Thursday, 3 December 2015

Hornets 2016 Jersey - It's 'oops!


Here at TLCRF80mins Towers, we love the new Hornets shirt for 2016 - a contemporary take on traditional hoops - and a 'quirky' new sponsor too. They're available on pre-order now in time for Xmas.

We can also recommend the off-field stuff too: hoodies, gilets, rain jackets, polos, training shirts - the shop's got a ton of stuff in, so fill your boots: we did - just don't tell the missus.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

And There It Was: Gone!

Hornets 26 - Skolars 22

And so the season ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper. A flaccid limp to the finish line courtesy of a shapeless struggle past a fired-up Skolars - and the failure of Newcastle to produce a second-half miracle to prevent North Wales taking 5th place by a solitary point.

Supporters will look to the last second defeat at home to Newcastle: to the inability to put Keighley away at home, leaving them a chink of light to steal a two point win: to the heroic, but fruitless 12 man defeat at Swinton rather than the floggings we got at Keighley and Barrow.

But like a fading vintage sports car Hornets struggled to start, coughed and spluttered, hinted occasionally at something more impressive under the bonnet, but never really sparked into life, viewing the season not so much as a race to be won, but as an endurance test to be overcome.

Yes we chugged all the way to the very end - but by then the teams with the real horsepower were pretty much out of sight. And, once your hopes rest in the hands of a Newcastle side that has singularly failed to live up to its *nion-backed, big-money billing, you know you’re pretty much stuffed.

As it was, the moribund-rubber of the Skolars game represented our season in microcosm: flashes of brilliance straining to shine amidst a frustrating, error-strewn, penalty-scattered mirage of a game that, just when you thought you could reach out and touch the moment when things would click, it evaporated before your eyes.

Hornets started unconvincingly, allowing Skolars to dictate play. And even when the visitors shipped back to back penalties to give Hornets momentum after 15 frustrating minutes, a 2nd tackle knock-on by Danny Bridge sent supporters slumping back into their seats.

It took 20 minutes for Hornets to break the deadlock: a block-busting run from Woz Thompson took Hornets close; Matt Fozzard spinning free from acting half to score. Crooky the two: 6-nil.

Hornets were suddenly switched-on. 26 minutes - a huge Tony Suffolk break continued by Danny Yates, he found Danny Bridge who launched Lee Paterson deep into the Skolars half. A pinpoint kick to the corner saw Gaz Langley catch and score, but the referee saw an offside somewhere and chalked it off.

No matter - within three minutes Hornets were back in the Skolars 20. A bit of a fortuitous penalty -  after Dale Bloomfield appeared to run into a defender - gave Hornets the platform to swing the ball wide where extra man Wayne English ghosted through to score. 10-nil. Crooky appeared to slot the conversion through the posts, both touch-judges raised their flags - but the Ref. over-ruled them and wiped off the conversion. Bizarre.

This minor glitch became a major wobble as - with 8 minutes of the half remaining - Skolars took full advantage of a static Hornets defence to score two basic quick-fire tries. The first a clean mid-field break by Benson to put Anthony under the black dot. The second an old-skool runaround with Coleman as the pivot for Anthony to stroll through and score. Connick good for both: Skolars in front by 10-12. Frankly, awful.

With the half grinding to an end, Hornets did salvage some respectablity when a clean break by Gaz Langley and some crisp, direct football slotted Alex Trumper in for a well crafted try. Half-time 16-10.

Hornets began the second half in scrappy fashion. A big kick-return by Wayne English was squandered when his needless inside pass fell into Skolars hands. The visitors took full advantage - carving straight through the middle of the Hornets defence for Anthony to grab his hat-trick. Connick the two: 16-18.

Hornets crashed and thrashed around for the next 20 minutes: forced passes, dropped ball, daft penalties galore as they persisted in trying to break down the big physical Skolars pack.

It took until the 62nd minute to work out that the way through was by going round - and when the ball was whipped wide to Dale Bloomfield he hit the gas to skin his opposite number from 40 metres. Hornets in front 20-18.

Two minutes later another big bruising break from Woz Thompson was the catalyst for a sweeping 60 metre move, with Danny Bridge on the end to finish off an excellent team try. Gaz Langley with the two: 26-18.

But the spark was an ephemeral one. With five minutes remaining Hornets again switched off on defence for Morgan to slip in for an eyewateringly easy try: 26-22 and an awkward, edgy finish as Skolars went in search of an unlikely win.

As it was, time ran out and Hornets snuck into 5th place for 24 hours. But it wasn’t enough. In every sense.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Saturday's Coming: London Skolars

And so we come to the last league game of the regular season and - quite possibly - the last game of the year.

In the last couple of weeks the equation for making the top five has become increasingly stark - and the remaining permutation for measuring the success or otherwise of this season is pretty straightforward: Win convincingly on Saturday and then pray to whichever Rugby god you subscribe to that North Wales Crusaders lose heroically at a Newcastle side that has a bit of a point to prove to its squillionnaire owner.

It’s not perfect by any means, but for 24 hours we should remain clinging to 5th, our fate in Stanley Gene’s hands.

And, as it did in 2013, our season balances on a game against London Skolars, as Saturday sees them make the long trip north in search of their 17th defeat of the season.
"Rochdale? On a Saturday evening? Did I hear you right?"
Skolars Coach Jermaine Coleman

Indeed, it’s been a season of rebuilding and consolidation in the capital as the emergence of southern competition has shallowed the player pool somewhat. As such, Skolars have managed just five wins this term - the most recent a good 12-man effort, last week beating Coventry at Butts Park by 28-18.

The vagaries of this year’s fixtures meant that we managed to avoid our usually disappointing trip down to Wood Green, which has been a bit of a graveyard over the years - and what we’ve missed (other than a shambolic flogging) is that, this year, Skolars became one of three RL teams to play on an artificial pitch, following redevelopment of their New River Stadium home.

Skolars are currently coached by Yorkshire-born Jermaine Coleman - his second stint in charge. And he has a creditable League pedigree. Having previously played for Gateshead, York and Hunslet he went on to play 116 games for the Skolars between 2004 and 2011 scoring 19 tries and 14 goals. He then went to Hemel Stags as player/ assistant Coach to Troy Perkins.

And it looks like his influence may by taking effect: three competitive performances against Keighley (16-36), North Wales (16-24) and York (22-30) preceded the Coventry win, so Skolars come to us on probably their best run of form of the season.

Hornets conversely come into the game having had an old-skool shocker up at Barrow. Without raking it over, a game like that needs a big response if we are to embark on playoff football. You might argue that the maths are against you in this super-tight League 1. Eight into five won’t go - and neither will five into two. However it pans out, six teams who would’ve thought they had a decent shot at promotion will be left wondering where the hell their season went. With that in mind, to still be in with a shot on the last weekend of the season isn’t all bad.

Ultimately, Hornets can only uphold their end of the equation and let fate take its course. Don’t stop believing folks - stranger things have happened.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Barrow Leave Hornets Pig Sick.

Barrow 46 - Hornets 28
"The pig lay on a barrow, dead." So begins the Ted Hughes poem 'View of a Pig' and, after quite possibly the most disappointing performance of the year, it appeared to be a remarkable metaphor for Hornets playoff chances: Dead at Barrow.

Once again the 'home-side hoodoo' that has now seen the home team batter the other in the last eight of Hornets/Barrow fixtures has struck.

But after 26 minutes, with Hornets leading 16-6, this looked like a fairly straightforward exercise. However, in the next 40 minutes, a deeply ordinary Barrow side piled 40 unanswered points onto a rudderless, static Hornets cursed by poor discipine, poor decision-making and a collective body language that cried ‘submission’.

But for the spark of Alex McClurg, the consistent, clockwork professionalism of Paul Crook and Wayne English’s ability to tackle pretty much anything that comes his way, this could’ve been a more comprehensive embarrassment.

In looking for specifics, this was defeat by incremental failure - a performance significantly less than the sum of its parts. No one player was drop-dead awful, but the cumulative weight of a hundred tiny lost battles chipped away at Hornets resolve to leave this season’s ambitions as so much dust.

But Hornets started brightly - determined running, good support, a high tempo - and, when Danny Bridge launched Dale Bloomfield into space after just five minutes, he slotted Danny Yates under the black dot for a top quality try that had the home crowd reeling. Crooky the two: 0-6.

The next set saw Paul Crook land a massive 40/20, but a needless forced pass from Wayne English - compounded by a penalty for ball stealing - took Barrow 50 metres downfield. They ramped up the pressure.

Hornets were unlucky to suffer a last tackle ‘back to one’ after Mr Hewer interpreted an awful pass as having been touched in flight and, with the stretched Hornets defence backpedalling it was simple ‘run-and-pass’ football that saw fleming score out wide. Ward the extras for 6-all.

Barrow’s Harrison spectacularly coughed the kick-off and Hornets took immediate advantage: Lee Paterson dropping the ball out of the back of a gang-tackle for Dale Bloomfield to score in the corner. Crooky struck the post with the kick: 6-10 - Hornets now with the momentum.

On 20 minutes a teasing Danny Yates kick for the corner squirmed from Dale Bloomfield’s grasp in the in-goal, then a Hornets intercept under their own posts found the Barrow defence out of shape, but Mike Ratu fumbled the pass second tackle. No matter.

Four minutes later a bullet of a cut-out pass from Danny Bridge found Dale Bloomfield who hit the afterburners. Again he found Danny Yates on his inside, but rather than back himself from 40 metres he took a somewhat scenic route via a selection of scrambling defenders before the ball made its way to the opposite side of the field for Mike Ratu to score. Crooky with the two; 6-16. All very straightforward. But wait…

What happened next set Hornets into a tail spin from which they didn’t recover. Such a minor indiscretion, but it snapped the momentum, gave Barrow renewed belief and impetus. Danny Bridge caught the kick-off under no pressure. In a scrappy tackle words were exchanged, Bridgey successfully goaded into reacting. Mr Hewer gave the penalty to Barrow and, with Hornets still analysing how they’d found themelves defending their own line, Mossop wriggled in through a mess of bodies to score a soft, gift try. Not really acceptable. Ward with the extras for 12-16.

Then things went downhill very fast. Handbags on the half-hour after a Barrow player’s fend ended up in Jordan Case’s mouth. Cries of ‘biting’ all round. Hornets given the penalty, but a frankly awful forward pass ended the set. Then Hornets snagged offside at a last tackle kick - followed by another soft penalty for holding-down. Barrow took the 60 metres with thanks and Ward hit Campbell with a flat-ball into space for a simple try. Ward with the goal and, somehow, Barrow in front at 18-16.

Now reeling from an array of sucker punches, Hornets switched off at the kick-off allowing Barrow to go 70 metres through the heart of the defence where Campbell put Marwood under the black dot. Ward with the two, Barrow into the sheds 24-16 up. Just bloody dreadful.

If Hornets were to salvage anything from this sinking ship of a game, they needed to score first. They didn’t. Mike Ratu was unlucky to be pinged for a knock-on after charging down and regathering a kick. Barrow worked the ball right on the last tackle for Fleming to plunge twixt  Ratu and Paterson to score. 28-16.

On 47 minutes James Dandy coughed another slack penalty to give Barrow more easy yards and, with the the Hornets defence flat-footed, Barrow passed round static bodies for Campbell to score. Ward the two, 34-16.

With Mike Ratu removed injured, Hornets reshuffled the backline - but an impotent last tackle kick to the corner saw Hornets penalised for contact in the air; Barrow - again - swept 70 metres upfield. This time Hornets held-out, but Lee Paterson forced a pass out of the tackle and Ward intercepted to stoll the 20 metres and score. The Thesaurus just hasn’t enough words for ‘awful’.

Barrow piled on the misery. This time Hankinson’s dink and gather leaving Hornets bamboozled. Ward with the conversion and Hornets sunk at 46-16. That’s FORTY unanswered points.

With time - much like Hornets’ season - ebbing away two converted tries from the ever-reliable Paul Crook (one right on the hooter) gave the scoreline a thin veneer of respectability at 46-28, but this was an unmitigated shocker.

However:  with York today beating North Wales Crusaders, the door to the top five has been left very slightly open. Quite simply, if Crusaders lose at Newcastle next week and Hornets beat Skolars at Spotland, Hornets steal fifth place.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Saturday's Coming - Barrow

And so we come to the last league away trip of the season.

Having admitted that they’re already building for a promotion push next year, Barrow have all-but conceded their 2015 challenge. Assistant coach Dave Kendall has stated that the raiders are deep in talks with ‘four championship players’ that the club needs “… to hopefully win the league next year.”

With that in mind, Hornets travel to Craven Park on Saturday (6.30 KO - thanks Barrow), with our own playoff hopes now in the hands of North Wales. Craven Park has, over the years, been a graveyard for Hornets ambitions (the Bobbie Goulding circus two years ago a distinct low), but with two wins required - plus a cock-up by the Crusaders - to get Hornets a ticket in the promotion raffle, this becomes the archetypal ‘must win game’.

Over the last seven meetings, victory has come with home advantage - and the games have been high-scoring affairs yielding 53 tries and 42 goals! The last seven results are:

18th April 2015: Rochdale Hornets win 48-12 at Spotland
13th July 2014: Rochdale Hornets win 54-22 at Spotland
1st June 2014: Barrow Raiders win 38-18 at Craven Park
19th August 2012: Rochdale Hornets win 24-18 at Spotland
22nd April 2012: Barrow Raiders win 44-18 at Craven Park
27th July 2008: Rochdale Hornets win 38-6 at Spotland
16th May 2008: Barrow Raiders win 36-10 at Craven Park

So Hornets will have to break a bit of a historical hoodoo to come away with the points.

But Barrow come into the game on the back of some pretty ordinary form - having lost their last two games - one of them by a point at Keighley - and shipping 66 points in the previous three games against Oxford, Hemel and Coventry (34-22/44-22/44-22). So having a go does, it seems, yield points.

19-man quads named for the Barrow game are:
English, Paterson, Bloomfield, Crook, Yates, McClurg, W. Thompson, Case, Trumper, Tilley, D. Jones, Bridge, Hargreaves, Smith, Ratu, Dandy, Hull, Hadden, Fozard.

Barrow Raiders
Campbell, Crellin, Hankinson, Fleming, Pitman, Bate, Ward, Bullock, Mossop, Dolan, D. Toal, Briscoe, Hambley, Nicholson, Harrison, Tracey, Dawson, Marwood, Litherland

Hornets prop Danny Jones previously played for Barrow - so should be able to offer some insight. Indeed, we’d imagine they’d rather have him in their side than playing against them.

Sorry today’s preview’s a bit late and a bit of a rushed affair: we’ve been travelling with work - but we got there in the end. See you at Barrow, folks.

RFL Match Preview

Barrow coach Paul Crarey wants to use this game to measure his team's progress in 2015.
“I’m looking forward to the game to see how far we have come against a team that hammered us at the start of the year," he said.
"Our form has been good but we have just been edged out in terms of results. We need to concentrate and perform for 80 minutes to stand a chance of winning. We want to put on a show for our loyal fans.”
Hornets go into the game just outside the top five.
Coach Ian Talbot said: “It’s a massive one for us. We need to go and get a win if we are to have any intention of getting into that top five.
"Unfortunately it’s out of our hands. We hope that York do us a favour at Crusaders but we’ll keep fighting until the end.
“It’s never easy going up to Barrow. We beat them at our ground but it’s a totally different prospect going up to their place. I’ve never found it easy with any team I’ve taken up there, so it’s going to be tough."

Monday, 24 August 2015

So close, yet...

Hornets 8 - Keighley 10

As the sky emptied a deluvian deluge onto Spotland, it was the visitors that managed to summon up that slim scintilla of advantage that enabled them to steal away with the points.

With so much at stake, this game was never likely to be a free-scoring points-fest, and so it proved: two sides locked in unrelenting struggle, with fluid football at an absolute premium and two defences on unforgiving form.

Hornets began with the momentum - regathering the kick-off, then gifted a penalty by the surrealist ‘look-at-me’ performance art of referee Mr Grant - but they were called offside at a probing Danny Yates kick to let Keighley off the hook.

The visitors took full advantage, marching straight downfield where Handforth fed Tahraoui into a hole to score. Lawton wide with the kick: 0-4.

As the game settled into its tight-knit groove, Brad Hargreaves was wrong-footed by a horrible deflected kick to give Keighley good field position. Having diffused the danger, Mr Grant brought play back under the Hornets posts to give the Cougars a mystery penalty. As the visitors sent in the big guns against a resolute Hornets defence, Mr Grant again intervened, this time giving Hornets a penalty on their own line. No - we don’t know either.

Hornets strove to play what little football was on offer, with Danny Yates the fulcrum: a lofted kick for Dale Bloomfield scuffed dead for a drop-out, his cut-out pass to Bloomers agonisingly short of its target, a grubber through for Danny Bridge to chase forcing another repeat set.

The pressure finally told on 22 minutes as swift hands right found Mike Ratu with enough space to skittle defenders and score. Crooky wide with the conversion 4-all.

The remainder of the half was a tug-of-war - both sides probing and, as the heavens opened, struggling to make any meaningful progress. Keighley did manage a fluke repeat set when a wayward pass was fly-hacked into the in-goal - then dropping the ball cold over the line after another dubious penalty.

Hornets too found another moment of lucidity, working a neat blind-side move only for Brad Hargreaves to get bundled into touch.

Half time, 4-all - the rain now pounding down.

Hornets began the second half with purpose: a repeat set off a Crooky kick, then two quick-fire Paul Crook penalties - the second from 5 metres inside his own half - edged Hornets in front 8-4. You could feel the sphincters tighten.

It was now clear that Cougars playmaker Handforth was little more than a passenger - unable to run, flinching with every pass. Everyone in the ground saw an opportunity to repeatedly run a big man at him. If only…

With the game firmly wedged in the middle third of the field, it was Keighley who broke the deadlock with the hour approaching: Gabriel somehow finding space to get the ball down as Danny Yates shunted him into the flag. 8-all: tense stuff.

Then, on the hour, the moment that broke the game: Jordan Case needlessly forcing a pass, Gabriel intercepting and breaking upfield, referee Grant deeming the cover tackle a high shot; Handforth from bang in front  8-10.

The last quarter became a desperate scramble. On 63 minutes a good high-tempo Hornets  approach set was truncated by a penalty 40 metres out. Crooky elected to take the kick - and dragged it painfully wide of the mark. From the 20m restart, a teasing Crooky kick forced a repeat set, but the ball slipped from Danny Bridge’s fingers as he reached for the line.

On 70 minutes, Keighley launched Gabriel on a blistering break; Wayne English producing an outstanding try-saving tackle. Hornets then fashioned a hurried repeat set that fell apart with a second tackle knock-on.

Then, Mr Grant’s piece de resistance of a refereeing performance that was, frankly, shambolic. The ball slipping from Keighley winger White’s hands as he brought the ball out of his own 20. No knock-on given - then Hornets  penalised the next tackle. Awful, awful, awful…

With time - and chances - ebbing away, Hornets were handed a lifeline in the 78th minute. A soft Keighley penalty 30 metres out; the magic in Crooky’s right boot deserting him as the shot faded to the right of the posts. Final score 8-10.

Yes, this was a tense affair - the nerves palpable as two teams wrestled for the inch of difference that would win this game. Indeed, this was the top seven made manifest - tight, airless: a test of fortitude. In the wash-up, Barrow’s defeat at Oldham meant that Hornets remain clinging to that fifth spot - but this result does open the door for North Wales.

This season really is going right down the the very last drop.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Sunday's Coming: Keighley Cougars

Having been tight, multi-faceted and complex, this week the mathematics of League 1’s playoffs became starkly and brutally simple. Crusaders spectacular implosion at home to Swinton and Keighley’s one-point smash & grab of a game that Barrow never looked like losing boil the season’s relentless calculus down to one simple equation. Win the remaining three games and neither Barrow nor Crusaders can make 5th place.

In terms of finishing positions, though, just two points (at the time of writing) separate 2nd from 5th - but Sunday’s visitors Keighley laid down a huge marker last week when  - despite trailing by nine points with only five minutes remaining - Andy Gabriel’s 79th minute try gave Keighley a wafer-thin one-point victory.

As if that weren’t enough, Barrow’s Brad Marwood missed a penalty with the last kick of the match that would’ve won the game. Coronaries all round!  Paul March, though was nonchalant:  “…it added to the drama … but we’ve got to be sharper at Rochdale next week.”

Forced back into half-back duties, March continues to be the cog that makes the Cougars turn and, last week, weighed in with a typical quick-tap stroll-in try while Barrow were switched off at a penalty.

While Keighley were slugging it out in front of 900 at Cougar Park, Hornets had the opposite experience - at the opposite end of the country. People suggested that the ‘crowd’ of 51 declared by Oxford at Hemel must be close to the record low for a semi-pro RL game anywhere - so we checked and we reckon that the previous lowest was Southend Invicta’s final home game against Huddersfield in 1985, where there were 85 supporters.

Yes, we know that last week both teams were effectively away from home, but Oxford’s only 50 minutes from Hemel compared with the five hour trip from Rochdale, so you might at least expect their ‘hardcore’ to show up. We counted 26 Hornets supporters on the day so, while it’s a dubious honour, we’ll take it that we outnumbered the home supporters. Indeed the Hornets hardcore deserve a special mention for making the noise and - literally - flying the flag(s) for Rochdale in the cold bosom of the South.

Ultimately, not much changes for Hornets this week: we need to win to maintain our challenge for playoff glory - and to deny the chasing pair any opportunity to gain ground. As we said - win three games and it’s all on. Let’s do it.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Spoiler Alert!

Oxford 16 - Hornets 54

League 1 poses some difficult challenges - and Saturday’s trip to play Oxford at Hemel was a compendium of miscellaneous pains in the backside that Hornets did well to overcome. Dragging people through over 100 miles of speed restricted roadworks on the M6 and M1 on the sunniest Saturday in August was challenge enough - crawling traffic, relentless queues, stretched patiences all round. Add the transport problems that had the team arrive over an hour late, a delayed kick-off and a baking hot day, and it already has the feel of an obligation to be endured.

And then there’s Oxford. We know that missionary work in the RL wasteland of the South is a difficult job, but it’s hard for players to get themselves up for a meaningful contest when the away support of 26 (we counted) outnumbers the home support. Indeed, the noisy Hornets hardcore strove to create the semblance of a game happening in what was basically a hermetically sealed RL vaccuum.

Under such awkward, unedifying circumstances, Hornets did what was expected of them - playing sufficient proactive football to see off an awkward, stubborn, spoiling Oxford side who sent the penalty count off the scale as they sought to suck every last drop of momentum out of the game.

Since we put 70-odd through them at Spotland - and since Swinton handed them their arse a month ago - Tim Rumford has had to find a way to make Oxford hard to beat - but, by christ, they’re ugly to watch.

They get in your face, in your way - hands in every tackle, lying on in numbers, borderline high shots  a regular occurence. It turns rugby league into an obstacle course.

It took Hornets ten minutes or so to work their way round it: quick hands right, Wayne English slotting the ever-improving Brad Hargreaves in at the flag: Crooky off the touchline for 0-6. Then Hornets coughed the kick-off possession.

Gifted the ball at close quarters, Oxford rumbled forward to score a defacto pig-ugly push-over try in the corner. No-one could quite believe it - least of all the Oxford contigent. We don’t have the try-scorer - pick any one from half a dozen bodies round the ball. Kitson off the touchline with the kick 6-all.

It was the signal for Hornets to extract the finger: on 20 minutes Jordan Case sent spinning in off a Danny Yates pass, Crooky the extras 6-12; five minutes later Mike Ratu crashing through tackles after a swift passing move, Crooky hitting the post, 6-16; then on the half hour a speculative Danny Yates kick carried into touch by winger Matthews, quick hands wide from the scrum for Dave Hull to score, 6-20. Then with three minutes remaining a huge break from Mike Ratu, sucking in defenders, the ball smuggled out of the back of the tackle for Danny Yates to dummy through and score from 20 metres. Crooky the two off  the touchline for 6-26 - a whirlwind second quarter a just reward for fluid football over relentless spoiling.

Hornets began the second half as they’d ended the first: just two minutes on the clock as Dale Bloomfield scored in the corner after Hornets had been awarded a mystery penalty after Oxford fullback Thomas seemed to make a perfectly good catch off a Hornets bomb. Answers on a postcard to match commissioner Bob Connolly.

And the penalties just kept coming, Oxford shipping three in quick succession - Wayne English just losing the ball as he dived in on 48  minutes. No matter. Within two minutes Alex McClurg plunged in from close range. Despite looking like he’d been held-up, the touch-judge contradicted the referee and the try was given. Crooky the two amidst the chaos for 6-36.

Oxford briefly showed what they’re capable of when they engineered a tidy break for Nathaniel to score, but normal service was resumed just two minutes later when Andrage was sin-binned for two consucutive high tackles. 12-36.

On 58 minutes Hornets had another sparkling effort struck off - Danny Yates adjudjed to have failed to ground the ball after some slick inter-passing. Then some concern when Paul Crook came reeling out of a tackle holding his shoulder - the Ginger General gritting his teeth after some treatment and battling on.

With the hour coming up, another assertive Hornets approach set saw James Dandy swatting off defenders to score from 30 metres; followed by Matt Fozzard mugging the home defence from acting half: Crooky on target with both for 12-48.

With the game ebbing away, thus came the moment worth spending 10 hours in the car for; Danny Yates a teasing, lofted kick into space behind the Oxford defence, Dale Bloomfield’s seamless chase, leap, catch and touchdown: as good a try as you’ll see anywhere. Crooky imperious from the touchline 12-54.

There was just enough time for Oxford to produce their one moment of lucid football - a dink to the corner for Gardiner to touch down at the death, but it was all a bit incidental; 16-54.

In the wash-up, this was a professional, hard-won two points. People insist that it’s good for the game if the ’Southern teams’ are competitive - and when they are, the same people moan when they don’t roll over and swallow a 90 point drubbing.

Every element of this game had the word ‘awkward’ written all over it, but for the width of a post and two struck-off tries, we’d’ve been looking at another 70 point flogging. As it was, Oxford have found a way to make themselves hard(er) to beat and Hornets fulfilled their end of the deal by only ever looking like winning this one.

Which meant -  as we trekked back up the M1 last night, getting home at 10pm - it felt just about worth the trip.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Saturday's Coming: Oxford. At... er... Hemel

Confused: Hornets' Dean Mignacca, playing for Oxford - at London Skolars.                                                     Picture courtesy of ‘Oxford Rugby League Inspires’: the official Facebook page of Oxford Rugby League.

The easily confused might do well to check their bearings before heading South to follow Hornets this weekend - as Hornets travel to take on Oxford. At Hemel. On a Saturday.

Last week Oxford came within 10 points of upsetting freeloading York, going down by just 36 points to 26 at coach Tim Rumford’s former ‘home’ at Heworth.

Having clawed themselves back from 30- 16 down, Oxford were only 4 points behind with  4 minutes to play - a late, late try from York’s Blagbrough giving the scoreline a thin veneer of respectability.

Having had a season of inconsistency (shipping 96 at home to Swinton, going to Barrow to only lose by two scores, beating the All Golds who, went on to beat Newcastle), Oxford remain enigmatic.

Currently parked 10th with five wins from 17 games and a points difference of -360. Needless to say their five wins have all come against ‘Southern’ opposition (against whom they have a ‘won 5 lost 3’ record) though their points difference remains in the red at -29.

Against the ‘heartland teams’ their record’s not great - though they’ve been nilled just once this term (by Oldham), scoring an average of 15 points per game. However, thet’ve shipped a whopping 460 points in the process - averaging a losing margin of 37 points.

But it’s not all doom and gloom at Iffley Road. Having ditched Tony Benson’s ‘Biffs on a Bus’ model from year one, Oxford’s squad looks like a development work in progress - shored up by a backbone of  experienced Northerners. Yes, there’s a thick seam of players from deepest Yorkshire from places like Methley, Milford, Heworth, Fryston  and Featherstone - but they’re augmented with players from Limerick, Antrim, Chinnor, Northampton, Southampton and Guildford (in Surrey, not Sydney). They’ve also borrowed Dean Mignacca from us. He won’t play on Saturday.

Having thumped the Blues by 76-16 earlier in the season, Hornets will be looking for much the same outcome on a weekend when North Wales host Swinton, Keighley play Barrow and Oldham travel to Newcastle (needless to say, York get a free-swing at Skolars as they continue their jaunt through the bottom six).

As if the trip on Saturday wasn’t confusing enough, we have two sets of directions for Pennine Way at Hemel - one from their website and one from AA Routefinder. Both look to work for us - leaving the M1 at Junction 9 is our favored option: gets you off the motorway sooner and cuts through some rolling farmland, rather than negotiating a tricksy route through Hemel.

We’re leaving early doors and making a day of it - so why not stick a few mates in the car and come and make a bit of noise. Flags recommended. See you down there.

Finding Pennine Way, Hemel

Postcode HP2 5UD

Directions A
Take J9 from M1 - follow A5183 and B487
- At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto Dunstable Rd/A5183
- Continue to follow A5183
- At the roundabout, take the 2nd exit and stay on A5183
- At the roundabout, take the 2nd exit onto B487
- At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto Redbourn Rd/A4147
- Turn right onto Pennine Way at Palmers Peugeot/Alfa Romeo

Directions B
Leave the M1 at J8
- Continue into Hemel Hempstead on the A414
- At the second roundabout take the 3rd exit onto the A4147
- At the next roundabout take the 1st exit to continue onto the A4147
- At the next roundabout take the 3rd exit onto Redbourn Road
- Take the first left (after about 300 metres) onto Pennine Way 

Monday, 10 August 2015

Point Breaks Crusaders Hearts

Hornets 19 - Crusaders 18

Some games, it matters not how you win, only that you win - and Hornets scrapped, scrambled and stole home by a point in what might prove to be a crucial twist in this heart-stopping season.

As in previous encounters with Crusaders, this was a fizzing, physical encounter that saw both sides reduced to 12 men, chances bombed at both ends and, ultimately, Hornets’ key players holding their nerve where their counterparts couldn’t.

After a tight, combative opening, Crusaders made the breakthrough after 8 minutes, Dallimore making a rare contribution with the kick that won a repeat set; quick hands down the line where Jullien squeezed in by the flag.

The game re-tightened - for 20 minutes both sides testing and teasing. The removal of the experienced Reardon with a broken wrist gave Hornets a chink of opportunity up the left channel, but before they had chance to test wing Turner’s mettle the game exploded. On the half hour, verbal exchanged at a tackle between Turner and Dale Bloomfield; the next tackle Turner raining blows into Bloomers’ bloodied face. Mr Merrick’s decision to send off both parties looking harsh on Bloomfield who was defending himself; Turner braying at the crowd as he went down the tunnel.

Hornets went on the attack. On 35 minutes the ball was moved wide to the right, Wayne English chiming into the line as the extra man, a pinpoint cut-out pass for Brad Hargreaves (who had his best game in a Hornets shirt) to score in the corner. Crooky teasingly wide with the conversion attempt; fans tapping their pacemakers as the teams went in at 4-all.

Hornets began the second half with clear intent. A high shot on the half’s fifth tackle gave Paul Crook a simple shot to extend the lead to 6-4. And when Lee Paterson punched a huge hole to blast fully 60 metres it took a spectacular last ditch tackle from Massam to prevent a certain try. No matter, three short passes later Jordan Case arrived at speed to step through and score. Crooky, cool headed, hitting the target, Hornets up 12-4.

This time it was Crusaders who upped the tempo, Despite some sterling, scrambling Hornets defence, it was stretched just too far, allowing Warrington DR Jullien to cut back inside for his second try. Johnson the two; Crusaders gaining fast at 12-10.

If nicking games means you have to ride your luck, Hornets got a solid gold Get Out Of Jail card as the hour approached. Good hands across the park from the visitors, Jullien hitting winger Massam with 10 metres of unobstructed fresh air between him and the goal line - Massam coughing the ball with the line begging.

Exhaling hard, Hornets marched straight upfield where James Tilleys shuddering hit forced a Welsh knock-on. Two tackles later Crooky hit Jordan Case with a inch-perfect face-ball, unstoppable from five metres; great try. Crooky the two, Hornets in control at 18-10. But wait…

For ten minutes, the visitors chucked the kitchen sink at Hornets, but couldn’t find the composure to finish. First Peet dropped Dallimore’s pass in front of a stretched defence, then Massam’s drop-off to Peet adjudged forward, no try.

Eventually, the pressure told - quick hands wide for Oakden to score Johnson short with the kick: 18-14 with 8 to play. A febrile frenzy - both sides now in search of the killer blow

On 75 minutes Hornets looked to have the situation under control: a solid set in the Crusaders 20, Crusaders retreating under their own posts, tackles in the bank. The book of commom-sense tactics suggested pushing Crusaders back as far as they’d go and look for a repeat set. At worst, hoofing the ball into the Pearl Street end would have seen Crusaders restart on the 20 against a flat defence. As it was, Danny Yates took a drop goal. 19-14 not enough if the visitors came up with a converted try; Crusaders kicking off to play under Hornets posts. All manner of wrong.

Almost inevitably, Crusaders regathered possession from a short kick-off and, on the 78th minute Massam chased down a Moulsdale kick to score. 19-18 - both sets of fans watching the conversion through their fingers: Johnson - reputedtly the best kicker in the league - unable to hit a barn door, slicing his kick wide. Hornets holding on for the narrowest of wins.

Time and again we write here that good sides find ways to win. And, amidst the pushed passes, daft penalties and coach-killing errors Hornets found the guile and the gumption to see off a determined Crusaders.

Indeed, in the end, it mattered not how Hornets won - only that they did. Whilst not a spectacular win, it was a great win - and, in doing so, Hornets supplant an increasingly busted Crusaders in the top five.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Sunday's Coming - North Wales

It’s the business end of a gruelling season and we reckon success in this sphincter-squeaking, airlocked top seven will all come down to who can keep it together for the big push.

Separated by a point - and just 18 points in points difference - there's not a lot between Hornets and North Wales at all. We fancy the narrow win at The Rock to set a reasonable template for how this game will go. The term 'must win game' has never been more apposite: indeed, this could come down to who blinks first.

Last week, North Wales made hard work of seeing off a combative All Golds.

Missing six first-team regulars through either suspension or injury, they were dealt a further blow when joint top try-scorer Jono Smith snapped his anterior fibula ligament in the warm-up, which has most probably ended his season.

Not really helped by Gary Middlehurst’s yellow-card for a dangerous throw, North Wales were only 10-8 up at the break - and behind 10-14 two minutes after.  It needed four tries from Rob Massam in the final half an hour to finally see-off the visitors’ challenge by 38 points to 20

Speaking on Twitter this week, Anthony Murray said,  "Through the course of the game, I was confident that we would win and I'm glad that we won in the manner we did, scoring 38 points."

"We grounded out a result today (sic)…    we got the two points and it's going to be a big challenge at Rochdale Hornets next weekend."

"We're really up against it at moment - we've lost Jono Smith it looks as though he could be out for considerable amount of time. That takes it to seven injuries and then Mark Hobson's picked up a knee injury. We're literally at the bare bones at the minute."

While Stuart Reardon made a return last week, centre Christian Roets remains doubtful after picking up rib cartilage damage .

Crusaders will also be without Karl Ashall and stand-in captain Steven Wild, both serving the last match of their two-game bans for a grade-C dangerous throw against Barrow last month. You can check out the incident in the video below: judge for yourself whether this is half as serious as Gaz Langley swearing at a touch judge.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Hornets Go Large Against 'Leeky' South Wales

Hornets 74 - Scorpions 4

Hornets dogfight for a place in the League 1 shake-up took a step forward, as they racked up the points against the Scorpions of South Wales to scramble over Barrow and stay only two points away from the top three.

As we’ve said countless times, points difference is the new bonus point in this airlocked top seven (defeat for Newcastle sees them dropping right off the pace) and Hornets gave their account a huge boost, scoring 13 tries en-route to a clinically professional win.

From the moment Wayne English looped into the line to make the extra man and send Dale Bloomfield over after just three minutes, to Bloomers darting in by the flag for his fourth try 75 minutes later, Hornets were in complete command of a game that was only ever going one way.

Most of the damage was done by the left-side wrecking crew of Danny Bridge, Lee Paterson and Dale Bloomfield who terrorised their opposite numbers all afternoon - and when Pogo broke the line on 16 minutes to slot Danny Yates under the black dot (Crooky the extras) it already had an air of inevitability about it.

Aided by some dubious decisions from tyro ref Mr Grant (assessed on the day by James Child who left after 65 minutes, thus missing his last quarter melt-down), Scorpions strove to apply some pressure, but having coughed the ball and a soft penalty, Hornets marched straight downfield where Mike Ratu hit a flat ball at pace to score. Crooky the two; 16-nil.

Four minutes later, it was Danny Bridge blasting through the right channel, Danny Yates in the same place for the same inside ball. The result just the same; Crooky on target and Hornets chasing the clock at 22-nil.

Relentless pressure on the half-hour saw Hornets camped on the Scorpions line - and when newly introduced Matt Hadden hit a short-ball at close range he was unstoppable. Crooky on his way to 11 from 13: 28-nil.

Two minutes later Hornets were back on the attack: a Danny Yates dink forcing a drop-out; Paul Crook a cheeky acting half sneak to score. 34-nil.

On 35 minutes a blistering 70 metre break from Ryan Smith needed a top notch tackle from ex-Hornet Jonny Leather to bundle him into touch, but a late blind-side foray by Lee Paterson sent Dale Bloomfield in on the hooter (Crook the extras) to send Hornets in at the break with a comfortable 40-nil lead.

The Scorpions began the second half with their best moment of the game: good hands across the field, a teasing kick through; Williams held-up over the line. Hornets’ response was swift. A sharp, direct approach set, rapid hands across the park and Dale Bloomfield in for his hat-trick: 46-nil.

Hornets turned the screw: 49 minutes a meandering 50 metre run by Ryan Smith for a great solo try; straight from the kick-off, Danny Bridge punching the hole, Lee Paterson outpacing the cover from half-way.

A slight lull in proceedings followed while Mr Grant stumbled his way through the laws (twice miscounting the tackle count - once not applying the free-play/zero tackle law correctly - his signals awful all afternoon), but on the hour Mike Ratu grabbed his second, wrestling in from close range, Crooky the two 64-nil.

Credit to the Scorpions, having regathered a short kick-off and driven forward through a good set, Farrer bounced in off Ratu to score a deserved try: 64-4.

It was a minor blip, Danny Bridge booming in to skittle defenders and score on 70 minutes. Crooky slotting the extras to bring up the 70.

Then a quite spectacular officiating melt-down. Having had a simultaneously tenuous, yet pedantic grip of the laws for 70 minutes, Mr Grant got over-picky at a penalty, waiting until Matt Haggarty had hit his drive into the defensive line before stopping play because of an unseen incursion by the defence. Frustrations bubbled over into handbags and, when Haggarty drove in an identical play, Emanuelli’s frustration was interpreted as a high tackle and - rather than having a quiet word, Mr Grant reached for the red card. All a bit knee-jerk, we think, as there’d been very little foul play all afternoon and a more diplomatic referee might have elected to say 'There’s only five minutes left, don’t be a daft lad’.

As it was, Hornets shipped the ball wide for Dale Bloomfield to close the book at 74-4.

There was just time for Mr Grant to pick the wrong player out of a scuffle at a messy ruck - dispatching Leather for dissent - and, when Hornets ran a basketball-style play after the hooter, a scuffle ensued bringing a bad-tempered end to proceedings.

In the wash-up, this one went pretty much to script. Hornets playing some tidy high-tempo football round a work-hard Scorpions light on the more dogged aspects of the game. Certainly the plan would have been to bang as many points as possible onto the scoreboard given Barrow’s stuttering win over Hemel, so objective achieved.

Elsewhere York continued their strafing of the botton six winning at Coventry, North Wales looked unconvincing in their win over the All Golds (Jono Smith having blown-up in the warm-up), Swinton won at a spent Newcastle and Oldham battered a Keighley side that’s now lost both its first choice half-backs.

Next week, Hornets’ game against North Wales is the only clash between top seven clubs - everyone else getting a free-swing at a ‘southern’ side. Plenty of twists and turn to come.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Sunday's Coming - S.W. Scorpions

This Sunday sees stoic ex-Hornet Mike Grady haul his nascent South Wales Scorpions side the length of the country - most likely for another defeat.

Mike Grady: subtitles available for those
who don't speak Widnes...
We appreciate that building from the bottom up in the Valleys is a long-game - and that the biggest investment the game can make in development on the fringes of the UK’s League map is patience - but you have to question the sanity of any game that drags students and part-timers 350 miles to get a flogging in front of 400 people, then dumps them back home at 1am.

Indeed, whilst the rest of Rugby League seems obsessed with splitting into eights, League one has done it organically, without outside interference - the top 8 ‘Heartland’ clubs effectively a separate tier from the bottom six development outfits. Yes, we understand all the arguments for compelling them to play clubs of a higher level in order to drive up standards, but it’s now been 56 weeks since a southern side beat one from the north in League 1. Long enough to draw a conclusion?

It’s counterproductive to the game as a whole - fans pay to watch a contest, but - increasingly it seems, in Top Eight v Bottom Six games, the result is pretty much a foregone conclusion. And it does little for morale or credibility for developing clubs to be offered up as cannon-fodder to more experienced sides who, in turn, are now under pressure to rack-up cricket scores and who are lambasted when the ‘Southern’ teams dare to put up any resistance.

And when final league placings - promotion, even - can be decided by who rams the most points through the development clubs; and when a basket-case club like York gets gifted an easier ride by playing more of the bottom six and fewer of the top eight, you have to think that the format doesn’t really treat anyone fairly.

Indeed it was York’s turn to take a free swing at Scorpions last week - bangng them 60-nil at Mountain Ash. What did anyone really learn from that: other than that getting thumped every week probably doesn’t make Grady’s job any easier?

Even with the experience of Paul Emanuelli and Jonny Leather on-board, Scorpions are averaging a 36 point losing margin this season - their only win in 16 coming against London Skolars last month (26 - 20, in London).

Meanwhile it was a week of deep introspection for Hornets fans who saw their side produce a heroic 12-man performance at Swinton, only to fall just short. Plenty’s alread been said about Gaz Langley’s 9th minute brain-fart, so we’ll not rake it over - instead we’ll once again marvel at the vacuum that is the top-eight (or is that becoming a top seven, with Newcastle seemingly unable to shake off their stasis?).

We think it’s interesting that - in order to make the rest of Rugby League ‘interesting’ - the sport as a whole has felt compelled to manufacture the pressure and jeopardy that exists at the top of League 1 .

After last week, everyone got stuck looking at positions in the league - but the really interesting stuff is at the opposite side of the table, where just two points separates third from seventh. One win - it really is that tight. Over the next few weeks the margins will become increasingly fine - and every week will see that leading pack churned relentlessy. Every Minute Matters? Too bloody right. By our fag-packet calculations, points difference could separate 4th, 5th and 6th.

All we have to do is keep winning and stay in the mix. However it pans out, six clubs who will have had realistic promotion expectations back in March will find themselves back here next season for more of the same.

Unless of course, the RFL has a plan for the game at our level. And what are the odds on that?

Monday, 27 July 2015

12-Man Hornets Heroics Not Quite Enough

Swinton 20 - Hornets 16

Heroics from 12-man Hornets were not enough as a stultifyingly dull Swinton capitalised on their numerical advantage to cling-on and take the points in a contest where you’d be hard-pushed at times to spot the side a man short.

On a day that required cool heads and concentration, the afternoon started pretty badly: Hornets coughing the kick-off possession, then a soft penalty - Ex Hornets Littler and Robinson combining to give the home side a pretty soft first minute lead.

Then - just as Hornets seemed to have regained their composure - a moment of madness from Gaz Langley. Penalised for swearing at a touch-judge, he then swore at the referee who produced a yellow card. Just for good measure he swore at the referee again as he passed by - and Mr Thomason was perfectly happy to convert the yellow to a red. 9 minutes gone…

Hornets responded positively, forcing a 13th minute drop-out. Then - on 15 minutes - Wayne English looped in off a short-ball to score. 4-all. Game on.

Tempers frayed further on 20 minutes - Dale Bloomfield and Littler engaged in handbags; then Hornets pressing hard - good field position off a direct approach-set squandered by an obstruction.

On 22 minutes, Swinton applied some basic physics, running their biggest forward at Danny Yates to create space for Thorley to score. Mort the extras 10-4.

Hornets again responded well - keeping play tight and direct in centre-field, stealing metres out of every tackle. But - having forced Swinton backwards - a soft (and dubious) penalty for interference not only let them off the hook, but gifted them a platform to work the overlap and put Rothwell in at the corner. Mort the two off the touchline: 16-4.

With half-time fast aproaching, Hornets continued to play the more progressive football: a great approach-set, but an undercooked last-tackle kick; then a better set forcing a drop-out. On 38 minutes Danny Yates’ dink into the in-goal was allowed to bobble, but his touchdown was deemed incomplete and Swinton went to the sheds breathing a sigh of relief.

A second half that Hornets would dominate began in scrappy fashion - both sides trading penalties and dropped balls. On 48 minutes a rare moment of Lions lucidity launched Robinson towards a certain try in the corner, but a remarkable tackle by Dave Hull sent the winger crashing into touch.
Then another scare - a Littler interception, a 60 metre dash, the ball slipped to Robinson - this time Wayne English scything down the winger in full flight.

With Hornets holding their own in what was now a tight arm-wrestle, Paul Crook began unleashing his repertoire of kicks. Twice forcing repeat sets, Swinton now on the ropes. Indeed, cometh the hour-mark cometh the Man - Crooky hoisting a huge cross-field kick, Dale Bloomfield soaring to catch and score. Crooky the 2 off the touchline. 16-10 and only one side playing any discernible football.

Within a minute a great charge-down and regather by Jordan Case put Hornets back in an attacking position, but a hurried pass too many saw the chance go begging.

Having soaked up half an hour of pressure, Swinton finally got to apply some of their own: Beecham taking a flat pass at pace to score through a stretched Hornets defence. Mort wide with the conversion attempt. 20-10 with 10 to play.

Hornets again responded positively and had redressed the balance within two minutes: Lee Paterson’s audacious show & go to create space for him to blast 70 metres for a great solo try. Crooky the two and Hornets in serious search of something from the game. But - despite heavy pressure in the last five minutes - Swinton hung-on just long-enough. Gutting.

We write here often that good teams have to find ways to win. That Hornets came within four points with only 12-men is testimony to their guts and determination. Certainly, Hornets finished the stronger side, but in the end it was just too much to ask.

Again, this was a weekend where the top eight got a shake-up. Barrow unconvincing at Oxford, North Wales falling apart at home against Oldham, York getting a free bag of points on their easy-street run-in. A cursory glance at the table today shows just two points - one win - separating third from seventh. It’s that close. Next week Oldham play Keighley and Swinton go to Newcastle: And Hornets get a shot at racking up some points aganst Scorpions. It’s not over till it’s over folks.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Sunday's Coming - Swinton Lions

This week brings another tense local derby as 5th placed Hornets take the short trip to 6th placed Swinton. To date, one point separates the teams: Hornets having one more win, but Swinton with a game in hand; Swinton margially ahead on points difference. All a bit tight.

A closer look at the fixtures reveals that Swinton are amongst the clubs most disadvantaged by League 1’s lop-sided bias: Swinton, Newcastle and North Wales play 14 games against top 8 teams plus 8 against the bottom 6 whereas York play 10 games against top 8 plus 12 against bottom 6. Keighley, Oldham, Hornets and Barrow 13 games against top 8 plus 9 against bottom 6.
Lions like Vimto:
Swinton - the porn 'tache years

Compared with York, that’s essentially an 8 point ‘deficit’ for the Lions to make-up against teams in the top eight. Not an easy task - but one they’re clearly having a bloody good go at. Last week they chipped away at it further, completing a hat-trick of victories over Keighley this season with a 22-14 win at Cougar Park. No mean feat.

For us the strike threat comes from a familiar source, two ex-Hornets: the combative, attritional Stuart Littler and the ducking/darting winger Shaun Robinson. By our reckoning, Litller - now 35 - has played the full 80 minutes in every single game this season. Impressively durable.

Also keep an eye on points machine Ian Mort who earlier this month scored six tries and kicked 11 goals in the Lions’ 96-4 flogging of Oxford.

Elsewhere this weekend, York travel to South Wales for another gift two points, Oldham travel to North Wales, Keighley host a fast-fading Newcastle and it’s Barrow’s turn to get a free swing at Oxford - so it’s important to be a positive part of the change that occurs in the top five this weekend, not a victim of it.

Earlier in the week we tried to crunch the numbers on the remaining games, predicting wins, losses and winning margins and then extrapolating the results to the end of the season’s placings. Even predicting conservatively, it’s tighteer than we imagined: potentially points difference separating fourth, fifth and sixth. What IS key, though is that - first and foremost -  we have to engineer a win of any kind against the teams around us.

Back in May, Hornets’ 28 - 16 win at Spotland was tighter than the scoreline suggests - and there’s no doubting that Sunday’s game will require another North Wales/Newcastle scale effort to some away from Sedgely Park with something. Indeed, in his comments post the Coventry win, Ian Talbot identified the quest for consistency as a primary component of the run-in.

However youlook at Sunday’s game, it’s there for the taking. And it’s going to be a belter, so get yourself over to Whitefield and let’s do our bit.

Monday, 20 July 2015

By Hook - or by Crook.

Hornets 50 - Coventry 22

It’d be churlish to complain too much about a victory in which Hornets nailed 50 points onto a one-dimensional opposition who came with - and stuck to - a game-plan designed to prevent Hornets playing at the right end of the field. And, while Hornets did play some scintillating football in short-spells, this was a win ground-out against a Bears side who’d come to make things awkward and feed of whatever scraps they could find. Primarily - Coventry spent 80 minutes playing five drives and a big kick deep into the Hornets half, hoping for an error. A plan so ugly, even its mother would struggle to love it.

Indeed, in may ways this game mirrored the previous fixture at Butts Park - Coventry chucking everything at the game for half an hour before running out of steam; Hornets comfortably securing the game in the third quarter.

It was a scrappy, hectic start from all parties involved. A third minute Danny Yates kick hitting the corner post; Referee Mr Leatherbarrow indicating a 20m restart - and much debate as to what circumstances dictate when/if the corner post is in/out of play.

Hornets then shipped a soft penalty in the middle of the park. Gifted an easy 40 metres the Bears’ Phillips arrived off a short-pass to crash in and score. So far, so ‘meh’. Nil-4: all a bit flat.

With Coventry coughing the kick-off possession, Hornets  had a chance to run with the ball. First a nice approach set saw Wayne English’s dink into the corner force a repeat set; then a short, flat ball cannoned off Woz Thompson’s chest with the line begging.

On 12 minutes a beautifully slipped Jordan Case pass launched Danny Yates into space. As he weaved and teased his way through the gathering defenders he was somehow held-up under the  posts. Coventry undid their good work with a needless penalty, whereupon Paul Crook dived in from acting half to level the scores. Crooky improving his own try 6-4.

Hornets continued to press and, whern Danny Bridge hit a short-ball to score after 17 minutes (Crooky the extras), Hornets looked to have steadied the ship at 12-4. But when Crooky overshot a 40-20 by a metre and Wayne English was trapped in-goal off a hit and hope kick, Coventry took advantage - Hughes going up the blind side off a telegraphed pass to score. A bit too easy, really: 12-8.

Three minutes later Hornets were caught napping again, allowing the rotund Jack Morrison to barrel 50 metres downfield; from whence a flapping last-minute kick into the in-goal was left to bobble for Cooper to touch down amongst the chaos. Parker the two and - somehow - Hornets 12-14 down. Just shoddy.

On the half-hour, the introduction of Alex McClurg and the switch of Paul Crook to out-half flicked the switch. James Tilley held-up over the line, then another Jordan Case break finding Danny Bridge whose teasing kick behind defenders was just over-hit. Right in the hooter Matt Haggarty crashed through from short range to give Paul Crook an easy conversion. Half time 18-14.

Coventry began the second half in peculiar fashion. Gifted a penalty 20 metres from Hornets’ line they elected to kick into their deficit. *nion-style they took the points to trail 18-16. Most people incredulous. Hornets hit the gas.

Led by the influential Paul Crook, Hornets increased the tempo. A teasing 45th minute Crooky bomb was lost in flight by the Bears defence; Crooky followed up his own kick and - juggling the ball with his fingertips - managed to touch-down. His touchline conversion the icing on the cake: 24-16.

Then two tries in two minutes that effectively killed the game as a contest: Danny Jones skittling defenders to grab his inaugural Hornets try; then a delightfully delayed pass from Paul Crook to put Jordan Case in for a deserved try. 36-16: Coventry hoisting the kick-off straight out; Crooky sliding the ball into the in-goal to force a drop-out. Hornets response was clinical: quick hands right for Dave Hull to shrug-off defenders and score.

Two minutes later Paul Crook produced another 1-metre special to grab his hat-trick. Hornets effectively home and hosed at 46-16.

Coventry did rally briefly to grab a late consolation (Cooper off a short-pass to score), but when Danny Yates forced a 76th minute drop-out off a cheeky kick, Hornets swept the ball wide to give Dale Bloomfield a clear run to the line. Full time 50-22.

In the wash-up, this was - eventually - a fairly comfortable win for a Hornets side that played most of the football on offer. Certainly, the switch of Paul Crook to stand-off triggered a clear refocus in Hornets’ approach, his cool head and right decisions at the right time giving his side more go-forward.

But Coventry are no mugs: they came with a plan, compelled Hornets to start their sets under their own posts and capitalised on the errors when they came. We’ve said here lots of times that one of these development sides WILL upset the form book at some point ( Oldham’s unconvincing 32-4 win at Skolars also billed as an ‘ugly win’ by Scott Naylor) - so the priority for Hornets - and the teams around us - is to win first and then worry about they style in which it’s done.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Sunday's Coming - Coventry Bears

As Sol Mokdad can testify, there are an awful lot of Rugby League evangelists around the world expending time, energy - and their liberty - in endeavouring to convince people that there isn’t just one ‘code’ of Rugby (how I hate the word ‘code’: it suggests a variant of a single game) - and that League has been a discrete sport in its own right since 1895.

Which is why it makes our teeth itch when League clubs cosy-up to *nion to promote ‘Rugby’ as a single entity in the hope that that they’ll somehow be able to gain some sort of trickled-down crumbs of benefit from it. Of course - especially in the year of the kick & clap world cup - it suits *nion to have ‘Rugby’ perceived as a single sport with ‘major’ and ‘minor’ variants. Even after 120 years, the other handling based football game is happy to present itself as the ‘one true code’ with League its barely-tolerated bastard cousin.

Indeed, the blurring of the rugby lines in such circumstances undoes the great work being done around the world in establishing League’s own identity, which plays into *nion’s hands (presumably before they kick it into the stand).

That’s why the news this week that Coventry Bears coach Tom Tsang has expressed how happy he is to see the Bears joining Coventry Sport Foundation in their long-term vision of making Coventry the first ‘City of Rugby’ caught our all-seeing eye.

The campaign - which  primarily seems to be a vehicle to ingratiate Wasps into the local sporting community (having bowled in on Coventry RFC’s territory like an invading army and set about hoovering up every *nionite within 20 miles) -  was also intended as a vehicle to promote the Ricoh arena as a potential *nion WC venue. The RFU repaid Coventry by taking the midlands game to Villa Park. You just CAN’T trust ‘em…

Now, we appreciate that it’s good to get your brand in front of as many people as possible, but you have to ask: if Coventry City were promoting a “City of Football”, would the Bears align themselves with that? Rugby League being a ‘football’ code and all. Probably not.

Aligning yourself with what is essentially a *nion promotion, sold in under a single ‘Rugby’ banner perpetuates the prevalent perception in some quarters that League can only ever be viewed through the lens of *nion. And, while *nion continues to appropriate league’s clothing in its attempt to persuade the unwary that they are us, the closer we stand to *nion the more people will think that League is merely a quirky adjunct that *nion types play in summer to keep fit. A derivation. A truncation. ‘*nion Lite’.

Ultimately, it’s the perception that League has to hitch itself to *nion’s caravan in order to gain traction that rankles. The fact that Coventry MIGHT pick-up some followers by misapprehension - drawn to the campaign in the belief that there’s really only one rugby-based football code and serendipitously finding the diamond of league in the pile of *nion dogshit.

And as long as *nion pretends to be ‘our mate’ - and we allow that to happen - we’ll never really have the balls to truly step out of its shadow.

Back at the ranch, Ian Talbot - justifiably - wasn’t happy with his side’s performance at the pre-conflagrated Whitebank. His post match view was that it was the worst defeat of the season - and few would argue.

With Barrow, York and Crusaders getting expcted wins, they all managed to scramble above Hornets in this increasingly taut division. This week Hornets get a chance to redress matters as Barrow face Crusaders, Keighley play Swinton and York host Newcastle at a field somewhere near York. Oldham get to play their joker at Skolars, so we can hope for a shock there (though we can’t really see it).

Since Hornets won the away fixture by a relatively comfortable 35-10, Coventry have slipped to 11th in the table with just four wins from their 14 games - but, as always, these development teams remain a banana-skin in waiting; more than capable of catching the complacent, poorly disciplined and the switched-off unawares. Indeed, last week’s 40-10 home defeat to high-flying Keighley puts Hornets’ victory at Butts Park in perspective and shows that the Bears can make life difficult for the best in the division.

Afterwards, Tom Tsang said: "For our third game in a row, we matched our opposition toe for toe in the forwards and for large portions of the game were actually on top physically, but just couldn't make the most of the opportunities we created for ourselves, whereas Keighley were clinical and turned most of their chances and half chances into points.”

A lesson there for all of us -not only do Hornets have to ensure that we aren’t the story in Monday’s papers, a bit of a cricket score would help restore that all-important points difference.

Monday, 13 July 2015

... One Step Back...

Oldham 38 - Hornets 18

If it’s the expectation that kills you, this game dealt the noisy Hornets following a proper kick in the spuds.

Having rushed into an early lead in a nip and tuck first half in which the momentum swung like a pendulum, Hornets were undone in a second half littered with penalties, lousy refereeng decisions and some pretty ordinary defence.

It took just six minutes for Hornets to leap into a teasing lead: a big show & go by Paul Crook opened up the home defence, his drop-off to Danny Yates who went desperately close. Hornets sprayed the ball wide, but couldn’t find an opening. Switching direction, it was Paul Crook who finally found a way through, mugging Oldham fron acting half. He stroked the conversion home from the touchline and Hornets looked sound at 0-6.

And when Oldham’s stretched defence almost decapitated Ryan Smith four minutes later, Crooky stretched the lead to 0-8.

As the game became loose, rattled by a series of dropped ball and curious penalties, Oldham took full advantage. Quick hands into space out wide saw Clay score by the flag. 4-8

On 20 minutes another surreal refereeing decision: a big hit by Danny Bridge knocked the ball loose in the tackle, but Ref. Mr Sweet gave a penalty for ripping the ball. Oldham capitalised as Huddersfield DR Jake Connor scored through a stretched defence. 8-all. The home side now with the momentum.

A Jack Ashworth intercept on 23 minutes looked to have temporarily repelled the danger, but he showed his inexperience in trying to do too much on the first tackle and compounded his fumbled carry with a penalty for dissent. This was rapidly followed by another penalty for interference: this time Oldham held-up over the line. Hornets under the cosh.

Two minutes later an Oldham player (we were unsighted) fumbled the ball reaching into the in-goal. Hornets’ response was to cough the ball first tackle.

Having defended for close on 15 minutes, he inevitable came when Crowley, Tyson and Roper combined to send Palfrey under the posts from 30 metres, Palfrey with a simple two, Oldham in front 14-8.

With half time looming Hornets launched an increasingly rare attack, Lee Paterson arriving at pace off a lovely flat ball to score. Danny Yates the two and the sides heading for the sheds locked up at 14-all.

The second half began with Hornets on top. Oldham dumped the kick-off straight out, Hornets ground Oldham back up the hill and Danny Bridge battled his way through the tightest of gaps to score: 18-14.

Then it all kinda just ground to a halt. As the penalty and error count mounted (Hornets shipped 13 penalties in this game - three of them ‘doubles’ for dissent after a penalty decision) Oldham just stuck to their basic gameplan of playing quick, direct football, while Hornets watched the game slide irrevocably away.

Tries by Fairbank, Gee and Owen kept the scoreboard ticking over at steady intervals, and a late-late effort from Crowley gave the scoreline a blow-out feel.

In the end this was a disappointing effort. Having played the lion’s share of the football in the early stages, Hornets became stuck in reverse as the game unravelled around them. Needless to say, the Oldham contingent celebrated like they’d won a final (as if such a thing were possible!) and they relentlessly took the piss as the Hornets supporters left, wondering what the bloody hell had happened.

Positives? Not many to be honest. Good to see Gaz Langley back, though he had little to do on either attack or defence; Woz Thompson took Hornets forward as best he could, and Paul Crook and Wayne English tried hard to create a spark: all to little avail.

With Swinton, York and Crusaders all nailing big wins onto ’southern’ opposition - and six of the top eight playing each other next week - it’s imperative that Hornets shake of this torpor and use next weekend’s game against Coventry to get the show back on the rails.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Sunday's Coming - Oldham

Just for a week, park all those ‘expansive’ thoughts of trips to the far flung extremities of the RL map. This week’s trip to Whitebank is old-skool ‘Rugby’ - near neighbours who’ve been playing derby games for longer than the sport of League has existed.

Oldham come into the game on the back of four straight wins - and top of an increasingly tight Kingstone Press League One. Lovers of irony may indeed want them to stay there , as the the only way out of this league this year is via one of two play-off finals. Given Oldham’s record in play-off finals and all…

Whitebank earlier today: probably just needs
a roll and a cut...
Certainly, Whitebank’s idiosyncratic topography will play a major part in Oldham’s run-in. Indeed
only this week the Oldham Chronic ran a feature on how the world’s only sloping swamp gives The Roughyeds a clear advantage. Ex- Salford forward Adam Neal said: “Generally speaking we play better at home, so at the very least we’ve got to target winning all those (remaining home games)”.

Oldham dealt with the first of those games - against York last week - in some style. Playing in monsoon conditions, they were 12-6 down after 54 minutes, but went on to win by 34 to 12: 18 of those points coming in the last 10 minutes. The most impressive stat: they kept York scoreless for 65 minutes, so some big defence there.

Roughyeds chairman Chris Hamilton thought the result was never in doubt:  “With the wind and rain behind us in the second half I was confident we would have enough to win.”

Coach Scott Naylor was pragmatic in his summary: “We had talked at half-time about the need to work harder, to be more aggressive and to be more direct… York rarely got anywhere near our try line (sic) in the second half. I’m seeing a different, more mature, Oldham now and we are looking better at controlling and managing certain situations. From the moment we levelled things up at 12-12 I felt we had the ascendancy. We kept it for the rest of the game and that’s a good sign of mental maturity. We tend to forget that League One this season is unbelievably tough.”

And we agree with him. We wrote a couple of weeks ago about how every last breath of air is being squeezed out of the top eight - with just five points now separating the top eight and every team in there seemingly capable of beating any of the others regardless of venue.

But this week sees six of the top eight playing ‘southern’ opposition - with only the A627M El Clasico pairing two contenders for the top five. Assuming that no miracles will be forthcoming elsewhere, it makes a win even more important.

Having seen off North Wales and Newcastle on their own patch, we know that Hornets are capable of finding ways to win close contests that matter - an that resolute, bloody-minded approach will be needed in spades at Whitebank on Sunday. For both teams, this could be the fulcrum on which the season turns: For Hornets, to cement our position and remove Oldham from top spot; for Oldham to emphasise their table topping credentials and shove Hornets back into the chasing pack.

Just as it always has, this derby is a game that actually means something. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Other news
Hornets have signed Saints prop Matt Haggarty on loan for the remainder of the season. The 24 year old is hugely experienced, having played at Leigh Miners Rangers, Salford, Whitehaven, Barrow, Oldham and Dewsbury before being snapped up by Saints at the start of the year. He joins fellow ex-Barrovian Danny Jones in a remodelled front row after the loss of Sam Brooks, Tony Suffolk, Ant Walker, Richard Beaumont and now John Cookson.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Plastic Fantastic!

Newcastle 28 - Hornets 32

More than an all-important top five contest, this game was also a clash of ideologies. Newcastle Thunder, the toy-de-jour of a multi-millionaire rugby *nion club owner; Hornets, fan-owned, prudently run within its modest means.

What was to unfold over a captivating 80 minutes on Kingston Park’s plastic pitch was the manifestation of the concept that money can’t buy you team spirit. Yes, Newcastle are a big, talented, hard-to-beat unit - but in the end you need more than a busload of imported reputations to pull you through. Sometimes you just need to refuse to lose.

Hornets opened like lightning - two quick-fire tries silencing the home crowd.

The first a lucid, sweeping passing  move that took Hornets fully 70 metres and left Thunder chasing shadows - Dale Bloomfield skinning his opposite number on the edge to slip an inside ball for Wayne English to score. The second came after Newcastle shipped a penalty for holding down; Danny Bridge piling through some ordinary tackling from close range. Crooky with two conversions and Hornets 12-nil up after just 10 minutes. Hornets continued to exert their dominance.

A rock-solid exit set surmounted by a great kick/chase; Thunder’s big-name signing Mark Mexico planted on his arse by Jordan Case; then another high quality approach set ended by Danny Yates’ teasing kick, gutsy chase and copy-book tackle.

The pressure on Newcastle was eased by a penalty for an innocuous ‘high’ tackle, but Thunder spent four tackles going nowhere before dropping the ball. Clearly rattled.

On 17 minutes, a rare Hornets lapse. A poor set handed the home side the ball on half-way. Newcastle’s recrimination was swift: quick hands wide for Capper to step inside and score. Beherrall the two; tannoy guy pleading for more vocal support to drown out the noisy Hornets contingent. 6-12

And when Newcastle moved the ball wide after 25 minutes for Brown to successfully exploit a hole , Beherrall was on target to pull Thunder level at 12-all. You sensed a momentum shift. Now Hornets rattled.

On the half hour attack was turned into frenetic, scrambling defence as a dropped ball was hacked to half-way, where Hornets coughed a penalty to take Thunder fully 80 metres. Then a dropped ball on the first tackle to gift Newcastle the ball. Frustrating.

With the half running on fumes, Hornets dug deep to snatch the advantage: Alex McClurg ghosting through from acting half to slip Matt Fozzard under the black dot. Danny Yates the two. Hornets with their noses ahead at the break by 12-18.

As Hornets fans queued for their half-time brew, news began to filter acros that John Cookson had been taken from the field with a broken arm. Painfully bad luck on Cooky who was looking the part on his recall to the side; a problem for Hornets, a substitute down for the remaining forty.

Hornets began the second half as they had the first: a 45th minute Alex McClurg break sending Matt Fozzard through a static defence; a teasing Yatesey kick forcing a drop-out. Within a minute, Ryan Smith produced an audacious show & go to score a great solo try. Danny Yates added the extras and Hornets, again, looking comfortable at 12-24. But this Thunder side just refuse to go away.

On 52 minutes, referee Mr Hewer missed a blatant Newcastle knock-on and, from the ensuing break Wayme English was compelled to concede a drop-out. Under pressure, the Hornets defence looked to have withstood the close range barrage when a Thunder player was held-up over the line on the fourth tackle. But a lofted kick across a stretched defence was enough for Blair to gather and score out wide. Beherrall the two: 18-24.

Hornets hit back with another sublime passing move. Having stretched the home defence to snapping point, ‘Pogo’ Paterson’s no-look pass to his wing sailed into touch. Having been handed a get out of jail card, Thunder pushed back downfield where a last tackle kick going nowhere was somehow deemed to have been played at by Wayne English, when clearly he hadn’t. In response Newcastle chucked the sink at the Hornets line, but great defence held firm.

Just past the hour, Thunder’s simons exploited a hole in centre field - jumping through from acting half to send Beharrell under the posts from 30 metres. His successful conversion locked the game up at 24-all with 18 to play. It was all down to who wanted it most.

Handed an eminently kickable penalty three minutes later for interference, Crooky elected to take the two, but pulled his kick agonisingly wide. Hornets fans tapped their pacemakers in anticipation.

On 71 minutes, a moment of pure magic. Wayne English’s electric kick-return saw him burst into open field; his pass found Lee Paterson who hit the afterburners to skin the fullback for a spectacular 70 metre try. Crooky the two: 24-30.

The last five minutes were heart-attack inducing stuff: Beherrall’s dramatic tumble after a tackle drawing a penalty from Mr Hewer; then another penalty in quick successsion: Newcastle pressing desperately.

In the last minute of the game Newcastle produced a freak rabbit from the hat try. Quick hands up ther narrow side saw Marsh blast fully 80 metres: Dale Bloomfield in pursuit, shepherding him towards the flag, but unable to prevent him getting the ball down. 28-30, Beherrall’s cool deserting him as he hauled the conversion across the posts.

There was just enough time left for Newcastle to launch one last desperate attack, but the ball was coughed as the passes became increasingly panicky. As the home side strove to push Hornets off the feed, Mr Hewer blew to repack the scrum. Beherrall spat the dummy and Mr Hewer penalised him for dissent. Crooky slotted the penalty over to seal the game as the hooter sounded. Cue much jumping around.

From start to finish this was a great advert for League 1 football - but mostly it was a great advert for guts, determination and effort as Hornets overcame a big, marauding pack to win where they had the advantage: pace where and when it mattered. Fantastic stuff indeed.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Sunday's Coming - Newcastle Thunderfalcons

Newcastle Falcons' new pitch arrives just in
time for the new season
Rugby League life’s not been easy for the long-suffering Thunder army. Launched in 1999 as Gateshead Thunder, the club had one season in the Super League before being packed off lock, stock and Newcy Brown barrel to Humberside to wear irregularly hooped shirts and convince the black and white half of Hull that they were actually Hull FC.

Gateshead Thunder were reported to have lost £700,000 during their one year in Super League. They took a £1.25 million incentive from Super League Europe to go to Hull.

A new Gateshead Thunder sprang back up in their place to play in the Northern Ford Premiership in 2001. The new board said they’d be back in Super League within five years. They finished third bottom under coach Andy Kelly, beating only Hunslet, York  and amateurs Wigan St. Judes in the Cup.

Ambitions for the 2002 season fell apart  after only two months. Having gained only one point (a 12–all draw against Fev), the club hit the buffers. Amid spiralling debts, Thunder went into administration: coach Andy Kelly and the club's 15 Yorkshire-based players, were released from their contracts. Club sponsor Mike Jeffels’ Kicks Leisure company took over the club, former Bramley coach Paul Fletcher was brought in to assemble a side from local community clubs. They lost every game to finish bottom of the table.

In 2003, Thunder went from the cor-blimey to the ridiculous. Eight Australians were added to the squad, along with Bill Ryan as a coaching adviser. After just eight games of the season, Kicks Leisure pulled the plug, chairman Steve Worsnop left the club and new coach Rob Jones refused to work with the first team following a dispute with the remaining contracted players. Thunder had debts reportedly in excess of £50,000. A supporters committee took over the running of the club and got it back on the rails - just - to complete the season.

2004 to 2007 saw some stability underwritten by Essex-based financier Neil MacPherson, who reastored the club’s limited company, status. The club rewarded coach Dean Thomas for steering the club into the playoffs two years running by replacing him with Aussie Dave Woods.

In 2008 Gateshead were promoted to National League One as champions, but almost immediately the madness began again. Dave Woods sacked under strange circumstances, Chris Hood put in charge, replaced by Steve McCormack who grabbed enough wins to avoid the drop - only for  new owner Steve Garside to wind-up the parent company Gateshead and Newcastle Rugby Ltd in October 2009. Having breached insolvency regulations Thunder were dumped back into Championship 1.

Rugby League’s least edifying soap-opera continued. A new parent company founded by  previous chairman Rod Findlay, Assistant Head Coach Chris Hood and Business Development Manager Keith Christie took the club steadily down the league, Hood quitting as coach at the end of the 2010 season, replaced by Richard Pell and - five months later - by long suffering Thunder veteran Kevin Neighbour.

After two years of struggle, Thunder again turned to Humberside for help: this time to partner club Hull KR who supplied Stanley Gene as coach along with an intake of decent junior talent. But no sooner had Stanley got his boots under is desk when the final ignominy was heaped on the shoulders of the Thunder faithful. Reward for 15 years of flying the RL flag in the North East came in the shape of being sold to Newcastle Falcons Rugby *nion club and shipped across the river to play on Kingston Park’s plastic pitch. The last straw for the Thunder Army?

Two fairly damning quotes from the Newcastle Evening Chronicle’s coverage of the Falcons’ takeover caught our eye. “Rebranded as ‘Newcastle Thunder’ having finally gone public on their intention to share the Falcons’ Kingston Park home, even die-hard Gateshead fans were virtually mute in their disapproval…” and: “… with Newcastle Falcons losing in excess of £3m in their last published accounts the true test comes if Thunder fail to climb the ladder, and simply become another vehicle for a rich man to lose money…”

In a chilling echo of promises past, Thunder MD Keith Christie still has big ambitions. He’s quoted as saying: “There is no doubt that Super League is the aim for us… I would love to say we would be there in three to five years, but there are 13 guys on the opposition team every week who will tell you otherwise”.

Indeed, whilst *nion club owner Semore Kurdi has chucked a bucket of cash at his new toy (Gene packing his side with NSW Cup/Intrust Cup/CRL/NRL Kumuls and journeymen antipodeans) Newcastle Thunderfalcons currently sit outside the five having scored the fewest points and conceded the most. Indeed, with only a +69 points difference, the stats suggest they tend to nick tight games (an average winning margin of 5 points). Last weekend, though, they lost a tight, low-scoring game 16-4 at Barrow - their only try coming in the last minute.

Certainly the loss of influential Kiwi half-back Jordan Meads who’s returning Australia due to a family issue - and most likely to play Intrust Cup there - will leave a big hole at the centre of things that might take some time to fill. Otherwise we think that the real trouble sits in the front row where ex-Cronulla Sharks prop Mark Mexico partners emerging Hull KR talent Sonny Esslemont with former NSW player of the season Dayne Craig slotting in at Hooker. Keep that front-row quiet and you’re in with a shot.

Elsewhere, with Swinton at Barrow and Oldham at York, it’s another weekend where a win of any shade sould have a huge impact - so let’s get up to Newcastle in numbers, make some noise and make a difference.