Thursday, 24 May 2018

The Summer Bash is Coming: Swinton Lions

And so, to Blackpool; scene of last year’s transformational triumph that kickstarted our season into life - and boy do we need a repeat performance.

Both Hornets and winless Swinton come into Sunday’s game desperately craving a victory to catalyse what has been a complex and challenging year for both sides.

But Barrow Raiders, it seems, are a significant factor in both teams’ seasons thus far.

Until last weekend, Swinton’s only point of the year came from a draw at Craven Park - and Swinton come into this week’s game on the back of yet another draw against Barrow Raiders: deprived of victory by a Jamie Dallimore penalty with the last kick of the game after a Barrow forward had milked a dubious penalty.

Swinton Kicker Chris Hankinson missed four from five attempts at goal. Ouch!

One of Hornets’ two wins this year was against an irksome 12-man Barrow at home and, ironically, Barrow could do both us and Swinton a favour by thrashing Sheffield in the first game of the Bank Holiday weekend.

Why? Because a Sheffield defeat and a Hornets win will haul Hornets out of the bottom two at the expense of the Eagles (Hornets currently with a +32 points difference over Sheffield).

It would require a Swinton win by 40 or more for them to scramble over Hornets in the league table - but in closing the points gap, it would turn up the heat at the bottom of the Championship

A Dewsbury defeat against Batley in the last game of the weekend will leave Hornets only a point behind the Rams (who somehow tossed away a 14-nil half-time lead to end up scraping a draw at Halifax last week). Lots of intriguing permutations.

Our one to watch on Sunday is Hornets fans’ favourite panto-villain George Tyson. He weighed in with two tries last weekend (that’s 6 tries in 10  appearances for Swinton) - and 10 minutes in the sin bin for hitting a Barrow player on the ground (seems Lions may change their jerseys, but not their spots).

Hornets come into the game on the back of a vastly improved, hard-working performance at Batley. But for a couple of indeterminate calls from the merry whistler, the outcome could have been very different. Certainly the return of Richard Lepori and Earl Hurst gave the backline a more robust feel - and having Dave Allen back gave the side a visible boost in workrate alongside Lee Mitchell who put in a major shift to clock his best performance yet in a Hornets shirt. And we’ll need more of that commitment to the cause on Sunday if Hornets are to maintain our 100% record at Bloomfield road.

So is The Bash Box Office?

It does promise to be an interesting day on Sunday - especially amidst great debate on both sides of the world on the crowd-pulling capabilities of multiple-header events. Down-under, controversial Murdoch sock-puppet Buzz Rothfield of the Daily Telegraph has accused the NRL of double-counting crowds at double headers in order to artificially inflate average attendance figures. The NRL has defended the way in which it calculates attendances - but both parties remain locked in a war of basic arithmetic over whether every fan watches every minute of each game played.

Over here, there was media concern over attendances at last Week’s Magic Weekend, the combined attendance of 64,000 down on the last four years. Most interesting is that since its return to Newcastle in 2015, day-two has produced a significantly smaller attendance. This year’s day two crowd of 25,400 the lowest day two figure since Edinburgh in 2010 - and that included a Humberside derby!

Blackpool’s Summer Bash shows an equally interesting attendance pattern across its three year life. Day one has grown year on year (2015 - 8,050, 2016 - 9521, 2017 - 11,567) - boosted by the presence of fallen Super League ‘giants’ Bradford, Leigh and Hull KR. But day two has DECLINED year on year (2015 - 7,021, 2016 - 6,391, 2017 - 4,807). So is playing on the Sunday the ‘graveyard slot’?

However you look at it, you have to think that day one this year has more ‘box office’. Halifax and Featherstone will generate some atmosphere and would ordinarily draw a decent crowd in its own right, similarly Leigh v Leigh ‘Old-Boys’ Toronto. The other fixture on Saturday is Barrow v Sheffield - the third time these teams will have met this season, Barrow having secured two convincing wins. (a third could do us and Swinton a big favour).

But you have to worry about this year’s Sunday attendance - featuring six teams with average home attendances of sub-1,000. Toulouse v London carries the risk of starting proceedings in a vacuum. Toulouse fans don’t travel (even to Blagnac, some might argue) and whilst London’s following will be noisy, it won’t be huge. It will also be the fourth time that Batley and Dewsbury get to contest a Heavy Woollen derby at Blackpool on day two. The two met on good Friday at  Mount Pleasant in front of 1,100 people.

Which leaves Hornets v Swinton. Certainly the scene is set for this to be the most hotly contested game of the weekend - probably the only one that has the potential for meaningful impact and serious jeopardy. Again, though, in the current RL climate, a fixture of such importance might  pull in 1,000 (guess we’ll see the week after).

It’d be fair to assume that the RFL are relying on people committing to the whole weekend, but even the most RL obsessive Barrow or Sheffield fans might take some persuading to stick around to see Batley v Dewsbury through to the death.

So what can we - as Hornets and as RL fans - do to make Sunday a day to remember. Firstly, get to Blackpool and get behind the team; let’s make some noise, generate a buzz and whip up a bit of atmosphere (you can bet that the Swinton fans will). Secondly, wear your colours, bring your scarf and wave your banner (if you have one) - this is our club’s moment in the national TV spotlight, so let’s give the cameras something to look at. Thirdly, try and get there in time for Game one - see cheering against Toulouse as a warm-up for the main event.

Finally - there’s still time to get your tickets from Hornets. Every one our club sells reduces the amount we basically have to pay the RFL to play at Blackpool (they charge us for a pile of tickets and we have to sell as many as possible to get our money back). Call Steve Kerr today on 01706 648004 to buy yours.

Tickets for the day are unreserved so fans can sit anywhere - there was talk at Batley last week of gathering as close as possible behind the dugouts, but wherever we gather, let’s get sat together and be that vital 18th man.

See you Sunday.



Monday, 21 May 2018

Unlucky Hornets Go Close

Batley 23 - Hornets 14

As Mount Pleasant baked in the afternoon sun, Hornets game agonisingly close to stealing this one from under Batley’s nose.

The somewhat distended scoreline belies how close this game was. It certainly doesn’t reflect the fact that, for large tracts of this game, Hornets were the only side wiling to play lucid football of any description and - but for two harsh refereeing calls - we could easily be writing up an entirely different outcome.

Indeed, while the Batley machine churned away in the background, Hornets produced some of their most fluid, dynamic football of the season thus far - and at the heart of this was a towering performance from Lee Mitchell, who covered every blade of grass on attack and defence in a perpetual motion display that Batley found hard to handle.

Facing a literal uphill first half, it wasn’t the finest of starts for Hornets - making a complete hash of the kick-off to give Batley an early platform. The home side pressed hard but were held-up in goal - then they knocked on. Phew…

Hornets responded positively, shoving Batley’s plus-sized pack back up the hill: Earl Hurst wiped out late by a high shot en-route: Referee Mr Dolan opting for just a penalty. Hornets’ retribution was swift. Fast hands across the park found Dec Kay in the line and his pinpoint cut-out pass found Rob Massam who acrobatically finished in the corner in front of the celebrating travelling support.

Batley got a lucky break on 14 minutes. Mr Dolan appeared to stop play for a Batley forward pass, only to give the home side a mystery penalty. Brambani taking advantage to step through a retreating defence to score. Walker the extras and Batley ahead 6-4.

The home side then capitalised on this momentum shift: a huge line-break by Batley lump Rowe  sending Harrison under the black dot. Walker on target to extend Batley’s lead to 12-4.

With the momentum in their favour, Batley sucked the game into a midfield battle where they feel more comfortable and which restricted Hornets’ desire to move the ball. But on 28 minutes, Hornets produced a moment of free-play magic: Dave Allen forcing a Batley error, Danny Yates gathering the loose ball, launching Rob Massam up the touchline. The Welsh flyer burned 70 metres up the slope and, with defenders gathering, found Deon Cross in support to score the try of the game. Wonderful stuff. Tyler Whittaker added the extras and Hornets were back in the chase at 12-10.

But Batley regrouped, played through their sets and - on 32 minutes - Farrel produced a nice drop-off pass for Bretherton to score. Walker the two and Batley eight points to the good down the slope with half-time looming.

There was still time for Hornets to go close: another attack up the left, but Rob Massam was bundled into touch as he lunged for the corner. Half time 18-10 - and Hornets looking forward to playing downhill.

The second half began with both sides exchanging drop-outs - between which Dec Kay was helped from the field with a leg injury.

As Hornets shuffled the backline (Richard Lepori to Full-back, Alex Gaskell onto the wing), Batley capitalised: Farrell mugging defenders from close range with a cheap dummy. Walker comedically wide with the conversion attempt and Hornets left in search of two scores at 22-10.

Hornets continued to press: a big last tackle kick from Danny Yates falling to Rob Massam who was harried into touch; then Earl Hurst unable to find a way to the line as the defence appeared to part.

On 67 minutes Hornets looked to have the break-through: Lee Mitchell with the break, his pass sending Alex Gaskell into acres of open space - only for Mr Dolan to deem the pass forward. The travelling support unconvinced.

Then Mr Dolan found a knock-on in Danny Yates’ last tackle chip & chase. Frustration.

On 70 minutes, Batley rumbled to life long enough for Farrell to drop a goal that left Hornets needing  three scores to win. And two minutes later, quick-hands wide found Rob Massam with space to round Ainscough and score.

With the clock ticking down (and Batley effectively having parked the bus), Hornets continued to push forward and when Jordan Syme split defenders up the channel to break downfield to launch Deon Cross towards the line, he too was pulled for a forward pass. Agonising stuff.

So, don’t read too much into the scoreline: this was a performance of determination, dynamism and dexterity that deserved more. But, again, we saw in Batley the ability to dictate the pace and pattern of the game at key times - to suck the daylight out of the game and grind it into stasis. Indeed, someone commented afterwards that not only do they know how to play the game, they know how to play the referee - and it’s that kind of ugly nous that comes with experience.

But the Hornets positives were there for all to see: a significantly improved performance and a clear mandate for the players to be expressive and expansive. The noisy appreciation of the travelling support proof that things are heading in the right direction - and the knowledge that a clutch of players are close to a return should give everyone heart for the back half of the season.

Epilogue:
While Hornets were battling at Batley, Swinton tossed away what looked a likely win to hand Barrow a draw with the last kick of the game. Which tees up next weekend’s game at the Summer Bash nicely - if ever two teams needed a win…

Again, we urge all Hornets supporters to get themselves over to Blackpool and get behind the lads. There are still some tickets remaining at the club office, so don’t leave it too long (call in at the office between 10am and 4pm, or call 01706 648004).

This year seating is unreserved, so It’s easier for fans to get together and make some noise: the tenuous plan after yesterday’s game was for Hornets fans to meet in a block as close to the back of the dugouts as possible. So wear your colours (if only so we can find each other), bring your singing voice and let’s have another day to remember.