Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Sunday's Coming - Coventry

If you think Rugby League in Coventry is a new idea - think again. A Northern Union club played in the city between 1909 and 1913  - and they played their games at the Butts, the site of the Coventry Bears’ current ground.

Sometimes this stuff just writes itself...
They folded after the 1912/13 season due to poor on-field performances and low gate receipts. In their three seasons, they’d played 96 games, but won just 12. In their final season they finished rock-bottom of the Northern Union with only a draw to their name having shipped just shy of 900 points.

While their history was short, they did produce one England international - J Tomes who won his one cap against Wales in 1910.

Fast Forward to 2015 and you have to feel a bit sorry for Coventry Bears. Having spent 17 years building towards league status, their first month as a pro club required them to play Oldham - at Whitebank - THREE times. It’s enough to make anyone wonder if it had been worth the effort.

But those three lookalike defeats aside, The Bears have kicked off their life in the Big(ish) League in pretty good style. Indeed, they have the ability to score points - particularly at home.

In their first game they whacked Oxford 32-10, then flogged hapless Hemel by 52-16 - but came apart a little last week in an error-strewn 42-10 defeat at York, after which coach Tom Tsang was disappointed: "I'm very disappointed right now,” he said: “ More so with the performance rather than the result. Our discipline was terrible today and we compounded that with some sloppy unforced errors. Inside the first 15 minutes we had given away 3 penalties and 4 errors which handed York field position on a plate and they were clinical and slick enough to punish us.”

Sounds eerily familiar to Hornets fans after last week’s pig-ugly shit-fight with Newcastle. Indeed, with both sides coming to this one on the back of error-strewn defeats, the one that keeps its composure and completes its sets better will gain the upper hand.

All teeth and claws - Old Bears/New Bears.
The Bears were founded by university students in 1998 and quickly became a bastion of Midlands Rugby League.  Here at TLCRF80mins, we’ve seen an awful lot of Coventry Bears over the last decade as they’ve built their club through the Summer Conference, National League 3 and, more recently, in NCL Division 3. Other than the observation that they always try and play high-tempo, direct football we can say that they’ve always had great logos.

Coventry are coached by Tom Tsang, who’s taken a somewhat unusual route to the dugout at Butts Park. Originally head of rugby operations for Opta Stats he became a regoinal development officer and education officer for the RFL before becoming head RL coach at  Loughborough University. He took up the reins at Coventry in 2011 and has overseen their transition into the pro-league. Our guess would be he’s a thinker, not a shouter.

On the field, Tsang has appointed an impressive general. Club captain is Brisbane-born loose forward Simon Phillips who brings a real pedigree of Queensland Cup  - and NRL - experience. The 30-year-old has played for North Queensland Cowboys in the NRL as making 200 Queensland Cup appearances for Wynnum Seagulls. Most recently he played at Norths Devils, Brisbane - which is where Ryan Millard is playing this season!

After the York defeat, Philips was disappointed too: “It was a disappointing performance today and one we can learn from. Too many mistakes against a quality team will always lead to the wrong result. I’ve said it before but you learn more from a loss than a win, so today we learnt and next week is another game and hopefully a better result.” Clearly, we rather hope it’ll be a similar result.

Miss too many tackles and Bears Coach
Tom Tsang will cut your nuts off.
Despite the disappointments, Tsang feels that Coventry can’t feel too sorry for themselves: “We can't feel sorry for ourselves,” he said, “we have a tough looking couple of weeks now with Rochdale at home followed by Keighley away. We need to get back on the horse immediately and I am expecting a positive reaction. We have the talent in the team to compete with these northern teams, its just a case of settling into the contest early on in games." Blimey! Who brings a horse to a Rugby League game?

As we’ve said previously, a return to completion and consistency will be key to avoiding this very real banana skin. A cynic might sugest that table-topping Oldham haven’t played anyone of substance yet in this tight division, and away wins of any kind - particulalrly against the ’southern’ teams  - are essential for teams to maintain pressure in the leading pack.

If Northern Union fans in 1909 could get down to Coventry, you have no excuse. So stick three mates in the car and go get behind Tol and the lads.

Getting there:
The Bears play at Butts Park Arena, Butts Road, Coventry CV1 3GE

According to Google Directions, the drive takes 2hours 40minutes.

South on the M6 onto the M6 Toll
Merge onto M42. At junction 6, take the A45 exit
At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto the A45 ramp to A452/Coventry/Leamington/Middle Bickenhill/Meriden
Keep right and merge onto Coventry Rd/A45
Continue to follow A45 for 7.2 miles
Turn left onto Broad Ln
At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto B4101
Turn right onto Earlsdon Ave
Turn left onto Broomfield Rd
Slight left onto Albany Rd
Turn left onto Butts Rd/B4101
Ground on your right

Sunday, 26 April 2015


Hornets 15 - Newcastle 16

The scoreline doesn't always tell the story - and this is the story of how a battered, broken Hornets battled to the death against an aggressive, brutalist, pig-ugly Newcastle side who bludgeoned their way to a last minute win against a Hornets that ran out of time and fit bodies.

With Tony Suffolk, Dean MIgnacca, Lewis Charnock and Mike Ratu all taken injured from the field, Hornets strove manfully with only one fit substitute for much of the second half, while Newcastle basically punched repeatedly at their weak spots until they cracked.

We've said here that decent sides find a way to win and, bereft of any real footballing craft, Newcastle's physical wrecking-ball approach did enough quite literal damage to sneak them home.

The opening exchanges were tight and scrappy: Newcastle hoofing the kick-off into the Pearl Street end; Hornets fumbling passes and catches alike under some close physical attention.

But when Hornets managed to shake off the shackles they created the first half's two real moments of quality. On eight minutes Danny Bridge broke a tackle, slipping the ball to Dale Bloomfield who skinned his opposite number; Danny Yates sniffing the chance, taking the inside ball to skate in for a great try. Crooky the two, 6-nil.

On 25 minutes It was Danny Yate's chip wide that caused twitches in Thunder-pants: Dale Bloomfield's deft tap back inside to Mike Ratu, Ratu finding Danny Bridge with space to score. 10-nil and only one side playing any football (it took 16 minutes for Newcastle to carry the ball over the half-way line).

The rest of the half was a restricted arm-wrestle. Hornets chivvying and probing as Newcastle left bodies in pretty much every tackle. Messy.

Out of nothing, the visitors did scrape up sufficient passes to send Mapals in for a try wide out on 33 minutes. But they immediately reverted to type - lunging through a ruck right on the hooter. Gaz Langley teasingly wide with the penalty. Half-time 10-4.

The second half started cagily - both teams pushing the other back with deep kicks, fishing for errors.

On 47 minutes the industrious Dean Mignacca prised a gap in the Newcastle defence; Wayne English carried the ball on, launching Lee Paterson up the right channel; Pogo drew the cover and a sweetly timed pass sent Gaz Langey in by the flag. 14-4, Hornets looking the better of the two sides.

But errors began to creep in. First Hornets made a total hash of a harmless hit & hope kick to concede a drop-out; then the defence stood off as Thunder worked the ball across the park where Meads made the extra man to score. 14-8.

With every tackle now a mauling, spoiling scrap it was inevitable that tempers would fray, but when Meads got involved in a bit of handbags with two Hornets tacklers just short of the hour, he took a soccer style dive to catch the referee's eye. Cheap, really.

Reduced to one fit sub with a quarter of the game to go, Hornets began to misfire. Forced passes, clumsy knock-ons: the harder they tried the worse it got.

It needed a steadying influence and, when Crooky slammed home a drop-goal on 67 minutes to stretch Hornets' lead to a two-score 15-8, it gave the home side and their noisy fans a scrap of wreckage to cling to.

But Hornets were busted, knackered: rocking on the ropes, desperately seeking that one chance of a knockout punch. First a short ball bounced off Anthony Walker's chest with the line begging; then Dale Bloomfield unable to reel-in a fingertip pass with the whitewash at his mercy. Out on their feet, but still playing the ony football on offer.

But the ask was too great: Brown diving through a tangle of tired bodies to touch down on 71 minutes (15-12) and Craig lunging onto a short-ball through exhausted defence on 78 minutes. 15-16 - brutally cruel.

Still Hornets pushed to the death - a pitch-long kick from the back of the scrum saw the chasing Lee Paterson and Dale Bloomfield come agonisingly close to regathering the ball. But as Hornets packed for their scrum the hooter sounded. Gutting.

We always knew that Newcastle would be a tough proposition - but, Jesus, they're a pig-ugly steet-fighting outfit  - sprawling and spoiling in every play. In Mark Mexico they have a battering ram of a player who - released from the close attentions of Tony Suffolk finished strongly and who was probably the difference.

When both teams were at full complement, there was only one side at the party. But once the reinforcements were removed, the advantage favoured the bulldozer approach.

In the end it felt like a mugging - and it's going to be a busy week in the treatment room as Tol tries to put his beaten-up side back together for next week's trip to Coventry.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Sunday's Coming - Gates… er… Newcastle

Good news: Gateshead's move over the river has taken professional rugby league to  Newcastle for the first time since 1938. Bad news: Thunder were taken over by Newcastle Rugby Limited, the holding company that owns  *nion side Newcastle Falcons.

The news came with a slight sense of deja-vu - the original Thunder sacrificing its identity in the deal that kept GatesHull FC in Super League in 1999 (Gateshead Thunder took over the Hull FC's identity in Super League and moved home games to The Boulevard. Most of the Gateshead playing squad moved to Hull FC along with their board and coach Shaun McRae).

Now effectively an adjunct to a *nion club, shipped over the river to Kingston Park (with its plastic 3G pitch) and with a squad liberally laden with Hull KR dual reg players, there's not a great deal of the old Gateshead DNA left in the Newcastle ThunderFalcons (or, as we shall call them NTF™).
The Falcon shows off his falcon. In Newcastle.

At the time of the takeover, Thunder's  Managing Director Keith Christie told BBC Sport. "It was a commonsense step. We're keen to make sure we don't forget our birthplace in Gateshead, but we have to ensure we move forward and unfortunately that means changing the name." And the shirt and the badge and the ground and the city they play in. But apart from that…

Speaking on the Newcastle Falcons website last year, Newcastle Rugby Ltd chairman Semore Kurdi said of the takeover: “I’m delighted that Gateshead Thunder has become part of Newcastle Rugby Ltd. There are a number of benefits to having both league and union Clubs within the same organisation. Resources can be shared off the field in terms of administration, marketing, medical, sports science and facilities that will be to the advantage of both clubs."

"With rugby league now re-introducing promotion and relegation between the various levels there is a clear path through to Super League. To reach Super League will be our long term goal. There is now a target date for this goal. Resources have been made available straight away to strengthen the current squad… our aim being promotion to the next tier"

Indeed, his *nion club also seemed quite keen to experience life at a different tier, currently sitting next to bottom of the Premiership with just four wins from 19 games. Ironic that they stand to be reprieved by the abolition of relegation.

And, just in case you were in any doubt about who wears the pants in this relationship, you could email Thunder's  MD on

Why-aye: Stanley Gene suspects the
new logo might not fly...
On the field, NTF™ are coached by the redoubtable Stanley Gene (who is somewhere between the ages of 36 and 70 depending on which article you read) and he's been resourced to make the ThunderFalcons a success in the Toon.

In order to give his *nion paymasters the best bet of a quick return, newly cashed-up Gene has gone back to what he knows, hooking up a triumverate of top quality Kumul talent in centre Jason Tali (PNG Hunters), utility Charlie Wabo (Hela Wigmen/PNG) and prop Mark Mexico (Cronulla Sharks via PNG Hunters)

Also, in addition to NRL U20's Toyota Cup winner Jordan Meads (NZWarriors) and Ron Massey Cup Player of the Year Dayne Craig (Western Suburbs), Stan has also brought British prop Fran Welsh back from Young Cherrypickers in the CRL.

More entertainingly, NTF™ is the he latest stopping off point for agricultural Cumbrian prop Ryan McDonald.

But for all this, NTF™ still got spanked 36-16 at home to Keighley last week. In two wins from three games, NTF™ have racked up 74 points. However, while they clearly know where the line is, the 76 points they've conceded in the process suggests defensive issues.

Stanley Gene saw defeat as a good thing. Speaking in the 'Why-Aye Geordie News' this week he said: “It’s good because some of the boys are thinking they’re already there but it’s only the third game. It brings the boys back on the ground and we’ll start re-focusing for the Rochdale game.”

Conversely, Ian Talbot is a happier bloke after Hornets' cogs clicked together in last weekend's steam-rollering of Barrow.

Speaking on the Hornets website this week he said: "“There were some real good performances across the board. Mike Ratu was unplayable on that form and he’s way off being fit yet so I can’t wait to see a fit Mike Ratu because when he wants the ball a bit more he will cause havoc. Both the halfbacks and Crooky at nine have done exactly what I’ve asked them to do and took a grasp of that game."

"We are going to have to make that progression again and be even better again next week to beat Newcastle. They have had a good couple of wins, going to Crusaders and winning. We know that Stanley Gene will have them hyped up and ready to come down here, but we will give it our best shot."

Indeed, grabbing the game early will be key - with completion and confidence again the two critical factors. It's the game of the day in League One - don't miss it!

Can League Repel the Invasion of the *nion Bodysnatchers?

25 years ago, Liverpudlian band Icicle Works released an album called 'If you want to defeat your enemy - sing his song'. TRLCRF80mins is concerned that someone at Twickenham has adopted this as a strategy to undermine Rugby League.

Gateshead Thunder's 'code switch' to become part of the 'dual-code' Newcastle Rugby Ltd. organisation got us thinking about how the *nion game seems inexorably drawn to the thing it despises most: Rugby League.

Here at TLCRF80mins, we've always said that Rugby *nion is, at its core, a severely conflicted sport.

Encoded in its DNA is an inherent hatred of league - having spent the vast majority of the last 120 years working not only to disadvantage our sport as much as possible, but actively investing time and effort to eradicate it in some territories. On the other hand, whilst it hates league, it sees in our sport the game it so desperately wants to be - fast, open, athletic, exciting. Indeed they want to be us so much that *nion has made every effort to lay claim to many RL innovations - red/yellow cards, sin-bins, video refs, blood-bins - even the play-the-ball, reinvented by the RFU as the 'Roll-the-ball' for development versions of their game.

Increasingly, *nion has wrapped itself in League's clothing, speaking our language - walking and talking in desperate imitation. The latest attempt to adopt League's brand positioning is the most audacious yet. Is there any co-incidence that on the 120th anniversary of the foundation of the Northern Union that the International Rugby Board announced the launch of a competition in the USA called the National Rugby Football League (NRFL) with plans to begin in the summer of 2015?

Branded 'the professional RuXV™ League' with the strapline 'The next real major league sport in America'  - every element of it appropriates Rugby League's vocabulary, its lexicon, its branding - even its names, here and in Australia. It is, in our opinion, a blatant exercise in the intellectual property crime of 'Passing Off' . The law of 'Passing' Off entitles a business (in this case Rugby League) to protect itself against another business (in this case Rugby *nion) from unfairly using its goodwill to gain sales/market share.  Basically, it entails one business selling their own goods/services by making themselves indistinguishable from a competitor so that people believe that they are the goods/services of someone else -  wilfully misleading the audience.

And if the use of 'National Rugby Football League' doesn't have you shaking your head in disbelief, remember that they've already seized use of the term 'Rugby World Cup' (first used by Rugby League in France in 1954 -  the first World Cup in either rugby code).  They've also taken use of the term 'Challenge Cup', via the launch of the European Rugby Challenge Cup which began this season.

Over time, the appropriation of these terms blurs the lines between codes - particularly in development areas where *nion is keen to foster the idea that there is only one legitimate code of 'rugby' and prevent entry/development of league in those territories (the USA's RuXV™ League will certainly undermine the ground gained by the USA Tomahawks in the 2013 World Cup).

Whilst we get angry and frustrated by *nion's continued knavish tricks, the silence from RL's hierarchy is deafening. If faced with such a blatant case of passing off - a campaign of activity designed to mislead audiences and trade off the back of another brand's equity - any other business on the planet would've sent the lawyers steaming in with a Cease & Desist notice -  a legal device informing a third party of the right-holders' rights, identity, and intentions to enforce their rights to an intellectual property.

Rest assured, the desire to protect its intellectiual property rights certainly flows the other way. There was an occurrence in 2004, when the NZRU sent a Cease & Desist notice to York based amateurs New Earswick All Blacks in order to prevent any compromises of their/their licencees' exclusivity to capitalise on the All-Blacks brand. At the time, NZRU chief executive Chris Moller said: "Failure to protect trademarks undermine your rights.  A trademark is a very valuable property for all organisations.  If you are in possesion of information regarding someone infringing your rights and you choose to do nothing about it, then under law you are deemed to have accepted that situation. Even though this is another sport, and an amateur organisation, we are obliged to take steps."

Having had no push back on 'Rugby World Cup' and 'Challenge Cup', you can almost understand *nion chancing its arm on 'NRFL'. And our fear is that RL's head-in the sand passivity might, eventually, do *nion's dirty work for it. Institutionally, the RFU spent a century wishing us dead, undertaking unforgiveable acts of discrimination against players who dared to throw a ball around under a different set of laws and get openly rewarded for the privilege (don't forget that, while claiming the 'amateur' high ground, top *nion clubs secretly tucked wads of cash into players' boots after games).

And let's not forget that the *nion code in France sided with the Vichy Government to criminalise League and strip it of its assets in an attempt to wipe it from the sporting map. W. Mann's review of Mike Rylance's book "The Forbidden Game: The Untold Story of French Rugby League" summarises: "The French Rugby Union's collusion with the Nazi-backed Vichy Government to ban Rugby League is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of sport. It all but destroyed a sport that was, at the time, threatening to overtake rugby union in popularity terms, even though league was only introduced to France six years earlier. Had league continued its meteoric rise, the map of world rugby - and I mean both codes - might today be very different."

"Yet there is still a sense of denial about what happened to Rugby League in France. Even today, the game is discriminated against - try asking the Catalans Dragons about their difficulties sharing a supposedly municipal stadium with union club Perpignan."

 *nion's continued - blatant - undermining of League's development is one of the reasons we feel uncomfortable when Rugby League cosies-up to the 15-man game. Indeed, every time we see a League club get into bed with a *nion counterpart, or we see a *nion squad joining a League side for 'training' so it can 'learn' from League's superior skills, our teeth itch.

Like a crocodile, they may smile broadly in our presence, but their only real thought is how soon they might bite us in half. As we started with a song reference, it's fitting that we end with one: "Never smile at a crocodile, you can't get friendly with a crocodile. Don't be taken in by his welcome grin - he's imagining how well you'd fit within his skin…"

Or - in *nion's case - just how perfectly they would fit into ours.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Hornets Saturday Super-Score

Hornets 48 - Barrow 12

Having put 50 points through Swinton last week, there were pre-match thoughts that Barrow would provide a stern test for Hornets. But from first whistle to final hooter, this was such a one-sided display of total domination, that Barrow never looked capable of competing, never mind winning.  Throughout, Hornets played high-tempo, direct football that had the Raiders in retreat for long tracts of the game. And they were in the groove straight from the off.

When Mike Ratu stepped inside to score off a Danny Yates pass after just three minutes, there were hints that that channel might prove fruitful. And when a Danny Yates’ last-tackle dink overhead was gathered by Dale Bloomfield who coolly slotted the supporting Paul Crook in for a well made try via the same route two minutes later, you could sense that Hornets might exploit it more. Five minutes gone, Crooky sound with the boot: 12-nil.

Indeed, on the next foray into the Raiders’ half, Hornets went straight back to the left centre channel, but Wayne English overshot a cut-out pass to give Barrow’s three quarters some much needed respite. With Barrow desperately trying to slow down the pace of the game, the next ten minutes saw both sides trade penalties, Barrow briefly threatening off the back of repeat infringements before running out of ideas 5 metres short.

On 16 minutes Hornets shook off the Barrow spoiling to create a quality try. A prestidigitous reverse pass from Paul Crook to Danny Bridge had the defence in all sorts of back-pedalling trouble, the ball was worked wide, Bridgey went for the return to bring the main stand to its feet. 16-0.

With Barrow now reduced to a series of soft penalties for interference, Hornets went straight back on the offensive and on 20 minutes Paul Crook slapped the raiders with a 2 metre sucker try from acting half, before adding the two. a quite resounding 22-0. 

On 23 minutes Ryan Smith was unfortunate to have a try chalked off for offside chasing a Danny Yates chip. This seemed to shake Barrow from their torpor and, on the half hour Lupton’s clever delayed pass sent Briscoe in to open Barrow’s account. Hankinson the two: 22-6. No matter. With the hooter imminent, James Tilley hit a short ball at pace from close range to crash in and score. Gas Langley adding the two to send Hornets in 28-6 up at the break.

The second half began with a rare aberration, Ryan Smith misjudging the kick-off to concede a drop-out. For the next ten minutes Barrow chucked the kitchen sink at the Hornets defence, but they were twice forced to hand-over on the last tackle close to the Hornets line. Having ridden out Barrow’s brief flurry, it was Hornets’ turn to press the Barrow defence. Under a relentless forward barrage, Barrow clung to the ropes and when the ball was shipped wide to Dale Bloomfield on 48 minutes he took advantage of the stretched defence to dive in by the flag. 32-6. 

To compound their problems, Barrow put the Kick-off into the Sandy Lane end - but Hornets failed to find touch with the resulting penalty. This heralded another scrappy period as Barrow lay bodies in every tackle in an attempt to suck the momentum out of the game. On the hour the ever-impressive Tony Suffolk carved a huge break through the heart of the Barrow defence, carrying the ball 30 metres before switching an inside pass to Ryan Smith who finished in style under the black dot. Crooky with the extras: 38-6

On 65 minutes Barrow did fashion a consolation try when Briscoe went in off the back of a penalty, but the relief was brief. Immediately Hornets worked the ball back to the left channel - Bridge to Charnock, Charnock to Ratu-  Mike Ratu crashing through retreating bodies to score Paul Crook a dead-shot off the touchline: 44-12. Barrow - again - hoyed the kick-off into the Sandy Lane end. 

With the game coming into the last ten minutes, the penalty count began to climb; Barrow now a tripping, high tackling, late tackling, interfering mess. On 76 minutes Hornets delivered the coup de grace: Danny Bridge capping his best game in a Hornets shirt, arriving like a train off a short ball to score. Final score 48-12.

No doubts, this was a quite exceptional performance. Playing off the back of a supremely high completion rate, Hornets played with poise, pace and confidence. The return of Wayne English to Full-back gave Hornets that additional frisson of attacking threat and, in Lee Paterson and Mike Ratu, Hornets had power in the three quarters that Barrow never really looked like handling. Up front the forwards out-punched their bigger counterparts - Danny Bridge and Tony Suffolk, the pick of an excellent pack, Lewis Charnock looking more comfortable at loose forward.

And so, the benchmark has been set. Someone commented as we left that expectations have been significantly raised by this performance - and they’re right. And if this is an indication of what Hornets are capable of, it’s going to be a very interesting season indeed.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Saturday's Coming - Barrow Raiders

An unexpected Good Friday defeat, followed up by a win built on a whirlwind second-half performance. Sound familiar?

Barrow started the season with what some might see as a 'shock' 34-22 defeat at newly *nionised Newcastle ThunderFalcons, but got their season back on the rails with a hefty 50-12 panning of Swinton last Saturday.

Down 10-12 at one point and just in front by 16-12 at the break, Barrow turned in a quite stunning second half performance. Not only did they nil Swinton in the second-half, racking up 34 unanswered points in the process, they returned an eye-catching 90% completion rate.

Back in Barrow's very-hot-seat - and filling Bobbie Goulding's boots  - is local Rugby League legend Paul Crarey. With a long connection to the club, at least he knows what he's walking into.

To outsiders, the Barrow Coach's office looks like it has a revolving door. Trying to actually piece together the trail of coaches passing through Craven park has been a challenge in itself (there is no definitive list) but we reckon that - in the last six years - the role has been held by:
Which way to Barrow, Paul?

Dave Clark - six months
Steve Deakin - six weeks
Dave Clark - two months
Steve McCormack - 10 months
Dave Clark - two months
Garry Schofield - five games
Nigel Wright - four months
Dave Clark - four months
Darren Holt - two seasons
Anthony Murray - four games
Bobbie Goulding - six months

Fortunately for Barrow, few people know the club and the Cumbrian RL landscape quite as well as Paul Crarey.

Having signed from local community club Dalton in 1987, Crarey played for Barrow  until 1995, clocking up 172 games and 20 tries at hooker.  After one season at Carlisle he cut his coaching teeth at Dalton and Walney Central, before embarking on his first term at Craven Park in 2005.

Over two seasons he steadied a rocking ship by recruiting the best local players. However, after 'disagreements' with the Chief Executive at the time, he took his talents up the coast to Whitehaven. After a short spell of ill-health, he returned to coach Dalton in 2009.

From there he went on to coach Cumbria at both amateur and professional level - and was appointed BARLA GB head coach in 2012. At the time he said: “My whole life is dedicated to rugby league and this just shows that if you put your head down, work hard and dedicate yourself you can achieve your goals." As good a life philosophy as any, we think.

This time round, Crarey's wasted no time in assembling a more than useful outfit. An influx of Leigh loanees augmenting a mix of Cumbrian amateur and pro-talent , including Chris Fleming - a Cumbrian arriving via the Queensland InTrust Cup. Add Salford's  Kyle Dolan & Matt Heaton and Crarey's 2015 side looks like a tough proposition.

Last week's Swinton-squashing Barrow squad was: Chris Fleming, Kyle Dolan, Chris Hankinson, Cameron Pitman, Lee Haney, Josh Ward, Peter Lupton, Joe Bullock, Nathan Mossop, Danny Jones, Liam Harrison, Craig Briscoe, Anthony Bate. Subs: Brad Marwood, Dan Toal, Matt Heaton, Andrew Dawson.

Be careful when you Google "Barrow Raiders, Cumbria".
Like Barrow, Hornets got their season underway at the second time of asking in an error-strewn, but ultimately convincing win at University of Gloucestershire All Golds. In a coach-killing first-half, the error count from both sides was off the scale - and as Barrow demonstrated last week, good completion stats take you a very long way towards winning.

Ahead of the All Golds trip, Ian Talbot said: "We’re a bit low on confidence at the minute …  we’re still trying to find our feet with new combinations so it will be interesting to see where we are…"

And his thoughts dovetail perfectly with acouple of articles this week from the 'Sage of the NRL' Gus Gould, who wrote in his Sydney Morning Herald column about the importance of confidence and completion. "Confidence is such an amazing thing in Rugby League. When confidence is lacking nothing seems to go right. Even the simplest of actions feels as though it's beyond your capabilities. But when self belief is strong - when individuals come together as one to fight for the common cause, well, no challenge seems so great. Winning suddenly becomes a habit."

He goes on to speak of how confidence is built on what he calls 'Tradesman's Victories' - wins built on '… hard work, togetherness and resilence." He also writes about 'defensive composure' as a key component to grinding out those wins: "stoic resistance… working as a unit… frustrating the opposition."

Indeed, in his column last week he wrote about being prepared to scrap: "… to hustle, bustle and niggle opponents to the point of frustration…" In the same piece he identified completion as a key element in the Sharks surprise win over early competition favourites the Roosters.

"At the 65th-minute mark, the Sharks led 14-0 and had completed 34 sets of six from 37 opportunities with the ball. You just don't lose games with those kinds of completion rates. At the same stage the Roosters had been restricted to only 26 opportunities with the ball, yet had only completed 20 sets of six. They committed far too many unforced errors and the fifth tackle options at the end of those sets they did complete were poorly executed. They put no pressure whatsoever on their opponents with their last tackle plays."

"As a result the Roosters were afforded very little field position and limited attacking opportunities. So the Sharks outside backs were put under very little pressure defensively…"

As everyone at the Prince of Wales Stadium - and at Craven Park - saw last week, completion and confidence go hand in hand. And with Hornets and Barrow having very similar records, both sides of that equation could be the deciding factor on Saturday.


Sunday, 12 April 2015

Hornets Overcome Freak-Show First Half to Kick-Start the Season

All Golds 18 - Hornets 38

For 45 minutes this was a ridiculous freak-show of a game. A veritable cornucopia of spectacular errors and farcical handling served up by two sides seemingly looking to out-do each other in the absurdity stakes.

Indeed the game began with a cock-up. After just one minute the usually reliable Gaz Langley dropped an All-Golds hoof downfield under no pressure. From the resulting scrum Hornets coughed a soft penalty and, with an air of (almost) inevitablility, the home side shipped the ball wide for Pywell to score. In keeping with the comedic mood, Bradley whacked the conversion attempt so wide the guys in the dug-out had to duck.

This opening movement was repeated almost note for note after 7 minutes: Gaz Langley dropping a straightforward kick with no All Golds player within 50 metres. This time the move breaking down 10m from the Hornets line.

Hornets persisted with some good approach work, but unable to find an incisive last tackle play. And when Hargreaves was nutmegged by a huge hit & hope 40/20 attempt, Hornets were let off the hook with a penalty for a double movement.

On 13 minutes, UGAG's super-sized number 8 Purslow executed a ludicrously high tackle on Danny Yates and was packed off to consider his actions for 10 minutes. Hornets' response was brisk. In a rare moment of lucidity a series of short passes off a Mike Ratu drive into a retreating defence fed Danny Bridge in for a try. Paul Crook converting off the touchline to edge Hornets in front 4-6.

Immediately, Hornets came up with a moment of almost slow-motion slapstick; Danny Yates fumbling the kick-off backwards over is head, Gaz Langley spilling the ball into the arms of the onrushing McClean who strolled under the black-dot for a bizzarre try. Bradley the two from in front. Hornets' lead lasting 45 seconds: 10-6.

The errors just kept coming. A forced, poorly-timed pass bounced off Dave Hull's chest. From the resulting possession the All golds came up with a last tackle kick going nowhere, but - in an attempt to clear the danger - a series of air-shots from the Hornets defence conceded a drop-out. The All Golds response took them close, but they couldn't quite get over the line. Then, on 27 minutes Tony Suffolk was put on report for lifting beyond the vertical. All a bit chaotic.

Fortunately, on 28 minutes, Paul Crook produced one of the game's two moments of genuine footballing quality: a cheeky show and go sucker-try from 5 metres, then converting his own try to take Hornets back in front at 10-12. It was a brief respite.

Two minutes later a forced pass from Jordan Case handed the home side easy possession, then a soft penalty for a swinging arm gave Bradley an easy shot at goal. 12-all.

The game was briefly held-up after a huge clash of heads that had Jordan Case and the All Golds Purslow drawing concern from the medical teams. On the restart -  Hornets forced a drop-out off the back of a good Lewis Charnock break, then rapid hands to the left sent Dale Bloomfield in by the flag. Charnock the two and Hornets into the sheds leading 12-18.

If the travelling fans thought the first half was a car-crash, the second began with a doozy of a freak-try. A high All Golds last tackle kick, Ryan Smith completely losing the flight of the ball, slipping as he adjusted his footing, Mulkeen calmly gathering the bobbling ball to stroll in untouched. Bradley good with the boot 18-all.

It was the final act in a comedy of errors, as Hornets sucked in, dusted themselves down and went to work.

On 46 minutes James Tilley steamed in from 5 metres after a scrappy approach set;  Charnock the two: 18-24

Then a great 70 metre approach-set saw Hornets hand-over possession on the All Golds line, followed by a dink and chase off a free-play that had the home defence scrambling to cover. You could sense the momentum shift.

On the hour Lewis Charnock's lofted kick was knocked back by Dale Bloomfield; Mike Ratu juggled the ball to the line, where Danny Yates took the last pass to score. Crooky hitting the post from wide-out: 18-28.

Three minutes later, it was Mike Ratu again causing panic at the heart of the home defence: his dancing feet taking hin close, quick hands right putting Brad Hargreaves in at the corner. 18-32.

Cometh the 70th minutes, cometh another moment of sheer quality from Paul Crook - the Ginger General dummying his way to the line from 40 metres, leaving a trail of bamboozled defenders in his wake. He added the two for good measure and Hornets racked the cue to run-out 18-38 winners.

The first 45 minutes of this game will stick in the mind, if only for the number and magnitude of errors produced by both sides. And, while the last 35 minutes weren't exacly a classic example of flowing football, it heartened the travelling Hornets faithful that their side found a way to roll-up its collective sleeves and dig-deep to come up with a convincing victory.

Certainly Hornets look like a side searching for a bit of rhythm and direction - but when the error-count is so high, it's all you can do to keep your shape and keep going forward.

Ultimately, a win is a win and it gets the season off the ground. But I don't envy Tol and his coaching team having to watch this one again.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Saturday's Coming: University of Gloucestershire All Golds

This Saturday, 9th placed Hornets visit table topping University of Gloucestershire All Golds in search of their first win of 2015. Now there's a sentence I never quite envisaged writing…

UGAG's 36-6 round one win over South Wales Scorpions (already front-runners for the role as competition whipping boys) may give their early zenith a slightly over-inflated look. But it's also a clear indication of the progress made at the Prince Of Wales Stadium - and that, on any given day in League 1, anything other than full concentration can come back and bite you hard. 

Having led 16-6 at half-time, UGAG scored four unanswered tries in a one-way second half on a day of milestones for the tyro club. Not only was it the first time the All Golds had conceded fewer than 10 points in their two year history, it was also interesting to note that the win was secured in front of the All Golds' biggest ever home crowd of 404. So positive news on that front too.  

Behind the scenes, former Halifax assistant coach (not the bad country 'n' western singer) Lee Greenwood took the reins after after Steve McCormack left for 'personal reasons'  at the end of last year - and he's got a pedigree steeped in Rugby league at all levels.
"I bloody love this album, Lee"
Lee Greenwood's record speaks for itself

Greenwood played for his hometown club at Siddal before embarking on a respectable pro-career that took in Sheffield Eagles, Halifax, London Broncos, Huddersfield Giants, Leigh Centurions and Batley Bulldogs. He also scored two tries in two appearances for England in 2004.

His coaching career began with a five year stint at Siddal as well as serving as number two to Karl Harrison at both Halifax and Batley. He also has experience in working with developing players, having coached Calderdale College to an unbeaten clean sweep of all possible competitions last year. They beat Hopwood Hall in the National Colleges Final by 50 – 6. He also has the rare distinction of having been stood down by the club he played for because they drew the club he coached in the Challenge Cup (Batley v Siddal, April 2010)!

Greenwood has put together a useful looking UGAG squad that quietly hides a wealth of high quality experience gained in the UK's 'heartland', in Australia's regional competitions and French National Div 2 . He's also recruited talent from local sides in another handling based football code - including 'Glawster' and 'Ospreys'.

The All Golds banged 7 tries through the fragile Scorpions defence - further indication that Greenwood's side have have plenty of points in them, having panned Skirlaugh 66-4 in the Challenge Cup before going down 28-10 against Championship Hunslet.

Closer to home, Ian Talbot wasn't a happy bloke after last week's disappoinitng derby-day slip-up. 

He said:  "… the first 80 metres isn’t an issue, the lads are working hard to get us in those scoring positions and then we look clueless. The time when you’re looking for your leaders to lead and organise and set up the plays, they’re just disappearing and it is a worry.

“But the effort's there and as long as that’s there and the commitment is there and you’ve got something to work with…  hopefully next week, if they put in as much effort and as much commitment with a little bit more smartness, we will come away with a result.”

Indeed, the season has a very long way to go and it's a bit early to start having a crisis of faith. So come on, folks:  let's brush ourselves down, get down to Cheltenham on Saturday and get behind the boys as they get this key season underway properly. You know you want to… see you there.

The All; Golds Squad v the Scorpions was:
Joe Martin(t), Callum Mulkeen (2t), Lewis Reece, Phil Cowburn, Ryan Pywell, Davies, Bradley (t), Ollie Purslow, Steve Parry, Joe McClean, Emmerson Whittel (t), Ash Haynes, Mark Bowen.   Subs: Toby Topham (t), Brad England, Chris Vitalini (t), Izaak Duffy.

Check out the All Golds' preview of the game here.

Getting to Cheltenham

Post Code for Prince of Wales Stadium, Cheltenham is
GL50 4R

South on the M6, follow signs for Birmingham/M5.

M6 -  At junction 8, take the M5 exit to Birmingham (W & S) / West Bromwich

M5 -  At junction 10, exit onto Writhy Bridge/A4019 toward Cheltenham
Continue to follow A4019

After 2.2 miles, at the roundabout, take the 2nd exit onto Tewkesbury Rd/A4019

After 0.5 mile Turn left onto Elm St

After 150 yards Turn right onto Swindon Rd

After 400 yards - at the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto St Paul's Rd

After 150 yards - turn left onto Folly Ln

After 300 yards Continue onto Tommy Taylors Ground is obn your left after 100 yards

There is also a direct train from Manchester Piccadilly to Cheltenham Spa at 10.00 (arr 12.45). Station is one mile from the ground. Return Train at 6.01pm (arr Man. Picc. 8.35pm)

Saturday, 4 April 2015

It's not how you start, it's how you finish...

Hornets 16 - Oldham 23

Ooh, we had to take a very long, deep breath before writng this report. Indeed, If we'd've written it up last night it would just be 400 WORDS IN BANGED-OUT, RANTING CAPITALS WITH A WHOLE LOAD OF PISSED OFF EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!

So, with the soothing distance of overnight's hindsight it's fair to say that this result is… er… disappointing.

Not so much the fact that Hornets somehow contrived to toss away a comfortable lead - or that the vacuum that occupies the half-back spots gave ex-Hornet Steve Roper enough time and space to look like Darren bloody Lockyer.

It was just the way in which - post the 20 minute mark - Hornets simply ossified to a standstill, allowing a marginally more imaginative Oldham side to simply steal the game by increments.

But it had begun so very differently. Oldham slammed the kick-off into the main-stand and, from the resulting penalty, Hornets set-up camp in the Oldham 20 metre area: for the next 20 minutes. However, while much huffing and puffing ensued Hornets were unable to find the killer pass to unzip the visiting defence

So one-sided was the opening quarter it took 15 minutes for Oldham to carry the ball over the half-way line. And when they did, Hornets went straight back downfield where a big Danny Yates cut-out pass sent Dale Bloomfield in by the flag. Crooky off the touchline with the extras and Hornets a deserved 6-nil ahead.

In their next possession Oldham coughed the ball first tackle and, with defenders stretched and scrambling, Paul Crook mugged them from acting half for a classic sucker try. An easy two from in front and Hornets a pretty straightforward 12-nil lead.

Then came a big momentum shift. Hornets subbed Tony Suffolk, Woz Thompson and Paul Crook and, while shifting shape to accommodate their replacements, shipped two soft penalties to gift Oldham 80 free metres.
They capitalised immediately, Crowley spinning out of a tackle to score from close range. Palfrey the two. 12-6.

Hornets strove to regain the momentum: Danny Bridge and Dale Bloomfield combining up the left channel to force a drop-out, but a sequence of pushed passes to the right saw the ball go to ground. Then Danny yates sprang a quick attack off a free-play, but the move broke down. From the resulting scrum Oldham were snagged for stealing the ball and Lewis Charnock took the two: 14-6.

With the hooter imminent, Oldham produced the one lucid move of the half - a neat interchange of passes up the right channel to send Palfrey in from 20 metres. A simple conversion and - somehow - Oldham within touching distance, 14-12 at the break.

The second half began in a bit of a frenzy. Dave Hull stole the kick-off ball one-on-one from Roper; his response was a high tackle on Matt Hadden; then Oldham stole the ball two-on-one to concede a penalty, which Hornets ran. Second tackle they dropped the ball. Next attack Dave Hull coughed the ball second tackle - Oldham reciprocating. Then Palfrey launched a huge last-tackle bomb, Gaz Langley spilled his catch, Referee Ansell waved all-on, Oldham didn't hear the call and hoofed the ball out on the full, which constituted a free-play, so Oldham got the feed at the resluting scrum. Still with us? Phew…

After this whirlwind start, the next 15 minutes were a creeping stasis of scrappy play, soft penalties and poor decision-making. As the hour ticked up, Lewis Charnock was yellow-carded for a supposed late hit on kicker Steve Roper; Oldham opted for the two and, with the last quarter to play, it was all locked up at 14-all.

For the next 10 minutes, 12-man Hornets pressed hard, but with little sign of a breakthrough. And when Hornets conceded consecutive penalties for holding down, Oldham took the two to grab the lead at 14-16.

With both sides visibly tiring, the errors and penalties continued to suck the energy out of the game. And, when Oldham transgressed 40m from their posts after 72 minutes, Paul Crook kept his head to slam home a long-distance penalty: 16-all.

But rather than using this as a platform to push for the win, Hornets contrived to effectively hand the game to Oldham. Danny Yates made a spectacular hash of the kick-off: carrying the ball to the touchline where he was bundled out of play 20m from the Hornets line. Oldham didn't piss about. Straight from the scrum, quick hands wide found Crowley barrelling in from close range. Palfrey the two. 16-20 - and only one team looking like winning.

There was an air of inevitability when Roper banged home the 78th minute drop goal to seal the game. Final score 16-23.

It's hard to accept that there are so few positives to take from this. While Hornets thudded manfully up the middle for long tracts of this game, there was little creativity behind the scrum/ruck. Indeed, we look undercooked in terms of leadership and direction.

If I had to desperately fish for a positive out-take it's the fact that, if Oldham are widely tipped for promotion this year, then we're only 7 points away from that and we have a whole season ahead to make that up. There's a long way to go yet - and, as the song says: "it's not how you start, it's how you finish".  And we all know Oldham's record on that front...

Attendance: 1,201