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.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Sunday's Coming: Doncaster

Go on, admit it: you’d completely forgotten that Doncaster were in this division.

Last, but not least, Donny make their way over to Spotland for Sunday’s game. with both parties having secured a top-four berth. While Hornets look set for second-place (bar a defeat on Sunday and a 50 point win for York at Keighley), a Doncaster win and a defeat for York by the Cougars (who can now no longer improve on 6th) would hoist Donny into third - which brings with it a lovely trip to France. Finish fourth, however and TOCXIIIC come to you. Only the RFL could come up with that gem. But it’s a high-class problem to have.

In this final ‘regular round’ it’s London Skolars’ turn to have a pop at non-full-time Toulouse. Having guaranteed a place in the 8, they should be full of confidence and it’d be nice to think that there could be an upset on the cards.

Further down the table, all eyes will be on Hunslet and Newcastle for who finishes in the dreaded 9th spot. Currently separated by a single point, Hunslet have the narrow advantage in the battle to prove which side can underperform the most this season.

Newcastle ThunderFalcons make the long trip down to Hemel, so you have to fancy them to win, which puts pressure on Hunslet to get a win from the visit of Crusaders. This battle is made more interesting as both sides have identical points differences, so a Hunslet draw and a big Newcastle win could see the Hawks’ 2016 effectively dead in the water on points difference. And Crusaders already have two draws under their belt this season. You can hear the sphincters squeak from here.

Speaking of which, Doncaster come on Sunday having ripped Hemel Stags a brand new bumhole in an 80-point thrashing at the Keepmoat last week.

But coach Gary Thornton isn’t pleased with the 18 points they conceded. Speaking on the club’s website this week he said: “I’m not so pleased with the 18 points we conceded…” - wise words, mate.

To be fair, he also said: “It is mind games, you are 18 points up against anybody and you take your foot off the gas a little bit and I want us to get away from that”. Alan Kilshaw will probably agree.

Thornton continued:  “We will go to Rochdale confident, we know they have beaten Keighley and they are a good team, but we will go there with a very positive mind-set. I don’t want to be disrespectful by any means, but we won’t be playing the likes of Hemel and South Wales Scorpions, we will be playing the likes of Rochdale week in week out and we know it is going to be a very tough act.”

“We need to cut out some of our errors, because teams in the Super 8s will definitely hurt us, we need to be a lot more professional about things and fix up some of the mistakes we are coming up with at the moment.”

When you look at Doncaster’s squad, it’s a robust, work-hard outfit, augmented by Papua New Guineans Jason Tali and the redoubtable Makali Aizue - who we reckon is 40 next year! Tali weighed-in with two tries last week - but most eyecatching was a hat-trick from prop Connor Scott.

In Summary: threats, but mistakes.

Hornets come into this final game before the inaugural split looking good in second place. Alan Kilshaw has done a great job in building on previous seasons’ work and has instilled a grittier, harder edge to a side that could always play, but could always have had a sharper ‘Killer’ instinct.

Last week’s win over Keighley was an archetypal game of two halves: a first 40 of high-tempo intensity that blew Keighley away; the second forty a stubborn rearguard action as the visitors capitalised on a team bent completely out of shape and short on replacement bodies.

For us, though, the moment that underlined Hornets’ determination was Ben Julilen’s counter-attacking overlap try when we were down to 12 men.

We can’t wait though, for the contest between 'The Suva Express' Jo Taira and Makali Aizue - a big-hitting heavyweight contest that again pits PNG’s battle hardened veteran against Hornets’ fearless Fijian wrecking-ball tyro. Worth the admission money alone. See you Sunday.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Hornets Forward Firepower Too Hot for Keighley

Hornets 42 - Cougars 28

Ignore the scoreline. The fact that this result even hints at the veneer of a contest does Hornets a gross disservice. Only once Hornets were reduced to two fit substitutes, players playing out of position and a man sin-binned for the last 10 minutes did Keighley even get a sniff of this game

Keighley’s tormentor-in-chief was the ‘Suva Express’ Jo Taira who applied some frankly scary wrecking-ball technique in both attack and defence. Notwithstanding his punishing carries, his thunderous hit to force a drop-out that led to Jono Smith’s try after 55 minutes was worth the admission money alone.

Hornets were in charge from the moment that Paul Crook’s spiralling kick-off found touch at 15 seconds after three. Two dumbass penalties from Keighley gave Hornets a platform deep in Cougar’s territory where James Tilley hit a flat-ball at pace to score. Crooky the extras, Hornets 6-nil up before Keighley had touched the ball.

Buoyed by their start, Hornets went back down field where Danny Yates slipped a teasing kick with Dale Bloomfield in hot pursuit, pressure on a panicking defence resulting in a scrum. But an attempt to go wide quickly was foiled when Tom Lineham was shepherded into touch. No matter.

On 13 minutes a blockbusting run from Jo Taira - that included an exquisite hand-off - drew a penalty; Danny Yates took a quick tap and, while Keighley were holding a post-mortem on what had just happened, Ben Julien skipped through to score. Crooky the two for 12-nil.

Hornets continued to press hard and, on, 18 minutes Paul Crook and Jordan Case combined to create a pinpoint crash-ball hit by an unstoppable Wayne English at close range. Crooky cool as you like for 18-nil.

On 22 minutes, Hornets targeted Keighley half Paul Handforth defending out on an edge. Having compelled him to make four consecutive tackles, Ben Moores went to him again, finding Ben Julien in space. He slipped the ball to Wayne English who - ankle-tapped -  showed great vision and coolness to slip the ball out for Dale Bloomfield to score. Crooky on target: 24-nil.

Keighley did rally briefly: Peltier chucking his weight behind a short pass to score from five metres.

Hornets had the last word of the half when Paul Crook took the two after a string of Keighley penalties.

Half time 26-6; Hornets in complete control.

The second half was a patched-up, patchwork affair: Hornets losing Dave Cookson and Dale Bloomfield to injury, compelling a major reshuffle that saw Jono Smith play on the wing, Jo Taira switch to centre and props Samir Tahraoui, Matt Hadden and Woz Thompson heavily rotated in short shifts.

But Hornets started brightly. An early penalty for a 3-on-one ball-rip was followed by a frankly stunning passage of play.

On 55 minutes Jo Taira set off in pursuit of a deep kick into the Keighley in-goal. Winger Campbell slipped the ball inside to Martin who was hit like a train by 14 stone of angry Fijian. The main stand rose. From the drop out, Ben Julien broke the initial line, finding makeshift winger Jono Smith with enough space to blast 30 metres and score. Crooky’s kick shaved the post. 32-6

Keighley scraped a a score against the run of play when Feather ducked in from acting half on the last tackle. Hornets’ response was swift: Paul Crook and Tom LIneham keeping the ball alive; Ben Moores a superb fingertips catch to score. Crooky the two 38-12.

With a tiring Hornets inreasingly reshuffled out of shape, Keighley had their best spell of the game: two tries in six minutes for Martin, the first the pick of the brace involving a prestidigitous ball steal on Paul Crook that left both parties equally surprised. Somehow Keighley deigning to compete at 38-24.

On 70 minutes Keighley launched an attack through Hornets’ right channel, where lump John Oaks was deemed to have been tackled by James Tilley before he received the ball. Tilley sin-binned: Hornets reduced to 12 for the remainder of the game. Keighley capitalised on their numerical advantage immediately, Rawlins trundling in out wide to close the gap to just 10 points.

But it’s been at times like these where Alan Kilshaw’s Hornets have shown a steely resolve. Where previously we might have limped and struggled to the finish line, this side responded in the only way it knows how. With two minutes remaining an attritional approach set had Keighley retreating to their goal-line, where an audacious Ben Moores cut-out pass created space for Ben Julien to reach in and score by the corner post.

In the end this game looked tighter than it really was. Only when Hornets were depleted did Keighley even look like competing. Indeed, the first half was as good as we’ve played all season. Slick, cohesive and clinical. Whilst the current clutch of injuries seem to have come at a bad time, Killer will also have one or two fit bodies back on deck next week for our final first-phase game before the Super 8s.

Having secured at least third place, a win next week will seal second. And that, my fellow Hornets, will be a job well done.