Sunday, 22 May 2016

Blooming Brilliant

Hornets 70 - Scorpions 6

On an auspicious afternoon when Wayne English made his 150th appearance  for Hornets, Woz Thompson made his 100th career start and Dale Bloomfield grabbed a hat-trick to clock-up his 100 career tries, Hornets themselves can count themselves unlucky not to have hit SW Scorpions for a century of points.

With Paul Crook slotting only 7 from 13 conversions, Hornets knocking-on over the line four times and held-up in-goal three times, the 64 point winning margin flatters a Scorpions side that struggled manfully to arrest a 14-try tsunami.

Hornets were out of the blocks quickly with three well-crafted tries in the opening 18 minutes. Crooky kicking wide first play from a scrum for Dale Bloomfield to plunge in by the flag; a Crooky bomb to the opposite corner where Chris Riley popped up unmarked to touch down; and Jono Smith piling in off a short Danny Yates ball. 12-nil.

With Scorpions pressed into rear-guard action, Hornets were unlucky to have another Bloomers try struck off for a forward pass minutes later. But the visitors did rally briefly. Piggy-backed upfield off back-to-back penalties, Jones hit a flat ball at pace to score, Emmanuelli the extras and, somehow, Scorpions within a score at 12-6.

Hornets’ response was clinically swift. On the half hour, Jono Smith showed good feet to dummy his way through from 20 metres to score, followed by Joe Philbin, steaming in off a short ball just two minutes later. Crooky finding his range with the latter to stretch Hornets’ lead to 22-6. Two tries in the last two minutes of the half effectively extinguished Scorpions’ candle: good hands wide for impressive debutant Sam Wilde to skitter through under some ordinary defending. Then a break up the right flank, Sam Wilde a cute kick inside a flat-footed defence for Danny Yates to snaffle and score. Crooky good with both comversions to give Hornets a commanding half time lead of 34-6.

Hornets started the second half on the front foot: on 43 minutes Dan Murray adjudged to have knocked on over the line; two minutes later, Wayne English snagged in similar circumstances. Two minutes hence and it was Matty Hadden called held-up in goal. You could hear the visitors defence creaking.

It finally snapped in the 51st minute when a Woz Thompson break ended with Paul Crook planting the ball under the black dot, converting his own effort. Cue the opening of the floodgates. 56 minutes a huge bomb by Paul Crook, spewed under pressure by Sheridan, Wayne English following up to score; 57 minutes Chris Riley making the extra man to score out wide; 60 minutes, the ball shipped wide from the base of a scrum, Sam Wilde picking out Dale Bloomfield for his second. There was a brief respite while Michael Ratu and Wayne English knocked on over the line, but normal service was resumed on 70 minutes as Paul Crook’s prestidigitation bamboozled defenders, dummying in from 20 metres. The extras a formality to bring up the 60.

There was still time for Dale Bloomfield to cap a good afternoon’s work, slotted in at the flag on 75 minutes. One minute later a James Tilley Break found Lewis Galbraith in support and he sent Danny Yates in to score beneath the posts. Crooky the two: final score 70-6.

On any other week Paul Crook's 22 point haul and total control from five-eighth would have taken the Man of the Match award, but with a hat-trick of lethal finishes bringing up his century of tries, Dale Bloomfield deservedly takes it.

Ultimately, this was an old-skool flogging by a Hornets side that looked to be playing well within themselves. But for half a dozen in-goal decisions, this could’ve ended up anywhere north of the seventy point mark. Indeed, you feel for Paul Carleton.

As it is, Hornets continue unbeaten, going into the weekend off top of League 1 with three points of daylight between them and a fast-rising Doncaster.  With a trip to York to come in a fortnight - and the Knights involved in next weekend’s iPro cup final against Keighley - the break comes at a good time as Hornets prepare for a tough month of away fixtures.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Sunday's Coming: SW Scorpions

Say 'Cheese': Caerphilly's giant cheese monument.
Having learned pretty much all of my Welsh from Llandudno road-signs when I was a child, this Sunday there’s a big croeso i Spotland for ‘newydd’ Sgorpionau De Cymru.

Having previously played out of Neath, Maesteg and Mountain Ash, the rebooted Scorpions club will be based from  this season at Caerphilly's Virginia Park ground.

The word you see associated a lot with the club is ‘Opportunity’. Sitting as they do at the head of the South Wales development pyramid, Scorpions remain a vehicle for channeling the Valleys’ finest League prospects into our game.

The end of last season saw a new stage in the club’s evolution. Having been run by the Welsh RL after owner Phil Davies baled in 2014, the national governing body and and RFL approved the takeover by ex-solicitor Marc Lovering and former Scorpions, and Welsh academy team manager Neil Williams.

Lovering, a Cardiff University graduate in Business Administration, chair of community club Siddal and former RFL Club & Competition Manager added ‘principle shareholder’ to his League CV.

At the time of the takeover he said:  “This bodes well for the future but clearly adding some more quality and experience to compliment what is a young squad will be our immediate focus. Neil and I remain committed to giving quality locally based players an opportunity.”

Whales: in Wales, earlier today
Indeed, if you look at the Scorpions 2016 squad, it reads like a roadmap of the principality with players taken from Aberavon Wizards, Valley Cougars, Torfaen Tigers,  Bridgend Ravens RFC,  Merthyr RFC, Aber Valley Wolves, Conwy Celts, Cardiff City, Pontypool RFC, Risca RFC, Glynneath RFC, Newport Gwent Dragons, Rhydyfelin RFC,  South Wales Hornets, Rumney RFC, Bridgend Blue Bulls and Celtic/North Wales Crusaders.

Lovering & Williams’ first job was to appoint a coach who has Welsh RL in his veins - former Scorpions prop and Wales international Phil Carleton. He was hounoured at the opportunity: “I am obviously very honoured and feel it is a great privilege to be considered for such a role. My thanks go to Marc and Neil for the opportunity.” That word again…

Originally from Consett in the North East of England - argue amongst yourselves whether that makes him a Geordie or a Mackem -  Carleton moved to Wales to attend university in Cardiff, where he began playing League. He also also turned out for then Welsh Conference sides Rumney Rhinos and identity-conflicted Celtic RL hybrids Aberavon Fighting Irish. He played for Wales Students in the 2005 World Cup in Australia, and was also capped for Great Britain Students.

Having toyed with the ‘local game’ at Llanelli Scarlets, Carleton signed for Valley Cougars in 2011 and was the first player to "graduate" from their link-up with South Wales Scorpions. In 2014 he won a full Welsh international cap.

Phil Carleton: is now a bad time?
In amonst his Welsh experience, Carleton also returned to England’s top right-hand corner for a while - playing for Gateshead Thunder and cutting his coaching teeth at Sunderland RUFC.

His return to Wales saw him take up the reins at the emerging Cardiff City RL club. He says: “It was hard to leave Cardiff City RL as they have been very good to me but the role of head coach at a semi-professional club was too good to turn down.”

In addition to South Wales’ emerging talent, Carleton has augmented his squad of late with a clutch of dual registration players from Halifax - Jamie Stringer, Cian Timmins and Martyn Reilly - who should bring a bit of ‘street nous’ to a side that went down 44-4 last week against a Barrow side that had previously piled 50 points on York. Proof if any were needed that the expansion teams won’t just roll-over for the heartland clubs. Interestingly, Scorpions’ only win so far this season came against Oxford in their last game at Iffley Road,  a decent benchmark for what we might expect.

Scorpions: ... er... you sure this is right?
Hornets come back to Spotland off the back of an imperfect, but ultimately convincing win at Oxford. Roared home by a noisy following, the fans were the 18th man on the day and another top performance on and off the field will be required if we are to fend off the Scorpions challenge. It’s funny how being top of the league gets under people’s skins. Teams raise their game and make life hard for you, and expectations are lifted to the point where even convincing wins are scrutinised for signs of complacency or underachievement. If, back in February, someone had offered us 8 games unbeaten - regardless of the circumstanes - I think most Hornets fans would have ripped their arm off.

So let’s all stay grounded and focused. Let’s get through Sunday with the points and kick on from there.