Sunday, 22 April 2018

A sorry state of affairs.

Whitehaven 38 - Hornets 0

I find myself writing this on Monday 23rd April. To the rest of the country it’s St George’s day, but in our house it’s my late dad’s birthday. Only fitting then that I start by apologising to my dad.

When I was a kid, he would never leave a game before the end, and he drummed into me the same principle: Games last 80 minutes and  - come hell or high water - you stay to the death. Even when we were getting tubbed, he’d walk us up to the Milnrow Rd end of the Railway Side where we’d watch the last painful minutes from a position of rapid exit.

It’s a good principle: you ask 80 minutes’ commitment from your players, so - as a supporter - you should reciprocate. No leaving to miss the traffic; no getting the uncrowded bus; no getting back for an early tea - you put your 80 minutes in.

It’s been a principle that’s been sorely tested over the years. The 40-nil at Wakefield: the last ten minutes watched from the gate. The 30-7 at Dewsbury (after we’d led 7-nil at half time), watched from the top of the popular side steps.

But at Whitehaven on Sunday, 47 years of resolve cracked and I was pretty much back at the car as the final hooter sounded in the distance. Sorry, dad - but you had to be there. Or maybe better that you weren’t…

For once, we have a quite literal nothing to report on a performance so disgraceful that I”m reminded of another thing my dad used to say: “If you’ve nothing good to say, don’t say anything”.

The facts are that a Hornets side devoid of a clue was out-performed, out fought and out-enthused by a hard-working League 1 side who cruised to victory with embarrassing ease - made worse by the fact that they played a quarter of the match with a man-short (Forster and Reece sin-binned) - and scored during one of those periods with men to spare up the edge.

Haven tries to man of the match Phillips (2), Abram, Holliday and Parker, plus nine from nine kicks from Abram did the damage - most scored from sloppy play or through frankly awful defending.

Even on the worst of days, you’d cop the 38 if any resistance were offered, but Whitehaven could have declared after 70 minutes and Hornets would have struggled to string together three meaningful passes.

If losing without a fight is unacceptable, then being annihilated by a League 1 side without offering even cursory resistance disrespects those staunch Hornets fans who’d forked out to travel to West Cumbria. All supporters ask is that it appears to matter when the team pull on our shirt.

Indeed, if you’d have pulled 13 fans from the terrace and played them at the Recre’, they’d have been flogged too - but with more dignity.

So I’m sorry. Sorry to my dad for walking out on my team. Sorry to my fellow supporters for not being able to stomach another minute of this execrable turd of a game. Sorry for questioning my faith in my club.

But mostly I’m sorry I went to Whitehaven to witness this debacle.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Up fer t'cup. Sunday's Coming: Whitehaven

Ah, the magic of the Challenge Cup. Rosettes, rattles, tin-foil trophies - living the dream…

Hornets 2018 ‘Road to Wembley’ continues on Sunday with a trip up the M6 to Cumbria’s most famous Rugby League graveyard, Whitehaven’s Recreation Ground.  Firmly established as pretty much every club’s bogey-ground, the curse of the Recre’ haunts better sides than Hornets. Indeed, having travelled up there in hope dozens of times since I was a kid, you could almost count the wins on the fingers of a boxing glove.

Alan Kilshaw understands the challenge ahead:  “Nobody ever wants a trip to Cumbria, especially not to the Recreation Ground.” he said recently. “We need to embrace it. That is what the Challenge Cup is all about, visiting the old, traditional grounds and playing teams you wouldn’t normally get to play when you are not in the same division.”

Cup Action: Carl Forster gets his hands on some silverware.
At least the RFL put our ribbons on it...

At the Recre’ Killer goes head-to-head with a very familiar face, former Hornet Carl Forster.

When Whitehaven appointed 24 year-old Forster as player-coach in 2016, he became the youngest coach in the professional game - and he’s built a team in his own hard-working, no-nonsense image.

Forster played 12 games for Hornets in 2013, appearing in the famous playoff final win at Leigh. He scored one try in Hornets colours and was a popular presence around the club. “I’m actually looking forward to playing Rochdale because I spent time there on loan and there’s some good people at the club,” he said in the Whitehaven News earlier this week.

But he’s not letting his fondness for Hornets divert his eyes from the prize: "There’s no pressure on us against a Championship side who are expected to win. That was the mindset we had for the last round and the game with Dewsbury, and it will be no different this time. All the pressure will be on Rochdale to come to a League One side and roll us over…”

Another ex-Hornet in the ranks is tackling machine James Tilley - who was a League 1 champion with us in 2016.

If winning is a habit, then the momentum sits with the Cumbrians. Currently sitting fourth in an ultra-competitive League One (just two points behind joint-leaders Doncaster, Bradford and York) Whitehaven go into the Sunday’s game on the back of five straight wins - one of which was the eye-catching 25-18 cup defeat of Dewsbury Rams.

Haven have a few injury niggles in the camp: loose-forward Stuart Howarth hs an ongoing hamstring injury, utility back Jordan Burns is due for a scan on knee injury which has seem him sit out the last three weeks, and Forster himself is keeping an eye on a shoulder injury picked up in last week’s 84-6 annihilation of the hapless West Wales Raiders - that’s 17 tries, but only 7 converted!

Foiled again: We're seriously considering it!
For any club at our level, the Challenge Cup dangles the mythical carrot of a ‘big payday’ against a Super League side - and ‘Haven chairman Tommy Todd has that in mind too. Speaking in the News & Star recently, he said: “We would really like to get through to the next round and earn a plum draw against one of the Super League clubs. That’s what we are in it for, to earn some valuable money for the club.”

Equally, a win for Hornets will see us progress into the last 16 of the Challenge Cup for the first time since 2009 - but the ‘magic of the cup’ comes at a heavy price these days.

The last round at Normanton yielded less revenue than if we’d’ve forfeited the tie and raffled off the match ball (it’s a split of gate revenue after costs). It certainly didn’t cover our costs - and that’s just one of the glitches in the Challenge Cup that the RFL needs to look at. And neither club received a penny from the BBC for the live-stream of the game.

We also learned recently that the further you go in the cup, the longer you wait for your prize money. Rather than pay out round by round, the money is accumulated and only paid out when you exit the competition. So in terms of cashflow in clubs living hand to mouth, it can actually be better to get the hell out of the cup, bank the cash and get on with your season. Not much ‘magic’ there.

Unlike Toulouse - the rest of us must suck-in, swallow hard and fulfil our obligation to the world’s oldest RL Cup competition. Certainly going another round will boost the RFL prize pot available to us (at some point in the future) - and there is still the opportunity to draw a big club and, hopefully’ play them on a day when the sun shines.

In the name of tradition, for the love of our great game and to support our magnificent club, get yourself up to Whitehaven if you can. Brunch at Tebay, lunch at Keswick, a drive through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet - and a chance to say “I was there” when we break the curse of the Recre’. It’s the cup - let’s get up for it. Embrace it...

All together: “We’re the famous Rochdale Hornets and we’re going to Wem-ber-lee…”

See you there.