Sunday, 21 August 2016


Toulouse 46 - Hornets 6

It's fair to say that Toulouse Olympique don't want teams to come here and give them a contest. The whole charade is an ambush: a mugging cunningly disguised as sport.

As TOXIIIC steamroller their way to inevitable promotion, they neither want nor like teams that give them a hard time. They want undercooked teams flown in the night before, served up as cannon fodder for their dead-eyed mercenaries to pummel for the delight of their cashed-up paymasters.

And don't believe any of the hype surrounding Toulouse as a club. This is without doubt one of the most hollow, soulless RL experiences you'll find anywhere in the 13-man world.

Their club is a facade - a crowd of no more than 500 belying their supposed huge potential; a professional band hired in to play for the full 80 minutes to drown out the embarrassing silence; the playing of crowd noise over the tannoy to create a karaoke atmosphere; the over-excited tannoy announcer single handedly leading the crowd chant when the home side are attacking; the playing of music during breaks in play (scrums, injuries). Any one of these would ruin your afternoon...

And then there's the way Toulouse play: fast & direct, yes - but leaving something in every tackle on attack and defence. And seeing Jonathan Ford reduced to begging for penalties after every tackle is just embarrassing.

Hornets ripped in from the off, but two breaks against the run of play saw the home side exploit Hornets' right edge to sneak two tries in two minutes from Kheralla and Minga (TBC).

But Hornets dug in and for 20 minutes clawed their way back into the game. But as it looked like the visitors were making headway, Jo Taira was sin-binned after tracking back to stem a huge TO break. This gave TO some momentum, and when Ford's punt & hope kick bounced freakishly behind a retreating Hornets defence, it was a let off when three chasing 'Frenchmen' failed to touch down.

Having ridden out the one man deficit, Hornets drove the home side back onto their own goal-line, where Jono Smith stepped wide to score. Crooky the extras, and the home fans really edgy at 10-6.

With Hornets now in the ascendancy, TO came up with a heartbreaking play: Ford's break, Minga's chip and Planas gathering to send TO in 16-6 up at the break.

The second half was a battle: ugly, brutal and punishing as an accelerating penalty count frayed nerves and tempers. Jo Taira set the tone after just two minutes when a shuddering hit on the TO 9 Bentley left him in a crumpled heap. Having dared to offer resistance, TO's response was to start a fight at the next tackle - Hornets seen as transgressors despite TO's repeated habit of leading with the elbow.

And when Ford was put on his arse, he went crying to Mr Bloem who duly gave a penalty. When the home side knocked on the resulting play, Ford continued his skriking to the officials. Pathetic.

Indeed, when Hulme caught Hornets napping at a scrum to score after 46 minutes, it carried a sense of injustice.

Hornets continued to push and probe, but the effort was beginning to take its toll: Mike Ratu clearly struggling, Jake Shoel removed with an arm injury, Danny Yates hit high, requiring repeated treatment.

As the defence reshuffled to accommodate Alex Trumper, Minga capitalised off a pass so forward even the home fans were stunned. 28-6 and the game pretty much gone.

On the Hour, Hulme took advantage of two fights happening in back play to plant the ball under the black dot. Mr Bloem consulted his French Touch Judge, gave TO a team warning - and went and gave the try. Unbelievable.

A minute later, Lewis Galbraith was sin-binned after complaining that his opposite number had led with an elbow; and when Ben Moores followed four minutes later for defending himself, TO took cruel advantage of an 11 man Hornets.

First Planas spinning out of a tired tackle to score, then Minga taking the scenic route to outpace the chasing cover from 80 metres: easy with a two man advantage.

So, final score 46-6: but the score doesn't tell the tale. Hornets threw the kitchen sink at TO and had them visibly rattled. But two spells playing short and the home side's desperate histrionics to con penalties took a heavy toll.

In the end, the home fans (basically friends and family and an entourage of hangers-on) were delighted to have effectively secured top spot.

And, while the circumstances of the win were soul-destroying - Hornets came away from Toulouse knowing that at least our club has a soul to destroy.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Saturday's Coming: Toulouse Pt 2

"Whatever our competitors, we want to do even better than last time, and this is especially true against Rochdale."

The giddiness increased this week in Toulouse as Olympique prepared for what they see as the ‘title decider’.

Toulouse Sports (@TlsSports) tweeted:  “If @TOXIII beats @RochdaleHornets Saturday in Blagnac they will be assured of hosting the final for the title (In practice, the draw is enough)”

Toulouse (@TOXIII ) responded: “Exactly. But we prefer not to take risks, and we will seek victory.”

Their preview features an interview with their Aussie Fullback Mark Kheirallah. Again - all dodgy translation is down to my lousy French and a bit of Google Translate (I think they use the word 'shock' as we would use the word 'Challenge').

Mark Kheirallah speaking on the possibility of a shock against Rochdale on Saturday.

After a first away trip in the Super 8 was very well negotiated against Doncaster ( 18-38 ), the Toulouse Olympique preparing its next home game, facing Rochdale Hornets , second in the ranking, this Saturday, August 20th at Stade Ernest-Argelès in Blagnac .

On this occasion, the TO XIII fullback Mark Kheirallah confided about his state of form , that of the team , and of this decisive shock to come.

Mark Kheirallah: Personally, I feel good. I am pleased to evolve in this championship with the team, opponents are strong but we are doing the job, allowing us to play our game and have fun. At this stage of the competition, I think it will be difficult to stop us. I am confident enough to think that because I have confidence in my team and in our work.

Can you repeat your last win against Doncaster which took place this weekend?

Mark Kheirallah: We knew it would be complicated and they would put in a performance against us. And they showed some good things, I found that there were really good players, who stuck to us for 80 minutes. They relied on their power and we had to work to keep them away until the end. We did the job.

This weekend, another big shock awaits the TO, this time at home against the Rochdale Hornets - how the group feels the approach of this meeting?

Mark Kheirallah: This is a game we all look forward to, and we look forward to it. The first time we had not done the job until the end, but this time we will make every effort to achieve it. In case of victory, we can ensure first place in the ranking of the Super 8, so this is a crucial game for the rest of the competition.

Is the preparation different for this kind of game at stake?

Mark Kheirallah: No. As usual, the drives are focused on small details that can turn the match in our favor. We focus on mistakes that could cost us previously and the elements of which we are not satisfied, easily rectifiable with work. Whatever our competitors, we want to do even better than last time, and this is especially true against Rochdale. We want to play at the highest level, and for this, it may work and rework on basic things, but fundamental.

In case of victory, the TO is assured of a place in the final at home. What is the feeling of the team deal with this?

Mark Kheirallah: We are all very excited to win this game. That would be really a real chance for the team to play a final at home, and to offer this show to our fans. Obviously, there is some pressure but we make sure to put it aside, or we use it to move forward. I think we have very smart players that do not get distracted, focused on their goals. Certainly we are a young team (Note: 23 years of average age) but we also have players with a lot of experience that make benefit the entire group. We will do the job to give us the chance to reach the Championship.

So ready for the end of the season?

Mark Kheirallah: Yes. After Rochdale, we will remain three games: two consecutive trips to London in Skolars (26/08) and then Hunslet (03/09), and a final home game against Barrow Raiders (10/09) which is the form team of the moment. It will take us to remain cautious although we are pleased that our work is paying off. We looking forward to September to see if we have fulfilled our deal and finally take a rest (laughs).

The game takes place at the at stadium Ernest Argelès in the suburb of Blagnac at 6pm.
The referee for Saturday's game is Jamie Bloem, with French touch judges.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Saturday's Coming: Toulouse Pt.1

“Together, let us go to the conquest”

That’s the battle cry from deepest Toulouse this week as they prepare to lay claim to the title ‘Champion of England’

There is, of course a huge assumption that TOXIIIC managed to scrape together two brave French hearts in their squad of overseas mercenaries for their poster publicising the game that they’re billing as the ’Final Decider’.

Their website says (forgive my very rusty French):

TO XIII vs Rochdale – Saturday, August 20 – For a place in the final?

The leader of League One, the Toulouse Olympique XIII, which hosts this Saturday, August 20 Rochdale at stadium Ernest Argelès, may have the opportunity claim their ticket for  the promotion final to the Championship. Kick-off of the match is 18:00.

A place in the final is the challenge of the meeting between TO and Rochdale.

After this Super 8, the top five of the ranking will play the finals in which 2 places in the Championship will be awarded.

The first promotion final pits the leader of the regular season and the runner-up,  on the field of the highest placed city on the weekend of 17-18 September.

The objective of the team since the beginning of the season, Toulouse Olympique will have the opportunity to secure their place in the top two ranking when they host Rochdale Hornets ( 'Hornets') on Saturday, August 20 (18.00).

Current third-placed, Barrow are currently  6 points adrift with four matches still to play (one less than the TO). But by defeating our nearest rival, the Toulouse team would make a great step towards a final at home. Very good reasons for coming to Blagnac to encourage the Blue and Whites in this showdown!

Good to see they're building it up into a 'showdown': indeed the best team in the division v the best English team in the division does have the air of a major clash about it. Already looking forward to this one. More later in the week.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Third Time Sucky

Hornets 16 - York 36

Despite York’s basket-case existence; and despite heavy rumours that James Ford is on his way to Sheffield next season, York - once again - handed Hornets a lesson in Rugby League basics.

Despite early jitters, for 20 minutres there was no real indication of just how badly this game was going to suck.

York started with a steepling bomb to the corner, drawing a great catch under pressure from Dale Bloomfield, who was given a penalty for some needless afters in the tackle. But a scrappy pick-up by Jo Taira handed the ball back to the visitors.

Taira made amends for his error with a perfectly legitimate, bone-shuddering tackle as the ball was released, but the somewhat dramatic reaction of the York player involved milked a ridiculous penalty from referee Mr Roberts who maintained a somewhat tenuous grasp on the laws all afternoon.

Indeed, on 8 minutes, a Steve Roper dink into the in-goal was clearly knockeddead by a York defender, only for Mr Roberts to give the Knights a 20m restart.

Then three incidents that gave York impetus. Firstly Wayne English uncharacteristically fumbled a hit & hope bomb under no pressure. Followed within a minute by a booming hit by Dale Bloomfield that yielded another deeply dubious penalty. Followed a minute later by an arbitrary offside decision. A pattern emerging.

The pressure was temporarily relieved by a Jono Smith interception releasing Dale Bloomfield to half-way. But an exchange of knock-ons in York’s half of the field, followed by yet another York penalty finally took their toll.

On 22 minutes a York try out of nothing. A York attack running out of ideas, a half-break, a crap pass and Waller rumbling in off his first touch of the ball. Craig the two; 0-6.

As the game descended into a sloppy, error-strewn mess, it was hard to see where the next score would come from. And, just when the home fans thought Hornets would scrape it to the break and regroup, York hit them with a really soft double-whammy.

On 38 minutes Haynes strolled through a huge hole off the back of a scrum; then 60 seconds later Hornets’ defence completely switched off as Breining sauntered in from acting half. A shocker, really.

For the second successive home game Hornets went to the sheds on a nil - York simply having dine the basics better.

Hornets started the second half with a bang. York’s Craig coughed the kick-off, Jono Smith came barging onto a short-ball to crash in and score. Yatesey the two, Hornets a chance at 6-18.

On 44 minutes, Hornets overplayed the narrow-side to see the ball go to ground, but when Danny Yates launched a deep kick four minutes later, a great chase saw the gathering Buchanan bundled into touch.

From the resulting play Hornets whipped the ball to the right, but Jack Holmes’ cut-out pass cut out his winger, the touch-judge, the ball-boy and the first four rows of the main stand.

No matter. On 50 minutes Danny Yates’ kick and Jono Smith’s chaser forced a drop-out, from which Josh Crowley plunged in, but just short.

From the handover, Hornets’ were deemed not square at the ruck, the penalty marched York downfield, where they worked a ridiculous overlap for Craig to stroll-in untouched. 6-22.

Then another error: this time Jack Holmes getting his feet in a tangle collecting a no-pressure kick in the in-goal to concede a drop-out. Holmes was involved again three tackles later, deemed to have knocked on as he retreated into the defensive line towards his own posts. York finally capiialising on their building pressure as Spears barrelled in tio score through some ordinary defence. Craig the two; 6-28 - and with a quarter of the game to go, it was effectively over as a contest.

York continued to pile on the misery. Off the back of back-to-back penalties, Emmet stepped in off a flat ball from 5 metres to score. Craig the extras for 6-34.

Hornets flickered briefly when, on 70 minutes Ben Moores dived on from acting half after Jo Taira had gone close; then Taira featured again two minutes later when his pass hit Jordan Case with space to squeeze in and score.

The game delivered its kick in the nuts in the 79th minute when Hornets were snagged for a transgression at the play the ball and Craig took the two.

The game ended with Samir Tahraoui penalised in possession right on the hooter - the afternoon in microcosm right there, folks.

In the end this was a solid gold shocker. Hornets second best in every department all over the field, worsened by a litany of unforced errors and frankly oddball penalty decisions.

As the crunch point of the season gets closer, it’s clear that Hornets look to have the yips just as York and Barrow are running into form. And with a trip to Toulouse next weekend, it’s going to need something dramatic to turn this around.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Sunday's Coming: York

It’s not been the best of starts to the Super 8s for York. Caught in the middle of a frankly bonkers ground share agreement, owner John Guildford pulled the plug in what looked like an assisted suicide and left League in the city staring into the abyss.

With all contracts void and all players confirmed as free-agents, their opening game against Doncaster was summarily postponed while the RFL thrashed out a ‘rescue’ that would see the Knights play out the season as a takeover bid continues in the background.

Whilst the team did make it to Toulouse (going down to a creditable defeat), Only 15 players made the trip to France as work commitments, family matters, walk-outs, and injuries picked James Ford’s side apart.

At the time, Ford said: “Off the field that’s nothing to do with me. I’m not sure what’s happening. I have to manage these boys and get the best out of them. But if they turn up for me and show that endeavour and desire for me and for each other, then I will work damn hard for them.”

But ‘off the field’ does have an impact. The Knights have a contract with the council which entitles them to play matches at Bootham Crescent as part of the deal on the council's delayed community stadium scheme. But the council have a separate deal - with, it seems, different terms - with York City Football Club, which has added a whole new layer of complexity and uncertainty to what (to an outside observer) looks like a farce.

Even with a delicate equilibrium established, last week’s game against Barrow came close to
being moved to Castleford when the council/football axis demanded that the game be played at noon, rather then 3pm to appease the terms of the football club’s agreement. Barrow refused to travel early and- after much wrangling - it was agreed on a 2pm kick-off. All that hassle to save an hour. Someone needs to knock some heads together.

As it was, the game ended with York’s 11th straight defeat to Barrow - a proper bogey-team run stretching back to 2007 - as the knights went down 20-6. York now lie in fifth only one-point above sixth-placed Hunslet.

After the defeat to in-form Barrow, Ford was scathing in his criticism of some of his players: “… there were a couple of performances that fell a bit below the standards at this club. Barrow played with some decent shape and they have some huge middles who get them tempo, and Jamie Dallimore is a good half. But there were some really poor efforts individually from one or two (York) blokes on the edges, with one or two taking some soft options.”

After an arm-wrestle of a game, the Raiders ran away with the game, with three tries in the last nine minutes.

Hornets come into the game on the back of another gritty, grafting win - having seen-off a stubborn 12-man Keighley. Having overcome the initial urge to force play to the edges, Hornets settled the ship and put in a solid second half. Interestingly, in a game where the opposition was a winger short, all three Hornets tries came from forwards running hard at close range: proof that sometimes you just have to hit a tricky problem with something hard and heavy.

Hornets’ win did see another achievement box ticked for the season: a top five playoff place now guaranteed. And a win on Sunday effectively kills off York’s chance of finishing second. Onwards and upwards: see you Sunday.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Punch the Clock

Hornets 18 - Keighley 4

When Keighley forward Charlie Martin said last week that the Cougars were prepared to fight for Paul March’s job, no-one assumed he meant it literally.

But when Paul White’s brian-fart king-hit on Corey Lee on the quarter mark sparked a 26 man brawl that spilled  into the Keighley dug-out, you could sense that tensions in the visitors' camp were fairly tightly wound.

At the time, Keighley were 0-4 up after Brooke had got a hand to a pinball kick into the in-goal after 11 minutes,  but White’s red-card was the signal for Keighley to effectively park both of their mini-buses and draw Hornets into an unsightly arm wrestle.

And for an hour, it worked: aided and abetted by tyro ref Mr Straw, whose sometimes surrealist interpretation of the laws shoved the penalty count ever closer to the 20 mark.

Hornets’ urgency to exploit the extra man was repeatedly thwarted by a series of hurried last passes that saw chances go begging: and when Wayne English was nudged off the ball on the half hour as he stretched to reel in a Danny Yates kick to the corner, Hornets’ best chance of the half was gone.

For the remainder of the half, Keighley continued to frustrate: completing sets in their own half and driving Hornets back with a succession of long kicks.

It clearly needed a bit of a chat: Hornets down 0-4 at the break.

The second half was a different story: Hornets much more direct, with more palpable puropse. A Samir Tahraoui break on 48 minutes sent defenders scrambling - only for Wayno and Ryan Maneely to clash heads in the dash to support.

Three minutes later, a tight, concise approach set fed Jordan Case into space to score: rounding sizeable Keighley forward Oakes who has the turning cirlce of a bin wagon. Yatesey the two: 6-4.

Sixty seconds later Richie Hawkyard suffered an anal squeaking issue under a towering Danny Yates Bomb, the spilled ball regathered by a retreating defender in an offside position. From the resulting play, Ben Moores held-up in-goal.

On 58 minutes, further Hornets pressure forced a drop-out and the return set saw Woz Thompson blasting through a blowing defence to score. Yatesey the extras: 12-4.

Just past the hour, Jo Taira hit Gabriel with a monster collision as he followed up a kick. The impact so great that he wiped out fellow tackler Jack Holmes too. Destructive.

To their credit, Keighley did put in a late rally; Paul Handforth emerging from his slumbers to produce a pinpoint kick and chase and a huge 40/20 to give the home fans some late jitters.

But Hornets responded well: first a scooting Danny Yates break (his inside ball slipping teasingly from Ben Moores’ fingers); and a Josh Crowley break that laid the platform for Samir Tahraoui to haul himself through a pack of tacklers to score on the hooter. Yatesey 100% - final score 18-4.

Having been hauled into a war of attrition by a well-organised, hard-working Keighley, it’s important to note that Hornets kept the visitors scoreless for 69 minutes of this contest. And, having regrouped at the break, scored 18 unanswered second half points. Indeed, this was one of those games where you had to find a way to win and, from Hornets, this was an object lesson in patience and trusting that if you do the basics better than the opposition you should prevail.

As Alan Kilshaw would say: plenty to work on. But for Paul March, you suspect that his work at Keighley is pretty much done.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Sunday's Coming: Keighley Cougars

Sunday sees Keighley Cougars make the trip to Spotlans - and it seems that everyone at Lawkholme Lane is feeling the pressure.

According to the Keighley News, Cougars coach Paul March was left ‘bitterly frustrated’ after last week’s home defeat to Hunslet (whose members vote next month to remove the ‘Hawks’ soubriquet from their official name).

Keighley’s Bradford loanee Jonny Walker was equally disappointed with the result: ““Losing to Hunslet last weekend was obviously very disappointing and I think we took them for granted.” he said.

Consolation Prize? Seems silverware doesn't prevent
you getting your Marching Orders.
It was the Cougars’ second successive defeat in the Super 8s, seeing them slip further off the pace. Which isn’t good news for March, who was recently put on notice by chairman chairman Gary Fawcett that failure to win promotion would see him summarily sacked.

Fawcett said (in the Bradford Teleghraph and Argus last month): "While we are hopeful that a turnaround will happen over the course of the remaining games, we have to be realistic and plan for the future.

"The club operates on principles, which includes honouring contracts. We are not a Premiership football club which hires and fires at will, racking up substantial contract termination costs. Given our financials, we have to be circumspect and, more importantly, treat people with dignity.

"Make no mistake, though. Failure to achieve promotion will require us to appoint a new head coach, who we feel can do the job for 2017, and I have no doubt that there will be plenty of interest in the role. Applications will probably start to arrive at Cougar Park after this press release." A bit naughty, we think.

Perversely, the threat of having their coach sacked seems to have impacted on the team. Cougars’ centre Charlie Martin spoke this week of the effect it’s had.

“… we’re not going to write the season off , because the main goal is to win promotion and save Marchy’s job” he said. “He’s not just a head coach but he’s also a good mate of everyone. We have played with him before and I don’t think people realise how difficult it is to go from being a player to being a coach.

“For me, what the club said about needing to go up for Marchy to keep his job, has heaped added pressure on us.” So an excellent job done there.

Ahead of Sunday’s game Ash Lindsay will undergo a head test and Charlie Martin is a doubt with a finger injury. Forwards Brendon Rawlins and Scott Law will also be monitored in training this week.

Hornets come into Sunday’s game on the back of a hard-fought win at London Skolars. After a lightning first half, injuries reshuffles and the lack of a half-back pairing took their toll, and two late tries gave the game the veneer of a contest. What did impress was that the Hornets pack stood-up well against much bigger counterparts, and scrum half Danny Yates played his best game in Hornets’ colours with a dominant, controlling performance.

Both of which we’ll need in spades against an increasingly desperate Keighley Cougars. As we’ve seen thus far, there are no easy games in this new format - but it does promise to be an afternoon of intense competition. See you there.