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?