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.

Sunday, 9 June 2019


Dewsbury Rams 66 - Hornets 10

It's said that the secret to success lies not in how you start, but how you finish. Having begun both halves of this game with second-minute scores, Hornets' performance degenerated into a raging bin fire of errors, missed tackles and soft penalties.

Having seen last season turned around by a win at the Tetley stadium, the hardy band of Hornets fans travelled with optimism - and when Brandon Wood crashed in from 20 metres for Hornets' opening score with only 120 seconds on the clock, there was a brief flicker of optimism. But within five minutes Dewsbury were ahead.

Aging journeyman Liam Finn took his side close, Day picked out Trout arriving at pace and he squeezed in to score. Finn converted the first of his 11 goals (100% with the boot on the day).

Hornets did battle briefly: Adam Lawton's huge break up the guts of the Dewsbury defence came to nought; Shaun Ainscough's try in the corner struck-off for a forward pass. Nothing between the teams for 20 minutes. And then the collapse: Dewsbury grabbing three tries in 12 minutes to seize control of the game.

On the half hour a hit and hope downtown kick fumbled. From the resulting scrum a neat pass from Sykes sent Morton skating through a huge hole. Then Hornets forcing a pass out of the back of a tackle, only for Walshaw to snaffle the ball and stroll 30 metres to score.

With a minute of the half to play - and clinging on until the break imperative - Hornets switched off, allowing Knowles to offload in a tackle that looked all but completed; Day the beneficiary of some frankly awful defending. All Hornets' good work undone: 24-10 to the Rams at the break. Hornets fans looking skywards in frustration.

The second half began like the first - but ended much, much worse.

Hornets pressed early, Scott Moore (sponsored by TLCRF80mins) took responsibility in an attack going nowhere to plunge in and score. Dan Abram the extras and Hornets back at 24-10 with 38 minutes to play.

Then disaster. Hornets shipping four increasingly soft tries in just 10 minutes:  Morris with carbon-copy pushover efforts, Martin twisting round defenders, Garrett a walk-in off a Morton pass. 48-10 with almost half an hour to play. Hornets went into meltdown: Dewsbury gifted six consecutive penalties (as part of a 13-7 penalty count), passes forced, defence in tatters. Day capitalising with a try just past the hour, scoring from close range.

There was brief respite, before Dewsbury went for the big finish with two tries in the last five minutes: Martin taking another easy offload to jog in, Annakin swatting off attempted tackles for 66-10.  With three minutes remaining, the realistic fear was that Hornets would ship 70 points. At Dewsbury. Thankfully, the stadium clock bore no resemblance to the time remaining and Hornets were put out of their misery by the final hooter.

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.

Trying to reconstitute a squad half-way through a season was always going to be a tough ask, but this was just horrible. The most extreme test of faith possible, with no real signs of salvation.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

One for the Amnesiacs.

Batley 38 - Hornets 18

In 10 years' time, the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup will be the answer to a trivia question alongside the Captain Morgan Trophy, the Amoco Cup and the Buddies Cup as another half-forgotten Rugby League knock-out competition that got ditched because it got in the way of the real business of league football.

History will show Hornets' involvement to have been brief. Sunday afternoon at Mount Pleasant saw Hornets and Batley spar their way through a low-octane affair in which pretty much everyone involved looks like they could have found something more useful to do. Except Referee Mr Pearson, who joyfully whistled his way through a 9-6 penalty count that, at times, threatened to drag an already slow game to a standstill.

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.

Batley opened proceedings after just 4 minutes. Hornets had fumbled the ball in their first set, compounded it by conceding a penalty and, off the last tackle, the Bulldogs fed 'The Hardest Working Man In Rugby League' James Brown in for a close range try.

After a scrappy period of knock-ons, cheap penalties and some freestyle interpretations of the laws, Hornets' cogs clicked on a rare foray into Batley territory: Oscar Thomas producing a neat flat-pass to send in his half-back partner Zac Baker. Dan Abram slotted the extras and Hornets had an uphill lead at 4-6.

Hornets responded with a first tackle knock-on.

On the quarter-mark, Batley got their noses back in front when Galbraith picked his way through a retreating defence; Jouffret the conversion for 10-6.

Hornets responded well: a Zac Baker bomb fumbled by Brambani, a little concerted pressure, and Brandon Wood scrambling through defenders to plonk the ball over the line. Dan Abram with the two off the whitewash to regain the lead at 10-12.

Hornets responded by cocking-up the kick-off to concede a drop-out. Luckily Batley couldn't capitalise. And, just when it looked like Hornets would take a lead into the break, Brambani hoisted a speculative kick into the in-goal, where Downs found no challenge forthcoming to score an easy try. Jouffret with the conversion to give the home side a 16-12 lead.

The first 15 minutes after the break were a bit of a disaster, as Batley produced a four-shot combination that effectively sealed the game. On 45 minutes: gifted a fortunate possession at a scrum after having appeared to knock-on, Bulldogs' Hooker Leak sneaked in from acting-half. On 49 minutes: simple interposing was enough to send Brambani skating in. On 54 minutes - having conceded a penalty in possession - Hornets backed-off Manning all the way to the goal-line (32-12). And, finally, Jouffret scoring off a loose-ball after Mr Pearson saw a Hornets defensive knock-on in the build-up. 20 minutes to play: 38-12.

Hornets responded briefly: Shaun Ainscough in at the corner after good hands going right; Dan Abram - again - off the touchline. Consolation: just.

The last 20 minutes played out like an obligation being fulfilled; the game over as a contest and both sides with looking like they wanted out. To add insult to injury, the heavens opened too. A metaphor for the mood.

Having played almost the ideal first-half up the slope, Hornets squandered a great platform for progress in one sloppy quarter - the positive being that we can now focus on the league.

All-up an afternoon to forget.