Monday, 16 March 2020

Strange Times.

York 70 - Hornets 12

We live, it seems, in strange times.

Last year, Hornets fans saw their side systematically dismantled 60-nil away at York. Having travelled this time with positive expectations, this game served as a reminder that Hornets is a club in transition.

Despite working hard - and improving last year's 'nil' - Hornets succumbed to a York side that was half a yard faster, half a second smarter and devastatingly more creative out of the back of the tackle where second phase ball repeatedly found Hornets stretched and scrambling.

Having moved the game to Post Office road due to Coronavirus concerns at Bootham Crescent, York were out of the blocks quickly: winger Bass grabbing the first of a hat-trick out wide after just 7 minutes. He was followed to the line in quick succession by Clarkson and Robinson to give the 'home' side a 16-nil lead by the quarter mark.

Hornets did rally, though. A tricky, weaving break from Lewis Sheridan swept Hornets downfield, but as Hornets rushed to support, an attempt to pass saw the attack break down.

York took full advantage of the let-off, scoring two tries in as many minutes through Marsh and Butterworth.

With just two minutes of the half remaining, a solid Liam Whalley tackle led to a scuffle, the Hornets man dispatched for ten minutes. 12-man Hornets then shipped another penalty from which York moved the ball wide for Butterworth to step through and score. Half-time, a shell-shocked 34-nil.

Hornets started the second half with noticeably more intensity - and got their reward with two close range Lewis Sheridan tries in the opening ten minutes. But it was brief respite.

York kept the scoreboard operator busy with scores coming at a steady pace: Marsh with his second, Bass with two more for his treble, Johnson skating in off a cute dummy, then Robinson at the death to bring up the 70. An object lesson in power and support-play.

As York go into the hat for round six, the immediate future for the game hangs in the balance as the country goes into an increasing lock-down to combat the spread of Coronavirus.

Super League clubs meet with the RFL today (Monday) to discuss what happens next. We're told that Championship and League 1 clubs are due to meet on Tuesday.

Late last night (Sunday), the BBC was reporting that RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer had said that rugby league would '... continue to follow government advice and allow games to go on until a point when either mass gatherings are banned, which could be as early as next weekend, or there is a positive test in the sport...'

This was followed by an announcement from Toronto Wolfpack that four of their players were self-isolating after reporting mild coronavirus symptoms, that they had stood-down their entire playing staff and that the club was "... waiting for a directive from the League's governors".

So we watch and we wait. Strange times indeed. Now wash your hands.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Sunday's Coming: York City Knights

Ah, the magic of the cup.

Pretty much exactly three years ago, Championship Hornets went to Bootham Crescent to play League 1 York, slipping on the banana skin to go down 26-20 in a frankly awful display in which Alan Kilshaw's side clawed their way back to 20-all only to fall at the death.

Those of us who've been following Hornets for longer than is sensible know only too well that York - in all its iterations - has always been a bit of a graveyard.

Take last year, for example. A bone-shuddering 60-nil flogging to a high-flying Knights was hard to stomach and was the most painful nail in Hornets' relegation coffin.

But wait. What goes around comes around...

This year, League 1 Hornets make the trip to Bootham Crescent and we find York languishing in the Championship's basement bereft of a win and only kept off the bottom of the table courtesy of Whitehaven's leakier defence.

Without a win in pre-season too, York have had a pretty ordinary start to 2020, shipping over 100 points in just four games. Their only win so far was 22-24 shock Cup victory down at Ealing Trailfinders - but just last week London Broncos came up to Bootham Crescent and left with the league points. Swings and roundabouts.

London raced into an 18-0 lead after 25 minutes, but York grabbed two late first-half tries to go in 18-12 behind at the break. Beyond that - nowt happened: the second half remaining, literally, pointless.

London's Aussie import via Toulouse Rhys Curran scored two identical tries: a shift left, then capitalising on soft goal-line defence in York's right channel. York's two tries both came when a slow-turning Broncos defence failed to react to kicks into the in-goal.

But Knights' coach James Ford is taking a lot of positives from the defeat: "I’ve taken a lot of positives from that," he said in the York Press. "I’m really heartened by our efforts and our performance against a really good side... We’ve taken a lot from it." Bar the points, obviously.

So where did it all go wrong for them? "... we’ve been held up, passed slightly off target or kicked a little bit short or a little bit far... unfortunately we just lacked a little bit of creativity and organisation in their 10,” said Ford. Ah, barely anything to fix, there.

Despite losing four consecutive league games, Ford retains his self-belief: “We are not losing our self-belief and the players are not losing their self-belief. It’s going to take more than a couple of defeats for me to lose my self-belief."

Off the field, York's shiny new LNER Community Stadium was due to be finished in time for their game against Fev on 22nd March. But it isn't.  Ironically named after a train operator, the stadium has been subject to multiple delays and has repeatedly failed to arrive on time (this stuff writes itself sometimes). The inaugural game was due to be a double header with Toronto's game v Wakefield, but now both will take place at Bootham Crescent.

Stadium operators GLL and builders Buckingham have not yet scheduled the test events required to allow it to open to the public. GLL said this week "There are no structural issues with the scheme – the completed work will be of the required high standard and we’re working hard to put in the finishing touches and get all the right certification before a game can be played."

Three test events have to occur to enable a safety certificate to be issued and before any games can be played. As of the 6th March, no dates for the test events had been announced.

GLL blamed '... poor weather...' and said that progress continues to be made towards completion. Surely, they just have to put the posts up: how hard can it be?

Hornets go to York with nothing to lose and a sizeable bogey to lay. Having started the season with a convincing win over Keighley, Hornets can travel with a bit of confidence. And we're confident too: confident that York won't score 60 and confident that we'll score. Which will be a major improvement on last year.

So, get three mates in the car and get yourself over to York. Let's get together, make some noise and make a day of it. You never know: the magic of the Cup just might work in our favour. See you Sunday.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Hornets' Season Up and Running

Hornets 29 - Keighley 14

Hornets started life back in League 1 with a convincing win over a clawless Cougars side that was second best for 70 minutes. Bar a ten minute spell at the end of the first half, Hornets dominated this one, playing all the football on offer in a game sliced and diced by 25 penalties.

Hornets started with intent, Jordan Syme going close early doors before a Martin Ridyard dink into the in-goal caused panic amongst the Keighley defence: Andy Lea the only cool head in proximity to touch down. Sam Freeman added the extras; the first of yet another 100% afternoon with the boot.

For most of the first quarter, Hornets played in Keighley's half: forcing two drop-outs and building pressure. On 22 minutes Martyn Ridyard hoisted a kick to Keighley's flaky left edge, Webster and Hawkyard lost track of the ball under pressure of Brad Holroyd's harrying chase and Jamie Tracey gathered the loose ball to crash in unopposed. Sam Freeman the two for a comfortable 12-nil.

On the half hour - with Keighley errors and penalties mounting -  the Cougars' newly introduced rake Feather was handed a yellow card for a late shoulder charge on Sam Freeman. He got off the floor and took the two to extend Hornets' lead.

The reduction to twelve seemed to shake the visitors out of their torpor.  Firstly Mr Staveley missed a blatant knock-on as the Cougars crossed the line, his blushes saved by the near-side touch-judge. Then a freak try out of nothing: a pinball kick into the in-goal taking a series of ricochets for Miller to score. (14-4).

On 36 minutes, a moment of lapsed concentration allowed Webster to take an offload and sneak in from close range. Miller added the extras and - out of nowhere - Keighley went to the sheds at 14-10.

Buoyed up by their miracle recovery, Keighley began the second half with real purpose: Hornets compelled to defend four consecutive sets on their own line, eventually forcing a Cougars error. Hornets marched back downfield where Sam Freeman took another two points after the ball was stolen in the tackle (16-10).

On their next possession Hornets were piggy-backed downfield off yet another Cougars penalty: the punishment compounded as Lewis Sheridan fed Liam Whalley into a gap to score. San Freeman on target for 22-10.

As Hornets rolled forward again, Martyn Ridyard did the maths to slam home a 30 metre drop goal to give Hornets a 3-score lead at 23-10,

Keighley sucked in for a big last quarter, but hadn't counted on the ninja defence of Dale Bloomfield. Having halted what looked like a certain try with a bone-crunching one-on-one tackle, he went straight back in to haul Agoro into touch by the flag. Impressive stuff.

With the game ebbing away under a tide of penalties and relentless spoiling, Keighley somehow fashioned a try for Hawkyard out wide, but it was fitting that Hornets had the final word. With the strains of the hooter still hanging in the air, the Cougars defence clocked off to allow Sam Hopkins to score by the posts. Sam Freeman raised the flags to give Hornets a deserved, if workman-like, 29-14 win.

On a day when lucid football came at a premium, Hornets had to dig deep to take the win. Battling horrible conditions, an escalating penalty count and a Keighley side happy to leave something in every tackle, Hornets worked harder on attack and defence and showed more craft at key moments.

As the lads sang the new victory song in the dressing room afterwards, you could sense the confidence creeping back. Yes, we'll face tougher opponents this season - but right here, right now, Hornets are in a good place. And that's priceless.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Sunday's Coming: Keighley Cougars

At last. After what seems like an age, Hornets finally get  the 2020 League 1 season off the launch pad with a visit from the Cougars of Keighley.

MASSIVE: A huge badge with a
jersey sewn onto it.
As it's a new season, we're going to dive right in: what IS going own with their 2020 jersey? For us, it's up there with the worst we've ever seen (and we've seen a LOT). We can live with the dodgy pound-shop Marvel hero styling - but that badge?

It's not so much a bad jersey with a disproportionately large badge, more a ridiculously huge badge with a jersey stitched to the back of it. Keighley have a recent history of wearing somewhat 'interesting' shirt designs, but this one would have Stevie Wonder reeling. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should...

The Cougars' Betfred League One campaign began last week with a 24-6 defeat up at Workington Town - narrowly avoiding a nilling with a Jack Coventry try from close range in the last minute of the game. On the way their defeat, Keighley looked flaky up their left edge as Town debutant Elliot Hall bagged four tries on his debut.

Cougars' coach Rhys Lovegrove sees fixing-up that obvious hole as a priority. Speaking in the Keighley News he said: "Our left edge leaked four of our five tries against Workington and that's the side that have not played since Sheffield (in pre-season)."

He's also go to contend with losing prop Dalton Desmond-Walker who broke his hand at Derwent Park.

The defeat at Workington came after Keighley were nudged out of the Challenge Cup in the third round, courtesy of a '... bad-tempered...' 16-12 home defeat to big-spending Newcastle Thunder. Having said that standards have slipped since their unbeaten pre-season programme, Lovegrove said this week that "... it's time for us to step up on Sunday."

Looking down the Cougars squad, it's not short on experience and ability. Out wide former Oldham wing Mo Agoro is partnered by former Melbourne, Gold Coast Titans, Hull KR, Castleford and Bradford centre Jake Webster. That's experience that going to boost any side.

Loverove's squad also includes Kyle Kesik (signed pre-season after 10 years at Doncaster), the indestructable Richie Hawkyard and former Hornets' Foundation Back Onside coach Will Cooke.

32 year-old Lovegrove has had an interesting journey to Keighley. Hailing from the Shire south of Sydney, he played rep footy for  the Australian Schoolboys Team in 2004 and came through the system at St George-Illawarra Dragons. He joined Hull KR on a short-term deal in 2007 - a deal that ended up taking in 159 games over seven years! He went on to play 20 games for London Broncos, before an ill-fated move to Bradford saw his career cut short by injury.

He cut his coaching teeth on the staff at Bradford and Doncaster, moving to Keighley as assistant coach 14 months ago. He was appointed as head coach last summer after the sacking of Craig Lingard.

In what has felt like a disjointed start to the year, Hornets seem to be trucking on pretty well. What is clear is that the current iteration has points in it - and this can only be helped by the addition of Martyn Ridyard. Riddy is a goal-kicking half back with a ten year career that includes 250 games for Leigh plus stints at Huddersfield and Featherstone. Pretty exciting, we think.

Hornets have also taken Leigh wing Brad Holroyd to cover one of the edges.The former Lancashire and England Lions under 19s rep scored on his Centurions debut in their 1895 Cup win over Workington and looks a useful prospect.

As always, we urge all Hornets fans to get there on Sunday and show your support in this new era.  Let's start the season with a bang. See you there.

The game is live on the #OuRLeague app. from 2:45pm!

If you haven't signed up, do it today, choosing the Rochdale Hornets as your team, by going to - the number of fans we have registered with the app dictates how much extra funding we get from the RFL.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Hornets in the wars, but win the battle.

Hornets 54 - British Army 10

Hornets summary 50-point shoeing of the British Army to progress into the 5th Round of the Challenge Cup came at a hefty price. Hornets had wingers Dale Bloomfield and Shaun Ainscough taken to hospital with concerning injuries; the former for a scan on a neck injury, the latter for what looked like a nasty knee and ankle combination.

Forced into a backline reshuffle, Hornets stuck to their task, though. And as the penalty count crept towards the 30-mark, they remained resolutely professional to win the second half 34-nil.

But it started so very differently. Hornets coughed-up the kick-off possession, Scott dinked the ball into the in-goal and Holmes touched down. The Army ahead after just 90 seconds - but that was pretty much the last threat of a shock.

Hornets' response was pretty direct. On the back of two penalties Hornets produced a good approach set: Andy Lea slotted in after some nice work by Jordan Syme.

Hornets were in again just five minutes later - a swift shift wide for Ben Calland to score unopposed out wide (10-4).

Hornets looked to be in again on 15 minutes when Dale Bloomfield finished stylishly by the flag, only for the officials to spot a forward pass.

The game becoming disjointed due to the escalating penalty count suited the Army and they continued to plug away to no avail. So Hornets sent in the big guns: Sam Hopkins blasting through the guts of the Army's defence to score from 30 metres. San Freeman the extras for 16-4.

On the half hour, Referee Mr McMullen had had enough of the Army's spoiling tactics and put the visitors on a team warning for persistent infringements.

From the penalty, Hornets marched upfield where Andy Lea trickled a grubber into the in-goal for Shaun Ainscough to pounce. 20-4.

With the hooter looming, the Army gave it one last big push. A sloppy Hornets tackle gave them the penalty that took them close: Beevor barging in from close range to score, Roche the extras. Half time 20-10 - the game given the veneer of a contest.

The second half was a different story altogether. Hornets shot out of the blocks with Jamie Tracey on the spot to gather a Sam Freeman offload to score after less than a minute.

After a lengthy delay due to Ainy's injury, Hornets went straight back on the attack: good hands right for Ben Calland to grab his second. Sam Freeman the two for 32-10.

On the hour mark Hornets applied some sustained pressure on the Army line - working the ball o the left edge for Jack Higginson to shrug off defenders to score. Sam Freeman on target from the touchline for 38-10.

Then a rapid-fire Hornets double whammy: good hands wide for Ben Calland to grab his hat-trick, then Adam Hesketh too big, too fast and too strong for a flagging Army defence (48-10).

With the game ebbing away, Hornets once more drove the Army into retreat, where Jamie Tracey skated through for his second try of the day. Sam Freeman landed his seventh goal from ten attempts and Hornets were home and hosed at 54-10.

There's no doubt that this was a tricky banana skin. The Army side are big, fit and - obviously - combative. But once the game began to slip away, they reverted to survival mode and strove manfully to suck every last ounce of momentum out of the game.

While Hornets struggled at times to maintain their rhythm, they were patient and direct - Matt Calland's big pack setting a solid platform for victory.

So, as Hornets go into the hat for Round 5, it's clear to see that this team has points in it: another half-century putting the result up there with the best of the weekend. And with plenty of tougher battles to come, Hornets can progress with confidence.

Monday, 17 February 2020

Storm Sam blows Acorn's cup chances


Forced round the M60 by a high-tide at Spotland, Hornets comfortably avoided a Challenge Cup banana-skin, seeing off York Acorn by a 44 point margin.

Despite some moments of sloppy application, Hornets had way too much in the tank for the NCL Premier side: Sam Freeman leading the way, scoring more than half of Hornets points singlehandedly.
With two tries and a flawless nine goals from nine attempts in horrendous kicking conditions, his virtuoso performance began after just two minutes when a stepping run to the line left Acorn defenders mesmerised.

Hornets were over again just five minutes later when a fumble from a kick gave them good field position, and Jamie Tracey bumped off defenders to score. Hornets ahead of the clock.

Some desperate defence from Acorn kept Hornets at bay until the quarter mark, when Lewis Sheridan embarked on a scuttling dash through defenders to somehow get the ball down.

On the half hour, referee Mr Sweet sought advice from his touch-judge for a robust tackle, followed by a skirmish - Jamie Tracey shown a yellow card.

A man short, Hornets responded  by creating a huge overlap on the left edge for Dale Bloomfield to score. Sam Freeman's wind-adjusted conversion off the whitewash was exceptional stuff.

Hornets closed the half as they'd begun: Lewis Sheridan the teasing run, Sam Freeman the try. Half time 30-nil.

Hornets started the second half with intent. Sharp and direct up the right channel, Ben Calland extended his arm, but landed just short. Next play Shaun Ainscough proved too powerful from close range. This time, Sam Freeman slamming the ball hard and low over the bar into the teeth of the gale.

Five minutes later Ben Calland got his try after some nice approach-work, followed to the line three minutes later by Adam Hesketh - too big and too strong from close range. Hornets 48-nil to the good with 20 minutes to play.

Acorn then produced their best 10 minutes of the afternoon. Sustained pressure saw Gallacher drift wide and step back inside to score to the delight of the travelling fans. Hornets then made a hash of what looked like a poor kick going nowhere. From the resulting set, Acorn sent in Hardcastle from close range.

Hornets had the final word, though: a neat interchange of passes up the left flank saw Dale Bloomfield feed Jack Higginson in for the try that took Hornets over the 50. Sam Freeman landing his ninth from nine to take the man of the match plaudits.

All up, you'd have to try hard to complain about this one. In challenging conditions - and featuring more debutants - Hornets looked solid and efficient. Yes, there were a couple of shoddy moments and yes Hornets switched off for 10 minutes at 48-0 nil, but this was a case of getting the job done.

Hornets now face the British Army in the next round - they saw off Ince Rose Bridge in their previous tie and, with a handful of Fijians in their side, look like a handy outfit.

Pray for a dry week - and we might just get to play them at home.


Monday, 13 January 2020

Down by Law

Hornets 18 - Oldham 12

The Law Cup is a not only a venerable institution, it sets a tone for the season. Last year, it went the way of the underdog as Hornets flapped, flailed and failed to fire. With roles reversed, Hornets' long-suffering loyalists hoped for something similar - and their redoubtable faith came good as their new-look side handed the noisy neighbours a lesson in hard graft and commitment.

On a rain-sodden afternoon, Hornets started brightly: a smart break from Sam Freeman ending in Oldham conceding a penalty: Andy Lea going close, only to fumble the ball.

10 minutes in Oldham forced a drop-out off a last tackle kick, but came up with a knock-on of their own.

As Oldham continued to misfire, Hornets gained confidence.

An attack on 14 minutes was halted after eyecatching half-back Adam Jackson was clattered in back-play. No action taken.

On 17 minutes, a big Shaun Ainsworth break up the guts of a stretched Oldham defence created space to the left, Lewis Sheridan outpacing the Roughyeds outside backs to open the scoring.

Oldham were visibly rattled; now full of errors, spewing penalties. On the half hour Shaun Ainscough took the narrow route to the goal-line and - with defenders descending - found a miracle offload for Sam Freeman to score out wide. Hornets good value for their 8-nil lead.

Three minutes later, Oldham found themselves again retreating to their goal-line. This time Callum Marriott found a delicious pass to slip Andy Lea in under the black dot. Sam Freeman with the extras and Hornets fans exultant as their side headed to the sheds 14-nil ahead.

The second half started with Oldham forcing a drop-out from a big charge-down ricochet. On 45 minutes a stepping 40 metre kick return from San Freeman ended in the now the traditional Law Cup Punch-Up™ - both teams dashing in, handbags swinging.

As Matt Calland began to rotate his extensive bench, Hornets' shuffled shape took time to settle. Oldham capitalised, scoring all of their points in a four minute spell: Hewitt off a big break (despite a despairing last-ditch tackle effort from Lewis Sheridan), then Dan Abram off a carbon-copy break by Langtree. Abram on target with both conversions and nerves jangling on the hour at 14-12.

Oldham applied some pressure: forcing a drop-out, then a dubious penalty for ball-stealing. It took some determined defence to deny Kay in the gloom of the far corner.

As the newly introduced personnel bedded in - and Sean Penkywicz returned to direct proceedings - Hornets regained control. On 65 minutes, Shaun Ainscough again drew defenders to him. A quick play the ball and some neat hands fed Luke Fowden into space to restore Hornets' six point advantage. Oldham's response was to fail to send the kick-off 10 metres.

Sensing the game slipping away, OIdham threw the kitchen sink at the Hornets defence in the last 10 minutes, bit couldn't crack the resolute red, white and blue wall. Even as the game entered its last minute, Oldham were gifted possession in the Hornets 20m zone, but ran out of ideas. Ultimately,  Matt Calland's blueprint for League 1 redemption proving too good for Oldham's blunt-instrument approach.

In the wash-up, Hornets looked well-organised, enthusiastic and they worked hard for every inch -  Sean Penkywicz and Shaun Ainscough the tormentors-in-chief giving Oldham the shits every time they got involved. Up front Luke Fowden had his best game in a Hornets shirt, ably supported by Callum Marriott and Andy Lea.

Matt Diskin came with what looked like his first 17 and they were found wanting in most departments. They start their Championship campaign at Widnes, but you get the feeling that Tim Sheens won't be losing much sleep. It could be a long slog to September for the Roughyeds.

For Hornets fans every victory over the old enemy is sweet, but this broke the hoodoo of the last few horrendous months. You could sense the relief. And you have to celebrate beating Oldham: that's the law.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Sunday's Coming: The Law Cup

While the Rugby League world rubs itself daft over Toronto's escalation to Super League, new opportunities in New York and has gone OTT over Ottawa, a rare thread of the game's Mitochondrial DNA will be hauled out into the floodlights this weekend as Hornets host Oldham in the Law Cup.

Rugby League was built on rivalries like this. Salford v Swinton, FC v Rovers, Featherstone v Castleford, Wigan v Saints - games that look ostensibly like any other, but which contain within their coding that twist of local pride that gives them more spice, more emotion - more importance.

And The Hornets/OIdham rivalry goes back almost as far as the history of rugby itself. Into Rugby League prehistory.

Founded in 1871, Rochdale Hornets was one of the earliest formally constituted clubs in the game - but Hornets had to wait a further five years before Oldham gave them a proper local rivalry.

Both clubs were among the 22 rebels to form the Northern Union in 1895, with the inaugural season for both seeing contrasting fortunes: Oldham finished a 42 game season in 4th place. Hornets ran stone-cold last. Ever the underdog...

Not content with league and cup derbies, the most hotly contested - and most resilient - pre-season derby in Rugby League was created in 1921: The AJ Law Cup.

First played to raise money for the Rochdale and Oldham Infirmaries, it was known as the ‘Infirmaries Cup’.  As recorded in Hornets' Annual Report and Accounts from that year, a local MP – Mr A.J.Law – provided “a handsome Silver Cup for the Competition” and the winners received gold medals “the gift of Rochdale and Oldham gentlemen”.

At the first game everybody concerned, including the players of both Clubs, gave their services for free, contributing to a donation of £348 3s 7 ½d to each of the two hospitals. The first game ended in a gripping nil-nil draw.

With the creation of the NHS, proceeds from the match in the 1948/9 season were distributed to local charities and the cup was referred as the ‘Charity Cup’. During the 1949/50 season it was decided that the majority of the proceeds would be used “for the fostering of junior Rugby League games” and the trophy was renamed after its founder.

Thus far, there have been 68 fixtures - including one replay after the nil-nil draw (Oldham won the replay 12-8 in front of 7,000 people). Oldham have won the cup 46 times to Hornets' 20. The cup was jointly held by both clubs in 1954 and 1976 following draws.

Oldham's longest winning run is seven consecutive wins between August 1978 and August 1998. Hornets longest winning run is four games between January 2005 and January 2010. The highest attendance at a Law Cup game was 14,000 in 1926 (Oldham won 34-nil). The highest attendance in the 21st century was at Spotland in 2002: 2,141 fans watched Oldham edge it 22-28. Oldham are current holders having won 28 – 8 at the Vestacare in January last year.

As always, there's been plenty of player traffic both ways up the A627M and this year's Oldham squad features ex-Hornets Dec Kay, James Worthington, Danny Bridge, Jode Sheriffe and Dan Abram.

The Roughyeds opened their season last week, edging a Barrow side padded with seven amateur triallists 18-22. Described in the press as 'a victory for experience', Oldham were 16-nil up in the first quarter then basically racked the cue, their only other try from Bridge on 50 minutes.

At this end of Oldham Road, Matt Calland saw his 25-man squad put in a promising performance against Widnes. While it's hard to pick the bones out of a game with so many changes, there were clear indications of potential: Sam Freeman looks comfortable at fullback and a pack led by Sean Penkywicz showed some promising go-forward. And with Dale Bloomfield returning to the fold to join Shaun Ainscough, Hornets have some genuine strike options up the edges.

As always, despite its billing as a pre-season friendly, the Law Cup means much, much more. Yes, local bragging rights and the weight of real Rugby League history come as standard with this venerable fixture. And while it may not have the economic clout of Toronto or the glamour of New York, it does come with the one thing they'll never have: genuine meaning.

See you there

Monday, 6 January 2020

Positive Chemistry

Hornets 24 - Widnes 34

In contrast to the dreich conditions, Hornets hearts were warmed by a performance that hinted at better things to come for Hornets' long-suffering loyalists. Whilst it's hard to glean any sense of shape in a heavily rotated 25-man squad, there were flickers of real potential - not least in the fact that this 2020 model knows how to score points.

Hornets came up with four well-taken tries - interestingly, all from forwards - with new skipper Sean Penkywicz grabbing two proper poacher's tries from a total of three metres. Nice.

Indeed, Penky looked the part at the heart of the new-look Hornets, with a perpetual-motion performance that earned him the man-of-the-match award from the press benches. But it was far from a solo performance. He was ably supported by fellow forwards Andy Lea and Luke Fowden who took the side forward - and Sean Mulcahy who put himself about enthusiastically during his stint.

Widnes opened the scoring after just 7 minutes having forced an early drop-out: Cooper picking a line off a flat pass. But Hornets responded well.

A Sean Penkywicz break had the Widnes defence back-pedalling and Andy Lea capitalised to crash in under the black dot. Sam Freeman dinked over the extras to tie the scores after 15 minutes.

Parity lasted just two minutes: Widnes clinically punishing a rare first half error to send Buckley in by the flag.

Again Hornets' response was direct. The Lea/Penkywicz combination reversed this time: Penky ducking in from close range after Andy Lea had taken the ball to the goal-line. Sam Freeman with the two - and Hornets ahead just past the quarter mark.

The Vikings restored their lead on 25 minutes with a try from Dwyer and, as Hornets shuffled the backline to cover Ryan Bradbury's shoulder injury, they worked the ball right for Buckley to score a carbon copy try up the right edge. Edge added the two to send Widnes to the sheds 22-12 up.

As both coaches began to rotate their sizeable benches, the second half was a scrappier, more error-strewn affair. But Widnes settled the faster of the two sides: Wilde and Brookes with a quick-fire double to give the visitors an ominous 12-34 lead.

But as the game fragmented, Hornets took advantage. Just before the hour a teasing grubber bounced back off the foot of a post, where Sean Penkywicz was first to react and score (Matt Whitehead the two). In quick succession, another teasing kick was snaffled by Adam Hesketh to bring Hornets within 10 points.

Though the final quarter yielded no further points, it gave with coaches the opportunity to run the rule over more triallists - with the gathering gloom of a wet Pennine winter adding to the lack of fluidity.

In the end, a good blowout for Matt Calland's Hornets. Lots of effort on show from all involved - and some flickers of quality from what has the makings of a physical, mobile pack.

For us - result notwithstanding - as good an outcome as we could have expected (certainly, there looks to be a nascent gameplan - good last tackle options just one example) and this was reflected in the post-match positivity.

Next up is the Law Cup against an Oldham side that edged home in their pre-season opener at Barrow. We can't wait.