Monday, 8 May 2017

Fev Put Hornets to the Test

Hornets 8 - Featherstone 38

“Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to” - George Seaton.

There is a school of thought that life is a series of tests - and that it’s not the passing of those tests that define us, but the way in which we address the challenge.

When Hornets confounded common sense last year in becoming League 1 Champions, we knew there would be days like this: days when we’d get flogged by much better teams; days when confidence would fade. Days when our faith would be tested.

Certainly Featherstone Rovers’ performance will have put the faith of every Hornets fan under extreme scrutiny - but that’s this week’s test in what can be a punishing RFL Championship.

Being as philosophical as we can be, Fev didn’t just hand Hornets a withering defeat - they gave us a valuable lesson. Their brand of brutally direct, ruthlessly clinical high-tempo no-frills football is the standard to aspire to. Indeed, had we been neutral observers, their first-half performance would have been impressive - but for those of us with an emotional investment, it was a challenging watch.

Rovers started with a blistering bang: two quick-fire tries from Hardcastle and Hardman (the second after a blatant obstruction missed by Referee Mr McMullen) had Hornets reeling at 10-nil after just 7 minutes.

Hornets composed themselves long-enough for Jordan Case to slip a teasing kick into the Rovers in-goal for Miles Greenwood to touch-down for 4-10.

Hornets went close two minutes later: back-to-back penalties took Hornets to the Rovers goal-line, but the ball was spilled on the first tackle. The visitors marched swiftly upfield where they hoisted a teasing kick for their three-quarter line to chase. Chris Riley rock-solid under extreme pressure.

With the quarter approaching, Featherstone hit the line hard, leaving Hornets’ defence in all sorts of Trouble: Hardman on the end of a winding, jemmying 40m run that they couldn’t find a way to stop. Aston the extras for 4-16.

Hornets had brief hope when Fev dropped the kick-off, but a forced pass from Jordan Hand gave them easy possession. Rovers took the ball left, but Hornets defence scrambled just enough to force Ulugia into touch.

Having played the game on the ragged edge, Fev overstepped the mark on 26 minutes when a blatant high-shot on Danny Yates as he looked certain to score left him struggling. Mr McMullen taking no action beyond the penalty; Rovers fans booing Danny Yates as he received treatment: all class.

Hornets did force a repeat set off a Lewis Palfrey kick - but were shambolic in handling the drop-out, Featherstone gathering the ball to sweep fully 70 metres. Fortunately the last pass sailed into Row E.

Just past the half hour Featherstone probed again - a teasing kick behind the Hornets defence. Chris Riley was down bravely to smother the threat, but a flurry of boots into his head and body knocked the ball loose and - with Riley lying prostrate in back-play - Knowles gathered and put the ball down. The touch-judge stood off, the referee ignored him and Riley was helped from the field to take a concussion test as Aston hoofed the conversion attempt wide: 4-20.

With Hornets now hanging on for half-time, Rovers produced a sucker-punch shipping the ball through hands for Turner to score by the flag. All a bit too easy. Hornets then put the kick-off straight into the Sandy Lane end. Unforgiveable, really.

Hornets rallied briefly before the hooter: a Jo Taira break up the right, an inside pass to Jack Holmes; Holmes bundled into touch, Taira injured in the process.

Featherstone ended the half as they’d begun: a good aporoach-set, Turner running into the space behind a static defence to touch-down the most basic of kicks. Half-time 4-28.

Rovers began the second half with a moment of fortuitous luck: having knocked on, Mr McMullen handed them the feed and, inside a minute, Hardman broke up the guts of the Hornets’ defence to put Wildie under the black dot. Aston found his range for 4-34. This was going to be a very long half.

As Hornets struggled to make meaningful headway, Featherstone comfortably soaked up the pressure. And when the ball was shipped wide for Taulapapa on 52 minutes he stepped through some very ordinary tackles to stretch Rovers’ lead to 4-38.  Whereupon they pretty much racked the cue.

The last 20 minutes was dominated by a deteriorating performance from possibly the least attentive referee we’ve seen this season: Hornets snagged for a ridiculous offside after Feaherstone had put the ball to gound; Danny Yates a try struck off for an obstruction that no-one else in the ground saw (both touch-judges happily standing at the dead-ball-line ignored); Hornets put on a team warning (no, us neither).

With the game reaching a state of stasis, Hornets did come up with a great kick to the corner, where Rob Massam out-jumped his opposite number to score (8-38), but it was a hollow consolation.

Certainly, this was a tough one to take - but Featherstone are second in the league and a team in form at the moment, whereas Hornets seem unable to shake off this dip in confidence.

And if you look at the results of the other clubs around us, most of the sides in a similar situation were on the end of similar results yesterday, as the Championship begins to cleave into a division of two divisions.

On promotion last year, everyone agreed that finishing third bottom would constitute a successful season - and that basic requirement hasn’t changed. Indeed, having over achieved in the early part of the season only raised expectations, when it was clear that the established Championship sides would only improve.

With confidence at a low and doubt creeping in, all we have left as we scrap for third bottom is faith: faith that the lads can find the confidence to play as we know they can, faith in the coaching staff who’ve taken us on this challenging journey and who will be feeling the same frustrations, faith in our club to continue to work hard and do the best we can with what we have:  faith that, ultimately, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog.

That’s the test, folks - and we should thank Featherstone for reminding us of that.