Monday, 11 September 2017

Second That Emotion

Sheffield 26 - Hornets 22

Rugby League is a game that puts you through the wringer - and this was an afternoon of mixed emotions.

Having taken the game to a stultifyingly dull Sheffield Eagles all afternoon, Hornets were thwarted at the death by a breakaway try as they went in search of the knockout punch. Heartbreaking.

At the same time, news came through from Heywood Road that Swinton had condemned Oldham to the third tier next year, thus securing Hornets’ place in the Championship for another season. Jubilation.

You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

What is certain is that this was a bold effort from Hornets - starting the game on the front foot and producing a performance of composure and control.

From the moment Lewis Galbraith gathered the Hornets kick-off, Sheffield looked second best. And when Lewis Palfrey launched a booming 40/20 after just four minutes, Hornets slipped the ball across the line for Kev Penny to score acrobatically in the corner. Danny Yates on target from the whitewash and Hornets ahead of the clock at 0-6.

Yatesey stretched Hornets lead soon after - an infringement in the tackle giving him a simple shot at goal: 0-8

But when Sheffield hoisted the kick-off into the swirling wind, Dec Kay looked in all kinds of trouble and his fumble led to a gift try for the ‘home’ side: Fozzard slumping in from a yard - a classic sucker try. Owens converted from in front and - from nowhere - Sheffield were suddenly In the game.

Indeed, they even had the temerity to edge ahead when Millar played a one-two with Lo, who looked to have put a foot on the dead ball-line in the grounding. 10-8.

But Hornets remained proactive - continuing to take the game to Sheffield, great defence forcing errors. And when Sheffield transgressed at the ruck, Danny Yates gratefully took the two to level the scores.

Then the comment of the day: Sheffield’s Garry Lo coughing a poor pass under no pressure drew the shout, “Oi, Gary - how ‘Lo’ can you go?” Genius.

Sheffield applied some late pressure to no avail - big defence and a timely interception clearing the lines, the half ending with a great clearing kick from Lewis Galbraith with 10 seconds on the clock.

There was just enough time for Sheffield to throw a tantrum because they packed their scrum as the clock ticked down but weren’t allowed to feed it after the hooter. Half-time, a tense ten-all.

Hornets began the second half in determined mood: some impressively direct approach-play capped by a neat pass from Jordan Case sent Matty Hadden skittling defenders to score under the black dot. And when a break from Ryan Maneely up the guts of the Eagles just two minutes later led to Jake Eccleston threading Jack Holmes in by the corner post (Yatesey imperious off the whitewash), Hornets looked good value for their 10-22 lead.

But Sheffield are nothing if not obdurate. Plying their own special brand of ham-fisted anti-football they bludgeoned their way back into the game. A 52nd minute last-tackle kick into the in-goal saw Owens touch down. And, on the back of a series of increasingly puzzling penalties, Wheeldon’s try under the posts had an air of inevitability about it.  Owens converted and the home ‘crowd’ could be heard cheering somewhere in the distance. 22-all.

Hornets then proceeded to chuck the kitchen sink at the Eagles, but were hindered by some frankly brutal decisions from referee Mr Dolan.

Having forced a drop-out, Hornets drove the ball back towards the Sheffield line, where Lewis Hatton was the victim of a blatant spear tackle. Having taken no action, Mr Dolan was super keen to then snag Hornets for not playing the ball properly.

And when Miles Greenwood sneaked over from close range in the 67th minute, Mr Dolan looked to have pointed to the spot, only to change his mind.

Hornets were then bizarrely pulled for offside as they executed an acting half kick into the in-goal. Curiouser and curiouser…

On 74 minutes, Mr Dolan caught Sheffield offside - but Yatesey hooked the penalty agonisingly wide. The tension was wound even tighter two minutes later when Lewis Palfrey’s drop-goal attempt struck the upright. Hornets forced a drop-out from the rebound, this time Gav Bennion called ‘held-up’ over the line.

With the game ebbing away, Sheffield took full advantage of a freak ricochet from Danny Yates’ grubber. Home centre Whiteley carried the ball 70 metres, only to be reeled in by a phenomenal defensive effort from Gav Bennion, but as Hornets’ retreating defence scrambled into shape, Sheffield worked the ball to Yere who had just enough space to score. Devastating.

With a side shorn of regulars, this was close to the performance of the season: gritty, hard-working and full of bravado. Sheffield are the archetypal immovable object: playing a brand of ugly, low-torque, bulldozing football that’s hard to endure. What it lacks in style it makes up for in relentless, glacial momentum - but Hornets found a way to counter their runaway canal-barge style and came agonisingly close to taking something from this game.

But while emotions in the moment were raw with disappointment, they were countered with the deep satisfaction that Hornets had secured Championship status for 2018. And the magnitude of that achievement is not to be underestimated.

Written off as racing certs for the wooden spoon at the start or the year - most notably by Garry Schofield - Alan Kilshaw and his players have done the seemingly impossible.

Fitting then that the over-riding emotion at the end of this game was one of immense pride in a job well done. And we second that wholeheartedly.