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.