Sunday, 28 June 2015

Hornets Sleepwalk to Victory in Slo-Mo Show

Hornets 32 - Hemel 14

There’s a scene in The Matrix where the action flicks into extreme slow-motion and we see Keanu Reeves dodge a bullet. This game was much the same - it started slowly and - as Hemel sucked every last drop of momentum out of the game - decelerated to the point where time itself seemed to stand still.

It was obvious early on that this was going to be a bit of a low-intensity contest as both sides tested the theory of stasis - engaged in a shadow-boxed opening quarter that reminded you of the ghost of a memory of a game you’ve half forgotten.

In the 14th minute, the inertia was temporarily broken as Danny Bridge spun out of a tackle to score from close range. Danny Yates unsuccessful with the extras: 4-nil. Then pretty much nothing to report until the 26th minute, when the return of John Cookson gained warm appreciative applause from the crowd. His introduction gave Hornets the go-forward they needed. Indeed, when Hemel’s Lloyd-Jones was sin-binned for attacking Cooky’s standing leg on 28 minutes, Hornets pressed hard: Jordan Case’s perfectly good try struck off for an unseen forward pass. No matter.

One minute later Danny Yates embarked on a mazy run, bamboozling static defenders to score. Yatesey wide with the conversion: 8-nil.

From the kick-off possession Hornets engineered a decent approach set: Ryan Smith’s teasing kick-through seeing Hornets regain possession as the gathering winger was shunted out of play.

Less than a minute later John Cookson arrived with real intent onto a short ball - punching in to score from close range to the biggest cheer of the afternoon. Yatesey with the two for 14-nil. Cookson a clear catalyst for a more determined, direct approach.

On 38 minutes, Hornets again pressed hard off the back of a solid approach set: Danny Yates again, showing and going all the way to the goal line for another well taken solo try. An easy two for 20-nil and Hornets looking to have shaken off the torpor.

But with the timekeeper clearing the hooter’s throat, Hemel’s most rotund lump Mbaraga was allowed to trundle through a huge hole to score a soft try. The sound of one hand clapping as the teams departed at the break at 20-4.

Hornets tried manfully to start the second half with more pace and purpose, but were gradually sucked into Hemel’s black-hole of anti-football. An early Danny Yates kick forced a drop-out; Hemel glacially slow to recommence play, then a frankly shocking pass from poor Ryan Smith let the Stags off the hook. Off the back of a mess of Hemel penalties, Hornets got Alex McClurg was ‘held-up’ over the line at the end of a headlessy aimless set. Then Warren Thompson adjudged similarly, despite being face-down on top of the ball in the in-goal. On 54 minutes Jordan Case finally got the ball down to Referee Mr Ansell’s satisfaction off a flat ball. Yatesey the two; 26-4.

Just past the hour mark - with the last dregs of energy draining from the game - Hornets were distracted enough for Brown to collect the ball wide on the right to score. 26-8. The home fans exhaled and gazed longingly at their watches.

With all motion now at a virtual standstill, the game became scrappy: two sides clearly out of ideas. The closest thing to action being Hemel’s Coleman taking a dive after a kick-through to con a penalty out of Mr Ansell. To add insult to apathy, that man Mbaraga came barelling through a retreating defence like a bin wagon negotiating a tricky corner to score a shocking slow-motion try. Young converted. Somehow it was 26-14.

Hornets did suck in for a big finish. The reintroduction of John Cookson for the last ten minutes again put Hemel on the back-foot. and, when Danny Bridge hit a flat ball at pace on 77 minutes to score (Yatesey with the extras), the result was given a thin veneer of respectability at 32-14.

We wrote in our preview of the sense in dragging part-time players the length of the country to act as cannon-fodder for the established teams. In credit to Hemel, they did a decent job on sucking the life out of every minute of this game - but it was one that they never really looked like winning. As for Hornets, it was a stodgy, disjoined performance in which Danny Yates, Wayne English and the returning John Cookson provided hints of what this side is really capable of.

Indeed, much as Hemel never looked like winning, Hornets were never in real danger of losing this one - and, once that jeopardy is removed it’s hard for either party to assume otherwise. And that, we think, was part of the issue - two teams required to play out pre-ordained roles. In our search for positives, it was a winning return to a lush Spotland after our annual hiatus - and a try-scoring return for John Cookson, which was good to see.

But, ultimately, you have to think of it like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix. It may have been in slow-motion, but at least we dodged the bullet.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Saturday's Coming - Hemel Stags

People forget that Hemel have been around a while.

The original Hemel Hempstead Amateur Rugby League Football Club played their first match on 5 April 1981 and spent the next 15 years ploughing through the southern/London leagues before embarking on a stint in the Rugby League Alliance (A-team) competition in 1997. When the Alliance league was scrapped, the newly-named Hemel Stags became a stalwart of the RFL Summer Conference.

They celebrated their last season as a community club by beating Underbank Rangers 17-10 in the National Conference League Division 3 Grand Final at Featherstone in 29 September 2012.

In their two seasons in the semi-pro ranks, Hemel have finished both times in the playoffs. But the restructure of the league - and the injection of 8 good quality ‘heartland’ sides - have effectively created a two-tier competition in which Hemel have struggled to gain any real traction this year, with only three wins from eleven games, shipping an average of 42 points per game in the process. Last weekend saw them ship 70 points for he second time this year - blitzed by 70 to 10 at Pennine Way by York.

Indeed, the split in tier three has been the subject of much conjecture the last week or two as to whether it’s good for developing sides to get pasted by established clubs in this lop-sided division.

Our view is that, unless the RFL would consider North & South ‘conferences’ to ensure more even games and minimise the onerous travelling requirements (we’re still not convinced that dragging part-time players the length of the country to play in a non-contest in front of 180 people makes for a credible competition), throwing teams in at the deep end will ineveitably raise standards as the ‘new intake’ edge their way closer to their Northern counterparts.

And as that improvement continues, it’s only a matter of time before one of the top eight takes one of the ‘Southern six’ a bit too lightly and becomes Goliath in a giant-killing. And Hornets have to be sure that  - this week - it isn’t them.

Indeed, as the top eight tightens up to the point that every last drop of air twixt teams gets squeezed out, even the most perfunctory victory could catapult you up or down three or four places. And in this high-pressure, airless, compressed league-within-a-league, the points difference accrued against the bottom six has become the new bonus-point - which could prove critical at the sharp end of the season.

Having burned a huge chunk of their points advantage in the defeats against York and Keighley, Hornets have been sucked back into the scramble: York going the other way having banked a +60 last week to hike them up to fourth.

This weekend six of the top eight play each other (Crusaders play Keighley , York play Swinton and Barrow play Newcastle), so there’s plenty of opportunity for movement - as long as Hornets are ruthless enough to wring as many points as possible from their return to a lush, green Spotland.

Ultimately, the weeks of playing away always take their toll - and this shorter-than-usual hiatus has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for everyone involved. Indeed, it’ll be good to be home - and  with half a season down it’s time to suck in for the big push to September.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Hornets stutter in Lawkholme Freak Show

Keighley 54 - Hornets 20

In 1724, French philospher Bernard le Bauvier de Fontenelle said: “The greatest hurdle to happiness is the expectation of too great a happiness.” A pioneer of ‘the enlightenment’,  he perfectly nailed this disappointing freak-show of a game at Cougar Park, where pretty much everything that could go wrong, did.

Having travelled in decent numbers - and with expectations buoyed by last week’s thriller at Cefn Mawr - Hornets’ supporters had their hopes put through the emotional wringer.

After a pretty even start, back-to back penalties swept Keighley downfield where relentless pressure eventually told; Handforth ducking in to score from close range. Lawton with the first of a flawless afternoon with the boot 6-nil.

Then the first of a chain of freak moments that swept the game in the Cougars’ favour. A last tackle hoist & hope kick from Handforth looked destined for the stand roof, but it swirled in the wind, dropped like a rock in the in-goal and popped straight up into Gabriel’s hands. Even the locals rubbed their eyes in disbelief; 12-nil.

On 15 minutes, Hornets applied some pressure of their own. A good approach set ending with a Danny Yates kick sparking panic in the home in-goal. A drop-out ensued. Two minutes later, some nifty footwork by Jack Ashworth and smart play up the blind-side by Paul Crook sent Dale Bloomfield in out wide. Crooky just wide with the conversion: 12-4.

On 22 minutes another moment of freakish luck for the home side. Hornets pushing hard up the right channel, the ball knocked loose from Danny Yates hands, White gathering to sprint 90 metres to score. 18-4. Gutting: You could see the body language slump.

Indeed, when Handforth followed up a break through some very ordinary tackling in centre-field to send Paul March under the black dot two minutes later, you could sense an irreversible slide: 24-4.

A well made try on 26 minutes - Brad Hargreaves the beneficiary after quick hands to the edge - gave Hornets some respite at 24-8: but another gift interception off an awful pass from Wayne English saw Gabriel stroll in and score. 30-8.

Most annoyingly, Hornets went in at the break 22 points adrift having been the better side with ball in hand - but the freakish nature of the home side’s fortune left Hornets with a metaphorical mountain to climb.

Keighley started the second half with real intent: Handforth dummying a last tackle kick to skate into open field, Dale Bloomfield pulling off a last-ditch tackle to stop Gabriel in his tracks. Hornets responded well: Jordan Case producing a last tackle dink & chase, but unable to force a drop-out.

With Handforth calling the shots, Keighley began to build pressure. And when Lynam arrived on a short ball after 52 minutes, he found enough space to wriggle through and score: 36-8.

Hornets rallied briefly with Ant Walker barrelling in to score on 55 minutes, but a dropped ball followed by a penalty two tackles later undid all the good work. Hornets’ defence caught static as Brooke scored. 42-14.

On 68 minutes another moment of serendipitous oddity as a last tackle Hornets kick into the in-goal was snaffled by White who pinned back his ears to sprint 105 metres to score; 48-14. And, if that were not enough freakery for a Sunday afternoon, a last tackle kick from Sherriffe pinballed off a series of defenders’ legs to land plumb in his brother’s hands with the line begging: 54-14.

With six minutes remaining Paul Crook produced a dummying run to score - and add the extras to bring this fragmented screwball mess of a game to a close at 54-20.

Having effectively gifted Keighley 24 points, this game was - in reality - much closer than the score suggests, but in games that are won or lost by inches, you can’t really afford to give a good side like Keighley such a massive leg-up.

As it was, an afternoon that began with such expectation ended in head-shaking disbelief. Bernard le Bauvier de Fontenelle would’ve had a field day.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Sunday's Coming - Keighley

There’s really only one angle to any preview of a game with Keighley this season - and that’s the long shadow cast by the tragic loss of Danny Jones. Notwithstanding the heartbreaking impact on his family, friends, team-mates and the wider RL family, there’s little we can write here that’s not been said already. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to comprehend or articulate the impact that such a loss can have on a club and its community.

But Hornets fans can empathise more than many. When we lost our own Karl Marriott (28) and RL legend Roy Powell (33) to heart attacks weeks apart in 1998, the club was shaken to its roots. While both incidents occured around training sessions, that shock of senseless loss; of strong, fit men cut down in their prime; of keystones removed, resonates just as cruelly.

To the Keighley branch of our RL Family, the small comfort we can offer is that, whilst it doesn’t feel remotely possible that time will smooth the jagged edges off this painful loss, slowly, imperceptibly it will. Week by week, game by game. Danny Jones - like Karl & Roy - won’t be forgotten as long as fans like us carry them with us as part of our clubs’ legacy.

As it is, Sunday sees Keighley and Hornets contest the top of the division. The game of the day, it promises all the things that make us love this incredible sport of ours: drama, passion, intensity  - and, yes, emotion. So get down there and soak it all up - for even in the darkest of times, Rugby League can be life-affirming stuff.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Where There’s a Hwyl, There’s a Way

Crusaders 12 - Hornets 14

Well, it seems a week IS a long time in Rugby League.

Hornets delivered a gutsy, steely performance to snatch the points in what was a fizzing, boiling time-bomb of a game played at high tempo, high impact and, often, on the ragged edge of the laws. Indeed, you needed to focus hard on this one to take it all in as Hornets soaked up 78 minutes of relentless pressure to come up with a killer knock-out blow in the dying minutes.

The game began intensly, both sides forcing early errors. And when Crusaders’ Thompson went down with a leg injury in after just four minutes, the home fans upped the ante - braying for a dismissal Ref. Mr Hewer stuck it on report, waved time-on and played on.

Hornets pressed hard: Tony Suffolk held-up in-goal off a last-tackle drive. No matter. Two minutes later Jack Ashworth ghosted past Jullien to leave the home defence in scrambling tatters. With support queuing up either side, his short-ball sent Wayne English in for a great try. Crooky cool as you like from wide out; 0-6.

A short scrappy exchange ended with Crusaders given a penalty for holding down, the home side capitalising with quick hands to Massam to score by the flag after 15 minutes. Johnson the two, the sides locked up at 6-all.

With both sides wrestling for an opening, it was Hornets that took advantage of Crusaders’ growing frustration.  A big idiotic head-shot on Danny Yates gave Paul Crook a simple penalty to shade Hornets in front at 6-8.

With flowing football at a premium, Hornets looked more likely to score: A Danny Yates kick-through forcing a drop-out; A Wayne English chip & chase into the in-goal swept up by a retreating defence.

With the half ebbing away, Crusaders shipped a soft penalty right in front for ball-stealing. This time Danny Yates slotting over the two - derided by the locals for opting for the penalty. Oh - the irony.

Having stretched their fragile lead, Hornets contrived to cock-up the kick-off - giving Crusdaders six tackles to pound their line with less than a minute remaining. As it was, the Welsh side coughed the ball first tackle and Hornets ended the half carrying the ball 80 metres back downfield.

Half time 6-10. Electric.

Hornets began the second half in the worst possible fashion. Just two minutes in, some very ordinary tackling in the left channel gave Wild room to skate through and score. 10-all -the home fans near wetting themselves.

Despite a scrappy third quarter punctuated by dropped kicks, bad tempers and a fracas that saw Hornets’ Tony Suffolk and Crusaders’ Davies given 10 minutes for fighting, Hornets stayed resolutely in the arm-wrestle. Indeed it took back-to-back penalties to break the deadlock on 65 minutes. Crusaders now accepting an easy two points to edge ahead 12-10. The home crowd, curiously, liking this a lot.

With 15 to play, it really did come down to who wanted it most.

On 70 minutes, the vociferous Hornets contingent were incensed by a blatant display of gamesmanship by Crusaders’ former roly-poly figure of fun Jono Smith. As play proceeded past the ruck, Smith took a dive in back-play and lay there until the referee had given the penalty, whereupon he jumped to his feet miraculously healed, laughing to the crowd at how he’d conned the officials. To be fair, it was pretty much the only thing of any consequence he did all afternoon. His obvious trips to Weightwatchers have left him half the player he was in every sense.

Back at the game, Hornets went on the attack, only for Massam to intercept; tracked down, then scythed down by Wayne English on half-way. The momentum now with North Wales.

As Crusaders chucked the sink at the unbending Hornets defence, it became clear that it would require a moment of magic to steal this one. It arrived on 78 minutes. Alex McClurg stepping through the smallest of gaps to carry play 40 metres upfield, then quick hands left where Dale Bloomfield piled straight through Turner to plant the ball by the flag. Hornets fans go nuts. Stunned silence from the home crowd. Crooky just wide with the conversion; 12-14

But this game stil had a potential twist in the tail; Crusaders regathering the kick-off to launch one last attack, but Hornets held firm to smash & grab a memorable victory that hoists them back into second place - and which leaves Crusaders the lowest ranked of the ‘heartland’ clubs.

For any neutrals at the Rock, this would have been an fast, intense, exciting contest. Otherwise it was a heart-attack on a stick, with chewed nails and frayed nerves the order of the day. But - as we’ve said lots of times here - sometimes you just have to find a way to win. This was one of those occasions. 

And to the Crusaders fan who went out of his way at the end to tell me to “F*ck off back to Rochdale” - we did. With the two points.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Sunday's Coming - North Wales

Iechyd da, folks. For the second time in three weeks Hornets hit the road for Wales - and another new ground.

The Crusaders have had to move two games to nearby Cefn Druids’ FC as the contractors who did last year’s pitch repairs at the Unvrsty f n Vwls Racecourse Stadium have had to come back and try and put right repairs that didn’t go “… 100-per-cent according to plan…”. And it looks like an interesting ground to tick-off.

Welsh Alliance football club Cefn Druids play in Cefn Mawr, a mere quawter of a hawr further down the A483.

The club was founded in 1992 from a merger between Cefn Albion F.C. and Druids United. The original Druids FC from which the current club has evolved was founded in the 1860s - making it the oldest football club in Wales, and the oldest soccer club in the world outside England.

The Druids’ tidy 3,500 capacity stadium ‘The Rock’ was opened in 2010 and is a great blueprint for a small community stadium. It also has a bit of an unusual feature: built on the site of a disused quarry, one touchline sits at the foot of a rock face. Bring your crampons.

The Rock at Cefn Mawr.
For what is effectively a village football team, Cefn Druids have recently flirted with European football. In 2012–13 they played Finnish side Myllykosken-Pallo in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League. Taking a nil-nil home draw across to Myllykoski, they were whupped 5-nil. Now, that IS a long way home when you’ve been flogged.

Back with the oval ball, Crusaders’ win at Oldham last week was their sixth in succession - and continues their hoodoo over the Biffs, following on from their win there in the iPro Sport Cup semi-final stage in April - which was Oldham’s first home defeat in 18 months (or, co-incidentally, since we previously played in the same division!).

Cru Coach Anthony Murray wasn’t impressed with Whitebank. Speaking on WalesOnline, he said: "It's the second time that we've come to Whitebank and it's the second time that we've beaten them in their own back garden.” That’s not their back garden, Anthony - that’s their pitch…

Despite being 10-6 down early-doors, Crusaders blasted back to win 38-28 - a result that helped keep Hornets in second place in League 1.

Murray recognised his side’s slow-start: "We seem to be in the habit of not starting well", he said. "We were slow out of the blocks and fair play to Oldham - they got a couple of tries.”

"But you've got to give a lot of credit to our guys; once we found our go forward, our rhythm for the game and got into the areas that we needed to, we exploited them quite easily at times and we scored some lovely tries.”

And how did the Crusaders rectify their early wobble? "We were moving the ball right to left, left to right, everybody was running the right lines and targeting the right people.” Ah, right. Or left. Clearly. But mostly right, it seems.

Games against NW Crusaders seem to have had a bit of a derby frisson about them of late. Having had a solid-gold stinker at York-erstone last week, it’s imperative that Hornets come away with a win of any colour as League one’s top eight tightens up, with four points separating one to eight. And with the division’s highest scoring attack taking on the league’s stingiest defence, it promises to be an intriguing contest. The grandstand at The Rock seats 500 people - let’s get there early and fill as much of it as we can. And, don’t forget it’s a 2.30pm kick-off!

The Rock is on Rock Road, Cefn-mawr LL14 3YF.

Directions from the North:
From Wrexham take the A483 towards Oswestry. After around four miles, the road is filtered with the right hand lane continuing on the A483 towards Oswestry, whilst the left hand filter is signposted for the A539 Whitchurch/Llangollen. Keep in the left hand A539 filter lane and at the bottom of this road you will reach a roundabout where you take the 3rd exit towards Llangollen. Go straight across at the next roundabout and then at the next take the first exit onto the B5605 towards Rhosymedre/Cefn Mawr. After a mile turn right onto the B5096 towards Cefn Mawr and then take the second right into Rock Road. After passing the Jolly Masons Arms pub on the right, you will reach the entrance to the ground further up on the left.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Hot Mess

York 34 - Hornets 20

Seems that a lot of things can change in a week in Rugby League.

Even before this shoddy car-crash of a game began, there were indications that the large Hornets following might be in for an ‘interesting’ afternoon. A backline shorn of English, Bloomfield, Hull, Paterson and Langley had a makeshift look to it and York exploited that to the maximum; shipping the ball to the edges and peppering stand-in wings Alex Trumper (yes) and Matt Dawson with a rain of aerial attacks.

From the scrappy start, you could sense unease in the Hornets defence - a dropped kick, a fumbled pass, York gifted early field position - a last tackle kick causing chaos in the Hornets in-goal resulting in a drop-out. York took advantage, Cunningham shrugging his way through some ordinary tackling to score: 4-nil

After 10 minutes with no meaningful possession, Hornets’ slow-turning defence was exploited: York shipping the ball right, a neat kick inside where Smith took advantage of a two on none overlap to score under the black dot. Too easy; 10-0.

After much huffing and puffing, Hornets finally got to play some football in York’s half but the set fizzled out. York burst straight back, only to see the last pass go to ground. Hornets reciprocated with a pedestrian set that ended in a forward pass. Fortunately, York coughed the ball straight back and Hornets found the fluidity to ship the ball wide for Alex Trumper to score by the flag. Paul Crook hit the spot from the touchline and, at 10-6 Hornets were back in the game.

But not for long. Swamped in a rising tide of poor decisions, dropped passes, cheap penalties and quite miserable body-language, Hornets delivered their worst 15 minutes of the season, gifting York possibly their easiest.

On 25 minutes a last tackle cut-out pass found Clare with space to score out wide; on 30 minutes some frankly awful defence in centre-field saw Dent capitalise, strolling under the posts from 30 metres; then York switched the direction of play for Channing to step through a stretched, retreating defence to pick his spot; then rapid hands left where Clare scored, untouched, in the corner. Dent added insult to injury off the touchline and Hornets were left sucking the wet-end of an embarrassing 30-6 scoreline.

In the dying seconds of the half Hornets got a scintilla of luck when a dropped ball was hacked 50 metres upfield where Danny Yates was able to touch down. Yates the two - and Hornets performance given a thin veneer of respectabilty. Half time 30-12.

It was going to need a half-time team talk of Churchillian proportions to turn this mess around.

Hornets began the second half in shambolic fashion: Matt Dawson knocked on from the kick-off and, from the resulting York attack, shipped a drop-out, tackled in-goal.

But rather than crack as they had in the first half, Hornets began to play some football. On 50 minutes a pinpoint Danny Yates cross-field kick was tapped down by Matt Dawson for Jack Ashworth to score.

Then Ant Walker crashing in off a short ball - but the last pass deemed forward by a touch-judge 50 metres away. No matter 

Two minutes later Hornets jolted the ball loose in the tackle, Matt Dawson the first to react, regathering to score. Game on at 30-20 with 18 minutes to play.

Despite struggling to complete sets in any real meaningful manner, Hornets were now playing the game deep in York’s half. But, when Jack Ashworth’s one-on-one steal was somehow penalised for offside (we know, ridiculous), York sensed the release of pressure.

Indeed, on 70 minutes a nothing kick fumbled by understudy full-back Brad Hargreaves gave York a repeat set and, off an almost slow-motion approach, Dent scored out wide to put this basket-case of a game to bed.

In the wash-up the Hornets fans spoke of the ‘curse of the green away kit’ and ‘the curse of the month of away games’ - but it was the curse of soft penalties, slack defence, no discernible last-tackle plan and that simply shocking 15 minutes before half-time that really did the damage here. Any side gifted a 30-point bonus would have to go some to lose and York were no exception. 

The only real positive we took from this was that we’d have to go some to play this badly again. And it seems that all the other teams around us had a bit of an ordinary afternoon too - Oldham and Newcastle both choking to keep Hornets in second place in League 1.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Sunday's Coming: York via Fev

Amidst growing concerns over the future of semi-pro Rugby League in York, over at the City Knights, the propaganda machine is in full effect.

Having been unable to confirm a venue for Sundays game until Tuesday this week, the board at the Knights chose to question Hornets’ veracity in the matter.
The beautiful York suburb of Featherstone yesterday...

A Hornets statement earlier in the week said: "Both the RFL and Rochdale Hornets have tried to work with York to find a resolution but with no communication received from Knights officials the RFL have been forced to step in and book Featherstone Rovers for the fixture."

However, according to a report in the York Press on Wednesday, a Knights spokeswoman said it was not true that the RFL booked the ground, and that: “… regrettably, at the moment, there is no suitable venue available within York for a professional rugby league fixture, with Clifton Park and Bootham Crescent currently being unavailable…”

Either way - from this distance -  the situation at YCK looks like an unholy mess, with the council this week continuing to stall community stadium talks over a compensation package

Neil Jennings - one of the directors brought in to deflect fire from owner John Guildford - said: "We are still talking to the council and are not in a position to comment at the moment."

The club later commented: "The board is only too aware of the slow progress of negotiations… currently the board is urgently trying to agree interim compensation arrangements with the council to secure the club’s financial position through to the end of the season. Discussions continue on this.” More obfuscation, then.

Meanwhile, in parallel with the off-field farrago, club captain Pat Smith took to the press this week to play down effects on the team’s on-field performances. “We’ve played some good football and some bad football…” he said: “… in the games we haven’t played well, we’ve come unstuck, but they’ve been against good teams. It’s nothing to get overly worried about at this stage.”

“Given the stuff off the field, I think we’ve got to give ourselves some credit for the way we’ve been playing…. There’s no need to have any crisis meeting or anything like that.” That’s the party-line toed there.

But being without a playing or training base for six months must surely have put some strain on coach James Ford’s plans for the season. Prior to York’s last ‘home’ game at Featherstone, he tried to remain philosophical: "The players are doing their part - they're sticking together and focusing on playing rugby league and improving and developing as individuals and as a team. Sooner or later all other things will have to fall into place so the club can move forward and fulfil its undoubted potential.”

In previous conversation with the York Press he’d said of the situation : “It’s inhibiting the team’s development. We recruited a squad to develop, a squad we would like to shape into the way we want them to be as people and players. That’s becoming increasingly difficult when we’re restricted in what I can do in terms of our preparations.”

He went on: “I am frustrated at the lack of progress…. I made assurances to the players that I would be leaving no stone unturned to help them improve as players. I want to take them forward. When you’ve got a team of young players, you need access to these facilities.

“Things like how we move the ball and our systems in defence are good. What’s letting us down occasionally is physicality, and our injuries, which comes from missing gym work and the appropriate conditioning programmes. We’ve got plans whereby we can catch up, but I’m talking four to six weeks for adaptation and for people’s performances to go up so it all needs to happen sooner rather than later.

“It’s frustrating. As a group I feel we’re doing a decent job but I know we can do better. I don’t like doing things below our best.”

Frustrated then.

Off the back of a creditable performance at St Helens in the Challenge Cup, Ford’s side have rammed 70 points through the Scorpions, but came unstuck last Friday when they went down 32-14 at Newcastle Thunder, leaving them 8th in League 1 and the lowest placed of the ‘heartland’ clubs’.

Ford identified errors as the critical factor: “In terms of errors, if you’re going to play an expansive brand of rugby league, you’re going to have errors and your completion rate won’t be up there with teams who play a less expansive way. But we made errors with really basic rugby league, with poor execution of pass or timing, or with kick defence.”

“We put ourselves under pressure and to be honest we weren’t good enough to deal with it.”

Conversely, Hornets come into the game on the back of a solid, professional performance at South Wales and, more interestingly, as league leaders - knowing that a win of any shade will see them retain top spot.

There’s no doubt that York’s narrow track away has been a bit of a graveyard for Hornets sides over the years - but the removal of home advantage creates an interesting dynamic in so much as any ’advantage’ will be gained via the fans most able to create a ‘home game’  atmosphere. Indeed, if ever Hornets fans could play a major role in boosting their side’s chances, this is the opportunity.

So we urge as many members of the #HornetsFamily as possible to get over to Post Office Road on Sunday, get together and make some noise.You could be the difference.

Monday, 1 June 2015

So what IS going on at York?

By far the most frequent question we’ve been asked in the last few days is: “What the bloody ‘ell’s going on at York?”  Clearly having no match details confirmed less than a week before our game is a bit disconcerting, so we thought we’d try and find out.

We scoured the York Press, Yorkshire Post and the RL press for news and updates to try and find out just what IS going on at York City Knights.  We can’t lie - it was like lifting the lid on a veritable Pandora’s Box of argument, counter-argument, hubris, ego and confusion.

We can say that the situation centres on a messy, long-running and controversial falling out that involves York City Knights, York City FC and the City of York Council, whch has left Knights coach James Ford's side with neither a ground or training base for the past six months.

Our best interpretation of the situation is:

- The Knights moved out of Huntington Stadium so it could be redeveloped as an 8,000-seater venue for both York’s RL and football clubs. City of York Council offered them terms for tenancy within the new community stadium project and interim arrangements to train at York St John University’s and play at York City’s Bootham Crescent
John Guildford - Shades of intransigence

- There was a failure to reach agreement on terms following a major fall-out between the council and club owner John Guildford. The City of York Council blamed Guildford for the breakdown in talks: Guildford blamed the council, saying that the deal on the new stadium had been unviable, despite assurances the club would be no worse off.

- City of York Council refused to deal with Guildford any further and elected to proceed with the community stadium development without the rugby league club’s involvement. Exclusion from negotiations on the project meant that the temporary arrangements for the club were also scrapped, hence, the lack of a venue for playing or training.

- City of York Council said “The Council remains strongly committed to the success of professional rugby league in York and the use of the stadium for both rugby league and football. It is with deep regret that the Council finds that it no longer has confidence in the working relationship with Mr Guildford so is unable to enter back into negotiations with him on the Community Stadium development…” Reading between the lines, the statement suggsts that a change of ownership would help re-open negotiations.

-  In February, Guildford stepped down as club chairman at the request of City of York Council. A new board was brought in earlier this year to take over stadium negotiations from Guildford after the council said it would not work with him again. But Guildford remains as majority shareholder.

-  In April, York fans sent a petition to the Rugby Football League asking for their “assistance to enable the removal of John Guildford from York City Knights”.  It had over 1,000 signatories - four times the attendance of their last ‘home’ game. Guildford’s response directed at Gary and Andy Hall, two club sponsors involved in the petition was: "Please help stop these 2 big girls blouses bullying me, they also have a serious crush on me now. Ha. The fat one even loves handing photos of me out all day, the other knob sits all day on social media posting under different names and pretends hes me (sic), and the third one is in the background as the mouth but won't meet anyone without a minder or his mam with him to hold his hand… Window lickers. Lol.”

- In a final oddball twist, the Knights Independent Supporters Club called for Guildford to cede ownership of the club, asking York City's owner Jason McGill to usurp him - but  McGill announced that they will not deal with the City Knights unless it changes ownership. This led to Guildford claiming in the local press that the council want him to sell the rugby league club to  the owner of York City FC. York City have since said that such a takeover won’t happen.

- The latest report we’ve seen is from the 22nd May says that “Hopes that York City Knights are to be brought back into the community stadium project have been boosted after the club declared that ‘positive news will be in the public domain very soon’.

But let’s face it - it could hardly get any more negative.

Having picked the bones out of that mess, York RUFC's Clifton Park has hosted two Knights home games so far this season but the club needed special dispensation from the Rugby Football League to play there as it did not meet league standards. York’s last home fixture against South Wales Scorpions was played 31 miles from York at Featherstone Rovers' Big Fellas Stadium.

A statement from the Knights said: "The club was trying all it could to have this fixture played at Bootham Crescent but several issues including the need for a revised safety certificate have prevented Bootham Crescent being available.”

Clifton Park isn’t available this week as it’s hosting a cricket match.

All up, it’s a bloody mess and one that needs addressing ASAP if York are to salvage any credibility within the game.


English - and Proud.

This was a great day to be English in Wales - Wayne English to be precise. Celebrating his 350th career game by scoring his 149th and 150th career tries, Wayne cemented his status as a genuine Hornets legend as he produced a near flawless performance, leading from the back as Hornets overcame a stubborn Scorpions resistance.

Having coughed the kick-off (a pattern that was to repeat itself througout the afternoon), Hornets were underway with only two minutes on the clock: Woz Thompson embarking on a bullocking 60 metre break, ending with Paul Crook touching down. Crooky did the honours on his own try: 0-6.

The try shook South Wales into life. For the next 15 minutes they dug-in and frustrated Hornets - tackling in numbers and leaving lots of bodies in the ruck to suck as much momentum out of the game as possible.

Respite looked to have arrived when Paul Crook unleashed a big 40-20 - but the touch judge deemed the ball had fallen two metres short. Scorpions seized the opportunity to launch an attack of their own, but a poor last tackle kick could only yield a Hornets drop-out. Crooky turned pressure into attack as he launched the drop-out fully 90 metres.

Having regained the ball, Hornets couldn’t quite make the passes stick. And, aided by some extra pedantic officiating, Scorpions were taken back downfield where, again, a poor last tackle kick saw the threat evaporate.

On 26 minutes Hornets produced a rare moment of fluid football, Danny Bridge’s dink through into space, Dale Bloomfield coolly side footing the ball past the full-back for Danny Yates to score: 0-10.

From the kick-off a big break by Jordan Hand found him with support both sides and he chose the inside ball for Danny Yates to add another to his total. Jordan Case the two from bang-in front for 0-16.

For half an hour, Scorpions’ last tackle play had been a kick & hope - and on 34 minutes it worked: Parker out-jumping Dale Bloomfield by the flag to get the home side on the scoreboard at 4-16. Hornets response was immediate, Danny Bridge arriving off a flat-pass to score. Half-time 4-20, Hornets comfortably ahead after a scrappy, disjointed half.

Hornets began the second half at a noticeably higher tempo - and after just 90 seconds Danny Bridge crashed through out wide. and just four minutes later a teasing Ryan Smith chip was lost in flight by Scorpions full-back Newbury,  Wayne English on hand to pounce. Jordan Case the two: 4-30

But South Wales remained persistent: a repeat set off the back of Dale Bloomfield’s fumble gave them a good attacking platform, but Hornets defence held firm. An enormous Emmanuelli 40/20 maintained the pressure, but a first-tackle dropped-ball saw the chance blown. 

Hornets response was to shift the ball wide for Brad Hargreaves to score out wide; Jordan Case missing his fourth conversion attempt; 4-34.

On the hour, Wayne English made the extra man, his bustling break sent the ball via Ryan Smith and Danny Yates for Lee Paterson to score. Danny Yates with the extras to bring up the forty.

Again South Wales continued to push back. This time Petelo taking the ball wide, drawing the defence to create Space for Scrivens to score off the inside ball. Emmanuelli the two: 10-40.

Coming into the last quarter, Hornets hit the gas. On 65 minutes Paul Crook jinked his way through traffic to score a well-taken solo-effort; adding his own extras for 10-46.  Then Woz Thompson dummying through to slip Crooky under the posts. The extras a formality; 10-52.

With the game ebbing away, two moments of Wayne English magic to seal the win. On 71 minutes he released a miracle-pass on the run to release Ryan Smith who slotted Danny Yates under the posts. Then, a big cut-out pass to Dale Bloomfield, Bloomers inside to Danny Yates who generously gifted Wayne his 150th try. Quality.

With a final score of 10-64, it’d be churlish to pick too many faults with a performance that takes Hornets to the top of League 1. And, as Wayne English led the team and the hardy knot of travelling fans in the victory song, it felt like a fitting Hornets Family celebration.