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.