Sunday, 28 February 2016

Rochdale: #RugbyLeagueTown

Mayfield 14 - Hornets 40

On a weekend where RFL League 1 clubs queued up to embarrass themselves at the hands of National Conference League opposition, you sensed that that the majority of the 900 people crowbarred into Butterworth Park had come to glory in something similar. As it was, the result went with the commensurate status of the participants - bar a couple of moments - Hornets having too much of pretty much everything in the tank to see off a stubborn Mayfield.

But it wasn’t a smooth passage at all. With a penalty count around the forty mark, this was for long periods  a stuttering, scrappy, scrambling affair that meant clean-cut chances were at a premium.

The first 15 minutes Hornets endeavoured to play round some determined defence - forcing a couple of drop-outs; a neat break by Jack Francis, his pass to Danny Yates going to ground. But there were also early signs that - unchecked - Mayfield have the pace and capabilty to hit you on the break.

On 14 minutes the obligatory fight arrived: Samir Tahraoui digged in the tackle, Mayfield players sprinting from all directions like kids hearing the ice-cream van. Referee Mr Hewer picked the mellee apart and gave Mayfield the penalty.

Emboldened by their fortune, Mayfield had a good spell, and when Corey Lee was sin-binned after tracking down a Lewis Sheridan break, then diving through the ruck as Sheridan played the ball to no-one. Butterworth accepted an easy two and the locals went nuts.

Now with a bit of momentum Mayfield continued to test and probe, but lacked an end-product to some excellent approach work. Hornets capitalised, hitting the gas to score four tries in ten minutes.

Firstly James Tilley hit a flat Danny Yates ball at close quarters to crash in and score; then a last tackle cut-out pass from Alex McClurg to send Keiran Walpole in at the flag. Butterworth then spectacularly scuffed a short kick off all off four metres to hand Hornets penalty possession under Mayfield’s posts, where Alex trumper arced across to find Wayne English who reached under the black-dot to score. And in the 37th minute, James Tilley’s break left defenders scrambling, his neat pass launching Wayne English for his second try. Crooky three from four with the boot - Hornets comfortable at the break at 2-22.

Mayfield began the second half at a visibly higher tempo - Calland and L. Sheridan calling the shots - and on 52 minutes they got just reward, as quick hands wide sent Watkins in.

Still kicking themselves Hornets, switched off from the kick-off and Whalley found D. Sheridan arriving at pace. He picked a great line and scooted away to score. Butterworth the two and, at 14-22, the locals could smell blood in the water.

Indeed it was Mayfield who produced the next chance, an early kick into the space behind the Hornets defence saw Wayne English exposed in a two-to-one situation, but as Sampson touched down, Whalley was adjudged to have shoved English out of the way. No try, the Hornets contingent exhaled.

With 20 minutes to play, Hornets upped the intensity. Great support play involving Jordan Case, James Tilley and Ben Moores created a hole for Matt Hadden to score: Crooky adding the extras. Then - in quick succession - Ben Moores held-up over the line and a Walpole try struck off for a dubious forward pass.

On 69 minutes a series of brainless head-shots on Samir Tahraoui gave Hornets easy metres, and Woz Thompson hit a short-ball at pace to score. Crooky the two.

Then a couple of moments of Paul Crook quality: held-up over the line after a jinking run - and producing a mesmerising 40/20 direct from the back of a scrum. Hornets hit the forty mark on 76 minutes when some intricate inter-passing between Paul Crook and Danny Yates turned Mayfield inside out, Yatesey the scorer; Crooky the extras; banana skin avoided at 14-40.

In the wash-up the result felt about right. It was an intriguing, combative contest which gave Hornets a proper test. Mayfield showed that they’re no mugs and that the National Conference League can produce direct, inventive football of a high standard. But mostly, it was a day for Rochdale’s Rugby League community to show that the town’s most venerable football code is still very much alive and kicking.

Most worrying for the RFL, though, is that - whilst Hornets probaly accurately displayed the difference between NCL and League 1 sides - South Wales, Newcastle, Hemel and Skolars hinted at the impending ‘split’ in standards within League 1 itself.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Saturday's Coming: Mayfield

Does Rugby League get any more parochial than this? We’re sure that when Rupert Murdoch and Maurice Lindsay sat down to draft plans for a pan-European Super League played in major cities by regional teams like ‘Calder’, ‘Cheshire’ and ‘Manchester’, they didn’t envisage a 21st century Challenge Cup contest between two teams from Rochdale.

But it is with a sense of history that Hornets head to the other side of the river to take on Rochdale Mayfield.

The Mayfield: lost in the mists of time.
Mayfield ARLFC were formed in 1958 - named after the Mayfield Hotel on Albert Royds Street
where they were based. They rapidly grew into the pre-eminent amateur club in the town and, in their 70’s heyday, Barry Edwards became BARLA’s first ever international captain.

Around that time, Mayfield won the Pennine League 7 years in succession - and were allowed to keep the trophy (presumably to save BARLA time and money on engraving).

Having played at Balderstone Park and Springhill, Mayfield entered into a ground share deal with a struggling Castleton Moor cricket club in the mid-80s. When the cricket club folded in 1987,  Mayfield found themselves in possession of £2m worth of prime housing land. In 2005, they sold the ground for housing and bought the nearby Butterworth Park to ground-share with Castleton Gabriels FC (now Rochdale Town).

Mayfield today: buzzing with cup fever.
It’s a scale of Mayfield’s ambiitons that in 2011 they sought consideration for a licence to run a team in the RFL’s newly extended Championship 1. At that time Mayfield stated that it felt that the time was right “… to put the club where it rightfully belongs as the Premier Rugby League Club in the town…”. Speaking to Rochdale Online, Club President Barry Edwards said of the application: “Mayfield has shown that there are quality Rugby League players out there in the town… and, given the opportunity through quality coaching and the chance to play for the town, will develop and be a credit to the town team, Rochdale Mayfield.”

Indeed, we can’t even begin to imagine in our time the number of players to have worn both jerseys  - Andy Duffy, Steve Prime, Steve Turner, The Hilton Brothers, John O’Donovan, John Stapleton, The Corcoran brothers, John Cookson, Matt Calland, Sam Butterworth, Todd O’Brien - you could pick an all-Rochdale 13 to take on the best pretty much off the bat.

Mayfield have a bit of a Challenge Cup History having previously played Salford, Hunslet and - eight years ago - when they lost 30-10 to Barrow Raiders at Butterworth Park.

This year they have won 38-20 at Widnes West Bank in Round 1 and produced a come-from-behind shock to beat NCL Premier Division rivals Egremont 22 - 26 at Gillfoot Park - courtesy of a late, late try from Matt Calland, converted by Sam Butterworth. Behind 6-0 down early doors, and reduced to 12 men with the sin binning of Aidy Gleeson, Mayfield trailed the Cumbrians 16-8 at half time. After the break they outscored Egremont, by three tries to one to swipe the victory

Crosstown traffic: RL's shortest
away trip?
Key threat comes from Declan and Lewis Sheridan who weighed in with 31 tries betwen them last season - and from robust veteran Matt Calland who produced 15 of his own! Sam Butterworth remains lethal with the boot - 63 goals last season, and top points scorer with 154 (also the only player to feature in all 22 of last season’s NCL games).

In fact all the same four players accounted for 54% of all of Mayfield’s 720 points scored last season. These are the stats that matter, folks!

Which brings us to Saturday’s game. As with all these encounters, you can’t really win. As we learned at Kells last year, win convincingly and it’s what’s expected; win by 24 points and the amateur team claims a moral victory; win 20-12 and people will delight in telling you how crap you are. And you really don’t want to be on the wrong side of the big story in Monday’s League Weakly.

But that’s the ‘romance’ of the cup, we guess.

See you Saturday.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Muddy Brilliant

Barrow 4 - Hornets 14

Napoleon Bonaparte knew that great leaders were hewn in the filth and the fury of the battlefield. “I made my all generals out of mud”, he said - and in a sea of the stuff at Craven Park, we got a glimpse of the grit behind Alan Kilshaw’s Hornets.

Hornets overcame a doughty Barrow in a battle of squelchy attrition, played out on a swamp of a pitch in the most appalling conditions. As a Cumbrian deluge emptied the sky onto Craven Park turning a heavy surface into slurry, both teams dug in to deliver an ugly, but compelling contest.

The first quarter was a tight affair, Hornets on the front-foot taking the game to Barrow, Lewis Galbraith and Corey Lee combining up the left to unzip the home defence, only for the touch-judge to spot a foot on the line.

Already both sides were struggling to complete sets, and the particulalry finicky reffing style of Mr Mikalauskas broke up the flow of the game even further. A string of penalties gave Barrow a platform to build pressure, but determined Hornets defence held firm.

On 21 minutes a penalty took Hornets upfield, where they belied the conditions to sweep the ball wide to Corey Lee who blasted straight through his opposite number to score by the flag. Crooky hoisted the conversion attempt into the swirling elements to no avail: 0-4.

As the rain hammered down, Barrow had their best spell of the game: firstly shipping the ball to rag-handed winger Toal (who struggled to hang onto a pass all afternoon), then, on the half hour mark they produced a last tackle play to create just enough space for Ward to squeeze through a stretched defence to score.

Half time 4-all, neither side distinguishable from the other.

Barrow began the second half with real intent; regathering a short kick-off and setting up camp on the Hornets 20 metre line. And so began an error strewn period where the scrum-count was edged ever-upwards courtesy of a string of knock-ons. Barrow’s rather one-dimensional brand of ‘thud and blunder’ soaked up by some aggressive defence.

On 55 minutes Hornets wrenched the game from Barrow’s muddy grasp. A penalty took them close to Barrow’s line and a cheeky last-tackle dink into the in-goal was pounced on by James Dandy. Crooky added the two and, at 4-10, the advantage was with Killer’s side.

Barrow again produced a cute kick-off - this time finding touch - and some rare expansive football found Toal again unable to gather on the right wing. Again, the Raiders exerted some extensive pressure: held up over the line, then some neat soccer skills up the right only for Campbell to knock on over the goal-line.

Hornets sucked in for one last push and produced the game's singular moment of inventive football. Direct from a scrum on half-way, Danny Yates hoisted a howitzer of a kick deep behind the home defence. Compelled to scramble in the face of an on-rushing Hornets attack, chaos reigned (rained?) as Barrow defenders struggled to deal with the ball. It was eventually poked into the in-goal where Chris Riley spotted a chance to plunge in and score. 4-14, job done: hoodoo broken.

In the quite literal wash-up, both sides deserve credit for producing a great contest in such dreadful conditions. Indeed, in the end, it came down to desire and an ability to produce a moment of inspiration when it really mattered. Hornets were good value for this rare win in South Cumbria: they tackled in numbers for the full 80 minutes and played what little football was on offer.

We write here often that, sometimes, you just have to find a way to win - and this was a gritty, grafting, huge-hearted effort appreciated by the travelling fans.

Let’s just hope they manage to get those lovely new cup jerseys clean.


1. Wayne English, 2. Chris Riley, 3. David Cookson, 4. Lewis Galbraith, 5. Corey Lee, 6. Paul Crook, 7. Danny Yates, 18. Samir Tahraoui, 9. Ben Moores, 8. Matty Hadden, 12. Jordan Case, 15. Alex Trumper, 13. James Tilley

Subs: 10. Warren Thompson, 17. Jack Francis, 14. Harry Files, 19. James Dandy

Tries: Lee, Dandy, Riley

Goals: Crook 1/3

Our Man of the Match: Hard to pick in such an immense effort, but we've opted for Samir Tahraoui, who played a real old-skool enforcer role, putting himself about and relentlessly piling the ball in for some very hard yards.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Sunday's Coming: Barrow

Barrow's Paul Crarey leads the Raiders to victory in the
annual Rock, Paper, Scissors derby against Workington.
The Trans-Pennine Cup, The Championship Cup, The National League Cup, The Buddies Cup, The Arriva Trains Cup, The Northern Rail Cup and now the iPro Cup - since its arrival in 2002, this has been a difficult competition to love. Regardless of how hard the RFL sells the prospect of an afternoon in Blackpool.

Having begun with an impenetrable group format designed to give teams more games to ‘bulk-out’ their season, it has evolved into a straight knock-out that - if you’re unlucky - will add just one game to your itinerary. And if that game involves a trip to - say - Barrow, some might say that’s just compounding your misfortune.

As it is, the iPro cup compels Hornets to negotiate England’s longest cul-de-sac and take on Barrow at Craven Park this coming Sunday.

The Raiders have had a pretty good pre-season: drubbing a Barrow & District side by 62-6, drawing 10-all with Workington and coming from behind to beat Keighley by 18-14. The only blip was a nilling by Oldham (22-nil) - which the Roughyeds will see as a sign that they’re ready for a return to Super League.

Their squad is a mix of decent local talent and players with lots of experience at a higher level. This year they’ve pulled in Oliver Wilkes, Cameron Pitman, Chris Hankinson, Joe Bullock and Anthony Bate fromn Leigh. While their ‘marquee’ signing for this season is Martin Aspinwall - also from Leigh. His top-flight credentials include Wigan, Huddersfield, Castleford and Hull.

Most interesting for anoraks is the signing of Dan Abram from Sarina Crocodiles - formerly coached by Alan Kilshaw!

Raiders coach Paul Crarey has targeted the iPro Cup as a priority this season. Speaking in the N.W. Evening Mail he said: “We would like to get there (to the final). I did the radio last year and watched it, but I would like to be involved in it as a coach. That’s our goal as a club and as a team.”

“… it’s psyhcological if we beat Rochdale… that’s good for us. It gives us confidence as a group and it proves we can play as a new group as well, and also it is for the fans. It is a one-shot deal, cup games, there is no second chance, it’s on the day, everybody’s fighting for the same thing.”

Two things are apparent in games between Hornets and Barrow. First is that the advantage usually goes with the home side: over the last eight meetings, victory has gone to the home side. Secondly, they’re usually free-scoring affairs: Last season Hornets dealt Barrow their heaviest league defeat on the road winning 48-12, while Barrow did much the same to us with a 46-28 victory at Craven Park. So a bit of a historical hoodoo to be broken.

Wearing our ill-fitting ‘professional hat’,  Sunday provides the first game in a competition where there’s a realistic  chance of winning a trophy - and no fan should denigrate that opportunity. Hornets fans know more than most that trophies can be somewhat elusive - and that’s including the Fearnley Construction 7s.

More importantly it’s a chance to give the team ‘unit’ a meaningful annealing ahead of the serious business one week hence.  So let’s warm up for the season with a road-trip to Barrow - let’s get up there, get behind the lads and knock-over that hoodoo. It could be the start of something much bigger.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Cookie Monsters Coventry

Hornets 60 - Coventry 10

On both fronts, this was a successful day for Hornets. Primarily, the game celebrated John Cookson’s sterling 10 years in the game: a fitting testimonial to an unassuming grafter who makes the hard yards week after week. Secondly, as a more accurate barometer of where they are in terms of readiness, Hornets had too much in the tank for a Coventry side who provided awkward opposition for half an hour, but faded as the game progressed.

Hornets seized the early initiative with two tries in the first 10 minutes: Samir Tahraoui off a short ball to crash in, then the ball whipped wide to Dale Bloomfield off a repeat set. 10-nil.

Cookie spectactularly fluffed the kick off (not one for the season’s highlight reel) to give the Bears good field position, but good defence defused the pressure. Hornets marched straight back downfield where the ball was shipped to Kieron Walpole who squeezed in at the corner. 14-nil, so far so rudimentary.

However, Coventry are no mugs. On 21 minutes a great kick from White bobbled teasingly into the space behind a stretching Bloomers, and Hunte was on hand to emulate his Uncle Henderson Gill’s pace to score out wide. And when Reid snaffled the ball in a scrappy play five minutes later, he found sufficient space in a napping Hornets defence to scoot through and score. 14-10 and the stirrings of a contest.

Not for long, though. Two darting tries from Danny Yates - the second off a mercurial break by Alex McClurg - saw Hornets head to the sheds 12-10 to the good.

Hornets started the second half with a visible increase in purpose. A whopping 40/20 from Paul Crook laid the platform for early pressure, and it was Crooky again three minutes later backing up a big line break by Alex Trumper, only to see the last pass go forward with Hornets streaming up in numbers.

No matter. Hornets hit the gas leaving Coventry to watch the game depart at a pace they couldn’t match.

50 minutes: Alex McClurg  try off a short-ball; 53 minutes Lewis Galbraith jinking in off the end of some Harlem Globetrotters-style handling; 58 minutes, Jordan Case skating in off a repeat set. Crooky and Yatesey splitting the kicking duties and Hornets a vanishing dot at 44-10.

Just past the hour Ben Moores crashed through a static defence to score - and up stepped John Cookson to coolly slot the ball between the uprights from 30 metres to the biggest cheer of the afternoon.

Hornets rounded the game out with two late tries: Lewis Galbraith a carbon copy of his earlier effort, then Corey Lee a lightning blur off a punishing Jordan Case break.

Final Score 60-10 and a job well done.

Yes, we know it was Coventry’s first proper hit-out of the season, but they are a benchmark for performance in what will be a properly testing League 1. Ahead of that is the prospect of a nice trip to Barrow in the iPro Cup in two weeks.

I don’t envy Alan Kilshaw having to pick a 17 out of what’s been a pretty good pre-season. Indeed, when was the last time a Hornets coach managed to get all of their winter pre-season games played?

Time now for the real thing.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Sunday's Coming: Coventry

Cookie models his testimonial jersey.
In the week when it’s been announced that Coventry’s Ricoh Arena is on the radar for a Rugby League Four Nations game, the Midlands’ highest profile club makes the trip up to League’s heartland for John Coookson’s testimonial game.

Despite celebrating their 18th anniversary this year, Coventry Bears are a bit like the village of Brigadoon - unless you’re actually there, they exist in a misty hinterland of the collective Rugby League consciousness. A fleeting glimpse in your peripheral vision and then…

Having made their semi-pro debut last year, they finished their first season in 12th place - and coach Tom Tsang has drafted in some heavy duty Antipodean experience to add a bit of grist to the Bears’ mill.

Prop James Guertjens and Second Row have Jono Milizewski have Quensland Cup experience with Norths Devils. Joining them from Autralia’s top right-hand cormer is former Sunshine coast Falcons utility half Jay Lobwein and Hooker James Redman from Townsville’s Central ASA Tigers.
Chuck in Second Row Liam Thompson from Canberra’s West Belconnen Warriors you have a pretty solid core to build around.

Augmented with players from Swnton, Salford, Sheffield, Halifax and NW Crusaders, this is suddenly less of a ‘development team’, but a unit with a decent RL pedigree. It’ll also be the second consecutive game that Hornets have faced a winger called Jamahl.  Now, that IS a stat.

Coventry are also set to create a bit of League history next month - starting their League 1 season proper with trip to France to face Toulouse Olympique XIII (interestingly, their second fixture is equally glamorous - its at Butts Park against us!).

Hornets come into this game off the back of a patchy Law Cup in which Oldham produced seven minutes of lucid first half football that effectively won the game. If you chose that seven minutes to go to the loo or grab yourself a cup of tea, you probably saw a tightly contested game. For the rest of us it was a timely reminder that the newly configured Hornets machine still needs a little fine tuning ready for the season ahead. Indeed, having beaten a poor Swinton and lost to a well-drilled if unspectacular Oldham, Sunday should give a clearer indication of where we’re at.

Finally, please do support John Cookson’s testimonial in as many ways as you can.

Having given the game 10 years service, this will be John’s eighth season in a Hornets jersey. After signing for Leigh from Adlington Juniors, he first came to Hornets for a loan spell. He went on to become the first player to reach 100 appearances for the supporter-owned Hornets.

He’s currently played 132 games and scored 27 tries  - including one in the Grand Final at Leigh in 2013.

His standing at the club is such that he has been awarded Hero of Hornets status - was voted by supporters into the Hornets all-time XIII alongside some legendary luminaries and has had the matchday lounge named in his honour.

And don’t forget that the special testimonial playing kit will be auctioned off after the game - so grab yourself a rarity. See you Sunday.

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Law Cup Runneth Over...

Hornets 12 - Oldham 29

Notwithstanding the view that - in recent years - Oldham only want to play the Law Cup when they think they have a chance of winning it, this was a sloppy, squelching sop of a game in which the visitors played the conditions better and took their chances when they came.

There’s no doubt that, at the other end of the A627M, this will be heralded as a precursor to Oldham’s return to the bottom of Rugby League’s top table, but on this performance we’d say that we’re better prepred fopr a tilt at Barrow than Oldham are for their debut shot at London next week.

Played under a persistent blanket of heavy drizzle, the game started brightly - Hornets with the early pressure, shifting the ball wide only for Chris Riley’s foot to touch the line on his way to the corner.

Oldham responded with an attack that looked to be going nowhere, but when the ball hit the deck, they were quicker to respond to the broken play, Grimshaw taking advantage to skate through and score: 0-4.

The game settled into a messy phase - loose carries, forced passes, pesky penalties: Oldham’s Grimshaw helped from the field after a clattering charge-down from Matt Hadden; James Dandy denied a try, deemed to have infringed Chisholm in flight.

Out of nowhere, Hornets produced a moment of incision: Danny Yates’ teasing kick into the in-goal, Wayne English plunging in at Spotland’s deep-end to touch down the bobbling ball. Crooky the extras and Hornets in front at 6-4.

Having cracked the game open, Hornets seemingly switched off for seven minutes: Oldham didn’t need inviting twice and whipped in three quick-fire scores. Chaos off a last tackle kick, Spencer taking advantage; again on the last tackle, Hornets napping out wide, Chisolm just enough reach to score; then a huge break by Roper, his inside ball putting Ward under the black dot. 6-22 on the half hour: Hornets regrouping sufficiently to hang on to the break.

Oldham began the second half in direct fashion. Some old-skool route-one approach work ended with Ward crashing in off a short ball from one metre. Palfrey the two - all very unedifying at 6-28. At which point, Oldham declared to leave Hornets chasing 23 points to win.

As the conditions and the game deteriorated, Hornets worked hard to haul themselves upfield where they too produced ‘Plan-X’: Woz Thompson arriving with determination to barge in and score from close range. Yatesy the two (Crooky removed as a precaution after a knock on the knee): 12-28.

The last quarter was a soggy scramble; the ball a bar of soap that slithered repeatedly from the grasp. Hornets pushed hard and forced a couple of repeat sets, but couldn’t quite get the cogs to click.

The game was brought to an end, with Palfrey hitting a last minute drop-goal to take the Law Cup by 12-29.

To be fair, it was hard to judge the game as a contest given that both sides struggled with the appalling conditions. The difference being Oldham’s seven-minute spell that effectively put the game beyond Hornets’ reach by half time.

So, while we’re disappointed that Oldham get to retain the Law Cup until such time they deem themselves ready to defend it, we turn to Rudyard Kipling for a few words on the nature of pre-season friendlies: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same…” then you build on the positives, learn from the mistakes and move on.

And don’t forget - the last time Oldham woin the Law Cup at Spotland, Hornets ended the season with an altogether more meaningful trophy.