Thursday, 23 June 2016

Sunday's Coming: Hemel Stags

We're loving Hemel's new mascot.
It’s not a good year for Hemel Stags, sitting, as they do, stone cold last in League one with just a single win under their belt.

In the eleven games so far, they’ve shipped 526 points, which clocks in at around 48 points per game on average - making last week’s 62-4 pounding at Barrow slightly worse than an average week. 46-0 down at at half-time, Hemel fluttered briefly through Harrison Brough's try at 56-nil, but merely provided a bit of a speed bump as Barrow seem to have got their season into gear.

Hemel’s win came back in April down at SW Scorpions and, when you look at their performances against fellow developmwnt side, they do have a few points in them (They scored 28 in defeat at Hunslet - their highest tally of the season).

A cursory glance at the Stags 2016 squad shows its development credentials weith players signed from RL hotbeds of Northampton, Leicester, the armed forces, Bedford, Southport and Philadelphia.

It puts quite a bit of emphasis on half back Chad Isles who has NSW Cup experience with the Canterbury-Bankstown bulldogs and fellow Aussie/Maltese international Kyal Greene, previously of CRL Group 6 side Oaks Tigers (which, for you anoraks, is about 40km North West of Wollongong).

If Troy Perkins is looking for a crumb of comfort from what looks to be a bit of a consolidating/rebuilding season after losing half a team to the predatory London Skolars, it’s this:  the Stags conceded fewer points at Toulouse then Keighley - and lost there by a smaller margin.

Hornets come into this weekend’s game on the back of a gnarly, hard-won victory at underperforming Newcastle ThunderFalcons. One change for sure will be to fill the hole left by the departure of Joe Philbin. Dubbed by many as ‘this year’s Joe Greenwood’, the Wire DR utility has put in some sterling performances for Hornets this season - but he’s been snapped up this week by Bradford Bulls to bolster their run at the Championship qualifying 8.

Indeed, with the 8s looming in League 1 too, it’ll be all heads switched on to avoid a potential banana skin at Pennine Way. And with York sneaking above Hornets on points difference last week, it’d be useful to rack-up a few while we’re down in Hertfordshire.

Whilst we appreciate that it’s a fair trip down the M1 - and it’s the third consicutive away trip - if you can get down there on Sunday, please do. The support at Newcastle last week was tremendous and it does make a diference. Bring your singing voice and your flags - and let’s ‘ave it.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Hornets Put Thunder Under

Newcastle 30 Hornets 38

The trek up to big-spending Newcastle with half a dozen Aussies in their side and their frankly awful plastic pitch to contend with was never going to be an easy one. And so it proved. This was a tough see-saw of a game between two teams who threw absolutely everything at it.

Newcastle took the lead in the 6th minute when Reudiger snaffled a dropped ball and used the free-play to his advantage. Seemingly going nowhere, he just kept taking the yards up the narrow side until he found himself in the in-goal.

Hornets response was positive. Having built some pressure to pin Thunder back in their own half, Toby King charged down a flapping last tackle clearing kick to gather and  score from 40 metres. Cooky with the extras and Hornets in front at 4-6.

On 16 minutes that lead was extended when Lewis Galbraith dropped the ball onto his toe in heavy traffic for Danny Yates to plunge through a hestitating home defence to score. Crooky on target for 4-12.

With the half hour approaching, Newcastle had failed to carry the ball into Hornets’ half - progress only provided by a series of particularly picky penalties. And when another such penalty set them up on an attack that looked to have run out of ideas, they whipped the ball wide to Fox who dived in by the flag through some ordiinary defence: 8-12.

Minutes later - again out of nothing - Newcastle prop Clarke lumbered onto a forward-looking pass to tie the scores, Parker the extras and - somehow - the home-side in front at the break: Alan Kilshaw compelled to contemplate a change in his half-time conversation.

Whatever he said, it worked. Hornets began the second half like a house on fire. Within a minute Paul Crook dinked a kick behind a slow-turning defence for Sam Wilde to touch down. Crooky adding the two to restore Hornets advantage.

Two minutes later Danny Yates was the kicker and Dale Bloomfield pinned Fox in-goal to force a drop out as Hornets turned the screw. Indeed, it seemed inevitable when Dave Cookson swatted off a series of defenders to crash in and score in the 48th minute to give Hornets a 14-22 lead.

But Newcastle simple refused to go away.

Two tries in 10 minutes - Fox up a crowded blind-side, getting a rare post conversion penalty in the process, prop Clarke launching his rotund frame at a centre - to give Newcastle an unlikely 24-22 lead going into the final 15 minutes.

Hornets sucked in for a big finish and came up with a quickfire brace of their own. On 70 minutes Woz Thompson was unstoppable off a Danny Yates short-ball; on 73 minutes Chris Riley made the extra man out wide to score his 150th career try. Crooky nailed both to pass his career 1500 points total. Hornets looking comfortable at 24-34.

As the game ebbed away, Newcastle’s attempts to salvage something from it became increasingly desperate and a free-play on 78 minutes gave them licence to string together a dozen basket-ball-style passes before Olipherts scored wide out. Hardcastle slotted the extras and, at 30-34, Thunder had less than a minute to come up with something.

What they came up with was a pass to Fox that didn’t reach its destination - intercepted by Dale Bloomfield to put the game to bed as the noisy travelling fans vented their relief. Crooky cool as with the boot as Hornets secured a vital two points.

With Toulouse hammering Keighley and York slapping a half-century on Oxford, a win of any kind was imperative at Kingston Park - and while the Thunder put up a stern resistance, Hornets had just enough in the tank to get us home.

Congratulations go to Paul Crook and Chris Riley (reaspectively the Ginger General and the Ginger NInja) on their fantastic career milestones - and again a mention for the Hornets fans who outsang their home counterparts all afternoon. Onward to Hemel next week…