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.