Monday, 19 September 2016

The Miracle of Blagnac

Toulouse 22 - Hornets 24

If you thought that the age of miracles had passed, think again.

At the Stade Ernest Argeles on Saturday Rugby League witnessed a moment of divine inspiration as Rochdale Hornets overcame ridiculous odds to hand Toulouse as lesson in grit, determination and commitment.

Hornets' bloody-minded refusal to be bullied or intimidated by Toulouse proved the difference as the RFL's annointed club, coach and player of the year all choked under the weight of expectation.

But don't imagine for a moment that this result was due to Toulouse's failure to show up on the day. Hornets were bold, imperious - withstanding an early onslaught to emerge worthy champions.

The day began with typical Toulouse hubris: the RFL's Ralph Rimmer glad-handing the Olympique directors, each of whom bore a champagne flute and a huge cigar. Clearly, a coronation was expected. Ha.

The opening exchanges were even. Hornets solid; direct. Toulouse probing for gaps. Hornets with an early chance - James Tilley's show and go, the ball falling loose 2 metres from the TO line.

The home side exhaled. Working the ball back upfield, Ford's dink into space forced a repeat set, and when he kicked into the in-goal on 11 minutes, Canet pounced to score. Kheirallah the extras: 6-nil.

Crooky drilled the kick-off deep, the ball bouncing dead. TO forced to drop-out.

In the approach, Dave Cookson was slammed into the ground, clearly in distress. The home crowd jeered as he received treatment. This would become a pattern.

Two minutes later TO targeted a struggling Cookson, Curran launched into space to score from distance. Kheirallah the conversion to double the lead.

Michael Ratu replaced a staggering Cookson and, immediately, TO went that way. Curran this time the provider, White through the hole for 16-nil. The home crowd now animated.

Not for long. Having soaked up the early pressure, Hornets began to play. On 21 minutes the ball was shipped wide; Josh Crowley produced a delicious delayed pass and Jack Holmmes finished in style by the flag. Paul Crook the coolest man in the stadium, the extras off the touchline for 16-6.

Hornets now had the momentum: Chris Riley chasing a steeping Crooky bomb, sacking Kheiralla forcing a knock-on. Then Crooky's kick into the in goal, the resulting chase and tackle deemed a shoulder charge.

TO did rally briefly, Hornets scrambling and scrapping to hold firm as Toulouse showboated, then ran out of ideas - the errors mounting.

In response Hornets continued the barrage. Jo Taira now adding to Toulouse's woes - his wrecking-ball approach incensing the home crowd. On 39 minutes a huge Danny Yates break right through the guts of the TO defence had blue shirts scrambling to cover, and when James Tilley slipped a cute kick into the in-goal the home side was compelled to drop-out.

As Tilley steamed the ball back at the defence, he copped a high-shot. Crooky cool as you like, the penalty slotted right on the hooter. Half-time 16-8: Toulouse wobbling - coming up with lots of errors and clearly not relishing the physical approach.

The second half began with TO trying to mix it. A 41st minute chicken wing tackle on Matt Hadden from Ader overlooked by the officials.

No matter. Hornets forced TO backwards and, when Jono Smith slotted Michael Ratu through a retreating defence it looked like a well executed try, but referee Mr Crashley struck it off for obstruction and when Jono made his thoughts known, he was despatched for 10 minutes.

TO's response was immediate, Ford forcing a drop-out. The crowd now febrile, smelling blood in the water. But on 50 minutes TO blew-up.

Jack Holmes brutally spear-tackled, Hornets used the penalty to advance downfield where Danny Yates embarked on a weaving run to put Lewis Galbraith in at the corner. Crooky off the touchline for 16-14. The crowd stunned into silence.

This was the moment that tide turned. Not only had Hornets not conceded when reduced to 12, they scored with an overlap. You could sense a real shift in dominance.

On 53 minutes another miracle offload from Jo Taira saw Trigger bundled into touch; then Taira on defence landing a shuddering hit on Mika to force the ball loose. TO now riddled with errors.

They flickered briefly: Minga's effort denied for a forward pass to give Hornets a let-off.

On the hour another horrendous spear tackle saw Jo Taira receive concerned treatment - the home crowd baying as he lay motionless, booing as he staggered to his feet. Their frustration was palpable as Kriouache was given 10 minutes for a dangerous tackle.

A string of penalties and a repeat set gave TO a platform to build some concerted pressure, but the Hornets defence was magnificent. And, in one last desperate attempt to break Hornets' resolve, TO produced a third horror-tackle - smashing Jono Smith's nose in the process.

Indeed, every tackle was now a borderline assault and when Hornets were eventually handed a penalty, the febrile home crowd went nuts.

From the resulting play Danny Yates produced a pinpoint kick for the corner; Michael Ratu out-muscled Minga in the air and dropped the ball out of the back for Jack Holmes to squeeze in at the corner. Mayhem in the Hornets camp. Silence from the locals. Hornets in front at 16-18. Amazing.

With TO now a shapeless mess, Hornets continued to play swift, direct football and - when Chris Riley showed incredible determination to bounce through tacklers to plant the ball down on 74 minutes to stretch Hornets' lead, the locals headed for the exits. Lovely. Crooky added the conversion to equal Walter Gowers' 86 year club points record and, with three minutes remaining, the it looked like a done deal.

In the closing phases, TO chucked the kitchen sink at an immovable Hornets defence, and with one minute to play found space for Ader to squeeze in at the flag. Kheirallah the two. 40 seconds on the clock.

Hornets kicked deep, TO moved the ball wide to their strike player Mika who hit the gas. And as the Hornets defence swarmed round him, the ball slipped from his grasp as the hooter sounded. A truly astonishing victory.

In the end, the bullies of League 1 found themselves bullied to a standstill by 17 lads who'll all be at work this morning. With TO players shell shocked, Paul Crook hoisted the trophy. It was a delight to see.

Ultimately, this was an astonishing performance. Every single Hornets player won his battle with his opposite number and TO's supposed big names were reduced to a shambolic mess.

But was also slightly surreal - Hornets handed the trophy in an empty stadium, 3,000 French weekends ruined.

Finally a word on Alan Kilshaw, Paul Berry and Jason Viller. These guys have produced one of  - if not the - greatest results in our club's long history. No-one gave Hornets a chance. And Killer's team have moulded this group of lion-hearted lads into a unit that refused to yield under impossible odds.

The Championship awaits and Rochdale Hornets go there as champions.

A miracle, ladies and gentlemen.

An actual, bloody miracle.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Saturday's Coming: Toulouse Preview 2

Ahead of Saturday's Promotion Final, we took a look at how Toulouse are previewing the game. Their website features an interview with Manly born, Warringah Rugby and Manly RUFC product Gregory White. In November 2012, he was invited to join the England 7's squad for training and he has represented France at Rugby League.

A few days before the long-awaited League One Final ( Saturday, September 17 at 15:30 in Blagnac ) we met with winger Gregory WHITE who is preparing for this confrontation against the  Rochdale Hornets .

Gregory White in action against the All Golds
The experienced TO player speaks about the last performance of his team, and discusses with honesty the match that could allow his team access to the Championship.   Toulouse aim to win the final and become the first French team to be champions of England.

Q: Quickly, can you come back to the game this weekend against the Barrow Raiders?

Gregory WHITE: We made a great start to the game with a score of 28-0 in the first 25 minutes. After that, it was a little harder. Barrow took time to get into the game, and we took advantage of it, but they became much more dangerous. But we managed to stay ahead and win (44-22). The difficulty of this meeting was not to get overwhelmed by the idea of ​​the final, I think we have done quite well. This match was a good preparation for the game this weekend.

How does the group feel just days before the big day? And on a personal level how are you approaching the game?

Gregory WHITE: The team feels good and kept its usual good spirit.  We are pretty relaxed and always enjoy working and laughing together. Why we approach this final pretty "relaxed” is that we believe in our team and in our game. For many of us, we will play our fourth final in three years. We've learned to manage our stress and make the best to be efficient in our play. Experience and confidence are crucial in this final stretch.

Personally, I am very pleased to participate once again in such an event , I’ll take this opportunity fully , and I 'm looking forward to the big day

Q: A word about the opponents: the Rochdale Hornets .

Gregory WHITE: It's a strong team, very strong. The first half should be decisive, it will take time before one of the two teams take the ascendancy over the other. We'll have to be cautious and not hurry . The important thing is to stay focused on our game by making sure we properly follow the instructions of the coaches. Over time, we will dominate . It will be up to us to do the job if we are to win .

Clearly, it's all about Toulouse.
Q: What will  TO to rely on to win? What is the preparation of the team for the final ?

Gregory WHITE: I am convinced that one of the greatest strengths of the TO is its collective. We are a very close team and our game can not function without this connection. If sometimes individuals perform well, we are only really effective when we play together and we share the job. For 80 minutes, it will take us to be attentive to each other, and to encourage each other. Our preparation for this final is similar to the usual, what changes is only the working atmosphere more cheerful and excited. However we try to always keep in mind our goals and not get carried away by the overflow of emotions. To arrive in the best condition, we must prepare seriously without it going to our head, and that's what we do.

Finally, you have known the time when the TO evolved in the Championship, what do you feel about the idea of ​​maybe finding yourself back in this competition?

Gregory WHITE: Don’t jump the gun, we are not there yet , but it's true that I am very excited to join the Championship. If we can go up , this is a championship in which we move together, individually and collectively. It will not be easy but we are ready and we’ve worked hard all the season to deserve our place. One more step to take: to win this final.

For this meeting at Stade Ernest Argel├Ęs ( Rue du Moulin - 31700 Blagnac) , general admission / East Stand will costs 10 euros ( reduced price 5 euros for students , high school students, disabled (80%) , unemployed):  west grandstand will be 15 euros.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Promotion Final Preview 1

Last month saw the passing of actor Brian Rix - pioneer of the theatrical format known as the ‘Whitehall Farce’: essentially a situation comedy structured around an array of confusions, and which usually ended with Rix’s trousers round his ankles.

But even Rix would have been staggered to see the scale of the farce laid on by the RFL in what we think is one of its less commendable weeks.

Act 1: TOXIIIC are named as League 1 Club of the Year
A risible decision, given that - as a full-time side in a part-time league, with 11 imports - they have treated the third tier with absolute disdain. In pummelling pretty much every side in the division, they’ve done little to boost standards or morale. Indeed, their contribution has been negative - halving the realistic opportunities for promotion and treating League 1 like an irritating speed-bump on their fast-track journey to Super League.

18 players at Monday morning training,
that's a lot of sickies.
For a club that claims that it isn’t fully professional, the evidence suggests otherwise. Captain Mark Khieralla fessed up in print that ‘only the imports are full-time’ - and photographs taken at Monday morning training show 18 players in attendance. So either the local employers are very understanding - or they were actually at work. You decide.

For us - if we couldn’t choose our own club - we’d have gone for Skolars as club of the year: working hard in the local community, and coach Jermaine Coleman somehow got them into the eight ahead of big-spending Newcastle. But the RFL patently believes that chucking a load of cash at a bunch of mercenaries is an examplar of how to run a club

Act 2: Sylvain Houles is named as League 1 coach of the year.
Again, just ridiculous. Given a huge budget and an opportunity for Houles to work with his team every day, TOXIIIC were already in an advantageous position. Add a salary cap dispensation, fewer visa regulations and at least one player with NRL experience and it’s hardly going to be an arduous coaching task knocking over Scorpions, Hemel and the All Golds.

The one time TOXIIIC were given anything like a fair test this season, they really didn’t like it and Houles couldn’t motivate his pros to beat a group of lads who had to be up for work the morning after.

For us - if we couldn’t choose our own club - we’d have gone for Anthony Murray who’s held North Wales crusaders together this season as the club fell apart around him. Getting them to the Shield final is a genuine achievement. But why would the RFL want to recognise a real achievement?

Act 3: Jonathan Ford is named as League 1 player of the year.
We admit: he’s a great player. He’s played for the Roosters in the NRL and for Newtown in the NSW Cup. So what’s he doing in the third tier of British RL? Taking it easy, that’s what. And, having seen him play at Henson Park, he seems to have come down rather a long way - having developed a rather sad habit of following the referee around begging for penalties.

Fundamentallly he looks bored shitless and plays in five minute bursts when he wants to. It’s taking the piss and it demeans his abilities. And any player not giving 100% isn’t worthy of the player of the year award.

For us - if we couldn’t choose one of our own players - we’d have gone for Barry-John Swindells at Hemel Stags. He’s put in a 14 year shift at Hemel, having played through the summer conference ranks to have a respectable semi-pro career. It’s guys like this that deserve recognition, because it’s guys like this that are the bedrock of League 1.

Epilogue: The League 1 promotion final in Toulouse.
What sort of competition has a final that one set of fans can't get to? It's hardly fair to the travelling side not to share it's big day in front of its supporters. It creates a one-sided event and amplifies the home advantage. We think this is just  another way this comp is contrived to favour a team that has plenty enough advantages.

Finals are rare enough at our level of competition and should be a celebration of the game and of the season, made available for all fans to come and share what is , for League 1 clubs, a huge day out.

But the fans are just collateral damage as the RFL salves the passage for the TOXIIC juggernaut to plough its relentless way up the leagues. Red Hall wants another French team in Super League and nothing will stop it. That a couple of hundred Rochdalians are denied the chance to see their team play for promotion is, to them, an acceptable price to ensure that plan stays on track. Of course the RFL could have made arrangements for Hornets fans to travel to the final; but an atmosphere at a final makes it feel like a contest - and the powers that be couldn’t risk that. As such - much like Brian Rix - it just feels like they've had our pants down.

A longstanding Hornets fan tweeted this week that the best/worst outcome would be for Hornets to win it with no-one there to see it.  But I’d love us to win it regardless - if only to remind the RFL that, once clubs like TOXIIIC have f*cked off to get a kicking by better teams than us, it’s teams like us that will continue to make League 1 a success. 

Monday, 12 September 2016

The Best of British

Hornets 34 - Hunslet 18

And lo, a robust and fluid Hornets sent a frankly awful Hunslet packing, securing the highest British finish in League one - and the scant reward of another schlep down to Toulouse for the Promotion Final.

Whilst Killer is confident that Horners can go down there and give it a bloody good dig, it’s little consolation to the Hornets faithful who are effectively denied the opportunity to see their team play in a final. A FINAL, for god’s sake.

It’s not often that clubs of Hornets’ modest stature get to play in finals, but as League 1 is effectively a defacto mechanism geared to salve TOXIIIC’s passage into the Championship, fans, staff and players alike are considered collateral damage in this ludicrous exercise. We’d ask  - in what other sport would the final be rigged in such a way that one side can’t take its supporters to enjoy their club’s big day out? To a final played at the home ground of a team that has already been massively advantaged over the course of a season? It smacks of a set-up - because it is.

The £450 and four days it costs to go to Toulouse are prohibitively expensive in both time and monetary terms. Indeed we spoke to a Hornets player yesterday who said sarcastically: ‘My boss will be delighted that I have to ask for more time off’. It’s crooked and it stinks.

Still, we’re sure the 300 TOXIIIC fans will have a nice afternoon…

Meanwhile back in the realm of ‘real Rugby League’, a significantly bigger attendance of 690 saw Hornets swat off a sprawling, spoiling Hunslet. For those detractors who somehow believe that not playing in front of thousands is a mark of failure, it’s interesting to note that Hornets had the biggest crowd of the day in League 1 (TOXIIIC no-doubt again massaging their crowd to include all non-attending season ticket holders, visitors to the sports centre and anyone walking their dog in the park) - and a crowd at least 100 bigger than three of the four games in the Championship shield.

For the second week running Hornets went off from the gun. Hunslet’s Sanderson coughed a bomb under pressure from Lewis Galbraith, the ball whipped wide for Dave Cookson to spin and juggle his way over. Crooky the two: 6-0 after just 90 seconds.

And when Jordan Case backed up a fizzing Danny Yates break five minutes later - only to be snagged for a dubious forward pass - it looked like it might be a long shift for the Hawks’ defence.

Eventually, Hunslet huffed and puffed their way upfield, but Casey knocked on with an overlap begging, then shipped a penalty at the scrum. Hornets srteamed downfield where a brutally direct approach-set - aided by back-to-back penalties for interference - found a determined Ryan Maneely burrowing in to score. 12-0

To their credit, Hunslet responded in kind. They found touch with the kick-off and, with Johnson looking certain to score out wide He was bullied into the corner post by Lewis Galbraith and Dale Bloomfield. Stunning defence.

As the quarter ticked over, a spat at the ruck saw Samir Tahraoui and Hunslet’s Williams dispatched with yellow cards. Hornets were first to settle: a neat show & go from Jono Smith found Chris Riley looping in as the extra man to score. Crooky fading wide: 16-0

Then came a brief perioid where Referee Mr Roberts looke like losing his tenuous grip on the game. Hunslet’s Carbutt yellow carded for punching, Lewis Galbraith the same for running in. And when Jo Taira was somehow pulled out of the next flashpoint and sent for 10 minutes, we had 11 v 12.

No matter, Hornets showed some exceptional defence to repel a Hunslet side clearly out of ideas: The half ending with Brown delivering quite possibly the worst last-tackle kick of the season - hoofing the ball comedically dead. Half Time 16-nil.

Hornets began the second half like the first: Dave Cookson bullying his way in off a Crooky short-ball. Crooky raising the flags for 22-nil.

On 46 minutes, Hunslet finaly showed-up: Ansell skating in for a well-taken try, followed five minutes later by a less aestetically pleasing effort from Lee. Brown the two: 22-10

And when the referee basically held his hands up as having no idea what was going on after a questionable 40/20 attempt, he gave Hunslet the feed. They worked Barnett into acres of space out wide to score and, at 22-14, we had the most unlikely of comebacks.

Hornets’ response was swift and clinical. Crooky finding touch from the kick-off after confusion in Hunslet’s left channel; Woz Thompson smuggling the ball to Jo Taira whose miracle offload found an unstoppable Samir Tahraoui arriving to score. Crooky hitting the post from bang in front: 26-14. Hornets went for the big finish and delivered two tries in two minutes.

Firstly, the ball was worked to Chris Riley who rounded off his best game in Hornets colours with a deserved try; then Lewis Galbraith gathering a Steve Roper dink to take Hornets 34-14 clear.

Ansell’s last minute 70 metre interception try gave the scoreline a thin sheen of respectability for the visitors, but this was a dominant performance from a Hornets side that looked every inch like table-topping material.

All that remains is to find a way to get to Toulouse next weekend!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Sunday's Coming: Hunslet Hawks

This Sunday - Hornets Heritage Numbers Day, where we award our ex-players with their heritage numbers - is indeed a historical day. It will be the last ever game played by Hunslet Hawks before the South Leeds outfit ditches its buteon suffix to emerge next season as Hunslet RLFC.

Indeed it is a full on identiy realignment. Not only are Hunslet dropping the hawk, their fans have voted by 54%-46% to adopt the club’s original Rampant Lion badge, over the phoenix that was adopted when New Hunslet replaced the defunct ‘old Hunslet’ club in 1973.

Having visited us on the opening day of the season, Hunslet arrive to book-end 2016 having so nearly pulled off a historical victory over League 1 pariahs TOXIIIC last week.

It took a 78th minute Danny Hulme try to keep Toulouse's unbeaten record intact after the French part-timers* and long-time exponents of fair-play* led 10-6 at the break.

Hunslet edged ahead with George Flanagan's 42nd-minute try, and Simon Brown’s conversion but they fell agonisingly short of holding on Hulme backed up Mark Kheirallah’s break to break Hunslet hearts.

Indeed, the game seems to reflect Hunslet’s season in microcosm: highly competitive, but coming up just short . To compound this, they seem to be hitting form a little too late. Having whacked York 12-33 at Bootham Crescent and taken Toulouse to the brink, missing out on the playoffs (Hunslet are currently 7th) after starting the season as one of the favourites for promotion must be frustrating for coach Matt Bramald and the South Leeds faithful.

After the Toulouse defeat, Matt Bramald described his side as ‘crushed’ and ‘mortified’. Speaking in the Yorkshire Evening Post he said: “The players could not have given any more. The lads tipped absolutely everything into it. I would rather have been beaten by 40 points than for that to happen.”

“We had an 88 per cent completion rate, which was a fantastic effort in terms of skill."

He went on: “We just had to defend one set, but the try they scored would not have been out of place in a Super League game – three or four off-loads and a break, though the final pass was a mile forward.” Hmmm, sounds familiar that, Matt.

Hornets come into Sunday’s game knowing that a win over Hunslet - and a Barrow defeat at Toulouse - will see Hornets crowned ‘British Champions’ of League 1: the best UK side in the competition. In any other year Barrow and Hornets would be slugging it out for the top spot, but with the RFL now parachuting in fast-track Super League sides-in-waiting, it does tilt the equilibrium of the competition somewhat.

A Barrow win in France would see them return there next week for the promotion final - Hornets gaining a week-off and a home tie in the playoffs. A defeat opens the door for Hornets to get dragged down to Blagnac for another shot at Toulouse, before being chucked straight back into the playoffs.

Clearly, we would never ever suggest that there are advantages to finishing third (no exhausting travel, a week off to get some bodies back on board) - but the Super 8s format clearly needs some scrutiny if finishing second in phase 1 of the season and in the 8s gives lower placed teams playing and logistical advantages.

Sunday also sees the launch of the Hornets Heritage Numbers - where every Hornets player ever has been allocated a sequential heritage number.

Hornets will be welcoming over 100 ex-hornets from the 50s to the present day - and they will be introducied on the pitch before the game.

It promises to be a fantastic, nostalgic day that celebrates not only our club's rich heritage, but the guys in whom we invest our own passions for the game - who wear the shirt with pride and take the knocks on our behalf. Please do get to the game early and show your appreciation for these very special members of the Hornets Family.

Introductions of the ex-players is expected to begin at around 2.30.

*Not necessarily true.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Don All Trumped

Hornets 38 - Doncaster 22

It’s anyone’s guess how Doncaster have crept into the League 1 playoffs. Gary Thornton has assembled an ugly pugnacious outfit that strove manfully to strip every last bit of daylight out of this game - aided and abetted by referee Mr Grant’s freestyle jazz interpretation of the laws.

Hornets produced a lightning start: Lewis Galbraith scooping the kick off from the sky, the ball worked swiftly right and Dave Cookson hitting a space at pace to give Hornets a 4-nil lead with just 26 seconds on the clock. From the resulting kick-off, Hornets went straight back on the attack: Jono Smith with a skittering last-tackle break, Donny’s defence scrambling to hold out.

Hornets continued to press - Samir Tahraoui going close, Corey Lee bundled into touch by the flag - but as Mr Grant began to chop the game into a jigsaw of penalties, Doncaster took advantage. On 15 minutes Foggin-Johnson outjumped Corey Lee in the in-goal to touch down. And when a Doncaster last-tackle kick was launched in  hope into a forest of defenders’ legs, it pinballed free for Sherriffe to score. Somehow, Doncaster in front 4-10 on the quarter mark.

With the penalty count escalating and the game becoming increasingly niggly, Paul Crook was hit high and late as he released a last-tackle kick. Mr Grant grudgingly held-up play while Crooky received treatment and took no action on the perpetrator to the disbelief of the home supporters.

With Doncaster now happy to feed off Mr Grant’s gullibility, they were gifted 50 metres from where they worked a tidy blind-side cut-out move to hit Hornets with an old-skool sucker try. Carr the extras and Donny comfortable at 16-4 as the game fell apart around them.

On the half hour a shuddering tackle from Matt Hadden knocked the ball loose - and sparked a 26-man affray under the visitors posts. Hornets were first to recover their composure to produce a double whammy combination that would take the sides in level at the break.

Firstly the ball worked around to send Dave Cookson in for his second. Then, with the hooter imminent, there was some confusion around whether Hornets had nominated to kick or run a penalty. Regardless, Hornets took the tap and found Chris Riley making the extra man to scoot in for his career 150th try. Crooky cool as you like as the hooter sounded: 16-all.

Hornets began the second half with visible purpose, forcing a drop-out after Chris Riley had gone close. On the resulting possession,  Jono Smith sucked in defenders and, as the last gasp of air was squeeezed from the tackle, smuggled a peach of a ball out the back for Lewis Galbraith to score. Hornets in front 20-16.

And it was Galbraith that brought the stand to its feet again four minutes later - this time tracking a 90 metre break by Welham from the opposite side of the pitch, dumping the Doncaster wing into row E metres short of the flag. Exceptional stuff.

This gave Hornets a visible lift. On 55 minutes Samir went crashing through a stretched defence to score. Then Woz Thompson hauling defenders 30 metres before slipping the ball out the back to the suporting Samir Tahraoui. Quality.

On the hour James Tilley drove the ball to the line and, with defenders flapping around him, he dropped off a neat pass for Ben Moores to score. Crooky the extras and Hornets 32-16 to the good.

Having failed to find touch with a lazy penalty, Doncaster did flicker briefly - the ball hacked into space for Jones Bishop to score in the 75th minute.

But Hornets weren’t finished. Right on the hooter Paul Crook stepped his way through a tired defence to plant the ball by the posts. His conversion giving Hornets a convincing 38-22 victory.

Whilst the first half was a scratchy mess, Hornets delivered as good a 40 minutes in the second as they have all season. Fewer penalties starved Doncaster of the ball and a much improved completion rate provided the platform for playing some incisive football.

The result guarantees Hornets at least third spot - with Barrow travelling to Toulouse next weekend the decisive fixture in determining who gets to go to the South of France later in the month for the promotion final and who gets a week off before embarking on a two game promotion bid.

And whether there’s actually an advantage to finishing third… well, that really is anyone’s guess.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Sunday's Coming: Doncaster

This looks like being an interesting weekend in League 1.

According to coach Gary Thornton, Doncaster come to Spotland on Sunday with an eye on finishing third. But a Hornets win on Sunday will deny them that, guaranteeing Killer’s side at least a home tie in the playoffs.
Doncaster's Gary Thornton describes the huge carp he lost,
legering a meatball on a size 8 hook.

With Barrow Travelling for their shot at Toulouse this weekend, a defeat there leaves the door open for Hornets to take second place - which would require a Barrow defeat and a Hornets victory in both remaining games.

But you have to wonder - contrary to the accepted meritocracy/success model in sport - whether finishing third and securing a home tie in the playoffs would be better for morale and progress than having to haul everyone back down to the South of France to be served-up as the main-course at TOXIIIC’s promotion party - and THEN having to embark on a playoff odyssey. Certainly, in a recent conversartion we had with an RFL match commissioner, he suggested (well, basically, said) that teams would be better off avoiding second place and launching their promotion bid at home from third (one game fewer, less impact on the playing squad, leas risk of injury, less disruption to the next round preparation, less hassle…)

Indeed it seems strange to us that the team that scraps its way to second effectively gets punished for its success. But whichever route you take, it’s that 2,3,4,5 playoff that really matters and, as everyone sucks in for one last push, Doncaster still have three games to play.

Having  fallen foul of the ongoing York City Knights fiasco, Donny now face three games in 8 days to sustain their playoff push. In the week when we’ve learned that ‘Zombie’ club York will be permitted the opportunity to f*ck-up everyone else’s promotion challenges, it’s looking increasingly likely that RL’s serial basket-case will tank at the end of the season. Bookie’s favourite for offering a ressurrection are temporary landlords  - and protagonists in the Knights demise - York City Football Club. A little bit like being rescued from a crocodile-infested river by cannibals…

Last time out, an injury hit Doncaster (who had just 17 fit players) pulled off a miracle comeback win against Keighley. Trailing 24-12 with 15 minutes remaining, they nicked a remarkable 26–24 victory thanks to a late, late penalty from Tom Carr - effectively consigning Cougars coach Paul March to the Job Centre.

Speaking in the (Sheffield) Star, Thornton said: “I never thought we had looked like scoring in the first 20 minutes of the half to be honest and I was worried going into the last quarter,. We weren’t creating anything and we were coming up with some poor options and it looked as though we were panicking.

“But we dug really deep in the last 20 minutes and I was proud of the lads and they showed terrific character.
I think the turning point was when we scored our third try and cut their lead to six points with fifteen minutes to go. I was reasonably confident then and in the end I thought we just about deserved to edge it.“

“… with York losing at home to Hunslet we climbed above them into fourth spot and with just three games to go it’s our position to lose. If we can get a couple of bodies back I don’t see why we can’t go to Rochdale and win…”

Doncaster have been fortunate to hang onto Hull FC’s Samoan prop Iafeta Paleaaesina on DR for the Super 8 run-in;  having played enough games to qualify for the run-in, he was given permission by his parent club to stay with the Dons. It’s also likely that both Liam Welham and Makali Aizue will make a return from injury to play at the weekend.

Hornets come into the game also hoping to have a few bodies back in commission - most notably, Chris Riley returning from a broken hand and a subsequent training injury. Certainly Killer’s side came back from the Toulouse trip with a miscelleny of knocks: Michael Ratu struggling with an abdominal injury; Jake Shoel removed with an arm injury.

Hornets are also buoyed by the securing of Josh Crowley and Jono Smith for next year.

On paper this should be an intriguing contest. Over the last 8 meetings the records couldn’t be much closer: four wins each, Hornets scoring 195 points to Doncaster’s 200; Hornets scoring 37 tries to Doncaster’s 36; Doncaster with 28 goals to Hornets’ 22. And Hornets leading 3-nil in drop goals.

You really can’t put an old-skool fag-paper betwen these sides. So - everything to play for between two acutely evenly matched sides. Just how we like it. See you Sunday.