Sunday, 7 September 2014

Triumph in Defeat

Hornets 16 - Sheffield 58

Forget the result of this game. Look instead at the bigger picture.

In ANY OTHER SEASON, finishing 3rd bottom would've secured Hornets' safety in the Championship. In ANY OTHER SEASON 3rd bottom would've been heralded as a massive achievement for a club of Hornets size and budget. in ANY OTHER SEASON, finishing 3rd bottom would've been a cause for celebration.

And, though the achievement is identical, in this single season Hornets find themselves planning for life back in Championship 1.

And, whilst this game did expose the difference of being given the opportunity to strengthen in the Championship and the almost impossibility of climbing a vertical learning curve for a one off shot at survival, Hornets acquitted themselves admirably. Indeed, they showed sufficient hints that an ability to carve open last year's Championship champions should serve them well against less capable opposition next term.

Hornets left the blocks like lightning to leave Sheffield reeling. The visitors coughed the kick-off and Hornets were direct and ruthless; Ryan Millard involved twice to slot Wayne English in by the flag: 4-nil.

Hornets had the Eagles on the back-foot immediately, but as Alex Clare ran through onto a finely balanced Paul Crook kick, referee Hewer was unmoved as he was tackled minus the ball as he reached to touch down. No matter. Just five minutes later Wayne Engliush seized on a fumbled Sheffield pass and set off on a mazy, pinballing run through the visitord defence. His glorious inside ball found Paul Crook in space, and the Ginger General  outpaced the cover to score a cracker from 40 metres. Equally lethal with the boot, he added the two to give Hornets a deserved 10-nil lead.

Sheffield got a lucky breal to give them a way back into the game. On 12 minutes an almost comedic forward pass went unseen by the officials and with Hornets defence unable to respond, Yere skated in for a try: 10-4

On 17 minutes Hornets produced a moment of sheer class. Paul Crook launching a huge kick direct from the back of a scrum; Wayne English in a footrace with his opposite number, who spilled the ball under pressure to give Hornets a great attacking position. Unfortunately, Lewis Sheridan spilled the ball on the first tackle; though all Sheffield had in response was five drives and a big aimless hoof downfield.

Hornets' response was crisp and direct: good approach-play to go close to the Eagles line, but Joe Greenwood unable to hang onto a short ball hit at speed with the line begging.

Off the hook, Sheffield marched straight back downfield where Laulu-Togagae popped up on the end of a bustling centre-field break to score the first of four tries.
Brambani the extras. 10-all and nowt in it.

Again Hornets came steaming back. Sheffield allowed the kick-off to roll dead, then shipped a penalty for offside under their own posts, but Hornets forced a wide pass and the chance was gone.

Sheffield capitalised, exploiting some slack defence to send Briggs in from distance for a bit of a soft one. Sheffield in front on the half-hour and a palpable momentum shift as, again, the visitors got lucky.

A last tackle Hornets dink fell into Sheffield hands and they launched a huge break - but Lewis Sheridan managed to get between centre and winger to prevent a certain try. From the resulting scrum Sheffield swept the ball swiftly right for Uaisele to score. Brambani hit the post from in front. Woops!

Shefield then hit Hornets with a quick-fire triple whammy. Firstly Turner in by the flag after some pretty ordinary tackling; then Laulu-Togagae exploiting a mis-shapen Hornets defence as Anthony Walker was carried from the field with a knee injury; then, right on the hooter, Hornets hit by a cruel sucker-punch as Laulu-Togagae scudded in by the flag. Half time a lop-sided 10-36.

Hornets began the second half as they had the first - playing high tempo football that had Sheffield going backwards. After just one minute Ryan Millard went close, but a hurried pass to the wing drifted into touch; then a great interchange of passes ending with a Crooky dink into the in-goal forced a Sheffield drop-out. 

The pressure told on 52 minutes when another solid approach set sent James Dandy through to wrestle his way over the line. Crooky the two: 16-36.

Hornets came again two minutes later, the ball moved wide only for Yere to knock the last pass to ground. Then Wayne English involved in action at both ends of the field within a minute: firstly his touchdown of a Crooky kick struck-off for a knock-on - then caught uncharacteristically in two minds in his own in-goal to concede a drop out. Frenetic stuff.

With the hour mark approaching Sheffield's cogs finally clicked and, as the injuries and patched-up Hornets bodies began to mount, the Eagles took full advantage.

On 67 minutes, archetypal 'big-lad' Stringer barrelled in off a short-ball from a yard; 69 mins, Yere stepping into space after a string of helpful penalties; 75mins Laulu-Togagae on the end of some tidy passing. Hornets now reeling at 16-54.

But Hornets kept going. On 77 minutes a huge Ryan Millard kick downfield out of the back of a scrum had Shaun Robinson dribbling soccer-style towards the posts - only for Turner to gather and lie on the ball as if shot - effecting a miracle recovery once his defence had regathered.

Again, on the hooter, Sheffield launched Yere on another marauding break, but as Wayne English lined him up for a trip into row D, he managed to slip the ball away to Laulu-Togagae to score at the death. Brambani the two for 16-58 - and Hornets left waiting for the Swinton score.

The news that the Lions had lost heavily to Whitehaven guaranteed Hornets that vital 3rd bottom place and the £15,000 RFL compensation payment that comes with it. I

More importantly let it be known that, in the 2014 season, Rochdale Hornets WERE NOT relegated on the field of play. In ANY OTHER SEASON, this would have been a triumph for all of those who have worked so hard to prove the naysayers wrong this year.

In any other season...

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Sunday's Coming: Sheffield

And then, as author Joshua Ferris so succinctly put it, We Came To The End.

Hornets 2014 Championship adventure terminates as it should've begun, against the Eagles of Sheffield.  And it's proven to be an interesting trip for all of us. 

Way back in February when the naysayers were predicting that we wouldn't win a game, 10 wins/30 points was predicted to be enough to stay up in this brutal restructuring season. 

However - on the last day - Workington, Keighley, Batley and Whitehaven could all still drop with 11 or 12 wins and up to 45 points. The fact that two teams comfortably in the play-off places could still go down only underlines how impossible the task of survival really is when you relegate 40% of a league.  For any of those clubs, relegation will be a disaster they didn't anticipate. With Worky at home to Dewsbury needing only a bonus point for safety and 'Haven needing a win at Swinton, we think that Batley (at Doncaster) and Keighley (at home to Fev) look the most vulnerable. And for those of you keen to do the maths, one of these clubs could go down on a combnation of a bonus point and points difference. Ouch.

For a benchmark on Hornets' performance,  the club formerly known as 'Big Spending North Wales Crusaders™' - who steamed up last season as convincing champions - looks set to end the season on the same number of wins as us, their position artificially buoyed by five bonus points.

More importantly, if Swinton lose to Whitehaven on Sunday it cements Hornets' position in what previously was the coveted 'third bottom' spot - what used to be that key 'survival stepping stone' to clubs establishing themselves in the Championship. In any other year, third bottom would've been deemed a major achievement - this year it constitutes the difference between receiving a £15,000 'compensation' payment from the RFL and getting nothing. So it remains vital that Hornets secure that position - if only so we can say that we were never relegated on the field of play.

And so to Sheffield - a club that's not often on TLCRF80mins' radar. We've always thought of them like a mirage: they happen somewhere else and you're never entirely sure whether they're real or not. 

They come to Spotland pumped from a huge win at Featherstone. And they blitzed Hornets at Bawtry Road a couple of weeks back (yes, we all know that if we'd've played them at Owlerton in the rain back in February when they hadn't had a pre-season and before they'd gained a bit of cohesion/momentum, we would have won) - and on close inspection their squad is packed with some real global quality.
Three Samoan internationals, a PNG international and the former captain of NSW Cup Balmain Tigers side gives their side a pretty impressive backbone.

But - as Featherstone found-out - Hornets are capable of springing a shock

It'd be a good way to end our Championship journey. Thank you for travelling with us.