Tuesday, 20 December 2016


It's that exciting time of the year when we can begin to collate pre-season friendlies with league
games with Challenge Cup rounds, so we can start to tell our significant others where we're going to be for 30-odd weekends of 2017.  It's especially exciting to be collating a fixture list that includes one or two frankly huge fallen Rugby League giants, knowing that Rochdale Hornets is able to challenge at the same level.

As last year, we are unable to bring you the dates of the Super 8s/Championship Shield just yet - but what we have is the definitive fixture list until the end of round 23. Get it on the fridge!


Rochdale Hornets v Salford Red Devils

Oldham RLFC v  Rochdale Hornets

Rochdale Hornets v Warrington Wolves

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Kingstone Press Championship 
Rochdale Hornets v Dewsbury Rams

Bradford Bulls v Rochdale Hornets

Rochdale Hornets v Hull Kingston Rovers

Rochdale Hornets v Halifax RLFC

Featherstone Rovers v Rochdale Hornets

Rochdale Hornets v Oldham RLFC

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
18–19 MARCH 2017
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

London Broncos v Rochdale Hornets

Rochdale Hornets v Toulouse Olympique XIII

Batley Bulldogs v Rochdale Hornets

Rochdale Hornets V Sheffield Eagles

Swinton Lions V Rochdale Hornets

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
22–23 APRIL 2017
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Hull Kingston Rovers V Rochdale Hornets

Rochdale Hornets V Featherstone Rovers

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
13–14 MAY 2017
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Halifax RLFC V Rochdale Hornets

SATURDAY 27TH MAY 2017 (TV/Summer bash)
Oldham RLFC V Rochdale Hornets

Sheffield Eagles V Rochdale Hornets

Toulouse Olympique XIII v Rochdale Hornets

Rochdale Hornets v Bradford Bulls

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
CHALLENGE CUP Quarter Finals
17–18 JUNE 2017
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rochdale Hornets v Batley Bulldogs

Dewsbury Rams v Rochdale Hornets

Rochdale Hornets v Swinton Lions

Oldham RLFC v Rochdale Hornets

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
28–29 JULY 2017
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
26 AUGUST 2017
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Super 8s/Championship Shield - TBC

As clubs are joining from two competitions, the Qualifiers will have all their points from the regular season wiped to form a new mini-league.

Clubs who finished ninth and 10th in Super League and first and second in the Championship will play four home games and 11th and 12th and third and fourth will play three home games.

After seven rounds, the top three in the Qualifiers will be automatically promoted to Super League for 2016 whilst clubs finishing fourth and fifth will go on to play in the ‘£1M Game’ at the home of the fourth-placed team, to determine the final promotion place.

The eight clubs in the Championship Shield will carry over their points from the regular season to play seven Super 8s matches: after seven rounds the top four clubs will compete in the Championship Shield play-offs.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Jason takes the trophy

On Friday evening,  the TLCRF80mins trophy was awarded to Jason Viller for what we feel was the season's definitive moment of sheer joy and maximum schadenfreude.

For the one moment that we believe defined what it means to belong to the Hornets Family, we had to wait until only 20 minutes of the season remained.

Yatesey had teased Toulouse winger Kuni Minga out of position with a kick to the corner, Michael Ratu had bullied the ball from his grasp and dropped the ball out of the back door for Jack Holmes to give Hornets the lead at 16-18.

The entire main stand sat in stunned silence - except for me, and one other person going absolutely nuts. His reaction and our mutual realisation that the impossible just might happen here was a moment of absolute magic.

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Miracle of Blagnac

Toulouse 22 - Hornets 24

If you thought that the age of miracles had passed, think again.

At the Stade Ernest Argeles on Saturday Rugby League witnessed a moment of divine inspiration as Rochdale Hornets overcame ridiculous odds to hand Toulouse as lesson in grit, determination and commitment.

Hornets' bloody-minded refusal to be bullied or intimidated by Toulouse proved the difference as the RFL's annointed club, coach and player of the year all choked under the weight of expectation.

But don't imagine for a moment that this result was due to Toulouse's failure to show up on the day. Hornets were bold, imperious - withstanding an early onslaught to emerge worthy champions.

The day began with typical Toulouse hubris: the RFL's Ralph Rimmer glad-handing the Olympique directors, each of whom bore a champagne flute and a huge cigar. Clearly, a coronation was expected. Ha.

The opening exchanges were even. Hornets solid; direct. Toulouse probing for gaps. Hornets with an early chance - James Tilley's show and go, the ball falling loose 2 metres from the TO line.

The home side exhaled. Working the ball back upfield, Ford's dink into space forced a repeat set, and when he kicked into the in-goal on 11 minutes, Canet pounced to score. Kheirallah the extras: 6-nil.

Crooky drilled the kick-off deep, the ball bouncing dead. TO forced to drop-out.

In the approach, Dave Cookson was slammed into the ground, clearly in distress. The home crowd jeered as he received treatment. This would become a pattern.

Two minutes later TO targeted a struggling Cookson, Curran launched into space to score from distance. Kheirallah the conversion to double the lead.

Michael Ratu replaced a staggering Cookson and, immediately, TO went that way. Curran this time the provider, White through the hole for 16-nil. The home crowd now animated.

Not for long. Having soaked up the early pressure, Hornets began to play. On 21 minutes the ball was shipped wide; Josh Crowley produced a delicious delayed pass and Jack Holmmes finished in style by the flag. Paul Crook the coolest man in the stadium, the extras off the touchline for 16-6.

Hornets now had the momentum: Chris Riley chasing a steeping Crooky bomb, sacking Kheiralla forcing a knock-on. Then Crooky's kick into the in goal, the resulting chase and tackle deemed a shoulder charge.

TO did rally briefly, Hornets scrambling and scrapping to hold firm as Toulouse showboated, then ran out of ideas - the errors mounting.

In response Hornets continued the barrage. Jo Taira now adding to Toulouse's woes - his wrecking-ball approach incensing the home crowd. On 39 minutes a huge Danny Yates break right through the guts of the TO defence had blue shirts scrambling to cover, and when James Tilley slipped a cute kick into the in-goal the home side was compelled to drop-out.

As Tilley steamed the ball back at the defence, he copped a high-shot. Crooky cool as you like, the penalty slotted right on the hooter. Half-time 16-8: Toulouse wobbling - coming up with lots of errors and clearly not relishing the physical approach.

The second half began with TO trying to mix it. A 41st minute chicken wing tackle on Matt Hadden from Ader overlooked by the officials.

No matter. Hornets forced TO backwards and, when Jono Smith slotted Michael Ratu through a retreating defence it looked like a well executed try, but referee Mr Crashley struck it off for obstruction and when Jono made his thoughts known, he was despatched for 10 minutes.

TO's response was immediate, Ford forcing a drop-out. The crowd now febrile, smelling blood in the water. But on 50 minutes TO blew-up.

Jack Holmes brutally spear-tackled, Hornets used the penalty to advance downfield where Danny Yates embarked on a weaving run to put Lewis Galbraith in at the corner. Crooky off the touchline for 16-14. The crowd stunned into silence.

This was the moment that tide turned. Not only had Hornets not conceded when reduced to 12, they scored with an overlap. You could sense a real shift in dominance.

On 53 minutes another miracle offload from Jo Taira saw Trigger bundled into touch; then Taira on defence landing a shuddering hit on Mika to force the ball loose. TO now riddled with errors.

They flickered briefly: Minga's effort denied for a forward pass to give Hornets a let-off.

On the hour another horrendous spear tackle saw Jo Taira receive concerned treatment - the home crowd baying as he lay motionless, booing as he staggered to his feet. Their frustration was palpable as Kriouache was given 10 minutes for a dangerous tackle.

A string of penalties and a repeat set gave TO a platform to build some concerted pressure, but the Hornets defence was magnificent. And, in one last desperate attempt to break Hornets' resolve, TO produced a third horror-tackle - smashing Jono Smith's nose in the process.

Indeed, every tackle was now a borderline assault and when Hornets were eventually handed a penalty, the febrile home crowd went nuts.

From the resulting play Danny Yates produced a pinpoint kick for the corner; Michael Ratu out-muscled Minga in the air and dropped the ball out of the back for Jack Holmes to squeeze in at the corner. Mayhem in the Hornets camp. Silence from the locals. Hornets in front at 16-18. Amazing.

With TO now a shapeless mess, Hornets continued to play swift, direct football and - when Chris Riley showed incredible determination to bounce through tacklers to plant the ball down on 74 minutes to stretch Hornets' lead, the locals headed for the exits. Lovely. Crooky added the conversion to equal Walter Gowers' 86 year club points record and, with three minutes remaining, the it looked like a done deal.

In the closing phases, TO chucked the kitchen sink at an immovable Hornets defence, and with one minute to play found space for Ader to squeeze in at the flag. Kheirallah the two. 40 seconds on the clock.

Hornets kicked deep, TO moved the ball wide to their strike player Mika who hit the gas. And as the Hornets defence swarmed round him, the ball slipped from his grasp as the hooter sounded. A truly astonishing victory.

In the end, the bullies of League 1 found themselves bullied to a standstill by 17 lads who'll all be at work this morning. With TO players shell shocked, Paul Crook hoisted the trophy. It was a delight to see.

Ultimately, this was an astonishing performance. Every single Hornets player won his battle with his opposite number and TO's supposed big names were reduced to a shambolic mess.

But was also slightly surreal - Hornets handed the trophy in an empty stadium, 3,000 French weekends ruined.

Finally a word on Alan Kilshaw, Paul Berry and Jason Viller. These guys have produced one of  - if not the - greatest results in our club's long history. No-one gave Hornets a chance. And Killer's team have moulded this group of lion-hearted lads into a unit that refused to yield under impossible odds.

The Championship awaits and Rochdale Hornets go there as champions.

A miracle, ladies and gentlemen.

An actual, bloody miracle.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Saturday's Coming: Toulouse Preview 2

Ahead of Saturday's Promotion Final, we took a look at how Toulouse are previewing the game. Their website features an interview with Manly born, Warringah Rugby and Manly RUFC product Gregory White. In November 2012, he was invited to join the England 7's squad for training and he has represented France at Rugby League.

A few days before the long-awaited League One Final ( Saturday, September 17 at 15:30 in Blagnac ) we met with winger Gregory WHITE who is preparing for this confrontation against the  Rochdale Hornets .

Gregory White in action against the All Golds
The experienced TO player speaks about the last performance of his team, and discusses with honesty the match that could allow his team access to the Championship.   Toulouse aim to win the final and become the first French team to be champions of England.

Q: Quickly, can you come back to the game this weekend against the Barrow Raiders?

Gregory WHITE: We made a great start to the game with a score of 28-0 in the first 25 minutes. After that, it was a little harder. Barrow took time to get into the game, and we took advantage of it, but they became much more dangerous. But we managed to stay ahead and win (44-22). The difficulty of this meeting was not to get overwhelmed by the idea of ​​the final, I think we have done quite well. This match was a good preparation for the game this weekend.

How does the group feel just days before the big day? And on a personal level how are you approaching the game?

Gregory WHITE: The team feels good and kept its usual good spirit.  We are pretty relaxed and always enjoy working and laughing together. Why we approach this final pretty "relaxed” is that we believe in our team and in our game. For many of us, we will play our fourth final in three years. We've learned to manage our stress and make the best to be efficient in our play. Experience and confidence are crucial in this final stretch.

Personally, I am very pleased to participate once again in such an event , I’ll take this opportunity fully , and I 'm looking forward to the big day

Q: A word about the opponents: the Rochdale Hornets .

Gregory WHITE: It's a strong team, very strong. The first half should be decisive, it will take time before one of the two teams take the ascendancy over the other. We'll have to be cautious and not hurry . The important thing is to stay focused on our game by making sure we properly follow the instructions of the coaches. Over time, we will dominate . It will be up to us to do the job if we are to win .

Clearly, it's all about Toulouse.
Q: What will  TO to rely on to win? What is the preparation of the team for the final ?

Gregory WHITE: I am convinced that one of the greatest strengths of the TO is its collective. We are a very close team and our game can not function without this connection. If sometimes individuals perform well, we are only really effective when we play together and we share the job. For 80 minutes, it will take us to be attentive to each other, and to encourage each other. Our preparation for this final is similar to the usual, what changes is only the working atmosphere more cheerful and excited. However we try to always keep in mind our goals and not get carried away by the overflow of emotions. To arrive in the best condition, we must prepare seriously without it going to our head, and that's what we do.

Finally, you have known the time when the TO evolved in the Championship, what do you feel about the idea of ​​maybe finding yourself back in this competition?

Gregory WHITE: Don’t jump the gun, we are not there yet , but it's true that I am very excited to join the Championship. If we can go up , this is a championship in which we move together, individually and collectively. It will not be easy but we are ready and we’ve worked hard all the season to deserve our place. One more step to take: to win this final.

For this meeting at Stade Ernest Argelès ( Rue du Moulin - 31700 Blagnac) , general admission / East Stand will costs 10 euros ( reduced price 5 euros for students , high school students, disabled (80%) , unemployed):  west grandstand will be 15 euros.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Promotion Final Preview 1

Last month saw the passing of actor Brian Rix - pioneer of the theatrical format known as the ‘Whitehall Farce’: essentially a situation comedy structured around an array of confusions, and which usually ended with Rix’s trousers round his ankles.

But even Rix would have been staggered to see the scale of the farce laid on by the RFL in what we think is one of its less commendable weeks.

Act 1: TOXIIIC are named as League 1 Club of the Year
A risible decision, given that - as a full-time side in a part-time league, with 11 imports - they have treated the third tier with absolute disdain. In pummelling pretty much every side in the division, they’ve done little to boost standards or morale. Indeed, their contribution has been negative - halving the realistic opportunities for promotion and treating League 1 like an irritating speed-bump on their fast-track journey to Super League.

18 players at Monday morning training,
that's a lot of sickies.
For a club that claims that it isn’t fully professional, the evidence suggests otherwise. Captain Mark Khieralla fessed up in print that ‘only the imports are full-time’ - and photographs taken at Monday morning training show 18 players in attendance. So either the local employers are very understanding - or they were actually at work. You decide.

For us - if we couldn’t choose our own club - we’d have gone for Skolars as club of the year: working hard in the local community, and coach Jermaine Coleman somehow got them into the eight ahead of big-spending Newcastle. But the RFL patently believes that chucking a load of cash at a bunch of mercenaries is an examplar of how to run a club

Act 2: Sylvain Houles is named as League 1 coach of the year.
Again, just ridiculous. Given a huge budget and an opportunity for Houles to work with his team every day, TOXIIIC were already in an advantageous position. Add a salary cap dispensation, fewer visa regulations and at least one player with NRL experience and it’s hardly going to be an arduous coaching task knocking over Scorpions, Hemel and the All Golds.

The one time TOXIIIC were given anything like a fair test this season, they really didn’t like it and Houles couldn’t motivate his pros to beat a group of lads who had to be up for work the morning after.

For us - if we couldn’t choose our own club - we’d have gone for Anthony Murray who’s held North Wales crusaders together this season as the club fell apart around him. Getting them to the Shield final is a genuine achievement. But why would the RFL want to recognise a real achievement?

Act 3: Jonathan Ford is named as League 1 player of the year.
We admit: he’s a great player. He’s played for the Roosters in the NRL and for Newtown in the NSW Cup. So what’s he doing in the third tier of British RL? Taking it easy, that’s what. And, having seen him play at Henson Park, he seems to have come down rather a long way - having developed a rather sad habit of following the referee around begging for penalties.

Fundamentallly he looks bored shitless and plays in five minute bursts when he wants to. It’s taking the piss and it demeans his abilities. And any player not giving 100% isn’t worthy of the player of the year award.

For us - if we couldn’t choose one of our own players - we’d have gone for Barry-John Swindells at Hemel Stags. He’s put in a 14 year shift at Hemel, having played through the summer conference ranks to have a respectable semi-pro career. It’s guys like this that deserve recognition, because it’s guys like this that are the bedrock of League 1.

Epilogue: The League 1 promotion final in Toulouse.
What sort of competition has a final that one set of fans can't get to? It's hardly fair to the travelling side not to share it's big day in front of its supporters. It creates a one-sided event and amplifies the home advantage. We think this is just  another way this comp is contrived to favour a team that has plenty enough advantages.

Finals are rare enough at our level of competition and should be a celebration of the game and of the season, made available for all fans to come and share what is , for League 1 clubs, a huge day out.

But the fans are just collateral damage as the RFL salves the passage for the TOXIIC juggernaut to plough its relentless way up the leagues. Red Hall wants another French team in Super League and nothing will stop it. That a couple of hundred Rochdalians are denied the chance to see their team play for promotion is, to them, an acceptable price to ensure that plan stays on track. Of course the RFL could have made arrangements for Hornets fans to travel to the final; but an atmosphere at a final makes it feel like a contest - and the powers that be couldn’t risk that. As such - much like Brian Rix - it just feels like they've had our pants down.

A longstanding Hornets fan tweeted this week that the best/worst outcome would be for Hornets to win it with no-one there to see it.  But I’d love us to win it regardless - if only to remind the RFL that, once clubs like TOXIIIC have f*cked off to get a kicking by better teams than us, it’s teams like us that will continue to make League 1 a success. 

Monday, 12 September 2016

The Best of British

Hornets 34 - Hunslet 18

And lo, a robust and fluid Hornets sent a frankly awful Hunslet packing, securing the highest British finish in League one - and the scant reward of another schlep down to Toulouse for the Promotion Final.

Whilst Killer is confident that Horners can go down there and give it a bloody good dig, it’s little consolation to the Hornets faithful who are effectively denied the opportunity to see their team play in a final. A FINAL, for god’s sake.

It’s not often that clubs of Hornets’ modest stature get to play in finals, but as League 1 is effectively a defacto mechanism geared to salve TOXIIIC’s passage into the Championship, fans, staff and players alike are considered collateral damage in this ludicrous exercise. We’d ask  - in what other sport would the final be rigged in such a way that one side can’t take its supporters to enjoy their club’s big day out? To a final played at the home ground of a team that has already been massively advantaged over the course of a season? It smacks of a set-up - because it is.

The £450 and four days it costs to go to Toulouse are prohibitively expensive in both time and monetary terms. Indeed we spoke to a Hornets player yesterday who said sarcastically: ‘My boss will be delighted that I have to ask for more time off’. It’s crooked and it stinks.

Still, we’re sure the 300 TOXIIIC fans will have a nice afternoon…

Meanwhile back in the realm of ‘real Rugby League’, a significantly bigger attendance of 690 saw Hornets swat off a sprawling, spoiling Hunslet. For those detractors who somehow believe that not playing in front of thousands is a mark of failure, it’s interesting to note that Hornets had the biggest crowd of the day in League 1 (TOXIIIC no-doubt again massaging their crowd to include all non-attending season ticket holders, visitors to the sports centre and anyone walking their dog in the park) - and a crowd at least 100 bigger than three of the four games in the Championship shield.

For the second week running Hornets went off from the gun. Hunslet’s Sanderson coughed a bomb under pressure from Lewis Galbraith, the ball whipped wide for Dave Cookson to spin and juggle his way over. Crooky the two: 6-0 after just 90 seconds.

And when Jordan Case backed up a fizzing Danny Yates break five minutes later - only to be snagged for a dubious forward pass - it looked like it might be a long shift for the Hawks’ defence.

Eventually, Hunslet huffed and puffed their way upfield, but Casey knocked on with an overlap begging, then shipped a penalty at the scrum. Hornets srteamed downfield where a brutally direct approach-set - aided by back-to-back penalties for interference - found a determined Ryan Maneely burrowing in to score. 12-0

To their credit, Hunslet responded in kind. They found touch with the kick-off and, with Johnson looking certain to score out wide He was bullied into the corner post by Lewis Galbraith and Dale Bloomfield. Stunning defence.

As the quarter ticked over, a spat at the ruck saw Samir Tahraoui and Hunslet’s Williams dispatched with yellow cards. Hornets were first to settle: a neat show & go from Jono Smith found Chris Riley looping in as the extra man to score. Crooky fading wide: 16-0

Then came a brief perioid where Referee Mr Roberts looke like losing his tenuous grip on the game. Hunslet’s Carbutt yellow carded for punching, Lewis Galbraith the same for running in. And when Jo Taira was somehow pulled out of the next flashpoint and sent for 10 minutes, we had 11 v 12.

No matter, Hornets showed some exceptional defence to repel a Hunslet side clearly out of ideas: The half ending with Brown delivering quite possibly the worst last-tackle kick of the season - hoofing the ball comedically dead. Half Time 16-nil.

Hornets began the second half like the first: Dave Cookson bullying his way in off a Crooky short-ball. Crooky raising the flags for 22-nil.

On 46 minutes, Hunslet finaly showed-up: Ansell skating in for a well-taken try, followed five minutes later by a less aestetically pleasing effort from Lee. Brown the two: 22-10

And when the referee basically held his hands up as having no idea what was going on after a questionable 40/20 attempt, he gave Hunslet the feed. They worked Barnett into acres of space out wide to score and, at 22-14, we had the most unlikely of comebacks.

Hornets’ response was swift and clinical. Crooky finding touch from the kick-off after confusion in Hunslet’s left channel; Woz Thompson smuggling the ball to Jo Taira whose miracle offload found an unstoppable Samir Tahraoui arriving to score. Crooky hitting the post from bang in front: 26-14. Hornets went for the big finish and delivered two tries in two minutes.

Firstly, the ball was worked to Chris Riley who rounded off his best game in Hornets colours with a deserved try; then Lewis Galbraith gathering a Steve Roper dink to take Hornets 34-14 clear.

Ansell’s last minute 70 metre interception try gave the scoreline a thin sheen of respectability for the visitors, but this was a dominant performance from a Hornets side that looked every inch like table-topping material.

All that remains is to find a way to get to Toulouse next weekend!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Sunday's Coming: Hunslet Hawks

This Sunday - Hornets Heritage Numbers Day, where we award our ex-players with their heritage numbers - is indeed a historical day. It will be the last ever game played by Hunslet Hawks before the South Leeds outfit ditches its buteon suffix to emerge next season as Hunslet RLFC.

Indeed it is a full on identiy realignment. Not only are Hunslet dropping the hawk, their fans have voted by 54%-46% to adopt the club’s original Rampant Lion badge, over the phoenix that was adopted when New Hunslet replaced the defunct ‘old Hunslet’ club in 1973.

Having visited us on the opening day of the season, Hunslet arrive to book-end 2016 having so nearly pulled off a historical victory over League 1 pariahs TOXIIIC last week.

It took a 78th minute Danny Hulme try to keep Toulouse's unbeaten record intact after the French part-timers* and long-time exponents of fair-play* led 10-6 at the break.

Hunslet edged ahead with George Flanagan's 42nd-minute try, and Simon Brown’s conversion but they fell agonisingly short of holding on Hulme backed up Mark Kheirallah’s break to break Hunslet hearts.

Indeed, the game seems to reflect Hunslet’s season in microcosm: highly competitive, but coming up just short . To compound this, they seem to be hitting form a little too late. Having whacked York 12-33 at Bootham Crescent and taken Toulouse to the brink, missing out on the playoffs (Hunslet are currently 7th) after starting the season as one of the favourites for promotion must be frustrating for coach Matt Bramald and the South Leeds faithful.

After the Toulouse defeat, Matt Bramald described his side as ‘crushed’ and ‘mortified’. Speaking in the Yorkshire Evening Post he said: “The players could not have given any more. The lads tipped absolutely everything into it. I would rather have been beaten by 40 points than for that to happen.”

“We had an 88 per cent completion rate, which was a fantastic effort in terms of skill."

He went on: “We just had to defend one set, but the try they scored would not have been out of place in a Super League game – three or four off-loads and a break, though the final pass was a mile forward.” Hmmm, sounds familiar that, Matt.

Hornets come into Sunday’s game knowing that a win over Hunslet - and a Barrow defeat at Toulouse - will see Hornets crowned ‘British Champions’ of League 1: the best UK side in the competition. In any other year Barrow and Hornets would be slugging it out for the top spot, but with the RFL now parachuting in fast-track Super League sides-in-waiting, it does tilt the equilibrium of the competition somewhat.

A Barrow win in France would see them return there next week for the promotion final - Hornets gaining a week-off and a home tie in the playoffs. A defeat opens the door for Hornets to get dragged down to Blagnac for another shot at Toulouse, before being chucked straight back into the playoffs.

Clearly, we would never ever suggest that there are advantages to finishing third (no exhausting travel, a week off to get some bodies back on board) - but the Super 8s format clearly needs some scrutiny if finishing second in phase 1 of the season and in the 8s gives lower placed teams playing and logistical advantages.

Sunday also sees the launch of the Hornets Heritage Numbers - where every Hornets player ever has been allocated a sequential heritage number.

Hornets will be welcoming over 100 ex-hornets from the 50s to the present day - and they will be introducied on the pitch before the game.

It promises to be a fantastic, nostalgic day that celebrates not only our club's rich heritage, but the guys in whom we invest our own passions for the game - who wear the shirt with pride and take the knocks on our behalf. Please do get to the game early and show your appreciation for these very special members of the Hornets Family.

Introductions of the ex-players is expected to begin at around 2.30.

*Not necessarily true.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Don All Trumped

Hornets 38 - Doncaster 22

It’s anyone’s guess how Doncaster have crept into the League 1 playoffs. Gary Thornton has assembled an ugly pugnacious outfit that strove manfully to strip every last bit of daylight out of this game - aided and abetted by referee Mr Grant’s freestyle jazz interpretation of the laws.

Hornets produced a lightning start: Lewis Galbraith scooping the kick off from the sky, the ball worked swiftly right and Dave Cookson hitting a space at pace to give Hornets a 4-nil lead with just 26 seconds on the clock. From the resulting kick-off, Hornets went straight back on the attack: Jono Smith with a skittering last-tackle break, Donny’s defence scrambling to hold out.

Hornets continued to press - Samir Tahraoui going close, Corey Lee bundled into touch by the flag - but as Mr Grant began to chop the game into a jigsaw of penalties, Doncaster took advantage. On 15 minutes Foggin-Johnson outjumped Corey Lee in the in-goal to touch down. And when a Doncaster last-tackle kick was launched in  hope into a forest of defenders’ legs, it pinballed free for Sherriffe to score. Somehow, Doncaster in front 4-10 on the quarter mark.

With the penalty count escalating and the game becoming increasingly niggly, Paul Crook was hit high and late as he released a last-tackle kick. Mr Grant grudgingly held-up play while Crooky received treatment and took no action on the perpetrator to the disbelief of the home supporters.

With Doncaster now happy to feed off Mr Grant’s gullibility, they were gifted 50 metres from where they worked a tidy blind-side cut-out move to hit Hornets with an old-skool sucker try. Carr the extras and Donny comfortable at 16-4 as the game fell apart around them.

On the half hour a shuddering tackle from Matt Hadden knocked the ball loose - and sparked a 26-man affray under the visitors posts. Hornets were first to recover their composure to produce a double whammy combination that would take the sides in level at the break.

Firstly the ball worked around to send Dave Cookson in for his second. Then, with the hooter imminent, there was some confusion around whether Hornets had nominated to kick or run a penalty. Regardless, Hornets took the tap and found Chris Riley making the extra man to scoot in for his career 150th try. Crooky cool as you like as the hooter sounded: 16-all.

Hornets began the second half with visible purpose, forcing a drop-out after Chris Riley had gone close. On the resulting possession,  Jono Smith sucked in defenders and, as the last gasp of air was squeeezed from the tackle, smuggled a peach of a ball out the back for Lewis Galbraith to score. Hornets in front 20-16.

And it was Galbraith that brought the stand to its feet again four minutes later - this time tracking a 90 metre break by Welham from the opposite side of the pitch, dumping the Doncaster wing into row E metres short of the flag. Exceptional stuff.

This gave Hornets a visible lift. On 55 minutes Samir went crashing through a stretched defence to score. Then Woz Thompson hauling defenders 30 metres before slipping the ball out the back to the suporting Samir Tahraoui. Quality.

On the hour James Tilley drove the ball to the line and, with defenders flapping around him, he dropped off a neat pass for Ben Moores to score. Crooky the extras and Hornets 32-16 to the good.

Having failed to find touch with a lazy penalty, Doncaster did flicker briefly - the ball hacked into space for Jones Bishop to score in the 75th minute.

But Hornets weren’t finished. Right on the hooter Paul Crook stepped his way through a tired defence to plant the ball by the posts. His conversion giving Hornets a convincing 38-22 victory.

Whilst the first half was a scratchy mess, Hornets delivered as good a 40 minutes in the second as they have all season. Fewer penalties starved Doncaster of the ball and a much improved completion rate provided the platform for playing some incisive football.

The result guarantees Hornets at least third spot - with Barrow travelling to Toulouse next weekend the decisive fixture in determining who gets to go to the South of France later in the month for the promotion final and who gets a week off before embarking on a two game promotion bid.

And whether there’s actually an advantage to finishing third… well, that really is anyone’s guess.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Sunday's Coming: Doncaster

This looks like being an interesting weekend in League 1.

According to coach Gary Thornton, Doncaster come to Spotland on Sunday with an eye on finishing third. But a Hornets win on Sunday will deny them that, guaranteeing Killer’s side at least a home tie in the playoffs.
Doncaster's Gary Thornton describes the huge carp he lost,
legering a meatball on a size 8 hook.

With Barrow Travelling for their shot at Toulouse this weekend, a defeat there leaves the door open for Hornets to take second place - which would require a Barrow defeat and a Hornets victory in both remaining games.

But you have to wonder - contrary to the accepted meritocracy/success model in sport - whether finishing third and securing a home tie in the playoffs would be better for morale and progress than having to haul everyone back down to the South of France to be served-up as the main-course at TOXIIIC’s promotion party - and THEN having to embark on a playoff odyssey. Certainly, in a recent conversartion we had with an RFL match commissioner, he suggested (well, basically, said) that teams would be better off avoiding second place and launching their promotion bid at home from third (one game fewer, less impact on the playing squad, leas risk of injury, less disruption to the next round preparation, less hassle…)

Indeed it seems strange to us that the team that scraps its way to second effectively gets punished for its success. But whichever route you take, it’s that 2,3,4,5 playoff that really matters and, as everyone sucks in for one last push, Doncaster still have three games to play.

Having  fallen foul of the ongoing York City Knights fiasco, Donny now face three games in 8 days to sustain their playoff push. In the week when we’ve learned that ‘Zombie’ club York will be permitted the opportunity to f*ck-up everyone else’s promotion challenges, it’s looking increasingly likely that RL’s serial basket-case will tank at the end of the season. Bookie’s favourite for offering a ressurrection are temporary landlords  - and protagonists in the Knights demise - York City Football Club. A little bit like being rescued from a crocodile-infested river by cannibals…

Last time out, an injury hit Doncaster (who had just 17 fit players) pulled off a miracle comeback win against Keighley. Trailing 24-12 with 15 minutes remaining, they nicked a remarkable 26–24 victory thanks to a late, late penalty from Tom Carr - effectively consigning Cougars coach Paul March to the Job Centre.

Speaking in the (Sheffield) Star, Thornton said: “I never thought we had looked like scoring in the first 20 minutes of the half to be honest and I was worried going into the last quarter,. We weren’t creating anything and we were coming up with some poor options and it looked as though we were panicking.

“But we dug really deep in the last 20 minutes and I was proud of the lads and they showed terrific character.
I think the turning point was when we scored our third try and cut their lead to six points with fifteen minutes to go. I was reasonably confident then and in the end I thought we just about deserved to edge it.“

“… with York losing at home to Hunslet we climbed above them into fourth spot and with just three games to go it’s our position to lose. If we can get a couple of bodies back I don’t see why we can’t go to Rochdale and win…”

Doncaster have been fortunate to hang onto Hull FC’s Samoan prop Iafeta Paleaaesina on DR for the Super 8 run-in;  having played enough games to qualify for the run-in, he was given permission by his parent club to stay with the Dons. It’s also likely that both Liam Welham and Makali Aizue will make a return from injury to play at the weekend.

Hornets come into the game also hoping to have a few bodies back in commission - most notably, Chris Riley returning from a broken hand and a subsequent training injury. Certainly Killer’s side came back from the Toulouse trip with a miscelleny of knocks: Michael Ratu struggling with an abdominal injury; Jake Shoel removed with an arm injury.

Hornets are also buoyed by the securing of Josh Crowley and Jono Smith for next year.

On paper this should be an intriguing contest. Over the last 8 meetings the records couldn’t be much closer: four wins each, Hornets scoring 195 points to Doncaster’s 200; Hornets scoring 37 tries to Doncaster’s 36; Doncaster with 28 goals to Hornets’ 22. And Hornets leading 3-nil in drop goals.

You really can’t put an old-skool fag-paper betwen these sides. So - everything to play for between two acutely evenly matched sides. Just how we like it. See you Sunday.

Sunday, 21 August 2016


Toulouse 46 - Hornets 6

It's fair to say that Toulouse Olympique don't want teams to come here and give them a contest. The whole charade is an ambush: a mugging cunningly disguised as sport.

As TOXIIIC steamroller their way to inevitable promotion, they neither want nor like teams that give them a hard time. They want undercooked teams flown in the night before, served up as cannon fodder for their dead-eyed mercenaries to pummel for the delight of their cashed-up paymasters.

And don't believe any of the hype surrounding Toulouse as a club. This is without doubt one of the most hollow, soulless RL experiences you'll find anywhere in the 13-man world.

Their club is a facade - a crowd of no more than 500 belying their supposed huge potential; a professional band hired in to play for the full 80 minutes to drown out the embarrassing silence; the playing of crowd noise over the tannoy to create a karaoke atmosphere; the over-excited tannoy announcer single handedly leading the crowd chant when the home side are attacking; the playing of music during breaks in play (scrums, injuries). Any one of these would ruin your afternoon...

And then there's the way Toulouse play: fast & direct, yes - but leaving something in every tackle on attack and defence. And seeing Jonathan Ford reduced to begging for penalties after every tackle is just embarrassing.

Hornets ripped in from the off, but two breaks against the run of play saw the home side exploit Hornets' right edge to sneak two tries in two minutes from Kheralla and Minga (TBC).

But Hornets dug in and for 20 minutes clawed their way back into the game. But as it looked like the visitors were making headway, Jo Taira was sin-binned after tracking back to stem a huge TO break. This gave TO some momentum, and when Ford's punt & hope kick bounced freakishly behind a retreating Hornets defence, it was a let off when three chasing 'Frenchmen' failed to touch down.

Having ridden out the one man deficit, Hornets drove the home side back onto their own goal-line, where Jono Smith stepped wide to score. Crooky the extras, and the home fans really edgy at 10-6.

With Hornets now in the ascendancy, TO came up with a heartbreaking play: Ford's break, Minga's chip and Planas gathering to send TO in 16-6 up at the break.

The second half was a battle: ugly, brutal and punishing as an accelerating penalty count frayed nerves and tempers. Jo Taira set the tone after just two minutes when a shuddering hit on the TO 9 Bentley left him in a crumpled heap. Having dared to offer resistance, TO's response was to start a fight at the next tackle - Hornets seen as transgressors despite TO's repeated habit of leading with the elbow.

And when Ford was put on his arse, he went crying to Mr Bloem who duly gave a penalty. When the home side knocked on the resulting play, Ford continued his skriking to the officials. Pathetic.

Indeed, when Hulme caught Hornets napping at a scrum to score after 46 minutes, it carried a sense of injustice.

Hornets continued to push and probe, but the effort was beginning to take its toll: Mike Ratu clearly struggling, Jake Shoel removed with an arm injury, Danny Yates hit high, requiring repeated treatment.

As the defence reshuffled to accommodate Alex Trumper, Minga capitalised off a pass so forward even the home fans were stunned. 28-6 and the game pretty much gone.

On the Hour, Hulme took advantage of two fights happening in back play to plant the ball under the black dot. Mr Bloem consulted his French Touch Judge, gave TO a team warning - and went and gave the try. Unbelievable.

A minute later, Lewis Galbraith was sin-binned after complaining that his opposite number had led with an elbow; and when Ben Moores followed four minutes later for defending himself, TO took cruel advantage of an 11 man Hornets.

First Planas spinning out of a tired tackle to score, then Minga taking the scenic route to outpace the chasing cover from 80 metres: easy with a two man advantage.

So, final score 46-6: but the score doesn't tell the tale. Hornets threw the kitchen sink at TO and had them visibly rattled. But two spells playing short and the home side's desperate histrionics to con penalties took a heavy toll.

In the end, the home fans (basically friends and family and an entourage of hangers-on) were delighted to have effectively secured top spot.

And, while the circumstances of the win were soul-destroying - Hornets came away from Toulouse knowing that at least our club has a soul to destroy.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Saturday's Coming: Toulouse Pt 2

"Whatever our competitors, we want to do even better than last time, and this is especially true against Rochdale."

The giddiness increased this week in Toulouse as Olympique prepared for what they see as the ‘title decider’.

Toulouse Sports (@TlsSports) tweeted:  “If @TOXIII beats @RochdaleHornets Saturday in Blagnac they will be assured of hosting the final for the title (In practice, the draw is enough)”

Toulouse (@TOXIII ) responded: “Exactly. But we prefer not to take risks, and we will seek victory.”

Their preview features an interview with their Aussie Fullback Mark Kheirallah. Again - all dodgy translation is down to my lousy French and a bit of Google Translate (I think they use the word 'shock' as we would use the word 'Challenge').

Mark Kheirallah speaking on the possibility of a shock against Rochdale on Saturday.

After a first away trip in the Super 8 was very well negotiated against Doncaster ( 18-38 ), the Toulouse Olympique preparing its next home game, facing Rochdale Hornets , second in the ranking, this Saturday, August 20th at Stade Ernest-Argelès in Blagnac .

On this occasion, the TO XIII fullback Mark Kheirallah confided about his state of form , that of the team , and of this decisive shock to come.

Mark Kheirallah: Personally, I feel good. I am pleased to evolve in this championship with the team, opponents are strong but we are doing the job, allowing us to play our game and have fun. At this stage of the competition, I think it will be difficult to stop us. I am confident enough to think that because I have confidence in my team and in our work.

Can you repeat your last win against Doncaster which took place this weekend?

Mark Kheirallah: We knew it would be complicated and they would put in a performance against us. And they showed some good things, I found that there were really good players, who stuck to us for 80 minutes. They relied on their power and we had to work to keep them away until the end. We did the job.

This weekend, another big shock awaits the TO, this time at home against the Rochdale Hornets - how the group feels the approach of this meeting?

Mark Kheirallah: This is a game we all look forward to, and we look forward to it. The first time we had not done the job until the end, but this time we will make every effort to achieve it. In case of victory, we can ensure first place in the ranking of the Super 8, so this is a crucial game for the rest of the competition.

Is the preparation different for this kind of game at stake?

Mark Kheirallah: No. As usual, the drives are focused on small details that can turn the match in our favor. We focus on mistakes that could cost us previously and the elements of which we are not satisfied, easily rectifiable with work. Whatever our competitors, we want to do even better than last time, and this is especially true against Rochdale. We want to play at the highest level, and for this, it may work and rework on basic things, but fundamental.

In case of victory, the TO is assured of a place in the final at home. What is the feeling of the team deal with this?

Mark Kheirallah: We are all very excited to win this game. That would be really a real chance for the team to play a final at home, and to offer this show to our fans. Obviously, there is some pressure but we make sure to put it aside, or we use it to move forward. I think we have very smart players that do not get distracted, focused on their goals. Certainly we are a young team (Note: 23 years of average age) but we also have players with a lot of experience that make benefit the entire group. We will do the job to give us the chance to reach the Championship.

So ready for the end of the season?

Mark Kheirallah: Yes. After Rochdale, we will remain three games: two consecutive trips to London in Skolars (26/08) and then Hunslet (03/09), and a final home game against Barrow Raiders (10/09) which is the form team of the moment. It will take us to remain cautious although we are pleased that our work is paying off. We looking forward to September to see if we have fulfilled our deal and finally take a rest (laughs).

The game takes place at the at stadium Ernest Argelès in the suburb of Blagnac at 6pm.
The referee for Saturday's game is Jamie Bloem, with French touch judges.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Saturday's Coming: Toulouse Pt.1

“Together, let us go to the conquest”

That’s the battle cry from deepest Toulouse this week as they prepare to lay claim to the title ‘Champion of England’

There is, of course a huge assumption that TOXIIIC managed to scrape together two brave French hearts in their squad of overseas mercenaries for their poster publicising the game that they’re billing as the ’Final Decider’.

Their website says (forgive my very rusty French):

TO XIII vs Rochdale – Saturday, August 20 – For a place in the final?

The leader of League One, the Toulouse Olympique XIII, which hosts this Saturday, August 20 Rochdale at stadium Ernest Argelès, may have the opportunity claim their ticket for  the promotion final to the Championship. Kick-off of the match is 18:00.

A place in the final is the challenge of the meeting between TO and Rochdale.

After this Super 8, the top five of the ranking will play the finals in which 2 places in the Championship will be awarded.

The first promotion final pits the leader of the regular season and the runner-up,  on the field of the highest placed city on the weekend of 17-18 September.

The objective of the team since the beginning of the season, Toulouse Olympique will have the opportunity to secure their place in the top two ranking when they host Rochdale Hornets ( 'Hornets') on Saturday, August 20 (18.00).

Current third-placed, Barrow are currently  6 points adrift with four matches still to play (one less than the TO). But by defeating our nearest rival, the Toulouse team would make a great step towards a final at home. Very good reasons for coming to Blagnac to encourage the Blue and Whites in this showdown!

Good to see they're building it up into a 'showdown': indeed the best team in the division v the best English team in the division does have the air of a major clash about it. Already looking forward to this one. More later in the week.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Third Time Sucky

Hornets 16 - York 36

Despite York’s basket-case existence; and despite heavy rumours that James Ford is on his way to Sheffield next season, York - once again - handed Hornets a lesson in Rugby League basics.

Despite early jitters, for 20 minutres there was no real indication of just how badly this game was going to suck.

York started with a steepling bomb to the corner, drawing a great catch under pressure from Dale Bloomfield, who was given a penalty for some needless afters in the tackle. But a scrappy pick-up by Jo Taira handed the ball back to the visitors.

Taira made amends for his error with a perfectly legitimate, bone-shuddering tackle as the ball was released, but the somewhat dramatic reaction of the York player involved milked a ridiculous penalty from referee Mr Roberts who maintained a somewhat tenuous grasp on the laws all afternoon.

Indeed, on 8 minutes, a Steve Roper dink into the in-goal was clearly knockeddead by a York defender, only for Mr Roberts to give the Knights a 20m restart.

Then three incidents that gave York impetus. Firstly Wayne English uncharacteristically fumbled a hit & hope bomb under no pressure. Followed within a minute by a booming hit by Dale Bloomfield that yielded another deeply dubious penalty. Followed a minute later by an arbitrary offside decision. A pattern emerging.

The pressure was temporarily relieved by a Jono Smith interception releasing Dale Bloomfield to half-way. But an exchange of knock-ons in York’s half of the field, followed by yet another York penalty finally took their toll.

On 22 minutes a York try out of nothing. A York attack running out of ideas, a half-break, a crap pass and Waller rumbling in off his first touch of the ball. Craig the two; 0-6.

As the game descended into a sloppy, error-strewn mess, it was hard to see where the next score would come from. And, just when the home fans thought Hornets would scrape it to the break and regroup, York hit them with a really soft double-whammy.

On 38 minutes Haynes strolled through a huge hole off the back of a scrum; then 60 seconds later Hornets’ defence completely switched off as Breining sauntered in from acting half. A shocker, really.

For the second successive home game Hornets went to the sheds on a nil - York simply having dine the basics better.

Hornets started the second half with a bang. York’s Craig coughed the kick-off, Jono Smith came barging onto a short-ball to crash in and score. Yatesey the two, Hornets a chance at 6-18.

On 44 minutes, Hornets overplayed the narrow-side to see the ball go to ground, but when Danny Yates launched a deep kick four minutes later, a great chase saw the gathering Buchanan bundled into touch.

From the resulting play Hornets whipped the ball to the right, but Jack Holmes’ cut-out pass cut out his winger, the touch-judge, the ball-boy and the first four rows of the main stand.

No matter. On 50 minutes Danny Yates’ kick and Jono Smith’s chaser forced a drop-out, from which Josh Crowley plunged in, but just short.

From the handover, Hornets’ were deemed not square at the ruck, the penalty marched York downfield, where they worked a ridiculous overlap for Craig to stroll-in untouched. 6-22.

Then another error: this time Jack Holmes getting his feet in a tangle collecting a no-pressure kick in the in-goal to concede a drop-out. Holmes was involved again three tackles later, deemed to have knocked on as he retreated into the defensive line towards his own posts. York finally capiialising on their building pressure as Spears barrelled in tio score through some ordinary defence. Craig the two; 6-28 - and with a quarter of the game to go, it was effectively over as a contest.

York continued to pile on the misery. Off the back of back-to-back penalties, Emmet stepped in off a flat ball from 5 metres to score. Craig the extras for 6-34.

Hornets flickered briefly when, on 70 minutes Ben Moores dived on from acting half after Jo Taira had gone close; then Taira featured again two minutes later when his pass hit Jordan Case with space to squeeze in and score.

The game delivered its kick in the nuts in the 79th minute when Hornets were snagged for a transgression at the play the ball and Craig took the two.

The game ended with Samir Tahraoui penalised in possession right on the hooter - the afternoon in microcosm right there, folks.

In the end this was a solid gold shocker. Hornets second best in every department all over the field, worsened by a litany of unforced errors and frankly oddball penalty decisions.

As the crunch point of the season gets closer, it’s clear that Hornets look to have the yips just as York and Barrow are running into form. And with a trip to Toulouse next weekend, it’s going to need something dramatic to turn this around.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Sunday's Coming: York

It’s not been the best of starts to the Super 8s for York. Caught in the middle of a frankly bonkers ground share agreement, owner John Guildford pulled the plug in what looked like an assisted suicide and left League in the city staring into the abyss.

With all contracts void and all players confirmed as free-agents, their opening game against Doncaster was summarily postponed while the RFL thrashed out a ‘rescue’ that would see the Knights play out the season as a takeover bid continues in the background.

Whilst the team did make it to Toulouse (going down to a creditable defeat), Only 15 players made the trip to France as work commitments, family matters, walk-outs, and injuries picked James Ford’s side apart.

At the time, Ford said: “Off the field that’s nothing to do with me. I’m not sure what’s happening. I have to manage these boys and get the best out of them. But if they turn up for me and show that endeavour and desire for me and for each other, then I will work damn hard for them.”

But ‘off the field’ does have an impact. The Knights have a contract with the council which entitles them to play matches at Bootham Crescent as part of the deal on the council's delayed community stadium scheme. But the council have a separate deal - with, it seems, different terms - with York City Football Club, which has added a whole new layer of complexity and uncertainty to what (to an outside observer) looks like a farce.

Even with a delicate equilibrium established, last week’s game against Barrow came close to
being moved to Castleford when the council/football axis demanded that the game be played at noon, rather then 3pm to appease the terms of the football club’s agreement. Barrow refused to travel early and- after much wrangling - it was agreed on a 2pm kick-off. All that hassle to save an hour. Someone needs to knock some heads together.

As it was, the game ended with York’s 11th straight defeat to Barrow - a proper bogey-team run stretching back to 2007 - as the knights went down 20-6. York now lie in fifth only one-point above sixth-placed Hunslet.

After the defeat to in-form Barrow, Ford was scathing in his criticism of some of his players: “… there were a couple of performances that fell a bit below the standards at this club. Barrow played with some decent shape and they have some huge middles who get them tempo, and Jamie Dallimore is a good half. But there were some really poor efforts individually from one or two (York) blokes on the edges, with one or two taking some soft options.”

After an arm-wrestle of a game, the Raiders ran away with the game, with three tries in the last nine minutes.

Hornets come into the game on the back of another gritty, grafting win - having seen-off a stubborn 12-man Keighley. Having overcome the initial urge to force play to the edges, Hornets settled the ship and put in a solid second half. Interestingly, in a game where the opposition was a winger short, all three Hornets tries came from forwards running hard at close range: proof that sometimes you just have to hit a tricky problem with something hard and heavy.

Hornets’ win did see another achievement box ticked for the season: a top five playoff place now guaranteed. And a win on Sunday effectively kills off York’s chance of finishing second. Onwards and upwards: see you Sunday.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Punch the Clock

Hornets 18 - Keighley 4

When Keighley forward Charlie Martin said last week that the Cougars were prepared to fight for Paul March’s job, no-one assumed he meant it literally.

But when Paul White’s brian-fart king-hit on Corey Lee on the quarter mark sparked a 26 man brawl that spilled  into the Keighley dug-out, you could sense that tensions in the visitors' camp were fairly tightly wound.

At the time, Keighley were 0-4 up after Brooke had got a hand to a pinball kick into the in-goal after 11 minutes,  but White’s red-card was the signal for Keighley to effectively park both of their mini-buses and draw Hornets into an unsightly arm wrestle.

And for an hour, it worked: aided and abetted by tyro ref Mr Straw, whose sometimes surrealist interpretation of the laws shoved the penalty count ever closer to the 20 mark.

Hornets’ urgency to exploit the extra man was repeatedly thwarted by a series of hurried last passes that saw chances go begging: and when Wayne English was nudged off the ball on the half hour as he stretched to reel in a Danny Yates kick to the corner, Hornets’ best chance of the half was gone.

For the remainder of the half, Keighley continued to frustrate: completing sets in their own half and driving Hornets back with a succession of long kicks.

It clearly needed a bit of a chat: Hornets down 0-4 at the break.

The second half was a different story: Hornets much more direct, with more palpable puropse. A Samir Tahraoui break on 48 minutes sent defenders scrambling - only for Wayno and Ryan Maneely to clash heads in the dash to support.

Three minutes later, a tight, concise approach set fed Jordan Case into space to score: rounding sizeable Keighley forward Oakes who has the turning cirlce of a bin wagon. Yatesey the two: 6-4.

Sixty seconds later Richie Hawkyard suffered an anal squeaking issue under a towering Danny Yates Bomb, the spilled ball regathered by a retreating defender in an offside position. From the resulting play, Ben Moores held-up in-goal.

On 58 minutes, further Hornets pressure forced a drop-out and the return set saw Woz Thompson blasting through a blowing defence to score. Yatesey the extras: 12-4.

Just past the hour, Jo Taira hit Gabriel with a monster collision as he followed up a kick. The impact so great that he wiped out fellow tackler Jack Holmes too. Destructive.

To their credit, Keighley did put in a late rally; Paul Handforth emerging from his slumbers to produce a pinpoint kick and chase and a huge 40/20 to give the home fans some late jitters.

But Hornets responded well: first a scooting Danny Yates break (his inside ball slipping teasingly from Ben Moores’ fingers); and a Josh Crowley break that laid the platform for Samir Tahraoui to haul himself through a pack of tacklers to score on the hooter. Yatesey 100% - final score 18-4.

Having been hauled into a war of attrition by a well-organised, hard-working Keighley, it’s important to note that Hornets kept the visitors scoreless for 69 minutes of this contest. And, having regrouped at the break, scored 18 unanswered second half points. Indeed, this was one of those games where you had to find a way to win and, from Hornets, this was an object lesson in patience and trusting that if you do the basics better than the opposition you should prevail.

As Alan Kilshaw would say: plenty to work on. But for Paul March, you suspect that his work at Keighley is pretty much done.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Sunday's Coming: Keighley Cougars

Sunday sees Keighley Cougars make the trip to Spotlans - and it seems that everyone at Lawkholme Lane is feeling the pressure.

According to the Keighley News, Cougars coach Paul March was left ‘bitterly frustrated’ after last week’s home defeat to Hunslet (whose members vote next month to remove the ‘Hawks’ soubriquet from their official name).

Keighley’s Bradford loanee Jonny Walker was equally disappointed with the result: ““Losing to Hunslet last weekend was obviously very disappointing and I think we took them for granted.” he said.

Consolation Prize? Seems silverware doesn't prevent
you getting your Marching Orders.
It was the Cougars’ second successive defeat in the Super 8s, seeing them slip further off the pace. Which isn’t good news for March, who was recently put on notice by chairman chairman Gary Fawcett that failure to win promotion would see him summarily sacked.

Fawcett said (in the Bradford Teleghraph and Argus last month): "While we are hopeful that a turnaround will happen over the course of the remaining games, we have to be realistic and plan for the future.

"The club operates on principles, which includes honouring contracts. We are not a Premiership football club which hires and fires at will, racking up substantial contract termination costs. Given our financials, we have to be circumspect and, more importantly, treat people with dignity.

"Make no mistake, though. Failure to achieve promotion will require us to appoint a new head coach, who we feel can do the job for 2017, and I have no doubt that there will be plenty of interest in the role. Applications will probably start to arrive at Cougar Park after this press release." A bit naughty, we think.

Perversely, the threat of having their coach sacked seems to have impacted on the team. Cougars’ centre Charlie Martin spoke this week of the effect it’s had.

“… we’re not going to write the season off , because the main goal is to win promotion and save Marchy’s job” he said. “He’s not just a head coach but he’s also a good mate of everyone. We have played with him before and I don’t think people realise how difficult it is to go from being a player to being a coach.

“For me, what the club said about needing to go up for Marchy to keep his job, has heaped added pressure on us.” So an excellent job done there.

Ahead of Sunday’s game Ash Lindsay will undergo a head test and Charlie Martin is a doubt with a finger injury. Forwards Brendon Rawlins and Scott Law will also be monitored in training this week.

Hornets come into Sunday’s game on the back of a hard-fought win at London Skolars. After a lightning first half, injuries reshuffles and the lack of a half-back pairing took their toll, and two late tries gave the game the veneer of a contest. What did impress was that the Hornets pack stood-up well against much bigger counterparts, and scrum half Danny Yates played his best game in Hornets’ colours with a dominant, controlling performance.

Both of which we’ll need in spades against an increasingly desperate Keighley Cougars. As we’ve seen thus far, there are no easy games in this new format - but it does promise to be an afternoon of intense competition. See you there.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Hornets kill-off Haringey Hoodoo

Skolars 28 - Hornets 38

New River Stadum has been a graveyard for a succession of Hornets teams: good, bad and indifferent, so it’s good to finally break the North London hoodoo. As predicted, this was a sprawling, spoiling penalty-fest in which the home side tried pretty much every trick in the book to suck the light out of the game.

Indeed, the game begam with an exchange of penalties and, when a high Danny Yates kick was fumbled dead by a flapping Skolars defence after five minutes, the noisy travelling support were amazed to see the home side given the 20 metre restart.

Up the other end of the field, the game sparked into a brawl when Lewis Galbraith was upended in the tackle, Skolars yapping pug Small repeatedly dragged out.

Hornets response was clinical. A great high-tempo approach set - Jo Taira involved twice - then  Woz Thompson hitting a short ball at pace on the last tackle to score. Danny Yates the extras for 0-6.

Hornets were immediately back on the attack courtesy of another Skolars penalty: a teasing dink from Yatesey forcing the drop-out.

On the quarter-mark another swift, direct set took Hornets close; Jono Smith dummying and stepping inside to score. Yatesey on-target for 0-12.

With London struggling to play any meaningful football, it took a poor Hornets pass on the 20 metre line to give them an attacking platform. And when the ball was lofted into the in-goal it was superbly gathered by Corey Lee, who then set off on a blistering 40 metre touchline break, only to be hauled down by Skolars’ scrambling defence.

No matter. On the half hour Skolars shipped a dumb last-tackle penalty. Danny Yates produced his own teasing kick into the Skolars’ in-goal. With the defence more interested in picking fights than picking-up runners, Jono Smith ghosted in to touch down. Yatesey the extras 0-18.

Skolars did come up with one moment of lucidity, courtesy of their impressive fullback Thomas who produced a neat chip & chase to score aganst the run of play. Thomas converting his own try: 6-18.

Hornets ended the half with a quickfire double. On 38 minutes Jono Smith grabbed a first-half hat-trick when he bludgeoned through some tired tackles to score. Then makeshift stand-off James Tilley combining with Jordan Case to score out wide. Yatesey good for both: 6-30.

In the midst of all this, Skolars resident irritant Small was sin-binned as the referee ran out of patience with his pentulant histrionics.

Half-time 6-30.

Skolars’ start to the second period set the tone for the half. Shipping a penalty in the first set; then winnng a spurious penalty; then a pig-ugly push-over try fron Driver. Thomas the two and the home side with the early momentum at 12-30.

Hornets strove to break their roll when Yatesey opted to take the two after back-to-back penalties (12-32), and no sooner had Small returned from the sin-bin, when their prop David Williams was sent to warm the bench for ten minutes after a team warning.

Approachng the hour, injuries to Woz Thompson and Lewis Galbraith (the latter carried from the field) forced a reshuffle, as Hornets shaped to enter the last quarter with forwards deputising in key positions across the field. Skolars capitalised whrn they sent Paxton up the left flank to score (16-32).

Hornets hit back with a fortuitous, but stunning try from Wayne English: blocking a kick, he gathered tha ball and pinned back his ears, outpacing the Skolars cover to score from 80 metres. Yatesey off the whitewash for 16-38.

A patched-up Hornets went into the last ten minutes facing a Skolars determined to niggle and spoil to the very last. Indeed, the home side fashioned two late, late tries to Paxton, and Dollapi to give this game the veneer of a contest, but in the end it was objective achieved by hard-working Hornets.

In the wash-up, this was a game in which Hornets had to find a way - any way - to win. And it was the archetypal game of two halves: Hornets playing all the football in the first half to look a class-apart, the game finally breaking under the weight of a mounting penalty count, grinding to a pace where Skolars were able to compete.

But a win IS a rare thing at the New River, so it’d be churlish to complain. Three-try Jono Smith was our man of the match, edging out Danny Yates who put in his most composed, controlled and mature performance in a Hornets shirt. With Crooky absent, the burden of Hornets’ ’tactical control’ fell to him and he rose to the occasion. Mention too for debutant Harry Cartwright: returning to the game after a long break he looked combative, capable and looks like a useful acquisition.

Finally - a mention for the hardy bunch of around 20 Hornets fans who made the long-trip. They outsang the frankly miserable home fans and brought what little atmosphere there was.

Hornets’ line-up was:
Wayne English, Corey Lee, Mike Ratu, Lewis Gailbraith, Dale Bloomfield, James Tilley, Danny Yates, Jo Taira, Ben Moores, Warren Thompson, Jono Smith, Jordan Case, Alex Trumper. Replacements:, Ryan Maneely, Matty Hadden, Harry Cartwright, Samir Tahraoui

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Saturday's Coming: London Skolars

In 2013, we wrote of London Skolars how they spoiled you to a standstill and fed off your mounting frustration. Three years on much has changed at the New River Stadium: New coach, new team, new plastic postage-stamp of a pitch - but it seems that the ‘Skolars Way’ prevails.

Having scraped into the eight at the expense of Newcastle, Skolars began their run-in at Hunslet last week with a narrow 30-26 defeat. But it’s what occured betrween the scoring that caught our beady eye.

Not unexpectedly, Skolars shipped over a dozen penalties (twice as many as Hunslet) - six of them in the first quarter alone: the majority for holding down. It left Huslet coach Matt Bramals seething” “The tactic of slowing the game down disrupted our rhythm…” he said. “How many penalties have to be given before something is done?”

Interestingly, Skolars coach Chow-Mein Coleman basically fessed-up to his side’s desire to spoil: “Coaches often seem to complain about attempts tio slow the game down,” he said. “As if no-one should try to do that.”

10-nil down after 15 minutes, Skolars pegged back the Hawks to level the scores at 10-all after half an hour. Two quick fire Hunslet tries before the break gave the home side a 12-point half timne lead.

Skolars out-scored Hunslet in the second-half by three tries to one, but a converted Hunslet penalty gave them just enough breathing room.

Saturday sees Hornets dragged down to the capital for a ridiculous 5pm kick-off - we’ve looked at the New River Stadium events list and can’t find any events listed for the same day.

Whilst we fully appreciate that last week’s car-crash at Barrow was only Hornets’ second defeat of the season, it was the nature of it that was profoundly disappointing. We all appreciate that there’s no disgrace losing to a better team; and that, occasionally, the wheels just refuse to click into place. But when teams are simply hungrier and more enthusastic, it does gall a bit.

As the weeks pass by, the margin of error gets ever slimmer in the race for a top two place. Saturday gives Alan Kilshaw’s side a chance to draw a line under a shocker, get back on the horse and do whatever it takes to come back with the points on Saturday night.

See you there.

Monday, 25 July 2016

The Penny Drops

Barrow 34 - Hornets 12

Jesus, where to start on this one…

It’s not often that my team embarrasses me, but this steaming turd of a game at Craven Park left the noisy travelling fans wondering what on earth they’d just seen. Outmuscled, out-thought and out-enthused by a 12-man Barrow side whose game plan seemed to hinge on kicking into a corner then launching a fat-lad from 5 metres, Hornets were a hollow, headless mess for most of the 80 minutes.

Yes, we know that the backline was shorn of Bloomers, Ratu, Cookson and Riley, but in Tom Lineham and Ben Jullien, we had more than adequate replacements. As for Kevin Penny, he looked deeply uncomfortable with the physical elements of life in League 1 and was way off the pace: ridculed by the home fans, vilified by the away fans.

A torrid and frankly awful afternoon from him began in the 9th minute when he knocked on showboating from a play-the-ball with a one handed pick-up on his own 20m line. An ingnominious start.

One minute later - following a Hornets knock-on, followed by a soft penalty - Fieldhouse made the extra man on a looping run to give Barrow the lead.

Hornets briefly flickered: an early kick from crooky for Tom Lineham to chase, the ball bundled into touch, Mr Bloem changing his decision to give Barrow the feed. Then a bone-crunching impact left Hankinson on his back: the home fans all but baying for the death penalty.

Just on the quarter mark, Hornets flattered to deceive when James Tilley and Josh Crowley combined to send Danny Yates scampering under the black dot. Crooky’s conversion gave Hornets a short-lived lead.

Barrow continued to press: a steepling bomb from Dallimore royally cocked-up by Tom Lineham; Hornets repreived with a penalty for offside, only to cough the ball. Then whern Matty Hadden was pinged for holding on too long in the tackle, Dallimore produced a short-ball for BIg-Lad Brennan to crunch onto. All very basic stuff, 10-6 with the conversion.

On their very next foray to the Hornets 20, Dallimore sold an outrageous dummy to step back inside to score. Hornets defence in bits at 16-6.

With Hornets hanging on for half-time, they got what should have been their get out of jail card in the 38th minute. Barrow’s Morrow executed a horrendous spear tackle on Jordan Case, Mr Bloem in the pocket for the red card; bedlam amongst the mob who think it’s fine to drop a lad on his head.

Half time 16-6.

Hornets began the second half brightly: Jack Holmes held-up after good approach work from Woz Thompson; Jono snagged off a forward pass; then Danny Yates catching Dallimore napping to snaffle the ball round the scrum and sneak over (no try, knock-on).

On 50 minutes Hornets went wide in search of the numerical advantage, only for Penny to drop the pass. And it was Penny again a minute later exposing Tom Lineham with a suicide pass across the face of his own posts; Lineham lined up off-balance and the ball on the deck. 30 seconds later the aptly-named Bullock hit a short-pass at speed and barrelled in to score: 22-6.

And if that weren’t bad enough, on 60 minutes Barrow moved the ball through hands to create an overlap a man short for Fleming to score. Hankinson off the whitewash to rub in the salt: 28-6.

Hornets humiliation was complete when - again - Barrow launched their big-unit Brennan from 10 metres to trundle through some soft defence and score. No mistake from Hankinson: 34-6.

The last 17 minutes were a hopeless, shapeless mess: the travesty being that Penny scored at the death. But we were already on the way to the car when that happened, so…

For the Hornets fans compelled to burn a July day watching their team get an old-skool bumming from a Barrow side who clearly wanted it more, their weekend was made complete when they learned that next week’s game at London Skolars has had the kick-off moved to 5pm, leaving many frantically trying to change train tickets or face the prospect of being £160 out of pocket.

Indeed, as one Hornets fan tweeted last night “The worst Rugby League weekend, ever”.

And we concur.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Sunday's Coming: Barrow

To paraphrase Lady Bracknell, to play Barrow twice away from home in one season is unfortunate: to play them three times away from home feels like… er… well… slightly unfair. Especially on Barrow.

Paul Crarey must by sick of the sight of us by now. Sunday sees his third attempt to overcome Hornets at Craven Park, and - having won their last three matches of the regular season - Barrow come into Sunday’s game with a bit of form amd momentum - the pick of their run, a late, late win at Keighley.

Barrow’s peripatetic half back Jamie Dallimore spoke to the North West Evening Mail this week about Barrow’s chances on Sunday - and in the playoffs. Interestingly, in a game where no-one likes being second best, he said: “I think Toulouse are the best team in the competition by a mile, but there is no reason why we can’t get second best”. Keeping with his theme of duality, he also said: “… we owe them one, well we owe them two.” Wise words, mate.

There’s a possibility that Crarey will be playing centre Chris Hankinson outside Dallimore at the weekend, as he looks to add some size to his half-back defence - a tactic deployed at Lawkholme Lane.

Hornets make the trip to Cumbria with a couple of additions to the squad - both from Oldham!

Steve Roper comes back to add experienced cover at half-back, and utility back Jack Holmes - who scored 20 tries in 36 appearances in his two seasons at Oldham - has joined Hornets on loan for the rest of the year.

Alan Kilshaw said: “We are in good shape and we’re looking forward to this next stage to put ourselves in a good position. We just want to kick on now. With the dual-registration deadline coming in and we have got a couple of players carrying knocks, we have not had a big squad all year, they are just to strengthen us through this next phase.”

Elsewhere in the Super 8s, the big story of the week is the implosion at York City Knights - that threatens to throw the comp into chaos. The club issues a statement last night confirming that York City Knights has ceased to trade.

Compelled to play at Bootham Crescent after York City Council pushed through the upgrade of Moks Cross for use by the city’s Rugby League and football teams, the Knights are caught in a contractual wrangle with both York City Council and York City Football Club over a clause that forbids them to play at the football ground within 24 hours of a York City game.

The situation was exacerbated by the fact that the Knights had a contract with the council, but the council had a separate contract with the football club - and none of the parties could agree on what it is they’ve agreed to agree on. Hence, York’s game with Doncaster on Sunday was postponed earlier in the week, ahead of Thursday’s announcement that the club has closed with immediate effect. Interestingly, the club statement also references underlying financial issues as a key factor in pulling down the shutters.

The impact on the Super 8s - and on Hornets - is yet to be calculated. From a club point of view, we now gain no real advantage in finishing second - and we lose a vital home game. Indeed, we might now have been better served finishing 4th: then we’d get Toulouse at home and still end up with an equal number of home and away games. Messy.

From a league point of view: on previous occasions when a club has withdraw part way through a season (the last one was the old York club), their record was expunged  - which would erase the thrashing we took at Bootham Crescent and redress our points difference (it’d also leave us unbeaten, on a technicality).

At the moment there’s no news on what the RFL have planned for this and the next phase of the season. We’d imagine that the ‘Super 7’ would continue a team short - though there would have to be some sort of compensation paid to the clubs expecting to host York at home. The real problem comes in the promotion playoff phase that should have involved 3rd, 4th and 5th + the loser of the promotion final.

However it pans out, it’s a horrendous mess for all concerned - and a depressing way to kick-off the next phase of the season.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Super 8 Fixtures

Sun, 24 Jul 15:30 Barrow Raiders Craven Park, Barrow-in-Furness
  Sat, 30 Jul 15:00 London Skolars New River Stadium, London
  Sun, 07 Aug 15:00 Keighley Cougars Spotland Stadium, Rochdale
  Sun, 14 Aug 15:00 York City Knights Spotland Stadium, Rochdale
  Sat, 20 Aug 18:30 Toulouse Olympique XIII  Stade Ernest Argeles, Toulouse
  Sun, 04 Sep 15:00 Doncaster Spotland Stadium, Rochdale
  Sun, 11 Sep 15:00 Hunslet Hawks Spotland Stadium, Rochdale

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Hardworking Hornets Secure Second

Hornets 21 - Doncaster 8

A group of Doncaster fans walked 60 miles to Sundays game. It took them three days.

On arrival at Spotland they saw their team put in a similarly pedestrian performance. Devoid of imagination, inspiration or intent, Doncaster created a black-hole of anti-football where their physio got more game-time than Makali Aizue and where five one-out drives followed by an attempt to inveigle a penalty seemed to be the game plan.

But for a short while, Hornets looked immune to Donny’s creeping stasis, creating all the early pressure. Indeed, on 6 minutes James Tilley took Hornets to within striking range and Ben Moores hit them with a perfect sucker try. Crooky on target and Hornets 6-nil up without really taking off the handbrake.

Two minutes later a great Hornets break: Jo Taira punching a huge hole, Lewis Galbraith supplying the injection of pace and, with Hornets queuing up, what looked for all the world like a Doncaster shout drew the pass away from the support and into the arms of the scrambling defence.

Then, in the space of two minutes, two events which opened up a wormhole through which Doncaster somehow wrestled the momentum Firstly Paul Crook missed touch when he spectacularly sliced a penalty: then the heavens opened with a biblical deluge.

Off the hook and with a slippery ball introducing a lottery element to proceedings, Hornets were caught off guard as Doncaster fashioned a simple try: Scott taking a short ball to score by the posts. Hedges the conversion for six-all.

The game entered a period where the pounding rain hampered any real attempts at fluency, but on the quarter-mark Lewis Galbraith hit a hole in the left channel, only for his inside pass to slip teasingly from Danny Yates’ fingertips.

As the completion rate fell in parallel with the rain, Doncaster conjured up a sneak attack off a freakish bomb; Hornets snagged for a penalty in the aftermath, the visitors kicking dead to ease the pressure.

With both sides struggling to complete, it was Hornets’ turn to produce a moment of oddball peculiarity: Danny Yates’ show & go, the ball worked to Paul Crook; Crooky shaping to kick - launching the ball directly into the side of Woz Thompson’s face from six feet away.

The sloppy stalemate was broken on 35 minutes when - as the only marker - Jono Smith was deemed ‘not square’. Doncaster revealed their ambition, taking the two. 6-8.

Hornets pressed hard in the closing stages of the half: Ryan Maneely held up in-goal, Yatesey forcing a drop out and - in a real moment of timewarp footy - Hornets put on a big push at a Doncaster scrum, only for referee Mr Straw to re-pack the sides in disbelief.

Hornets into the sheds 6-8 down having played pretty much all the football on offer.

If the first half was an error-strewn arm-wrestle, the second was a one-way war-of attrition, where Hornets simply ground-down a Doncaster side that began with an act of gross brutality and then ran out of ideas.

With just two minutes gone Jordan case was lifted, up-turned and dumped on his neck/shoulder. After a lengthy check-up, Mr Straw put the incident on report. Hornets’ response was swift and clinical. A neat narrow-side exchange of passes found Corey Lee with just enough space to score by the flag. Crooky wide by a coat of paint 10-8.

It was now Doncaster’s turn to rack-up the penalties, giving Hornets a platform to build pressure, but when Jake Shoel - a late, late replacement for Dave Cookson who broke down in the arm-up - made a spectacular hash of a real hack & hope kick it put Hornets under needless pressure. But as Donny went wide, the scrambling defence dumped Jones-Bishop into Row E.

Within five minutes Jake Shoel had redeemed his error in some style. A mercurial break up the touchline, a beautifully weighted kick into the space behind the full-back and Danny Yates arriving at speed to gather and score. Lovely stuff. No mistake from Crooky: 16-8.

With Doncaster visibly out of ideas and clearly frustrated, Wright threw a random jab at a perplexed Samir Tahraoui, only for Doncaster to get the penalty. This time it was Tali dumped into touch - just clueless!

As Doncaster flailed, flopped and foundered their way through the last quarter, Hornets continued to try and play through the morass and were rewarded for their persistence on 70 minutes when Ben Julien showed great strength to muscle through and score. Crooky wide with the conversion attempt; Hornets home and hosed at 20-8.

Doncaster saved their best moment of base comedy for last: their short kick off barely clearing the whitewash of the half way line. Hornets marched straight downfield where Danny Yates delivered the coup-de-grace with a piss-taking drop-goal. Beautiful.

As it was, Hornets were deserved winners of this stodgy, disjointed game - and secured second place in Phase one of the season. A remarkable achievement - and given York’s shock defeat at Keighley, it gives us a four point cushion going into the super 8s.

For sure, this was a game that most people will struggle to remember come Wednesday, when the Super 8 fixtures are announced. But it showed that this side can dig in and find a way to win - and Hornets can push on into the Super 8s with heads  - and confidence - high.