Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Good Friday's Coming - Oldham

Friday sees Oldham Giants visit Spotland. See what we did there? Hilarious isn't it - they'll be peeing themselves in Glodwick...

After three years of whining about how Dual Registration was the evil force that would destroy the game, and that Hornets must surely be St Helens in disguise, Oldham have got with the program and pledged their troth to Huddersfield Giants in a shiny new Dual Reg. agreement. Yes, we know that Oldham had a brief flirtation with Salford where both parties tried to pretend that there was nothing going on, but this looks like a full on humpfest.  
Artist's impression of how the Oldham shirt probably
doesn't look - for illustrative purposes only...

Last month, Paul Anderson said: "Scott Naylor is doing us a favour in playing people who, if everything goes to plan, he's not going to get all year. He's done us a favour and (our players have) all played big minutes in the games. It's probably Ollie Roberts, Mick Learmonth, Nathan Mason and people like that who he will be getting over the year but he's done us a favour by playing senior players two games straight and giving them good game time. He knows they are good players as well and the challenge for our boys is when they go there they have to buy into the Oldham culture and where Scott wants them to play.” So could we expect Danny Brough or Big Eorl to show up in an Oldham shirt this season? Anderson's comments suggest that that could be eminently possible. 

Back in December Scott Naylor said in the Oldham Chronic: "I firmly believe that dual-reg players from St Helens and Leeds Rhinos respectively made the big difference when Rochdale and then Hunslet beat us in the play-off finals of 2013 and 2014…"

On the new DR deal he said: “(The) Giants have a lot of quality running right through their club and looking at the calibre of the players who could be heading our way, the dual-registration system should work really well for us." Indeed, Naylor has embraced Dual Reg. will all the zeal of a convert, having used eight DR players already this year - including England Knights wing Jodie Broughton who scored twice in the Roughyeds 32-10 iPro Cup win at Barrow. Clearly hardcore Oldham fans who believe in the Corinthian spirit of reperesenting just one club in perpetuity will refuse to attend games - or at the very least refuse to applaud when he scores.

Oldham seem to have hit the gound running in 2015. An impressive pre-season (including a narrow defeat at Leigh), a (too) late comeback against Sheffield in the Challenge Cup, and a weather-deferred iPro Cup semi against 'Big Spending North Wales Crusaders™' in the offing, Scott Naylor will be looking for a big start in this 'New Era' for League 1 (though some might suggest that a focus on a big finish might be more appropriate).

Conversely, Hornets have underwhelmed a bit thus far. Damp squib performances at Crusaders and Swinton see us dumped out of both cup competitions. And if such an occurence allows teams to 'focus on the league', let's seize that opportunity to its fullest extent - starting with the 'A627M El Classico™' on Good Friday. History of clashes with our nearest neighbours proves two points: form counts for nowt and it'll be tasty. There's not a better way to start the season proper, than with a game that means everything to everyone involved. At this level, it's as big as games get - so let's 'ave it. See you there.

We have the Oldham 2015 squad as:

1 Steven Nield
2 Adam Clay
3 Tom Dempsey
4 Jack Holmes
5 Jarrod Ward
6 Lewis Palfrey (C)
7 Steve Roper
8 Phil Joy
9 Sam Gee (VC)
10 Adam Neal
11 Josh Crowley
12 Danny Langtree
13 Liam Thompson
14 Adam Files
15 Gareth Owen
16 Kenny Hughes
17 George Tyson
18 Richard Joy
19 Michael Ward
20 Jake Hughes
22 Mick Learmonth (DR)
23 Jon Ford
24 Nathan Mason (DR)
25 Tom Ashton
26 Josh Johnson (DR)

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Heart of Darkness

Kells 12 - Hornets 29

Freezing; blowing a quite literal gale; a pitch that looked freshly ploughed, a boisterous home crowd with the sniff of an upset in their nostrils - and Hornets rocking up late, compelled to change on the bus and truncate their warm up. This trip to the gloomiest ever iteration of 'Darkest West Cumbria' had all the ingredients of that fabled sporting banana skin. Indeed, it took the home side just two minutes to get this horror-show underway; catching Hornets stone-cold. 

Having coughed a penalty for offside on the second tackle of the game, Hornets retreated downhill into the gloom where Kells took play to the left, shipped the ball to the right and - we think - Dalton strolled in for an embarrassingly straightforward try. Gainford added the extras, the locals celebrated like they'd won a  fiver on a scratchcard and the knot of hardy Hornets fans rolled their eyes skywards.

Hornets continued in the same lackadaisical fashion for the next quarter of an hour: loose carries, shoddy passes, cheap penalities. The light literally and metaphorically being sucked out of the Recreation Ground by a quite awful passage of play.

On 17 minutes Kells launched a big, daft, old-skool up-'n'-under into the swirling wind. Hornets dropped the ball. The referee gave the feed to Hornets. No, we dont know either, but it served to cattle-prod Hornets into life. Augmented by a penalty for a high tackle deep in Kells territory,  Tony Suffolk ran hard and straight to get Hornets on the scoreboard. Crooky the two; six-all. The silent darkness broken by the sound of distant tutting.

But it was the home side spurred into further action, firing a huge 40/20 down Gaz Langley's touchline to go on the attack. But they squandered their chance with a poor last tackle kick.

Hornets roused briefly from their torpor: good field position blown on the back of a forward pass under no pressure; then Gaz Langley's mazy run ending in an obstruction when it looked easier to score.

Just past the half hour, neat footwork and quick hands sent James Dandy in to give Hornets the lead. Crooky good with the conversion: 6-12. With the hooter iminent, Hornets took a tap penalty close to the Kells line, but Jordan Case spilled the first pass. The hooter came as a blessing, putting a shocking half out of its misery.

In the now near darkness (the Recreation Ground's pitiful floodlights barely making a difference), Kells began the second half shipping consecutive penalties that put Hornets on the front foot; but what looked like a Jordan Case try was struck-off for a forward pass and then a panicky, overplayed run-around handed Kells easy possession. Awful, really. Then - on 48 minutes - the inevitable arrived. Having been held up over the line, Kells dabbed a last tackle dink into the in-goal - and, while Hornets defenders debated the options, Joyce was decisive, diving in to touch down. Gainford's night-vision good enough to add the two. 12-all.

On 51 minutes a rare Hornets foray forced a Kells drop-out. Hornets response was uncommonly swift: Paterson gathering the kick on the run, his pass slotting Dale Bloomfield in by the flag. Crooky wide with the kick: 12-16. Around the hour mark, Hornets finally began to build some pressure: another drop-out, a Ryan Smith try struck-off for a particularly dubious forward pass. And - if it weren't dark enough - Dale Bloomfield's lights were put out as he hit his head in an innocuous tackle. Play was held-up for 12 minutes while the medical staff worked on him. Stretchered from the field and dispatched to hospital by ambulance, it wasn't the best way to end the night for Bloomers.

Kells came out of the lacuna more focused: forcing a close-shave drop-out, then kicking through a static Hornets defence to go close.  But Hornets weathered the storm to go back down the hill where another try was blown when Dave Hull's last pass to Gaz Langley was deemed forward.

With ten minutes to play, Hornets did the only thing they could realistically do: extract the digit, up the tempo, take the game to Kells and get the hell out with the win. On 73 minutes Ryan Smith took advantage of a free-play from a knock-on, dinking a peach of a kick into space for Gaz Langley to score. Crooky off the touchline for 12-22. Then, on 75 minutes, a bonkers Danny Yates drop goal edged Hornets nearer the fourth-round draw.

And when Kells' rotund Substitute made a very poor career decision in hitting Tony Suffolk sparking an all-in handbags-in the dark scuffle with two minutes to play, the ref red-carded one Kells player and yellow carded another, Suffolk got a yellow for retaliation.  There was just enough time for Jordan Case to score a late, late coverted try to give the game a cold, thin veneer of respectability at 12-29.

Sadly, there's no way to dress this one up. It was a 24 carat stinker from first whistle to final hooter. Hornets would struggle to pay this badly again, whilst Kells covered themselves in glory, giving an exceptional account of themselves. Chatting to a Kells fan in the car-park afterwards, he said: "You should be embarrassed by that". But whilst it may not have been our finest 80 minutes, a pig-ugly win is a win nonetheless. Cold comfort indeed.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Saturday's Coming: Kells

Kells' cliff-top ground by the sea. A tough gig for ball-boys.

And so the magic of the Challenge Cup hauls us up the M6 to deepest West Cumbria. On a Saturday teatime. The ony compensation is that we at least we get to play a team with a rich Challenge Cup history

Perched on a cliff just to the south of Whitehaven, Kells was originaly a coal-mining community - and the foundation of the rugby league club is entwined in the town's colliery past. Formed in 1931, the original club used Haig Pit's changing and bath facilities until the pit closed.

Post-war, the club reformed and in 1946 Kells were called into Challenge Cup action, drawn against  Warrington in a two-legged first round tie. Kells lost the first game at the Recre' by
3-0. In the return game at Wilderspool they lost 27-0. It was the first of a number of Challenge Cup appearances - in which Kells and the city of Leeds seem magnetically drawn together!

In 1959 Kells reached the first round of the Challenge Cup losing 55-9 to Hunslet (who, at the time, were top of the RFL!) .  It was an interesting contest as it pitted the country's top pro-side against the country's top amateurs. Indeed, it was the season in which Kells created history by winning all available honours: the Cumberland Challenge Cup, Cumberland Championship Cup and Cumberland Under-21s Shield. They also went through the 1958-59 season undefeated, with crowds of up to 1,000 watching their home games.

That season's record read: Points for: 790. Against: 74. Their only loss in all competitions was to Hunslet. It's interesting to note that the Kells side's fitness and physical dominance was attributed to the fact that most of the side were Haig Colliery miners.

Just in case you thought RFL cock-ups were a recent thing, in1965 Kells qualified for a place in the Challenge Cup but due to an admin mix up, were not registered at Rugby League headquarters & were removed from the draw.

Ah, we knew we had one
of these somewhere.
In 1986 Kells lost - again - to Hunslet, 20-8 at Elland Road in a preliminary round tie. Twelve months later they produced a stunning 4-4 draw with Fulham at the Recreation Ground before losing the replay at Chiswick by 22-14. The year after they played the mighty Leeds at Whitehaven going down by a creditable 28-0 in front of 6000 fans!

Almost inevitably, in 1992 Kells were drawn against Hunslet at the Recre. - Hunslet again winning, this time by 32-14.

Fast forward to the present and Kells is a club on a bit of a roll.

18 months ago TLCRF80mins saw Kells play Underbank Rangers at The Cross, eventually going down 28-18 in a high-quality see-saw of a game. And, as it turns out, it was a rare defeat!

Having only joined National Conference Division 3 (what, effectively used to be the 'Summer Conference' level) in 2013 after decades as a stalwart of the Cumberland League, Kells made an immediate impact: promoted as champions at the first attempt.

Then last year - just to prove it wasn't a fluke - they repeated the feat; steaming through Division two and promoted as champions with two games to spare. Impressive stuff.

Kells secured their place in the third round of this year's Challenge Cup with an emphatic 52-6 win over Blackbrook, featuring a pair of hat-tricks from Scott Lofthouse and Troy Armstrong, with Dom Wear kicking 8 from 9 conversions - and weighing in with a try.

Indeed, this game has 'banana-skin' writ large across it - so Hornets will have to be on their mettle if we are to progress and secure a tie with one of the 'medium-time' clubs who come in at the next round. And yes, we know it's a long way; and yes we know it clashes with Ant & Dec's Saturday Takeaway - but we expect the lads to give their all, so we should reciprocate. Go on - stick three mates in the car and get yourself up to the recre. You can't possibly have anything more interesting to do on a Saturday evening. We'll see you there.

See here:
For more on Kells, we found a great sports blog with some great photographs . Go take a look  at this really good sports blog!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Hornets give Scorpions Nothing

Hornets 40 - South Wales Scorpions 0

On another arctic-cold day, Hornets overcame tundra-like conditions, persistent icy rain and a stubborn if unspectacular South Wales Scorpions to progress to the next round of the lovely new iPro Cup (formerly, last week, the League 1 Cup).

On a day when good handling was going to be at a premium, Hornets played the conditions better - and were quick off the mark. Having fumbled possession early in the tackle count, Hornets recovered the ball from an equally lax Scorpions and made it count: Danny Bridge scoring off a short Danny Yates ball after just four minutes: Paul Crook adding the extras for 6-0.

It was Crooky again causing havoc three minutes later: his steepling bomb was gathered by Brad Hargreaves who was held up over the line. and, when possession was handed over close the Scorpions line, stern Hornets defence forced a drop-out.

From the resulting possession, Alex McClurg embarked on a last-tackle blind-side sneak to send Brad Hargreaves in at the corner: 10-0 and Hornets with all the momentum.

A ten minute spell of loose handling gave South Wales the breathing space they needed to regroup and it needed a one-metre Alex McClurg sucker-punch try from a metre to break the stasis. Crooky with the two and Hornets seemingly back in the groove at 16-0.

But stray passes and loose carries in the challenging conditions continued to plague any real progress - a seemingly good Paul Crook try (struck off for offside, chasing a Danny Yates kick) the only respite.

The introduction of Dean Mignacca on the half hour had an immediate - and literal - impact, with three consectutive crunching tackles; his first a shuddering bone-shaker that left a Scorpions forward in a crumpled heap.

The visitors did rally briefly - their only real threat of the first half, forcing a 33rd minute drop-out as they drove Wayne English back in-goal.

With the half slipping away, Danny Yates released a pinpoint 40/20, but the ball was coughed first tackle. But there was just time for Yates to jink his way through a flat-footed Scorpions defence and score. Crooky's conversion giving a more convincing 22-nil view of proceedings.

Hornets started the second half with a sense of purpose: barely a minute gone when Dean Mignacca switched play to the narrow side to slot Dale Bloomfield in by the flag. Crooky landing a beauty from the touchline: 28-0.

But Hornets made a complete horse's arse of the kick-off, allowing it to bobble dead and shipping a drop-out. Thankfully, while the Scorpions applied some pressure, they couldn't unlock a determined Hornets defence. The pressure was eased by a booming Danny Yates 40/20, but a mistimed pass to Dave Hull saw the ball hit the deck  - which seemed to suck the momentum out of the game.

Twixt the 45th and 65th minute, very little of import happened and it took a Jordan Case try - relentlessly chasing down a Crooky bomb - to shake off the torpor. Crooky the two: 34-0.

On 75 minutes, the Tony Suffolk juggernaut arrived, capping a man-of-the-match performance with a barnstorming bulldozer of a try. Crooky with the conversion to bring up 40-0.

There was just enough time for James Dandy to shrug his way through some tired tackles - only to be deemed to have been held-up in-goal.

No matter. For a first competitive hit-out, it'd be churlish to moan too much about nilling a side, and scoring forty points in the process. And to say that South Wales could well have played until midnight and still have struggled to fashion a viable chance would be to undermine a solid defensive effort. Indeed, whilst the forty-points is good it is the 'nil' that's more impressive.

Hornets' reward is a trip to Big Spending North Wales Crusaders™ - who beat Conference side West Hull by 36-10 in their first round tie. They led just 14-nil at the break and faded to concede two late tries.

As a benchmark, the other iPro cup scores were:

Barrow 16-14 UG All Golds

Keighley Cougars 64-0 East Leeds

London Skolars 10-78 York City Knights

Oldham 42-6 Coventry Bears

Oxford 20-56 Newcastle Thunder

Swinton Lions 34-0 Hemel Stags