Wednesday, 11 September 2019

2019 in 30 Paragraphs

Yes, it's that time of year when we review the season. And we've done it by taking a single paragraph from each of our match reports. Relive it all in just 30 Paragraphs.

Rochdale Mayfield 12 - Hornets 18
"A clash of styles was evident as Hornets' structured approach was countered by Mayfield's desire to take risks and go off script - and it made for an entertaining (and occasionally fractious) contest...."

Oldham 24 - Hornets 8
"The raw stats themselves tell a tale where Hornets are a distant second, stragglers in a two-horse race. And if the stats don't lie, they also act as a brutal metaphor for Sunday's game at the Vestacare, where Hornets looked second best in every department."

Hornets 6 - Toronto Wolfpack 58
"Toronto Wolfpack rolled in like the circus it is: all 'look at me' fanfare, big-time Charlies and the dead-eyed joy of a bloke cracking a whip at a broken lion for the hundredth time to meagre squeals of sadistic delight."

Toulouse Olympique 42 - Hornets 12
"People will just look at the scoreline here and make a judgement - but they'll be wrong. Mostly because they weren't actually there to see this game unfold."

Batley 18 - Hornets 12
"... it would be too uncharitable to just complain. Hornets' work-rate was excellent and the defence was pretty solid bar the extreme edges. Indeed, the effort was there for all to see - it just deserved the reward of more incisive football off the back of it."

Hornets 20 - Barrow 8
"Satisfying was Swinton's late, late choking at Halifax which leaves Hornets out of the bottom two and breathing hard down Batley and Dewsbury's necks. A launch pad for the rest of the season?"

Leigh 46 - Hornets 6
"In a first half car-crash of back-pedalling and penalties, Hornets looked stunned in the headlights: Richardson directing traffic as the game slid inexorably - inevitably, even - away from Hornets..."

Hornets 4 - Widnes 50
"Hornets were reduced to bit-part players as the hand-wringing League media focused on how a criminally mis-managed club that's burned millions of pounds could haul itself back to zero points by beating a fan-owned team of part-timers in their own back-yard."

Whitehaven 21 - Hornets 22
"On 70 minutes 'Haven's Forrester took the inevitable drop goal and, when Moore added yet another penalty on 74 minutes, it looked like a done deal at 21-12. But wait..."

Hornets 24 - Halifax 48
"Hornets  started with a bang, Lee Mitchell hitting a short-ball at pace after just two minutes to glide under the black dot. Abram the extras - and on target again with a penalty five minutes later to give Hornets a comfortable 8-nil lead."

Salford 76 - Hornets 6
"By some distance the highlight of the second half was the banter between the Hornets fans and the poor frozen in-goal judge at the Western End who had - literally - nothing to do and even went for a pee at one point."

Swinton 36 - Hornets 22 
"It took the hosts just four minutes to get themselves over when they applied pressure on the Hornets defence, using quick hands to ship the ball out wide to Butt - the first of his four tries that ensured that the Lions came away 36-22 winners in the baking Manchester sun..."

Hornets 16 - Sheffield 52 
"Whilst it turned into a comfortable afternoon for the Eagles, it certainly didn’t begin that way as the hosts enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges. Carl Forster’s try, converted by Dan Abram, had the Hornets in front, but the Eagles were quick to respond..."

Bradford 56 - Hornets 12
"Determined defence from Hornets denied Bradford multiple times - and they caught the Bulls out with Ellis Gillam finding his way over to extend Hornets' lead to 12-0..."

Hornets 10 - Featherstone 56
"Those anticipating some sort of messianic miracle were instantly disappointed: Hornets started the game with a knock-on and 45 seconds later Rovers rake King slumped in from acting half. Chisholm added the extras and Fev were up and running."

Blackpool: Hornets 30 - Swinton 40
"Having crackled with invention and ideas before the break, Hornets spent the second 40 minutes running through treacle - whereas Swinton found their feet, gained momentum and sped away..."

Barrow 54 - Hornets 10
"Hornets clung scrappily to the coat-tails of the game for 10 minutes, but the half ended in a blitz of points up the right edge as their confidence crumbled..."

Batley 38 - Hornets 18
"From a Hornets point of view, the damage was done in the third quarter of the game when Batley plodded four tries up the hill in just 15 minutes to leave Hornets chasing the shadow of the ghost of a game that wasn't really there any more."

Dewsbury Rams 66 - Hornets 10
"All-up this was a mess. Hornets effectively background scenery as Dewsbury racked up some scary stats: eleven tries, eleven goals; biggest win in 10 years; gifted 13 penalties, Finn hitting his career 500 point mark. As always we try and wring out some positives, but there were none."

York 66 - Hornets nil
"Not so much a contest, More a hard-to-watch procession, as Hornets shipped eleven tries two weeks in succession."

Sheffield Eagles 42 - Hornets 24
"This was a massively improved performance, impacted on by a freak try before the break and a third-quarter where Sheffield found their playing boots. Other than that, Hornets matched - if not bettered - a fairly prosaic Sheffield for long periods of this game."

Hornets 28 - Swinton 36
"Hornets sought to drive the ball out of yardage, but - with Swinton hands all over the ball - Dan Abram was deemed to have knocked on. And as the hooter sounded, Swinton shipped the ball wide to Butt who sealed the game for the Lions."

Widnes 40 - Hornets 12
"The remaining 18 minutes of the game were reduced to a prodding contest. Widnes happy to jab Hornets back into the corners: Hornets poking and pushing, with little to show until Callum Marriott crashed in for a 79th minute consolation try."

Hornets nil - Toulouse Olympique 68
"Hornets provided a literal zero resistance to an, admittedly, bigger, stronger, faster full-time opposition - but it was the flaccid manner of the defeat that leaves a punch-drunk hardcore of fans contemplating the route to West Wales Raiders next year."

Fev 50 - Hornets 6
"The Hornets faithful applauded and headed for the car-park: partly disappointed in another defeat, partly relieved that this soul-sapping season is pretty much all over."

Hornets 12 - Dewsbury 32
"This was the archetypal game of two halves - and not in a good way. Hornets led 12-8 at the break and looked good value for that, but an error-strewn second period where Dewsbury scored three tries in nine minutes saw the game simply washed away as the heavens opened."

Hornets 26 - Batley 50
"There was hope amongst the long-suffering Hornets faithful that this game just might yield the last opportunity for a win this season, but - again - they had to stoically swallow what little faith they have remaining and make do with applauding a 'brave effort'."

Hornets 18 - Leigh 50
"If games lasted 40 minutes, Hornets would be looking forward to another season in the Championship next year. But they don't. And we're not."

Toronto Wolfpack 46 - Hornets nil
"It was an evenly-matched opening to the contest, with  Hornets holding firm in defence early and creating several chances within the first twenty minutes. Eventually however, the Wolfpack managed to break the lines and open the scoring through fullback Gareth O’Brien"

Halifax 58 - Hornets nil
"Once again, the dwindling Hornets faithful had a literal nothing to cheer as a half-paced Halifax jogged through the motions - which was ample enough effort as Hornets looked brittle on defence and a bit one dimensional on attack.:

Bradford 82 - Hornets nil
"Take nothing away from Bradford: they're strong, fast and well-drilled - and having scored with their first carry of the ball after just 90 seconds, they went through the playbook with all the intensity of a training run after a heavy weekend."

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Thanks for Nothing.

Hornets nil - Bradford 82.

There is a quite literal nothing good to say about this game.

Hornets saved their worst performance of the season for last, shipping 15 tries and copping a third consecutive nilling. In the aftermath, the consensus amongst the loyal Hornets fans who've stuck by the club as this shambolic season has limped from rout to rout was relief that it's over.

Take nothing away from Bradford: they're strong, fast and well-drilled - and having scored with their first carry of the ball after just 90 seconds, they went through the playbook with all the intensity of a training run after a heavy weekend.

Hornets flailed and flapped. Out-played, out-thought, out-enthused, out-muscled and out for the count at the break trailing 0-46 as Bradford scored at will and stayed ahead of the clock throughout.

The second half looked pretty similar.

Hornets' shortcomings were exposed on attack and defence. Late on, having forced multiple drop-outs, they had four sets in Bradford's 20m zone, but couldn't find a pass or a kick to make Bradford think. The brief spell of pressure (and expectation), ended with a flaccid jab of a kick mopped up by Oakes who barely had to move. The season in a microcosm right there folks.

Some of the observations of the people around us were pretty apposite. One media guy described the difference in ability between the sides as "The Harlem Globetrotters v a school side". An ex-coach commented that there were "... no plays, no plan and no-one talks to each other". And one experienced RL official - in an attempt to be positive - said "at least you can't fault their effort - they're trying their hardest". Like Yoda said: "Do or do not - there is no try". And he was absolutely right. There was no try, for the third game running.

Ultimately, losing should hurt. It should f*ck-up your week until at least Wednesday. What we do has to matter or what's the point?

In an attempt to close the book on 2019 in a positive light, the Hornets faithful have been been absolutely stoic this season. It's that relationship with people who care - about the club and each other - that has seen us through. They're the true heartbeat of the club. It's you guys we'll miss between now and March. From Toronto and Toulouse to Bradford and Batley you've all been legends.

And there's nothing more certain than that.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Sunday's Coming: Bradford.

Bradford head to Spotland on Sunday as Hornets face another 'Battle with the Cattle'. Much like Bradford held an emotional farewell to the Odsal Crater last weekend, Hornets fans will be bracing themselves for an equally emotional adieu to the Championship after a challenging three year stay. Doubt there'll be a pitch invasion, though - most fans likely to head home and lie down in a dark room until March.

As for Bradford, we've written at some length here about how the Bulls have been a bit of a basket case in recent years, so we don't really want to pick that scab again. But they can be a hard club to like. Indeed, we don't often go Biblical on our opponents, but on this occasion we're happy to heavily paraphrase Matthew Ch7 V4.

The quote roughly states: "Don't go on about a speck of dust in someone else's eye when you've got a plank in your own eye." This moral lesson in avoiding hypocrisy and self-righteousness could have been written for Bulls owner Andrew Chalmers - a man with a seemingly bottomless well of opinions on how other clubs should be run - but whose own club finds itself ending the season homeless and out of the playoffs.

1. In January this year he called for Wigan Chairman Ian Lenagan to resign as Wigan were deducted two points and fined £5,000 for a two-year-old salary cap breach. “The average man in the street might conclude its either wilful dishonesty, or at the very least, sheer incompetence. ... He should now do the honourable thing and resign... I suspect there will be little sympathy around the rugby league for Lenagan’s plight."

2. In August last year he called Workington Town "... amateur and completely selfish, amongst other things..." when they refused to allow Bradford to stream their game at Derwent Park.

3. In April he aimed barbs at Toronto: “The club and our fans are travelling intercontinental to play an away fixture with all the challenges that presents, whereas some of our rivals will not be similarly tested, with Toronto choosing to play some of their home fixtures in the UK. This can’t be right from a competition integrity perspective?"

4. ... and also at the Catalans: "Catalans Dragons privileged position sucks millions of pounds out of the British game – for what? A sunshine weekend away for supporters to fill the coffers of the Perpignan’s hoteliers and restaurateurs? Hardly looks like smart business from a British Rugby League perspective..."

5. Back in January he took aim at the smaller clubs in the Championship "... the Bulls are seen as a big club by others in the league... but clubs playing in front of the low hundreds, bringing no away support and little profile won’t have a future in the professional ranks..."

Given the speed at which he's prepared to criticise others, perhaps Chalmers needs to consider his own failings this year.

1. He has failed to deliver on the field: having said in February that the top three was the Bulls' target for 2019, they failed to make the top five.

2. The RFL last week confirmed that Bradford remain in special measures, which prevents them from making signings - including renewing contracts - for next year.

3. In December 2018, Chalmers said   "... our club and Odsal stadium are inextricably linked in a truly deep, emotional and maybe a spiritual way. The Maori have a word to describe this – turangawaewae... our foundation, our place in the world, our home, where we belong...".

Eight months later it was announced that Chalmers would move his side to the Tetley Stadium Dewsbury in order to reduce costs. Aaron Bower's article in the Guardian said: "Stadium staff will lose their jobs, local businesses who thrive on matchday revenue will struggle. Bradford, not just the Bulls, will feel this decision."

In a statement, the RFL said: “The RFL Board feel that the information provided so far in relation to (Bradford's) move to Dewsbury is incomplete and therefore it is a condition that the club provide further financial information on the impact of the move. Until this is provided to the satisfaction of the RFL the Club will remain in special measures and is not permitted to sign players.”

The statement continued: “Based on the information received, the RFL feel that this decision made by the Bradford Bulls directors is a poor one; however ultimately the Board of that club is responsible for determining what is in the best interests of Bradford Bulls." Ouch!

Hornets stagger into Sunday's game on the back of two dismal nillings: 46-nil at Toronto and 58-nil at Halifax. That's 104-nil over two games.  As such, all the loyal, long-suffering Hornets fans would like to see is for our team to end this wretched season by chucking the ball about and putting a few points on the scoreboard. As the game is yet another dead rubber, there's absolutely nothing to lose.

Just 80 minutes of this season remain. See you hardy souls on Sunday,

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Less Than Zero

Halifax 58 - Hornets nil

It was a tough afternoon at the Shay as Hornets suffered their fourth nilling of the season (their second consecutive blank) - all of which, interestingly, have happened since Hornets changed coaches mid season.

Once again, the dwindling Hornets faithful had a literal nothing to cheer as a half-paced Halifax jogged through the motions - which was ample enough effort as Hornets looked brittle on defence and a bit one dimensional on attack.

This poor show was exacerbated by three yellow-cards - two for Zac Baker late/high shots and one for Manchester-bound Brandon Wood for dissent. This meant that Hornets effectively spent half an hour of the second half a man short - and Halifax took full advantage, scoring 38 easy points in the second forty.

The die was cast in just the second minute: Brandon Wood coughing the ball early in Hornets' first set, Kay tapping a kick behind a static Hornets defence where Fairbank strolled in to touch down.

Hornets threatened briefly on ten minutes when Kyle Shelford got over the line after a Dan Abram 40/20, but the last pass was deemed forward.

Halifax then marched straight downfield where Murrell's teasing kick to the corner was snaffled by Tyrer who scored by the flag.

Hornets continued to find new ways to shoot themselves in the foot. On the quarter mark Hornets looked to drive the ball out of yardage 15m from their own line, but the pass was called as forward and, from the resulting scrum, Woodburn Hall ambled in by the upright. Too easy.

Just past the half hour, Murrell lofted yet another kick to the corner, where Tyrer said 'thanks very much' for his second try. On what was a pretty ordinary afternoon with the boot, Tyrer banged home the extras and 'Fax took an easy 20-nil lead into the sheds, having barely broken sweat.

Two minutes into the second half Zac Baker was given his first yellow for a late shot on Murrell. Halifax worked the numbers out wide for Sharp to score.

From there on in, the second half became a slow-motion bin-fire: Hornets full of errors and indiscretions; Halifax shuttling the ball around to take advantage of Hornets' reduced numbers.

It was an embarrassing parade: Cooper on 45, Woodburn Hall on 47 and winger McGrath in off a tidy cut-out pass on 57 reinforced Halifax's dominance. Three tries in the last 10 minutes (McGrath on 71, Fleming on 76 and Sharp at the death) the coup de grace for a Hornets side that showed little in the way of resistance.

Make no mistake, this was a shocker. Hornets a distant second best to a side with only one win in the last ten games -  for the most part, looking every inch like they'd rather be somewhere else.

All of which leaves just 80 minutes of this wretched season remaining for the long-suffering fans to endure.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Sunday's Coming: Halifax

With only two weeks of this wretched season left, it seems a little incongruous to say that it's a good time to play Halifax. But it is.

Having shot their wad on a Challenge Cup Run, Halifax have had a pretty ordinary season by their usual standards - and it seems to be running out of steam.

In recent years, Halifax have built a reputation on over-achieving and bringing playoff football to the Shay, but this year's iteration languish 8th in the Championship - now equal on points with Swinton after the Lions handed an eleven-man Fax an old-skool flogging at Heywood Road a couple of weeks ago.

It's an issue that looms large in the mind of coach Simon Grix, who sees his side's slump - winning just one of their last 10 Championship outings - as a confidence issue. Speaking in the Halifax Courier the week he said: “At the moment, we are a team with next to zero confidence and very little resilience... as soon as anything goes against us, we’re looking for a hole to swallow us up."

“People talk about winning being a habit, but losing is too and it’s one we need to learn to break over the next three weeks. The players are all pretty deflated and embarrassed by what they’re doing but people are paying good money to watch them and they owe them - and themselves - more than they’re showing at the moment." A brutally honest analysis.

Speaking on Twitter this week, Grix admits that his side's current 40% completion rate isn't good enough to win games and that his immediate focus is '... looking after the ball'.

Grix is putting in a brave face though, again in the Courier he said: “We’re a team that shouldn’t be eighth in the Championship and we certainly shouldn’t be thinking about finishing ninth." But as we Hornets fans know, the league table doesn't lie.

It can be a bit deceptive, though. Hornets come into this game having put in a sterling shift against the juggernaut that is Toronto. For 40 minutes Hornets frustrated and challenged the Wolfpack - keeping them scoreless for 21 minutes. In that first half, Hornets got held-up over the line and eschewed a penalty bang in front. Add those to the mix and you'd have been looking at 12-8 at half time.

Yes, Toronto stepped it up a gear in the second half: and, yes, the game had six minutes shaved off it for a lightning storm - but to end the day with the same losing margin as second-placed York did is a genuine achievement that hints that there may be better things to come.

With only 160 minutes of our Championship adventure remaining, it's a good opportunity to wring every last drop out of the experience. So get yourself over to Halifax, let's get together, make some noise and see if we can't exploit Fax's confidence crisis. We'll be in the main stand - see you there.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Saturday's Coming: Toronto Wolfpack

We want to like Toronto Wolfpack, we really do. But, jeez, they make it hard. Every time we come to research a match preview we end up raking through an absolute bin-fire of bullshit rather than talking about the game ahead. We hoped this time would be different...

Think back to January. Things were very different then. There was an air of optimism ahead of a new Championship season - and Toronto Wolfpack reiterated the promise it had made since the club was formed. In a statement they said:

"Toronto Wolfpack will produce all of the team’s Betfred Championship games in both the UK and Canada in 2019 after announcing a broadcast agreement at today’s Rugby Football League (RFL) season launch..."

"After discussions ongoing since the end of last season involving the RFL and Sky Sports agreement has been reached for all matches to be available for live publication on Sky Sports platforms in the UK. Distribution in Canada and around the world are included as part of the deal and will be confirmed over the next few weeks." (our emphasis)

Even Brian 'Nobby' Noble chipped in:

“We have invested significantly in our broadcast for the last two seasons, culminating in our 2018 postseason games reaching 140 million homes in 19 countries worldwide..."

"Toronto Wolfpack’s growing army of fans in Canada, the UK and across the world will be able to enjoy every minute of action from an exciting new-look 14 team Betfred Championship in 2019. The Pack’s diverse range of sponsors and partners will also benefit from an amplified reach and opportunity to access new markets while opposing teams in the Betfred Championship will gain exposure from a minimum of two televised games against the Wolfpack." (our emphasis)

As always, the promise of 'exposure' was the sweetener for other clubs and the RFL - 'a minimum of two televised games against the Wolfpack' was THE DEAL.

That Was Then: This is Now
Fast forward to this week and the news is that Toronto Wolfpack's 2019 TV production partners Telegenic and In Touch productions have been stood down.

At short notice the Wolfpack announced that last week's game against York - and their upcoming game against Leigh next month - wouldn't be televised, as part of a cost-cutting measure

Having already announced that games against Halifax, Rochdale and Barrow wouldn’t be televised due to clashes with Sky’s coverage of Catalans -  that's more than a third of Championship clubs denied the valuable global TV exposure that Toronto trumpeted as part of their agreement with the RFL and Championship clubs.

Needless to say, the Wolfpack propaganda machine has been desperately trying to spin this as a minor consideration. In a statement this week the club said:

"The Wolfpack have invested a significant amount of money in covering all costs for the production to date in 2019. This decision has been made to reduce costs in the lead up to our much anticipated Betfred Championship playoff campaign."

"With all regular season games outside of Toronto now complete, fans in Canada have been able to watch 15 of the 17 games taking place outside Canada this season live on both Game TV and CBC Sports (online). In all 20 out of 23 games have been available live on Sky Sports in the UK, as well as being delivered into 150 million homes worldwide thanks to the Wolfpack’s valued global broadcast partnerships. This commitment signifies that the Wolfpack are the most viewed team in UK Rugby League this year."

Just not in Rochdale, Halifax, Barrow, York or Leigh.

Diminishing Returns
Toronto Wolfpack's business managers love to talk about the value of their commercial opportunities. Great, so let's talk about this in commercial, economic terms.

'Exposure' was sold to Championship clubs as having tangible value-added: the 'Return' on other clubs'/players' 'investment' in time, cost, hassle, administration and goodwill of accommodating the Toronto circus at home, and in managing the logistics of taking 23 people across the Atlantic. That was THE DEAL. Clubs pay all that in. The value of 'a minimum of two games' exposure was what clubs were promised back in return.

But now, we see an increasing list of clubs being denied a second game's worth of exposure: York, Hornets, Leigh, Halifax and Barrow's promised ROI effectively halved. But if 'exposure' was our compensation for Toronto's involvement -  and that's been removed - what takes its place?

Given the amorphous nature of 'exposure', it's a hard concept to quantify - even media companies have struggled to attribute value to the number of eyeballs on a brand at any given time: but we're going to try.

The Bottom Line
For many years, the media industries have used 'advertising equivalency value' (AEV) as a way of attaching monetary value to media coverage. It's a bit of a blunt instrument as it doesn't take into account the value of other forms of engagement, but as we're talking about TV exposure it's a reasonable enough proxy for us.

It works like this: you count the seconds in broadcast exposure, that your brand receives and multiply that figure by the medium’s advertising rate, generally charged per second. The resulting number is what it would have cost at market rates to place an advertisement of a corresponding duration.

So an 80 minute game of Rugby League, plus ten minutes of pre-game coverage, ten minutes of half-time coverage and ten minutes of post match analysis would yield 120 minutes of coverage for your brand.

According to advertising industry publication The Drum, the average estimated cost of a 30-second slot on Sky Sports during peak time can fall anywhere between £60 to £750. If you take the median of £450 and halve that to take into account the sport and broadcast channel (e.g. Sky Arena), you have a rough estimate of £450/minute's AEV for exposure on Sky. Over 120 minutes, that's a baseline £60,000 worth of TV exposure alone that five clubs won't receive that nine others did.

And if clubs had used national TV exposure to extract monetary value from the opportunity (shirt sponsorships/supporter events), there could realistically be another five or ten thousand on top of that.

Court in the Act
Finally, in a week when we've sought to put a monetary value on TV exposure, news broke that the Wolfpack's former TV broadcast partner has also seen the Wolfpack impact on its bottom line.

It has emerged via The Canadian Press news agency that the Wolfpack have been hit with a writ from TV production company iLink Media Group, who managed the broadcast of games for Toronto in 2018. Filed in their home state of Alberta, iLink's claim is that the Wolfpack "defaulted on payment for a significant portion of last year's season to the tune of just over $300,000." That's about £190,000.

Wolfpack majority owner David Argyle is quoted as saying the he is "... confident the dispute can be resolved."

Sources: 'Toronto Wolfpack Confirm 2019 Broadcast Arrangement' - 22 January 2019
The Globe and Mail: 'Toronto Wolfpack cuts broadcast of two regular-season games to reduce costs' - 8 August 2019
The Canadian Press: 'Citing costs, the Toronto Wolfpack cuts broadcast of 2 regular-season games' - 7 August 2019
The Drum: 'How much does it cost to advertise on UK TV? Here's what Channel 4, ITV and more charge for slots' - 22 February 2017

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Half Measures

Hornets 18 - Leigh 50

If games lasted 40 minutes, Hornets would be looking forward to another season in the Championship next year. But they don't. And we're not.

In a Jekyll and Hyde performance of contrasting character, Hornets delivered one of their most durable, intense and hard-working halves of the season. That it came on the back of a frighteningly bad first 40 minutes makes it even harder to swallow.

Shipping seven increasingly soft tries in a whirlwind first 30 minutes, Hornets made Leigh look like the Harlem Globetrotters as the Centurions either broke from distance up the guts of a flimsy defence, or handed their three-quarters walk-ins out on the edges.

Reynolds opened the scoring backing up Paterson after just three minutes, followed a similar period later by Higson with ample space to score out wide. A carbon-copy double from Cator and Brierley stretched the lead and, at 28-0, Leigh were running at almost two points a minute.

It got worse up Hornets' flaky right edge when Sa'u handed Marsh a walk-in, and you know things are really bad when Toby Adamson gets on the scoresheet.

With the half-hour ticking round, Thompson showed good pace for his try. Ridyard's conversion brought up the 40. It was hard to watch.

The only respite in the first 30 minutes came when Shaun Ainscough and Mickey Higham were sin-binned for a frank exchange of views that ended in a fraternal hug.

Hornets eventually managed a brief period of concerted, error-free football in Leigh's half, Dan Abram capitalising to step through a retreating Centurions defence to score. He added the extras too to send a shellshocked Hornets to the sheds at 6-40.

Hornets began the second half with noticeably more purpose. A couple of solid defensive sets became 10 minutes of stern resistance, became 20 minutes run which they frustrated Leigh and slowly crawled back into the contest.

Indeed, it was past the hour mark before Leigh found a way through - Ridyard hitting Adamson up Hornets' right centre channel for his second. The Centurions brought up the now customary half-century on 69 minutes - a peach of a delayed pass from Reynolds finding Paterson who showed a good turn of pace for a big man to romp home from 30 metres.

Unlike the first half, Hornets had a response: Aidy Gleeeson piling in for his maiden try from close range on 75 minutes. Dan Abram the extras.

Then, at the death, what is likely to be Hornets' try of the season: A Sa'u error, Shaun Ainscough stepping into space on his own 30 metre line and outpacing/out-stepping the chasing Leigh defence to score a screamer that had the Hornets' fans on their feet. Dan Abram hit the two: Hornets winning the second half 12-10. A rare positive.

In the wash-up, Leigh's lightning start did all the damage: too big, too fast, too strong and too smart. In Brierley, Ridyard and Reynolds they have three quick-thinking playmakers and, with all three firing, they effectively won the game with a half to spare.

Some shoots of optimism, though for Hornets. And with Toronto to come at the weekend (they battered second-placed York by 56 to 6 on Sunday), the fans making the trip will need every drop of positivity they can get their hands on.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Sunday's Coming: Leigh

PET PROJECT: John Duffy Welcomes Junior Sa'u to Leigh
Next up at Spotland are Leigh Centurions. Having crashed and burned last season, Leigh look to be on a proper mission to make the top five and give it a real dig in the promotion playoffs. But it's tight at the top. Chasing runaway leaders Toronto, only three points separate second from fifth, with Sheffield hovering four-points away in sixth waiting for someone to slip-up.

And that very nearly happened last week.

Leigh came back from 24-10 down at the LSV to beat Swinton by a point, secured via a 79th minute Ryan Brierley’s drop-goal that gave them a seven-point lead ahead of a Swinton try on the hooter.

Leigh coach John Duffy said his side's flaky performance was a matter of attitude:  "We didn’t turn up with the right attitude," he said after the game.

“We shouldn’t need Ryan’s drop-goal..." he said on the Centurions website earlier this week: "... you can’t turn up with that attitude and I’ve just told the players that. It’s not acceptable at this club. I don’t know why they did that at this stage of the season so there were some harsh words said at half-time and again after the game."

“They are going to have a real tough week this week. I’m going to go hard on them. We go to Rochdale next week who are desperate for points so we move on.”

Leigh rock up on Sunday sitting fourth in the Championship, needing points themselves to maintain their playoffs push. With the distant scent of Super League's promised-land in their nostrils, so desperate are they for points that Duffy has been on something of a signing spree in the last few weeks, adding:

- Former Leyther Jordan Thompson from Hull FC
- Wigan centre Liam Forsyth
- Former Leigh and ex-Newcastle Knights, North Queensland Cowboys, Wests Tigers, Hull Kingston Rovers, Salford and Toronto back rower Corey Paterson
- Ryan Brierley back on loan from Toronto Wolfpack until the end of the season
- Junior Sa’u from Salford Red Devils until the end of the 2020 (complete with hamster)
- Castleford Tigers prop forward Mitch Clark, until the end of the season
- Wing Adam Higson back from Toronto, signed until the end of 2020
- Five-eighth Ben Reynolds from Wakefield (also previously at Leigh)

Clearly someone at the LSV has struck lucky on a scratchcard - so you can see why Leigh nerves were a little shredded last weekend.

Hornets come into the game on the back of the now customary weekly 50-point flogging - this time at the hands of a Batley side that struggled to break into a jog.

Having put in a decent shift in the first 40, Hornets produced another second half batting collapse that blew out the scoreline. It's been a recurring pattern - as soon as the opposition gain a lead, everything heads south at a rate of knots.

This is the point where we usually offer some rousing motivational message, so...

The good news is that we are just 320 minutes from the end of the season. That's just 5 hours and 20 minutes more to endure. We've come this far, people - let's dig in for the rest.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Bye-Bye-ee Five-O

Hornets 26 - Batley 50

Poor James Barran. Through no fault of his own, the tyro Wigan halfback made his debut for Hornets to become the fiftieth player to have pulled on the shirt this season. And in celebration, Hornets shipped yet another half century of points to fade out of the Championship with barely a whimper.

And the pattern was eerily familiar: a strong, controlled first half followed by a soft, shambolic second half in which Batley scored 32 points.

There was hope amongst the long-suffering Hornets faithful that this game just might yield the last opportunity for a win this season, but - again - they had to stoically swallow what little faith they have remaining and make do with applauding a 'brave effort'. But at this level, it has to me more the just 'the taking part' that matters.

Having conceded the first penalty of the game, Hornets got settled and played some nicely constructed football: sets completed, kicks to corners - if you squinted a bit, it was just like the old days of three years ago.

On 6 minutes, Batley were split by a big Zac Baker break, the visitors only response, a last tackle penalty. Hornets went wide with a big cut-out pass where Batley's Pound Shop Vin Diesel™ Reittie managed to tip the ball dead.

Hornets continued to press and, on 10 minutes, shuttled wide on the right where Kyle Shelford proved too strong for Galbraith to score. Dan Abram hit the upright with the kick.

The score seemed to jab Batley into life. On a rare foray into Hornets territory, Jouffret took advantage of James Barran's enthusiasm to get off the line to step through and score from 10 metres. Jouffret the extras for 4-6.

Hornets' response was immediate: pressure built in the Batley half, Izaac Farrell the teasing kick and, this time, Daley Williams too quick and too strong for Galbraith to gather and score. Hornets edged ahead 8-6.

On the quarter mark, Batley were gifted good field position after a shoddy carry by Zac Baker and had a brief spell of pressure. But just when it looked like the Bulldogs were completely out of ideas, the Hornets defence switched off on the last tackle to let Reittie score a trade-mark pile-in try. Jouffret stroked home the kick for 8-12.

Hornets, again, hit back. This time a jinking break from Dan Abram set-up Lewis Sheridan who planted the ball under the black dot with virtually his first touch of the ball. Abram slammed home the extras to put Hornets back in front.

But the joy was short lived.

Within two minutes Batley were camped on the Hornets line, where Yates hit a fast-approaching Brearley with a flat ball for the most rudimentary of tries. Jouffret on target to edge Batley ahead.

Hornets were then snagged offside at the kick-off. Just awful. Thankfully some good scrambling defence took Hornets to the break just four points adrift.

Any optimism of a good outcome evaporated within five minutes of the restart. Hornets coughed a cheap penalty within 90 seconds, Batley scoring two tries in just two minutes: firstly Broadbent in at the flag of a cut-out pass not so much telegraphed as sent by pigeon. Then Broadben turning provider - nice break, topped off by a neat inside ball to Jouffret for his second. Hornets now chasing down a 14 point deficit with 35 minutes remaining.

Having regathered the kick-off, Hornets did get the ball over the Batley goal-line, where a pack of Bulldogs showed smart-thinking to keep Ben Kilner on his feet and simply walk him over the dead-ball line to get a 20m restart.

For a spell, Hornets looked to have steadied the ship. Good defensive shape held Batley at bay and  James Barran even unfurled a pinpoint kick behind a flat-footed Batley defence for Isaac Farrel to touch down and temporarily reignite hope.

It was extinguished immediately: the usually redoubtable Lee Mitchell with an uncharacteristic fumble from the kick-off possession; Batley working a quick shift right straight from the scrum for Broadbent to score. You had to watch it through your fingers.  Wood the extras for 20-34.

Now with the momentum, Batley produced another three-minute two-punch combination. The first came from a frankly awful decision by referee Mr Mannifield. Batley knocked on coming out of yardage, the gathering Hornets player hauled into the in-goal. Batley given the scrum. As bad a decision as we've seen this season.

Batley didn't care though, working the ball wide for Reittie's second. Wood on target with the kick.

The second came courtesy of some slack, sloppy defence: Hornets napping one step left of the ruck where 'The Hardest Working Man In Rugby League™' James Brown got on up to walk the ball over untouched. Too, too easy...

On 70 minutes, Dan Abram did grab a deserved try and adding the extras but it felt like cold consolation.

At the death, Batley brought up the big Five-O as Reittie strolled in for his hat-trick after Hornets had knocked on. Hornets' lousy season in microcosm right there, folks.

And that's that. Hornets wave a limp bye-bye to the Championship with four games to go having conceded over a thousand points.

With Leigh, Toronto, Halifax and Bradford to come, the prospect of an average points against of 50 is now a real possibility.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Sunday's Coming: Batley

And so it comes to pass. The last fumes of all the expectation burned since February are set to evaporate this weekend.

With Leigh, Toronto, Halifax and Bradford over the horizon, all the talk this week is that the uncatchable Batley Bulldogs present the last realistic opportunity of getting another win this season.

Fantasists, quantum mathematicians and the terminally delusional may cling to the twisted algebra that suggests that Widnes' 12 points his still achievable, but if the Vikings get a win at Sheffield on Friday evening, Hornets are down before a ball has been dropped on Sunday.

This week has had us looking back to the last time Hornets finished bottom of the table with a solitary win. It was the 1990/91 season in the top flight (then called 'The Championship'), when a 19-12 home win over Bradford Northern was the only highlight of a season that started with succession of narrow defeats and ended in a series of merciless thrashings (Hornets conceded 70 in consecutive weeks at home to Wigan and Castleford).

The metaphor for the season was set in the very first game at Wakefield: Hornets took an early lead through a Mark Viller try, then shipped 40 unanswered points. It was a brutal reality check.

In this season's 27 games, Hornets are on track to concede more points and rack-up a bigger points difference than the 1990/91 side - but there is STILL the opportunity to go one win better.

Batley come into Sunday's game having been dumped out of the Derek Beaumont Empty Wembley Cup™ in last week's semi-final at Sheffield. Batley were kept tryless in an 18-2 defeat. Batley's only points coming from a first half Jouffret penalty at 6-nil.

Matt Diskin blames the defeat, not on poor systems, but on the fact that his side are thick!

Speaking in the Yorkshire Post, he said:

“If it’s structures and systems, as a coach you can control that. You can have all the core skill in the world but, if the players drop the ball or throw a loose pass, I can’t control what’s going on between their ears.

“I am not a psychologist, unfortunately and, to be fair, that’s probably what this group needs. It is an individual thing, what is going on between the ears and, at the moment, we are pretty weak in that area.

“I can never fault their effort, but they aren’t the smartest group – they lack game intelligence and concentration.”

Motivating stuff.

Looking ahead Diskin said: “We have got some very important fixtures coming up, the next two weeks are massive for us. If we get two wins there I think we’ll secure our future, but if we show the lack of respect we are doing at the moment for the ball it will be a tough couple of weeks for us."

Dewsbury's win at Spotland last week has left Batley looking over their shoulder - having nudged the Bulldogs into 11th place, just four points clear of the relegation zone with five games to play. So a Hornets win on Sunday (and a Vikings win at Sheffield) would leave Diskin's side staring at the trapdoor from 12th.

Hornets come into Sunday's game after a disappointing second half collapse against a pretty ordinary Dewsbury Rams. Having looked good value for their half time lead, Hornets conceded three tries in nine minutes - enough to hand the game to Dewsbury and push Hornets to the brink of Relegation.

As songwriter Simon Aldred said, you can hear "... the unforgiving sound of cold mathematics making its move on me now".

After two years punching above our weight in the Championship, this looks like the week when the weight of the numbers becomes too much to bear.

Would a last hurrah win take the edge off? It'd be nice to find out. See you Sunday.

Sunday, 28 July 2019


Hornets 12 - Dewsbury 32

This was the archetypal game of two halves - and not in a good way. Hornets led 12-8 at the break and looked good value for that, but an error-strewn second period where Dewsbury scored three tries in nine minutes saw the game simply washed away as the heavens opened.

Hornets looked like they'd scored early doors when Dan Abram rounded Worrincy, snaffling an Isaac Farrell kick to skate through - only for referee Mr Child to deem him offside.

It became a double kick in the spuds when, from the penalty, Dewsbury trucked upfleld where Knowles' kick was gathered by Morris and his touchdown by the upright was considered perfectly ok. Sykes hoofed the ball into the tea-bar from bang in front: 0-4.

Hornets dug in and got their reward on 17 minutes when the ball was shifted right where Daley Williams muscled his way in to score. Dan Abram with the extras from wide out and Hornets with the lead at 6-4.

With the weather deteriorating, the game became a bit of a knock-on-athon, but Dewsbury managed to hold on to the ball long-enough for Ryder to bully his way over up Hornets right-hand edge.

Hornets again responded well: a huge break up the guts of the Rams defence by Ben Kilner had Dewsbury scrambling, but Hornets couldn't capitalise. They did look to have scored immediately afterwards win Jordan Some ran a great line off a flat pass, but again Mr Child stepped in. This time, the pass called as forward.

As it was, Dewsbury came up with a coughed ball and Hornets went back to Daley Williams for a carbon-copy try on the hooter. Dan Abram another pinpoint conversion and Hornets off to the sheds with a deserved lead.

All optimism of Hornets getting anything out of the game was extinguished within 10 minutes of the restart.

With only two minutes on the clock, Garrett was slotted in to level the scores; eight minutes, Knowles in off a neat Sykes pass. Then disaster: Hornets forcing the ball wide in search of an opening, Worrincy intercepting to run 90 metres and score. Finn with the two and Hornets 12-24 behind.

A transgression bang in front gave Finn an easy penalty to extend the Rams lead - and with yet another Jordan Syme try chalked off for offside, you sensed that this was really only going one way.

Indeed, when Finn dinked a last tackle kick into the in-goal on the hour, Knowles flung an arm more in hope than expectation. Without consulting a touch-judge Mr Child pointed to the spot from 15 metres away.

And that was pretty much it. Dewsbury clocked-off early and allowed Hornets to run bluntly into their defence for 20 minutes. The only real opportunity late in the game when Callum Marriott looked to have scored off an Izaak Farrell pass - only for Mr Child to give another forward pass. Hornets subscription to luck clearly expired.

As we scrabble for positives we look to a solid, workmanlike first 40 minutes and the fact that - for the first time in a while - Hornets bettered their average points against: so at least some statistical improvement.

The defeat leaves Hornets championship lives hanging by the most tenuous of threads. Mathematically, we could still catch third-bottom widnes, but it would require overturning a 770 point deficit in just five games. And even the most delusional optimist would give those odds a wide berth.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Sunday's Coming: Dewsbury

Sunday sees Hornets take on Dewsbury Rams - the day's only Championship game on a weekend dominated by the Derek Beaumont Empty Wembley Cup™.

This is the game that was postponed way back in the halcyon days of Round 1 when we were all filled with the vim of wide-eyed optimism - but when, unfortunately, Spotland's erstwhile Groundsman was busy juggling other priorities prior to his premature ejection.

Dewsbury come into this Sunday's game having squeezed a draw out of a Halifax side with one eye on Saturday's Challenge Cup semi Final and shorn of talismanic half Scott Murrell following a late shot early in the game.

Halifax looked to be home and hosed after Fairbank's 71st minute try gave his side a 12 point lead, but a late, late brace from Rams wing Rob Worrincy snatched the point.

Post game, Rams Coach Lee Greenwood said: "... when you’ve been 12 points behind late on you’ll take a point and we’d have taken a point before the game. It shows where we are - fighting and competing.”

Greenwood's only doubt for Sunday is Lucas Walshaw who is carrying a groin injury. If wily campaigner Paul Sykes starts at Spotland he'll clock up his 100th game for his hometown club: another impressive landmark following on from his recent 450th career appearance.

With six games of the season remaining, the Rams sit third bottom, ten points ahead of Hornets, leaving Hornets facing the near-impossible odds of delivering a clean sweep of wins - and Dewsbury delivering six straight losses - to stay up. But before we get carried away with quantum mathematics, remember that Dewsbury flogged Hornets 66 - 10 at the Tetley Stadium last month - in what was possibly Hornets' shoddiest performance of the season. So any improvement from there will be relative progress

Last week's blow-out half-century conceded at Post Office Road bumped Hornets' average 'against' score over the 45 mark and the average 'for' down to 13 - so there's the benchmark for this weekend.

But in the spirit of optimism with which we approached the original fixture, a win on Sunday would boost confidence no-end - restoring at least some belief to Hornets' emotionally wrung-out supporters. And with Batley waiting over the Horizon, you'd like to imagine that there are two potential victories to be had before the run-in of Leigh, Toronto, Halifax and Bradford.

See you Sunday

Sunday, 21 July 2019

They Think It's All (R)Over

Fev 50 - Hornets 6

Only the most delusional optimist could cling to the mathematical possibility of Hornets staying up after this run-of-the-mill defeat to a pretty ordinary Featherstone Rovers.

At Post Office Road in front of a muted crowd, Hornets' hardy knot of loyal followers were treated to a display that captured this stinking year in microcosm: a brief flurry of hope that descended into a meme of Homer Simpson backing into a hedge.

The hope came courtesy of a high-tempo start that had Featherstone going backwards. Determined defence laid the platform and, when Shaun Ainscough piled through Dagger to score on 10 minutes, you could hear a pin drop. Dan Abram added the extras, the Hornets fans sang, an old guy in a Fev shirt made the 'wankers' gesture at us - all was well in the world. For four minutes.

Typically, Hornets spilled the kick-off possession, Fev built some pressure and Makatoa piled in. Chisholm added the extras and 'wanky grand-dad' gave us a loose handed wave. Then came the familiar second quarter collapse that saw Featherstone score three decidedly soft tries in 15 minutes.

Firstly King sped out of acting half on the last tackle to score; then Hornets right edge was caught napping for Briscoe to capitalise. Then on 35 minutes, replacement hooker Connor Jones took a leaf out of King's book: slipping out of the back of the ruck to mug a static defence.

Having started brightly, Hornets went to the sheds 20-6 down.

The first five minutes of the second half effectively decided the game. Pierre Bourrel looked to have scored for Hornets after just three minutes, but his effort was ruled out after referee Aaron Moore consulted his Guide Dog. As a Hornets fan near us said: 'if it weren't for bad luck, we'd have no luck at all'.

Off the hook, Featherstone marched straight back upfield where Harrison was slotted into open field to score. Chisholm on target and Rovers with the momentum at 26-6.

Within four minutes the home side were in again. This time Golding (who, for most of this game seemed mostly concerned about ruining his ridiculous man-bun than getting stuck in) found the wherewithal to get on the end of a break and score.

Hornets did briefly hang on to the tailgate of this rapidly departing game, but finally succumbed to the inevitable, conceding three tries in the last 12 minutes (Day, a brace: Walters the other) to take Featherstone past the 45 point average.

Adding insult to injury, pedant-in-chief Mr Moore gave Featherstone their 14th penalty on the hooter (Hornets received just four in 80 minutes). Chisholm slammed it home from near half-way to bring up the 50.

The Hornets faithful applauded and headed for the car-park: partly disappointed in another defeat, partly relieved that this soul-sapping season is pretty much all over.

Let's Do Maths!

- With six games remaining, the maximum number of points available is 14.
- Dewsbury and Widnes are already on 12, Batley on 13. Hornets have a -664 points difference.
- If Dewsbury win at Spotland next Sunday, they'll go onto 14 points. Hornets would then be unable to catch Dewsbury, leaving Widnes and Batley the only teams we could catch (13 &12 pts respectively).
- If Hornets beat Dewsbury, we stay alive for another week, when we face Batley. If Batley win (15pts) and Widnes get a win at Sheffield on the same day (14pts) Hornets are relegated.

Having taken 1 win from 21 games, Hornets would have to produce a run of six straight wins, including Leigh at Home, Toronto away, Halifax away and Bradford at home. 

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Sunday's Coming: Featherstone Rovers

Our match previews involve a trawl of our opponents' local news outlets for snippets of interest that you wouldn't ordinarily come across (yes, we read The Pontefract & Castleford Express so you don't have to) - but this week's sweep of the news-scape yielded an unusually high level of news that RL fans will find disturbing.

Featherstone fans have always been known for the robust and passionate support of their team. Indeed, that's what makes watching Rugby league at Post Office Road such a unique experience (we were at the Good Friday Super League Merger protest game against Castleford in 1995 and it was one of the most electrifying atmospheres we've ever experienced).

And, for those of you old enough to remember, life in the old Bullock Shed stand had a decidedly edgy frisson: though when we won there in a midweek game 20-odd years ago (the first win in decades) we sang our lungs out and the Fev fans were generous in defeat.

But of late, things seem to have taken a turn...

In June, Featherstone were fined after an RFL investigation into two incidents of spectator misbehaviour during their game at Spotland in May.

Having seen the club found guilty of breaching RFL operational rules -  and having received a warning over future misconduct -  CEO Davide Longo said: “Unexpected fines only impact on our spend and potential recruitment further down the line and I am sure no supporter wants this to be the case. We encourage fans to be vocal and supportive of the team, but this needs to be done in a respectful and family friendly manner.”


Earlier this month the club was hit with another fine - this time of £10,000 - following a Rugby Football League investigation, into complaints of unacceptable language by a section of Featherstone fans at a game with Bradford Bulls.

After the second fine, Longo said: “We are incurring fines that were never factored into our budgets and this will now impact on the club moving forward."

The club's response was to introduce their Crowd Care Text Service which enables supporters to report any misconduct or foul language anonymously to the head steward via a text to 07394950356. They then introduced precautionary crowd segregation for their game against Leigh.


Two weeks ago, Rovers banned three supporters from all future games after deeply distasteful comments were made online after their recent game at Halifax.

A statement from Featherstone said that the club is: "... in discussion with West Yorkshire Police around safeguarding and best practice as we look to move forward to better prevent anything more damaging the reputation of the club."

On the field, Featherstone sit 5th in the Betfred Championship - at the heart of a compacted pack chasing runaway leaders Toronto. Five points separate the 2nd to 7th place sides, with Fev just three points behind second-placed York.

Coach Ryan Carr has drawn some heat this season over what some think is an over-reliance on Leeds DR players. But Rovers' relationship with Leeds was deepened further this month, when Carr joined Richard Agar's backroom staff at Headingley, in parallel to his role at Post Office Rd.

Carr said on the appointment: “I am excited about the opportunity with the Rhinos. I know a number of the squad because of the dual registration arrangement we have between Featherstone and Leeds and undoubtedly there is a lot of talent here. I am looking forward to working with the coaching team and the players and helping out in any way I can.”

Eleven current Rhinos have played under Carr for Featherstone thus far this season.

Rhinos boss Richard Agar said that the role “... will not impinge on his duties with Featherstone and, if anything, he will get more one-on-one time with some of the guys who are playing for them on a weekend.”

Fev come into Sunday's game on the back of an impressive narrow defeat in Toronto last weekend.
Having trailed 14-0 at the break (conceding a try in the first minute), Rovers hit back to go down 22-18.

Coach Carr was fuming after the game, having lost stand-in hooker Jack Bussey to a compulsory concussion test following an attack by Toronto's former Manly grub Darcy Lussick (who once described a brawl with Melbourne Storm, that saw 10 players charged and both sides fined $50,000, as 'the best day of my life').

Rovers travelled last week minus first choice rake Cameron King (ankle injury), scrum-half Dane Chisholm (also ankle) and Ben Reynolds , whose wife was due to give birth. Reynolds will be available for Sunday’s game and Carr is hopeful Chisholm and King will also return.

Hornets come into Sunday's game on the back of an ignominious milestone. Last week's disappointing 68-nil flogging by Toulouse brought up 900 'points against' this season, giving us an average of 45 points conceded per game in 2019 (average for is 14).

Post Game Matt Calland said Hornets have to be "Harder to beat" - so if Featherstone score fewer than 45 points this weekend that, bizarrely, would be an improvement. So far this year, Fev have only scored more than 45 twice. Once against Halifax (46) and... er... against us (56). So there's your benchmark. The game against Hornets in May is also Featherstone's biggest winning margin this year.

We travel in hope. See you there.

Sunday, 14 July 2019


Hornets nil - Toulouse Olympique 68

This game marked a watershed moment: the moment when Hornets openly conceded their Championship status - effectively knocking over their king on the 2019 season.

Once again, Hornets provided a literal zero resistance to an, admittedly, bigger, stronger, faster full-time opposition - but it was the flaccid manner of the defeat that leaves a punch-drunk hardcore of fans contemplating the route to West Wales Raiders next year.

Despite a competitive first 10 minutes, three Toulouse tries in just five minutes ahead of the quarter-mark set the tone for the remaining hour - in which Toulouse scored a further nine tries.

Half of their dozen came from a single source - former Leigh/Swinton wing Bergal grabbing six tries down Hornets' brittle right edge where he encountered minimal resistance.

In retrospect, Hornets' best chance of getting anything out of this game came after 10 minutes when Toulouse's lanky lump Bretherton hit Pierre Bourrel late with an obvious shoulder charge. But, rather than reach for a card, referee Matt Rossleigh showed his invertebrate qualities by not only putting the offence on report, but also handing the visitors the possession that led to the opening try. It felt wilfully harsh.

The rest of the half became a parade: Bergal, Vaivai and Mika clocking up six tries between them to give Olympique a comfortable 32-nil half time lead.

The second half looked much the same: Marcon mugging a napping defence from acting half on 47  minutes, then Bergal grabbing his fifth six minutes later. On the hour, Kheirallah grabbed the first of a brace off an audacious Ford pass: his second, the first of four tries in the last nine minutes which underpinned the glaring gulf in class.

Not much else to say, really. Toulouse were well-drilled and ruthlessly clinical, but barely crawled out of neutral in what - at times - looked like a low-impact training run.

We can't summarise this better than TS Eliot who, in his poem The Hollow Men, wrote: "This is how the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper."

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Saturday's Coming: Toulouse

The choking started early in Toulouse this season.

They've already suffered seven defeats this season - and last week's home loss to Bradford saw them cede second place in the table to York.

Needless to say, the local press went in pretty hard. La Depeche said (rough translation): "It was a shambles... For the (third) time this season, TO Lost on their home field, to the chagrin of their coach, Sylvain Houl├Ęs, (who was) annoyed by his players' mistakes."

Houles said  "We gave them too much ball that they knew how to exploit... They not only scored on our mistakes, but when we got back into the match, we allowed them to react. So many faults, lost ball, it is rare and it is not normal. It must be quickly remedied."

And all the pressure is on Toulouse this weekend, La Depeche in no mood to cut TO any slack: "Next Saturday, in Rochdale, facing the 'last of the class' (bottom of the league), we must not fail."

What is clear this season is that Toulouse's veneer of invincibility has been shattered - and they're going to have to find another gear if they're to avoid another disappointing and expensive year of Championship failure. Indeed on their own website they describe their current wobble as a' "... negative spiral in which they are stuck". Sounds like a team low on confidence and doubting their credibility as serious challengers to us.

Speaking to this week, their Samoan forward Constantine Mika described it as 'frustration':  "It's a lot of frustration because we (have) conceded defeats with small margins. We are not at our best, but we are not far off. I think there are just 2-3 details that we need to work on to see our efforts end in victories."

Mika sees Saturday's game as an opportunity for a misfiring TO to reset its ailing promotion bid: "Our pursuers have caught us at the top of the rankings, we must win again this weekend and start again," he said. "We lost our second place in the standings. Now we have to make sure to take it back."

When asked if he saw a game against the bottom side as a good opportunity to 'rebound', Mika was circumspect: "... we shouldn't worry about the ranking of our opponent. We put ourselves in this situation, and the position of the teams we faced has (had) nothing to do with it. Now we have to consider every game as a final and prepare ourselves as such. It does not matter who is (higher in the table)."

TO threats come from the usual suspects: Aussie pair Mark Khierallah and louche canon Jonathon Ford, who remains the slow-turning cog at the heart of the Toulouse Machine. Stop him, and the whole thing runs less effectively. But it's easier said than done as he lopes from play to play looking to unleash that pendulous whip of a cut-out pass that cuts sides open.

Houle will be missing Bastien Ader, Andrew Bentley and Rhys Curran for the game. Dean Parata, Tony Maurel, William Barthau and Maxime Puech will also not make the trip.

Former Swinton Lion Ilias Bergal returns to the squad. Paul Marcon returns from a hamstring injury and Jordan Dezaria and Pierre-Jean Lima are also added to the squad.

Hornets come into Saturday's game on the back of a schizophrenic performance at Widnes: Possibly the best 40 minutes of the season, followed by a sloppy, shoddy second half that saw the Vikings run away with the game (well, jog away with it, really).

Mostly, though, we're just glad that Saturday's game is happening! Spotland's ground staff continue to have 'issues' with the pitch, leading to the postponement of the Dale's pre-season friendly against Blackburn on Sunday (we're hearing reports of another re-seeding following our game).

Having begun remedial work 10 days late - which forced Hornets to move the Swinton game to Mayfield, causing an absolute shit-storm and costing our club thousands in lost revenue - the Stadium's pitch contractor has advised 'to avoid two games in two days being played on the pitch'.

And while the Stadium says the schedule of games over the next month is 'extremely demanding on a newly laid surface' it's no different to previous years and Hornets have a glut of home games precisely because we are compelled to play away from home for six weeks while the work is done.

Ultimately, despite a shuffled Toulouse side low on confidence and doubting its plausibility as genuine promotion contenders, Hornets will still have to bring their A-Game on Saturday to get anything out of this contest.

Certainly the first half at Widnes gave a good indication of what Matt Calland's side is capable of when it focuses. We just need more of it.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Bad Chemistry

Widnes 40 - Hornets 12

This was an archetypal game of two halves that turned on a decision by Referee Gareth Hewer in the 45th minute. Trailing just 12-6, Hornets punched a hole in a flat-footed Widnes defence for what looked like the try likely to level the scores. But Mr Hewer's freestyle interpretation of the laws of parallax deemed the pass forward.

Handed the get-out-of-jail-free card, Widnes marched up the other end and scored: 18-6, all the momentum and shattered Hornets left scratching their heads.

The early omens weren't good. Widnes on the board on their first meaningful attack after a minute and a half: Hornets caught cold when veteran prodigal lump Ah Van broke up the left to slot Roby in for the opener. Owens hoofed the conversion attempt into the tea-bar.

Five minutes later, Ah Van got one for himself: Owens displaying the kicking skills of Douglas Bader.

Hornets slowly crawled on top of the game, Adam Lawton and Kyle Shelford pushing Widnes backwards. And for 20 minutes the game became a close-quarters tussle that had the home fans shifting nervously in their seats.

On 25 minutes a breakthrough. Good approach work from Hornets, Jordan case combining with Pierre Bourrel to draw Ah Van in-field, debutant Kevin Brown the recipient of the wide pass to score by the flag. Oscar Thomas on target from the whitewash and Hornets back in the hunt at 8-6.

Just past the half hour, Pierre Bourrel almost cracked the Vikings' defence with a dainty dink into the in-goal, but the ball squirmed away from a host of chasing Hornets fingertips. Widnes replied by marching downfield where Owens somehow got the ball down despite the attentions of a clutch of defenders. His conversion attempt the worst of his three thus far and Hornets headed for the sheds at just 12-6.

Hornets began the second half at pace. The ball worked quick-smart up the right edge, but what looked a clean-cut try from 100 metres away was pulled back by Mr Hewer. You could sense the momentum shift.

On 50 minutes Craven managed to wrestle the ball down for 18-6 before Owens grabbed his second to extend the lead off a Gilmore kick into space that Hornets simply failed to read.

On the hour, Mr Hewer again demonstrated his inability to judge direction when a launch and hope cut-out pass - a full three metres forward - was plucked from the air by Ah Van. No whistle was forthcoming - and that was the point at which you pretty much knew the game was up.

Three minutes later, Ashall-Bott was on the end of a mirror-image move up the opposite flank - both teams engaged in handbags after Callum Wood gave him a gentle nudge after scoring. In the ensuing kerfuffle Wood and Widnes' Cahill were sent to consider their actions for 10 minutes.

Widnes the quicker of the two sides to settle, Owens with his hat-trick try off an Ashall-Bott kick. Hornets having shipped 5 tries in just 16 minutes.

The remaining 18 minutes of the game were reduced to a prodding contest. Widnes happy to jab Hornets back into the corners: Hornets poking and pushing, with little to show until Callum Marriott crashed in for an 79th minute consolation try.

In the end, a promising first 40, surmounted by a disapointing second period in which Hornets struggled to go with a Widnes side that opened the throttle. But games do turn in small incidents. At 12-all after 42 minutes you'd have a very different game, but it wasn't to be.

A disappointing end to a very disappointing weekend for our club.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Sunday's Coming: Widnes

It's not been the best of weeks at Widnes.

Widnes were once a global Rugby League powerhouse. In the 10 years between 1975 and 1984, The Chemics played in seven Challenge Cup finals and were christened 'The Cup Kings' by an adoring media. In the 1978–79 season they produced a rare quadruple - the BBC2 floodlit trophy, Lancashire Cup, Premiership and Challenge Cup. They also beat the Ashes-winning Kangaroo tourists for good measure.

Then in 1989 they overcame the might of the Australian competition again, beating Canberra Raiders 30-18 at Old Trafford to become the first legitimate world club champions. Their starting thirteen scares us even now: Alan Tait, Andy Currier, Jonathan Davies, Darren Wright, Martin Offiah, Tony Myler, David Hulme, Joe Grima, Phil McKenzie, Derek Pyke, Kurt Sorensen, Paul Hulme and Richie Eyres.

Fast forward 30 years and the world is a very different place.

Widnes currently sit 11th in the Championship table, facing the very real possibility of a trip to West Wales Raiders next season.

Having clawed their way back into the black on the league table with a convincing win at Spotland earlier in the season, subsequent defeats to Batley, Dewsbury, York and Leigh put a huge dent in any possible playoff ambitions. Then came last week's eye-popping 62-nil, eleven-try flogging at Odsal. Described in the Runcorn & Widnes World as "A performance of staggering ineptitude..." - this on-field bombshell landed just 48 hours after a statement announcing that the club was switching to a part time model.

Having been through similar turmoil with Leigh last year, Widnes coach Kieron Purtill must wonder if he's somehow walked under a ladder with a broken mirror on Friday the 13th and accidentally kicked a black cat.

The statement says:

"As a Board, each and every one of us who has the privilege of helping to lead this great club recognises the significance of our responsibility. We want to build, with you, a new era for the club. Fundamental to that is our values of transparency, integrity and honesty."

A concept I think all right-minded Rugby League supporters can get behind.

It goes on: "We are still feeling the effects of relegation and administration. From those perilous moments when the club’s future looked to be in jeopardy through to right now, the support of our fan base has been incredible."

"However, we have also been deprived of revenue streams that have been fundamental to the running of the club in the past, and had to honour many of the liabilities of the previous incarnation of Widnes Vikings. We’re making progress against these challenges, but there is much still to do - and naturally, this sets the course for our season ahead and ones to follow. "

"... we have spoken to our players and staff to inform them that next season, Widnes Vikings will operate a part-time playing team.... this reflects those values of transparency and respect, which are so important to us."

"The reality is that with our projected income for next season, Widnes Vikings cannot sustain a full-time first team environment."

The numbers involved are eye-watering for a club like Rochdale Hornets: playing in Super League in 2018, Widnes received £1.9 million in central funding from Super League. Following their relegation to the Championship, they were due to receive £800,000 as central funding.

But after the previous administration hit the buffers in February (notably, with less than £1,000 in the bank - having had millions of pounds through its hands in their seven seasons in Super League ), £250,000 of the parachute payment was withheld by Super League, along with 50% of the club’s Academy funding, believed to total £70,000.

Based on their current league position (exacerbated by the 12-point deduction), the statement says that the "... central funding figure we are likely to receive is approximately £250,000. As a result, we as a Board need to ensure that the club is running within its means."

Read the full statement here

Counter to Widnes' flaky away form, their home form looks pretty solid - five wins in succession at the Halton stadium - and they see a quick-start and gaining early momentum as the keys to gaining the advantage on Sunday.

Having lost wingers Ryan Ince, Owen Buckley and Jayden Hatton to injury, it's heavily rumoured that Patrick Ah Van is on his way back to the Halton Stadium having been playing in France.

Hornets come into Sunday's game having seen yet more changes to the squad. This week has seen Ellis Gillam and Ben Morris became the 14th and 15th players to depart the club as part of Matt Calland's remodelling.

They've been replaced by Wigan academy second-row Ben Kilner and York three-quarter Kevin Brown (both on loan). They join Pierre Bourrel, who made an impressive debut against Swinton last week, scoring two tries on debut.

The challenge here remains galvanising the multitude of new bodies into a cohesive unit. Ordinarily a trip to Widnes would be the most challenging of places to try new combinations - but this has been no ordinary week.

All the pressure is on Widnes to prove that the last 7 days hasn't completely ripped the rug out from under their season. Hornets on the other hand have absolutely nothing to lose.

See you there - in the South Stand.

Monday, 1 July 2019

The Pleasure Principle

Hornets 28 - Swinton 36

Abraham Lincoln said 'You can't please all of the people all of the time.' What he didn't make clear was that you can't please some people any of the time - no matter how hard you try.

Indeed, the lead-up to this local derby was trying on pretty much every front, starting when the Dale casually let slip last week that their pitch remediation - the whole reason we've been playing away from 'home' for the last six weeks - is running later than the Titanic.

Cue the chaos of trying to find an alternative venue at a cost that wouldn't cripple the club.

Accepting the opportunity to play at Rochdale Mayfield (keeping the game in the Borough) thus sparked a social media skrike-fest from the club that's hauled their long-suffering fans round a dozen grounds outside their borough since the Lions left Station Road. So much for empathy within the Rugby League's dysfunctional family.

As it was, the 550 or so at the Mayfield Sports Centre were treated to a combative, pulsating game that hung in the balance until the last minute. Hornets succumbing to a late error that gifted the visitors the try that exaggerated the scoreline.

Having had the best of the early exchanges, Hornets got an early fillip when Lions' wing Butt was yellow-carded for a trip. Hornets then worked the numbers up that channel where James Worthington slipped Shaun Ainscough in to score. Hornets extended their lead just four minutes later when Adam Lawton took advantage of a retreating defence to wrestle through defenders and plonk the ball by the post. Dan Abram the extras and Hornets looking comfortable at 10-nil.

But narcolepsy struck on the half-hour; Hornets switching off to allow Moore, Wells and Ashton to register a ten-minute treble that gave the visitors a 10-14 lead against the run of play.

The hangover continued after the break. Hornets with the first attack, a high kick to the corner returned 80 metres by Lepori who found Ashton in support to score after barely a minute. Hansen the two: 10-20.

The introduction of Hornets' new French half Pierre Bourrel paid instant dividends, mesmerising flat-footed defenders to weave through and score with pretty much his first touch, sparking a last quarter in which the game ebbed and flowed.

On the hour, Butt found space to score out-wide to restore the visitors' superiority, but the sin-binning of Moore for a brutal head-shot on Burrel left Swinton short in the middle of the park and the Frenchman got off the floor to produce another mercurial stepping effort on 64 minutes to put Hornets back in the hunt at 22-24. Game most definitely on with 10 to play.

Another momentary lapse in concentration allowed Hansen to slip through and score (converting his own try), but Hornets hit straight back, moving the ball to the left edge where Brandon Wood finished in style. Dan Abram the two off the whitewash. 28-30 with three minutes to play.

Hornets sought to drive the ball out of yardage, but - with Swinton hands all over the ball - Dan Abram was deemed to have knocked on. And as the hooter sounded, Swinton shipped the ball wide to Butt who sealed the game for the Lions.

Whilst this was a pugnacious, whole-hearted derby in the old-skool tradition, it was another game that slipped from Hornets' grasp; the game turning on a handful of tiny percentage errors.

As it was, Hornets fans left with mixed emotions. Gutted that their side had lost this one, but pleased with the obvious improvement in performance. Needless to say, Swinton's noisy following celebrated like it was 1969 - and, strangely, the surroundings didn't seem to matter much any more.

Seems that pleasing some of the people some of the time is the best we can hope for.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Better? You Bet.

Sheffield Eagles 42 - Hornets 24

Hornets fans travelled to Sheffield more in hope than expectation - and what expectation there was, was modest. But what the Rochdale contingent in a sparse crowd on the best Friday evening of the summer got was a vastly improved performance against a Sheffield side whose modus operandi appears to be to bore sides into submission.

God alone knows how a side this tedious sits sixth in the Championship. They trudge and gripe from play to play at the pace of a bin wagon and pray that Millar - who showed a decent turn of pace out wide to grab a hat-trick - turns up on the end of any move involving more than two passes.

After the game Eagles coach Mark Aston pretty much admitted that he thought Sheffield could just rock up and Hornets would roll over. "It was torture," he bleated, producing a small onion. "York beat these by 60. We haven't got the mentality, discipline or respect."

What he really meant to say was that his one dimensional bunch of plodders played as well as Hornets allowed them to.

Indeed, Hornets silenced the home crowd (more of a 'gathering', really) after just two minutes: Dan Abram following a kick into the in-goal to touch down as defenders looked for someone else to blame. Abram the extras for a 0-6 lead.

Three minutes later the home side was reduced to twelve when Meadows interference an attempted quick play-the-ball earned him a yellow card. The home fans blamed the referee.

Against the run of play, Sheffield did manage to lug the ball to Millar who finished well. Walker's conversion brought the Eagles level on 16 minutes.

Hornets' response was to dig in: some determined defence repelling a series of increasingly dull one-up drives.

With the half-hour approaching, Dan Abram looked to have scored again, only for Mr Worsley to deem him held-up in goal. Sheffield rode their good upfield for Davies to score and give his side an undeserved lead.

Hornets regained control within four minutes: Callum Marriott showing good strength to shrug off tacklers and plant the ball down. Abram the two for 10-12.

It looked likely that Hornets would take the lead into the break, but the Eagles got a slice of good fortune to score a freak try. A kick going nowhere saw the ball spin crazily on the plastic surface, twitching agonisingly beyond Dan Abram's grasp. A series of panicked Sheffield passes - one off the back of a Hornets defender's head - saw Meadows score through a wrong-footed defence, Walker added the two for 16-12: both coaches' half-time team talks suddenly flipped.

Sheffield began the second half with noticeably more determination, two rare moments of lucidity enough to edge the game away from Hornets. Firstly Meadows gathering a Thackeray kick, then Millar off an Ogden pass for 28-12.

Hornets regained their composure. Oscar Thomas' kick-off found a touchline and, from the resulting possession, the balk was whipped wide to Brandon Wood who finished in style by the flag. Dan Abram nailing the kick from the whitewash.

On the back of an escalating penalty count (12-6), Sheffield gained some late momentum: Meadows and Moran with tries beyond the hour mark. Hornets continued to press, though: Callum Marriott grabbing his second after the Sheffield defence abdicated responsibility for dealing with a towering kick.

With the hooter imminent, Sheffield one more picked out Millar, who skated in to score.

In the wash-up, this was a massively improved performance, impacted on by a freak try before the break and a third-quarter where Sheffield found their playing boots. Other than that, Hornets matched - if not bettered - a fairly prosaic Sheffield for long periods of this game.

Afterwards there was a sense of optimism - of a corner turned. Sheffield, on the other hand, chose to celebrate their win by moaning. There's just no pleasing some people.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Friday's Coming: Sheffield

PLASTIC FANTASTIC? Sheffield's Olympic Legacy Stadium
In what can only be a sick practical joke, Hornets travel to Sheffield - on Friday evening. If negotiating the M62/M1 on a Friday teatime wasn't a big enough pain in the arse, a tailspinning Hornets face an Eagles side fresh from a proper thumping of Batley at Mount Pleasant. Leading by 18-12 at the break (having led 18-nil after half a hour) Sheffield piled in with six second-half tries down the hill to win 54-24 - stand-off Pat Walker kicking nine from nine attempts on the way.

Post-match, Eagles boss Mark Aston was modest about the win, saying: "We were too good for them". And if you wanted a real kick in the guts, Pat Moran scored two tries.

As always, Sheffield have flown under the radar a bit this season. Indeed, if we didn't have to think about them twice a season, they'd barely register a blip on ours. Sitting sixth with 10 wins from 17 they look hard to beat - but a closer look reveals them to be a bit leaky: they have the highest points against in the top 7.

After ending a three match losing streak, Aston said this week that he could "see the confidence come oozing back" into his side.

If only the same could be said for Hornets. Sunday's 60-nil defeat to a workmanlike, well-organised York marked a new low-point in this difficult season. Remodelling the squad mid-season was always likely to prove challenging: blending a new influx of players into an existing squad or imposing a new coaching regime would be tough enough individually, but together it's proving a difficult combination to crack.

In search of that elusive combination, we hear today that Swinton have signed Scott Moore in a straight swap for former Wigan prop Kyle Shelford. As Scott Moore's (former) sponsor, we remain ambivalent on that. One benefit being that Ben Moores will get more game time and we're always a better side with him on the field.

What was previously frustration that the squad was performing below its potential has, the last couple of weeks, become resignation that damage limitation is a more realistic expectation. Last year we nicked a last day win on Sheffield's tacky-placky kick-pitch. This time - with their faith stretched thin - all fans are craving is an improved performance. To go to Sheffield and lose with dignity would be enough, we think.

See you there.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

An Ode to Nothing

York 60 - Hornets 0

Zero, zilch, de nada.
Nought, nowt, a blank, a duck.
This trip to York proved pointless
As the Knights just ran amok.

All optimism faded
Fans put through the mill
As at the end the scoreboard read
York sixty Hornets nil.

Not so much a contest
More a hard-to-watch procession,
As Hornets shipped eleven tries
Two weeks in succession.

Ten minutes, nothing in it
The City Knights contained,
We never thought we'd win it
But nil-nil it remained.

But two dropped balls proved fatal
(One last tackle, one the first)
And when Salter ran through Williams
You kind of feared the worst.

The next time York came down the field
We thought their chance had gone
But Mr Moore gave Marsh the score
And not the clear knock-on.

Hornets got two penalties
Infringements back to back
Which brought an opportunity,
A platform to attack, but

They couldn't make a breakthrough
As Oscar Thomas let
himself get tackled in possession
On the last play of the set.

York's response, a huge break
Up the left edge, three on one.
Marsh in for his second,
The game had all but gone.

Confirmed two minutes later
A cheap penalty; quick hands
Whiteley scoring by the flag and
Bedlam in the stands.

An awful half brought to a close
With defence of some concern.
Stock slumping in to score
Off an 80 metre kick-return.

Half-time twenty six nil.
Hornets in reverse.
But what had gone so badly
Was to get a whole lot worse.

On forty two a walk-in try
That made the home fans laugh
After Hornets went and knocked-on
In the first set of the half.

Then Hornets put the kick-off dead
An error - pretty poor
The fans shook their collective head
And braced themselves for more.

On fifty Callum Marriot teased
So close, held-up in-goal.
Hornets kicked high for the corner
But Whiteley saw the hole

Out-jumping Shaun Ainscough
He fed the ball to Vaivai
Who hit the afterburners
As Hornets waved him bye-bye.

Then Teanby on the hour -
A walk in by the posts -
Cue the heavy shower
And Hornets chasing ghosts.

Five minutes later Vaivai
Sent in Whiteley from a scrum, before
A huge break up the guts saw Scott
Add four more to the sum

Then a carbon copy scrum-move
With Vaivai feeding Whiteley
For the easiest of hat-tricks -
And we don't say that lightly.

In the end, this was a shocker
A battering. A rout.
Two weeks and twenty two tries shipped.
All confidence blown-out.

And the Hornets fans left shellshocked
This was a bitter pill,
As at the end the scoreboard read
York sixty Hornets nil.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Sunday's Coming: York

And so the Hornets summer roadshow heads to York. The Knights are a bona-fide, 24 carat bogey team that over the years even good Hornets sides have struggled against. And this season the respective trajectories of both clubs are heading in opposite directions.

On the last five occasions the clubs have met, Hornets haven't come up with a single win - and it includes a challenge Cup defeat when York were in a division lower. The average is a 17-32 defeat benchmark. And, given our recent form, we'd take that.

York come into Sunday's game tucked into the Championship's chasing pack behind Toronto and Toulouse. Sitting fifth on points difference behind Leigh and Featherstone, York have been the competition's shock package - 10 wins under their belt already and impressively narrow defeats to both Toronto and, last week, a weakened Toulouse. The French side were missing big hitters Johnathon Ford, Bastien Ader and Rhys Curran - with Mark Kheirallah removed in the 15th minute with a shoulder injury.

York led deep into the game, but a controversial refereeing decision from James Child effectively handed the French side the points.

For a brief period last month, Knights coach James Ford was much fancied for the vacant Hull KR job. But now without that distraction, his eyes are focused on Championship playoff glory, indicating this week that his side are 'not far away' from usurping Toulouse as a serious challenger.

Speaking in the York Press this week he said: "Ultimately we just need to be able to beat Toulouse in a one-off game, don't we." We can confirm that this is eminently possible.

Hornets fans would take beating anyone in a one-off game at the moment. But going into Sunday's contest on the back of a new season-low defeat at Dewsbury, confidence is on the floor.

We appreciate that re-shaping a team mid-season is a tough task, but we seem no closer to a win now than we ever did. All we can hope for are signs of improvement, that the spine of the side gets settled and that everyone within the club - and those outwith - continue to pull in the same direction.

If Dewsbury was the nadir, York is the first step back. See you Sunday.