Thursday, 11 January 2018

A Law Unto Itself

Hornets 24 - Oldham 28

Forget form, forget league status, forget everything you know about the game. The Law Cup exists in a unique Rugby League bubble; a hermetically-sealed 80 minutes of boiled-down, distilled, concentrated local emnity where two of world RL’s oldest rivals bust gut and sinew for a pot first awarded in 1921.

In any other circumstance, this would be considered a ‘friendly’ - but at either end of the A627M, it has hallowed status: genuine history in progress and that most rarified of prizes: local bragging rights.

Played out in plummeting temperatures buy two nascent, undercooked sides (Oldham fielding 10 debutants, Hornets 11), this was a victory for stubborn effort rather than flowing football. And given the incestuous, soap-opera nature of the history between these two venerable clubs, former Hornets marksman Paul Crook came back to provide the crucial penalties that proved the difference between the two teams.

On a bleak evening where even the floodlights struggled to penetrate the gloom, Hornets began with a knock-on and a couple of soft penalties - and the visitors capitalised after 10 minutes, working the ball wide for Reid to score by the flag. No conversion from Crook; 0-4.

Oldham continued to dominate possession, Hornets working overtime on defence - the home side eventually completing a set after 12 minutes, pinning Oldham into a corner - and when Ben Moores backed up a Gaz Middlehurst break to score, Lewis Palfrey added the extras to edge Hornets ahead.

Palfrey then blotted his copy-book minutes later, failing to find touch from a penalty 10 metres from the touchline.

Hornets lead was doubled on 24 minutes when a kick into the Oldham in-goal induced chaos and Gary Middlehurst provided a cool head and quick reactions to touch down. Palfrey the extras for 12-4.

Oldham responded in kind, working good field position for Crook to hoist a teasing kick into the corner, where Barlow reached out to score. Crook with the kick off the touchline to take Hornets into the sheds holding a slender 12-10 lead.

In a case of deja-vu, Hornets began the second half with a fumbled ball and a penalty from a Dave Allen tackle interpreted as a high-shot by the eagle-eyed touchie. Crook took the gift two to tie the scores at 12-all.

As multiple interchanges began to impact on the rhythm of both teams, the game became a battle of wills - stern defence from both sides limiting any fluid football. But on the hour, Gaz Middlehurst and Dave Allen contrived to concede a penalty for hanging around too long in the tackle. Crook didn’t need asking twice, slotting the penalty to nudge Oldham in front.

Within a minute, the visitors had extended their lead: a huge break  and an outrageous dummy from Reid leaving the Hornets defence flat-footed, Crook on-target and Oldham 12-20 to the good.

Hornets replied with a foray up the left flank, but Callum Mulkeen ran out of field amongst gathering defenders. No matter, on 70 minutes Luke Adamson charged down Hewitt’s kick, scooping up the loose ball to score from 30 metres. Palfrey on target for 18-20 and a grandstand finish in prospect.

As it was, the visitors found something out of nothing when a Crook kick into the in-goal found Nield's outstretched hand for 18-24. Crook no mistake with the conversion: 18-26.

Hornets then failed to send the kick-off 10 metres and, when Oldham were handed another penalty, Crook completed a good night with the boot for 18-28.

Hornets rallied late when Blake Turner showed impressive guile to muscle over from close range, Lewis Palfrey adding the extras for a final score of 24-28. Close, but no cigar.

It’s hard to be objective about quite possibly this most meaningful of ‘friendlies’, but this was an attritional battle on an awful pitch by two teams still finding their shape. Both coaches will have taken much from this: Oldham looking in reasonable shape, we thought; Hornets still a work in progress.

And with progress in mind, we look forward to Saturday’s challenge when Hornets take on Super League partners Warrington Wolves, kick off 3pm. See you there.