Friday, 29 June 2018

Sunday's Coming: Featherstone

The win at Sheffield sparked wild
celebrations in Featherstone
With just five games remaining, Championship teams begin their last mad scramble for regular season points - and Alan Kilshaw and John Duffy come into Sunday’s game looking for wins. But for decidedly different reasons.

A form-book-busting win for Hornets could lift us off the bottom of the Championship (if Swinton were to slip-up at home to Dewsbury). And if you think that never happens, you only have to go back to last year when a late Lewis Palfrey penalty snatched the points for a jubilant Hornets. It’s likely, however, that conditions on Sunday will be somewhat more favourable for a potent Rovers: the village Pit Ponies intent on sticking it to the cashed-up show-ponies of Manchestoronto, TOXIIIC and Leigh.

A Rovers win on Sunday would see John Duffy’s side maintain their hot pursuit of Toulouse in second place (the French side travel to Sheffield - flogged 40 to 6 by Fev last week - so we can’t see past an Eagles defeat there).

Having lost half-backs Martyn Ridyard (shoulder - 2 months) and Tom Holmes (knee - season-ending), Duffy is talking a lot about ‘grinding out wins’ at the moment as he’s adjusted his side’s playing style to compensate for the loss of his first choice halves.

This week he said in the Yorkshire Post: “We are grinding out some good results at the minute, we are sticking to our plan and I’m really happy for the boys.” On Fev’s website, the theme was similar: “We have simplified things over the past month or so, given the injuries we have suffered, and are grinding out the results. It is now about kicking on and sticking to the plan as we work towards the end of the regular season.”

‘The plan’ seems to be to take on teams up the middle of the park. Of new halves pairing Matty Wildie and Anthony Thackeray, Duffy said: “(They have) really bought into how we want to play. They have got that game plan going for us with Keal Carlile through the middle…” and: “ (against Sheffield)… we stuck to what we wanted to do and built pressure and scored some fantastic tries with just pushing through that middle area, which is where we wanted to go.”

A big fev pack going up the middle -  whoever would have imagined such a thing?

But it’s a plan that seems to be working. in the last three games Featherstone have ‘ground out’ huge wins: 42-18 at Dewsbury, 52-4 against Barrow and 40-6 last week. That’s 134 points in three games - suggesting it’s not all forward grunt at Post Office Road.

Thackeray grabbed a brace of tries as Featherstone cruised to their easy win at Sheffield. Rovers ‘wunder-winger’ Luke Briscoe (signed by Leeds two weeks ago, played for them against Catalan and loaned straight back to Fev) weighed in with his 30th Featherstone try of the season after backing up a break by former Hornet Shaun Robinson. Keeping him off the scoresheet would be an achievement in itself.

Ian Hardman and Josh Hardcastle also scored two tries each in what looked like a fairly straightforward win: so threats all over the field. And Gareth Hock - the archetypal loose cannon.

Duffy has also added Hemel’s ex-Bradford Academy prop James Thornton to his squad and he could be in line for a debut on Sunday.

Hornets were buoyed this week by the loan signing of Gav Bennion for a couple of months. Gav was an absolute bulwark of last season’s side - and comes to us knowing exactly what its takes to grind out a win at Featherstone.

Hornets come into the game having shown noticeable improvement against Toulouse last week. Despite a scoreline blown-out by three late tries, Hornets looked purposeful and capable of creating chances. Certainly the necessary addition of new faces doesn’t help with continuity, but the effort was there for all to see and new boy Jack Fox looked a threat every time he carried the ball.

The whole point of playing in the Championship is to test yourself against teams with genuine Super League ambitions, to grow, to learn, to improve. That hard lesson continues on Sunday, but it’s still a privilege to watch our club play at this level. We should remember that sometimes.  And it’s a privilege that clubs very similar to us - Oldham, Keighley, Hunslet, Whitehaven, York - don’t have.

And - as we saw last year - miracles do happen at Post Office Road.  You wouldn’t want to miss another one, would you?

See you Sunday

Monday, 25 June 2018

Toulouse Too Hot.

Hornets 14 - Toulouse 70

The logic is irrefutable. Put a team of try-hard part-timers up against a million-Euro bunch of dead-eyed mercenaries and you’re only ever going to get gunned down.

In this foregone conclusion of a game, there was little joy for any of the stakeholders as it played out to script and the Toulouse wagon kept on rolling. At the reins, two of the Championship’s most enigmatic players: Jonathan Ford and Mark Kheirallah. The former giving the impression that he does bugger-all, whilst what he does makes a vast difference; the latter giving the impression that he makes a vast difference when, in fact, he does bugger-all of substance.

Ford is a languid, louche presence - not so much backing up, more uncoiling in back play to launch that whip of a cut-out pass, before retreating into the shadows for a deserved nap. Kheirallah is an angry wasp - all noise and bluster, acceleration and a decent boot his only real contribution.

Behind this insouciant double-act dances a chorus-line of hired goons - standover men whose job is to supply muscle on-demand and bludgeon you into defeat. Quite literally in this case as - with just three minutes on the clock - Danny Yates was hit late by lanky meat-head Bretherton. With the Wigan loanee dispatched to consider his actions, Tyler Whittaker hit the spot to give Hornets a 2-nil lead.

Shaken by the impertinence, Toulouse came crashing back with a quick-fire Mika double whammy: the first piling in fro close range off a short-ball, the second after the visitors had milked back-to-back penalties: Ford releasing a flat-pass into space for the big Samoan to slump in. 2-12.

After Billy Brickhill hoofed the kick-off into the Sandy Lane end, Toulouse went straight back on the offensive, this time the ball was worked to Kheirallah who strolled in. Clearly exhausted by his efforts he put the conversion wide: 2-16.

But Hornets continued to press and probe. Rob Massam going agonisingly close in the corner, succumbing eventually to the weight of French numbers. Toulouse responded by putting on a 70 metre move begun via a sloppy tackle and ended by Kriouache for 2-20.

Hornets went back to Rob Massam on the half hour; a last tackle bomb slipping from his fingers in the in-goal.

Off the hook, Toulouse marched straight upfield where Bouzinac drilled in through a tiring defence from acting half. And with the half ebbing away, Barthau cut through a hole to score under the black dot. Half time 2-30: the scoreline not really reflecting Hornets’ effort.

The second half began in the worst way possible. Toulouse gathered the kick-off and, two minutes later, sent Puech rumbling in off a short pass. But Hornets hit straight back: Hepi coughing the ball, Jack Fox exposing Ford’s sloppy defensive qualities to stride away and score. Whittaker the two and a palpable lift in the home-fans’ spirits (8-36).

As the game became scrappy, Toulouse kept the scoreboard ticking over: Barthau stepping through, then Kheirallah hitting the afterburners to feed Barthau in for his third.

Hornets meantime refused to lie-down - some impressive defence from Jack Fox and an attempted intercept from Richard Lepori that bounced agonisingly from his hands. On 65 minutes Hornets got their just rewards. Again it was Jack Fox stepping through a lazy Ford tackle, the ball worked to Lewis Hatton who plunged in to score. Whittaker the extras for 14-48.

As the game entered the last 15 minutes, Toulouse’s full-time fitness eventually told as Hornets wilted in the heat - four late tries blowing out the scoreline First Canet off a pendulous cut-out pass from Ford; then Kriouache stepping through after a Hepi break up the guts of the defence. With five minutes remaining, Ford again unleashing that pass for Ader to score and - on the hooter - Kheirallah touching down a Hepi toe-poke into the in-goal. Final score a bloated 14-70. In the midst of this, Ben Moores yellow-carded for dissent.

In the wash-up there are two undeniable certainties about Toulouse. One: if you let Ford dictate the pace and direction of the game, you’re pretty much done. Yes, he’s a lazy bugger stealing a living at a level way below his capabilities, but he’s the switch that flicks his team into life. Second: Toulouse Olympique remain a hard team to like. They ooze disdain for the Championship and - for the main part - soullessly work their way through the playbook until the hooter tells them to stop.

Hornets on the other hand showed some nice touches and kept grafting in the face of insurmountable odds. But you can sense the frustration caused by a multitude of daft errors that repeatedly gave Toulouse the opportunity to bombard them.

Ultimately, using our logical head, we maintain that these are not the games that will define our season. Hornets need to stay in touch with Swinton, Dewsbury and Sheffield - and make games against the teams around us in the 8s a priority.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Sunday's Coming: Toulouse

Mark Khierallah: Né dans l'arrondissement
Français de Darlinghurst.
On a weekend of international sport, there’s only one game in town - and Toulouse come to Spotland on Sunday on the back of a rare defeat; downed 16-18 by Leigh in Albi last week.

Clearly, we’d love to think that this heralds the the point in the season where they quietly fade into a mid-table malaise - so we went in search of clues: starting with reports on the Leigh defeat (All translations are ours, courtesy of our O-Level French and a bit of Google translate).

In their post match analysis (‘The Centurions Spoil the Party’ - ah, bless), TOXIIIC said on their website: that the result was “… regrettable for TO, whose outcome was not deserved, but who were confronted with cold English realism.” Ah, we love it when they get bitter over a 2-point loss.

The first wobble in Toulouse’s annual choke-fest? They hinted as much in their match report, saying: “(Toulouse) stalled in the race for the Top 4 against a direct competitor, and will start again next Sunday in Rochdale…”

Having led 16-14 after the break, TO’s reporter produces a small onion and cries about how two Leigh penalties snatched the win for the Leythers after TOXIIIC had two try claims struck off.

Leigh’s win was built on determined defence. Or, as La Depeche put it in their report: “The big defensive pressure imposed by the English damaged the beautiful mechanics of Toulouse.”  So getting amongst them reduces their effectiveness.

In summary, sheep-farmer and part-time coach Sylvain Houles said: “"Our execution and our passing work were poor. It's frustrating because (the game) was largely winnable. But they put us under a lot of defensive pressure and made us make mistakes.” He concluded “ We lacked control, playing too early or moving the ball too early - our timing needs reviewing”.

As we know, TOXIIIC don’t deal with defeats too well, but genuine local French prop Maxime Puech is looking at it philosophically (with a shrug, we assume): “We did not seize opportunities to score. We were unclear when (Leigh) showed up. We had to be ’sharper’ in our game. We made too many mistakes. And we didn’t always defend very well.”

He went on: “We’re still in the race, but this failure can put you under pressure before going to Rochdale and then Sheffield.”

“Let's not forget that last year we lost to bottom teams. (We) do not take any team lightly and prepare (for) all the matches as if we are facing big guys. And it's about going to Rochdale before thinking of Sheffield.

When asked last week whether promotion to Super League remains realistic goal this year, Toulouse president Bernard Sarrazain was pretty circumspect for a man into this for a million Euros a season: “We have never been so close to the ‘summit’. But it's going to be complicated. It's been 10 years that we have been working on it. There are teams of (a) very high level. Our first goal is to finish in the top four of the championship (then play) the finals. To achieve this, we have to win five of our last seven games.”

With five defeats already, Toulouse cling precariously to second place on-points difference from Featherstone - and only a point ahead of Halifax who have the same number of wins.

Ones to watch are stand-off Jonathan Ford (the championship player with by far the greatest gulf between his ability and the effort he expends) and fullback Mark Kheirallah, French League’s Australian poster-boy after he once scored a try against Australia in a game where France got flogged.

Toulouse are likely to be missing Aussie second-row Rhys Curran. who has damaged a wrist, but they have taken Wigan prop Joe Bretherton on loan until the end of the season.

Hornets come into Sunday’s game on the back of a frankly horrible performance at London that had no merits whatsoever. Having been forced to endure the worst view in British RL, the long-suffering Hornets fans had their faith tested to the limit as London handed out a brutal lesson in creativity and defensive dominance.

If it’s true that Hornets always respond to a poor performance by producing a better, grittier display, then this is the weekend to do it. The key is staying with Toulouse for as long as possible. Winning set-to-set on attack and defence will lay the platform. And keeping Ford quiet will be key.

Don’t forget: Sunday’s game has been moved to a 4pm kick-off to avoid a clash with popular quiz show ’Catchphrase’.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

No Fun

London 68 - Hornets nil

There are lots of reasons to dislike the Ealing Trailfinders stadium.

Its plastic pitch makes the game a discomfiting ‘uncanny valley’ experience. The fact that all sideline seating (capacity a couple of hundred, tops) is reserved for season ticket holders leaves visitors little choice on where to stand. With no ‘opposite side’, Hornets’ loyal contingent found themselves perched in a corner, some choosing to watch from the car-park as it offered marginally more elevation. It has all the atmosphere of an asteroid - unconfined by stands or terracing, any attempt to engage with the action gets blown into the ether.

It’s also £20 to get in - yes, £20 to stand in the corner of a large plastic carpet, with the game happening ‘somewhere over there’. It’s a ball-ache to get to: notwithstanding the drive, the train, and the tube that eats half your day, it’s a just-irritating-enough half hour walk to try and find the ground hidden in one of London’s leafier suburbs, deep in the heart of *nion country.

All of this would be enough to piss off the hardiest of visiting supporters - but as Hornets sank without trace, shipping 12 tries and ten Kieran Dixon goals, it made for a difficult, disheartening, demoralising afternoon and a funereal return journey that landed fans back at 10.30pm and a hundred quid lighter.

For eight minutes, though, this was - deceptively - a decent contest. Hornets holding their own early doors. But once Broncos stand-in scrum-half Cunningham got his eye in, he single-handedly orchestrated a deluge of unstoppable one-way traffic.

Pitts opened the scoring after Cunninhgham produced some sleight of hand to unzip the defence and from there it became a parade. Dixon was next on the scoresheet, exploiting some over-eager defending, then a chip to the corner for Dixon to grab his second. On 24 minutes Pitts slipped in from the back of the ruck - and two minutes later, Pewhairangi snaffled a loose Rob Massam pass to stride untouched to the line.

Cunningham created one for himself on the half hour after a harmless looking Hornets clearing kick was returned with interest by Dixon; then Pewhairangi threw an outrageous dummy to step in and score. Dixon on target and Hornets shellshocked. 38-nil at the break - Hornets poor value for the nil.

The second half began with a freak try. Pewhairangi with a bit of a panic kick, the ball rebounding from the crossbar into the hands of the unrushing Evans. London then went ahead of the clock when Pewhairangi left Luke Adamson clutching at air to thread Walker in. 49 minutes, 50-nil

From there on in, London pretty much racked the cue. They ran a few shapes, moved the ball around and scored when the opportunity arose. Pewhairangi his hat-trick on the hour from a Cunningham kick, then Cunningham in off a Pewhairangi  kick. All very perfunctory.

Even Hornets' bad luck ran out here: returning hooker Dec Gregory removed with a head injury; Luke Adamson limping off with a knock to the knee.

The coup-de-grace came with eight minutes remaining, with Walker scoring London’s 12th: somewhere in the distance, someone clapping.

Post match Alan Kilshaw was pretty forthright: “I feel sorry for anybody who travelled from Rochdale to see that - we made far too many errors and weren’t able to defend our line.”

Can’t argue with any of that.

It was about as bad a Rugby League experience as it’s possible to have. Every single aspect of the day a blight on the soul. On the train on the way back, even we asked ourselves: “Is this really worth it?” Indeed, it wasn't so much the defeat in itself (London are a good side), but the manner of it. In 80 minutes, Hornets failed to impose their presence on the game in any way, shape or form.

If you’re looking for positives from this game, don’t bother. The only good news is that, not only did Swinton also lose, Toulouse began their annual choke-fest early this year, going down at home to Leigh - and coming to us next week on the back of a defeat.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Sunday's Coming: Laaaaandan Broncos

Sunday sees Hornets trek off ‘Darn Sarf’ to take on Laaaaandan Broncos.

Having undergone five name changes in their history - and having played at five venues in the last 15 years - The Broncos finally look to have settled at the plastic pastures of Ealing Trailfinders.

Speaking in the Guardian recently an un-named Broncos ‘spokesman’ (never a good look to have ‘un-named spokespeople speaking for your club in the media) said: “Ealing has always been known as a community-oriented borough and that’s what the Broncos are all about. We’ve an award-winning community programme which works with 23 schools in the Ealing borough. Season ticket sales have gone up a third on last year; because we’re in a stable place, people want to have a look at London again.”

Broncos? A ‘stable’ place? Whoever this person is they’re a natural comedian.

This could be a good time to catch the Broncos, as they come into Sunday’s game on the back of an energy-sapping 32-12 defeat in Toronto - making it back-to back long distance defeats following their 40-28 loss in Toulouse. In response to the Canada trip, Broncos Head of Performance Mike Eccles admits that the players have suffered jet -lag and that, in response, the squad have had a ‘low-intensity’ week in preparation for Sunday.

Having now lost six games, the Broncos have slipped off the Championship pace, conceding their place in the top four to Featherstone and Halifax. But therein lies a paradox. The Broncos are the second highest points scorers in the division by a point (behind TOXIIIC) with 617 - but while they win games, they also ship a lot of points: their 16 game average being a 38 - 21 win.

Jarrod Sammut - ready for battle.
Clearly their focus is on attack, and that’s led by bearded power-midget Jarrod Sammut - who has this week been named in Malta’s train-on squad for 2018’s Emerging Nations World Championship in Sydney, the world-cup qualifying European Championship C-South and a proposed Test against South Africa.

A product of the Sydney RL production line at Patrician Brothers' College Blacktown, Sammut started his career captaining Penrith Panthers’ Jersey Flegg Cup side to Grand Final Wins in 2006 and 2007. Though he went on to play 38 times for Penrith in the NRL, he’s made his name as a dynamo half-back here in the UK, having led Crusaders RL, Bradford, Wakefield, Featherstone, Workington and London round the park.

But he’s not just a playmaker.  If you want to assess the scale of his contribution to the Broncos cause, to date he’s scored 38 tries in 43 games - and kicked 157 goals. His games average is just shy of 12 points - so, effectively, just putting him on the team sheet gives London a 12 point start.

So shut him down and you shut down the Broncos main conduit to points.

Hornets come into Sunday looking for an improvement on a sloppy second half that saw the game at Barrow slip slowly away. Alan Kilshaw was pretty forthright in his assessment of the second 40.

“we killed ourselves,” he said. “It’s the tale of our season. One step forward and two steps back and to be honest I’m quite angry with what we served up”. Justifiable frustration after a solid first half display.

But Hornets have put in good performances against some of the top teams this year - London at home being one of them, so a good start on Sunday would make not an interesting contest. And - as there’s one shock result every season - it might as well be this one.

We know it’s a long schlep down to Ealing but if you can, get down there - every voice will count as, once again, we aim to out-sing the home fans and give the lads a much needed lift.

See you there.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Being Boiled

Barrow 20 - Hornets 6

There’s an urban myth that claims if you put a frog into a pan of hot water it will jump out, but if the frog is put into cold water which is then brought to a boil by slowly increasing the heat, it will not perceive the danger and will allow itself be cooked to death.

And in the steaming heat of Craven Park, Barrow gradually turned up the second-half heat to leave Hornets realising far too late that the game as a contest was long dead.

Indeed in a locked-up, air-tight chess-game of a first half, there was no clue at all to just how this game would edge away from Hornets grasp.

With Dec Kay defusing an early aerial bombardment with aplomb, Hornets made rapid progress downfield where Seta Tala went close. Gifted a penalty for a late high shot on Danny Yates, Hornets worked the ball to Deon Cross who went over the line. After much debate, it was decided - we think -  that a double movement occurred: Referee Mr Smith somewhat light on clarity.

But Hornets continued to press - going wide on the last tackle only for the last pass to Rob Massam to be deemed forward.

With defences on top, flowing football was at a premium. Twice the home side had rare opportunities: the first ending with Rob Massam crash tackling his opposite number into touch, the second with Barrow knocking on with the line begging.

The first clear-cut chance of the half fell on 24 minutes to Barrow winger Toal, who coughed the ball into the in-goal when it looked easier to score. Dec Kay’s consequent break to half-way came to nought when he too knocked on.

Hornets were penalised for appearing to contest the resulting scrum and Barrow applied some concerted pressure: held-up over the line, then forcing a drop-out - then knocking on.

Both sides were now struggling to prise the game open: Deon Cross bundled into touch as he attempted a blind-side sneak; Barrow coughing the ball first tackle after Hornets had been snagged for obstruction playing an out-set in their own half.

In the end, it took Dallimore’s milking of a 35th minute penalty to break the deadlock: 2-nil.

As the half drained away, Rob Massam hit the defensive line with a punishing drive, Barrow’s Crellin got his body position all wrong and came reeling out of the tackle completely pole-axed. He was stretchered from the field after an extensive delay.

On resumption it was Barrow’s turn to get snagged for a ‘ghost obstruction’ - and there was just enough time left for Mr Smith to come up with a quite ridiculous penalty (Hornets exchange passes, Dallimore sticks a hand between and knocks on - Hornets penalised for obstruction. We know - us either…).

Dallimore banged over the penalty from in front and the teams retired to the sheds tryless at 4-nil.

A pretty good show all-round, we thought. a tight, combative contest…

The second half started with an error after just 40 seconds - a forward pass in the kick-off set, set the tone. Two minutes later Barrow pressed on the 20m line, but a Dec Kay intercept carried the ball clear - only for him to force a reckless pass to the lurking Smith. Barrow worked the ball wide where a three on-one on Rob Massam was enough for Hulme to score. 8-nil.

Hornets responded well with a direct set, but Deon Cross threw a crazy interception pass that Stack snaffled. Barrow’s set ended with Rob Massam knocking on under his own posts.

On 54 minutes Barrow hit Hornets with a real sucker-punch; Dallimore picking out Fieldhouse round the back of a scrum for a simple try. 12-nil.

On the hour, Barrow wunder-prop Bullock picked a path through the defence where Jo Taira had his back turned, aimed his not insignificant bulk at Danny Yates and Dec Kay and physics did the rest. 16-nil - and the game disappearing into the middle distance.

Hornets produced one moment of inspiration on 70 minutes: Tyler Whittaker with the break, dropping the ball onto his toe for Seta Tala to score (16-6).  Then Hornets dropped the kick-off…

After ten more minutes of Hornets ending good sets with poor options, there was just enough time left for Bullock to shove his way through four defenders to score the softest try of the day. The game, in the end won  - and lost - by a multitude of imperceptible incremental shifts.

The adjective most used after the game was ‘disappointing’. But we have to be careful that this game doesn’t become a metaphor for a season, where we’re slowly boiled but don’t notice until it’s too late. And where any chance of survival - like the frog - lies dead in the water.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Sunday's Coming: Barrow

As Hornets look to be coming out of an injury crisis,  Paul Crarey is juggling bodies at Craven Park as his Barrow side continues to struggle with a lengthy queue at the treatment room and a dent in their bank account.

Whilst the week off between Barrow’s shock defeat at Blackpool and Sunday gives him some respite and recovery opportunities, Crarey staunchly refuses to seek a DR agreement and sees the situation as an opportunity to blood some emerging talent.

Speaking to the North West Evening Mail this week, he said: ““We'll go with what we've got until the well runs dry. I haven't asked for anybody and the board have said 'if any money comes available, you can have someone', and that's fine. If not, we're not going to bankrupt the club and we'll stick with what we've got and see if that's good enough to get us until the end of the year.”

Of late, Crarey has been leaning heavily on the experience of his captain Martin Aspinwall, who turned out at prop in the Raiders’ last-ditch 22-all draw at Swinton a couple of weeks back. He concedes that the Raiders are less effective when Aspinwall is off the field - but he can’t give him a long-shift either: “He's solid through the middle and when he's off there, the talk goes and we sit down a bit in the middle. We can't leave him on massively because it's unfair on him and we'll probably lose his quality.”

At the opposite end of the reliability scale, 12 weeks ago Barrow signed former Warrington three-quarter Gene Ormsby until the end of the season. Ormsby was on trial at Salford and also on Swinton’s radar. Crarey saw him then as a good signing: “He's a good signing.” He said at the time. “He's a winger, but he can play centre in the Championship and he's played there before. He's an outside back and that's somewhere we've needed to strengthen…”

But in a late twist, this week Ormsby has asked to be released from his contract due to difficulties in travelling to Barrow. It’s highly unlikely he’ll feature on Sunday, with Tom Loxam in the frame to play at centre

Rethinking his opinion of Ormsby, Crarey said in the North West Evening Mail on Thursday: “Gene Ormsby is struggling with the travelling and he wants a release now because he can't do that, so it's put us in a predicament going into this week with the injuries we've had. I’ve put in the hands of the board and with Gene for them to sort out, so it's left us in a bad position.”

Crarey, is also without utility back Andy Litherland due to a recurring back injury.

Talking of ‘bad positions’, the Raiders have this week pleaded for the Barrow public to back the club in bigger numbers, as crowds are currently falling below the board’s budgeted forecast - compelling Crarey to tighten the purse strings.

Despite a four-figure average, crowds have fallen below the 1,200 budgeted for - and Crarey has made it perfectly clear this week that: “…  if we get over that 1,200 then we'll be able to strengthen the team.”

“That's the only way we are going to be able to bring players in… we won't put the club in financial trouble and that's why we'll go with what we've got.”

Hornets go onto Sunday on the back of a gutsy win at Swinton, built on the foundation of a well-executed first 40 minutes in which the high tempo and willingness to move the ball had Swinton in all sorts of trouble.

With Gas Middlehurst and Luke/Toby Adamson back in the side - and Ben Moore calling the shots from acting half - Hornets looked better balanced, but it was the half-back axis of Danny Yates and Tyler Whittaker that made the whole machine tick - and they’ll have to be on-song on Sunday to nullify the threat of Barrow’s short-fused playmaker Jamie Dallimore.

Whilst we don’t want to delve into complex mathematics so early in the season, a win at Barrow - and a win for Swinton at Sheffield - could hoist Hornets out of the bottom two. Defeat then for Dewsbury  (at home to Featherstone), would leave them only one point above Hornets. Interestingly Barrow have only one win more than Hornets - but three draws have given them a three point cushion in the dogfight at the bottom of the Championship.

But all of that is moot without the win - and the more fans voices we get up there, the greater the contribution to supporting the lads. So make a day of it: pack your lunch, fill your car and let’s make a bit of noise. See you there.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Hornets Turn Up The Heat As Swinton Set The Bar Low

Swinton 18 - Hornets 25

On a hot day at Heywood Road, Hornets stepped off the bottom of the Championship with this battling win against a Swinton side that had come to scrap. This was an ill-tempered encounter - instigated mostly by Lions’ walking anger-issue Josh Barlow -  the bearded barmpot who not only spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin for running into a fracas, but who also talked himself into a red-card for dissent late in the game.

Indeed, Barlow set the tone for the game. As Hornets strove to play football around Swinton’s histrionics, the home side niggled, griped and left something in pretty much every tackle. Jonah Cunningham and Gary Middlehurst’s blood-soaked head injuries evidence of some fairly agricultural treatment.

Swinton pressed hard in the early stages, repelled by some tough Hornets defence. But when Tyler Whittaker stepped into daylight on half way after 15 minutes with a mercurial break, he found Danny Yates on his inside to give Hornets the lead. Whittaker the extras for a 0-6 lead.

But it was short-lived. Hornets loose-carried the kick-off, Swinton worked the ball to Lloyd and he found space to score. 4-6.

Hornets went straight back on the attack. Some tasty approach allowed them to build some pressure on the Swinton line, and when Ben Moores took a sideways step to create some space on the quarter-mark, his neat pass found Gary Middlehurst who reached through a tangle of defenders to score. Whittaker no mistake, 4-12.

Hornets were in again on the half hour after Tyler Whittaker had been deemed held-up in the in-goal. The ball was shipped to Rob Massam who piled through three defenders to score out wide. Whittaker a great conversion from the touchline and Hornets in complete charge at 4-18.

The introduction of Barlow saw the game take a turn for the worse - and when he went steaming into a brawl just after the half-hour he was given ten minutes to consider his actions. To say that Stuart Littler wasn’t pleased is a bit of an understatement.

As it was the 12-man Lions bickered and battered their way to the break: Hornets ahead and good value for their lead.

Hornets began the second half in comedic fashion - retrieving the kick-off Chuckle-Brothers style “to me, to you” as the ball bobbled around. Mr Grant decided someone was offside, but Swinton couldn’t capitalise.

Instead Hornets marched straight downfield where Tyler Whittaker, Danny Yates and Dec Kay ran a sublime line to feed Deon Cross into space to score. Whittaker with the two. Hornets Looking good at 24-4 - Hankinson’s try for the home side on 55 minutes looking like consolation at 24-8.

The game then locked-up. Swinton steadying the ship, Hornets forced into multiple changes now struggling for rhythm. Indeed, when Hornets elected to take the two on 65 minutes it looked like sensible shout, but Whittaker under-hit his effort for his only miss of the afternoon.

On 73 minutes Swinton produced their one moment of innovation: Hankinson’s kick from the base of the scrum, the gathering Tyson reeled in by a terrific tackle by Richard Lepori, but the home side first to react - Lloyd scoring a sitter through a stretched, retreating defence: 12-24.

Tails-up, Swinton sniffed an opportunity, but when Barlow barrelled his way to the corner-flag only to be bundled dead-in-goal, he opened a fire-hose of profanity at the touch-judge. Mr Grant showed him the red card and Barlow got an early shower and a five minute start on the buffet.

Hornets’ response was to put the game to bed. The pack piled the ball downfield, Yatesey feigned left, the ball shipped right and Tyler Whittaker there coolest head on the field to slot home the drop goal.

There was just enough time for Hankinson to score a late one for the Lions - his dink into the in-goal pinballing twixt legs and post, before he touched down amongst the mayhem.

But it mattered not. Despite two late tries giving this the veneer of a contest, Hornets were by some distance the better side. The improvement on the previous week was vast - the returning Ben Moores providing a solid anchor at the ruck.

In game where several players caught the eye (debutant Jack ‘the’ Fox looking very useful with ball in hand), we chose Tyler Whittaker as our man of the match. In the end, his contribution proved the difference on the scoreboard, though he was ably supported by a gutsy team performance.

We wrote last week that a win at all costs was imperative - and the lads delivered. The bar is set: and we move on to Barrow.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Sunday's Coming Again: Swinton

In an eerily familiar case of deja-vu, Hornets go to Heywood Road on Sunday seeking revenge on Swinton Lions for last week’s defeat at Bloomfield Road.

Post match Lions coach Stuart Littler singled out Josh Woods and Jack Hansen for praise, but for us it was George Tyson who set the tone for Swinton’s win: his blunt instrument approach delivering a brace on the day - making it 8 tries in 11 appearances for him. A decent strike rate.

Swinton come into Sunday’s game in an unusual position: off the bottom of the table and unbeaten in their last two games, they have some momentum and, as Littler also said in his post-match interview, Sunday now becomes more important as we try and claw Dewsbury and Sheffield back into this desperate, ugly shit-fight at the bottom of the Championship (maybe he didn't use those actual words, but the sentiment is the same).

The real pisser, though is that - despite seemingly being unable to buy a win for the last two months - both Dewsbury and Sheffield (somehow) had a rush of blood at Blackpool and came up with victories. How? Not a clue, but it makes a win on Sunday - by any means possible - imperative.

However you assess it, last weekend was disappointing (to say the least). Having delivered a first half littered with errors and a second half going backwards, Hornets will need a major improvement this weekend if they are to return Swinton to the foot of the table.

In his post-match post-mortem Alan Kilshaw recognised Hornets’ poor set completion, game management and sloppy finishing as key factors that saw the game drop away from his side - particularly in a second-half that’s hard to watch.

Anyway, onward (as a previous iteration of Hornets used to say)…

Good news for Sunday is that Jonah Cunningham has joined us until the end of the season and we also have ex- Workington prop Joe Ryan and former England Academy utility back Jack Fox on-board to bolster the ranks. Welcome on-board, gentlemen.

The other positive to take into Sunday is that the Hornets fans played a blinder in Blackpool - and a repeat performance on Sunday will give the boys a much needed lift. It’s only a short trip - so fill your car and get over to Heywood Road.  A club that sings together… er… wins together (or something like that).

See you Sunday.