Thursday, 31 August 2017

Sunday's Coming: Swinton

This has been a pisser of a week.

Not enough that Ben Moores has had his season truncated for what appears to be time-wasting; or that Gaz Middlehurst has broken his thumb; or that Jono Smith took another brutal, targeted head-shot that could see his season ended too. Not enough, even, that - by some Rugby League miracle - Swinton came up with a win at in-form Dewsbury on Monday.

All of these would be bad enough to take, but the news from the RFL disciplinary that Lewis Galbraith has ‘no case to answer’ following his sin-binning against Oldham - during which Oldham scored the try that gave them the winning margin - is a bitter, jagged pill to swallow.

Once again, incompetence of the officials and the unwillingness of the RFL to do anything about it have cost Hornets two points and shunted us closer than ever to Oldham and Swinton.

Add Monday’s debacle to the sending off of Jordan Hand at Heywood Road (a game that Swinton won by a point) and the dismissal of Matty Hadden at Batley (another game that slipped through our fingers on the back of a numerical disadvantage) and you have three pretty ordinary refereeing decisions that have had major impacts on our season.

Here at TLCRF80mins, we’re not big on bagging referees - but to misquote Oscar Wilde (again) to be wrong once is unfortunate, twice looks like carelessness. But three times? And who do Hornets turn to for reparation in such cases? Who compensates the players’ loss of winning pay, the club’s loss of two points and - if the worst should happen - who makes up the dramatic drop in central funding?

Week in week out, clubs, players and coaches are held responsible for their actions.  You miss one small detail on match day and the RFL’s match commissioner is in your ear; criticise the officials and they slap you with a fine. But who holds the officials to account? They never have to explain their decisions: it’s  a free pass to make game-changing errors with no comeback.

After every game, coaches front-up and face questions on their side’s performance - good and bad.
Will Gareth Hewer be compelled to face RFL questioning on his performance? Will he face a ban if found guilty of an inability to correctly implement the laws?

Sunday sees Swinton come to Spotland. With the Lions having shoved their huge debt to the back of the kitchen drawer and forgotten about it until October, Stuart Littler seems to have got his charges ticking over and - as mentioned - they arrive on Sunday on the back of a shock 28-35 win at Dewsbury Rams.

Leading 22-6 after 35 minutes, the Lions had enough daylight to fend-off a late, late Rams comeback. Stand-out on the day was centre Chris Hankinson who weighed-in with a try and seven goals for an impressive personal 18-point tally.

With the three clubs above Bradford now squeezed airlessly tight by Monday’s results, this is the most must-win of must-win games. It was always likely to come to this and here we are.

A Hornets win on Sunday would leave Swinton needing to win both their remaining games to overhaul us. An Oldham win too would see the Roughyeds leapfrog Swinton into 6th. It’s a time that calls for cool heads, concentration and strong resolve - from everyone.

The run-ins for this Greater Manchester three-way Rugby League challenge are:

This week
Hornets v Swinton
Oldham v Toulouse

Next Week
Sheffield v Hornets
Swinton v Oldham

Final week
Bradford v Hornets
Toulouse v Swinton
Oldham v Dewsbury

The maths remain pretty simple: as they’ve always been - match or better Swinton and Oldham’s results and we stay up.

It’s edgy stuff and you wouldn’t want to miss it. See you Sunday.

Breaking Point

As Rugby League celebrates its 122nd anniversary this week, we ask: ‘Over a century on, are we heading for a second split due to the unfair treatment of working players?’

Rugby League is a rare sport, one founded on a principle. 

When the public school types of the London-based Rugby Union sneered at the very thought of broken time payments to working Northern players in compensation for losing work wages to play, they drove Lancashire and Yorkshire clubs into forming what a Union apologist described in the Yorkshire Post as ‘a union of their own’. A Northern Union.

At the heart of the split is what we think is a quote that most beautifully crystallises Union thinking at the time. Referenced from several sources - most commonly from the Salford Reporter in the months leading up to the split - it says: “If the working man cannot afford to play, he must do as other people have to do, who want things they cannot afford - do without"

Indeed, the opportunity for ‘The Working Man’ to play Rugby League at the highest level befitting his skill is locked in the DNA of our game - but as Rugby League heads towards its 125th anniversary, we can sense the threat of another ‘working man’ split that could force the game apart.  And - as previously - the forces at work are time, money and fairness.

The European Dream
The Murdoch-isation of Rugby League in 1995 lit the fuse for this current potential implosion: vast amounts of TV money poured in to try and create a fully professional European Super League. Great in principle, awkward in practice.

What Murdoch’s plan failed to understand is that bad teams lose - sometimes quite often.

The European dream that began with Paris Saint Germain beating Sheffield Eagles 30-24 in front of almost 18,000 people in March 1996, lay crashed and burned by May 1997. Not until Catalans Dragons were granted a Super League licence in 2006 did top flight Rugby League re-acquire its much desired ‘European’ dimension.

And that’s worked reasonably well since - full-time professional players on both sides of the Channel able to prepare and travel for fixtures helping establish the Dragons as Super League staple - until this season, where indifferent performances have shunted the Catalans into genuine relegation trouble. Hold that thought.

Canada Goosed
Down in the Championship and League 1, Rugby League’s international dream is causing issues, as full-time Toulouse and Toronto Wolfpack are compelling part-time teams - teams made up of ‘working men’ - to take days off work to travel to fulfil fixtures.

The game already asks a great deal of commitment from its part-time players, but repeated overseas trips (sometimes at short notice), place undue pressure on players’ relationships with employers who already offer incredible (but not inevitable) patience. And many of these guys are family men - Rugby League is not their job and to add needless pressure at home shows little concern for player welfare.

Only this month, Rochdale Hornets’ game in Toulouse required 19 ‘working men’ to ask for Friday off work to travel, play at 8pm on a Saturday night (in a game that ended at almost 11pm), then travel back on Sunday - a journey of over 10 hours for some, as half of the squad had to fly from Limoges (given the short notice of the fixture and the availability of flights) landing home late Sunday night. They then had to set their alarms to go to work on Monday morning, while Toulouse released video of their full-time players relaxing at a theme park.

Similarly, we read this week that Barrow have had to crowd-fund their second trip to Toronto this season after their last trip a) left them £4,000 out of pocket and b) left several of their key players unable to travel. Full-time status of the opposition notwithstanding, such a situation creates an unfair contest - hardly befitting of a game founded on a desire for fair treatment.

How far is too far?
It seems unfair enough to us, that part-time players are asked to travel from Whitehaven to Skolars and back in a day and still have to get up for work, having got home in the early hours of Monday morning. But going back to work having burned two days holiday AND having done two transatlantic flights in four days defies logic. 

But what’s the alternative? Asking ‘working men’ to compromise their livelihoods to play heavily weighted games in Rugby League’s most distant corners runs counter to the principle on which the game was founded. Next year, the Championship could push the situation to breaking point. It’s generally assumed that Toronto will buy their way out of League One, Toulouse have - again - stalled in the second tier and, if the worst happens, the RFL could see Catalans Dragons dropping down a tier.

So you would have a league in which at least half of the teams are part-time, requiring semi-pro players to travel extremely long distances to fulfil at least three fixtures. To misquote Oscar Wilde, asking them to do it once is unfortunate, but three times? Four Times? More times? It’s just not fair, equitable or viable.

It does, however, discriminate heavily against players with jobs. Which is where we came in.

The schism is real
There is already anger amongst Championship clubs who are clearly feeling the strain of managing increasingly unrealistic RFL expectations. In a recent League Express article, three championship coaches voiced their frustrations at having to ask their players to negotiate more time off before embarking on logistically ludicrous trips.  Effectively forcing working players to make the choice between their club and their job - takes us back to square one: “… if the working man cannot afford to play, he must do as other people have to do, who want things they cannot afford - do without”.   

Or, alternatively,  form a game of their own?

If the RFL continues to ignore its treatment of working players, it is in real danger of creating two incompatible versions of the game. Indeed, for us, a natural reaction to excessive demands on players with jobs outside Rugby League would be to push the part-time game closer to the ‘community’ game: with semi-pro/semi-amateur players having a clearer affinity with those who ‘play for sport’. 

Ultimately, it’s the fact that the sport has lost sight of its fundamental principle of fair treatment for working players that saddens us. And in their selective blindness, the RFL shouldn’t just blithely assume that a new split won’t happen. Its own history is against it.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Wank Holiday

Hornets 24 - Oldham 30

The nerves were palpable ahead of this game: Spotland a wound-up, hyper-ventilating, nail-biting cauldron. All the components of your regular Hornets/Oldham derby turned up to eleven and laden with the almost unbearable weight of expectation from both camps. A test of composure - a day for cool heads, smart decisions, leadership and resolve.

What the fevered, near-1,000 crowd got instead was a scrapping, scrambling shit-fight of an error-fest in which Oldham’s enthusiasm proved enough to drag them through to grab their first - and possibly THE most important - derby win this year.

Oldham took an early lead off the back of consecutive penalties - Wilkinson sending Burke through a hole to score under he black dot, Hooley converting. Not the best of starts.

Hornets flickered into life after 11 minutes when Lewis Palfrey found Chris Riley with a looping cut-out pass, the winger showing his class to plant the ball by the flag. No Conversion.

But the comeback was brief. When Hornets defenders made a hash of Hewitt’s steepling kick just three minutes later, Oldham worked Adamson through a retreating defence to score.

Again Hornets hit back, this time Danny Yates’ teasing kick into the in-goal caused chaos in the Oldham defence, Jake Eccleston first to make his mind-up for 8-12. Again, no conversion.

Oldham stretched their lead after Lewis Palfrey was deemed to have knocked on in what looked like a perfectly good tackle and Hornets shipped a penalty from the resulting set. Hooley with the two for 8-14.

Increasingly, Hornets began to force passes with decreasing effect and, with the half hour approaching, broken play in centre field saw Hooley break clear for the visitors only for Mr Hewer to snag Lewis Galbraith for a supposed trip and produce the yellow card. 90 seconds later Oldham did the maths for Clay to score on the end of an outrageous overlap: 8-18.

A disappointing half was capped on 36 minutes when Jono Smith took a nasty head-shot that could well end his season. After lengthy treatment he was taken staggering from the field holding a towel to a badly bleeding nose. Mr Hewer put the incident on report and played on.

Hornets 8-18 down at the break and needing inspiration from somewhere.

Hornets did begin the second half with intent. Ryan Maneely burrowing in from acting half, Palfrey adding the two to close the gap to 14-18. And then the game became a battle of wills.

For 20 minutes both sides probed, pried and found new and interesting ways to toss away possession. For 10 of those minutes Hornets were entrenched in the Oldham 20m zone, but couldn’t find the pass or the kick to unzip a determined Oldham defence. Having jabbed flaccidly at the Oldham line for three or four sets, momentum was lost  when Danny Yates fumbled a pass from acting half. The body language said it all.

Off the hook, Oldham  marched straight upfield where Burke went crashing over. Hooley on target and Oldham with daylight at 14-24.

Hornets teased briefly when Lewis Galbraith drew defenders before sending Rob Massam in at the corner for an unconverted try to close the gap to six points, but when Lee Mitchell knocked-on 30 metres from his own line, Hewitt went on a mazy run, finding Hooley on his shoulder to score under the posts. Hooley raised the flags to give Oldham the vital points.

At the death, Jo Taira did reach in to grab an unsatisfying consolation try (converted) but it was way too little, way too late - the hooter sounding before play could restart.

This mess of a game was disappointing in pretty much every aspect. Hornets handling at key moments was woeful - and to be out-enthused by Oldham in a local derby on your own patch, unforgiveable. ‘Must-win games’ are called that because you MUST win them - by any means possible. And, on the day, Oldham just wanted this more.

We could analyse every dropped pass, every sloppy tackle and every crap penalty until the cows come home, but what would be the point?

With Swinton somehow grabbing a win at Dewsbury, the concern is now very real - Hornets now clinging to a wafer-thin one-point advantage and a shrivelling points difference: by our calculations, the only team in the shield still without a win in this phase. From sitting in the box seat, we’re now dragged into a straight three-way shoot out with Oldham and Swinton.

Yes, we always knew that staying in the Championship would be a major challenge. And yes, our destiny is still in our own hands. With three games to go, this season no longer just a test of footballing ability - it’s a test of character. For all of us.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Monday's Coming: The A627M El Clasico

We can’t deny that Oldham’s draw at Batley is one of the eye-catching results of the season.

Having trailed 22-nil after 20 minutes they clawed themselves back to 22-all - denied victory at the death by a coat of paint, when a drop-goal attempt came back off the post.

Needless to say, Oldham see this result as a precursor to a return to greatness.

Hand-off: Chris Hamilton celebrates the draw at
Batley in literal fashion...
"We have potentially turned the corner by showing any amount of character, determination and spirit.” Said chairman Chris Hamilton to the Oldham Chronic this week. "If someone had offered us a point before the game,” he went on: “… we would have snatched their hand off." But what would he have done with a severed hand?

The point gained at Mount (un)Pleasant, pull Oldham to within a point of Swinton, as the scrap for Championship survival tightens up (Swinton Lions, lost 30-16 at home to already relegated Bradford last weekend).

Oldham Coach Scott Naylor sees his side’s propensity to start slowly as an issue to be addressed. Also talking to the Chron. he said: “The point against Batley was enormous for us - but I'm hoping we don't start at 3.20pm again.

"The boys are under a lot of pressure, perhaps there are a few nerves, and we only relax when we feel there is nothing to lose. That shouldn't happen against Rochdale, though, as it's a derby game and we'll be giving it everything we've got.”

Naylor’s side looks likely to be boosted by the return of several recent injury-hit absentees. Second row Adam Neal looks likely to make a return from a two month hiatus with a broken jaw, with Kenny Hughes, Danny Grimshaw and Liam Thompson ready for a return to action.

Hornets come out of a disappointing trip to Toulouse with a rare nine-day turn-round - and a couple of extra days rehab is always very welcome at this late stage of the season.

The game at Blagnac was, in reality, a bloody shambles. An 8pm kick-off in a virtually empty ground, then an hour’s delay in the dark, followed by a more than dubious sin-binning - it’s custom made to give any team a disadvantage.

At 22-12 after an hour, it was a case of ‘next scorer wins’: TOXIIIC blowing hard and Hornets with the momentum. But a freak try and then the sin-binning (during which TOXIIIC scored four times) killed the game stone dead. At least the band (who Toulouse bus-in in an attempt to hide the lack of atmosphere) and the tannoy guy (who contravened the operating laws by loudly cheering on a 60 metre break) had a great night.

Our one great stat is that: every time we’ve lost in Toulouse, we’ve won the following week. So here’s hoping that continues.

Hornets will have Jo Taira back in contention - and Rob Massam edges closer to a return.

This season’s A627M El Classics have been fiery affairs, and trying to keep a lid on it this week is Gareth Hewer -  reprising his role in Hornets win at Bower Fold on July 23.

Other games this weekend are:
Bradford v Batley
Dewsbury  v Swinton
Toulouse v Sheffield Eagles

With four games to go in the Shield (and eight points to play for), every game now sends fans rushing for the calculators. But we like to keep things simple. Beat Oldham and Swinton - and match their results in the other two games and we’ll be fine.

Monday, 21 August 2017

French Farce

Toulouse 50 - Hornets 12

The Manic Street Preachers wrote a song called  'All Surface and No Feeling' - and that's five words that perfectly describes the facade that is Toulouse Olympique. A very good footballing team, but a bunch of dead-eyed mercenaries given a shallow veneer of authenticity by the hollowed-out husk of what used to be a proper club.

And if TOXIIIC were always Rugby League's unfunniest joke, on Saturday night in Blagnac they surpassed even their own ability to plumb new depths of utter crapness.

You see, TOXIIIC like to f*ck teams about. Playing a challenger for a top four spot in the hottest month of the year? Force them to kick off at 3pm. Playing a side that's already beaten them once this year? Play them on a non-bank-holiday Monday with an 8pm kick off, which compels them to travel on game-day, arriving for their flight out at 5am.

If there's an inch of daylight in the operating laws, these buggers will prise it open if if gives them an advantage.

As it was, Hornets rocked up for an 8pm kick-off on a Saturday night and were caught cold. Two rapid fire tries from Australian Kheirallah gave the home side an early 12-nil lead and the Toulouse's 350 supporters (they claimed 1,200 on their website and 612 in the press) were frothing at the pants.

Hornets hit back on the quarter hour when a dink in the in-goal caused panic and Danny Yates was able to touch down. Palfrey hit the target to half the arrears.

Hornets began to apply some pressure, but two moments of Harlem-Globetrotters showboating from Minga and Margueritte hauled TO out to 22-6.  But Hornets stuck to the plan and, with the home-side visibly blowing, Yatesey's kick behind the defence was snaffled  by Gaz Middlehurst who touched down unopposed. Lewis Palfrey added the extras and Hornets had the momentum.

Indeed, Hornets ended the half the stronger and the small, but vociferous support thought all it needed was a few glitches fixing up at half time and an early score to put TO under pressure.

But wait...

With the clock approaching 9pm, it was announced that the floodlights had failed and that the referee wouldn't kick off the second half until they were fixed. Now - if it were us running a club that opted to play at 8pm, we'd have sent someone along in the afternoon to flick the switch and check that the lights were working. TOXIIIC hadn't done that.

In an ever deepening darkness, the crowd were first told that the deadline for the arrival of an electrician/potential abandonment was 9.15pm.

9.15 came and went, with no news. The players out on the field trying to keep warm and loose. Then an announcement that the deadline for a decision would be 9.30pm - which duly came and went. The Match commissioner made a few calls, the TO president wandered around shrugging...

9.30 came and went. The revised deadline for a decision was now 9.45, people now conjugating what happens if a game doesn't go past the break.

At 9.44 - with pretty much all of the game's momentum gone, energy/enthusiasm levels sapped and Lewis Palfrey and Josh Crowley struggling to overcome cramping muscles, the lights miraculously sprang to life.

With both sides compelled to warm-up from scratch and refocus, the game eventually stuttered to a restart at 10pm.

The first 20 minutes of the half were an arm-wrestle. Hornets laying siege to the French line, but unable to find a breakthrough. A lofted kick to Chris Riley the most likely option, but deemed knocked on my referee Mr Moore who, incidentally, had a shocker.

Toulouse played their get-out-of-jail card, releasing Minga on what looked like a certain try - only for Lewis Galbraith to track back and produce a try-saving tackle of the highest quality, forcing the TO wing into a double movement.

Then disaster. Lewis Palfrey failed to find touch with the penalty and Mika ambled onto a short-ball at close range. Kheirallah the extras for 28-12. Just gutting.

Then came the coup-de-grace courtesy of a frankly awful decision from Mr Moore. Having policed the ruck inconsistently all night, Minga (we think) broke in centre field, reeled in by Gaz Middlehurst. Clearly tackled with his ball-carrying arm hitting the floor, the TO player jumped to his feet to continue to play-on. In the process he became entangled with Middlehurst and fell to the ground. The home crowd bayed, Mr Moore reached for the Yellow card, Middlehurst dispatched - supposedly for throwing a punch. No, us neither.

Hornets reduced to 12, the home side went feral, playing off-structure to run in four tries in 10 minutes. Game dead, points gone, thanks for coming.

The game eventually slid to an end at 10.45 - just ridiculous.

Post match, Alan Kilshaw was incredulous, referring to the hour's delay as 'a farce'.  And it was. We couldn't think of any other team in the league who would be given an hour to sort out what is a basic staple of hosting evening games. We can only hope that there will be repercussions, but don't hold your breath.

In the wash-up, Toulouse remain a hard club to like. Arrogant in the extreme and repeatedly exposed as the flat-track bullies that they are. An embarrassing, plastic, soulless RFL vanity project.

But remember, having burned 1.8 million Euros to end up in the same 'eight' as Hornets, their season has been a catastrophic failure, whereas our challenge remains alive.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Samedi's Coming: Toulouse

And so, Hornets battered troops must once again gird up their aching loins and head for bloody Toulouse.

One imagines, this wasn’t a fixture TOXIIIC really thought they’d ever have to play. Having spunked their ‘get into SL’ budget up the wall in spectacular fashion, The French Ellite’s perennial chokers have once again missed the Championship boat and - instead of anticipating a season of SL glory in 2018 - face another year dragging their own particular brand of churlish football round the Championship. With a trip to Toronto chucked in for good measure. If it weren’t the fate awaiting all Championship clubs next year, you’d have to laugh at the sheer Karma of it.

But we shouldn’t be surprised; TOXIIIC have a proven track record of choking at this level. Having been denied a Super League licence in 2009, Toulouse joined the UK’s National League. Having clawed their way up to fourth at one point, they ended their first season 10th out of 11 clubs. In 2010, new SL qualification rules required any club pitching for a Super League franchise to have at least reached the grand final. Toulouse finished 8th.

In 2011, they got relegated and - rather than face the ignominy of playing in the bottom tier - they retreated to the French Elite to resume their role as a big poisson in a small bassin.

Having come into the Championship as League 1 runners-up, Toulouse peaked this season in second spot, before increasingly regular defeats saw them slip out of the top four behind part-time Halifax and Featherstone. Thus far, they have lost nine games, but sit top of the Championship Shield table.

In the spirit of making the best of a bad job, Toulouse hooker Charles Bouzinac said in the press last week (of the Championship Shield): “I think everyone is motivated and it’s still a trophy to go for. It’s always good for a club a team and its history to win titles.”  And as 2016 League 1 title winners, we should know…

Speaking to Toulouse FM back in January, Toulouse president Bernard Sarrazain revealed that their budget for the 2017 season was €1.8m which, he said, would “allow the club to prepare for the Super League”. “The goal on all levels,” he said then, “is the top four.”

Spent: Bernard Sarrazain in front of the truckload
of cash Toulouse have burned this season.
Having subsequently stormed to a fifth-place finish, Monsieur Sarrazain this week produced a small onion and - forcing a tear - opined to the Club’s website: “The consequences of not making the middle eight are first of all sporting. If we had been in the top four, we would have played the three other best Championship clubs and four Super League teams, a league that we wish to integrate into very soon…”  Very soon being at least a year away…

“We would have been able to measure up to these clubs and inevitably make significant progress by playing very high-level matches… two Super League teams would have to come to Blagnac, where we could have offered a great show to our supporters, and attracted new spectators…”  Instead of putting on crap games against the likes of us, Batley and Sheffield, eh, Bernard? C’est la vie…

“Finally,” he droned on, “the last consequence is of course financial – besides those games where we could have brought more people to Blagnac, the financial allowances allocated next season by the RFL, calculated according to the ranking this season, will obviously be less.” Clearly reserve-grade Aussies don’t come cheap.

So - having blown 2017 - did M. Sarrazain have any regrets from this challenging season? Seems so: “We regret the outcome of this first phase, but we still learn the lessons… of course we discussed this with the sports team and it was obvious to us that the still limited depth of our team was the main reason for our non-qualification. We are therefore already actively recruiting new players, of very high quality, for 2018.” Very high. The best. Ask anyone…

Just in case you haven’t had the opportunity to extrapolate the scale of how disappointed he’ll be next year when they choke again, Sarrazain was happy to set the bar: “… the main (objective) will of course be the top four at the end of the first phase. And, depending on how things are going, it could be that it turns into top two. We saw this season that the team was largely capable.”  

Of finishing fifth, yes.

As it is, Toulouse have begun their Championship Shield quest in relatively underwhelming fashion. An unconvincing round 1 win at Odsal was followed up by defeat at Dewsbury - with the Rams exploiting some frankly awful goal-line defence and a suspect looking middle to come home 36-34 winners.

We reckon TOXIIIC’s ordinary form can be attributed in part to the continuing absence of their Cook Islands international Jonathan Ford. The half-back has missed three months of the season having torn a pectoral muscle playing for his country way back in May - and he remains in doubt for Sunday’s clash.

Hornets too are feeling the injury pinch - announcing on Wednesday that they are likely to be stripped of six players for the trip to France. But occasional miracles do happen in Rugby League - and Blagnac has been known to deliver on that front so we travel, as always, with optimism.

Safe travels to the Hornets contingent making the trip - see you in Toulouse!

This weekend’s other games are:

Batley v Oldham
Sheffield v Dewsbury
Swinton v Bradford

Dewsbury need one win to guarantee their safety (With 10 points to play for, Oldham can only reach 21 and a win at Sheff-/Wake-field would give the Rams 22).  As previously, Hornets need to match or better Swinton’s results to maintain the status quo.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Number Crunched.

Hornets 14 - Batley 34

Jeez, where to start with this one.

Fundamentally, weight of numbers were the deciding factor in this horrendous mess of a game, perpetuated by what can only be described as inconsistent knee-jerk officiating.

Having started as a tight, combative encounter, this game became carved into a series of inedible chunks as referee Mr Grant lost his tenuous grip on both the laws and the game swirling around him.

As it was, Hornets were forced to play 10 v 12 at one point and ended the game on the wrong end of a 13-6 penalty count, deemed twice as bad as a Batley side that took the phrase ‘win at all costs’ to its extreme.

Wringing every last drop from their Championship experience, Batley capitalised on Mr Grant’s visible - and risible - lack of control, sucking Hornets into a shit-fight they were only ever going to lose.

After the game, Alan Kilshaw was incandescent with rage at the treatment meted out to his side at the hands of the officials - and in conversation with a Batley director post-game, even he conceded that Mr Grant had a shocker.

Long before the rot set in, Hornets started brightly - forcing an early drop-out, then creating a hole up the right edge for Jake Eccleston to step inside and score.

At this point, Batley were looking ragged, shipping penalties and, when Gaz Middlehurst was taken out after a last tackle kick, Danny Yates took the two for 6-nil.

Then two quick-fire penalties (Middlehurst in possession for not regaining his feet, then Jo Taira for what appeared to be for ‘rough play’) took Batley to within striking distance, where Scott made the extra man to score. Walker tied up the scores with the conversion.

Then a hint of what was to come. Gaz Middlehurst snagged for not being square at the play-the-ball, a frank exchange of views and then all hell broke loose. Batley coughed the penalty possession, Hornets handed them the ball straight back, then Reittie fumbled under attention from defenders. All pretty awful.

It was the cue for Batley to activate plan B. First, Jono Smith wiped out in back-play - Batley fans booing as he received attention. All class. Then Gaz Middlehurst hit late, Gav Bennion tripped as he broke the line, Farrell putting in a shoulder charge (ignored by the officials) and Yatesey decked at the play-the-ball. Batley placed on a team warning.

Hornets’ response was clinical - ball whipped wide to the right where Kev Penny scored with an acrobatic aerial plunge into the corner. Quality.

But the lead was short-lived. A poor last-tackle kick by Lewis Foster was followed by a penalty and Batley moved the ball to Ainscough who found space to score. Walker added the two and the visitors headed to the sheds 10-12 to the good.

If the first half was combative, the second was chaos - neither side seemingly capable of completing a set.

Hornets came up with a forward pass in the first set of the half, Batley’s response was a knock-on. Lewis Galbraith then muscled himself into open field, but his pass to Chris Riley was pretty awful. Batley’s response? A knock-on. Danny Yates also forced a pass to ground. Batley knocked-on.

It took almost 10 minutes for Hornets to settle: Lewis Galbraith running a great angle to take Hornets close. Jono Smith launching himself onto a flat last tackle pass only for the ball to come loose. Having taken a 20 minute sabbatical from his whistle, Mr Grant then gave Batley back-to-back penalties.

On 50 minutes, Jono Smith failed to come out of a tackle and, as he lay out cold on the field, he incurred the ire of the travelling fans who seem to think it’s perfectly ok to berate a player with concussion. Jono was taken, staggering, from the field.

Having shuffled the pack a bit (Jordan Case stepping in), Hornets dug in for some determined defence after Dec Kay fumbled a teasing bomb. Having stood firm for two consecutive sets, a Batley penalty five metres from the Hornets line proved too much and Bretherton broke through to score. Walker off the whitewash for 10-18.

As the penalty count began to rack-up, things became fractious. And when handbags after Crooke’s try on the hour ignited into a flurry of punches, Mr Grant dismissed Crooke and Middlehurst for fighting, yellow carding Ben Moore in the process.

Hornets were reduced to 10 men four minutes later when Jordan Case was sin-binned for use of the knees.

Hornets then belied their deficit, Chris Riley blasting a huge hole up the Hornets left to send Danny Yates dashing in from 50 metres to score for 14-22.

As it was, the weight of numbers finally told. Despite some heroic defence, Batley eventually did the maths for Bretherton to score, with Scott adding his second through a stretched defence on the hooter to blow-out the scoreline.

In the end, this pig-ugly scrapyard brawl of a game was one that Hornets were never likely to win. You can overcome a one-sided penalty count if you are able to compete on equal terms. And you can overcome a numerical deficit if you are given an opportunity to play. As it was, Hornets were given neither and Batley have way too much nous to shun such an opportunity.

Wearing our analytical head, it’s hard to see in a feisty contest like this, how one side can be deemed more than twice as bad as the other in terms of penalties - and it’s little wonder that frustrations boil over when players have no consistent template to play to.

Fortunately, results at Oldham and Swinton went in our favour, so Hornets live to fight another day. Hopefully, though, not quite as literally next time.

Friday, 11 August 2017

In the week where showed just how detached it is from the realities of running part-time clubs on small budgets and small staffs (they took a petulant pop at clubs for not updating their websites on a daily basis - only for us to find that their Championship and League 1 news pages were up to a week out of date), we discovered that - actually - the whole of Yorkshire's internet is running a week slow.

Thin skinned: The RL story that has Yorkshire horrified.
Every week, we scour the regional and local press (so you lovely people don't have to) in search of exciting, informative and entertaining snippets of news about our upcoming opposition. But this week has been a particular challenge. Not only does the Batley & Birstall News have no updated Bulldogs news beyond a report of their flogging of Swinton last week, that bastion of 'Yorkshireness' the Yorkshire Post carries zip, de nada, rien, absolutely no current Championship news.

Indeed, the main - and most current - Rugby League story on the  Batley & Birstall News left us a little puzzled (see above).

Batley began their Championship Shield challenge with a blistering bang, shoving 62 points through Swinton. Not only did they nil them in the second half, they scored 44 points in the process - having led 18-10 at the break.

The second half tsunami of points came - interestingly - in two waves. Two quickfire tries within six minutes of the restart, then nothing until beyond the hour mark whereupon they ran in six tries in the last 17 minutes (four of them in the last six minutes). So we can assume that Batley finish strongly.

Wayne's World: Reittie tells Deisel to 'do one'.
Once again, Pound-Shop Vin Diesel Wayne Reittie put himself about and weighed in with a brace of tries in a 12-try rout. Centre Sam Smeaton and full-back Dave Scott also grabbed doubles amongst eight try-scorers.

Batley currently sit 2nd in the Championship Shield table, eight points adrift of Toulouse - but Bulldogs coach Matt Diskin says they’re in the shield to win it. Speaking in the Yorkshire Post last week he said: “There is no arrogance, we know it is going to be a tough competition. The Championship is a really tough division and some teams in the bottom-eight have got the potential and quality to push for the top-four – like ourselves and Sheffield. We are not taking it lightly, we have to finish in a good place to get into the semi-finals.”

“Then when you get into semi-finals they are one-off games and anything can happen.”

Indeed, and when you start looking at the Shield as a series of one-off games in which anything can happen, it does change your perspective a bit.

Hornets performance at Dewsbury last week was well below par - but it’s a one-off, so let’s park that and move on. We’ve already seen this season what happens when you take the game to Batley - and barring a couple of shocking refereeing decisions towards the end of the game at Mount (un)Pleasant, Hornets were the far superior footballing side.

With Gaz Middlehurst, Rob Massam, Ben Moore and Dec Kay missing last week - on top of Lewis Palfrey and Miles Greenwood - Hornets lacked a little bit of both grunt and guile, so hopefully a few bodies back will help redress the situation.

Thankfully, other results in the bottom four fell in Hornets favour last week - the most eyecatching being Bradford’s defeat to Toulouse that saw the Bulls relegated in front of a sub-3,000 crowd.

This weekend’s other games are:
Dewsbury v Toulouse
Oldham v Bradford
Swinton v Sheffield

One thing is for certain - Sunday’s game will be a cracker. And, as we know, to avoid conjugating a constantly changing equation, a win keeps things nice and simple. Which is just the way we like it. See you Sunday.

Sunday, 6 August 2017


Dewsbury 56 - Hornets 8

Having been mercilessly flogged by Dewsbury a month ago, you’d hope that lessons had been learned about the Rams. How halves Sykes and Moore orchestrate pretty much everything, how they like to suck you into the middle and then shuttle ball to the edges to exploit the size of their three-quarter line.  But it was a serious case of Deja Vu for the noisy travelling Hornets contingent as they saw their side ship 11 tries to a well-drilled Dewsbury high on confidence.

The day’s most interesting stat was that seven of those 11 tries went through their right channel, where winger Potts grabbed four carbon-copy tries that he barely had to work for.

The afternoon had the sense of dread about it when Dewsbury opened the scoring on 6 minutes from a pass so far forward it appeared as if through a wormhole in the in-goal for Glover to touch down. Sykes added the extras for 6-nil.

Three minutes later Dewsbury went the other way, where Potts took advantage of a compressed defence to score by the flag. 10-nil and Hornets already behind the clock.

Hornets finally got some decent field position on 12 minutes, but Lewis Foster put a simple pass to ground on the second tackle to let the home side off the hook.

This seemed to panic Hornets and they began forcing passes that had little chance of reaching their intended recipients. Indeed, when another forced pass on the first tackle handed Dewsbury easy possession, they strolled upfield where Moore dinked a kick into space, a cruel bounce left Chris Riley stranded and Hallett gathered to walk in from 20 metres. 14-nil.

It wasn’t until the 21st minute that Hornets managed a cohesive attack, the ball fed wide up the left only for Jack Holmes to be bundled into touch.

With the half hour approaching, Hornets finally got on the scoreboard: Jono Smith’s outrageous show and go cleaving the home defence. No conversion, 14-4. The joy was short-lived, though as Dewsbury hit straight back with the softest of sucker-tries: Day strolling in from acting half as the goal-line defence switched off. Sykes the two for 20-4.

Then came the moment in which you knew this really wasn’t going to be Hornets’ day. A lovely flat ball sent Jake Eccleston clean through the guts of the Rams - only for referee Mr Campbell to pull it back for - at best - a dubious forward pass. And in the next passage of play Dewsbury produced a pass a metre forward from the base of the scrum for Potts to score (24-4).

But there was still time for more calamitous freakery. Lewis Foster slammed the kick-off high and long - looking for all the world like it was heading for the terracing behind the posts, but the ball hit the left upright, Dewsbury gathered possession and sent Glover the length of the field for his second of the afternoon. Shocker: half-time couldn’t come soon enough (28-4).

The second half began in much the same vein. On the first play of the half Dewsbury  got a penalty and, 45 seconds later, Potts was planting the ball by the flag for his hat-trick. 32-4 and Hornets fans reduced to scouring phones for news from Batley and Sheffield.

For 20 minutes the game descended into base comedy - a barely watchable farce at which no-one was laughing (even the Dewsbury fans struggled to raise their spirits and their voices). This was underlined as a rare Hornets attack ran in ever decreasing circles up its own fundament, to the point where Dewsbury looked embarrassed to gather the dropped ball.

Rams fullback Guzdek weighed in with a try on the hour, but even Hornets’ consolation try had a sense of the circus about it as a dropped pass was somehow back-heeled by Jake Eccleston into the hands of Chris Riley, who muscled his way over the whitewash for 38-8.

Having seen enough, this game had not so much a sting in its tail, but a monumental kick in the spuds as Hornets folded in the last 8 minutes to ship three frankly awful tries.

Firstly Potts produced his now standard stroll to the flag; Day took the piss by ambling from acting half to score under the black dot and - at the very death - what was (by some distance) the most embarrassing try conceded this season: the ball run 60 metres up the heart of the Hornets defence straight from the kick-off, Glover on hand to nudge off some sloppy tackles to grab his hat-trick. Sykes the two for 56-8 to put the lid on an afternoon to forget.

In the 14 hours between the final hooter and writing this review, we’ve struggled to find many positives. Certainly, having scored a well-made try and come back onto the field after a head injury, Jono Smith was (by some distance) the Hornets man of the match. Beyond that, we can only point to the fact that Oldham and Swinton also got hammered, so things stay much the same in the bottom four, as Dewsbury ease themselves towards safety.

As we always like to end on an upbeat note - Bradford’s loss to Toulouse at Odsal in front of a crowd beginning with a 2 (2,753) saw the former world club champions relegated to the third tier.

And  on this showing, it’s going to be a tense six weeks to see who follows them.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Sunday's Coming: Dewsbury

Horror Show: The jury's out on
Dewsbury's new mascot
After a frustrating delay caused by uncertainty of Swinton’s ability to fulfil its next seven fixtures, we finally have the details of the games that will define Hornets 2017 season.

There is much talk amongst coaches in the eight that the next seven weeks is effectively a series of cup-finals - and, with the 8s fundamentally becoming a zero-sum exercise, every point is going to count.

Speaking in the Dewsbury reporter, Rams coach Neil Kelly boiled down the impact he’s had since he joined the rams.

“… we’ve already got more points this season than the whole of last year. If the season started with Batley at home, which was my first game, we’ve got more points in 15 games than the whole season last year. We are not mathematically safe, but if we don’t win a game in the eights – and I’d hope that won’t happen – Oldham have to win three to climb above us.”

“If we win one, they have to win four. That seems a bit unrealistic. “We realise the job is not done, but I have given the players this week off because their efforts up to now have been superb.”

Having lost their first eight games straight, Kelly’s Rams won 8 of their last 15, ending the regular season with five wins from their last six games to scramble over Hornets into 8th place. It’s an incredible transformation.

With his eyes on a Shield top four finish, Kelly was busy ahead of the deadline, adding former Oldham and Sheffield Eagles utility Tommy Ashton (whose time at Bower Fold was curtailed by a knee injury), former Featherstone and Sheffield second-rower Michael Knowles (17 starts for Fev this year) and French International utility forward Mickaƫl Goudemand. Ashton and Goudemand are on deals for the remainder of this season, Knowles until the end of 2018.

Games against the Rams this season have been pretty polarised in their outcomes. Having handed ‘old’ Dewsbury a 46-nil flogging in the opening game, the ‘new improved’ Rams reciprocated with a 40-10 win at the Tetley Stadium in July, orchestrated by half back partnership Paul Sykes and Gareth Moore.

As everyone does at this stage of the season, we started to do some complex maths to try and work out potential permutations and possible outcomes over the next few weeks.

With 7 games/14 points to play for:

Bradford have 0 pts: maximum possible = 14
Oldham  have 11pts: maximum possible = 25
Swinton have 12pts: maximum possible = 26
Hornets have 15pts: maximum possible = 29
Dewsbury have 16pts: maximum possible = 30

Already, Bradford can’t catch Hornets, effectively leaving four clubs avoiding one relegation place. If Hornets were to win at Dewsbury (17pts) and Oldham were to lose at Sheffield (11pts), Oldham would need to win four of their remaining six games to overhaul Hornets. They’ve only won five of their previous 23. Hornets also have a +102 points difference advantage over Oldham. A draw on Sunday would haul Hornets back into 8th place (Dewsbury having a -125 points difference deficit on Hornets).

Having crunched the numbers, though, we boiled it down to one basic view:  if Hornets match - or better - Swinton and Oldham’s results, we stay up.

The other games this weekend are:
Batley v Swinton
Bradford v Toulouse
Sheffield v Oldham

This really is crunch-time: as everyone says, a series of cup-finals. Last time out at Dewsbury the Hornets fans were superb. Now we need a cup-final effort. Get yourself over to Dewsbury on Sunday and get behind the lads. The 18th man has never been this crucial. See you there.