-one on Wayne English they somehow contrived to put the last pass to ground with the line begging.

On the half hour it was Gallagher again, this time the fulcrum in a neat interchange of passes that sent Hyde in under the black dot untouched. Hyde did the honours and Dewsbury ahead 12-6.

Hornets sucked in and took the game back to Dewsbury, with some determined defence. But when referee Mr Woodhead mistakenly gave a penalty for ripping the ball after Dewsbury had dropped it cold in the tackle, the home side were swept upfield where Thackeray stepped through a despondent defence to score a soft try. Hyde the extras; 18-6.

However, Hornets weren't done quite yet. Some solid approach play from the hard-working pack took them close to the Rams line, and when James Tilley hit a short-ball at pace to plant the ball undet the posts, Mr Woodhead was the only man in the ground to have seen a forward pass. No try.

With the half ebbing away Hornets launched one last attack and, with the hooter already sounded, moved the ball via Alex McClurg to Chris Baines who skated through to score. Crooky hit the target and Hornets went to the sheds back in the game at 18-12.

Hornets began the second half in determined mood. Immediately on the attack, this time the Rugby League gods worked in Hornets' favour. A bouncing ball skipped through a tangle of hands; Dewsbury stopped waiting for the knock-on; Gaz Langley the only player to play to the whistle and scooted in to touch down. Try given. The locals in uproar as Crooky banged over the two. 18-all.

The locals' ire was compounded when the Rams hoofed the kick-off dead. Cool as you like, Crooky stroked home the penalty from half way to nudge Hornets in front 18-20.

The lead came withing a whisker of being stretched less than a minute later when Gaz Langley looked to have perfectly poached an interception, but the ball bounched tantalisingly off his fingertips. And there was uproar in the Hornets ranks on 50 minutes when Paul Crook was hit late and high whilst dispatching an attempted 40/20. After much debate Mr Woodhead grudgingly put the incident on report.

Having struggled to get on top of the game, Dewsbury raised the tempo. A 52nd  minute chip to the corner saw Buchanan use his height advantage to out-jump Sean Casey and score by the flag. Then - gifted possession and field position courtesy of a dropped ball and yet another penalty for ripping - some indecisive defence in the left channel allowed Sam Wood through to score. With the hour ticking up, Hornets suddenly 28-20 down.

But Hornets kept plugging away. A pair of repeat sets pinned Dewsbury in their own half, but the last-tackle kick was returned 60 metres by Hyde; augmented by yet another daft penalty. This time, the defence holding out.

With Hornets now mounting a rear-guard action, Stuart Littler produced a moment of defensive magic, dragging his opposite number Gorden Tallis-style by the collar into touch as the home fans went nuts. Hilarious.

It was a temporary respite. On 69 minutes John Cookson was carried from the field as Dewsbury turned the screw with a series of repeat sets. Despite clinging on bravely the pressure finally told as Buchannan spun through tired tackles to score out wide; 32-20.

With Hornets now out on their feet, mobile lamp-post Pryce finally lived up to his sizeable threat sliding in with just a hint of a double movement to deny Hornets the bonus point. Hemingway the two 38-20. And the heavens opened

With a storm of biblical proportions now lashing the Tetley Stadium, Wayne English produced a spectacular one-on-one try saving tackle: the game - and any thoughts of a Hornets' Championship miracle -  brought to an end amidst tumultuous thunder and lighting.

Cruelly, with the bottom four all losing  - and despite Hornets having the most wins and fewest defeats amongst that group - bonus points for Swinton and Crusaders saw Hornets slide to 13th in the table. But with four games to play and 12 points on offer, the target of finishing at least third bottom is still attainable. In any other year that would've secured our place in the Championship. Indeed, finishing 12th or above would mean we were only relegated by the restructure and not on the field of play. 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Sunday's Coming: Dewsbury

Phew, has it really been six months since we bumped into Dewsbury? Way back on 23rd February Hornets began this year's championship adventure going down  42-12 in an eye-opening game at Spotland.

Fast forward to August, and it's not been the easiest of weeks for Dewsbury. Having crashed 36-24 at Halifax last week, the Rams found themselves snarled up in the Yorkshire Dual Reg fiasco that hit the fan earlier in the week.

Having played dual-registered Bradford Bulls player Sam Wood at Halifax, the RFL's whirlpool of confusion sucked in Dewbury - but the RFL's inquiry exonerated the Heavy Woollen club, as they'd acted within the rules relating to the salary capped value of Dual Reg players.

Relieved Rams chairman Mark Sawyer said: "Having co-operated fully with the RFL during their inquiry into the dual-registration of Sam Wood, I would like to inform supporters and sponsors of Dewsbury Rams that the club has been found to have no case to answer. Sam will remain at the Rams on loan terms until the end of the season to help alleviate the club's current injury problems."

However Rams' neighbours Batley (along with Doncaster) have been charged with breaching Operational Rule D1.20 (which states that dual registration players who have a salary cap value of £20,000 or more must have played in at least three league fixtures for the Championship club that season before the end-of-season registration deadline in order to play in games which fall after that date). Pending a full investigation, the potential for a points deduction could chuck a real grenade into the Championship relegation fight, with Batley currently occupying 9th place on 38 points.

Back at the Tetleys Stadium, it's Dewsbury's injury crisis that will be of greatest concern to coach Glenn Morrison - and he saw this as the key determinant in the defeat at the Shay:

“We played really well for the first 20 minutes, but then we fell away. That was to do with having players out of position and players coming in who had not played for a while. We had 11 players unavailable, so that made it tough.

In addition to Sam Wood, Dewsbury have also recalled second-rower Jason Muranka from a loan spell at University of Gloucestershire All Golds. Muranka was available for selection at Halifax, but missed after Tommy Gallagher passed a late fitness test.

As for Hornets, lovers of irony will be aware that - with the Damoclean threat of a points deduction hanging over them - Batley hold the key to the Championship relegtion scrap. If the Bulldogs win on Sunday, it pulls the lever on the trapdoor for both Hornets and Crusaders. Then it'll be all eyes on Red Hall to see if there's a repreive in the offing. Only in Rugby League could the most dramatic restructure in the game's history get potentially derailed by a breach of an obscure operating rule.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Where there's a Hwyl, there's a way

Hornets 30 - Crusaders 28

The Welsh have a word for the emotional robustness of the spirit and degree of success it contributes to the execution of a particular task: they call it 'Hwyl'. 

Once again, the closeness of the scoreline belies the truth. This was a game which Hornets dominated for long periods, but as the injuries began to mount and the available subsititutes dwindled, it fell to the players left standing to hang-on as North Wales exploted broken, tired bodies to - somehow - haul themselves to within a whisker of what would've been a wholly underserved win.

Indeed, it all started wretchedly for Hornets. Ryan Millard pulled up with injury in the first set of the game, and - with Hornets defence all bent out of shape - Crusaders capitalised on the extra man for Thornley to score.

With Lewis Sheridan pressed into early service, it didn't take long for Hornets to click and it was his half-back partner Adam Swift who unzipped the visitors' defence in spectacular fashion after 12 minutes. Embarking on a twisting, jinking run from 40 metres Swifty pinballed through a series of flaccid tackles to score a great solo try. Paul Crook banged over the two and Hornets were up and running.

The game entered a scrappy period as North Wales sucked everything within 20 metres into their spoiling black-hole. Forced passes, loose carries and messy defence became the order of play and, when North Wales broke three-on-one on Gaz Langley, he pulled off a great tackle to defuse the Welsh attack.

On the quarter mark, Hornets took maximum advantage of a penalty for a high shot. Starting with the ball 20 metres from the Crusaders' line, the ball was shipped rapidy left where Shannon McDonnell scrambled in under some sloppy Welsh defence to score. Crooky the two: 12-4

Almost immediately Hornets were in again. Another mazy run from Adam Swift reduced defenders to spectators as, again, he blitzed through to score. Crooky the extras for 18-4 and only one side at the party.

With half-time approaching Crusaders did find one moment of lucid football: Jono Smith the king-sized fulcrum at the midst of a slick interchange of passes that put Jonson into open field to score. He converted his own try for 18-8.

Somehow back in the chase, North Wales coughed a penalty right on the hooter. Gaz Langley on target to give Hornets what looked like a comfortable 20-10 half time lead.

The third quarter of the game was a tight arm-wrestle, neither side able to make any meaningful headway. The only two moments of creativity coming from Hornets as they twice moved the ball wide via Staurt Littler only for Wayne English to find the route to the line too narrow to navigate.

The deadlock was broken on the hour when Gaz Langley set off on a teasing, looping run across the face of the Crusaders' defence; his cut-out pass found Lewis Sheridan running an unstoppable angle and he hit the gas to burst through and score. 24-10, Langley wide with the conversion attempt.

The try seemed to rouse North Wales from their slumbers, this time Hornets caught napping up the left side as quick hands drew Dallimore from his hiding place to score. Johnson the conversion: 24-16.

Hornets' response was instant - and produced a moment of individual quality. Anthony Walker's direct approach punched the hole; Adam Swift played distributor as Lewis Sheridan arrived at pace. Sheridan took the ball to the full-back and produced a perfectly executed chip that he chased and touched down. Marvellous stuff that brought the main stand to its feet. Crooky with the two and, at 30-16 Hornets looked home and hosed.

Indeed, this heralded a period of concerted Hornets pressure. First Stuart Littler was deemed held-up over the line; then the ball fell from Jordan Case's hand as he reached out to touch down. And, when Warren Thompson was carried off with a leg injury on 70 minutes, You could sense that Hornets may have to make one positional shuffle too many.

Aided and abetted by a series of pedantic back-to-back penalties, Crusaders' response utilised their bluntest instrument to bludgeon two tries in the closing nine minutes - Carbon copy efforts from Jono Smith, chucking his carcass in from 18 inches to, somehow, give Crusaders a veneer of having competed at 30-28.

As it was, a punch-drunk Hornets side out on its feet, hung-on for a vital win that keeps our season alive. For another week at least.