Monday, 16 July 2018

Sixth Sense

Hornets 32 - Leigh 54

There were long periods in this game where a neutral would have struggled to tell which of the sides involved had spunked a million and a half quid up the wall, and which one was a part time team on a tenth of the budget.

Indeed, Leigh’s eventual victory - bloated by two late, late tries against a valiant Hornets defence out on its feet - merely entrenches their sixth position (given wins by Featherstone and London).

Which feels about right to us - on this showing Leigh probably are the sixth best side we’ve faced this season and we reckon we’ll see them again when the shield comes round.

Battled out in front of the Championship’s second biggest attendance of the day this was a pendulum of a game in which the momentum swung both ways.

Leigh got off to a scorching start, three tries in the opening 16 minutes - Larroyer up the guts from distance, Hall dummying his way up the left edge and Crooks off a flick pass so far forward as to look deliberate - had the visitors up with the clock at 16-nil. Needless to say Leigh’s sizeable following were very happy at this.

Then Hornets shook themselves to life. On 18 minutes Rob Massam piled straight through his opposite number to get Hornets on the board at 4-16.

Five minutes later, Richard Lepori perfectly read a wild Leigh pass going nowhere, snatching it from the air to run 50 metres unopposed - exposing Leigh’s chronic lack of pace out-wide in the process.
Morgan Smith banged home the extras and at 10-16 we had a game on our hands.

Hornets turned the screw further on the half hour when Ben Moores burrowed in from acting half on the last tackle for a real mugging of a try. Morgan Smith the two and Hornets level at 16-all. Bedlam!

Leigh were then snagged offside at the kick-off. With the visitors now visibly wobbling, Hornets marched straight downfield where the Suva Express arrived at full speed onto a short ball  - Jo Taira taking defenders over the line with him to give Hornets the lead. Morgan Smith raising the flags: Hornets 22-16 up.

The Leigh fans now less happy, bleating for offside at every play the ball and forward at every pass - but mostly just skriking after being forced to swallow 22 unanswered points.

With the half ebbing away, Leigh did summon up the wherewithal to play some football; Bailey in after a frantic exchange of passes. Reynolds added the two and the sides went to the sheds locked at 22-all.

It was, by some significant distance, the best first half of Rugby League at Spotland this season. Played at breakneck speed with Hornets on top for long periods.

The second half began with possibly the worst try conceded at Spotland this season. Hornets unable to complete a last tackle kick, Leigh barrelling the ball into the corner where they knocked on, the loose ball gathered by Lee Mitchell in what was the free-play - but he then dropped the ball. Leigh regathered and - with pretty much everyone in the ground anticipating a Hornets scrum, Referee Mr Race waved play-on. Mata’utia put the ball down. Just embarrassing for the game.

Mr Race continued with his dadaist interpretation of the laws as Leigh knocked on the kick-off, but were waved to play-on. Ben Moores felt moved to question Mr Race’s optician’s prescription and was shown the yellow card. Disgracefully bad officiating.

Mortimer scored from the resulting play, so at least the Leigh fans were happy (22-32).  But 12-man Hornets weren’t done. A lofted kick into the end-zone saw Rob Massam soar like an eagle to snatch the ball from the reaching fingers of Bailey and touch down to close the gap to 26-32.

With the momentum edging back their way, Hornets produced a flawless 80 metre set to drive Leigh back into the corner. And when Mata’utia hit Ben Moores high and late on the last tackle, they looked a bit of a ragged mess.

As it was, they managed to pin George King in-goal to force a drop-out and send Hall into the line as the extra man to score through a stretched defence. Their composure just about reghained. On the hour, the reintroduction of Leigh captain Hansen paid dividends when he ran hard and straight at a tiring defence. But Hornets weren’t finished quite yet.

Another interception by Richard Lepori swept Hornets upfield. With defenders gathering, he fed Morgan Smith who tied defenders in knots before shipping the ball back to Lepori for his second. Leigh chasing shadows. Hornets within touching distance at 32-44.

Hornets continued to press and probe, but it was evident that the tanks was close to empty. Indeed two late tries from Mortimer and Dawson exploited that to blow-out the scoreline.

Despite the result, Hornets were magnificent. Showing guts, craft and a never say die attitude that augurs well for the next phase of the season. Again, this game served to remind everyone of the standard that this side is capable of playing at. And if we can carry that into the shield, Hornets have a shot at confounding the odds.

As for Leigh, you’d imagine that a full-time side would have to do better than shipping 32 points to a part-time outfit to fulfil any real ambition of going up.