Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Sunday's coming: The Law Cup

What a difference a week makes.

While Hornets were busy handing Championship Swinton their arse on their home meadow, Oldham’s beating of League 1 Barrow by 22-0 on an equally boggy Craven Park was clearly a sign that the Roughyeds are not only equipped for a serious tilt at Championship glory, thery’re maybe even in with a serious shot at a long-awaited return to Super League!

Well it does if you read the Oldham Evening Chronicle - fudding themselves daft over a perfunctory win against a team now a division below: “With a 22-0 win at Barrow - where they were beaten twice in three games last season - Oldham gave a clear indication that preparations for Championship rugby are well in hand” they squealed.

And the hubris just keeps coming: “Had Roughyeds taken all their chances, Barrow would have been blown away”  - though only in the same sense that if I had tits I’d be my sister.

In reality, it took Oldham 39 minutes to crack the Barrow defence. They then scored three more tries at neat 12 minute intervals in a second half where a clueless Barrow ran out of both steam and ideas. One fancies that Leigh might prove a tougher proposition.

Over at Sedgley Park, Hornets were giving a pretty shoddy looking Swnton a lesson in adventurous play and stern defence - and one would imagine that Alan Kilshaw was somewhat happier with the oucome than his Lions counterpart, regardless of the nature of the game.

With a bit of momentum - and with Oldham clearly pleased with their progress - it all augurs well for the return of the Law Cup. A game which requires no hype whatsoever.

A friendly? Never.

For our previous preview from two weeks ago CLICK HERE

Sunday, 24 January 2016


Swinton 24 - Hornets 30

On a swamp of a pitch that would have had Keith Hill spewing into his bag of Miracle Grow, Hornets produced a high-impact, high-tempo performance to dominate the Lions of Swinton from first whistle to final hooter.

Yes, we know it’s only a friendly and neither side is quite the finished article, but with newly promoted Swinton looking to shape a side for a shot at Championship survival, a neutral would have seen Hornets as the better equipped of the two sides on show.

Swinton tested Hornets with their first use of the ball, hoisting a high kick to the corner that was consummately snaffled by Chris Riley. But beyond that, the first half hour was pretty one sided.

Having forced Swinton into handing over the ball near half-way, Hornets steamed upfield where Danny Yates produced an optical illusion of a cross-field kick for Wayne English to ghost in and touch down through a bamboozled home defence. Crooky with the simple extras; Hornets 0-6 to the good.

A series of pernickity penalties gave Swinton some temporary momentum, but a sweeping 60 metre move sparked by Lewis Galbraith’s bustling break took Hornets to within striking distance of the Lions line - where they shipped a sloppy penalty for encroaching at the play-the-ball.

Two plays later Ben Moores burrowed through a flat-footed defence to score under the black dot. Crooky slotted the two and Hornets looked comfortable at 0-12.

A series of penalties again gave Swinton a platform to build some reciprocal pressure (first half penalty count 8-4 against Hornets), from whch they created two tries in five minutes from Kilday and Scott to bring themselves within touching distance at 10-12.

There was still time before the hooter for Hornets to force a drop-out - and to produce a nifty kick  from the back of the scrum for spring-heeled Corey Lee to chase. But to no avail - half time 10-12.

It didn’t take Hornets long to get back into their groove. Only two minutes into the second half, a teasing Paul Crook kick to the Swinton corner saw Dave Cookson soar to outjump his opposite number and score. Crooky on his way to yet another 100% with the boot, flawless off the touchline: 10-18.

For the next 10 minutes Swinton hurled themselves recklessly onto a big-hitting Hornets defence and, when that proved fruitless, Hornets struck with surgical precision - Galbraith leaving Littler for dead, slotting Danny Yates under the posts. 10-24, with 20 minutes to play.

Swinton did, finally, conjure up two moments of lucid football either side of the 70 minute mark: Dwyer and Thornley on the end of two excellently crafted tries to haul the Lions within striking distance - but this Hornets side looks to have another gear when the going gets tough.

Hard, direct forward play shoved Swinton back downfield and - as they sought to play out of their own half - debutant Kieron Walpole picked Swinton’s pocket to score a well-taken interception. Crooky brought up the 30 and the game was pretty much done.

There was still time for a last minute melee that saw Stu Biscombe given the red card for pushing away a niggling tackler at the play the ball: Swinton's Barlow shown the yellow option for running in.

Swinton found just enough wherewithal to lodge a late late Scott try to give the score a veneer of respectability, but the reality was that Hornets bossed this game throughout.

Yates and Crook look revitalised at half-back Hadden and Cookie have taken on new wrecking-ball capabilities in the pack - and there’s both pace and potential out on the edges where Riley, Bloomfield and Lee will compete for who leaves opposition wingers clutching air.

Yes, yes, we know we shouldn’t get carried away - but if Killer can pull this potential through into weekly performances, this will be a side well worth keeping a close eye on.

Thursday, 21 January 2016


This Sunday Hornets make the short trip to Sedgely Park to take on newly promoted Swinton Lions.

Let it go: A lion in Swinton earlier today.
Having seen 17 players depart during the off-season, John Duffy has been busy recruiting for his side’s tilt at avoiding relegation. And he looks to have gone for perfunctory experience of life at a higher level.  The new signings are (deep breath): Anthony Nicholson from Batley, Greg Wilde from Whitehaven, Matt Bradley from the All Golds, Newcastle playmaker Matty Baharrell,  a triple whammy of Rams with Greg Scott, Kieran Hyde and Stephen Nash from Dewsbury, Rob Lever from Wigan, Wakefield born Corbyn Kilday rerturning from a stint with the Capras in the Queensland Cup, Saints prop Jordan Hand who saw dual-reg action  with Hornets, Sams Peet and Baggaley from Leigh, and Macauley Hallet (whose name sounds like a firm of solicitors), from Hull KR.

One interesting… er… twist is the absence of former Hornet Tony Suffolk, who signed for the Lions at the end of last term, but who appears to have baled for the other side of the world before donning a Swinton shirt in anger. Other ex-Hornets include ducking winger Shaun Robinson combative veteran threequarter Stuart Littler who has resumed his career as RL Panto Villain since returning to Swinton last year.

Having had their first friendly against Sheffield scuppered by the weather, Sunday is a first hit-out for the reshaped Lions, whose 2016 squad is:

1 Chris Atkin
2 Shaun Robinson
3 Stuart Littler
4 Macauley Hallett
5 Greg Scott
6 Ben White
7 Matty Beharrell
8 Mike Morrison (c)
9 Anthony Nicholson
10 Jordan Hand
11 Connor Dwyer
12 Andy Thornley
13 Rob Lever
14 Kieran Hyde
15 Corbyn Kilday
16 Ben Austin
17 Stephen Nash
18 Aaron Lloyd
19 Josh Barlow
20 Mike Butt
21 Matt Bradley
22 Harry Aaronson
23 Sam Peet
24 Greg Wilde
25 Sam Baggaley

The weather forecast for Sunday looks favourable - 11° and cloudy, so get yourself over to Sedgley Park. And don’t forget - it’s a 2pm kick-off: so don’t be late.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016


The Oldham Chronicle reported Oldham’s surprise pre-season defeat at Keighley thus: “Oldham will need to improve on their second-half showing at Keighley if they are to retain the Law Cup at Spotland on Sunday. As pre-season warm-up games go, yesterday’s run-out at Cougar Park was little more than an exercise in preparation for more important battles, though a 16-8 defeat wasn’t on coach Scott Naylor’s agenda”.

Dean Lonergan: The man who ruined
5,000 Oldham Christmases. 
Indeed, with his side 8-6 up at the break and  21 players clearly desperate to play themselves out of contention for what will be an arduous season in the Championship, Naylor will be keen to settle on a formation that will battle bravely, but lose increasingly convincingly as the season progresses.

Sunday’s reverse came at the behest of a raft of second half penalties that starved Oldham of possession. Seven of them came in succession - so discipline clearly an issue.

Speaking in the Chron, Naylor said: “In the second half we gave away a lot of penalties and surrendered a lot of field position by making mistakes and when you do that you are going to lose. There were some very good individual performances, but in the second half we were very poor as a team. Big improvements will be needed if we are to hit the ground running at Rochdale next Sunday.”

“We lost because we didn’t respect the ball and we conceded penalties - lessons we need to learn quickly, given the quality of opposition we will be facing. I’m sure the players will have got a lot out of the game after their close-season break, but they’ve still got some learning to do - and fast.”

He went on: “Our next game is even more important – a derby with silverware at stake – and we know it’s important for the fans, too. If there’s one of these warm-up games they really want to win, it’s Rochdale by a mile.”

Having ducked the fixture for two years, OIdham are defacto Law Cup holders, having won narrowly in 2013 and we have their 2016 squad as:

Jack Holmes
Adam Clay
Tom Ashton
Jon Ford
Jamel Chisholm
Lewis Palfrey
Steve Roper
Phil Joy
Gareth Owen
Jack Spencer
Craog Briscoe
Danny Langtree
Will Hope
Sam Gee
Josh Crowley
Liam Thompson
Adam Files,
Kenny Hughes
Michael Ward
Richard Lepori
Danny Grimshaw

Despite a defeat, Hornets went pleasingly well against a pretty ordinary Salford side who sleepwalked through the first 35 minutes and look like they’ll be brutally spit-roasted by pretty much any Super League side with any real pace or power.

There’s no doubt that Paul Crook’s return to stand-off gives Hornets a more rounded half-back fulcrum - and keeps our most creative player on the field for longer, where he can make a difference. Elsewhere the pack looks pretty robust and there are clearly tries on offer out wide, so it’s fair to say that Killer’s side look in decent shape at this stage in its preparation.

But as Naylor and Kilshaw recognise - nothing is cut and dried when the A627M El Classico rolls around - regardless of its guise. This is a fixture that gets everyone jumping around and gets the blood rushing to the extremities. And Sunday recognises that 25 seasons have passed since quite possibly the greatest Hornets/Oldham derby of them all: on Boxing Day 1989.

Played in front of a near-capacity crowd of 8,150 - a Spotland record for a Hornets league game. Hornets won 24-12 on their way to finishing second in the league and gaining promotion to the top flight. Hull KR went up as champions - and Hornets edged Oldham into third place on a points difference of one point!

It was a day that promised much for both sides: a full-house local derby, both sides heading for promotion to the elite: a moment, it seemed, of boundless optimism and opportunity. Within a year Hornets were back whence they came - and within seven years Oldham were bankrupt with debts of £2,000,000.

So here we are. Hornets having flirted with Championship football, relegated only by the league restructure. Oldham looking to play outside the third tier for the first time in close on a decade. For many, that Boxing Day game is a literal lifetime away. But crackle of Rugby League’s most meaningful derby remains. See you all on Sunday.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Impressive Hornets Hit the Ground Running

Hornets 16 - Salford 44

Common sense tells you not to read too much into pre-season friendly scorelines, but as fans, it’s hard not to. And, after this combative encounter in which Salford fielded pretty much their best 13, the score is hardly an indication of where either side is at at this stage of the season.

You’d have to hope that Salford have a considerable amount of improvement left in them as - after half an hour - Hornets were a comfortable 12-nill ahead having played prettty much all of the football on offer. Indeed, other than the wily Michael Dobson looking for Kopczak at every opportunity, the visitors were a distant second best:  a neutral would have struggled to pick the Super League team in this contest.

It was all relatively straightforward: with one try already struck off for a forward pass, Hornets went to the right edge - Chris Riley gathering an awkward pass to round Justin Carney who looks to have the turning circle of a canal barge; Crooky off the touchline for 6-nil.

And it was Crooky again on 21 minutes producing a peach of a short ball for Dave Cookson to crash onto and score. The Ginger General with the extras and the Salford bench eagerly scanning the clip-board for a way back into the game.

It came on 32 minutes when Lui replaced a frankly ornamental O’Brien and, with pretty much his first touch,  he showed decent pace and balance to peel away from the back of a scrum to score. Dobson good with the two for 12-6.

On 36 minutes Salford forced a drop-out and, from the resulting possession Sarsfield turned a prospective knock-on into a fingertip try. All a bit slutchy, really. Dobson the two to level the scores.

With the last action of the half, ex-Hornet Carl Forster ducked in through a tiring goal-line defence to give Salford a lead they scantly deserved. Dobson the two: 12-18 as the sides went to the sheds.

Unable to play through or round a resolute Hornets defence, Salford went aerial in the second half - a series of cross-field kicks bringing almost immediate rewards. Two tries in five minutes - Carney out-jumping Riley in the corner/Evalds chasing a kick into the in-goal - and Salford briefly flattered to deceive at 12-28.

But Hornets struck straight back. A teasing Danny Yates dink behind Carney, Carney struggling to effect a three-point turn, Dave Cookson out-muscling Josh Griffin to touch down. Crooky hitting the post with the kick: 16-28

Going into the last ten minutes, Salford finally made their full-time fitness tell. A rare fumble from Wayne English off a Lui bomb handed Junior Sau the opportunity to skate round and score, then Krasniqi plunging through a stretched defence. Finally - in the last seconds Lui’s kick was snaffled by Griffin to give the scoreline a lop-sided look at 16-44.

There’s no doubt that if Watson and Sheens can get Liu and Hobson firing that Salford will have a pretty potent half-back pairing - but in pretty much every other position they were matched for long periods by their part time counterparts.

For a team including nine debutants, Hornets looked fluid and well organised. Samir Tahraoui put himself about well, Matt Hadden looks to have gained a ‘granite’ edge and John Cookson’s bell-ringing tackle that put Tommy Lee on his arse gained approval from the crowd.

Interestingly, while Hornets were acquitting themselves admirably against Super League competition, newly promoted Oldham were going down 16-8 at ‘unpromoted’ Keighley. Indeed, Hornets scored more points against a Super League side than Oldham did against a team in the league below them.

Did anyone mention that it’s the Law Cup next week? On this showing, it could be very interesting.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Sunday's Coming - Salford Red Devils

Rugby League’s biggest soap opera - aka Salford Red Devils - rolls into town on Sunday.

Despite ex-Swinton, ex-Hornets half-back Ian Watson taking over from ousted Iestyn Harris half-way through last season, he finds himself playing Sooty to ex-Kangaroos supremo Tim Sheens’ Sweep - both twiddled puppet-style by the club’s owner and self-appointed CEO Dr Marwan Koukash.

It's twins! Koukash's 'Doctor Devil' and Sunrise's Cashcow
And, as if last season’s slow-motion car-crash wasn’t enough to make anyone rub their eyes in disbelief, it did precipitate a huge purge of personnel at the AJ Bell Stadium.

We’ve counted 15 first-team squad members jettisoned in 2015 - including former captain Harrison Hansen, Rangi Chase, Cory Paterson, Gareth Hock  and Reni Maitua - all snapped up Leigh.  Kevin Locke and Theo Fages baled mid-season and veteran enforcer Adrian Morley brought down the curtain on an impressive career. Hooker Liam Hood and prop Luke Menzies were released by mutual consent;  Lama Tasi to Saints, Scott Taylor to Hull FC and Iain Thornley to Hull KR. And, finally, Ben Jones-Bishop and Jason Walton opting to go to Wakefield for 2016. Phew!

Hence Tim Sheerns’ huge recruitment drive in the off season. In comes Robert Lui from North Queensland Cowboys, Ben Murdoch-Masila from Wests Tigers and Daniel Vidot from Brisbane Broncos. Alongside them is Matt Sarsfield from Leigh, Jordan Andrade from Oxford (yes, really) , Ex-Oldham/Swinton hooker Phil Joseph and Welsh international forward Craig Kopczak - whose surname gets you 48 at Scrabble.

Clearly still with an appetite for signing ‘controversial’ players, Salford have also signed ‘The Beast’ Justin Carney on a year-long loan deal from Castleford.

Having served five separate suspensions for foul play in his three seasons at Cas, he somehow found time to score 63 tries in 62 appearances for the Tigers. But Carney missed the last three matches of the 2015 Super League season: stood down amidst an investigation into accusations that he… er… played away… a bit… (see the full story here

Sheens’ shopping list continues, adding Logan Tomkins from Wigan, ex-Saints’ - and ex-Hornets  - Matthew Haggarty on loan for the season, ex-Swinton stand-off Gareth O’Brien from Warrington Wolves and Oldham-born ex-Saints utility Mark Flanagan.

Most interesting to us, though, is new vice-skipper Michael Dobson who we rate as one of the best tactical kicking halves in Super League.

The Salford squad for 2016 is:

1. Niall Evalds  2. Justin Carney  3. Josh Griffin  4. Junior Sa’u  5. Daniel Vidot   6. Robert Lui  7. Michael Dobson   8. Craig Kopczak   9. Tommy Lee (C)  10. George Griffin
11. Ben Murdoch-Masila  12. Weller Hauraki  13. Mark Flanagan   14. Gareth O’Brien
15. Adam Walne   16. Olsi Krasniqi  17. Phil Joseph  18. Greg Johnson  19. Logan Tomkins  20. Jordan Walne  21. Ryan Lannon  22. Matt Sarsfield   23. Carl Forster   24. Mason Caton-Brown  25. Jake Bibby  26. Josh Wood   27. Matt Haggarty   28. Matty Gee   29. Matty Wilkinson   30. Liam Bent  31. Connor Williams  32. Jordan Andrade

Amidst such upheaval, you’d be forgiven for thinking that any stability/continuity would be welcomed - but this is Salford. For now.

Despite League fans having to explain to pretty much everyone outside Lancashire - and often within Rugby League - that Salford is actually a city in its own right, Marwan Koukash is reported to be considering overturning 143 years of sporting and social history.

Salford became a free borough in 1230, when it was granted a charter by the Earl Ranulph of Chester - predating Manchester’s charter by 70 years. Salford Rugby League club was founded in 1873 - but reports in the press suggest that the city’s somewhat blurred boundary with its Mancunian counterpart might just be about to become a little more vague. Indeed, the North Wales Leader (03 December 2015) says Koukash: has” … earmarked plans to change Salford’s name to Manchester Red Devils ahead of the 2016 campaign”

His master-plan envisages Salford playing games in Manchester and at Wrexham (home of Dual Reg. partners NW Crusaders) in an attempt to “…  start raising awareness of rugby league in this area (and)…  raising awareness of the Red Devils brand, too.”

Ultimately, speaking in the Quays News, Marwan Koukash recognises that his new look squad will be one of the youngest in Super League, with most under 25: charged with a single, simple goal to secure Salford’s Super League status for 2017. One such tyro is 21 year-old prop Matt Gee, who spent last season helping Hunslet get relegated from the Championship. Not that we’re suggesting that Super League players lead a cosseted life, but Gee found life at the bottom of the second tier “tough”. Speaking in the League Express, Gee said: “Playing in the Championship is a different game. It’s very different to Super league and with full time lads it’s even more so. The part-time lads are more happy to take your head off.” Bless.

Back in the real world, Alan Kilshaw has augmented the core of last term’s Hornets with a raft of new signings of his own. The squad for 2016 is:

1. Wayne English
2. Brad Hargreaves
3. Mike Ratu
4. Lewis Galbraith - Former St Helens and England junior: spent 2015 season in Australia with Sarina Crocodiles.
5. Dale Bloomfield
6. Paul Crook
7. Danny Yates
8. John Cookson
9. Ben Moores - former Warrington and England junior; with experience playing in South Wales and Australia.
10. Warren Thompson
11. Jordan Case
12. Jono Smith - 2nd row; formerly of Warrington Wizards and NW Crusaders. And Greggs.
13. James Tilley
14, Alex McClurg
15. Samir Tahraoui - 6 foot 7, born in Algeria: previously at Warrington, Swinton, Whitehaven, Keighley and Bradford Bulls.
16. Matty Hadden
17. Jack Francis - ex-Hopwood Hall College, Leeds Met University, Gloucester All Golds and Coventry Bears Prop.
18. Dave Cookson - Rochdale born; former Oldham player who can play both second row and centre .
19. Jo Tairia - Fijian Centre; 2014 NCL Player of the year  whilst at Rochdale Mayfield.
20. Harry Files - Salford Red Devils u19s player of the year in 2014.
21. Corey Lee - Pacy former Leigh winger who also provides cover at full-back.
22. Alex Trumper
23. James Dandy
24. Kieron Walpole - came through the academy at Leeds before signing at Bradford in 2015.
25. Stuart Biscomb - signed for Oxford last year after impressing with Normanton Knights in  NCL Division 1.

We think it’s a squad full of real potential: an interesting mix of established talent and some exciting new faces. Bring it on. See you Sunday.