Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Normal service will be resumed on Monday 10th April

Monday, 20 March 2017

A Giant Disappointment.

York 26 - Hornets 20

Welcome to the Rochdale Hornets emotional wringer.

From the chest-bursting pride of two weeks ago, we find ourselves this morning trying to not think too hard about that shadow of embarrassment lurking in our peripheral vision.

2017’s brutal wake-up call arrived in the shape of Hornets’ unshakeable hoodoo. We wrote in Friday’s preview of our discomfort of being the giant in a potential giant-killing and, from the moment that Danny Yates coughed the kick-off at four seconds after three, you sensed that it was going to be one of those afternoons.

While York kept their game-plan brutally simple - fast ruck-speed, direct running, minimal errors and something tricky to think about on the last tackle - Hornets disintegrated into a mess of dropped-ball, forced passes, cheap penalties and - for the first time this season - some decidedly flaky defending.

James Ford’s masterstroke, though, was to persuade Jon Presley to put his boots back on. So often Hornets’ tormentor-in-chief last season, he produced a tight, controlled performance that proved to be the difference.

Indeed, after 15 minutes, two kicks into the in-goal had yielded tries for Smith and Batchelor to give York a dream start. Hornets at this point barely having carried the ball. In between Tyson-Wilson slotted a penalty and the Knights looked good value for a 14-nil lead.

When - after half an hour - Hornets finally got some meaningful possession they capitalised. First Lewis Palfrey trickling the ball behind the defence for Miles Greenwood to score; then a bit of a freak try as a Palfrey bomb was lost in flight by York defenders, skittling off Tyson-Wilson for Chris Riley to touch-down. Within the space of three minutes, Hornets back in the contest at 14-12.

Having clawed their way back, Hornets switched off with seconds of the half remaining, allowing Moran to crash through and score a coach-killing try, Tyson-Wilson added the extras and Hornets retired to the sheds 20-12 down for what we imagine was a frank exchange of views.

Hornets started the second half with visibly more purpose, but fell foul of some indifferent refereeing. First Jo Taira seemed to have scored a perfectly vallid try only for it to be struck-off for a highly dubious double movement, then Jono Smith was held-up in-goal despite being face-down on the ball.

Hornets then had a six-minute purple-patch: Lewis Galbraith embarking on a wide, meandering run to send in Rob Massam, followed by swift-hands right for Chris Riley to score out wide. 20-all with 20 to play.

With Hornets looking increasingly desperate to seize control of the game, the errors continued to mount and with time ebbing away there was whispered discussion about the golden point. All that became moot in the 73rd minute when Presley produced a cool offload in traffic to send in the other Tyson-Wilson, his brother spot on with the boot.

Hornets spent the last seven minutes banging their heads on the York defensive wall, closest to a break being a Ryan Maneely step that almost took him clear of a last-ditch grasping tackle.

In the wash-up, this was a shocker in every sense of the word. Hornets couldn’t play this badly again if they tried. But while the result was pretty humiliating, it provides a real test for Alan Kilshaw and his squad. Having had a bit of a boom start to life in the Championship, this result asks lots of questions and they need a big response.

Ultimately, if what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, we can hope that this wretched result serves  some sort of fortifying purpose. But at the moment it just feels like a chastening disappointment - and, it seems, York seemed destined to continue to lurk in Hornets' blind-spot.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Up Fer t'Cup: York City Knights

York City Knights made it to the start of the 2017 season by the skin of their teeth.

The Knights have risen - phoenix-like - from the most acrimonious of implosions, in which the tripartite relationship between the RL club, their football club hosts and the local council ended in a slow-motion shit-fight dragged out over six months.

Shiny: The Challenge Cup earlier today
By the time sports management consultant Jon Flatman was announced as the club’s potential new owner (replacing John Guildford) in November, York had already been omitted from the season’s fixtires

The RFL issued a deadline of 1 December 2016 for ownership issues to be resolved and, late on 1 December, the club issued a statement that ownership of the Knights had passed entirely to a consortium headed by Flatman.

Flatman’s first job was to nail down a two year tenancy at Bootham Crescent, which takes at least one pressure off the club as they wait for the completion of the phantom ‘community stadium’ on what was their Monks Cross site.

His second job was to revert the club back to its ‘traditional’ York RL colours of amber and black - last worn by York Wasps in 2002.

The uncertainty at York heralded a player exodus: we have it at ten departees - mostly heading en-bloc for Keighley, Doncaster and Newcastle. But by far the club’s most important signing for its second new start in 15 years is coach James Ford.

Despite heavy rumours that he was off to Sheffield, Ford stayed put to rebuild at York and he’s assembled a useful side boosted by a Dual Reg. deal with Hull KR and this week took Former Leeds Rhinos and England academy forward George Milton from the Robins. Alongside Milton, Ford has also signed former Harlequins RL and Wakefield hooker Andy Ellis - so two to watch right off the bat. And it looks like their arrival has made an immediate impact.

Last weekend saw York land their first win of 2017 - hanging on to beat South Wales Ironmen 26-24, having led 26-10 in the second half. The week before they were beaten 28-nil at Barrow, having been edged out of the League 1 Cup by North Wales Crusaders 16-17. In the Challenge Cup they fared better, beating Egremont 48-8. So a bit of a patchy start - but they will only improve.

After last week’s narrow win, Ford laid into his team. Speaking in the York Press he said: “We’re not a good enough team to take anyone lightly. We had a bloke turn up late, our warm-up lacked intensity and energy, it was a sloppy start and that just continued through the game."

“South Wales have improved but, to be brutally honest, they weren’t great, were they. We were slightly better and that’s as fair as I can be. There were some good individual efforts. The forward pack were good but our execution across the back line was awful… from one to seven it was not good enough…”

He went on: “The players need to be accurate in their own reflections of where they’re at. What we’re churning out is not good enough. Some players need to realise where we are before we can improve. Everybody knows the systems and we still have more than enough ability, experience and skill to put in a performance much better than that. We’re just miles off.”


Ahead of this weekend’s tie, the ’shock’ news is that Ford is about to haul his assistant coach Jonny Presley out of his short-lived retirement to give his young side a bit of ‘old-head’ experience. The 32 year old’s only outing of the season thus far was a sub’s appearance in a pre-season friendly v Hull FC.

Sunday is also likely to see a return for full-back (and last year’s captain) James Haynes and winger Tommy Saxton.

Much like his counterpart, Alan Kilshaw will have come away from last week’s game thinking that Hornets second-half performance could have been tighter and more error-free. But even in the face of an imminent defeat, this side refused to lose - a positive in itself, we guess.

Likely inclusion in the squad this week will be Jono Smith. Described this week as ‘champing at the bit’ to get his season started and he does give us a bit more renegade firepower up the channel.

Hornets come into this game in a most unusual position: the ‘giant’ in a potential giant-killing. We can’t deny, it’s a strange feeling. York will be looking for a big response from their players and what better way to put down a marker than to roll over a championship club - so not a game to take lightly.

Indeed, this weekend’s game gives Alan Kilshaw’s men a chance to lay another of Hornets Hoodoos (York beating us three times last season). And us fans have a role to play in that. Indeed, the supporters were referred to as Hornets ‘18th man’ this week - so let’s go over to Bootham Crescent, make some noise and give the lads a boost. It’s the Challenge Cup: you’d be mad to miss it.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Hornets Salvage an Ugly Point

Hornets 26 - Oldham 26

Everybody loves a story with a twist in the tail - but Hornets made hard work of salvaging a draw against an Oldham side that tore up the form-book and came within a whisker of leaving Spotland with both Championship points.

After the euphoria of the Featherstone game, this was a head-splitting, coach-killing comedown: a pig-ugly mess of a game in which Oldham showed sufficient composure to pick-off a relentless litany of Hornets mistakes.

Dumb penalties, wayward passes, sloppy carries and - for the first time this season - flaky defence handed Oldham ample opportunity to steal this game almost by stealth: edging further and further away from a Hornets side disappearing up its self-made fundament of errors.

But even when this Hornets side looked destined to be derailed by a tank-slapping wobble, it somehow found a way to avoid the inevitable: stubbornly refusing to lose in a miracle last five minutes.

Hornets started like a missile: Oldham shipped a penalty with the first tackle of the game; Hornets marched straight upfield, where Lewis Palfrey skipped into space on the last tackle to send Ben Moores in off an inside pass. Palfrey the extras and the Roughyeds shellshocked at 6-nil.

Having taken command, it took a mad 30 seconds to pull Oldham back into the game. Two consecutive 6th minute penalties walked the visitors to the Hornets goal-line where Walne ran a looping arc through the centre channel to score. Leatherbarrow locking it up at 6-all.

Then it all went to shit - Hornets spending most of the next 20 minutes playing without the ball. Whilst Rob Massam and Chris Riley looked strong under the ensuing aerial bombardment, back on the ground things looked pretty grim: Miles Greenwood waiting far too long for a kick into the in-goal to settle, snagged at the expense of a drop-out; Oldham gifted a freakish penalty after a voluntary tackle by their own player; then handed the feed at a scrum after Hewitt dropped the ball cold; great defence wasted as Danny Bridge coughed the ball 2nd tackle. All sorts of horrible.

On the quarter-mark Samir Tahraoui drew a rare penalty. Hornets opted to take the kick: Lewis Palfrey hoisted the effort wide.

On the half hour Josh Crowley produced a shocker of a pass to bring another attack to a premature halt. And when Chris Riley was captured in-goal off an excellent kick-chase, only one side looked like scoring.

But wait…

In the last four minutes of the half, the Hornets cogs engaged - courtesy of two moments of lucidity from Josh Crowley. First he followed up a skittering Lewis Palfrey break to crash in off a flat inside ball; then he produced a huge line break, drawing the full-back to slot on Jack Holmes. The hooter sent Hornets in 14-6 up.

Oldham began the second half with visibly more purpose. And when they produced a smart last tackle blind-side play, Leatherbarrow sent Clay over by the flag. Leatherbarrow made no mistake and at 14-12, we had a game on our hands.

Hornets responded well, but having received a penalty at closae quarters, they over-played it and spilled the ball first tackle. Off the hook, Oldham trekked straight upfield where Egodo dived through a napping defence to touch-down a speculative kick going nowhere. Leatherbarrow banged over the two and - from out of nowhere - Hornets were chasing the game at 14-18.

The next ten minutes were an object lesson in how to hand momentum to the opposition. Danny Bridge’s first-tackle suicide pass handed Oldham soft possession; Jo Taira knocking on on the second tackle; a penalty for Oldham from a Taira high-shot, then Miles Greenwood again skittled in-goal off a hit & hope kick. Relief came as Tyson specacularly knocked-on the drop-out - but Jo Taira capped a shocker by knocking on early in the tackle count.

With the hour approaching, Hornets forced a rare Oldham drop-out - only to over-play again up the blind-side with a passage of play that saw the ball sail into Row D. The next possession ended with a frankly awful forward pass on the first tackle.

The only great surprise was that it took Oldham until the 62nd minute to capitalise on the chaos: direct running from Walne exploited a stretched Hornets defence after a clutch of defenders failed to wrap-up the ball in the tackle. Leatherbarrow on-target: 14-24 and the game rapidly departing.

When Hornets were pulled for ‘ripping’ in the 70th minute, Oldham elected to take the two: Leatherbarrow flawless, Oldham 14-26 to the good. All pretty frustrating.

But all good stories have a twist and this one came in the shape of two tries out of nothing. On 75 minutes Gav Bennion prised his way through defenders to score the try that gave Hornets a chink of hope. Palfrey the two: 20-26 And when Ryan Maneely produced a mercurial run from acting half with two minutes remaining to plant the ball under the black-dot Spotland erupted. Lewis Palfrey hit the two and Hornets were to receive the kick-off with one minute to find an unlikely knock-out punch.

Even then there was time for Hornerts to cough the ball and hand Oldham the feed with 30 seconds to play. But when Oldham conceded a penalty on the hooter, Hornets had one last throw of the dice to come-up with a winning play.

As it was, Lewis Palftey failed to find touch and it took some mad scrambling to pin Oldham back and hold on for the draw. Crazy.

In the end, this was a fracturted, flawed, fragmented Hornets display in which they seemed compelled to produce every error in the book.  And, despite this, a well-drilled Oldham outfit still couldn’t come up with the win that looked like a done-deal after 70 minutes.

Whilst Hornets were sloppy for long periods, the departure of Gaz Middlehurst with injury did signal a drop in Hornets’ defensive intensity - his talismanic work-rate clearly the glue that holds the read-white & blue line together.

But it’d be churlish to complain too much. The A627M El Classico delivered in spades: a no-holds barred local derby in which two committed sides couldn’t be separated. But both coaches will watch this back tomorrow and wonder what the hell happened.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Sunday's Coming: Oldham

Whilst the Law Cup is a pleasant pre-season distraction, this Sunday sees the return of  global sports most hotly contested local derby - The A627M El Clasico™.

With both teams now in the Championship, this game - potentially the first of four this season - brings with it a sense of import for both sides. For Hornets, it’s a chance to build some momentum after last week’s head-turning win at Featherstone (“He’s missed it… oh…). For Oldham it’s the opportunity to kick-start their stuttering season.

Oldham sit ninth in the table with just one win from four games - with last week’s contest v Dewsbury falling foul of the weather just an hour before kick-off.

Having started 2017 with a 26-10 win over Sheffield, Oldham lost narrowly at Featherstone (8-6) and v London Broncos (18-20), before ending up on the wrong end of a 48-nil blowout at Hull KR (Rovers led 30-nil at the break!).

Having had last weekend off, Scott Naylor has Adam Neal, Danny Grimshaw, George Tyson and Richard Lepori in the frame for a return to his side. Good news for his as - thus far -  he’s had little by way of dual reg. support due to Huddersfield’s ongoing injury crisis.

Hornets fans at the Law Cup may recall Tyson’s outrageous brain-fart after the final hooter, as he rained punches onto Jake Eccleston. The incident led to a four match ban, on which Chris Hamilton said: "George knows now that he will have to learn - and learn quickly”. Well he’s had a month to think about it…

Naylor will be without prop Phil Joy (dislocated shoulder) and Craig Briscoe (knee injury).

In case you’ve been on Mars or in a coma for the last week, Hornets come into this game on the back of a frankly stunning 9-10 win at Featherstone. Hewn on the back of some super-human defence, it was a result that made the championship sit up and take notice.

Having rested some players, Alan Kilshaw and his coaching team now have some major headaches about who to select for Sunday’s game. But it’s a high-class problem to have.

Indeed, in the media and online, suddenly people are talking about Rochdale Hornets as this season’s shock-package in the Championship. And while it’s nice to get some much deserved attention, it’ll be even nicer if we can roll over Oldham on Sunday. This one promises to be a classic El Clasico. Get there early and warm-up your vocal chords - it’ll be a belter.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

They Think It's All (R)over - It Is Now!

Make no mistake about it, this game was a hand to hand battle from first to last. In semi aquatic conditions, this huge-hearted Hornets side withstood a relentless bombardment from a massive Featherstone pack, frustrating them into a litany of poor decision-making, harrying them into cul-de-sacs and finishing the stronger of the two sides to record a famous victory.

Featherstone came into the game unbeaten in their 2017 campaign - but we left there wondering how that was ever possible. Time and again - assisted by a frankly ridiculous 15-4 penalty count - they set up camp close to Hornets line only to find their particular brand of blunt-instrument football thwarted by a Horners defence on top form.

In the opening exchanges, Hornets were direct and physical. Featherstone’s go-to response was to milk every opportunity as much as possible, referee Mr Hewer a willing audience for their bleating as he handed out penalties like sweets. But Hornets were in no mood to relent - Jo Taira ripping in and forcing early errors in the Rovers pack.

Following a mad five minutes where Mr Hewer gave the home side four back-to-back penalties AND put Hornets on a team warning, the best Featherstone could come up with was a series of flaccid jabs into the in-goal.

Having ridden out the storm, Hornets marched straight up field where Featherstone conceded their first penalty of the afternoon. Hornets didn’t need asking twice: Lewis Palfrey banging it over for a 0-2 lead after quarter of an hour.

Featherstone reverted to Plan A: Hornets’ defence first driving Hardcastle into touch, then scrambling back to snuff out Turner up the left. In turn, Hornets struck up their left side: Danny Yates to Danny Bridge, Bridgey the drop-off to Jake Eccleston, but the ball goiung to ground at the death

Featherstone responded with a rare moment of fluid football: Thackeray punching the hole, Hardman in support Jack Holmes tracking back 40 metres to pull off a great tackle. Danny Yates was deemed to have attended the tackle too late and for too long and was given a yellow card.

Hornets riposte was swift, direct and clinical. A man short, Hornets worked the overlap up the left edge; Rob Massam bludgeoned his way up the touchline, Lewis Palfrey quickest to respond at the play the ball, finding Danny Bridge arriving at pace to skittle retreating defenders and score. Cue mayhem amongst the visiting fans. Palfrey adding the extras to send Hornets in 2-8 up at the break. Stunning stuff.

Featherstone started the second half in determined mood: a deep kick fumbled by Miles Greenwood, Rob Massam appearing out of nowhere to hit Hardman like a train as he lined up his spot for what looked like a certain try. Indeed, it was harder not to score.

Aided by a series of penalties, Featherstone racked up the pressure, forcing a repeat set as Miles Greenwood was snagged in-goal.

And when Mr Hewer gifted Featherstone a penalty late in the tackle count, they shifted it wide for Ulugia to score a converted try. The hour mark approaching: 8-all. Featherstone now with the momentum.

And it was the home side who came closest to scoring next, working up the narrow side. It took a miracle intercept from Jack Holmes to deny the try - his fingertips nudging the ball to ground for Lewis Palfrey to tap dead in-goal. If committed defence wins you games, this was one of those moments.

Hornets went straight back on the attack, working the ball swiftly and directly down the Post Office Road slope; and when Danny Yates dinked the ball into the in-goal for Gav Bennion to touch down, the celebrations were cut short as Mr Hewer consulted a touch-judge who deemed him offside.

Featherstone accepted the let-off and pushed back up the hill where Thackeray dug out a drop-goal with 11 to play to give the home side an undeserved lead. Hornets didn’t panic.

With Featherstone visibly tiring, Hornets forwards turned up the torque and when Josh Crowley broke up the guts of a flailing Rovers defence on 86 minutes he took the ball 40 metres to the ten metre line, where defenders lay all over him. No Yellow card, this time, but Mr Hewer gave a penalty and Lewis Palfrey was the coolest man in the ground, sliding the ball between the sticks to send the home fans heading for the exits. Hornets in front 9-10. Hornets fans jubilant.

With the home side out of ideas and energy, Hornets snuffed them out in the closing exchanges to register a quite superb victory that ruined Rovers’ perfect Championship start.

This was a day where it came down to which team wanted it most. Conditions were challenging, the refereeing verging on a surrealist interpretation of the laws. But in the wash-up Hornets were prepared to dig deeper than Featherstone and refused to yield to their one-dimensional battering ram approach.

On radio Leeds afterwards, Fev coach Jon Sharp questioned his players’ attitude.

No such questions need asking of Alan Kilshaw’s Hornets - who laid the Featherstone hoodoo to rest in emphatic style.

By the way: how’s your drop goal looking now, Featherstone?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Sunday's Coming: Featherstone

Featherstone’s been a graveyard for as long as we can remember. Since we started watching Hornets back in 1971, we’ve seen us win there twice. The first of those on a rainy Tuesday night in about 1993 was our first win there since 1948! The other was Deryck Fox’s first game in charge at Hornets when he took a decade’s experience of playing Fev’s tiny pitch back and kicked them to a standstill. That was 1999.

It's Twins! Jon Sharp hones his Keith Hill tribute act
by contemplating a heavy pitch.
Even when we’ve been compelled to play other teams there, the curse has stood firm. Ian Talbot’s high-flying Hornets comprehensively flogged by York City Knights at Post Office Road in 2013. So can Alan Kilshaw continue his run of hoodoo-breaking results?

These days, Featherstone has a full-sized pitch - and the Rovers sit second with four straight wins so far in 2017. Having started with a couple of close-run affairs (26-32 at Halifax and 8-6 v Oldham),  Jon Sharp’s side has hit the straps the last couple of weeks - an impressive 6-32 win at Batley and a comprehensive 13-30 demolition of Swinton (Swinton led 7-6 at the break - how does that  drop goal look now?).

Much has been made of Fev’s Dual Reg partnership with Leeds this season (Rovers used to be fervent opponents of the inititative) and, just this week, they’ve added Leeds half-back Corey Aston to their squad on loan. But it’s up front where Fev have placed their real firepower.

Fev Massive: the biggest bench Jon Sharp has ever picked
Last week, Keith Hill lookalike Sharp ran with what he described to the Ponte & Cas Express as: “… the biggest bench I’ve ever picked…”

Comprising Frankie Mariano, Richard Moore and Rhinos’ dual-reg. forwards Anthony Mullally and Brett Delaney they outmuscled Swinton over the 80 minutes.

On Radio Leeds post game, Sharp re-iterated his commitment to wheeling out the big guns, saying that if we have the threat of heavy conditions going into Sunday’s game, he’ll run with the same tactic. So expect a forward battle.

Back in the Ponte & Cas Express he said: “Big players sap energy out of the opposition…we had some big blokes on the bench… and (it) worked a treat for us.”

“I thought Mariano was great and added a real good dimension over on our right. Mullally was awesome and Delaney got through a big workload”

Last week, Fev lined up as follows:
Featherstone Rovers: Ian Hardman, Luke Briscoe, Jason Walton, Chris Ulugia, Ash Handley, Anthony Thackeray, Matt Wildie, Andy Bostock, Keal Carlile, Jordan Baldwinson,  Michael Knowles, John Davies, Bradley Knowles-Tagg.  Subs: Brett Delaney, Anthony Mullally, Frankie Mariano, Richard Moore.

Knowles-Tagg - who was banned for 8 matches in 2013 for racially abusing a Salford City Reds player in an Under-20s fixture - is doubtful after picking up an ankle injury last week.

Hornets come into the game off the back of two defeats - but both were steps up the learnng curve rather than a wobble. From our point of view, the key lessons have been that if you switch off for a single play at this level you’ll get punished and, however you let the opposition off the hook, they’ll punish you too. But these are the challenges of stepping up a level and, despite the disappointments of the last couple of results, Hornets have shown that we can mix it with the best at this level.

Indeed, when you feel disappointed that Hornets have slipped out of the top four of the Chamopionship, you know you’re in a very different world.

So, get yourselves over to Featherstone. Let’s get together, make some noise and give the lads a lift. Hoodoos are there to be broken - and in this of all seasons, why not on Sunday? It’s an intriguing one for sure. See you there.