Sunday, 26 February 2017

Hornets Defeat Built On Straw

Hornets 6 - Halifax 20

We speak often here of how, sometimes, teams have to find a way to win. But over the 80 minutes of this sloppy, scrappy performance, Hornets somehow found enough ways to lose to a Halifax team that looked bereft of ideas for long periods.

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 as referee Mr Straw gradually lost contact with the realities of what was happening around him.

Hornets had started the brighter of the two sides: ealy breaks from Rob Massam and Ben Moores had the visitors back-peddaling;Gaz Middlehurst producing a teasing dink to force a drop out. After just four minutes, allowing the resulting drop-out to trundle into touch looked like a casual error - especially when, just 90 seconds later - Rob Massam reeled in a shaky pass up the narrow side to  crash through two coverinfg defenders to score by the flag. Palfrey perfect off the touchline and Hornets looking bright at 6-nil. And when Lewis Galbraith had an effort chalked off on 8 minutes due to a knock-on somewhere in the build-up, it didn’t feel particularly significant.

Fax sputtered briefly: a pinpoint 40/20 from Murrell gave his side an attacking position deep in Hornets’ half. But stern defence was squandrered when Blythe knocked on. Again Halifax threw themselves haplessly onto the Hornets defence and, when they came up empty handed, an excellent Hornets set ended with a kick-chase that saw the visitors start agan from their own 10m line.

On 18 minutes Hornets were fortunate to gain a rare penalty after Danny Bridge had overcooked a kick into the in-goal, but a shocker of a pass from Gaz Middlehurst bounced off Samir Tahraoiu’s chest and Halifax were off the hook. They took full advantage.

Having worked the ball upfield, the visitors forced a driop-out after Chris Riley was snagged in-goal off a poor last tackle kick.
Lewis Palfrey’s drop-out was a short, scuffed effort and Barber stepped back inside across a compacted defence to score two tackles later. Tyrer levelled the scores.

Hornets then began racking up the errors. Initially pulled for a dubious forward pass, they shipped a penaty at the resulting scrum, followed by a penalty for not being square at the ruck - and another for offside. Gifted four repeat sets in Hornets 20m zone Halifax ran pointlessly at the wall of the Hornets defence, reduced to five drives and a big hoof. But when Jo Taira was penalised in possession for not playing the ball properly, Halifax cooly took the two points, whereas Hornets had declined two similar options minutes before. 6-8.

Hornets responded well: a big break by Danny Bridge putting Halifax on the back foor, only for Lewis Palfrey’s poor last tackle kick to ease their pressure. And when Halifax knocked on, with the half ebbing away it looked like a chance for a late test of the visitors’ defence. Hornets knocked on on the 2nd tackle. The last action of the half saw Murrell launch another huge 40/20 only for Halifax to run out of ideas long before the hooter.

Half time 6-8 and nothing in it.

Halifax began the second half on the front foot: three consecutive penalties giving them momentum, bit still they were clueless at the end of their sets. Increasingly it looked like a period of error-free football would seize control of the game, but when Grix knocked-on manwatching in a tackle, it looked like neither side had it in them,

Breaks from Lewis Palfrety and Josh Crowley gave the home fans brief hope of a breakthrough, and a kick through saw Rob Massam held-up. But a last tackle kick was defused by Worrincy, compounded by another penalty aganst Hornets in the ensuing set. In the resulting play, Tyrer outjumped Matty Blythe to score an unlikely try in Halifax’s first serious attack of the half. Tyrer slipped on his arse in his run-up sending the conversion attempt scudding along the ground. 6-12.

With the hour mark approaching, referee Mr Straw stopped paying attention to what was happening around him and began listening to the voices in his head. Hornets shipped a soft penalty for a sloppy Gaz Middlehurst high shot. Halifax took the two, Middlehurst dispatched for ten minutes. Halifax allowed the kick-off to go dead, but when Matty Blythe dropped the drop-out and Lewis Galbtaith gathered from an offside decision, it was all you could do not to shake your head.

From the resulting penalty possession Halifax went close - but when Ben Moores hung on too long in the tackle, Hornets were reduced to 11 - and Halifax smelled the opportunity. Hornets’ 11 man defence were tenacious, forcing Halifax to hand-over on the last tackle. Unable to break the line against 13, the visitors eventually took full advantage; and when Worrincy hit a hole on 65 minutes, the try was inevitable. Tyrer slipped over the extras for 6-20.

As Hornets regained numerical parity, Halifax went back to their impotent jabbing. And when Ambler stuck an illegal shoulder on Gav Bennion followed by a needless attrack on his head, tempers boiled over. Halifax somehow got the penalty. Beyond belief.

The game ended in a ragged mess of handling errors and slapdash play-the-balls - Mr Straw doing the only decent thing all afternoon, putting this shoddy show out of its misery.

In the wash-up Hornets were murdered in the penalty count and the reduction to 11 men finally broke the back of this game. But this was a pretty poor day at the office for all concerned. Halifax could have run at a 13 man defence all afternoon and not scored - pitifully short on ideas and over-reliant on Murrell’s boot and Mr Straw’s charity to make any ground. Indeed, it was a shocker for Mr Straw too - whistle-happy throughout and inconsistent in his policing of the ruck and of ‘illegal contact’.

In the search for positives, it’s good to view every game at this level as a learning experience. Halifax showed their Championship nous - patiently waiting for opportunities to take advantage and showing a ruthless streak when they arose. It’s simple, but effective.

There were plenty of questions asked afterwards about Hornets’ decision to run four clearly kickable penalties: effectively 8 free points up for grabs. In tight games, every opportunity to take points has to be considered seriously.

Indeed, it’s a dubious positive that Hornets can play this disjointedly and still not look out-classed at this level. So let’s take the learnings and move swiftly on.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Sunday's Coming - Halifax

Richard Marshall’s Halifax have had a somewhat ordinary start to the 2017 campaign. Currently sitting 7th with one win from three, ‘Fax finally got their season up and running with a 42-16 win over perpetual basket-cases Sheffield. Having previously shipped 58 points in their defeats against Featherstome and Batley, it looks like Marshall has just about got his finger on Halifax’s leaky defence.

Much like Tim Sheens, Marshall identified attitude as the key component in arreesting his side’s defensive rot.  “Attitude was the biggest difference,” he said, speaking to the Halifax Courier. “The team took some pride in what they did today… we had some passion, desire and heart and proved a point.”

But Marshall still has the air of a coach who’s not entirely sure of his best 17. Having brought in Huddersfield (via Siddal and Bradford) hooker Adam O’Brien on loan (he only met his new teammates for the first time on the Thursday night before the Sheffield game) to accompany Salford loanees Ryan Lannan and Matthew Wilkinson, last week saw Will Sharp, he said (again in the Courier): “We threw a team together during the week really and I thought it gelled pretty well. We had Adam come in, young Ryan Lannon from Salford up front and Matthew Wilkinson at hooker again. All credit to the players for making it work.”  An interesting technique for sure, but whatever works…

Leading the way in last week’s game was flying try-machine winger James Saltonstall who scored a hat-trick. We’ve seen this lad before and he combines pace with an ability to get where gas can’t to get over the line. One to watch. Also catching the eye is former Penrith Panthers junior product Mitch Cahalane, who we last saw running round in the NSW Cup for Mount Pritchard Mounties.

It’ll be an eerily familiar afternoon for Halifax on Sunday when they line-up aganst Hornets’ Jake Eccleston, Gav Bennion, Ryan Maneely and Miles Greenwood: all formerly of the Shay.

Hornets go into the game on the back of a powerhouse performance against Hull KR. With the game in the balance until the 75th minute, Hornets sent a strong signal to the Championship that we’re not only here to play, but we’re here to shake it up. Indeed, last week’s performance busted the myth that the top end of the Championship is for those with deep pockets and dented Super League reputations.

Sunday’s game promises to be another full-on encounter and we can’t wait. See you there.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Hornets the real deal as million-pound Robins sneak it.

Hornets 18 - Hull KR 28

Forget the disparity in budget. Forget the pedigree of the Hull KR Coach. Forget the travelling hoardes who bayed their displeasure at every refereeing decision. Look at this coldly as a contest between the top two sides in the championship and the casual observer could never tell that one of these sides is a defacto-Super league outfit slumming it in the Championship.

For long periods, Hornets bossed their big-spending full-time visitors. And with the Robins clinging desperately to a two point lead 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.

In the end it took a late, late try by Rovers’ best player Lunt to save their blushes - and a needless penalty after the hooter giving the scoreline the somewhat tarnished sheen of comfort.

But it was Hornets who started from the gun. A huge bust up the guts of the visitors from Rob Massam took Hornets deep into Rovers terrotory. Hornets then forced an error close to the Robins’ line, Ben Moores showed his kicking credentials and Gaz Middlehurst pounced to score. Lewis Palfrey the extras - the visiting supporters in stunned silence.

Then a huge free-play hack downfield from a dropped Hull KR pass had defenders scrambling - but Lewis Galbraith’s pass found a Rovers hand and play was returned to the scrum.

After quarter of an hour, Rovers hit their straps with three quick-fire tries in five minutes: Moss going wide by the flag; then a Minns double - his first a carbon copy of Moss’ effort, the second a slutchy one after a Hull KR hand looked to have knocked on a speculative bomb. Ellis useless with all three conversion attempts: 6-12.

Hornets regathered their composure: huge hits from Rob Massam and Gaz Middlehurst lifting the defence. Hull KR now looking long on errors and short on ideas. Then a peculiar decision from referee Mr Campbell. What looked for all money like a Rovers knock-on was given the other way and from the resulting posession Heffernan found space of a short ball to score. 6-18 at the break, the visitors flattered.

Hornets began the second half with a couple of errors, but dusted themselves down to produce a try of the highest quality: Gaz Middlehurst the peach of a pass to unzip the Robins’ defence, Danny Bridge the break up the channel and Danny Yates outpacing the cover to bring the main stand to its feet. Palfrey the two and a palpable momentum shift at 12-18.

Jo Taira was let-off his fumble in the first play of the kick-off set when Lewis Palfrey came up with a big 60 metre intercept to take Hornets back up field. And you could sense that the visitors were rattled when Ellis hoofed an attempted 40/20 out on the full. Hornets pressed hard. On 50 minutes, Danny Yates’ produced a teasing kick into the corner, Rob Massam just outreached.

On the hour another punishing Gaz Middlehurst hit was deemed high: Rovers took the two. You could almost hear the sphincters squeak at 12-20.

Hornets’ response was immediate. A brutally direct set drove Rovers backwards. Samir Tahraoui slammed in to be held just short and, from acting half, Ben Moores exposed the Robins' soft underbelly, mugging them for a smart try from acting half. Palfrey the two. 18-20 with 19 minutes to play. Just stunning.

Hull KR now on the back foot - unforced errors, Hornets forcing a drop out, caught in possession on the last tackle. Hornets pushing hard. But a ‘get-out-of-jail’ penalty on 75 minutes relieved the pressure and it took a moment of individual initiative from Lunt to save the day. Ellis the two 18-26.

As mentioned, a pedantic penalty after the hooter stretched Hull KR’s winning margin to ten points. We make that 100 grand per point in the winning marging that Hull KR have spent to edge past huge-hearted Hornets. Money well spent? Well you couldn’t see the difference on the day.

Ultimately, this one was billed as a clash of the Championship’s early pace-setters - and it didn’t disappoint. This was a gargantuan struggle in which Hull Kingston Rovers hinted briefly at what they might be capable of. But more importantly, it sent a message to the Championship that Rochdale Hornets are the real deal.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Sunday's Coming 2: Hull KR

It’s that time of the week where we usually do a run down of the opposition’s squad. Unlike last season, it’s easier to get more detail on players, but our favourite run-down of the Hull KR side from last week’s narrow win at London Broncos comes courtesy of Hull Daily Mail reporter Gareth Westmorland - who was brutally honest in his summary of the Robins’ individual performances in that game

Adam Quinlan: “Came up with crucial tackles… unpredictable but very effective”
Kieren Moss: “… Poor defence in the second half… “
Thomas Minns: “Strong in the tackle…  but will seek to improve his defence…”
Andrew Heffernan: “Looks to be improving in confidence… despite the poor overall team performance”
Ryan Shaw: “Comfortable under the high ball and got KR out of trouble a few occasions”
Jordan Abdull: “Could prove to be crucial in his side's fortunes during 2017”
Jamie Ellis: Takes control of each match he plays in… did just about enough in the playmaking contest”
Nick Scruton: “Good in the hard yards within KR's pack”
Shaun Lunt: “One of a few praised by coach Tim Sheens after an abject showing from the squad… devastating from dummy-half”
Mitch Clark: “Made the crucial yards required for KR to get on the front foot …finding the extra yardage with increasing leg work”
Maurice Blair: “A quiet display… did just about enough to secure a win”
James Greenwood: “Guilty of uncharacteristic errors and missed tackles … has to improve to keep his spot”
Danny Addy:  “Could look to get more involved in the attack”


Liam Salter: “Slotted into the second-row in a new position in the second-half”
Chris Clarkson: “Brought vigour from the bench when Scruton and Clark were substituted”
James Donaldson: “Another body to bring some power from the replacements”
George Lawler: “Got stuck in when brought onto the field”

Former Bradford prop Ben Kavanagh will be added to Tim Sheens' 19-man squad for Sunday's game. Having missed out on a full pre-season due to the collapse of the Bulls, Kavanagh is creeping back towards the form that saw him selected for Scotland in last year’s Four Nations.

Assistant coach James Webster told the Hull Daily Mail: "We still think he's a couple of weeks off from the standard which he played so well at for Scotland. He's in contention to play on Sunday for sure, like he has been the last few weeks.”

But Webster, like Head Coach Tim Sheens, has also questioned his players’ attitude given their leaky defence over the first couple of weeks.

According to the Hull Daily Mail: “…tricky wintry conditions will see (HKR’s) play adapted to more forward-based work. A war of attrition is expected in Manchester (sic - they clearly have no idea where Rochdale is) on Sunday and KR are hoping to adapt to the conditions quickly on their travels.

Webster said: “I’ve seen plenty of Championship teams win games without making a line break. We would love an open free-flowing game which suits us but at the moment, it's winter, the start of the year and there'll be plenty of stuff down the middle. However, Rochdale will look to throw the ball around, judging on their opening games."

On playing a part-time side, he’s quoted as saying: “I think people devalue a lot of teams in this competition, simply because they don't see them on TV. These players are as physically strong as Super League players. When I was at Wakefield and we trained with other clubs, the weights in the gym are the same – it's just the other factors, such as us training full-time, which gives us that advantage."

Which is, of course what Toulouse and Bradford thought.

See you Sunday.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Sunday's Coming 1: Hull KR

Polished Performer: Sheens may be
a Rugby League legend, but he's
never won a Law Cup!
Here at TLCRF80mins, we’re not sure who’s most shocked that Sunday’s game sees Hull Kingston Rovers travelling to Championship leaders Rochdale Hornets in a first v second clash - us or them!

Last year the clubs were two divisions apart, but heading in distinctly different directions. Indeed, Hull KR fans have the boot of Salford’s Gareth O’Brien to thank for their trip to Spotland this weekend. His monster Golden Point drop-goal in last season’s Million-Pound game slammed the relegation trapdoor behind the Robins as they slid into the Championship.

And if you’re still having to pinch yourself to prove that Hornets are indeed at the top of the Championship (did we mention that at any point?), somewhere in an office in East Hull the actual Tim Sheens is spending this week trying to work out how to avoid being embarrassed by Hornets.

Sheens is a bona-fide RL legend, with a reputation for turning ailing sides into champions. He took Penrith to their first finals series ever in 1985, coached Canberra Raiders to their first premiership in 1989, winning two more premierships with Canberra in 1990 and 1994.

After a stint at North Queensland Cowboys he replaced Terry Lamb at Wests Tigers in 2003, leading them to a 2005 Grand Final win over the Cowboys.

Having coached four premiership winning teams, only Wayne Bennett has coached more and Sheens was awarded the Dally M Coach of the Year in 1984, 1990 and 2005. And. on 3 May 2010 Sheens became the first coach in Australian rugby league history to reach 600 games. A staggering feat.

At rep level, Sheens has coached both ARL City Origin AND the NSW State of Origin teams; and in
2009 he was appointed coach of the Kangaroos, leading them to a 2013 Rugby League World Cup win in which they conceded just four tries in the entire tournament (interestingly, all v England in their opening match!).

After a stint at Salford as Director of Football, Sheens now finds himself charged with returning Hull KR to Super League.

Depending on who you talk to, Hull KR are estimated to have a 2017 season budget ten times that of Hornets - but on their first two showings, they look to have a decidedly leaky defence: shipping 24 points against Bradford and a further 22 last week as they squeaked past London Broncos in West Ealing.

Perfectionist Sheens is not a happy man. Speaking in the Hull Daily Mail this week, he said: "The scrappy defence will come back to haunt us at this level. Teams will look at that and see that as our weakness. It's only a weakness because of our attitude, not so much anything else.”

“If you're playing poorly and you're still winning, it's much better (than the other way around). But it's not good enough if we have any aspirations to do better than playing Championship for the next two years.”

He went on: ”I think everyone had a part of the day where they weren't happy. I don't think there was anyone really happy with what you would call a great game. There were moments from lots of players, from the skipper (Shaun Lunt) at nine, but overall I don't think anyone will be very happy with their game at all."

"We couldn't shake London off throughout the whole game. We were our own worst enemy. They played with determination and we tackled poorly, that's generally when you turn up thinking 'How good are we?”

"I had plenty to say (to his team)  about it. Your defence always shows your attitude and we weren't good enough. We put 50 on the board (against Bradford Bulls), and you think it's just going to happen again. But again, we gave up the first try softly, and scrambled a number of times to stop possible tries, though we had some chances bombed too.”

"There were some stupid things done by players who should know better."


But expectations are high in East Hull this year - with both club and coach under pressure to deliver a return to Super League at the first attempt.

Described as ‘sloppy’ by the Hull Daily Mail, the Robins allowed the Broncos to eat away at a convincing lead, to end the game hanging on to their six point cushion. And you get a sense of the pressure-cooker scrutiny the club is under from a couple of paragraphs in the same publication, where Paul Cooke writes:

“Players who should know better were guilty of errors, which eventually cost the team energy and the leaking of far too many points. Unfortunately, these types of wins will be all too regular for the best team in the Championship. Playing average will gain two points more often than not, regardless of a narrow six point win or on many occasions throughout 2017, it will even yield a comfortable win.”

“It can breed the bad habits that Sheens will be desperate to eradicate before it catches up with his team in big games. Being professional, ruthless and reaching standards Sheens expects and the players have set, will be a big battle for the squad this year.”

Two interesting insights here. 1.  Hull KR are already being vaunted as ‘the best team in the Championship’. Maybe there’s an underlying case of believing their own publicity going on here. 2. If reaching high, professional standards will be ‘a big battle’, you have to strongly question whether there’s an attitude issue to be addressed - certainly Sheens himself strongly suggests that there is.

Conversely, league leaders Hornets are high on confidence after a dream start to the Championship campaign. Last week’s attritional win at Odsal showed that this group of players is as happy to scrap it out as it is looking to play expansive football. And stern defence has been at the heart of this early success - Hornets shipping fewer points in two games than Hull KR did against Bradford alone.

The more cynical observer could suggest that this weekend sees a clash of ideologies: Small, fan-owned underdogs taking on the multi-million-pound might of what is, essentially a Super League juggernaut on a gap-year to the Championship. But if this is the league we want to play in, these are the games we should relish: a chance to test and measure our club’s progress against the the strongest of opponents.

And - however it pans out - we reckon Sheensy’s looking forward to it a lot less than Alan Kilshaw. This WILL be a cracker. Don’t miss it.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Strong-arm Hornets Win The Battle With The Cattle

Bradford Bulls 14 Hornets 22

I met a traveller from an antique land, 
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, 
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read 
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; 
And on the pedestal, these words appear: 
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; 
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! 
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
Percy Bysshe Shelley -1818

Shelley wrote Ozymandias as a treatise on fallen empires: how even the most powerful of superpowers will eventually buckle under the weight of their own hubris and become ground to sand. It is a story of vainglorious arrogance brought low, of monuments toppled. Of pomposity, entitlement and failure.

Indeed, 4,000 Bradford fans will be waking this morning to look on the remnants of their once mighty Bulls - and despair is a fitting response.

Brought low by profligate conceit, this ‘new’ Bradford were handed a lesson in focused determination by a Rochdale Hornets side that patiently ground the Bulls down with a display of ruthless attrition.

Facing conditions akin to arctic tundra, this was never going to be a classic - but a stronger, smarter Hornets rope-a-doped their flailing opponents for an hour before pounding the life out of them in the last quarter.

Hornets gifted the large partisan crowd the start they’d wanted: a loose carry in the first set, back to back penalties in their own 20m zone and Leeds loanee Lilley dinking a kick into the in-goal. The ball squirmed free for Thomas to touch down to give the home side an early - if fortuitous - lead. The home fans in a frenzy. Thomas hoofing the conversion attempt comedically wide from in front: 4-nil.

As Hornets settled, it became increasingly apparent that  - pretty much everywhere else on the field - Bradford were bereft of ideas: Hornets stern defence driving back a series of one-out drives.

On 15 minutes, Hornets produced a moment of clinical football: Ball shipped left, Danny Yates the flat drop-off pass, Miles Greenwood slipping through a static defence to level the scores. Lewis Palfrey the extras and Hornets with their nose in front. at 4-6.

With Bradford now in retreat, they shipped a soft penalty which Lewis Palfrey dispatched to stretch Hornets’ lead to 4-8.

With the game now locked in an old-skool arm wrestle, Bradford got themselves a lucky break: Lilley again providing the grubber, the ball pin-balling through limbs in the in-goal and Bentley diving in to score. Thomas on target and, somehow, Bradford in front at 10-8.

And Lilley was involved again just past the half hour when an attempted Jo Taira chargedown was deemed to have involved a shoulder. Taira shown the yellow-card; Thomas the penalty and Bradford into the sheds 12-8 up at the break.

The second half began with a stutter: given another penalty at the behest of the crowd, Thomas extended Bradford’s lead to 14-8. Hornets visibly cranked up the intensity. A brutally direct approach-set on 52 minutes ended with Samir Tahraoui bullying his way under the posts with a crowd of defenders clinging to him. Palfrey the extras : 14-all.

Then five minutes later, more dominant power from the Hornets pack, defenders sucked in to the middle and the ball worked left for Danny Bridge to crash through and score. 14-18.

In the final quarter, Hornets’ exquisite game management choked the life out of the Bradford resistance. Lewis Palfrey forcing the Bulls back under their own posts; solid defence limiting Bradford’s sets to 30 metres gained. And when the home side got sloppy, Palfrey cheerfully slotting an easy penalty: 14-20.

As Hornets went for the kill, Danny Yates’ drop-goal attempt struck a post. And with Bradford snagged offside in the dying seconds, Lewis Palfrey used up his whole minute, banging over the two after the hooter to give Hornets their first win at Odsal since November 1971.

Given the awful conditions, this wasn’t a pretty win - but what a win it was. Don’t be fooled by the scoreline: Bradford didn’t break Hornets defensive line once in 80 minutes with ball in hand. And when Hornets took the ball forward they drove Bradford backwards throughout - indeed there were easy metres up the guts of the home side all afternoon. And the number of metres gained after the contact was phenomenal.

In the end, it was the Hornets fans in full voice as the Bulls contingent streamed for the gates long before the hooter.

But, Jesus what a bunch of moaning, whiny, petulant spoilt brats the Bradford fans are: every Hornets pass forward, every play-the-ball offside, every tackle high. And their knowledge of the laws is pitifully poor - this is clearly a generation weaned on shouting ‘gerrem onside’ and cheering when the music plays. To paraphrase Graham Taylor: ‘did they not like it’ one bit.

Ultimately, if mindfulness requires you to live in the moment , this was a moment to savour. Hornets remain top of the Championship and - with a 16-point differential - Bradford now need to win NINE more games than Hornets to finish above us.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Sunday's Coming: Bradford

Bradford Squad news for Sunday

BRADFORD Bulls wing Omari Caro is set to miss the club's next three games. Caro damaged ankle ligaments during the Bulls' pre-season friendly at Huddersfield last month. According to the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, he missed the opening game of the season at Hull Kingston Rovers and will not figure in Sunday's first home game against Hornets.

New signing Phoenix Hunapo-Nofoa was yesterday confirmed as being at least two weeks away from making his Bulls debut.

Leigh Beattie makes just one change to his 19-man squad for Sunday’s game. Hooker Vila Halafihi comes in for Jonny Walker.

The 19-man Bradford squad is: Ethan Ryan, James Mendeika, Ross Oakes, Iliess Macani, Leon Pryce, Liam Kirk, Joe Lumb, Colton Roche, Oscar Thomas, Jon Magrin, Ross Peltier, Johnny Campbell, James Bentley, Brandan Wilkinson, Vila Halafihi, Jordan Lilley, Sam Hallas, Joshua Jordan-Roberts, Mikolaj Oledzki.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Sunday's Coming: Bradford Bulls

“The collapse of Bradford Northern RLFC in December 1963 sent shock waves throughout rugby league in Great Britain. Northern were the first team to appear in three successive Wembley Cup finals, from 1947 to 1949, and were top of the league at the start of the 1954–55 season. However, by December 1963, this once proud club had sunk to the bottom of the league table and withdrew from the competition in mid-season. It was the first time since the 1920s that a team had pulled out of the league without completing their fixtures. Their membership of the Rugby Football League was terminated and that season’s record was expunged. No club in the game’s history had fallen from the heights quite like the old Northern…”

‘Come on Northern - The fall and rise of Bradford Northern RLFC 1954 to 1965’: Trevor Delaney, 2012.

Hornets travel to Bradford on Sunday to partake in the latest act in Rugby League’s longest and, frankly, least interesting soap-opera.

The club entered administration for the third time in four years back in in November before spectacularly tanking on the 3rd of January following a protracted sinking of Titanic proportions.

Former Super League darlings Bradford Bulls’ not only left a trail of devastation in their wake, they inspired an outpouring of chest-beating grief usually reserved for the death of a North Korean leader.

Amongst protestations that Bradford was a club too big to die and that Rugby League NEEDS a strong Bradford Bulls, the pantomime unfolding at Odsal - the administrator hawking for bids, deadlines being moved, arguments over the lease on the ground, failed bidders champing at the bid to slag off the process, players jumping ship, a 12-point penalty, RFL press conferences trumpeting “the least worst option’ as a successfull conclusion, new high-profile Kiwi owners , the despicable sacking of Rohan Smith and the appointment of Geoff Toovey as the ‘coach who’s not allowed to coach’ - sucked every last drop of oxygen out of the Championship pre-season coverage.

Indeed, Bulls owners Andrew Chalmers’ and Graham Lowe’s decision to appoint former Manly coach Toovey to steer the club away from the Championship drop-zone was - depending on your view - a move of genius or barking madness.

Having been in the country for a fortnight Toovey is not allowed to take an active role until his visa is processed - and that certainly won’t be by Sunday: Bradford’s first game back at Odsal since their rise from the dead (expect a fevered outpouring of emotion).

Whilst Toovey will be presented to the crowd before the match, he will be leaving coaching duties to former academy coach Leigh Beattie, who has overseen Bradford's three defeats this year at Huddersfield and Keighley and Hull KR.

With a squad made-up primarily of academy players, Leeds fringe loanees and a few old stagers (and an average age of just over 21), The Bradford Telegraph and Argus is already describing Sunday’s game as ‘crucial’. Indeed -  if a bit of mental arithmatic is your thing - Hornets’ win and Bradford’s defeat last weekend leaves the Bulls having to win eight more games than us this season to finish above us. A win at Odsal on Sunday would leave them having to win NINE games more than us to finish above us.

Speaking in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus after the 54-24 defeat at Hull KR, Beattie said: “We got a little bit giddy at the start when we went ahead but it didn’t last too long. We’ll get back on the training field this week – there’s plenty to work on so we’ll go through the video.

“There’ll be some tired blokes in our squad after that so we’ll fix them up first, and then we’ll go again. We’re a little off with our pre-season, so Hull KR looked slicker than us obviously, but with that effort and a bit more work we won’t be far off.”

And, when asked about Hornets’ thumping 46-0 routing of Dewsbury Rams, he  said: “Good – that’s more of a challenge for us, so bring it on.”  We're sure he won’t be disappointed.

Bradford lined up last week as follows:
14 Oscar Thomas
2 Ethan Ryan
3 James Mendeika
4 Ross Oakes
5 Iliess Macani
6 Leon Pryce (c)
28 Jordan Lilley (Leeds Rhinos Loan)
8 Liam Kirk
9 Joe Lumb
17 Ross Peltier
11 Colton Roche
20 James Bentley
21 Brandon Wilkinson

15 Jon Magrin
31 Mikolaj Oledzki (Leeds Rhinos Loan)
29 Sam Hallas (Leeds Rhinos Loan)
30 Josh Jordan-Roberts (Leeds Rhinos Loan)

The pairing of 36 year-old Leon Price and Rhinos wunderkinder Jordan Lilley at half-back makes for an interesting afternoon. And starting prop is Ross Peltier - who last played against Hornets for Keighley when we thumped them at Spotland.

Hunapo-Nofoa: delighted to be leaving the World tig-&-pass
league for the comforts of Odsal
The latest spike of madness to emanate from the Odsal crater is the breaking news that the Bulls have beaten ‘several NRL clubs’ to the signature of Samoan rugby *nion 7s player Phoenix Hunapo-Nofoa (no - us neither).

Hi-stepping, showboating 7’s ‘utility back’ (isn’t every player in *nion 7s a ‘utility back’?) Hunapo-Nofoa was one of the early targets for Bulls’ non-coach Toovey. Needless to say, how a nippy lad used to acres of space against *nion defences would fare against getting hit at full-tilt by Trigger whilst negotiating a ball dropping out of the drizzle of Northern spring sky is open to question.

According to, whether he will sign/arrive in time for Sunday’s game remains ‘unclear’.  Which we translate as ‘he won’t’. We/he can only hope the new Bulls away kit comes with brown shorts.

As Alan Kilshaw astutely pointed out this week, Sunday will be a day of high emotion, adrenalin and expectation as the re-animated Bulls return to their spiritual home. Hornets will need cool heads if they’re not to get sucked into the occasion.

Certainly Sunday is a big one for all concerned. And - for the first time ever - we can say: Championship leaders Rochdale Hornets go to relegation-haunted Bradford Bulls in search of the win. So get yourself over to Odsal - the tenuous plan mooted on Facebook is for fans to gather on the terrace behind the dug-outs - get together and let’s make some noise. Let’s face it - this is our party too.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Dewsbury Rammed!

Hornets 46 - Dewsbury 0

In his after-match assessment, Alan Kilshaw described this as an ‘incredible performance’. And it was. Rochdale Hornets put down a stunning Championship marker, handing a gutless Dewsbury a lesson in enthusiasm, forward power and slick support play.

Indeed - as we predicted - a frankly awful Rams were impeded by the inclusion of four Wakefield Dual Reg players who looked as if they’d really rather be somewhere else. Keegan Hirst, a big lump with no hint of an offload; David Fifita a rag-handed penalty waiting to happen; Max Jowett, removed with what looked like a broken spirit on the hour mark; and Mason Caton Brown, bombed to a standstill and pinned in his corner by the onrushing twin-juggernaut of Rob Massam and Lewis Galbraith for most of the afternoon.

While the opening exchanges were relatively even, it was obvious that Hornets were the better organised side. Rapid ruck speed, quick play-the-balls, Ben Moores prying and probing - easy metres after the contact in every tackle.

And when Hornets drove close after quarter of an hour, Gaz Middlehurst hit Samir Tahraoui with a short ball five metres out and he slammed through retreating defenders to score. Palfrey the two and Hornets’ Championship tilt up and running at 6-nil.

Hornets fans steeled themselves for a Rams response - which never came. Instead Hornets went back on the offensive and it was Ben Moores weighing in with two contrasting tries out of the top drawer. His first a cheeky mugging from acting half, his second finishing off a sweeping 70 metre move: Lewis Palfrey the break, Danny Yates in support, Mooresey on a searing run to touch down. Quality. Palfrey good with the boot: 18-nil - Hornets fans rubbing unbelieving eyes.

Indeed, Hornets had a flawless 100% completion rate for the first 30 minutes and Dewsbury just couldn’t live with their level of intensity.

On 35 minutes Gaz Middlehurst picked out Matty Hadden, who strode into open field; he launched Danny Yates on an arcing run to the line and Hornets went in at the break 22-nil to the good.

The second half followed much the same pattern. Hornets strong and direct, Dewsbury shipping penalties, backing off tackles, rudderless. On 49 minutes Fijian wrecking ball Jo Taira topped a fearsome performance with the most direct of tries: Danny Yates the short pass, Taira unstoppable from 10m, defenders scrambling to get out of the way. Palfrey the two and Dewsbury’s body language shot.

With the game slipping away, the Rams entered ‘spoiler’ mode - Fifita the main culprit, coughing two soft penalties in-front that Lewis Palfrey gratefully accepted to pass the 30 mark

Dewsbury flickered briefly just past the hour mark, shipping the ball across the face of the Hornets posts, but a needless showboating pass fell into the arms of Chris Riley who hit the gas to take the interception fully 60 metres. From a quick play-the-ball Lewis Galbraith hit Rob Massam with a peach of a pass and he skinned Caton-Brown to score by the flag: 36-nil

Five minutes later provider turned scorer: Fifita a dumb penalty, Miles Greenwood sucking in defenders, Ben Moores picking his pass and Trigger scooting in to bring up the 40. Just stunning.

But Hornets weren’t quite done. Try number eight captured the contrasts in this contest in microcosm. A dumb Dewsbury penalty, Danny Yates swiftly launching Lewis Galbraith into space, Ryan Maneely in eager support to skate through a soft, shambolic defence. Palfrey on target and Hornets home and hosed at 46-nil.

As announcements of arrival go, this was something very special indeed. A close on perfect performance that showcased how good this Hornets side could be. And, with Bradford taking a whacking at Hull KR, it makes next week’s trip to Odsal a very exciting prospect indeed. Already, the Bulls will need to win eight more games than Hornets to finish above us.

Meantime - at least for this week - Hornets sit top of the Championship. That’s just one place off Super League, folks. Who’d’ve thought it eh?

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Sunday's Coming - Breaking News

Bit of a shit week if you’re a Dewsbury fan -  or Glenn Morrison, who sees his squad gutted by a drug-bust/DR pincer-movement that will render a big chunk of his pre-season planning pretty pontless.

Flying without wings: Donald Kudangirana
awaits drug-test hearing
First-up, winger Donald Kudangirana who has finally battled his way into first-team contention has failed a drugs test.

Tuesday’s club statement says: “Dewsbury Rams have been informed by the RFL that Donald Kudangirana has failed a drugs test. He is suspended from the club until he attends a RFL hearing. The club will make no further statement at this time.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, it looks like Wakefield are likely to (ab)use their dual-registration deal with Dewsbury from day one - Trinity Coach Chris Chester calling the Rams’ selection shots ahead of the SL kick-off  to give his players some game time before his season begins.

Trinity face Hull in Super League round one the week after our game - and Chester’s intervention could force up to four Dewsbury players out of Glenn Morrison’s plans. Winger Mason Caton-Brown and former Batley prop Keegan Hirst missed Trinity’s 50-6 win over Sheffield Eagles last weekend - and look likely to rock-up in Dewsbury shirts at the weekend.

Chris Chester calling the shots at Dewsbury?
Who's working who in this DR deal?
Ignoring the fact that this game actually matters to Dewsbury (and to the players who’ll have to stand aside) Trinity coach Chris Chester casually said: “We’ll probably dual-reg.  Keegan and Mason this week to get a game under their belt and maybe (prop) David Fifita and (full-back) Max Jowitt as well.”  Jowitt had shoulder surgery over the off-season and Fifita had operations on both thumbs!

Dewsbury were none-from four in pre-season, losing to Batley, Wakefield, touring indiginous side ‘Yowies’ and Leigh. However, according to the Dewsbury Reporter: “Morrison has been impressed with the fitness levels the side have shown (in pre-season), which could prove a key asset when the Rams travel to Rochdale Hornets for their opening Championship game on Sunday, February 5.”
A good time to pick-up four crocks who’ve had a limited game-prep, then.

After the Leigh game, Morrison said in the Yorkshire Post: “We only had 17 fit players and we had a few young ones in there and a few boys playing out of position, but they really stepped up. They had a strong side out and it was 10-4 at half-time, which was pretty spot on. We completed at 90 per cent in the first half.”

He also said that he hoped “four or five” players who missed the Leigh game due to injury or illness would be available for Sunday’s Championship opener. We assume he didn’t envisage them coming from Wakefield.

Whichever way you look at it, it’s an insenstitive use of DR at best.

Having run - according to League Express - with his ‘best available 17’ last week at Leigh, Morrison may well have to stand down two of his first choice props to accommodate a couple of blokes who see the game as a training run: and replace his first choice full-back with a bloke who’ll be playing his first game back after a shoulder op.

And, from this distance, you can’t really see any of these Wakefield guys giving 100% to the Dewsbury cause if it puts their SL season/fitness in jeopardy.

Chester will attend the game at Spotland - presumeably to dictate when his players get subbed or withdrawn.