Monday, 15 April 2019

Hornets Suffer the Chill Factor

Salford 76 - Hornets 6

It was a evening of cold comfort at the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday nights as a Hornets side fresh from a day at work froze in the face of a Red Devils onslaught.

Steered effortlessly round the park by Jackson Hastings, Salford ran in 13 tries; with Chamberlain and Inu sharing 12 goals equally. Conversely, Hornets looked big on graft and light on craft, struggling with the pace of Salford's attack right from the whistle.

Salford were 18-nil up on the 9 minute mark with tries from Burke, Evalds and Dudson: running at twice the rate of the clock didn't augur well. There was some intense debate amongst the noisy Rochdale contingent in a frugally thin crowd as to whether Hornets should've taken the two points at 6-nil to avoid the duck.

By the half-hour mark, Hornets had stemmed the torrent to a mere 34-0 before Shaun Ainscough followed a Dan Abram kick into the in-goal for Hornets' only score of the night. Cue the singing from the Hornets fans.

Indeed, most of the singing came from the Western end of the AJ Bell stand, the home crowd applauding further tries from Chamberlain, Tomkins, Evalds and Bibby politely. All the atmosphere of an asteroid,

Hornets went to the break at 40-6.

The second half looked much like the first, Hornets back-pedalling as Salford added tries by Bibby, Evalds (twice in four minutes), Griffin, Lui and Inu.

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.

Post Match Hornets assistant coach Anthony Stewart said: "The effort was good but we didn’t expect that score. There were some positive performances from some of the lads but others were not on top form."

“Salford are a team that attacks really well and it was a top performance from them. We will take the positives and move on from there but we needed more from some of our lads tonight.”

In the end it was a disappointing show all round. Salford coach Ian Watson had put a rocket up his players in the week and, on the night, went with his strongest available side. Salford were sharper, bigger, faster and far superior in every department. It's a shame that the people of Salford don't get behind them in numbers.

As it was, it was the worst of all worlds: a thumping away from home and no big Cup dividend to soften the blow. And, as attention turns back to Good Friday's absolute must-win Championship dog-fight of a game at Swinton, Hornets put their Cup dreams back on ice for another year.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Friday's Coming: Salford

UNHAPPY CHAPPY: Ian Watson runs out of fingers to
count the ways in which Salford are awful at the moment
Salford are riding on the crest of a slump at the moment. Four straight defeats has seen the Red Devils slide down the Super League Ladder to a heady 7th - with a worse points difference than bottom club Leeds.

Ex-Hornet - and former tippy-toed half-back - Ian Watson is an unhappy coach. Speaking after his side's 23-6 home defeat to Hull, he envisages changes: "After that performance there will need to be changes," he said in the League Express this week. And he thinks the problem lies between his players' ears: "We need to re-shape; not the way we play, but some individual mentalities."

Ooh, do name names, Watto: "... the guys who are playing should be taking their opportunities and not leaving me to make that choice. At the moment I feel like I have to make the choice and that's the problem. We have said the same thing over the last four weeks, We are not saying the same things again next week. We will be making changes." But who? Who's been idling around for a month? We need to know!

Watson has been missing a few first choice names of late, but Junior Sa'u and Tyrone McCarthy should be back for Friday night's game.

He's disappointed with his players, though: "They're a committed group, but we're desperately disappointed. We've come up against four big teams and we should have won the majority of the games. We're putting pressure on ourselves. We feel as though we're beating ourselves at the moment." Excellent, long may it continue. If only we knew where it was all going so terribly wrong.

"We're not starting games well, and good teams don't let up in patches of the game. We're our own downfall and we're lacking experience in certain areas, as well as composure."

As if that's not enough, over in UKIP's preferred RL read 'League, Weakly', Watson also revealed: "We are not building enough pressure on the opposition goal line and it's  coming back and biting us."

He went on: "It's the same old same old. We are talking about errors and poor discipline (they lost the penalty count 7-9)."

"They held the ball, we didn't hold the ball enough once we got into those right field positions, especially in the first half when we bombed a couple of chances and they went down to 12 men."

There's never really a good time to catch a Super League side, but this does sound like a Salford outfit foundering in the grip of a confidence crisis. Which we are delighted to hear.

Hornets go into this tie on he back of a curate's egg of a performance against a pretty ordinary Halifax side. For 50 minutes, Hornets matched the visitors and showed decent resilience, before the game slid almost imperceptibly out of our reach. But if we can maintain a good level of performance more evenly over the 80 minutes and Salford continue to wobble, who knows? We think that the miracle is unlikely to happen - but we've seen Rugby League miracles happen.

Ultimately, it'll be good to see Hornets go round at the AJ Bell - even though it means navigating the bloody M60 on the first Friday night of the Easter Holidays. Whoever came up with that one needs pulling through with a pineapple.

We're pretty sure if we'd've played it at home on a Sunday at 3pm we'd get a bigger crowd.

But we are where we are. Get there if you can - there a few Hornets fans getting together in the main/AJ Bell stand, so let's fly the flags, make some noise and get behind the lads.

See you there,

Monday, 8 April 2019

Whistle While You Work

Hornets 24 - Halifax 48.

This was the archetypal game of two halves, hamfistedly glued together by an over-officious refereeing performance that saw Hornets slammed 15-5 in the penalty count.

For 40 minutes Hornets matched a Halifax outfit that looked like it'd much rather be somewhere else, but in the second half they were swept away by a tidal wave of unlucky breaks, dubious decisions and a Halifax side that had clearly had a rocket up their arse at half time.

But it was Hornets who 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.

But on 10 minutes, Mr Crashley made his first intervention. Fairbank's break up the guts of the Hornets defence had defenders scrambling back, loanee Jack Higginson adjudged to have loitered too long in the tackle and shown the yellow card.

Halifax took instant advantage of their numerical superiority, Tyrer racing onto a kick into the space vacated by Higginson to get Halifax on the board; Tyrer improving his own try. 

Almost immediately Hornets were gifted an opportunity to respond: a frankly awful pass from Laulu-Togagae fell to Lee Mitchell, but Hornets panicked the ball wide where the last pass bounced harmlessly into touch.

On the quarter-mark, Tyrer again exploited Higginson's absence to grab his second try of the afternoon to give Halifax the lead at 8-10.

Higginson's return paid immediate dividends: Hornets executing a neat, looping shift up the right channel where he proved too strong for a retreating defence. Hornets back in the box-seat at 12-10.

With the game approaching the half hour mark, Mr Crashley became increasingly whistle-happy. The result was a sucker-punch double for Woodburn-Hall - the first coming from a blatant obstruction.

But Hornets sucked in for a big finish and got their reward in the last minute of the half when Ellis Robson out-muscled three defenders to plant the ball down. Dan Abram with the two and Hornets with the momentum at 18-22.

Indeed, Hornets began the second half in similar fashion, Ben Moores denied two tries in rapid succession. First his lunge to touch down his own kick into the in-goal was ruled out, then his reaction to a sloppy carry by Fleming was penalised as 'ripped'. Halifax, then marched straight upfield where Sharp went in by the flag. It kinda set the tone for what was to come.

As Mr Crashley became increasingly pedantic - and Hornets became increasingly frustrated - Halifax eventually crawled on top of the game.

Woodburn-Hall grabbed his third after a period of sustained pressure and - on the hour - Laulu-Togagae used a static attacker as cover to create a big enough hole to step through. No obstruction call was forthcoming.

We then saw a bit of refereeing that resembled a Two Ronnies gag. Hornets defence hit hard in the tackle, tipping the Halifax ball carrier onto his back. Whilst the travelling fans bayed for a 'tipping' penalty, it was obvious that the player concerned hadn't passed the vertical. However, at the conclusion of the NEXT tackle, Mr Crashley blew and gave a penalty for his interpretation of the offence that had happened the TACKLE BEFORE.  Just awful.

Despite this, Hornets continued to plug away and it was Ben Moores who went closest, the ball slipping from his fingers with the line begging as he looked to push a pass to Brandon Wood.

As the game moved into the closing stages, Halifax struck with a late brace: Saltonstall spinning away from defenders; Laulu-Togagae allowed to step through from close range.

Last word, though, went to Hornets: Carl Forster piling through defenders to score on the hooter, Dan Abram with the conversion.

This game was a great example of how big momentum shifts can hinge on individual moments: Dan Abram's attempted intercept that slipped from his grasp, Halifax scoring from the resulting scrum; the wayward pass to Brandon Wood off a Halifax error when Hornets were a man down; Ben Moores double denial early in the second half. Add the added impetus of Mr Crashley's surrealist interpretation of the laws and you can at least see how the game slid slowly away from Hornets.

Yes, it's frustrating - infuriating, even. This is a pretty ordinary Halifax side, but they capitalised on every opportunity that came their way. Maybe the need to be more ruthless is the lesson to take away from this one.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Sunday's Coming: Halifax

Halifax come over the hill on Sunday for what is now our local 'derby' - and by their recent standards, they're having a somewhat ordinary start to their season.

Having reached the SL Qualifiers in 2017 and 2018 (finishing 3rd and 4th respectively) Halifax currently sit 8th in the comp with a 4 and 4 record and a -75 points difference - giving Richard Marshall's side the dubious honour of topping the Championship's 'League within a League'

Halifax scraped past League 1 Hunslet in the Cup by 24-28 last week, and have all the hallmarks of a team struggling to find rhythm: either losing games by a sizeable margin or edging unconvincing victories. Their only dominant thus far win a 26-nil drubbing of Dewsbury last month.

Last week, though Halifax had to come from behind to beat the League 1 leaders - despite having led early doors. Hunslet took a 16-6 lead into the break and were hanging on to a six point lead with 70 minutes gone. But two fortuitous late tries - one off a Hunslet fumble, the second from a pass deflecting off a defender - proved enough to earn Halifax a home tie against London Broncos in the next round.

Our three to watch are:

Quentin Laulu-Togaga'e: Having begun his career at Souths Logan Magpies in the Queensland Cup, Tongan international QLT has plied his footy trade in the UK. He earned a reputation as a bit of a points machine in his five seasons at Sheffield with 183 tries (and smashing the club's 'tries in a season' record). He also weighed in with 22 more scores in his 33 games for Manchestoronto. Since then, his career has stuttered a bit. Four tries in four games for Halifax in 2018, before heading into Super League with Castleford where he looked to have made a good step-up (scoring 6 tries in his 9 games), but eyebrows were raised when he wasn't retained at the end of last year.

Scott Murrell: the dynamo at the heart of the Halifax side, Murrell looks every inch like a bloke who's won a place on the team photo in a raffle. But his laid-back style belies his influence on the Halifax side. Fundamentally, everything goes via his hands or his right boot, so if you can persuade him to have an off-day, Halifax as a unit will follow. Murrell has played over 175 games for 'Fax since his move from Hull, KR in 2013, so it's fair to say that Richard Marshall has built his team around Murrell's abilities. Most interesting to us is that he has accrued a career total of 10 drop-goals. So if it's a tight game - get to the kicker.

Steve Tyrer: since joining from Widnes in 2012, Tyrer has kicked 668 goals for Halifax. Thats about 112 goals a season. Or more than 4 per game. Bloke's a machine - doesn't miss. No penalties.

Hornets come into the game also having nicked a challenge cup tie against League 1 opposition. Having struggled to make headway against an obstinate and agricultural Whitehaven side, Hornets played some of their most expansive, high-tempo football for some time - in the last minute of each half! Finishing both halves strongly was the key to a workmanlike win and if Fozzy can instil that desire to move the ball at pace more often, we'll be a hard team to stop.

Of late, Halifax have had the wood over Hornets, so we go looking to break another sequence of defeats - and given Halifax's current malaise, now is a good time to get them.

Games against our nearest Yorkshire rivals have always been tough, combative affairs and if Hornets can stay in the game and stifle Fax's playmakers, this one too could come down to who blinks first.

We're looking forward to this one. See you Sunday.