Monday, 1 October 2018

The Great Escape

Sheffield Eagles 22 - Hornets 32

Hornets fans travelled in good numbers to witness The Great Escape. Handed a last chance in the last chance saloon, Hornets had to better Swinton’s result at Batley to pull off another Rugby League Miracle and secure Championship football for another year.  In the bleak surrounds of Sheffield’s Olympic Legacy Park Stadium (some ’stadium’. Some legacy!) Hornets sought to defy the gravitational pull of the League 1 Ridiculous Relegation Shithouse Playoff™, needing to produce back-to-back wins for the first time this season at the home of our bogey side.

But it all started so terribly badly: Richard Lepori uncharacteristically losing a high bomb in the swirling wind, Sheffield getting to a last tackle dink into the in-goal and Broadbent touching down with just four minutes on the clock. Thomas the extras for a 6-nil lead. Three minutes later, the home side broke again, but this time chasers of the last tackle kick were deemed offside by the RFL’s uber-pedant Mr Grant.

Hornets’ gears finally engaged on 10 minutes when a Danny Yates kick was allowed to bounce and Toby Adamson gathered on the run to score: 6-4. But the hard work was very nearly undone: Tyler Whittaker dropping the kick-off, Hornets then shipping back to back penalties to give Sheffield easy, un-earned pressure.

The home side turned the screw, forcing two consecutive drop-outs. For three sets the big home pack pounded the Hornets line, but their blunt-instrument approach foundered on a resolute Hornets defence. Sheffield’s reward for 10 minutes of relentless pressure? A knock-on followed by a soft penalty. Hornets’ punishment of the Eagles’ profligacy was swift: Firstly Deon Cross intercepting a lazy pass to blast fully 80 metres to score, then - on the quarter - Lee Mitchell hitting a short ball at pace, showing good strength to bully-off defenders to plant the ball down. Mayhem amongst the visiting fans; Tyler Whittaker slotting the extras for 6-14.

With Sheffield now reduced to impotent jabbing, Hornets soaked up what little danger they offered, the only other score of the half a Tyler Whittaker penalty on the hooter to give Hornets a 6-16 lead at the break. With Swinton tanking at Batley, Hornets’ Championship future was firmly in their own hands.

It was the home side, however, who started the second half the brighter. With Seta Tala removed after just three minutes of the second half with a head injury, Sheffield took advantage of a reshuffling edge defence: Burns scoring, despite what looked like an obstruction in the build up.

Justice was served immediately, as Sheffield dropped the kick-off. Hornets didn’t need a second invitation: whipping the ball wide for Jack Fox to stride round a static defence and score. Tyler Whittaker raised the flags and Hornets looking comfortable at 12-22. Then two moments of momentum shift…

On 50 minutes Sheffield hoisted a huge penalty downfield, where Aston took advantage of a Hornets defender rushing out of the line to score. Then Billy Brickhill forced a pass coming out of yardage; Sheffield untypically incisive, with Spedding cashing in. From nowhere - and having showed no desire to play any football whatsoever - Sheffield were level at 22-all. Shredded nerves weren’t helped by Mr Grant’s ridiculous application of a Hornets team warning for an obstruction.

With Swinton taking a flogging at Batley, Hornets had 20 minutes to find a way to win, to salvage the season.

On 66 minutes Hornets took the ball deep into Eagles territory; Tyler Whittaker lofted a teasing kick into the swirling September sky - Sheffield defenders backpedalling, uncertain. Spedding now turned patsy, the ball bouncing off his chest into the arms of the on-rushing Jo Taira - the Suva Express too strong to stop. Tyler Whittaker - somehow - hitting the upright with the conversion: 22-26. The clock now our enemy.

Sheffield Steal: Tyler Whittaker seals the deal with a late try
With Sheffield reduced to five plodding drives and a rubbish hoof downfield, Hornets went in search of the coup-de-grace. It arrived with just 120 seconds of the season remaining. More good approach work from Hornets, Tyler Whittaker showing great footwork to sashay through a flat-footed defence to score the try that sent the Hornets fans into a frenzy. For good measure, he slammed home the extras. The hooter ignited scenes of joy and relief.

Once again, Hornets have defied the odds and produced another Rugby League miracle. Given a glint of hope, Alan Kilshaw’s battered, busted and broken side have risen to the challenge, and shown that we may be a small club, but we have a huge heart. All that remains is to thank Killer and his backroom staff for keeping us going right to the very end; to thank every player who’s pulled on a shirt for what looked like a lost cause at times; to thank Steve Kerr for a steady hand on the tiller when it looked like all was lost. And to thank every Hornets fan for keeping the faith - espcially in the darkest of hours.

This season has tested every one of us to the limit. But if what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, let’s push Onward Hornets, Onward.