Sunday, 29 January 2017

Hornets v Warrington goes to the Wire

Hornets 22 - Warrington 24

Hornets belied the freezing Mancunian monsoon conditions to take a Warrington side peppered with SL names to within one kick of an amazing draw.

With seconds remaining on the clock, a last ditch push up the left channel created just enough space for Jones to score by the flag to tie the scores. Livett snatchng the win after the hooter with a monster of a conversion off the touchine.

Up to that point, the result had hung teasingly in the balance in this evenly contested game in which the momentum ebbed and flowed like the rising tide of standing water on the playing surface.

The early pressure came from the Wolves as Hornets errors gifted them repeat sets, and it took a late intervention from Miles Greenwood to prevent a Savelio try after 8 minutes, scrambling across to force a knock-on in goal. Similarly, it took Danny Yates tracking back to come up with a last ditch ankle tap on 14 minutes to halt a dangerous kick return from King.

Having ridden out the early storm, Hornets went on the offensive courtesy of a Lewis Galbraith who mesmerised a retreating Wolves defence as he dribbled the ball soccer-style fully 70 metres, only to be outnumbered by defenders with the ball bobbling into the in-goal.

Now 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.

Indeed, with Warrington reduced to five one-out drives and a big hoof into the rain, Hornets looked favourites to break the deadlock. On 22 minutes a tricky Lewis Palfrey kick forced a drop-out - and when Hornets went wide, Miles Greenwood made the extra man to crash in and score. Palfrey the extras and Hornets good value for a 6-nil lead.

Warrington’s introduction of Daryl Clark sparked the visitors onto life: noticably quicker and more direct from the ruck. And it was Clark who rushed a back-pedaling defence to open the Wolves account on the half hour mark: 6-4.

And It was the visitors -  again taken forward by Clark - who found time to launch a kick towards Rob Massams corner, Blythe first to the tap-back to score. Out of nowhere, Warrington in front at 6-8.

During Clark’s 17 minute cameo appearance, Hornets defended seven sets in a row - but with the hooter imminent, Hornets drove downfield for one last charge. After a great approach set, Hornets went right, Lewis Palfrey stabbed the ball into the in-goal and Jake Ecclestone showed the greater appetite to shrug off defenders and score. Palfrey a stunning touchline conversion and Hornets into the sheds to defrost ahead at 12-8.

With both coaches making significant changes at the break, the early second-half exchanges were scrappy and niggly. And when a downpour of diluvian proportions arrived, conditions deteriorated further - both sides struggling to play any meaningful football. Warrinton were first to settle, King hitting a short-ball at pace to score, Livett the two to edge the Wire in front at 12-14. And then Hornets switching off just long-enough for Dwyer to take advantage, prying through a gap stretch the visitors’ lead to 12-18. Hornets were then snagged offside at the kick-off. Frustrating.

But as the game entered the last quarter, Hornets sucked in to put in a strong finish. With Warrington pinned on their goal-line Danny Yates lofted the ball over Jones’ head, Rob Massam outjumping his opposite number to score a well executed try to close the gap to 16-18. And when Hornets went wide after 75 minues, Jordan Cella muscled his way through a mass of defenders to put Hornets in front. Palfrey landed the two from wide to give Hornets a deserved 22-18 lead.

With the game almost gone, Warrington launched a last-gasp attack up the right channel, where Jones and Livett combined to swipe the game from under Hornets’ noses. Harsh.

As the Hornets supporters in a noisy 548 crowd cheered their team from the field, they could reflect on a very positive pre-season. Two commendable performances against Super League opposition where they matched both for long periods, and a dominant win over a team in their own competition.

So now the real stuff starts - and, on the evidence of the last three weeks, Alan Kilshaw and his coaching team have a few selection headaches ahead of them. Exciting times. Let’s have it.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Saturday's Coming: Warrington Wolves

Sun's out, guns out: Warrington players flogging it in
Tenerife this week. Photo: Kurt Gidley's Instagram

Hornets Welcome DR partners Warrington Wolves to our temporary home at Manchester Regional Arena for Saturday’s final pre-season hit out.

But while Hornets have been slugging it out in a freezing barn in Padgate or on the all-weather at Hopwood Hall, their opponents have been preparing for their year (is every year not ‘Warrington’s Year’?) at the T3 complex in sunny Tenerife.

Part of their warm-weather programme was a ’light-contact session' with relegated Hull KR - who somehow also found the time, reource and budget to swan off to the Canaries to use a gym in Costa Adeje. Wolves coach Tony Smith has sympathy for Hull KR. Speaking to the Hul Daily Wail this week he said: "It was sad to see KR relegated, it was for all the wrong reasons.” Those reasons being that they lost too many games, Tony.

As Warrington return on Thursday evening to the cold of a Manchester January, we do know who WON’T be playing at the weekend.

Ben Currie remains in rehab after knee surgery; Chris Hill is six weeks into recovery on two-for the price of one surgery on his shoulder and a hernia; Stefan Ratchford continues to recover from a knee injury and Kevin Penny had an operation last week on a pseudoaneurysm of his anterior tibial artery. In old money - an ankle injury.

On the plus side, Declan Patton, Brad Dwyer, Ben Westwood and Matty Blythe all returned to full contact training this week.

Punchy: Chris Sandow gives Wire
the flick to pursue fighting career.
One player who won’t be returning to any sort of training any time soon is League’s perpetual ‘enfant terrible’ Chris Sandow, who walked out on the Wolves to pursue a new career of ‘fighting people in the street’ back in Cherbourg (Pop. 1,300), near Brisbane.

Tony Smith was prety frank in his assessment of Sandow’s exit: “In terms of off-field, there will be a few less grey hairs around the place, that’s for sure,” he told TotalRL back in November. “He was OK for most of it, and at sometimes he was a pain in the proverbial…”

“We knew there was risk involved when we recruited him in the first place. On his day he’s capable of doing some really special things, as we saw in the first couple of months of the year.

He went on: “To leave it to the last minute before pre-season training started is pretty ordinary. Surprised? No. Disappointed? No. I’m ready to move on and recruit where we can…. we think we can get improvement in an all-round player who could be a bit steadier in some ways on and off the field. I’m not just being cool and calm here, I’m just genuinely not that disappointed.”

Within a month, Smith had signed Kev Brown from Widnes. Talking to the Warrington Guardian, Brown said: “It would have been easy to stay there and stay in my comfort zone but this feels like somewhere I can really challenge myself to be better. The yardage Warrington gain with their plays is just frightening, all of which helps me and the other half-backs do our jobs.”

And Brown is exctited: “There’s a great forward pack here and the back-rowers and outside backs are all international class. Playing within this set-up really excites me.” Exciting, then.

In other squad news, Warrington announced last week that hooker Daryl Clark has agreed an  deal with the club until November 2020.  Given the DR relationship, the Wire squad features several players who have out in a stint with Hornets, including Tom Lineham, Joe Philbin, Ben Jullien and Sam Wilde, which adds an interesting twist.

Ultimately, our favourite bit of Warrington trivia is this: Warrington is one of the original twenty-two clubs that formed the Northern Rugby Football Union in 1895 and the only one that has played every season since in the top flight. #Geeky

With the 2017 season just over a week away, Alan Kilshaw will be edging ever closer to the 17 he sees as being his killer opening gambit, against Dewsbury. Last week’s convincing win over Oldham indicates that we’re at least ahead of the Roughyeds in our season prep and you can’t dismiss the confidence boost that a Law Cup win provides.

Finally, the game gives us anoraks a chance to tick off a new ground. Manchester Regional Arena (Rowsley Street, Manchester, M11 3FF for your SatNavs) was developed as the warm up track for the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games - and has a capacity of 6500.

If you’re travelling by public transport, you can pick-up the 216 bus from Piccadilly Gardens.

But the quickest way to travel to Regional Arena from Manchester city centre is via Metrolink to ‘Etihad Campus’. The station is on the East Manchester line running from Bury to Ashton-Under-Lyne via Manchester City Centre. Passengers can connect from Rochdale at Victoria.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Hornets Fought The Law (and the Law's Won).

Oldham 12 - Hornets 24

Hornets sent the first signal of intent for 2017 as they out-muscled a lacklustre Oldham in the gloom of Bower Fold.

Whilst we know that pre-season ’friendlies’ (since when has the Law Cup ever been ‘friendly’?) are an imprecise indicator of future potential, they do provide a benchmark to see where your progress is against other sides. And on this showing Hornets are significantly ahead of Oldham in fitness, desire, creativity and physicality.

Indeed, beyond an opening quarter where Oldham pummelled the Hornets line with the bluntest of instruments, this game slid steadily away from the home side as Hornets’ edge in both craft and graft allowed them to dominate.

After a tight opening, Hornets were first to produce a spark of creativity: Lewis Palfrey’s 9th minute chip gathered by Danny Yates to score through a static defence: referee Mr Marklove the only man in the ground to spot an offside. No Try.

Aided by an excalating penalty count, the Oldham juggernaut trundled into life - pounding down the Bower Fold slope in search of an opening. On the back of multiple repeat sets, the Hornets defence cracked after 16 minutes as Joy slumped in off a short ball from 1 metre. Leatherbarrow the extras and the home fans priapic at 6-0.

But as Oldham’s jabs at the Hornets defence became increasingly impotent, Alan Kilshaw’s men grew in confidence. Most interesting was the contrast in styles of the Hornets props: Gavin Bennion a crowbar - prising, wrenching, jemmying gaps in the home defence; Samir Tahraoui a sledgehammer - big on impact, the home defenders recoiling as he slammed into the line.

On the quarter mark, Hornets forward domination laid the foundation for an attack deep in Oldham territory: Chris Riley the extra man looping left off the back of a scrum to scythe past flapping defenders to score. Lewis Palfrew on target for 6-all.

Oldham tried to rally, but twice Hornets bundled threatening attacks into touch. And, with Josh Crowley and debutant Lee Mitchell now making headway up the channels Hornets looked comfortable as the teams went in level at the break.

Hornets didn’t waste much time to assert their dominance in the second half. On 52 minutes Lewis Galbraith went close. From the play the ball a smart pass from Ben Moores found makeshift centre Jordan Case arriving at pace to spin out of the tackle and score. Lewis Palfrey the extras; Hornets in front at 6-12.

As an increasingly frustrated Oldham now began shipping penalties, it was Ben Moores again who made them pay. A cheeky dink into the in-goal from acting half gave Gary Middlehurst ample time to stroll in and touch down. Lewis Palfrey the two from in front, Oldham’s body language shot at 6-18. Hornets continued to turn the screw.

On 70 minutes a clinical move up the left provided the coup de grace. A Danny Yates break, Jordan case on hand to continue the move. Then Yatesey involved again, picking out Lewis Galbraith with a peach of a cut-out pass; Trigger lunging in by the flag. Irresistable stuff.

Lewis Palfrey 100% with the boot and Hornets home and hosed with a 6-24 lead.

With seconds remaining, Oldham produced their one moment of lucid football: Tyson’s chip, Owen on hand to touch down, Leatherbarrow the extras to give the fascade of a contest. Oldham ended the game in ignominy as Tyson pointlessly swung punches after the hooter, earning a red-card. Hornets Paddy Jones also dismissed for chucking a few back. Needless.

In the end, Hornets were worthy winners of the Law Cup. Oldham can bleat all they want about having six players missing, but Hornets had Greenwood, Ratu, Cookson and Smith missing - and had DR back-rower Lee Mitchell filling in, plus Jordan Case putting in a sterling show at centre.

And as Hornets celebrated with their vociferous supporters in an empty Bower Fold, the real satisfaction came from knowing that that, right now, it’s much better to be a Hornets fan than a Roughyed.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Sunday's Coming: The Law Cup

Social commentator and philosopher William Hazlitt once said: “The only vice that cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy.”

Back in 2013 Rochdale Hornets took no end of stick from Oldham fans for our DR partnership with St Helens. In social media - and to our faces - we were called ‘cheats’, ‘St Helens Reserves’, ‘Rochdale Saints’, and told that we’d sacrificed the soul of our club. They were still at it when we beat them in the playoff-final seven months later. Those that stayed to the end, that is.

The Roughyeds’ ire peaked in the game at Whitebank - the one where Lee Gaskell was bussed in, forced three or four line-up changes, had a 24 carat shocker and we lost. The tsunami of vitriol was relentless.

Fast forward to 2017 and Oldham find themselves in a DR arrangement with Huddersfield. Oddly their fans are super-keen to learn which Giants players they’ll have access to, to strengthen their championship challenge. Some have even gone as far as hoping that they’ll get Lee Gaskell to bolster their backline. How times change, eh?

In order to avoid unfair accusations of Roughyeds’ hypocrisy, Hornets travel to Bower Fold on Sunday to take on Stalybridge Giants in the Law Cup.

Indeed. what used to be the A627M El Clasico is now the ‘A627M, B6194, A635, A6018 El Clasico - sponsored by AA Routefinder’ - as the Roughyeds remain shacked up with Stalybridge Celtic in that  Far-Eastern, no-man’s land corner of Greater Manchester that can’t really decide if it’s in Cheshire, Derbyshire, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire or old-skool Lancashire.

Whilst we appreciate that pre-season games are an imprecise indicator of teams’ true potential capability, Oldham have had a bit of an indifferent start: beaten 32-14 in their first pre-season game at Swinton Lions and scored late to salvage a 22-all draw at League 1 Barrow last week having been behind 8-0, 12-10 and 22-16. All five Barrow tries were scored down Oldham’s left channel. Oldham featured four dual-reg players from Huddersfield Giants in last week’s game.

Scott naylor’s squad for 2017 looks like this:
1. Scott Turner
2. Adam Clay
3. George Tyson
4. Nathan Chappell
5. Jamel Chisholm
6. Scott Leatherbarrow
7. David Hewitt
8. Phil Joy
9. Sammy Gee
10. Adam Neal
11. Jack Spencer
12. Danny Langtree
13. Liam Thompson
18. Ben Davies
19. Joe Burke
20. Gareth Owen  (c)
21. Kenny Hughes
22. Danny Grimshaw
23. Craig Briscoe
24. Michael Ward
25. Keiran Gill

Hornets could well have five ex-Roughyeds in Sunday’s  line-up, with Lewis Palfrey, Gary Middlehurst Jack Holmes, Josh Crowley and Miles Greenwood all having had stints in the Where’s Wally jersey. Sixth former Roughyed Dave Cookson remains injured.

For those in any doubt about the credibility of the Law Cup, Scott Naylor said this week: "The season starts here. This is for real," , while Alan Kilshaw said: “We’ll be taking this one more seriously.”  With both rivals back in the Championship, it’s the precursor to what promises to be an exciting season. Bring it on.

If you’re embarking on the trip on Sunday, directions from the Stalybridge Celtic website are:

Leave the M60 at junction 24 (M67, Denton) At the roundabout join the M67.
Stay on the M67 to the very end, Junction 4.
At the roundabout turn left (exit 1 of 4) onto the A57 (Hyde Road)
After 1/2 a mile you will reach a set of traffic lights (signposted Stalybridge).
Turn left onto B6174 (Stalybridge Road).
Almost immediately, there is a mini roundabout.
Turn left (exit 1 of 5) onto Roe Cross Road (A6018).
Follow this road for 1 3/4 miles passing the Roe Cross Inn on the right and through the cutting (Mottram Road) When you pass the Dog and Partridge on the right, you will be almost there.
Bower Fold is on the left opposite a sharp right turn next to the art gallery.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Hard-hitting Hornets Pack a Punch in Season Opener.

Hornets 18 - Salford 44

If you use last year’s game against Salford as a benchmark, the Red Devils are at the same point, whereas Hornets have improved a little - which is a pretty accurate summary of this pre-season contest. But there was something markedly different about Hornets’ approach in this full-blooded encounter - a whole new level of physicality. Indeed Salford struggled at times with the intensity of the contact much to the rumbling displeasure of the travelling support.

Having regained the kick-off, Hornets began on the front foot, but progress was short-lived as Salford showed their potential. The momentum of the visitors’ early pressure was paused as Murdoch-Masila was removed from the field after just three minutes with a knee injury. But, once settled, the visitors whipped up two quick-fire tries to O’Brien and Jones to take a 12-nil lead after just 7 minutes.

It didn’t augur well - but slowly Hornets climbed back on top of the game. A 13th minute Danny Yates kick fumbled by O’Brien and an immediate penalty gave Hornets a good platform deep in Salford’s half - but a hurried play the ball let them off the hook.

With Salford now shipping penalties, Hornets grew in confidence, but a Gary Middlehurst knock-on in front of the posts was another let-off.

Hornets were sparked into life on the quarter-mark when Lewis Palfrey hoisted a bomb in the direction of Salford full-back O’Brien. 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. As the ball bounced loose, Ben Moores was on hand to gather and score under the black dot. After extensive treatment, O’Brien was removed on a stretcher, with the visiting fans braying for retribution.  I’d be surprised if he’s hit by a better timed tackle this season.

Palfrey slotted the two and Hornets were back in the game at 12-6.

Indeed, with the game locked in a fascinating arm-wrestle, Hornets produced a moment of clinical football. As Salford players continued to drop like flies, a slick interchange of passes between Jordan Case and Danny Yates sent Yatesey skittering in for what looked like a well-crafted try - only for referee Mr Roberts to somehow spot a forward pass and chalk it off.

No matter. On 26 minutes a great 80 metre set  - propelled by the perpetual motion of Ben Moores - took Hornets downfield through a retreating Salford defence, but a fumbled pass again allowed the visitors to exhale. And their response was immediate - the ball worked wide for Johnson to score by the flag. Dobson the two: 6-18. Harsh.

Just past the Half hour Mr Roberts pulled Jo Taira out of a pretty ordinary tackle on Krasniqi to wave a yellow card at him (no idea what for). Krasniqi slow to get up.

Salford capitalised on the extra man: Sa’u - sporting what appears to be a Limahl tribute wig - crashing through  a stretched 12-man defence to score. Dobson on target and a battling Hornets 6-24 down at the break.

Hornets began the second half with purpose. After Lewis Galbraith had planted their prize full-back, the Salford fans had been screaming for him to be given the ball so that he coud be dealt a reprisal. On 43 minutes Yatesey found him with an inch-perfect flat-ball and the nearest any defender got was watching him plant the ball under the black-dot. Nice. Palfrey the extras for 12-24.

And Hornets were in again just five minutes later - Jo Taira first to react to a kick in the in-goal after Ben Moores had driven close. Palfrey the two and a game on our hands at 18-24.

With both coaches keen to take a look at as many players as possible, the last half-hour struggled for shape and cohesion: the key difference being Salford’s full-time size and fitness. A brace of tries up the left channel gave Johnson a hat-trick; a debut try for Welham came via the same route, and a late effort from Bibby stretched the winning margin.

All up, both coaches will be happy and see things to work on in equal measure. Certainly, Ian Watson will be asking questions about his players’ durabillity - Hornets clearly winning the impact battlle.

And that’s not a bad yardstick for progress at all.

Thursday, 12 January 2017


Quids-in: Marwan Koukash shows off the calibre of players
a million quid can buy you in Super League.
It is with delight that we welcome Super League Salford to Spotland for the first of our pre-season hit-outs. If only because the Red Devils were seconds from joining Hornets in this year’s Championship - until they produced a heart-stopping smash & grab in last year’s Million Pound Game.

The Red Devils trailed 18-10 with two minutes left at the Lightstream Stadium -  but late, late tries from Niall Evalds and Greg Johnson (with the last play of the game) levelled the scores.

Gareth O'Brien's missed conversion forced extra-time, but his miracle drop goal from close to halfway, 48 seconds into extra-time, swiped the game from under Hull KR’s noses - and condemned Hornets fans to a trip to East Hull this year, instead of a nice trundle down the M60 to the AJ Bell.

Having been docked six points after an independent tribunal found the club guilty of breaching the Rugby Football League’s salary cap rules, it’s debatable whether Salford should ever have even been in the position to contest the MPG - but the tribunal found that the club had exceeded the £1.825m cap in the 2014 season. As well as the points deduction, Salford were also fined £5,000.

Needless to say, Marwan Koukash was shocked and disappointed: “I’m really shocked and very disappointed.” he told the Guardian. ”I thought we would get a fair hearing but I don’t think we’ve got that here. The outcome of it does not justify what we’ve done.”

“The allegations stem from several years ago and what the tribunal also found was that things have improved massively and there may be an issue of naivety – that’s all. We’re disappointed because six points is ridiculously unfair against a young squad. We believe the tariff is excessive.”

Speaking of which, Ian Watson’s 2017 squad looks like this:

1 Gareth O'Brien
2 Justin Carney
3 Josh Jones
4 Junior Sa'u
5 Niall Evalds
6 Robert Lui
7 Michael Dobson (c)
8 Craig Kopczak
9 Logan Tomkins
10 George Griffin
11 Ben Murdoch-Masila
12 Weller Hauraki
13 Mark Flanagan (vc)
14 Lama Tasi
15 Ryan Lannon -
16 Olsi Krasniqi
17 Adam Walne
18 Jordan Walne
19 Josh Wood
20 Kris Brinning
21 Greg Johnson
22 Kris Welham
23 Lee Mossop
24 Jake Bibby
25 Matthew Wilkinson
27 Connor Williams
28 Liam Bent

Who’s Out?
Salford released Samoan international Daniel Vidot by mutual consent halfway through his two-year contract. The 26-year-old former Brisbane Broncos winger made just 10 appearances for the Red Devils in his first season in Super League in 2016 and has gone back down-under to play for Gold Coast Titans.

Who’s In?
Back in November, Salford anounced thew signing of former England prop Lee Mossop from Wigan. Mossop still had 12 months left to run on a three-year contract, having returned from a stint in the NRL with  Parramatta. He didn’t play for Wigan in the last six weeks of the 2016 season and clearly took that as a hint.

Who’s going nowhere?
Durable former Wigan hooker Logan Tomkins was offered a one-year contract extension for 2017.
The 24-year-old younger brother of Sam and Joel Tomkins joined Salford last season on the back of  a loan spell. Tomkins appeared in all 30 Super League fixtures, plus the Qualifiers - and the Million Pound Game.

Who’s new?
Latest addition to the Salford squad came last week when they signed centre Kris Welham in the Bradford Bulls fire-sale. The 29-year-old had another year left on his deal before the Bulls tanked. Prior to Bradford he spent nine years at Hull KR Salford Head Coach (and ex-Hornet) Ian Watson is always one to recognise a silver lining: "The unfortunate situation with Bradford means we have been able to benefit with a quality addition.”

A loan again? Naturally.
Off the field Salford can exhale a bit this week after Salford City Council extended the payment holiday on a £1.5m loan.

Owner Marwan Koukash took on £3m of debt when he took over the Super League club in 2013, £1.5m of which is owed to the council. The loan is due to be paid back by 2038 as part of a  25-year repayment deal.

In August 2015, Salford Council agreed to allow Koukash to defer payments on the loan for 17 months. That has now been extended until December 2017.

Speaking to the Manchester Evening News on January 10th, Salford mayor Paul Dennett said:  “As a council, it is absolutely the right thing to do to support this local asset and make sure the club grows in success into the future. Running a local club is often fraught with difficulty. The Bradford Bulls recently went into administration, and the whole town has lost out as a result.”

“That’s something we would always look to avoid in Salford. But that doesn’t mean we don’t negotiate hard to make sure we get the best value of money for our residents.”

Looks like that million pounds might come in handy.

Sunday’s game kicks off at 3pm - see you there.