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.