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.