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.