Monday, 11 December 2017

Toulouse ‘Can’t Be Arsed’ with the Challenge Cup.

Championship’s 5th best club cries off cup fixtures for 2018

Twas the fortnight before Christmas, and all through the Rugby League house, nothing was stirring - not even a mouse. As the League world slips into the low-key lacuna twixt the World Cup and the pre-season games, any news (you’d think) would ping straight onto the radar.

However, on a quiet weekend out of season, Toulouse Olympique dropped the discreet bombshell that they won’t be playing in the Challenge Cup in 2018.   Missed the headline? No wonder. To mis-quote former Government sneak Jo Moore, Toulouse found ‘… a very good way to get out any bad news they want to bury…’

And there it was: buried four links down on their website -  ironically, half way down a 250-word  news article about the Challenge Cup -  a 24 word sentence that says: "Note that this season, TO XIII will not take part in the Challenge Cup, to avoid an overloaded schedule and additional trips.”

We know - we had to read it twice too.

At the most basic level, this move gives them a playing and financial advantage - fewer games, fresher players, reduced risk of injury and fewer match fees to pay - over those Championship clubs who will take part in the competition.

Whilst ‘popular perception’ is that RFL conditions say that participation in the Challenge Cup is ‘optional’,  the Operational Rules suggest otherwise (more of that shortly). But we also believe that  a refusal to participate in the game’s flagship knock-out competition runs contrary to the spirit of the game.

Refusing to participate in the Challenge Cup because you want to play fewer games and travel less in order to gain a sliver of advantage shows disregard for the British game of which they’re so keen to be a part, disrespect for the competition and a staggering contempt for other clubs who will (as always) bear the additional cup burden with good grace.

Given that they are a full-time outfit - it’s not as if their players have anything else to do other than travel and play, is it? (The RFL Operational Rules actually only cover the avoidance of ’long-distance travel’ for ‘part-time players’ - but you’d never know…).

A championship club fan we spoke to said: “It just looks like Toulouse can’t be arsed with the world’s oldest cup competition.” And we’d agree.

Avoiding fixtures for operational reasons is, we think, fundamentally a case of ‘crying off’. So rather than just rant-on at what a bunch of small-time chancers TOXIIIC might be, we went back to the ‘RFL Tiers 1-3 Operational Rules 2017’, that set out the obligations that all clubs are (supposedly) meant to fulfil in order to play in RFL competitions.

Given that the document runs to 500 pages, here are the key sections:



A1:1 Each Club which participates in Super League, the Championship or League 1, or in any
other league or competition or any game under the jurisdiction of the RFL or organised
by the RFL is deemed by acceptance of the invitation to be bound by the Operational
Rules and each RFL Policy, the Rules and Regulations of any body of which the RFL is
a member (being the RLIF and RLEF), the terms of any agreement entered into by the
RFL and the Laws of the Game and accept and submit to the jurisdiction of the RFL.


B3:1 The Competition shall be known as the Challenge Cup (the “Cup") and the name shall
be preceded by the name of such sponsor as the RFL may direct from time to time.

B3:2 The ownership, management and control of the Cup or such other competition if any as
may in the future replace it shall be vested entirely and exclusively in the RFL and the
Board shall, in its absolute discretion, deal with all matters connected with or arising out
of the Cup (which are not specifically dealt with under the Operational Rules). The Board
shall be entitled to specify that different rules apply to different stages of the Cup.

B3:3 Unless otherwise specified by the RFL, all Members of the RFL who are Clubs shall
participate in the competition together with such other clubs or organisations as may be
invited to do so by the Board from time to time. For the purposes of these Rules all
references to “Clubs” shall include all Clubs which are members of the RFL and all other
clubs or organisations taking part in the Competition whether based in the UK or
otherwise (“Non Member Clubs”). For the purposes of this rule any Non Member Clubs
who compete in the Super League, the Championship or League 1 agree to be bound
as if they are Member Clubs.

B3:4 All Clubs who participate in the Challenge Cup are deemed by acceptance of the
invitation to participate in the Cup to be bound by the Laws of the Game and the
Operational Rules and accept the jurisdiction of the RFL in relation to any breaches of
the same.




B3:26 Any Club failing to fulfil a Cup Tie on the scheduled date, for any reason which the Board
considers unsatisfactory, will forfeit the Cup Tie.

B3:27 All Cup Ties shall take precedence over League Matches which must be postponed if
the Board so directs.

Draw your own conclusions.


Hot on the heels of Toulouse’s ‘news’ came the ‘revelation’ (via a couple of obtuse postings on Social Media from a couple of ‘smaller’ RL news outlets) that TOXIIIC are to play Toronto at Super League’s Magic Weekend!

We know - we had to read that twice too.

Joining the dots, Toronto have sacrificed home advantage for their ‘home’ game against Toulouse on the 19th May. Not surprisingly, this advantages both clubs: Toulouse will avoid the long trip to Canada that all other Championship teams will be compelled to make, and Toronto will already be in the UK for their game at the Blackpool’s Summer Bash the week after: thus avoiding the need to cross the Atlantic too. All very convenient.

Notwithstanding the weasling round the conditions that every other Championship club has to play under, already Wolfpack fans are making known their disappointment at missing out on watching their ‘big game’ in Toronto: so unfair on their season ticket holders too.

Details on this game are still scant, but today confirmed that “The two teams will clash at St James’ Park in what will be the first ever Championship fixture to take place at the Super League event after Super League clubs approved the decision to add a seventh fixture to the weekend. The Wolfpack were due to host the French side in Toronto that weekend, but have relinquished their home advantage in order for the game to be staged in Newcastle.”

Monday, 16 October 2017

Rugby League expansion plan that's out of this world!

Bullshit: "We're going to Mars,
It's going to Happen!"
It has been revealed today that the RFL has accepted an offer from another non-UK franchise bid to play its way through the league structure and into Super League.

Backed by an unknown consortium of secret billionaires, the bid comes ahead of mankind’s attempt to colonise Mars - in a remarkable move to become the universe’s first interplanetary Rugby League team.

Fronting the Mars Rugby League bid is Yorkshire entrepreneur and serial fantasist Barry Bullshit who told anyone who’d listen: “This is an exciting development for the game. Mars is an untapped market and - as first to establish the game there, we have an entire planet to go at."

The consortium is backed by two unnamed investors who will provide an initial $10m of funding.

The Red Planet awaits:
Only a two year trip.
Mars Rugby League - much like the Wolfpack -  intend starting in League 1, as opposed to automatic entry into Super League or the Championship. Like Toronto, they would pay for all visiting teams’ costs, including space flights, accommodation and travel.

The journey to Mars is expected to take two years, hence Mars Rugby League will play their games in two-year blocks, starting with two years on Earth. Whilst on Earth, they will be based in Heckmondwike.

Barry Bullshit has  confirmed he has had discussions with Super League Europe about taking a top-flight ‘space-flight’ game to Mars to whet the planet’s appetite for Rugby League - as soon as technology makes it possible to actually get back alive.

“Should we be accepted, we’d like to take a Super League game there,” he said. “We’ve spoken to one or two about it. Toronto are very keen, but we'll probably play it in Toulouse: like Mars, it's a ball-ache to get there and it has very little atmosphere."

An un-named representative for the investors said: “To make it a reality, the initial investment will be significant and we’re willing to cover it fully. After that we intend to be self-sufficient. Or dead. It’s a risk we’re willing to take.”
The Mars Rugby League jersey:
the only thing they'll launch this year

The team would play home games at the Valles Marineris (“Pretty flat, not too many craters, better than Whitebank used to be”) with the consortium confident they would be able to attract crowds in the region.

The concept will be put to clubs in the coming weeks and, when they’ve stopped laughing, it  will be forwarded to the RFL’s board for ratification/putting in the bin.

Barry Bullshit says that he plans to work closely throughout the process with Matt Damon, who was Oscar nominated for his role in The Martian. Damon said: “I’ve not actually been to Mars, but I have worn a space-suit and run around the desert in it. It’s much the same thing. I have however been to Heckmondwike and if my experience of that will help, that’ll be champion.”

The consortium intend for a significant portion of their eventual squad to be Martian-born - but until then they’ll be waving cash at ex-Leigh players and NRL has-beens.

Mars: Heavily sanded...
“If we go in at League 1, which is the plan, we’d want a squad of around 30 with a desire to risk their lives on a frankly ludicrous exercise” Bullshit said. “We’ve got a responsibility to ourselves and the planet of Mars to perform up there, but we’ve also got a responsibility to the game in the wider universe. We look forward to running rings round Saturn, or getting stuck into Uranus.”

He went on: "We've already launched our shirt - which puts us ahead of the New York bid. The Mars project is already more realistic. The countdown starts here"

Jarryd Hayne said: “I’ve always wanted my career to die needlessly in a Rugby League vacuum - that’s why I went to Gold Coast Titans”.

Friday, 29 September 2017

The One Sentence 2017 Season Review

Here it is: the 2017 season reviewed in single-sentence excerpts taken from our weekly match reports. You have to admit - it’s been a hell of a journey. Let's do it all again next year. Enjoy

Hornets 18 - Salford 44
“Lewis Galbraith hit the afterburners in pursuit and, as O’Brien gathered in the ball, Galbraith pulled the trigger on an impeccably-timed sledgehammer of a tackle that left the crowd shuddering. “

Law Cup: Oldham 12 - Hornets 24
“Oldham ended the game in ignominy as Tyson pointlessly swung punches after the hooter, earning a red-card.”

Hornets 22 - Warrington 24
“Hornets were forcing errors on a scratchy Wire attack, and when Joe Taira landed a lump-hammer of a fend to flatten Philbin on 19 minutes, you could feel the momentum shift.”

Hornets 46 - Dewsbury 0
“Hornets had a flawless 100% completion rate for the first 30 minutes and Dewsbury just couldn’t live with their level of intensity.”

Bradford Bulls 14 - Hornets 22
“Don’t be fooled by the scoreline: Bradford didn’t break Hornets defensive line once in 80 minutes with ball in hand. “

Hornets 18 - Hull KR 28
“With 5 minutes to go, Hornets were in the hunt for the win - their frankly stunning performance busting the myth that the top-end of Championship is somehow a legitimate stepping stone to the nirvana of Super League.”

Hornets 6 - Halifax 20
“Amidst a tsunami of dropped ball, fumbled passes, forced plays and frankly awful penalties, Hornets somehow also found time to spurn four penalties within kickable range AND find themselves reduced to eleven men”

Featherstone 9 - Hornets 10
“… how’s your drop goal looking now, Featherstone?”

Hornets 26 - Oldham 26
“…  this was a fracturted, flawed, fragmented Hornets display in which they seemed compelled to produce every error in the book…”

Challenge Cup: York 26 - Hornets 20
“Hornets retired to the sheds 20-12 down for what we imagine was a frank exchange of views.”

Batley 38 - Hornets 36
“Rugby League puts fans through the emotional wringer, but this was a proper kick in the proverbial spuds. Batley were nowhere near this game for vast periods of time…”

Hornets 18 - Sheffield 42
“The most ardent purist would have struggled to appreciate this dog-ugly turd of a game.”

Swinton 23 - Hornets 22
"Sucked into a shit-fight by a Swinton side desperate for only its second win of the season, Hornets' discipline crumbled to leave 12 men clinging to the wreckage of a draw as late as the 73rd minute.

Hull KR 24 - Hornets 16
“A trip to East Hull is very much like peering down a microscope: you may be vastly outnumbered by the simple life-forms you see, but life at both ends is very, very different.”

Hornets 8 - Featherstone 38
“Had we been neutral observers, their first-half performance would have been impressive - but for those of us with an emotional investment, it was a challenging watch.”

Halifax 28 - Hornets 2
“The second quarter of the game was fundamentally Hornets mounting a rear-guard defensive action against a Halifax side that repeatedly found new and inventive ways to squander scoring opportunities.”

Summer Bash: Oldham 28 - Hornets 38
“The last 15 minutes saw an increasingly impotent Oldham jab flaccidly at the Hornets defence with little sign of any meaningful intent.”

Sheffield 38 - Hornets 14
“… it was said on the way back to the car that if we’d stiffed Lo after his first try, we might’ve won it with 12.”

Toulouse 56 - Hornets 16
“Just past the hour Hornets forced a drop-out when a great kick behind the defence forced Khierallah's arse to prolapse.”

Hornets 28 - Bulls 14
“From the drop-out, Jo Taira took the ball at pace and - from 40 metres - blasted his way through the Bulls' defence, stepping hapless fullback Thomas on his way under the black dot for a try that lifted the roof.”

Hornets 14 - Batley 24
“This was a victory for experience over endeavour as the low-geared visitors bulldozed their way around the park leaving a trail of elbows, knees and niggle in pretty much every tackle.”

Dewsbury 40 - Hornets 10
“For 25 minutes, Hornets' quite exceptional travelling support was treated to a spectacular self-immolation of errors, penalties, missed tackles and chaos.”

Hornets 33 - Swinton 28
“Panic in the Swinton ranks saw the ball deflected into the hands of Rob Massam, who pinned back his ears and crashed through his opposite number to score by the flag. Bedlam!”

Hornets 18 - London Broncos 58
“ All very perfunctory. The London fans banged their drum, sang about Super League and retired to the bar.”

Oldham 24 - Hornets 34
“Jono Smith produced an audacious reverse pass you could get an Arts Council grant for, to send the impressive Dec Kay in for a great try”

Dewsbury 56 - Hornets 8
“The afternoon had the sense of dread about it when Dewsbury opened the scoring on 6 minutes from a pass so far forward it appeared as if through a wormhole in the in-goal…”

Hornets 14 - Batley 34
“In the end, this pig-ugly scrapyard brawl of a game was one that Hornets were never likely to win.“

Toulouse 50 - Hornets 12
“If it were us running a club that opted to play at 8pm, we'd have sent someone along in the afternoon to flick the switch and check that the lights were working.”

Hornets 24 - Oldham 30
“All the components of your regular Hornets/Oldham derby turned up to eleven and laden with the almost unbearable weight of expectation…”

Hornets 16 - Swinton 8
“On 48 minutes, the dam cracked: Dec Kay embarking on a big looping run across the face of the Swinton defence, stepping inside defenders to plant the ball down.”

Sheffield 26 - Hornets 22
“While emotions in the moment were raw with disappointment, they were countered with the deep satisfaction that Hornets had secured Championship status for 2018.

Bradford 72 - Hornets 16
“… a big shout to the Hornets travelling support who have been superb all season. Though we may have come in a taxi, at least next season it won’t be a taxi to South Wales. See ya Bradford.”

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Going Backwards

Super League’s own 'Brexit' leaves Championship clubs carrying the burden of RL’s failed international dream

Times have changed.

I can just about remember my first Hornets away game. Widnes away, Lancashire cup, some time in the early 70s.  I stood on the terracing on the 25 yard line at what was the dressing room end of the old Naughton Park. The crowd was much bigger than I was used to. First scrum, Jim Mills’ head came flying back out on the end of an Alan Hodkinson uppercut and all hell broke loose.

In the end, it didn’t make much difference. Hornets lost and I sat on the coach on the way back repeatedly asking my dad if he’d seen that punch.

The coach trip to and from Widnes was pretty exciting. On the Saturday morning beforehand I’d gone with my dad to this thing called ‘Hell & Smiths’ (odd name for a bus company I thought), housed in a cubist conservatory - fittingly located at the back of the Roebuck Hotel - to book ‘one and a half to Widnes’.  The bloke hand-wrote a receipt on which said ‘Coach 2'. Imagine that. Two coaches!
Spot the difference: 45 years apart, we're
pretty much back where we started

Late Sunday Morning, we trekked back to Helen Smiths where we found two coaches and, roughly, two coach loads of people waiting on Newgate. This was where the adventure began - a lifelong Rugby League Odyssey that’s taken me all over the UK (and, now, beyond) watching Rochdale Hornets.

Fast forward to the present and we play in a Rugby League World that my late dad wouldn’t recognise. Having been to outposts from Newcastle to Hemel (and all points in-between), the last couple of years have thrown the madness of Toulouse into the mix.

But next year sees the potential for travel that’d have my dad spinning in his grave. If we hadn’t cremated him, obviously.

From waiting in the rain for a bus to Widnes, we arrive at the possibility of trips to Toulouse, Toronto and Perpignan - should Catalans Dragons choke in typical French-style in this weekend’s Million Pound game at Leigh Sports Village. Never has so much mileage, it seems, hung on such an incongruous pairing.

Yes, the prospect of three from eleven away games next season involving international travel is a huge ask of players and fans alike. But, more interestingly, when Rupert Murdoch introduced the European Super League concept in 1995, I’m not sure he quite envisaged an international club competition being awkwardly accommodated in a predominantly part-time 2nd tier.

Indeed, if the Catalans do go down, I think it’s legitimate to declare the whole European Super League Experiment as having failed - ending up with all international/London interest squeezed uncomfortably into the Championship, leaving Leigh v Hull KR the alternative in a competition boiled back down to the bare bones of the M62 corridor.

A game in retreat? SL in 2018 could reinforce its Northern stereotyping
Indeed, of the 16 clubs I watched with my dad back in 1973, 10 of them could be in Super League next year. And that’s progress?

With the potential 12 participants split evenly East and West of the pennines, it looks like more a retreat - a rearguard action, with RL’s wagons huddled in a Northern circle, the game’s back turned on the rest of the country. Indeed, without the ‘exotic’ inclusion of a Cumbrian component, the 2018 Super League could well look even more parochial than its 1995 counterpart . Which hands League’s detractors all the ammunition they need to point out that ours is a ‘local game for local people’ - played in in a three county corridor 120 miles long and 12 miles deep.

Not quite the destination Super League had in mind, we'd imagine.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

That joke isn't funny any more...

Bradford 72 - Hornets 16

On the way to witness the final death-throes of Bullmania, we passed a circus. But whatever clownery was taking place inside that big top was nothing compared to the base-comedy that was to unfold at Odsal.

Referee Andy Sweet turned in a grossly unfunny slapstick performance that had everything -including a game where the wheels fell off.

Indeed, his loss of control and farcical decision to reduce Hornets to ten men 15 minutes in gave Bradford the opportunity to work the numbers - scoring four converted tries and killing the game as a contest with over an hour remaining.

Hornets had started brightly - an early penalty took them upfield and a bustling break by Lee Mitchell had defenders scrambling, only for the last pass to float agonisingly beyond Kev Penny’s reach.

Bradford responded with some direct football and on 6 minutes Bentley (playing his last game before he takes his ridiculous haircut to St Helens) scrambled in at the corner on the last tackle. In keeping with the comedy theme, Aston hooked the conversion attempt hilariously wide.

Bradford then coughed a spiralling kick-off and Hornets were gifted a penalty on the back of it, but loose hands on the first tackle let the Bulls off the hook.

On 10 minutes Halafihi finished off a sweeping 90 metre move - scoring off an outrageous forward pass. Aston on target for 10-nil.

And then Mr Sweet had his brain fart. Yes, Gav Bennion clattered bulls kicker Keyes somewhat tardily, but Bradford responded by piling in on Jo Taira! Having pulled the ensuing brawl apart Mr Sweet sent Bennion and Taira to cool off for ten minutes. Bradford’s career irritant Scott Moore was also given 10 minutes to consider what happened to his career.

Immediately Bradford shifted the ball wide where Chris Riley landed a bell-ringing shot on his opposite number, incurring the attention of a picky touch-judge. From the resulting penalty Bradford worked the numerical advantage for Kirk to score. Aston the extras for 16 nil

Hornets were then reduced to 10 - Lewis Foster dismissed for dissent - and Bradford used the advantage to its maximum. Tries for Hallas, Oakes and Ryan stretched Bradford’s lead out to a ridiculous 34-nil. The home fans positively tumescent - just like the old days, but with 17,000 fewer fans.

On the half hour - and back to the full complement - Hornets strode upfield where Jordan Case slipped under the black dot off a peach of a Jo Taira pass. Yatesey the two and the Hornets contingent at last with something to cheer.

This heralded a period of Hornets pressure - Kev Penny producing a miracle catch - but Bradford benefited from a loose pass to clear their lines.

With half time approaching, Mr Sweet showed he was as gullible as he was hilarious: Peltier milking  a penalty, Caro the try. And with the hooter imminent, the piece de resistance. Mr Sweet gifting Bradford a penalty after the ball was dropped cold in the tackle, Keyes tapping the ball to himself in back-play more in hope than anticipation and, with neither the defence nor the referee set, ran 50 metres to plant the ball under the black dot. Mr Sweet eventually catching up to give the try. Just ridiculous.

Half-time 46-6: only the Bradford fans laughing.

The second half was quite possibly the longest 40 minutes of the season. Bradford kept the scoreboard ticking over, Hornets found the space to score two well-taken tries: the first finished acrobatically in the corner by Chris Riley and converted from the whitewash by Danny Yates; the second a beautifully weighted kick from Lewis Palfrey gathered and touched down by Jack Holmes.

Additional Bradford tries came from Peltier, Moore and Aston to blow out the scoreline and bring this farce to an end.

But you have to look at the bigger picture. This was a Hornets side shorn of half a dozen first-choice players - and of the lads who took the field, a fair majority were patched-up to play.

And, while the Bradford announcer screamed of ‘bringing the glory back to Bradford’, the reality is that they’re heading for Hemel and we’re not. Indeed. it’ll be interesting to see how many of yesterday’s 3,000 Bulls fans in attendance will still be there in a year’s time. Certainly, they had fewer fans singing yesterday than Hornets.

So here we are. the 2017 season has been and gone. The hope at the outset was always  that we would finish 3rd bottom. As it was, we finished 9th - exceeding expectations (if only slightly). Despite the naysayers, the pundits and the gobshites who had us nailed-on for relegation, Hornets proved everyone wrong. In the end, we scrapped, scrambled and clawed our way to another season in the Championship.

As Hornets look to build from here, Bradford’s future looks less certain. The likelihood is that Geoff Toovey will leave, followed by at least half of this team. Were a more pointless 70 points ever scored?

Finally, a big shout to the Hornets travelling support who have been superb all season. Though we may have come in a taxi, at least next season it won’t be a taxi to South Wales. See ya Bradford.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Sunday's Coming: Bradford Bulls

Odsal Top: Geoff Toovey's strip-cam career was short-lived
And lo, the season draws to a close with a beautiful stroke of symmetry - 2017’s final away-game mirroring the first, with a trip to the Odsal Crater.

Way back in snowy February, Hornets produced a powerhouse performance to beat Bradford 22-14 and stay top of the Championship for a second amazing week. What a journey it’s been since then - for us and for Bradford.

Not too long ago you’d have got ridiculous odds on a season ending with Hornets secure in the Championship and Bradford en-route to the game’s third tier. But here we are…

And if that seems like the punchline to a particularly surreal Rugby League joke, you have to admire Lee Smith’s sense of humour. The Bradford winger sees Sunday as an opportunity to sign off Bradford's relegation season with a home win as a ‘reward’ to their fans. But his recall of this season’s other two games against Hornets is decidedly flaky.

"Rochdale have got us a couple of times…” he said this week in an interview with the Bradford Telegraph and Argus’ relentless Bulls propaganda machine. “… I missed the first game because it was full of snow! They nicked that one and did it again when we were over there a few weeks ago. We probably should have won that day."

We suggest he goes back and watches the videos. Bradford were a distant second best on both occasions - particularly in the Spotland game where two-try Jo Taira ran riot, leaving the Bulls laundry staff with the unpleasant problem of working out how to remove stains from the inside of shorts: Hornets eventually doubling the Bulls tally by 28-14.

Lovers of irony will appreciate that Bradford have run into some (too) late form - winning four of their six shield games thus far and have plenty of positive momentum to carry them into their preparations for life in League 1.

To counter the bad news, the T&A’s hype machine has been in overdrive this week, continuing the trumpet the Bulls in a blatant attempt to sugar-coat the drop. Our favourite from a wave of excitable newspeak is: “The Bulls, who have won ten of their 29 games, have picked up three more points than Sunday's final opponents Rochdale – and would also have finished above Swinton and Oldham without the penalty.”

Exciting times: The Bradford derby with Keighley is ON!
And Lee Smith is buying the pointless hype: “If you took those 12 points back, we'd be safe…” And if I had tits, Lee, I’d be my sister…

For me, though, one reader comment on Smith’s Argus article sums up Bradford’s situation better
than any we’ve seen. Reader ‘Wolford6’ wrote: “We were once the best team in Britain and World Club Champions. Now we are the 12th best team in Yorkshire…”

In the dugout - and definitely not eyeing up the NSW Origin job - Geoff Toovey says it would be good for his side to end a tough season on a high. Again in the T&A: “It's been well documented how tough this season has been for everyone and to go out on a high would be good.”

Yeah - not if we have anything to do with it, Geoff.

I doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to suspect that, since being mentioned in the Media as a possible candidate to try and mop up the mess left behind by Laurie Daley (the Blues have won only one series since 2006 - and only six games from 15 under Daley’s tenure), Toovey’s had an eye on the door.

Speaking to ‘The Papers’, Toovey said last week: “It is a wonderful endorsement that the papers are talking about that but there is nothing official at this stage. It is a great job, a big challenge, and something that I would be interested in – but at the moment it is just in the papers." … er… BECAUSE YOU’RE TALKING TO THE PAPERS GEOFF!  The Australian footy press are also heavily touting Toovey as potential coach of Gold Coast Titans next year. Either way, it’s gotta be better than going to Coventry…

Last week, Toovey’s distinctly un-Origin-standard Bulls scraped a win at Dewsbury by 16 points to 12. Against a Dewsbury side missing gun half-back Gareth Moore and which also had five-eighth maestro Paul Sykes sin-binned, Bradford did just enough to edge a scrappy game three tries to two - one of which came from sizeable unit Ross Peltier who has been Bradford’s best forward in the two games against Hornets this season.

While Bradford fans are busy Googling directions to Hemel, Llanelli‎ and Haringey this winter, Hornets fans can look forward to another season in next year’s Championship (and trips to Toronto, Toulouse and - possibly - Perpignan).

A heartbreakingly narrow defeat at Wake-… er… Sheffield on the back of a performance of poise and swashbuckling bravado showed what Alan Kilshaw’s side is really capable of - and whetted the appetite for further adventures in this competition next year.

With key players already committing to 2018 and, we imagine, some strategic additions to add some extra punch and nous - the prospect of proving people wrong yet again is a delicious one to contemplate.

Back in the present, though, Hornets travel to Odsal seeking an unprecedented triple over Bradford. Missing Gaz Middlehurst, Jono Smith, Ben Moores, Rob Massam and Ant Walker, it has the feel of an awkward outing. But, as we’ve already said, proving people wrong is something this side is very good at. With nothing to lose the shackles are off, and another bold performance would be a fitting way to celebrate the accomplishment of 2017’s mission.

The end of season party starts Sunday - most likely on the popular side opposite the main stand (weather permitting). Let’s hope it won’t be snowing: see you there.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Second That Emotion

Sheffield 26 - Hornets 22

Rugby League is a game that puts you through the wringer - and this was an afternoon of mixed emotions.

Having taken the game to a stultifyingly dull Sheffield Eagles all afternoon, Hornets were thwarted at the death by a breakaway try as they went in search of the knockout punch. Heartbreaking.

At the same time, news came through from Heywood Road that Swinton had condemned Oldham to the third tier next year, thus securing Hornets’ place in the Championship for another season. Jubilation.

You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

What is certain is that this was a bold effort from Hornets - starting the game on the front foot and producing a performance of composure and control.

From the moment Lewis Galbraith gathered the Hornets kick-off, Sheffield looked second best. And when Lewis Palfrey launched a booming 40/20 after just four minutes, Hornets slipped the ball across the line for Kev Penny to score acrobatically in the corner. Danny Yates on target from the whitewash and Hornets ahead of the clock at 0-6.

Yatesey stretched Hornets lead soon after - an infringement in the tackle giving him a simple shot at goal: 0-8

But when Sheffield hoisted the kick-off into the swirling wind, Dec Kay looked in all kinds of trouble and his fumble led to a gift try for the ‘home’ side: Fozzard slumping in from a yard - a classic sucker try. Owens converted from in front and - from nowhere - Sheffield were suddenly In the game.

Indeed, they even had the temerity to edge ahead when Millar played a one-two with Lo, who looked to have put a foot on the dead ball-line in the grounding. 10-8.

But Hornets remained proactive - continuing to take the game to Sheffield, great defence forcing errors. And when Sheffield transgressed at the ruck, Danny Yates gratefully took the two to level the scores.

Then the comment of the day: Sheffield’s Garry Lo coughing a poor pass under no pressure drew the shout, “Oi, Gary - how ‘Lo’ can you go?” Genius.

Sheffield applied some late pressure to no avail - big defence and a timely interception clearing the lines, the half ending with a great clearing kick from Lewis Galbraith with 10 seconds on the clock.

There was just enough time for Sheffield to throw a tantrum because they packed their scrum as the clock ticked down but weren’t allowed to feed it after the hooter. Half-time, a tense ten-all.

Hornets began the second half in determined mood: some impressively direct approach-play capped by a neat pass from Jordan Case sent Matty Hadden skittling defenders to score under the black dot. And when a break from Ryan Maneely up the guts of the Eagles just two minutes later led to Jake Eccleston threading Jack Holmes in by the corner post (Yatesey imperious off the whitewash), Hornets looked good value for their 10-22 lead.

But Sheffield are nothing if not obdurate. Plying their own special brand of ham-fisted anti-football they bludgeoned their way back into the game. A 52nd minute last-tackle kick into the in-goal saw Owens touch down. And, on the back of a series of increasingly puzzling penalties, Wheeldon’s try under the posts had an air of inevitability about it.  Owens converted and the home ‘crowd’ could be heard cheering somewhere in the distance. 22-all.

Hornets then proceeded to chuck the kitchen sink at the Eagles, but were hindered by some frankly brutal decisions from referee Mr Dolan.

Having forced a drop-out, Hornets drove the ball back towards the Sheffield line, where Lewis Hatton was the victim of a blatant spear tackle. Having taken no action, Mr Dolan was super keen to then snag Hornets for not playing the ball properly.

And when Miles Greenwood sneaked over from close range in the 67th minute, Mr Dolan looked to have pointed to the spot, only to change his mind.

Hornets were then bizarrely pulled for offside as they executed an acting half kick into the in-goal. Curiouser and curiouser…

On 74 minutes, Mr Dolan caught Sheffield offside - but Yatesey hooked the penalty agonisingly wide. The tension was wound even tighter two minutes later when Lewis Palfrey’s drop-goal attempt struck the upright. Hornets forced a drop-out from the rebound, this time Gav Bennion called ‘held-up’ over the line.

With the game ebbing away, Sheffield took full advantage of a freak ricochet from Danny Yates’ grubber. Home centre Whiteley carried the ball 70 metres, only to be reeled in by a phenomenal defensive effort from Gav Bennion, but as Hornets’ retreating defence scrambled into shape, Sheffield worked the ball to Yere who had just enough space to score. Devastating.

With a side shorn of regulars, this was close to the performance of the season: gritty, hard-working and full of bravado. Sheffield are the archetypal immovable object: playing a brand of ugly, low-torque, bulldozing football that’s hard to endure. What it lacks in style it makes up for in relentless, glacial momentum - but Hornets found a way to counter their runaway canal-barge style and came agonisingly close to taking something from this game.

But while emotions in the moment were raw with disappointment, they were countered with the deep satisfaction that Hornets had secured Championship status for 2018. And the magnitude of that achievement is not to be underestimated.

Written off as racing certs for the wooden spoon at the start or the year - most notably by Garry Schofield - Alan Kilshaw and his players have done the seemingly impossible.

Fitting then that the over-riding emotion at the end of this game was one of immense pride in a job well done. And we second that wholeheartedly.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Sunday's Coming: Sheffield Eagles

An enigma, wrapped in a mirage, wrapped in a stadium crisis - it must be Sheffield Eagles.

The last time we wrote about Sheffield, we spoke of how the club -  surrounded by a series of un-named ‘partners’ -  was desperately bidding to be the preferred developer of the stadium earmarked for the old Don Valley site, now managed by the ‘Olympic Legacy Park Ltd’.

The situation came to a head last month when the rights to develop the stadium were granted to a rival bid headed up by Sheffield-born, Brussels-based property developer - and former chairman of Sheffield Utd - Kevin McCabe and his Scarborough Group. This outcome is widely considered to be the worst possible scenario for the Eagles, as McCabe is under no compulsion to complete the stadium to RFL standards ahead of the 2018 season - and, if and when he does, Sheffield will be a distinctly secondary tenant. According to the Sheffield Star: “If the council rubber stamps the OLP’s expected recommendation, then the Eagles must then negotiate with the winning bidder for the terms of their tenancy.”

It is widely believed that becoming tenants at the OLP, rather than a developing partner, Sheffield Eagles could face yet another season away from their home-city base, with sponsorship and support already dwindling five years after the Don Valley stadium was razed. In that time, the Eagles have played in Doncaster, on a school field and now 26 miles from home in Wakefield.

Since news broke of the Eagles’ stadium issue in early August, all parties - art seems - have communicated solely by statement.

Eagles general manager Liam Claffey stated in his statement:  "Whilst the news and decision is not the preferred option of Sheffield Eagles, the club will work with all parties to ensure the club is back in Sheffield and at the Olympic Legacy Park in 2018. The decision made by the Olympic Legacy Park Ltd will now be passed to Sheffield City Council to make a final decision and the club are continuing dialogue with them as well.”

Chairman Chris Noble said: “If we don’t get it we need to start negotiating with whoever the other party is, ask when they plan to build the seating area,” he said. “Part of the heads of agreement state that Sheffield Eagles have to be facilitated. However we will just become tenants at a rate which we don’t obviously know yet. We’ll have no say over when we can play.”

Only weeks after Legacy Park project chief and former sports minister Richard Cabon said that OLP Ltd had: “…  made it absolutely clear to everyone who made an approach that it would also be the home for Sheffield Eagles…” he went on to say: “Following discussions at the Board meeting we have recommended to Sheffield City Council, as Landowner, that it enters into a land transaction with Scarborough Group International for the development of a Stand and other linked facilities. In light of this decision, representatives of Sheffield Eagles have been informed with a view to enabling constructive discussions on accommodating the Club at the proposed stadium.” Hmmm, hardly endorsing…

Scarborough Group International boss McCabe said: “We welcome the discussions as we move forward in working together on the development of a community stadium at the Olympic Legacy Park. We need to clarify certain criteria in the process but we are more than happy to work with the Sheffield Eagles.”

None of which sounds particularly resounding - but given that the Eagles’ backer remained firmly ‘un-named’ throughout the process, perhaps the council and the OLP opted on the side of transparency?

On the field, the Eagles look to be ending their season with a visible wobble. With a Championship Shield semi-final berth already guaranteed, Sheffield have now lost three consecutive games -  going down 18-32 at home last week against against the already relegated Bradford Bulls.

Having trailed by just 10-16 at the break, Sheffield snatched an 18-16 lead after 47 minutes courtesy of a quick-fire brace of tries, but Bradford hit back with two more of their own, adding a late one to blow out the scoreline to 18-32. Most eye-catching stat of the day was the hat-trick that Bulls winger Omari Caro ran through his opposite number Garry Lo.

Defeat to the Bulls came on the back of a frankly brutal trip to Toulouse on Bank Holiday Monday, where Mark Aston’s side was compelled to travel at 7am on the day of the game - which had an 8pm kick-off.  Needless to say, they went down 32-16 in Blagnac.

In an attempt to arrest the wobble, Mark Aston is using the last two games of the season as an audition for the Shield finals, saying this week that any player finding a level of consistency will put themselves in the frame for a place in their Championship Shield semi  - which could mean yet another trip to Toulouse (any bets on a midnight kick-off on a Tuesday?).

Hornets make the trip to Sheff/Hudders/Wake/School - field (delete as appropriate) buoyed by last week’s massive win over Swinton and on the very cusp of securing Championship survival. Having added two crucial points to the gap between Swinton and Oldham, all eyes will be on their relegation shoot-out at Heywood Road. With only two points available after Sunday, the loser of that game won’t be able to catch Hornets.

Oldham’s points difference is 129 worse than Swinton’s, which puts them in grave danger, as - even if they win - should Swinton lose in their last game at Toulouse and Oldham beat Dewsbury in theirs, the Roughyeds could still go down on points difference unless the games throw-up at least a 130 point swing (this weekend’s game pending).

If Swinton win on Sunday AND at Toulouse - and Hornets lose both remaining games - the worst we can finish is 6th, which gains us another Championship season next year.

By far the worst scenario would be a draw at Heywood Road. That would leave a two point gap between Hornets and the other two clubs - so everyone in the mix would go into the last game of the season seeking points to secure survival. But let’s not go there…

In a season that’s seen us slay a couple of  Yorkshire bogey sides, a much overdue Hornets win at Sheffield would make things very simple indeed - and now is the time for our all-important 18th man - the travelling support - to stand-up and be heard.

So here’s how to get there:

The TLCRF80mins short-cut.

Off the M62 at junction 31 as if you’re going to Featherstone. Follow Pontefract Rd towards Featherstone as far as the roundabout at the new West Yorkshire Police headquarters - turn right and follow the A655 towards Wakefield for about 10 minutes until you reach the A638, Doncaster Road. Turn right at the lights and go under the railway bridges, the ground is on your left after about 300 yards. It takes just 50 minutes - so get yourself over there.

Details for your SatNav are
163-165 Doncaster Road, Wakefield WF1 5EY.

Sheffield have been poorly supported all season, so if  we can make some noise and ‘own’ the atmosphere, it’ll give the lads a massive boost! So let’s get there in numbers, out-sing the home support and get the lads over the line in style. No excuses - see you in Wakefield.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Big-Hearted Hornets Pass the Stress Test

Hornets 16 - Swinton 8

In this most must-win of must-win games, Hornets produced a performance of composure, control and completion to squeeze Swinton out of a game so tight at times, you could hear it squeak.

Indeed this was a tense affair - the nerves palpable around the ground as both sides engaged in a first half resembling a game of chess: move for counter-move.

The game began ignominiously - Lewis Galbraith caught in possession on the last tackle, the victim of a clear and dangerous cannonball tackle by Bracek. Pulled late by the touch-judge, the incident was put on report by Mr. Smith. A weak cop-out.

Next set, though, Mr Smith eager to snag Hornets for a high shot.

Swinton elected to go aerial at the first opportunity, but Chris Riley was rock solid under the bomb - grabbing a penalty for contact in the air for good measure. Hornets reciprocated in the next set - the outcome identical. Swinton’s response was to cough the ball almost immediately. Hornets’ possession - the outcome identical. Nerves on show.

On 11 minutes Swinton were handed a penalty for a late shot and Hankinson made no mistake from the tee. Five minutes later Hornets rewarded similarly after Danny Yates was flattened after a kick. Yates off the floor to even the scores at 2-all.

Having begun under tension, the game was then deprived of all remaining slack, as both teams worked hard to gain advantage.

On 25 minutes Swinton came up with the error, but Dec Kay’s kick and chase into the in-goal was defused with little trouble. Then a pause in proceedings as Swinton full-back Butt was put on report for off the ball contact with Ant Walker, who was lying injured at the time.

Hornets continued to play what little lucid football was on offer, but when Matty Hadden rose to play the ball with defenders crawling all over him, Mr Smith gave Swinton the penalty. Puzzling.

Hornets responded with some gritty defence: Gav Bennion the man on the spot to snuff out a last tackle kick and bring the ball away.

The game edged towards half-time with two rare chances. First Hornets sweeping the ball wide to Kev Penny who was bundled into touch as he stretched his arm around the corner post; then a Swinton kick to the corner, Bergal adjudged offside.

The game ended with a double concern for Hornets: Jake Eccleston injured chasing down a teasing kick, Ant Walker led staggering from the field with concussion. Eccleston patched up to continue, Walker’s afternoon over. Half-time 2-all.

Hornets began the second half with noticeably more purpose: eager, direct. A huge Josh Crowley break up the guts of the Lions defence culminating in a penalty for holding down. Yatesey no mistake, Hornets edging ahead 4-2.

Then a moment that shifted the momentum. Lewis Foster’s steelpling bomb towards Butt, Lewis Galbraith in hot pursuit - pulling the trigger on a shuddering tackle on the hapless Swinton fullback that brought the crowd to its feet. The next set Swinton knocked on first tackle - the home fans could sense the pressure taking effect.

On 48 minutes, the dam cracked: Dec Kay embarking on a big looping run across the face of the Swinton defence, stepping inside defenders to plant the ball down. Danny Yates off the whitewash for 10-2. Daylight…

Swinton then had a slice of luck. Having blatantly knocked down a Hornets pass, the visitors were given the feed at the scrum, followed by a niggly penalty. Camped on the Hornets 10m line, the Lions forced a drop-out, then were handed a repeat set AND another penalty. Hornets under the cosh. Swinton capitalised, shifting the ball to Bergal who stole in at the corner to score. Hankinson on target: 10-8. The tension cranked up to eleven - coronaries all-round…

Hornets response was direct: a huge bust by Jordan Case had Swinton back-pedaling, but a hurried kick option let them off the hook. No matter; two minutes later Hornets again drove close to the Swinton line, where the impressive Ryan Maneely produced a pass you could get an Arts Council grant for - hitting an unstoppable Foster at pace to stretch Hornets’ lead. Yatesey 100% with the boot and Hornets ahead 16-8.

It looked like a done deal after 70 minutes when a Hornets kick into the in-goal led to chaos and Chris Riley touched down - but Mr Smith and the touchie were the only two people in the ground to spot a knock-on. No try.

Swinton did produce a late rally - conjuring up a rare moment of passing football, but former Hornet Robinson saw the ball slip from his fingers with the line at his mercy. Oops…

In response, Hornets closed ranks and saw out a hard-working win that edges them ever closer to Championship safety. During post-match celebrations, news that Oldham had lost at home to Toulouse brought a cheer of relief. Defeat for them next week at Swinton will see them relegated. On this showing, we’d advise any Lions fans with a heart condition to keep their medication topped up.

Meantime, Hornets head for two away games at Sheffield and Bradford knowing the standard required to end the season on an upbeat note.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Sunday's Coming: Swinton

This has been a pisser of a week.

Not enough that Ben Moores has had his season truncated for what appears to be time-wasting; or that Gaz Middlehurst has broken his thumb; or that Jono Smith took another brutal, targeted head-shot that could see his season ended too. Not enough, even, that - by some Rugby League miracle - Swinton came up with a win at in-form Dewsbury on Monday.

All of these would be bad enough to take, but the news from the RFL disciplinary that Lewis Galbraith has ‘no case to answer’ following his sin-binning against Oldham - during which Oldham scored the try that gave them the winning margin - is a bitter, jagged pill to swallow.

Once again, incompetence of the officials and the unwillingness of the RFL to do anything about it have cost Hornets two points and shunted us closer than ever to Oldham and Swinton.

Add Monday’s debacle to the sending off of Jordan Hand at Heywood Road (a game that Swinton won by a point) and the dismissal of Matty Hadden at Batley (another game that slipped through our fingers on the back of a numerical disadvantage) and you have three pretty ordinary refereeing decisions that have had major impacts on our season.

Here at TLCRF80mins, we’re not big on bagging referees - but to misquote Oscar Wilde (again) to be wrong once is unfortunate, twice looks like carelessness. But three times? And who do Hornets turn to for reparation in such cases? Who compensates the players’ loss of winning pay, the club’s loss of two points and - if the worst should happen - who makes up the dramatic drop in central funding?

Week in week out, clubs, players and coaches are held responsible for their actions.  You miss one small detail on match day and the RFL’s match commissioner is in your ear; criticise the officials and they slap you with a fine. But who holds the officials to account? They never have to explain their decisions: it’s  a free pass to make game-changing errors with no comeback.

After every game, coaches front-up and face questions on their side’s performance - good and bad.
Will Gareth Hewer be compelled to face RFL questioning on his performance? Will he face a ban if found guilty of an inability to correctly implement the laws?

Sunday sees Swinton come to Spotland. With the Lions having shoved their huge debt to the back of the kitchen drawer and forgotten about it until October, Stuart Littler seems to have got his charges ticking over and - as mentioned - they arrive on Sunday on the back of a shock 28-35 win at Dewsbury Rams.

Leading 22-6 after 35 minutes, the Lions had enough daylight to fend-off a late, late Rams comeback. Stand-out on the day was centre Chris Hankinson who weighed-in with a try and seven goals for an impressive personal 18-point tally.

With the three clubs above Bradford now squeezed airlessly tight by Monday’s results, this is the most must-win of must-win games. It was always likely to come to this and here we are.

A Hornets win on Sunday would leave Swinton needing to win both their remaining games to overhaul us. An Oldham win too would see the Roughyeds leapfrog Swinton into 6th. It’s a time that calls for cool heads, concentration and strong resolve - from everyone.

The run-ins for this Greater Manchester three-way Rugby League challenge are:

This week
Hornets v Swinton
Oldham v Toulouse

Next Week
Sheffield v Hornets
Swinton v Oldham

Final week
Bradford v Hornets
Toulouse v Swinton
Oldham v Dewsbury

The maths remain pretty simple: as they’ve always been - match or better Swinton and Oldham’s results and we stay up.

It’s edgy stuff and you wouldn’t want to miss it. See you Sunday.

Breaking Point

As Rugby League celebrates its 122nd anniversary this week, we ask: ‘Over a century on, are we heading for a second split due to the unfair treatment of working players?’

Rugby League is a rare sport, one founded on a principle. 

When the public school types of the London-based Rugby Union sneered at the very thought of broken time payments to working Northern players in compensation for losing work wages to play, they drove Lancashire and Yorkshire clubs into forming what a Union apologist described in the Yorkshire Post as ‘a union of their own’. A Northern Union.

At the heart of the split is what we think is a quote that most beautifully crystallises Union thinking at the time. Referenced from several sources - most commonly from the Salford Reporter in the months leading up to the split - it says: “If the working man cannot afford to play, he must do as other people have to do, who want things they cannot afford - do without"

Indeed, the opportunity for ‘The Working Man’ to play Rugby League at the highest level befitting his skill is locked in the DNA of our game - but as Rugby League heads towards its 125th anniversary, we can sense the threat of another ‘working man’ split that could force the game apart.  And - as previously - the forces at work are time, money and fairness.

The European Dream
The Murdoch-isation of Rugby League in 1995 lit the fuse for this current potential implosion: vast amounts of TV money poured in to try and create a fully professional European Super League. Great in principle, awkward in practice.

What Murdoch’s plan failed to understand is that bad teams lose - sometimes quite often.

The European dream that began with Paris Saint Germain beating Sheffield Eagles 30-24 in front of almost 18,000 people in March 1996, lay crashed and burned by May 1997. Not until Catalans Dragons were granted a Super League licence in 2006 did top flight Rugby League re-acquire its much desired ‘European’ dimension.

And that’s worked reasonably well since - full-time professional players on both sides of the Channel able to prepare and travel for fixtures helping establish the Dragons as Super League staple - until this season, where indifferent performances have shunted the Catalans into genuine relegation trouble. Hold that thought.

Canada Goosed
Down in the Championship and League 1, Rugby League’s international dream is causing issues, as full-time Toulouse and Toronto Wolfpack are compelling part-time teams - teams made up of ‘working men’ - to take days off work to travel to fulfil fixtures.

The game already asks a great deal of commitment from its part-time players, but repeated overseas trips (sometimes at short notice), place undue pressure on players’ relationships with employers who already offer incredible (but not inevitable) patience. And many of these guys are family men - Rugby League is not their job and to add needless pressure at home shows little concern for player welfare.

Only this month, Rochdale Hornets’ game in Toulouse required 19 ‘working men’ to ask for Friday off work to travel, play at 8pm on a Saturday night (in a game that ended at almost 11pm), then travel back on Sunday - a journey of over 10 hours for some, as half of the squad had to fly from Limoges (given the short notice of the fixture and the availability of flights) landing home late Sunday night. They then had to set their alarms to go to work on Monday morning, while Toulouse released video of their full-time players relaxing at a theme park.

Similarly, we read this week that Barrow have had to crowd-fund their second trip to Toronto this season after their last trip a) left them £4,000 out of pocket and b) left several of their key players unable to travel. Full-time status of the opposition notwithstanding, such a situation creates an unfair contest - hardly befitting of a game founded on a desire for fair treatment.

How far is too far?
It seems unfair enough to us, that part-time players are asked to travel from Whitehaven to Skolars and back in a day and still have to get up for work, having got home in the early hours of Monday morning. But going back to work having burned two days holiday AND having done two transatlantic flights in four days defies logic. 

But what’s the alternative? Asking ‘working men’ to compromise their livelihoods to play heavily weighted games in Rugby League’s most distant corners runs counter to the principle on which the game was founded. Next year, the Championship could push the situation to breaking point. It’s generally assumed that Toronto will buy their way out of League One, Toulouse have - again - stalled in the second tier and, if the worst happens, the RFL could see Catalans Dragons dropping down a tier.

So you would have a league in which at least half of the teams are part-time, requiring semi-pro players to travel extremely long distances to fulfil at least three fixtures. To misquote Oscar Wilde, asking them to do it once is unfortunate, but three times? Four Times? More times? It’s just not fair, equitable or viable.

It does, however, discriminate heavily against players with jobs. Which is where we came in.

The schism is real
There is already anger amongst Championship clubs who are clearly feeling the strain of managing increasingly unrealistic RFL expectations. In a recent League Express article, three championship coaches voiced their frustrations at having to ask their players to negotiate more time off before embarking on logistically ludicrous trips.  Effectively forcing working players to make the choice between their club and their job - takes us back to square one: “… if the working man cannot afford to play, he must do as other people have to do, who want things they cannot afford - do without”.   

Or, alternatively,  form a game of their own?

If the RFL continues to ignore its treatment of working players, it is in real danger of creating two incompatible versions of the game. Indeed, for us, a natural reaction to excessive demands on players with jobs outside Rugby League would be to push the part-time game closer to the ‘community’ game: with semi-pro/semi-amateur players having a clearer affinity with those who ‘play for sport’. 

Ultimately, it’s the fact that the sport has lost sight of its fundamental principle of fair treatment for working players that saddens us. And in their selective blindness, the RFL shouldn’t just blithely assume that a new split won’t happen. Its own history is against it.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Wank Holiday

Hornets 24 - Oldham 30

The nerves were palpable ahead of this game: Spotland a wound-up, hyper-ventilating, nail-biting cauldron. All the components of your regular Hornets/Oldham derby turned up to eleven and laden with the almost unbearable weight of expectation from both camps. A test of composure - a day for cool heads, smart decisions, leadership and resolve.

What the fevered, near-1,000 crowd got instead was a scrapping, scrambling shit-fight of an error-fest in which Oldham’s enthusiasm proved enough to drag them through to grab their first - and possibly THE most important - derby win this year.

Oldham took an early lead off the back of consecutive penalties - Wilkinson sending Burke through a hole to score under he black dot, Hooley converting. Not the best of starts.

Hornets flickered into life after 11 minutes when Lewis Palfrey found Chris Riley with a looping cut-out pass, the winger showing his class to plant the ball by the flag. No Conversion.

But the comeback was brief. When Hornets defenders made a hash of Hewitt’s steepling kick just three minutes later, Oldham worked Adamson through a retreating defence to score.

Again Hornets hit back, this time Danny Yates’ teasing kick into the in-goal caused chaos in the Oldham defence, Jake Eccleston first to make his mind-up for 8-12. Again, no conversion.

Oldham stretched their lead after Lewis Palfrey was deemed to have knocked on in what looked like a perfectly good tackle and Hornets shipped a penalty from the resulting set. Hooley with the two for 8-14.

Increasingly, Hornets began to force passes with decreasing effect and, with the half hour approaching, broken play in centre field saw Hooley break clear for the visitors only for Mr Hewer to snag Lewis Galbraith for a supposed trip and produce the yellow card. 90 seconds later Oldham did the maths for Clay to score on the end of an outrageous overlap: 8-18.

A disappointing half was capped on 36 minutes when Jono Smith took a nasty head-shot that could well end his season. After lengthy treatment he was taken staggering from the field holding a towel to a badly bleeding nose. Mr Hewer put the incident on report and played on.

Hornets 8-18 down at the break and needing inspiration from somewhere.

Hornets did begin the second half with intent. Ryan Maneely burrowing in from acting half, Palfrey adding the two to close the gap to 14-18. And then the game became a battle of wills.

For 20 minutes both sides probed, pried and found new and interesting ways to toss away possession. For 10 of those minutes Hornets were entrenched in the Oldham 20m zone, but couldn’t find the pass or the kick to unzip a determined Oldham defence. Having jabbed flaccidly at the Oldham line for three or four sets, momentum was lost  when Danny Yates fumbled a pass from acting half. The body language said it all.

Off the hook, Oldham  marched straight upfield where Burke went crashing over. Hooley on target and Oldham with daylight at 14-24.

Hornets teased briefly when Lewis Galbraith drew defenders before sending Rob Massam in at the corner for an unconverted try to close the gap to six points, but when Lee Mitchell knocked-on 30 metres from his own line, Hewitt went on a mazy run, finding Hooley on his shoulder to score under the posts. Hooley raised the flags to give Oldham the vital points.

At the death, Jo Taira did reach in to grab an unsatisfying consolation try (converted) but it was way too little, way too late - the hooter sounding before play could restart.

This mess of a game was disappointing in pretty much every aspect. Hornets handling at key moments was woeful - and to be out-enthused by Oldham in a local derby on your own patch, unforgiveable. ‘Must-win games’ are called that because you MUST win them - by any means possible. And, on the day, Oldham just wanted this more.

We could analyse every dropped pass, every sloppy tackle and every crap penalty until the cows come home, but what would be the point?

With Swinton somehow grabbing a win at Dewsbury, the concern is now very real - Hornets now clinging to a wafer-thin one-point advantage and a shrivelling points difference: by our calculations, the only team in the shield still without a win in this phase. From sitting in the box seat, we’re now dragged into a straight three-way shoot out with Oldham and Swinton.

Yes, we always knew that staying in the Championship would be a major challenge. And yes, our destiny is still in our own hands. With three games to go, this season no longer just a test of footballing ability - it’s a test of character. For all of us.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Monday's Coming: The A627M El Clasico

We can’t deny that Oldham’s draw at Batley is one of the eye-catching results of the season.

Having trailed 22-nil after 20 minutes they clawed themselves back to 22-all - denied victory at the death by a coat of paint, when a drop-goal attempt came back off the post.

Needless to say, Oldham see this result as a precursor to a return to greatness.

Hand-off: Chris Hamilton celebrates the draw at
Batley in literal fashion...
"We have potentially turned the corner by showing any amount of character, determination and spirit.” Said chairman Chris Hamilton to the Oldham Chronic this week. "If someone had offered us a point before the game,” he went on: “… we would have snatched their hand off." But what would he have done with a severed hand?

The point gained at Mount (un)Pleasant, pull Oldham to within a point of Swinton, as the scrap for Championship survival tightens up (Swinton Lions, lost 30-16 at home to already relegated Bradford last weekend).

Oldham Coach Scott Naylor sees his side’s propensity to start slowly as an issue to be addressed. Also talking to the Chron. he said: “The point against Batley was enormous for us - but I'm hoping we don't start at 3.20pm again.

"The boys are under a lot of pressure, perhaps there are a few nerves, and we only relax when we feel there is nothing to lose. That shouldn't happen against Rochdale, though, as it's a derby game and we'll be giving it everything we've got.”

Naylor’s side looks likely to be boosted by the return of several recent injury-hit absentees. Second row Adam Neal looks likely to make a return from a two month hiatus with a broken jaw, with Kenny Hughes, Danny Grimshaw and Liam Thompson ready for a return to action.

Hornets come out of a disappointing trip to Toulouse with a rare nine-day turn-round - and a couple of extra days rehab is always very welcome at this late stage of the season.

The game at Blagnac was, in reality, a bloody shambles. An 8pm kick-off in a virtually empty ground, then an hour’s delay in the dark, followed by a more than dubious sin-binning - it’s custom made to give any team a disadvantage.

At 22-12 after an hour, it was a case of ‘next scorer wins’: TOXIIIC blowing hard and Hornets with the momentum. But a freak try and then the sin-binning (during which TOXIIIC scored four times) killed the game stone dead. At least the band (who Toulouse bus-in in an attempt to hide the lack of atmosphere) and the tannoy guy (who contravened the operating laws by loudly cheering on a 60 metre break) had a great night.

Our one great stat is that: every time we’ve lost in Toulouse, we’ve won the following week. So here’s hoping that continues.

Hornets will have Jo Taira back in contention - and Rob Massam edges closer to a return.

This season’s A627M El Classics have been fiery affairs, and trying to keep a lid on it this week is Gareth Hewer -  reprising his role in Hornets win at Bower Fold on July 23.

Other games this weekend are:
Bradford v Batley
Dewsbury  v Swinton
Toulouse v Sheffield Eagles

With four games to go in the Shield (and eight points to play for), every game now sends fans rushing for the calculators. But we like to keep things simple. Beat Oldham and Swinton - and match their results in the other two games and we’ll be fine.

Monday, 21 August 2017

French Farce

Toulouse 50 - Hornets 12

The Manic Street Preachers wrote a song called  'All Surface and No Feeling' - and that's five words that perfectly describes the facade that is Toulouse Olympique. A very good footballing team, but a bunch of dead-eyed mercenaries given a shallow veneer of authenticity by the hollowed-out husk of what used to be a proper club.

And if TOXIIIC were always Rugby League's unfunniest joke, on Saturday night in Blagnac they surpassed even their own ability to plumb new depths of utter crapness.

You see, TOXIIIC like to f*ck teams about. Playing a challenger for a top four spot in the hottest month of the year? Force them to kick off at 3pm. Playing a side that's already beaten them once this year? Play them on a non-bank-holiday Monday with an 8pm kick off, which compels them to travel on game-day, arriving for their flight out at 5am.

If there's an inch of daylight in the operating laws, these buggers will prise it open if if gives them an advantage.

As it was, Hornets rocked up for an 8pm kick-off on a Saturday night and were caught cold. Two rapid fire tries from Australian Kheirallah gave the home side an early 12-nil lead and the Toulouse's 350 supporters (they claimed 1,200 on their website and 612 in the press) were frothing at the pants.

Hornets hit back on the quarter hour when a dink in the in-goal caused panic and Danny Yates was able to touch down. Palfrey hit the target to half the arrears.

Hornets began to apply some pressure, but two moments of Harlem-Globetrotters showboating from Minga and Margueritte hauled TO out to 22-6.  But Hornets stuck to the plan and, with the home-side visibly blowing, Yatesey's kick behind the defence was snaffled  by Gaz Middlehurst who touched down unopposed. Lewis Palfrey added the extras and Hornets had the momentum.

Indeed, Hornets ended the half the stronger and the small, but vociferous support thought all it needed was a few glitches fixing up at half time and an early score to put TO under pressure.

But wait...

With the clock approaching 9pm, it was announced that the floodlights had failed and that the referee wouldn't kick off the second half until they were fixed. Now - if it were us running a club that opted to play at 8pm, we'd have sent someone along in the afternoon to flick the switch and check that the lights were working. TOXIIIC hadn't done that.

In an ever deepening darkness, the crowd were first told that the deadline for the arrival of an electrician/potential abandonment was 9.15pm.

9.15 came and went, with no news. The players out on the field trying to keep warm and loose. Then an announcement that the deadline for a decision would be 9.30pm - which duly came and went. The Match commissioner made a few calls, the TO president wandered around shrugging...

9.30 came and went. The revised deadline for a decision was now 9.45, people now conjugating what happens if a game doesn't go past the break.

At 9.44 - with pretty much all of the game's momentum gone, energy/enthusiasm levels sapped and Lewis Palfrey and Josh Crowley struggling to overcome cramping muscles, the lights miraculously sprang to life.

With both sides compelled to warm-up from scratch and refocus, the game eventually stuttered to a restart at 10pm.

The first 20 minutes of the half were an arm-wrestle. Hornets laying siege to the French line, but unable to find a breakthrough. A lofted kick to Chris Riley the most likely option, but deemed knocked on my referee Mr Moore who, incidentally, had a shocker.

Toulouse played their get-out-of-jail card, releasing Minga on what looked like a certain try - only for Lewis Galbraith to track back and produce a try-saving tackle of the highest quality, forcing the TO wing into a double movement.

Then disaster. Lewis Palfrey failed to find touch with the penalty and Mika ambled onto a short-ball at close range. Kheirallah the extras for 28-12. Just gutting.

Then came the coup-de-grace courtesy of a frankly awful decision from Mr Moore. Having policed the ruck inconsistently all night, Minga (we think) broke in centre field, reeled in by Gaz Middlehurst. Clearly tackled with his ball-carrying arm hitting the floor, the TO player jumped to his feet to continue to play-on. In the process he became entangled with Middlehurst and fell to the ground. The home crowd bayed, Mr Moore reached for the Yellow card, Middlehurst dispatched - supposedly for throwing a punch. No, us neither.

Hornets reduced to 12, the home side went feral, playing off-structure to run in four tries in 10 minutes. Game dead, points gone, thanks for coming.

The game eventually slid to an end at 10.45 - just ridiculous.

Post match, Alan Kilshaw was incredulous, referring to the hour's delay as 'a farce'.  And it was. We couldn't think of any other team in the league who would be given an hour to sort out what is a basic staple of hosting evening games. We can only hope that there will be repercussions, but don't hold your breath.

In the wash-up, Toulouse remain a hard club to like. Arrogant in the extreme and repeatedly exposed as the flat-track bullies that they are. An embarrassing, plastic, soulless RFL vanity project.

But remember, having burned 1.8 million Euros to end up in the same 'eight' as Hornets, their season has been a catastrophic failure, whereas our challenge remains alive.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Samedi's Coming: Toulouse

And so, Hornets battered troops must once again gird up their aching loins and head for bloody Toulouse.

One imagines, this wasn’t a fixture TOXIIIC really thought they’d ever have to play. Having spunked their ‘get into SL’ budget up the wall in spectacular fashion, The French Ellite’s perennial chokers have once again missed the Championship boat and - instead of anticipating a season of SL glory in 2018 - face another year dragging their own particular brand of churlish football round the Championship. With a trip to Toronto chucked in for good measure. If it weren’t the fate awaiting all Championship clubs next year, you’d have to laugh at the sheer Karma of it.

But we shouldn’t be surprised; TOXIIIC have a proven track record of choking at this level. Having been denied a Super League licence in 2009, Toulouse joined the UK’s National League. Having clawed their way up to fourth at one point, they ended their first season 10th out of 11 clubs. In 2010, new SL qualification rules required any club pitching for a Super League franchise to have at least reached the grand final. Toulouse finished 8th.

In 2011, they got relegated and - rather than face the ignominy of playing in the bottom tier - they retreated to the French Elite to resume their role as a big poisson in a small bassin.

Having come into the Championship as League 1 runners-up, Toulouse peaked this season in second spot, before increasingly regular defeats saw them slip out of the top four behind part-time Halifax and Featherstone. Thus far, they have lost nine games, but sit top of the Championship Shield table.

In the spirit of making the best of a bad job, Toulouse hooker Charles Bouzinac said in the press last week (of the Championship Shield): “I think everyone is motivated and it’s still a trophy to go for. It’s always good for a club a team and its history to win titles.”  And as 2016 League 1 title winners, we should know…

Speaking to Toulouse FM back in January, Toulouse president Bernard Sarrazain revealed that their budget for the 2017 season was €1.8m which, he said, would “allow the club to prepare for the Super League”. “The goal on all levels,” he said then, “is the top four.”

Spent: Bernard Sarrazain in front of the truckload
of cash Toulouse have burned this season.
Having subsequently stormed to a fifth-place finish, Monsieur Sarrazain this week produced a small onion and - forcing a tear - opined to the Club’s website: “The consequences of not making the middle eight are first of all sporting. If we had been in the top four, we would have played the three other best Championship clubs and four Super League teams, a league that we wish to integrate into very soon…”  Very soon being at least a year away…

“We would have been able to measure up to these clubs and inevitably make significant progress by playing very high-level matches… two Super League teams would have to come to Blagnac, where we could have offered a great show to our supporters, and attracted new spectators…”  Instead of putting on crap games against the likes of us, Batley and Sheffield, eh, Bernard? C’est la vie…

“Finally,” he droned on, “the last consequence is of course financial – besides those games where we could have brought more people to Blagnac, the financial allowances allocated next season by the RFL, calculated according to the ranking this season, will obviously be less.” Clearly reserve-grade Aussies don’t come cheap.

So - having blown 2017 - did M. Sarrazain have any regrets from this challenging season? Seems so: “We regret the outcome of this first phase, but we still learn the lessons… of course we discussed this with the sports team and it was obvious to us that the still limited depth of our team was the main reason for our non-qualification. We are therefore already actively recruiting new players, of very high quality, for 2018.” Very high. The best. Ask anyone…

Just in case you haven’t had the opportunity to extrapolate the scale of how disappointed he’ll be next year when they choke again, Sarrazain was happy to set the bar: “… the main (objective) will of course be the top four at the end of the first phase. And, depending on how things are going, it could be that it turns into top two. We saw this season that the team was largely capable.”  

Of finishing fifth, yes.

As it is, Toulouse have begun their Championship Shield quest in relatively underwhelming fashion. An unconvincing round 1 win at Odsal was followed up by defeat at Dewsbury - with the Rams exploiting some frankly awful goal-line defence and a suspect looking middle to come home 36-34 winners.

We reckon TOXIIIC’s ordinary form can be attributed in part to the continuing absence of their Cook Islands international Jonathan Ford. The half-back has missed three months of the season having torn a pectoral muscle playing for his country way back in May - and he remains in doubt for Sunday’s clash.

Hornets too are feeling the injury pinch - announcing on Wednesday that they are likely to be stripped of six players for the trip to France. But occasional miracles do happen in Rugby League - and Blagnac has been known to deliver on that front so we travel, as always, with optimism.

Safe travels to the Hornets contingent making the trip - see you in Toulouse!

This weekend’s other games are:

Batley v Oldham
Sheffield v Dewsbury
Swinton v Bradford

Dewsbury need one win to guarantee their safety (With 10 points to play for, Oldham can only reach 21 and a win at Sheff-/Wake-field would give the Rams 22).  As previously, Hornets need to match or better Swinton’s results to maintain the status quo.