Sunday, 25 November 2018

2019 Fixtures Have Landed!

Dewsbury Rams (H)

Toronto Wolfpack (H)

Toulouse Olympique XIII (A)

Batley Bulldogs (A)

Barrow Raiders (H)

York City Knights (H)

Leigh Centurions (A)

Widnes Vikings (H)

Halifax RLFC (H)

Swinton Lions (A)

Sheffield Eagles (H)

Bradford Bulls (A)

Featherstone Rovers (H)

Swinton Lions

Barrow Raiders (A)

Dewsbury Rams (A)

York City Knights (A)

Sheffield Eagles (A)

Swinton Lions (H)

Widnes Vikings (A)

Toulouse Olympique XIII (H)

Featherstone Rovers (A)

Batley Bulldogs (H)

Leigh Centurions (H)

Toronto Wolfpack (A)

Halifax RLFC (A)

Bradford Bulls (H)


Monday, 1 October 2018

The Great Escape

Sheffield Eagles 22 - Hornets 32

Hornets fans travelled in good numbers to witness The Great Escape. Handed a last chance in the last chance saloon, Hornets had to better Swinton’s result at Batley to pull off another Rugby League Miracle and secure Championship football for another year.  In the bleak surrounds of Sheffield’s Olympic Legacy Park Stadium (some ’stadium’. Some legacy!) Hornets sought to defy the gravitational pull of the League 1 Ridiculous Relegation Shithouse Playoff™, needing to produce back-to-back wins for the first time this season at the home of our bogey side.

But it all started so terribly badly: Richard Lepori uncharacteristically losing a high bomb in the swirling wind, Sheffield getting to a last tackle dink into the in-goal and Broadbent touching down with just four minutes on the clock. Thomas the extras for a 6-nil lead. Three minutes later, the home side broke again, but this time chasers of the last tackle kick were deemed offside by the RFL’s uber-pedant Mr Grant.

Hornets’ gears finally engaged on 10 minutes when a Danny Yates kick was allowed to bounce and Toby Adamson gathered on the run to score: 6-4. But the hard work was very nearly undone: Tyler Whittaker dropping the kick-off, Hornets then shipping back to back penalties to give Sheffield easy, un-earned pressure.

The home side turned the screw, forcing two consecutive drop-outs. For three sets the big home pack pounded the Hornets line, but their blunt-instrument approach foundered on a resolute Hornets defence. Sheffield’s reward for 10 minutes of relentless pressure? A knock-on followed by a soft penalty. Hornets’ punishment of the Eagles’ profligacy was swift: Firstly Deon Cross intercepting a lazy pass to blast fully 80 metres to score, then - on the quarter - Lee Mitchell hitting a short ball at pace, showing good strength to bully-off defenders to plant the ball down. Mayhem amongst the visiting fans; Tyler Whittaker slotting the extras for 6-14.

With Sheffield now reduced to impotent jabbing, Hornets soaked up what little danger they offered, the only other score of the half a Tyler Whittaker penalty on the hooter to give Hornets a 6-16 lead at the break. With Swinton tanking at Batley, Hornets’ Championship future was firmly in their own hands.

It was the home side, however, who started the second half the brighter. With Seta Tala removed after just three minutes of the second half with a head injury, Sheffield took advantage of a reshuffling edge defence: Burns scoring, despite what looked like an obstruction in the build up.

Justice was served immediately, as Sheffield dropped the kick-off. Hornets didn’t need a second invitation: whipping the ball wide for Jack Fox to stride round a static defence and score. Tyler Whittaker raised the flags and Hornets looking comfortable at 12-22. Then two moments of momentum shift…

On 50 minutes Sheffield hoisted a huge penalty downfield, where Aston took advantage of a Hornets defender rushing out of the line to score. Then Billy Brickhill forced a pass coming out of yardage; Sheffield untypically incisive, with Spedding cashing in. From nowhere - and having showed no desire to play any football whatsoever - Sheffield were level at 22-all. Shredded nerves weren’t helped by Mr Grant’s ridiculous application of a Hornets team warning for an obstruction.

With Swinton taking a flogging at Batley, Hornets had 20 minutes to find a way to win, to salvage the season.

On 66 minutes Hornets took the ball deep into Eagles territory; Tyler Whittaker lofted a teasing kick into the swirling September sky - Sheffield defenders backpedalling, uncertain. Spedding now turned patsy, the ball bouncing off his chest into the arms of the on-rushing Jo Taira - the Suva Express too strong to stop. Tyler Whittaker - somehow - hitting the upright with the conversion: 22-26. The clock now our enemy.

Sheffield Steal: Tyler Whittaker seals the deal with a late try
With Sheffield reduced to five plodding drives and a rubbish hoof downfield, Hornets went in search of the coup-de-grace. It arrived with just 120 seconds of the season remaining. More good approach work from Hornets, Tyler Whittaker showing great footwork to sashay through a flat-footed defence to score the try that sent the Hornets fans into a frenzy. For good measure, he slammed home the extras. The hooter ignited scenes of joy and relief.

Once again, Hornets have defied the odds and produced another Rugby League miracle. Given a glint of hope, Alan Kilshaw’s battered, busted and broken side have risen to the challenge, and shown that we may be a small club, but we have a huge heart. All that remains is to thank Killer and his backroom staff for keeping us going right to the very end; to thank every player who’s pulled on a shirt for what looked like a lost cause at times; to thank Steve Kerr for a steady hand on the tiller when it looked like all was lost. And to thank every Hornets fan for keeping the faith - espcially in the darkest of hours.

This season has tested every one of us to the limit. But if what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, let’s push Onward Hornets, Onward.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Sunday's Coming: Sheffield Eagles

Sunday sees Hornets travel to Sheffield Eagles in what is a proper, old-skool shit-or-bust contest on which the immediate future of our club hangs.

But coming into this one, it’s Sheffield suffering the existential crisis: players seemingly no longer caring and a coach in despair.

With no win in four, we reckon it’s safe to say that morale is through the floor at the Attercliffe Common Community Kick Pitch™. After the Eagles home defeat against a busted Barrow side with only three viable substitutes (NB: also their first away win of the year), Coach Mark Aston was inconsolable. Speaking in League Weekly he said: “The team that wanted it more won. They’ll now finish above us and justfiably so. I have no complaints.”

Of his players he said: “Why do they play the game? It should be for the love of the game, not to pay your bills. If you’re not professional, would you play amateur? Go and ask some of my guys and see what they say.”

And Aston was brutally honest on his own feelings: “We’ve hit rock bottom. This will probably go down as the lowest point of Sheffield Eagles for me persojally. The good thing is we only have one more week left.”

Speaking in the Sheffield Star, he continued in much the same vein: ““It frustrates the life out of me. I do not know what that represents because it doesn't represent this club and what we stand for. There's three sessions and one game to go and then I can put it to bed and then move on because it gets more painful.”

 “Even if we won (against Hornets) would it end on a high? Not really because the performances and the mentality and what we are in that changing room is not what we stand for and what we are about. It has petered out. Does it surprise me? Not one iota.”

Grounds for Complaint: Somewhere along the line,
the vision for the Olympic Legacy Park got diluted.
In the five years since the demolition of Don Valley Stadium , the Eagles have led a peripatetic existence - and the return to the new ‘ground’ in Sheffield was heralded as a saving grace for the club. But as recently as June it was  reported that the annual cost of the Eagles using the facilities at the OLP had nearly quadrupled from an initial estimate of £30,000 - (more than they ever paid at the DVS) - to more than £115,000. Quite a bill for a plastic pitch, a plastic fence, a plastic tent containing plastic seats - and plastic Portaloos.

In the latest episode of Rugby League’s longest running soap-opera, site owners The Scarborough Group announced last month that the £5m developmnent of the site into a bona-fide 3,900-capacity stadium has finally been rubber-stamped. Development is envisaged to start next February and take a year. Designs suggest that it will will comprise a grandstand on one side and and terracing on the other three.  But don’t hold your breath…

Hornets come into this game on the back of a morale-boosting win over Dewsbury Rams. In the aftermath,  disappointed Rams Coach Neil Kelly handed in his notice stating ‘personal reasons’ for his departure.

Having already played two ‘most important games in the club’s recent history’, there’s no doubt that - in light of the restructure - Sunday’s game takes on imperative, must-win, Cup Final status. With Swinton facing an uphill task at Batley (see what we did there?), a win or a draw at the OLP and a defeat for the Lions would secure Hornets’ Championship status for another year and condemn our near neighbours to play in the Ridiculous Relegation Shithouse Playoff™.

But it means laying an almighty bogey. Traditionally Sheffield has been a graveyard where wins are scarce. Having battled through 26 rounds against the odds, Hornets now have 80 minutes to prove everyone wrong: expecially Ralph (the) Rimmer, who has been mentioning us as defacto Ridiculous Relegation Shithouse Playoff™ fodder since the restructure took place.

It’s time for every Hornet to stand-up and be counted: 80 minutes left to give everything we have - on and off the field - to salvage the season and set us up for the future. All Rugby League fans want is to watch our teams play in games that mean something - and this one is huge. Indeed, it’s gladiatorial.

We implore all Hornets fans to make one last effort to get over to Sheffield and give your all in support of the lads. It’s a big ask - but it’s a big task. We need everyone on deck. With enough willing voices, we could make this feel like a home game - and we need every advantage we can.

See you Sunday. Bring your singing voice.

Directions for Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park:

(Post code S9 3TL)

- Follow M62 and M1 to Tinsley Viaduct/A631 in Sheffield. Take exit 34 from M1
- Follow Tinsley Viaduct/A631 / Attercliffe Common/A6178
- At Meadowhall Roundabout, take the 3rd exit onto Tinsley Viaduct/A631
- At the roundabout, take the 5th exit onto Sheffield Rd/A6178
- At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto A6178
- At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto Attercliffe Common/A6178
- At the roundabout, take the 1st exit and stay on Attercliffe Common/A6178

And finally...
Half an idea for an impromptu Hornets fundraiser: Sheffield ordinarily charge £17 to get in at their games, but on Sunday are only charging a fiver. Given the saving, how do people feel about donating a tenner of that saving to Hornets? You'll still be £2 up on the deal and we can help Hornets cover some of our running costs.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Gritty Hornets Go The Distance

Hornets 26 Dewsbury 22

“I realise a miracle is due, I dedicate this melody to you. But is this the stuff dreams are made of?”
Second Skin, The Chameleons

This last week people have spoken much about lifelines, last-chances and miracle escapes. Post match, interim Hornets chair Peter Rush spoke of ’two lifelines’ for staying in the Championship - but we’d like to hope that that’ll be one too many for our requirements.

A robust, gritty performance from a never-say-die Hornets pulled us level with a Swinton side who tossed away a half-time lead to ship a bagful of second-half points.

But things started awfully for Hornets: 10-nil down in as many minutes as Knowles made the extra man to exploit a stretched defence and then Delaney under the black dot off a Sykes break.

The Hornets cogs finally clicked when Rob Massam out-jumped Worrincy to tap the ball back to the prowling Seta Tala to score.

Dewsbury then produced a phase of shapeless, shoddy play - a series of knock-ons and penalties relieving what little pressure they applied. Hornets, however, strove to keep the ball alive - and when Richard Lepori’s neat break created space out-wide he fed Deon Cross in to score: 8-10.

With both sides now struggling to complete sets, fluid football was at a premium: Ben Moores held up from short range, Danny Yates’ attempted intercept slipping from his fingers…

On the half-hour Hornets struck lucky: a lazy Rams pass was scooped up by Deon Cross who hit the afterburners to blaze on from fully 70 metres, Hornets in front.

On 35 minutes, Dewsbury’s fullback spilled a straightforward pass, Hornets drove the ball to the line and, as defenders around him switched off, Dec Gregory produced the cheekiest of tries from half a metre, reaching round static defenders to plant the ball by the upright. Tyler Whittaker with the extras - and a late penalty for good measure to give Hornets an impressive half-time lead, courtesy of 20 unanswered points.

That became 26 just five minutes into the second half. More direct approach work from Hornets; Lewis Hatton arriving at pace onto a beautiful short-ball to score a try that was eye-catchingly elegant in its sheer simplicity. Tyler Whittaker slammed home the two  and Hornets looking comfortable at 26-10.

The next half hour became a war of attrition: Hornets delivering some committed defence as they ran out of substitutes (Joe Ryan and Dec Gregory with shoulder injuries; Joe Taira pressed back into late action despite a knee injury).

Meantime, Dewsbury threw the kitchen sink at a Hornets rearguard that refused to crack. Their only response a flukey 70m intercept from Worrincy, Sykes whittling the deficit to 10 points with 10 minutes to play.

Short on bodies, Hornets sucked in for a desperate finish, but when Delaney exploited an exhausted defence on 76 minutes (Sykes the extras) - from nowhere Dewsbury were within striking distance at 26-22.

It’s at times like this teams need to find a way to win. To refuse to lose.  Dewsbury with the momentum, Hornets throwing knackered bodies into tackles - this really was a case of ‘last man standing’.

With the clock showing 70 seconds remaining, Dewsbury took the ball to the heart of the Hornets defence - only for it to slip loose. Hornets played down the clock; Dewsbury conceding a penalty as the hooter sounded: Ben Moores running the tap into touch to give Rochdale Hornets a genuine shot at the impossible next week at Sheffield.

With 80 minutes of the 2018 season remaining, the maths are brutally simple: Hornets win or draw at Sheffield, and Swinton lose at Batley and we stay up. Any other permutation takes us all into the unknown of the RFL’s Riduculous Relegation Shithouse Playoff™.  Having been relegated once in a Championship reastructure (when the RFL sent five down in 2014) we’d like to think we’re owed a break.

If you’ve ever prayed, pray now. If you’ve never prayed, now’s a good time to start. A miracle is due…

Friday, 21 September 2018

Sunday's Coming: Dewsbury Rams

This week, Rugby League fans crawled blinking from their fallout shelters to watch the sun rise over a brave new world where Super League calls the shots and everyone else follows in line awaiting their share of the crumbs.

Ralph (‘the’) Rimmer has drawn a metaphorical ‘Line in the Sand’ over structural arguments in an attempt to halt the internecine squabbling that has blighted relationships within the game - but the game’s Yorkshire-led militant wing are still seething tnis week after nine Championship and League 1 clubs voted - turkey-style - for Xmas.

Thd most immediately visible impact on the game is in the structure:  a 12 team Super League, a 14 team Championship a 12 team League 1 - and the death knell for the Super 8s as Super League’s protectionist standpoint (why DOES everything in this game HAVE to have to be described as ’super’?), makes only one direct promotion place available

Unless you’ve been in a coma for a fortnight, you can’t fail to have been stunned by the almost unfathonmable stupidity of the systen the RFL has come up with to extend the Champioonship to 14 clubs. Rather than just stick with two up (as League one has played for all season) and suspend relegation for a year, the brains at Red Hall have come up with a convoluted playoff between the loser of the League 1 promotion playoff final and the bottom club in the Championship.

As things stand, that would see York promoted automatically, Bradford strong favourites to win the promotion playoff, leaving Doncaster, Workington or Whitehaven as potential opponents for the 12th placed championship club. If that’s not ridiculous enough for you, the game that no-one wants is scheduled to take place on the weekend of 13th/14th of October - when most players are extremely liklely to be on holidays booked since January.

And if none of that causes you to doubt the sanity of the RFL, the venue for this Ridiculous Relegation Shithouse Playoff™ will be decided by a coin toss. Risible.

What all this knavish chicanery does do is offer Hornets the slightest of lifelines. All we have to do is not finish bottom. And all we have to do to achieve that is win the last two games and hope Swinton don’t win again.

Worth noting that Swinton have a +82 points difference advantage over Hornets, so winning just one of the remaining games would require a) us to put on a big score and b) Swinton to ship a bagful - the alternative might be having to go to Whitehaven having failed on points difference. Imagine that…

Game one of Hornets’ series of two ‘cup finals’ arrives on Sunday when the Rams of Dewsbury heave into view. Comfortably ensconced in 4th place in the now redundant Championship Shield, Dewsbury have demonstrated that it is possible for a relatively small club to make a meaningful dent in the Championship.

The Rams come to Spotland on the back of a 40-28 defeat at Featherstone; a game which coach Neil Kelly saw as mistake-ridden. Speaking in the Dewsbury Reporter this week he said that he thought Dewsbury could have given a better account of themselves:  “ … I thought we could have given a better account of ourselves. If we had given a better account of ourselves, maybe we would have threatened to win the game instead of just making for a high-scoring game.”

Shipping three tries at the end of the first half left the Rams with too much to do, and Kelly recognises that his side has errors in them:  “We do enough wrong to take away from the massive amount of things that we do right. Moments like that, just before half time and moments like that in the second half are the reasons why we are not higher in the league this year.

It is typical of the Dewsbury season this year, you show a bit of promise and then you do something wrong.”

Key to Dewsbury’s effectiveness is wiry/wily veteran half Paul Sykes. Last week he racked up his 500th point for the Rams (now 515 points in 82 appearances). Impressive.

Meantime, Hornets remain frustratingly close to grabbing some much-needed points. An eight point defeat to Leigh reflected our season in microcosm: dazzling football, undeniable commitment - and a recurring raft of sloppy errors that simply place too much pressure on the defence in all the wrong bits of the field.

Whilst the league table doesn’t lie, it would be exasperating to exit the Championship as ‘nearly men’.  With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Hornets have 160 minutes of the 2018 season remaining to prove people wrong.

Time to be bold.

See you Sunday.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Strange Times

Hornets 16 - Leigh 24

It’s been a surreal week; one in which perspective has been bent like the melting clock in Dali's picture. Nothing is at it seems. Everything is in flux.

Having begun in doubt, it ended with the crazy notion of an unscheduled, unaccounted-for, unbudgeted Championship/League 1 survival shoot-out game in which both participants are likely to struggle to find 17 players willing to cancel hard-earned holidays or drag their battered bodies round one more time, just so Ralph Rimmer can sleep at night pretending to have out-negotiated Robert Elstone.

All the talk ahead of Sunday’s game was of this Ridiculous Relegation Shithouse Playoff™: What? When? Where? Who? And, for the love of god, why?

Pretty much everyone we spoke to ahead of the Leigh game (and we’ll get to that debacle shortly) was scratching their heads as to why the RFL (and it was their decision) didn’t just go for the simple, straightforward option of two up and no relegation. But then it wouldn’t be Rugby League if it hadn’t come up with the most convoluted, hard-to-execute, shithouse plan available.

And it was to this backdrop that Hornets took a laughably bereft Leigh to the wire in a stop-start contest that delivered 22 penalties courtesy of the eccentric refereeing style of Mr McMullen.

His interpretation of the laws left players, club officials and fans alike confused and frustrated in equal parts as what started as an intriguing contest between contrasting philosophies degenerated into a series of skirmishes that crushed the rhythm out of the game.

But it had started so well: Hornets with some early pressure after Blagbrough had flapped at a high kick, then Richard Lepori exposing Leigh’s woeful lack of pace out wide as he skipped and skinned the visitors’ entire right edge defence from 60 metres. Tyler Whittaker the two and the Leigh fans stunned into silence.

Staright from the kick-off Hornets went back to Leigh’s dodgy right edge. This time Seta Tala with the break, Richard Lepori in support and his inside ball slotted Danny Yates undert the black dot. Too easy, it seemed. Tyler Whittaker the extras and Hornets 12-nil up after just six minutes.

Again, Hornets went back to the same spot, but this time Leigh’s defence was awake to hold Rob Massam up in-goal. A whirlwind start.

Leigh finally troubled the scoreboard after 15 minutes when Walne went plodding in from close range, Reynolds on target: 12-6

Leigh’s lack of pace was highlighted again on 18 minutes when their winger Bailey broke with open field ahead of him, only to get caught by prop Jo Taira. Not a good look.

But Bailey overcame his embarassment two plays later - the spare man on a big overlap to walk in by the flag. Reynolds hoisted the conversion attempt comedically wide: 12-10.

Leigh took advantage of Hornets’ switch of hookers on 20 minutes; with the defensive line rejigging, they put the ball through hands to send Bergal in at the corner. Reynolds better from the other touchline and - from nowhere - Leigh ahead 12-16.

Thankfully, Leigh’s discipline is pretty ordinary and Tyler Whittaker slotted home a pair of matching penalties to send the sides in at the break locked-up at 16-all.

The second half began a bit of a shapeless mess. Plenty of huffing and puffing from Leigh, ending in a series of knock-ons as they ran out of ideas: Hornets forcing passes, snagged for obstruction…

On 51 minutes frustrations boiled over: a 26 man scuffle ending with Larroyer and Toby Adamson yellow-carded as instigators. Then just five minutes later both sides reduced to eleven - Bergal appearing to throw a punch/push at Richard Lepori: both players sent to consider their actions.

This heralded a phase where both sides struggled to control the ball; Mr McMullen ticking his way thorugh the ‘I-Spy book of Penalties’ to compound the fragmenting nature of the game.

With 17 minutes still to play, Leigh blinked first in an attempt to break the deadlock; Reynolds’ drop-goal attempt 30 feet wide. Feeling left-out, Hornets went upfield where Tyler Whittaker was rushed into missing his attempt by even more.

The stalemate was broken on 63 minutes when Luke Adamson landed a resounding slap around the chops of Hutchinson. Reynolds edging Leigh ahead with the penalty.

Hornets hearts were broken on 65 minutes when a last tackle Leigh kick going nowhere was - seemingly - knocked on by Larroyer, who planted the ball down more in hope than expectation. With pretty much everyone in the ground anticipating a scrum, Mr McMullen gave a try. Reynolds the two and Leigh flattered at 16-24.

With 15 to play Hornets were compelled to chase the game, but passes were forced, fumbled: Rob Massam the preferred outlet, but unable to capitalise (a high ball squirming from his fingers, bundled into touch as he rounded his opposite number). Ultimately - despite their best efforts - Hornets were unable to unlock a Leigh defence that pretty much parked the bus, hanging on to grab the win.

As the Hornets players gathered together after the hooter, we were left to contemplate 80 minutes that represented the season in microcosm: undoubted commitment - but too many errors and no real abilty to find the knock-out punch with opponents on the ropes.

In reality, though, you have to consider the journey both sides have taken to get to this point. Hornets against the odds, plugging away: Leigh having burned £1.2 million to finish the season eight points better. Their future as uncertain as ours.

Indeed, Derek Beaumont spent a sizeable chunk of the second half bemoaning the performance of Mr McMullen. Like a punchy ex-fighter recounting his ‘could have been a contender’ moment, he was overheard saying: “This was the guy who did us over at Barrow. If it wasn’t for him, we’d have made the top four.”

While he goes off to stare into the void that used to be Leigh’s bank account, Hornets look to suck in for a big finish to 2018. Swinton’s defeat at Barrow (instigated by three Raiders tries scored while George Tyson was sat in the sin-bin) leaves the door open for a way of avoiding the Ridiculous Relegation Shithouse Playoff™. Two wins for us and two defeats for Swinton salvage our season.

It’s a surreal world for sure - and the melting clock is ticking.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Sunday's Coming: Leigh (Plus an Existential Crisis)

Where to start with the profligate basket-case that is Leigh Centurions. Rumoured to have burned a jaw-dropping £1.25m this year (a £750k + a £500k parachure payment from SL’s slush-fund), the Leythers spectacularly imploded: missing out on the top-four, brutally cost-cutting to get to the end of the season, a mass player exodus - and owner Derek Beaumont turning off the money-tap as he prepares to walk away from the burning wreckage.
Bonfire of the Vanities: Derek Beaumont burns a million quid.

We have the list of departees as: Daniel Mortimer , Kyle Lovett. Peter Matautia, Harrison Hansen, Bodene Thompson, Jordan Thompson, Ben Crooks, Craig Hall - and ‘football director’ Keiron Cunningham .

Word from the mean streets of Leigh is that Centurions coach Kieron Purtill has been busy converting local amateurs playing in Leigh’s reserve side to first-grade contracts to make-up the numbers.

Leigh are still a very capable side though, coming into Sunday’s game on the back of a 54-10 flogging of Swinton (who were nilled in the second half - force-fed 34 unanswered points). Indeed, since the arse fell out of the club, Leigh have won four of their last five games - their only defeat coming at Post Office Road against a Fev side with only 14 fit players.

That defeat will probably cost Leigh home advantage in the final of the ‘Trophy That No-one Wants To Win™’ - the  Championship Shield.  Lovers of irony will appreciate that two clubs who bet the farm on getting in the top four, failed, suffered a player exodus, made a shitload of noise in the media about having lost a fortune, then packaged it as a ‘restructure’ to make themselves feel less guilty about their reckless spending, wlll have their hubris rewarded with a cup final.

Derek Beaumont was trying his hardest to put a positive spin on the Championship Shield in a statrement on the club’s website last month: “… before I go we have the chance to win one last thing, something we have never won before, and it would be great if we could go out on a high from such a low position and get that final to be at LSV and lift the Shield for our outstanding fans…”

After the Featherstone defeat, that’s highly liklely to be another target missed.

It’s interesting that we debate the significant risks involved in gambling everything on (over-) reaching for the promised-land of Super League on the day when the game faces what feels like one of the most decisive days in its recent history.

Today the Championship and League one clubs stand against a proposed SL restructure/re-cut of funding that could see money funneled out of the lower tiers and into the top flight beyond the new TV deal in 2021.

Cash Crisis: the figures provided at Thursday's
Championship/League 1 Clubs Advisory Group
Press Conference at Odsal.
Indeed, the two issues of ’structure’ and ‘funding’ have become inextricablty entwined as i) Super League Europe Ltd. seek to remove the ‘jeopardy’ of putting four clubs in peril every year - and maintain the level of funding that they’ve become used to: ii) Championship and League 1 clubs seek to maintan a more open pathway to Super League and retain the level of central funding that they see as vital to their survival and iii) the RFL dithers somewhere in between, given that the money it receives from the TV deal - as a governing body - is generously handed down from Super League Europe Ltd for distribution.

So what we have here is a three-way stand-off: Super League controls the money, but can’t push through a structure change; the RFL controls the structure, but not the money coming into the game; the Championship/League 1 clubs (plus the seven RFL council votes held by the community game) have the voting clout to stifle Super League’s plans, but have no control over the amount of funding they receive.

It’s a divisive issue - and one that will test clubs’ consciences and alliances to the limit. Given TLCRF80mins position of treating anything that Super League Europe Ltd does with extreme suspicion (they do what’s good for them first and don’t consider the whole-game), we stand behind any option that helps secure the future of all clubs - big and small.

There are clubs in Super League who were previously in the Championship - and clubs in League 1 who were previously in ‘The Elite’ - and everyone could do well to remember that success is cyclical. Votes cast today represent one moment in time, so we urge clubs to consider what’s best for the whole game, long-term.

See you Sunday - assuming we're still here...

Monday, 10 September 2018

Hornets Succumb to the Weight of Numbers

Batley 26 - Hornets 12

“Hear the unforgiving sound of cold mathematics making its move on me now”
Mathematics, Cherry Ghost.

And so, the 2018 season’s equation is finally conjugated. With six points left to play for and Barrow seven points away, Hornets could no longer balance the weight of dropped balls, missed tackles, forced passes and daft penalties with an equivalent amount of ‘trying hard’.

In addition, any game at Batley is an act of trignometry - the sum of both sides pitted against the hypoteneuse of  Mount (un)Pleasant’s infamous slope - and, for 65 minutes, Hornets looked like they’d found a way to solve the problem, only for Batley to find enough muscle memory to wrest the game away in a late, late charge.

Playing uphill, Hornets began slowly: switching off after a dubious Batley scrum, allowing Rowe to come barreling in to score after just three minutes. Scott knocked over the extras - an inauspicious start.

On their next visit to the Hornets line, Batley were in again: this time Campbell out-jumping Deon Cross to score. 10-minutes: 10-nil - not great.

But as the heavens opened, Hornets crawled back on top of the game: forcing a drop-out off a Yatesey kick through, then a penalty for interference that gave them a chance to turn the screw - only for the set to end with a pretty ordinary kick caught on the full in the in-goal.

With the rain now pounding down, Richard Lepori showed his class under a steepling bomb, his crisp catch  multiplied by a great jinking break up the guts of the Batley defence. Hornets handing over on the Batley line. Better.

Now striving to extricate themselves from the arm-wrestle, Hornets went aerial for Jack Fox, but the kick fell too far from the goal-line to pose any real threat. And with the half hour approaching Hornets moved the ball swiftly only for Seta Tala to fumble. Frustrating.

With Batley now struggling to make any meaningful headway, they shipped back to back penalties. Hornets response was clinical. Lee Mitchell dropped a shoulder, Morgan Smith found a top-class cut-out pass and Jack Fox strolled in at the flag unopposed.

Half-time 10-4: the myth of Batley’s 12-point slope well and truly busted.

The third quarter became a grind: bothg sides struggling for fluidity. The only respite a Batley penalty hoisted wide, but as the hour mark approached Hornets produced some of their best football of the season. With Batley’s Manning sin-binned for a late-shot, Hornets made the numerical advantage count. On 60 minutes, Deon Cross picked-out with another great cut-out pass, stepping outside his opposite number to score in style.

Five minutes later, a quite sublime piece of skill and awareness from Toby Adamson - drawing every defender within 10 metres to him and, as they gathered, producing a delightful drop-off pass to the circling Deon Cross who stepped inside to score. Hornets ahead with 15 to play - maths in our favour as, elsewhere, Dewsbury were beating Barrow and Leigh were pounding Swinton.

900 seconds remaining for Hornets to stay alive for another week…

With the clock ticking down and the main-stand now bleating at every tackle, Batley finally found the wherewithall to force a drop-out, Their blunt-instrument response was direct and effective -  run a big-lad at a small lad: Gledhill trundling in from 10 metres. Walker the extras 16-12 - and a palpable momentum shift.

Four minutes later, Walker uncurled a kick into Jack Fox’s blind-spot, where pound-shop Vin Diesel Reittie gathered to score: 20-12.

With an exhausted Hornets now reeling from this late flurry, Batley went back to Plan-X - Smeaton hitting a flat-ball at pace to crash in. Walker the two for 26-12.

The sum completed.

Again - like so may times previously - this was a case of so close, yet so far. Hornets playing the perfect game for 65 minutes, only to lose the thread when it really mattered.

Indeed, the frustrations we’ve all experienced this season have, at times, been multiplied by the fact that this side can clearly play - but it’s the tiny percentages in the moments that matter that really cost us.

In the end, you can’t argue with the League Table. It’s a zero-sum game and the numbers don’t lie.


Friday, 7 September 2018

Sunday's Coming: Batley

After the gut-wrenching disappointment of last weekend, everyone in the Hornets camp must gird-up their loins for this Sunday’s trip to Mount (un)Pleasant.

As Batley continue to provide the template for part-time success in the Championship, they come into Sunday’s game on the back of an impressive 36-16 victory at Barrow Raiders which consolidates their third place spot in the Championship Shield.

Most of the damage was done by winger Johnny Campbell who weighed in with a hat-trick - playing outside Lewis Galbraith! Second row Brad Day also grabbed a brace as the Bulldogs delivered their 10th win of the season - to leave them a mere 12 points behind Leigh in second.

Modesty, however, appears to be a commodity in short supply at the Mount this week. Having put together two decent wins, Bulldogs assistant coach Danny Maun suddenly sees his side as world-beaters. Speaking in the heavyweight broadsheet the Batlety and Birstall News, he said: “I can’t see us losing again and I think the way we are playing, we are capable of going to Leigh and winning.”

His boss Matt Diskin was a little more circumspect in his tone, recognising that finishing in third place in the shield (or 7th in the Championship) is a strategic as well as a footballing target. “Potentially there’s a difference of £25,000 per place…” he said, “… that is three or four players to a club like Batley so it is massive for us.”

Indeed, the most interesting thing about Batley this week - beyond press reports that ‘League Weakly’ publisher Danny Lockwood has been sowing racial division in the town ( Link to the full story here) - is the League Express article that suggests that the Bulldogs are chasing Danny Yates for next season (which could see the Gallant Youths’ regular half-back Dominic Brambani edged out as part of Diskin’s mooted squad overhaul - especially given the news that French out-half Louis Jouffret has signed for 2019).

Hornets meanwhile continue to battle damoclean mathematics. Sitting seven points behind Barrow with eight points to play for, defeat at Mount Pleasant (or a Barrow win at Dewsbury regardless of the outcome of the Batley game) will bring our Championship stay to an end.

We can’t deny, it’s been a difficult week at TLCRF80mins Towers.

Much like Sunday’s game at Batley, the 2018 season has been an uphill task and, while the team have struggled gamely, the odds have proven too great to overcome. But these are difficult times for the game as a whole as it continues to wrestle with an existential crisis, driven by SLE’s desire to limit whole-game funding and the RFL’s lack of ability to cohese a whole-game solution. That clubs feel compelled to meet amongst themsleves to seek ideas and force conversations with the game's two power-brokers has scary echoes of 1895.

Meantime, SLE Ltd need to realise that without the game outside Super League, they don’t have an actual ‘sport’ to pimp to Sky - as ‘Rugby League’ gets boiled-down to just 12 teams endlessly circle-jerking each other in return for diminishing funds/spectator interest. And the RFL need to grow a pair. It’s the governing body of the sport in the UK, but is so wilfully submissive to the demands of Super League, that you wonder if Ralph Rimmer goes to meetings in a gimp suit.

The whole game needs a whole-game strategy - from top to bottom - delivering long-term clarity, consistency and continuity for everyone involved.

Four games to go, folks. As Prince Buster once said: “Enjoy yourselves - it’s later than you think”.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Three-Minute Warning

Swinton 23 - Hornets 18

Pre-match, Alan Kilshaw said that the Damoclean nature of Sunday’s game hadn’t been discussed amongst the squad. Off the field, supporter sphincters had been squeaking all week and the nerves of both sets of fans were jangling ahead of kick off.

Billed as a potential Championship ’Survival Showdown’, this was - for the main part -  a gritty, bittty, bar-room scrap of a game in which Swinton delivered a masterclass in momentum-sapping niggle.

In the end, though, the potential futures of both clubs might well have been decided in one three-minute period whern Swinton scored three long-range tries to leave Hornets chasing the game.

Having started by knocking-on in the first set, Hornets produced an early attack: Rob Massam caught in the corner after a solid approach set. But then: disaster.

Swinton with their own sweeping attack, Woods dinking a kick behind a stretched Hornets defence where Brown gathered without a defender within 10 metres. Having fielded the kick-off, Swinton went straight back to the same spot, Brown breakling from 80 metres to score. In a sickemning case of deja-deja-vu, Swinton again targeted Hornets ragged right edge. This time Brown turned provider, another long-ranger break, Tyson in support to score. Hornerts reeling at 18-nil after just 15 minutes. Just Horrible.

Slowly, a shellshocked Hornets clawed their way back into the contest. On 20 minutes Tyler Whittaker and Deon Cross kept the ball alive, Morgan Smith arriving at pace onto a flat ball to give the visiting fans a sliver of hope. Tyler Whittaker the extras: 18-6.

The back-end of the half became a bit of a scrambling mess - interrupted by a sequence of ‘mystery penalties’ from referee Mr Smith. But Hornets strove to play what little football was on offer: a Richard Lepori break into open field, his kick ahead evading the chasing Danny Yates; a kick to the corner slipping from Rob Massam’s grasp.

With the game heading for half time, Woods took a drop-goal to give the home side a 19-6 lead.

Hornets began the second half with a bang: keeping the ball alive for Luke Adamson to send Jack Fox in out wide. Tyler Whittaker good with the boot and, suddenly - at 19-12 - we had a contest on our hands.

With Hornets making good metres up the guts, Swinton went back to their ‘comfort zone’ of slowing the game down to walking pace (mostly, it seemed, to allow their blowing pack to walk back into position). Against the grain, the Lions produced a rare moment of lucidity, Tyson reacting first to a last tackle kick, smuggling the ball to Brown for his hat-trick try. 23-12, two scores to win it, 20 to play.

Hornets’ response was immediate. First Deon Cross fidning a last-ditch kick behind the defence, where Hansen made a meal of it. Then the ball worked through the hands for Richard Lepori plunged in by the flag. Tyler Whittaker a stunning kick from the touchline and Hornets within reach at 23-18.

As Hornets strove to find the knock-out punch, Swinton ran through their repertoire: throwing the ball away, feigning injury, breaking-up what little momentum remained.

At the death, Hornets went one last time to the Swinton goal-line, but the urge to find something - anything - saw the ball, and any chance of salvation, slip from their fingers.

So now, all we can do is wait. if the restructure deems that this game determines our fate, so be it.
On the day, Hornets played the majority of  the football, but Swinton found the three minutes that mattered.

A season defined in 180 seconds. The potential ramifications, however, promise to resonate for significantly longer.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Sunday's Coming: Swinton Lions - and a whole lot of tension.

Ralph and the RFL sock-it to the Championship
We start our look ahead to the weekend with a disbelieving look back to last week’s shock announcement of an RFL proposal to restructure the Championship and League 1. Hastily conceived (it seems) to pacify an increasingly protectionist Super League and secure funding for the lower tiers,  it’s a proposal that could turn this season on its head - with potentially huge ramifications for Swinton and Hornets.

The proposal - yet to be ratified by a vote of RFL member clubs - centres around the expansion of the Championship to 14 clubs. This will entail the automatic promotion of League 1’s top two sides (handy now Bradford have slipped off the pace) - plus the promotion of a third via a playoff system.

But the real bombshell lies in the following paragraph: “Only the side finishing bottom of the Championship will be relegated instead of the bottom two; 11th will now survive.”

Woah… wait a minute… a week ago Sunday’s game at Swinton was being billed as the wooden spoon decider to be fought-out by two teams needing snookers and the bankruptcy of Leigh and Barrow to avoid the drop into League one. But now you’re telling us that this could pretty much be the game that keeps one of these clubs in the Championship? At ten days’ notice?

Whilst this proposal remains unconfirmed, the insider view is that it’s expected to get enough votes to be passed. Which turns Sunday’s game into a very serious proposition that fans are already calling the ’10 Million Pence Game’ - such is the likely financial impact of staying in/exiting the Championship.

After challenging seasons for both Hornets and Swinton, this new ‘development’ feels like a kick in the spuds too far - effectively turning Sunday’s game into a gladiatorial scrap to the death for two clubs already near-exhausted by the travails of a brutally unforgiving season.

The potential magnitude of the game isn’t lost on Swinton coach Stuart Littler. Speaking in Monday’s League Express he said: “It turns it into a massive game doesn’t it? There’s a potential lifeline there if this proposal materialises and we have to fight for the win, whatever’s at stake.”

It's Massive
At last: Rugby League tells it as it is.
Elsewhere in the League Express, Gareth Walker describes the game as (effectively) “… a shoot out for 11th place…”, “… massive for both clubs…” and the first in: “… a list of crucial must-see fixtures…”. Walker also recognises the potential impact, heralding: “… a nervous end to the season for the fans of both clubs.” Too right.

The biggest issue, though, is that Rugby League has - once again - trashed its credibility in the eyes of the sporting world. Changing key structural criteria six weeks before the end of a season - criteria on which clubs are trying to plan for 2019 - is amateurish at best.

However, it would be fair to say that the RFL’s hand has been forced by pressure from Super League Europe Ltd to find a (hurried) compromise position in order to maintain the distribution of funding in the immediate term.  Once put in that position you’re into damage limitation and finding somethng that inconveniences the least number of clubs. It just so happens that the clubs squeezed by the change are Hornets and Swinton.

The cruelty of it is that it turns what would have been a relatively low-key game into one which could significantly impact on the future of both clubs: a whole season and the next few year’s planning boiled down to one 80 minute dogfight that will cost the loser £100,000.

Not So Super For Us
Despite compelling the RFL to turn the Championship season into a straightforward duel, Super League Europe Ltd have denied all responsibilty for forcing the change.

Speaking this week, Super League’s Propagandist Sockpuppet™ Robert Elstone said that - despite his paymasters seeking to jerrimander the league structure to leave as much cash as possible in the hands of loss-making SL clubs - that the hastily concocted new plan had nothing to do with him, honest guv’.

But it seems that someone at SLE Ltd headquarters has a 'selective memory'.

Having unilaterally announced a SL-driven change in structure at his unveling, Elstone said on the 24th August*: “It is totally wrong to infer that we have had sight of, let alone influenced or approved the Championship and League 1 structures. We have always said that’s down to them.”

Continuing to purport that black is white, he continued: “It has never formed part of any of our discussions with the RFL and it has never been a negotiating point.”

Lip Service: Who's working who here?
BUT HANG ON:  in the Guardian on the 14th of August **- just two weeks ago - Elstone said: “We’ve had talks with the RFL, which are drawing to a close. I think they will deliver a solution that will work for Super League, the RFL and the game as a whole. I’m hopeful that those conclusions will be in the public domain in the very near future and they need to be. It can only be within one or two weeks’ time. That’s the intention and the desire from both the RFL and Super League.”

He went on: “We’re hopeful we’ll find something that works for everybody. The view on Super 8s and Qualifiers was made very clear. The format was well-intended but the full consequences weren’t thought through. We can see the weaknesses in it and that’s why Super League is committed to changing it. One of the game’s flaws has been its propensity to chop and change and look for the panacea in a fixture format that isn’t there. We owe it to the fans and all stakeholders in the game to deliver something that’s sustainable in the long term.”

So which is it?

Your guess is as good as ours. But while Elstone struggles to remember what he said a fortnight ago, Hornets and Swinton will endeavour to navigate the fall-out. If ever your team needed your support, it’s now. Let’s see this through together: see you on Sunday.

* “Super League news: Robert Elstone talks structure…” - Paul Clarke, Fri. 24 August 2018
** “Future of Super League Super 8s close to agreement, says Robert Elstone” - Aaron Bower, Tues. 14 Aug 2018 

Monday, 20 August 2018

It ‘Aint All Rovers Till The Fat Lady Sings

Hornets 24 - Featherstone 33

What a difference six weeks makes. Way back in the sweltering heat of early July, Featherstone Rovers - abetted by a freak performance from Rhinos dual reg rake Brad Dwyer - nailed 80 points on a try-hard Hornets. But back then, the world was a different - sunnier- place. Fev were riding high on a wave of optimism: looking good for a top four finish, a place in the qualifiers beckoned teasingly - along with all the financial rewards that brings, in terms of central distribution, bigger gates, bigger plans…

Fast forward to a muggy, drizzly day at Spotland and lo - before us sit Featherstone Rovers. No top four, no cash bonanza. No Brad Dwyer. Shorn of motivaton, incentive and a one man points machine, Featherstone proved to be an altogether less challenging proposition as - for an hour - they looked like they’d really rather be somewhere else.

Hornets on the other hand sniffed the opportunity to add to Rovers’ woes and - with only a 16-man squad available to the departing Alan Kilshaw - came agonisingly close to upseting the odds.

Despite conceding a drop-out from Fev’s first set, Hornets set to work early doors. Having hoodwinked an offside penalty at a scrum, Hornets marched straight downfield where they forced a drop-out of their own from a Danny Yates kick. The Hornets pack drove Featherstone backwards, Ben Moores revealed a cheeky grubber and - as the Rovers defence debated a reaction, Lee Mitchell reached in to score. Tyler Whittaker the two - plus a penalty shortly afterwards - saw Hornets with a comfortable 8-nil lead after 10 minutes. The visiting fans audibly disgruntled at Hornets' audacity.

Their ire rose further as Hornets stuck to playing what football was on offer: Jo Taira punching holes in the defensive line; a teasing break by Luke Adamson and Tyler Whittaker; then Taira again, smashing the wind out of Maskill to force a knock-on.

On the quarter mark, the traffic was decidedly one-way - and as Hornets kicked high over a retreating Rovers defence, the ball tipped tantalisingly from Miles Greenwood’s fingers.

The let-off roused Rovers from their slumbers - and they got lucky when the ball squirmed free following a last-tackle kick going nowhere to give them a repeat set at close quarters. Hornets stood firm and went back downfield, but a moment’s hesitation at a dropped pass saw the visitors work the ball wide on the free-play for Thackeray to capitalise on a stretched right-edge defence to score. Hardman the extras and - after half an hour - the Featherstone fans finally had something to be less grumpy about.

Things got less miserable still just two minutes later. Lewis Hatton was removed for a head check after a collision in a tackle and, while Hornets were reshuffling their middles, Featherstone exploited the situation: Davies hitting a flat ball to score as Hornets scrambled back into shape. Unfortunate. Hardman the conversion and Fev ahead 8-12.

With the half counting down, more determined defence forced a Rovers knock-on. Hornets worked their way back to the visitors’ goal-line and Tyler Whittaker looked to have touched down a kick into the in-goal - but referee Mr Bennet gave a drop out instead. Hornets' response was clinical. A solid set to stand Rovers on their own goal-line, then Rob Massam launching from acting half through a hapless Whylie on the last tackle to score. Tyler Whittaker good with the boot and Hornets headed for the sheds 14-12 up. And deservedly so.

Hornets began the second half capitalising on a flurry of Featherstone errors: a knock-on first set; then Robinson making a total hash of a Whittaker bomb. Hornets were swift and direct in response: Billy Brickhill piling in from close range only to be called ‘held-up’. No matter. Hornets moved the ball across the face of a static Rovers defence and when Yatesey launched a lofted kick towards a hesitant Whylie, there was only going to be one winner as Rob Massam gathered in the air to score. Tyler Whittaker on target from the touchline and Hornets 20-12 up before most of the Rovers fans had got back from their fag-break.

Then, a momentum shift. Hornets again switching on too late at a free-play - this time Newman with the try. Then Mr Bennet reading a Rovers knock-on as interference. Newman again up the edge to score and - against the run of logic - Featherstone somehow ahead at 20-24 going into the final quarter.

With the game now an arm-wrestle, both sides struggled for impetus: Thackeray involved twice, firstly hoofing the ball dead - spitting his dummy after gleeful Hornets celebration. Then the target of an absolute bell-ringing tackle by Jo Taira that saw Newman square off against Seta Tala in the aftermath. A shaken Featherstone taking the two - then a Thackeray drop-goal on 71 minutes. The Rugby League equivalent of parking the bus.

Hornets regatherted the kick-off and - 45 seconds later - Seta Tala latched onto a Danny Yates kick behind a flat-footed defence to close the gap to 24-27. Six minutes to win it - and Hornets had every intention of doing so, working the ball to Massam, who skinned Whylie and pinned back his ears, only for a despairing dive from Taulapapa to halt what looked like a nailed-on try.

Back in possession, Rovers huffed and puffed their way downfield - Jo Taira (now playing in the centre) and Richard Lepori darting back to snuff out a break. Somewhere in what appeared to be a perfectly good tackle, Mr Bennet saw a high shot and - with seconds left on the clock - Davies came rumbling in from close range to score through a weary defence. Hardman completing a perfect afternoon with the boot; Featherstone flattered at 24-33.

There’s no doubt that this was a tough one to swallow. Again Hornets gave it absolutely every ounce - their depleted side putting in a monumantal shift against a Rovers outfit unrecogniseable from a month ago. Yes, Featherstone are clearly in the ‘not-remotely-arsed’ zone - but to turn round an 80-point drubbing to a point where Hornets were one Taulapapa tackle away from a win they would have deserved is a feat to be lauded.

Ultimately, both sides leave this game contemplating the relativity of success and failure. Fev head for the Shield final with their season in tatters, Hornets stare down the barrel of relegation having - again - come tantalisingly close. But Featherstone have burned three or four times Hornets’ budget this year to end up in the same half of the split - and just nine points better. Not much of a difference at all.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Sunday's Coming: But Killer's Going!

A week is a long-time in Rugby League - and what a week this has been. Ahead of this weekend’s clash, both Hornets and Featherstone have been dealing with the challenges of life in an increasingly difficult Championship.

Edged out of the top four by Halifax, Featherstone don’t have a great deal to gain from schlepping round the Championship shield. Along with fast-imploding Leigh, Fev bring a 16 point advantage into this competition and, with only 14 points available over its seven protracted weeks, they face a series of dead rubbers before taking their guaranteed spot in the final. The flaw in the system brutally exposed - though the arse might drop out of Leigh long before the final comes round.

Featherstone come into Sundays game on the back of two results that are eyecatching for different reasons. Two weeks ago they made history when they became the first side to beat Toronto on their own patch - a 16-man Fev squad claiming a 30-12 win over a clearly ‘not-arsed’ Wolfpack preparing for the Super 8 Qualifiers.

In contrast, Rovers struggled to a 26-12 home win over Batley last week - having been locked at 6-all at the break. With Batley ahead on the hour mark, it took a quick-fire triple from Thackeray, Cooper and Maskill to wrench the game away from the Bulldogs.

The win came at a price for Fev, though: Scott Wheeldon with a leg injury in the first minute - and his replacement Sam Brooks removed with a eye socket damage.

Off the field, the failure to reach the top four has sparked some deep introspection at Post Office Road. This week Rovers’ General manager Davide Longo was in the spotlight as he offered answers to questions on the club’s intentions and viability going forward - given that the club had invested heavily in personnel yet  - in the words of his coach John Duffy - “…  not achieved what we wanted to achieve…”

On finishing 5th in a four-horse race, Longo said: “Featherstone Rovers will experience a potential 55% cut in central distribution funding, therefore immediate action is required in order to remain sustainable.”

In an extensive interview on the club’s website, he admits that Feathewrstone “… rolled the dice…” on making the top four, but maintains: “This was a calculated risk from a club who wanted to push on after securing our status as the country’s best part-time club last season, but as is necessary in sport, we had a plan for if this did not materialise as expected.”

“We are now executing that plan, by reducing the deficit and cutting where we need to cut.”

In terms of where those cuts will fall, he said: “It is imperative that we reduce the playing budget, but we are in the process of a thorough recruitment operation” and: “We are in communication with the coaching staff over the current situation. There will be a need to reduce the number of coaching staff in our setup for next season, but we are consulting with them to come to a solution.”

Click here for the full interview.


Hornets fans were rocked this week by the bombshell news that Alan Kilshaw will leave at the end of the season. In a club release this week he said: “I believe I have taken the club as far as I possibly can under the increased restrictions.”

In what has been a challenging season beset by financial concerns, budget disparity and a relentless injury list, Hornets have stuggled hard against what Killer says are: “… a unique set of circumstances out of the control of the playing and coaching staff which has impacted and halted the progression we had made in 2016 and 2017.”

Having delivered Hornets’ first League Title win of any kind for almost a century in the odds-busting win in Toulouse in 2016, Killer went on to defy the odds again last year, keeping Hornets in the Championship. But this year has seen the squad and the club stretched to breaking point in its battle for Championship survival

“I count myself incredibly lucky to have coached such a historic and traditional rugby league club and thank each and every player and member of support staff who I have worked with during my time here.”

He went on: “Finally I would like to thank the supporters and members of this club who have stood by me and the players and have backed us week after week during my tenure. Keep turning up and backing whoever comes in next because a club is only as good as its members.”

With six games to go, there’s still the opportunity for Hornets - and Killer - to go out with a bang. There remains a chance that Sheffield could blow-up and, with nothing to lose, Hornets could spring a shock or two.

Given Alan Kilshaw’s ability to upset the bookies, whilst there’s still even the slimmest of chances, we wouldn’t write the season off just yet.

See you Sunday.

Monday, 13 August 2018

All Very Ugly

Barrow 17 - Hornets 10

This was a tense game that tested the emotions. A game of three-quarters and a quarter, where Barrow took advantage of two fortuitous incidents to grab just enough momentum to edge this game beyond a despairing Hornets’ grasp. For 60 minutes, you couldn’t squeeze a fag-paper between these two teams: Barrow one-dimensionally throwing big lads at the Hornets line; Hornets committed, resolute - arguably the best defensive performance of the year.

The game began with a bang. Barrow’s wunderkinder Joe Bullock skittled with less than a minute on the clock: dismissed for a head test. Plenty of work for Adrian Lam to do on his tackling techinique.

Barrow then gifted a penalty for a spurious high-shot - only for Lee Mitchell (having his best game in Hornets’ colours) to absolutely monster Dallimore: Barrow forced into a poor last tackle option.

With barely time to catch breath, Hornets went on the attack: first chasing down a huge kick (only to get snagged again by referee Mr Griffiths) then Dion Cross embarking on a weaving run, only for the last pass to fall to Barrow winger Loxham - who was summarily pounded by Lee Mitchell and led staggering from the fray.

Clearly frustrated, Barrow were reduced to niggling at every tackle: Dallimore now following Mr Griffiths around the field begging for penalties and continuously skriking like a mard child. Hornets’ response was to keep playing what little football was on offer and, when Morgan Smith was hit high on a foray to the posts, he picked himself up and tucked the penalty away: 0-2.

In pantomime style, the playing of Mr Griffiths now spread to the crowd: they shouted for a penalty and he responded in Pavlovian style - and the referee was once again in the spotlight when - on 20 minutes -  Hornets debutant Ryan Millington executed a perfect one on one tackle only for Mr Griffiths to deem that he’d tipped Carter over the vertical. Which he hadn’t.

And when a Barrow player took a South American soccer-style dive at a play the ball, Dallimore waved his arms like a car-dealership inflatable  promotional character and Mr Griffiths obliged. All a bit cheap.

The game was now attritional - both sides coming up with errors. And when Carter ducked into a Seta Tala tackle on 26 minutes, more home-side histrionics saw him yellow-carded.

Barrow’s response to gaining a man advantage was to send a series of lumps lumbering at the Hornets’ line. Not only did Hornets respond with some sterling defence, they added another penalty via Morgan Smith to go 0-4 up.

The half ended with Dec Kay removed from the field with what looked like a shoulder injury (incident one): Miles Greenwood pressed back into service. There was just enough time for a Barrow break up the left off a loose ball, culminating in a mystery penalty. Them more one-man rumbling until the hooter delivered much needed respite.

Hornets began the second half with puropse. Lee Mitchell driving close to the Barrow line, then Billy Brickhill plunging in from acting half for what looked like a perfectly good try. Five feet away, Mr Griffiths put whistle to lips, but his attention was drawn by more Barrow bleating to the touch-judge 40 metres away who claimed to have seen a knock-on. No try (incident two).
No matter. Hornets went straight back downfield where a last tackle Yatesey kick into the in-goal sqirmed away from a lunging Miles Greenwood.

Off the hook, Barrow resumed the arm-wrestle: stifling any opportunities to play football. Their only concession to entertanment was a steepling bomb on the hour-mark from which they gained a drop-out. Bartes piled the ball back towards the Hornets line and Smith arrived like a runaway bin-wagon to  crash his way in and ground the ball. Dallimore the extras and Hornets 6-4 down.

Two minutes later, Hornets looked to have snaffled possession back in a good position when Pat Moran stole the ball one-on-one - only for Mr Griffiths to misinterpret the associated Law and give Barrow another gift penalty from which they forced a repeat set.

On 65 minutes, Mr Griffiths again yielded to the Dallimore’s endless nagging to give him a penalty that he gleefully kicked. And whern Tyler Whittaker arrived late at a tackle on 70 minutes, Dallimore extended the home-side’s lead to 10-4.

Reeling, Hornets repelled a series of Barrow drop-goal set-ups, but when Johnston finally got one away to give the Raiders a seven point lead with four minutes remaining, you sensed that it’d be enough.

As it was, Barrow capped a pig-ugly performance with a union-style pushover-try in the 77th minute: Susino under a pile of bodies: Mr Griffiths this time happy that the ball had been grounded.

To their credit, Hornets kept playing to the death: a show-boating Dallimore produced a quite awful chip & chase, Miles Greenwood steamed the ball back up the Hornets right-edge and he drew tacklers to send Dion Cross over on the hooter. Smith the two - final score 17-10.

There’s no denying that this was hard to take. We speak sometimes about how a side needs a bit of mongrel in it to drag them through. Here Hornets gave every ounce only to be edged by a team that’s pretty much all mongrel: 26 penalties tells its own story.

The outcome is that Hornets - and Swinton (who choked to ship 34 second-half points at Dewsbury) - now need snookers to stay up. Sheffield have replaced Barrow as the team to chase, but Hornets will need four wins with six games remaining. And for Sheffield to lose four. Not impossible - but incredibly difficult.

Finally a mention for the Hornets fans who gave a great account of themselves - raising the roof even though they were massively outnumbered. Though their post-match appreciation of Hornets efforts was marred by an accusation - by an animated Barrow fan - that other Barrow fans had racially abused Hornets players.

A test of the emotions indeed...

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Sunday's Coming: Barrow

And so it begins. The mathematics of the next seven weekends are brutally simple. Win three games more than Barrow and one game more than Swinton and we stay up.

Which makes Sunday’s trip to Craven Park the definitive ‘must-win’ game.

The question nagging everyone ahead of Sunday’s contest is: “Has Paul Crarey steadied the Barrow ship sufficiently to make the trip as awkward as it usually is?”

There’s little doubt that the last few weeks have been a car-crash for the Raiders club. Seven weeks without a win, an exodus of players, an injury list longer than their squad list

Off the field, Barrow’s cash-woes continue - a meeting last month revealing that a £50,000 directors' loan had kept the club’s head above water - but that a further £50,000 as needed to see them through the 2018 season.  A 100-grand shortfall? That’s some miscalculation somewhere,

The big news out of Barrow (that doesn’t entail injuries or financial problems) is that prop Joe Bullock will leave the club to join Wigan Warriors on a three-year contract from the start of 2019. The bad news is that he’s seeing out the 2018 season with the Raiders. Let’s hope he considers his physical wellbeing with his future in mind…

Having ended the regular season with an extensive injury list and a squad shored up by loanees, local amateurs and goodwill, coach Paul Crarey said in the NW Evening Mail last week: “We were a very solid group before, but we've broken all of that down with loanees, so the culture has changed a little bit.”

He then went on to confirm that Barrow had taken three Catalan Dragons reserve players on loan - Props Mendy Saloty and Arnaud Bartes and winger Georgy Gambaro. A culture-clash indeed.

In the debit column, Crarey lost Toronto loan utility back Jonny Pownall, who basically baled to go to Bradford without giving Barrow any notice whatsoever. Crarey only found out about the move when Toronto’s UK operations manager Martin Vickers called him and said that Pownall was ‘unwilling to remain with Barrow’.

As it was, a disrupted Barrow side were mercilessly flogged 72-6 at Craven Park by a ruthless London Broncos two weeks ago. Interestingly it was second consecutive 70 point home defeat after a similar pummelling from Toulouse. Our favourite stat: Barrow shipping 27 tries in two consecutive home games. Ouch!

Not untypically, Barrow’s respite couldn’t wait another week. Stand-off Lewis Charnock is in the frame for a return on Sunday as are Jarrad Stack, Declan Hulme and Jono Smith.

Talking to Total RL last week, Alan Kilshaw was in bullish mood about Hornets chances of staying up.

“Three or four wins and it’s a different beast altogether,” he said. “We can catch Barrow I think and we catch Dewsbury. We’ve to beat the teams around us and focus on us.”

Indeed for the next seven weeks, the league becomes an equation that Hornets have to resolve - and every point gained takes us closer to the right answer.

If you can get up to Barrow, we urge you to do so. It’s a tough place to put in a performance and every ounce of support we can muster will make a difference. Let’s do this.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

All Very Matter of Fax

Halifax 38 - Hornets 6

Hornets were undone at the Shay by a Halifax gameplan that is so simple, it’s verging on the brutal.

Halifax strip away all pretence of craftsmanship in favour of raw metres: relentlessly grinding you backwards, dropping any sort of a kick behind you looking to force an error, then playing what little football they have in them off the back of the scraps.

And when the gameplan doesn’t yield rewards, they have the unfaltering patience to persist until it does.

Architect of this unadorned, stripped back approach is Scott Murrell. Fittingly the anti-athlete, he has the physique of a bloke who’s won a place on the team photo in a raffle, the brain of a demolition contractor and a tidy knack for picking the right pass at the right time.

But for close on 20 minutes Hornets frustrated the home side, by simply refusing to budge when Halifax came trundling at them. Having resisted repeat sets, Hornets defence finally cracked when Grix came barrelling onto a short-ball from close range to score.

This heralded a ten minute period where Halifax simply denied Hornets the ball. Indeed, the next time Hornets carried the ball in any meaningful way, the home side had added tries by Fairbank and Butler to lead 16-nil.

With eight minutes of the half remaining, Tyrer took advantage of some sloppy defending to grab another try, his conversion taking Hornets into the sheds 22-nil down - all the points scored in one 15 minute spell.

Hornets began the second half with noticeably greater purpose. Indeed it took only three minutes for Lewis Hatton to arrive at speed onto a short ball to prove that the home side were equally susceptible to a more direct approach. Tyler Whittaker added the two for 22-6.

Then the game simply ground to a halt. For 20 minutes Hornets resumed their obdurate defence, while Halifax ran Plan-A at them ad nauseam. Hornets fans were roused from their slumbers by the sound of distant clapping as Tyler thrilled the home fans with a penalty.

On 60 minutes Halifax’s bloody-minded doggedness paid of when Moss scored off a Butler break. Ten minutes later, Kaye followed suit. By the time Tyrer capped-off the game with yet another penalty, most Hornets fans were struggling to remember what had happened in the previous 77 minutes.

Final score 38-6.

There’s no denying that Halifax are stultifyingly good at what they do. It’s easy to see how they grind teams down: their commitment to simply nudging you backwards for 80 minutes may not be pretty to watch, but it is ruthlessly effective.

Effective enough to secure fourth place in the Championship - and congratulations to Richard Marshall and his players for finding a way to thwart the big-spending, full-time clubs and give his side a shot at glory.

In the wash-up, Hornets were beaten by a better side - and there’s no shame in that. The removal of Dec Gregory (shoulder) and Morgan Smith with injuries could be a concern though.

As it is, Hornets can now focus on the next phase of the season: park what’s gone before, boil down the lessons learned and see the 8s as an opportunity to recharge, regroup and have a real go at staying up.

Early reports have Hornets at home to Dewsbury Leigh and Featherstone and away at Swinton, Batley, Barrow and Sheffield (dates TBC).

With 14 points to play for - and Leigh and Featherstone already 16 points clear of the bottom six -  the Shield per-se is a foregone conclusion. But at the opposite end, the Relegation Shitfight™ is where the real action is going to take place.

If we’re going to overcome the odds, we’ll need everyone on deck. The real test for all of us starts now. And that's a fact.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Sunday's Coming: Halifax

Freshly returned from our Wild West adventure, Hornets now make the somewhat shorter trip to Championship surprise package Halifax - who need to win to secure their place in the top four.

With Featherstone and Leigh both needing snookers to get into the mix, Halifax are in the box seat.  But the implications of a Halifax win will be felt most at Leigh, where this week there’s been an implosion of catastrophic proportions as the reality of the situation came crashing in.

With their promotion dream all but over, Leigh owner Derek Beaumont has pulled the plug and instigated an exodus of expensive mercenaries in an attempt to slash costs ahead of the prize that no-one wants to win: the Championship Shield.

Notwithstanding the fact that Leigh have burned £3million in the last two years to end up in the same 8 as Hornets, the player departures leave Sheffield facing a heavily depleted Leigh at the weekend - which could unfairly tip the balance of the relegation fight too (all other clubs in the Championship Shit Fight™ having faced a full-strength Leigh previously). So thanks, Derek - not only have you f*cked-up Leigh’s season, you might well have f*cked up ours and Swinton’s too (as if anyone needed another reason to dislike Leigh).

While Beaumont has been raking twenties into a pile and rifling his pockets for a lighter, Richard Marshall’s Halifax have been steadily getting on with the business of winning Rugby League games  and come into Sunday’s fixture on the back of a momentum-boosting defeat of Toulouse.

Interestingly, that win sucks TOXIIIC back into the chasing pack and they now need a win against Dewsbury on Saturday to avoid the possibility of missing the cut should Fev win in Toronto and London win at Barrow (the former is a distinct possibility as the Wolfpack rest some of their first-choice players). But however this weekend’s games play-out, our most eye-catching observation on the Championship table is the 16 point gap between 6th placed Leigh and 7th placed Batley - indication, if any were needed, of the ‘two league’s in one league’ nature of the competition.

Over at the Shay, Marshall has signed  Huddersfield Giants centre Sam Wood on loan deal until the end of the season - with another Super League signing mooted ahead of the transfer deadline. Having made his debut for Huddersfield two years ago, Wood has only played six games for them, spending most of this year on loan at Workington.

On the injury front, Halifax are likely to be without forwards Adam Tangata (knee) and Shane Grady (foot) for Sunday’s game - both of whom played key roles in last week’s win over TOXIIIC.

Behind 14-13 with 10 minutes to go last week, Halifax  dug deep for a converted Grady try and then stood firm in the face of a desperate Toulouse barrage. According to the Halifax Courier, the game ended “… with Toulouse within a metre of the try line”. It’s ‘goal-line’ - but we get their drift.

The result makes Sunday a cup final for Halifax: win and they are guaranteed a place in the Qualifying 8 with the dregs of Super League. What has brought Fax to this point is desire - finding ways to win against the odds. After the Toulouse game Richard Marshall identified ‘wanting it more’ as the deciding factor - and it’s that desire that Hornets will have to match if we are to ruin Fax’s impending party.

There’s no doubt that there was plenty of desire on show in Toronto, but Hornets were often architects of their own downfall, cursed - as we have been all season - by sloppiness and switching off at key moments (indeed, if there’s any lesson to be learned from our Championship stay, it’s that you have to stay on-point for every play of the full 80 minutes).

On the plus side, Hornets took every opportunity to move the ball around against the Wolfpack and - on several occasions - carved the Canadians wide open, but were unable to deliver the knock-out punch.

A performance of similar intensity against Fax should make for an interesting contest. And with a party to spoil, who wouldn’t want to be there? We’re heading for the main stand rather than do the Yorkshire ‘standing behind the posts’ thing.

See you there.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Saturday's Coming: Toronto

When we wrote about Toronto back in March, we were taken aback by the sheer volume of media hype surrounding the club. Journalists were falling over themselves to toe the party line, spit out the soundbites and create a sense of frontier excitement around what is essentially a load of ex-Leigh sluggers and ex-NRL journeymen coached by Paul Rowley. And fronted by Nobby off the telly.

A parochial sporting media desperate for any sense of pioneering exoticism lapped it up. The Rugby League revolution would be televised. For a tenner a month, on Premier Sports.

But amidst the hoo-ha, they let the facade slip in that now infamous televised Challenge Cup game at Warrington. The tactics used to bully weaker teams were put under the extreme scrutiny of multiple camera angles, a referee’s microphone - and a Wolves side in no mood to be pushed around on their own patch.

In less than an hour, 18 months of PR-induced sheen was tarnished. Toronto revealed as a bunch of narcissist gobshites with a thug complex.

Four months on from our original piece, Toronto have already won the Championship: racing undefeated through the season on a wave of hubris (a draw at Barrow and a one point win at Spotland their ‘low points’). 

It seems, though, that all-conquering success has come at a price. 

Toronto are no longer seen simply as the uber-expansionist’s giant-leap into an exciting North American unknown. Previously considered a ‘concept’ - a conceit even - the reality of Rugby League’s Wild West adventure is now on Super League’s horizon.

And it’s not a reality they like the look of.

In League 1 and the Championship, clubs have - for two years - been voicing concerns over the way the RFL has bent over backwards to accommodate Toronto.

Notwithstanding weakened teams flying out there for a flogging (Batley travelled with only 16 players - one of those was assistant coach Danny Maun who’d come out of retirement to play); the administrative burden of arranging 23 visas; visa issues leaving players stranded at Manchester Airport; the costs incurred by feeding 23 people for four days; bending the operating laws to play games to a timetable that suits them; Air Transat flying teams out of Manchester and back to Glasgow (with teams having to pick-up the £1000+ tab for a coach to get players back to the North West) while the RFL fly officials back via Air Canada to Manchester; no limit on overseas players and the uneven playing field of a mining magnate shovelling cash into a bottomless pit of dubious potential - it is a difficult trip for players to go out there and perform to the best of their ability.

As such, clubs have been ‘beta testing’ the Toronto experience on behalf of the RFL for two years - and the list of snags goes on and on and on. But amidst clubs’ valid concerns about Toronto’s negative impact on the credibility and integrity (and this is a theme we’ll come back to) of the competitions they’ve butchered, no-one at Rugby League’s top table has given much of a shit - until now.

Logic v Logistics
Unless you’ve been stranded in a Thai cave for the last six months, you’ll have noticed that Toronto have run-away with the Championship to become racing certainties for promotion to Super League.

But now they’re on Super League’s radar, the ‘elite tier’ of the game are having doubts about the validity and credibility of Toronto’s potential inclusion in the top flight.

In a brutally honest interview with last week, Hull KR Chairman Neil Hudgell voiced that - at Super League’s highest level there is a “… cautiousness about the Toronto experience…”

Whilst admitting that they could open up new TV markets in North America, Hudgell appears somehow surprised that the problem with Toronto is “… the logistics of getting there, and fixture scheduling!” The fact that 26 other clubs have been banging that drum unheard for two years gives you some insight into the contempt for which the game outside Super League is held. But wearing our most munificent hat, we should be glad that someone else is actually listening.

Pretty much everyone has already wondered exactly how Toronto have managed to inveigle their way into our game and re-write the operating laws to suit them. Now - better late then never - Hudgell (and SLE Ltd) is now on the same page as the rest of us.

“There’s some due diligence that still needs to be done with Toronto, that should have been done before they were allowed into competition.” he said. “Super League clubs are being asked to deal with some of the issues, that should never have been issues if the due diligence had been done in the first place.” Yeah, true - but clubs on far smaller budgets, far fewer resources and part-time playing staffs have been dealing with those issues already. Only now Toronto are coming your way do you see the tsunami of bullshit trailing in their wake.

Smoke v Mirrors
To his credit, Hudgell sees the passion of the ownership to deliver Rugby League in North America, but has his doubts about the authenticity of the Wolfpack project. “I’ve met the owner of Toronto (David Argyle),” he said.  “He’s a very passionate guy and he’s a top businessman, and there is some potential, but at the minute I think the jury is wondering about the longevity of it, and how it fits with the Super League competition.”

Much like it fits with the League 1 and Championship competitions, Neil: deeply uncomfortably. And when you peel back the veneer, you’re left with something that’s somehow less enticing.

“On the logistic side of it, as on the strategic side of it, there’s no way they can repeat this year’s championship, without compromising the integrity of the competition,” said Hudgell. “And if weather-wise, climate-wise they can’t play at home for three months, that really is a serious problem that has to be addressed.”

So after two years of smoke and mirrors, has the game finally had its ‘emperor’s new clothes’ moment?
Is the circus that is Toronto Wolfpack about to run out of road? If Neil Hudgell and Super League have their way, it just might.

“I have a real long-standing issue about integrity, compromising integrity, and there are things that compromise integrity of the competition,” Hudgell said. “Fixtures are one, Visas another… there’s a whole range of things that the game needs to tackle on that.”

Maybe we should just be grateful that people with a level of influence in the game  are finally seeing the light. “I don’t want to be downbeat on the Toronto experience,” Said Hudgell, ”… but I do think it hasn’t been given the necessary due diligence, before they were given entry to the competition.”

The full interview with Neil Hudgell is here

Excitement v nervousness
If you thought Hudgell was a lone voice, think again.

Super League Europe Ltd’s new Propagandist Sock-Puppet in Chief™ Robert Elstone revealed in ‘League, Weakly’ that he is ‘nervous’ about Toronto’s potential promotion. Quoted in an article quoting him in a podcast (and quoted by us having listened to said podcast), Elstone said that he’s “… asked for a report on Toronto.”

Indeed, Elstone is a very diligent chap: “I’ve asked for due diligence done to date. I’ve asked for projected future due diligence.”  He also seems very interested in terms: “I’ve asked what the promised terms are in terms of any commercial arrangements and I’ve asked where they sit in terms of minimum standards.”(sic)

He went on: “One of the minimum standards, I think, is playing a home-away season - so I don’t know the answer to that.”

His big concern seems to be the potential longevity of the project v the potential ROI on SLE’s potential investment.

“Toronto is an opportunity (but) really, honestly (they) make me slightly nervous.” he said. “In one sense they can be exciting, but anyone who’s been in the sport a long time knows there isn’t  a great track record in making those expansions stick.”

Elstone v Argyle
Elstone sees Toronto owner David Argyle as key to any real long-term success: “We are ultimately backing the intentions and actions of one individual. His actions to date have been positive. His intentions are great today, but we can’t be certain they are going to be great in five years’ time.”

So is Toronto an expansion too far for a Super League newly obsessed with realising the value of its participants? “We can’t afford to turn our back on anybody in that respect, but it’s clearly very random. (when) You talk about expansion, you would go where there’s a natural footprint of players, participation, audience. There isn’t that, but there’s a guy who’s prepared to invest in making sure that there’s a future there.”

So is Super League rolling out the red carpet in anticipation of a Canadian invasion? “I think we have to proceed with optimism, but with a degree of caution on it.” Hardly a resounding fanfare.

It seems, ultimately, Elstone’s money might be on another runner. “I really like the idea of Toulouse,” he said.