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.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Hornets Victims of RFL Whistleblower Policy

Hornets 15 - London 30

In an archetypal game of two halves, the work done in Hornets’ top quality opening 40 minutes was systematically dismantled in the second half of the John McMullen show.

Seldom have we seen the shape of a game so directly impacted by the actions of the referee. Mr McMullen was simultaneously pedantic and sloppy, picky and laissez-faire. The only consistency in his performance was his extreme level of inconsistency.

So unconfident was he in his own level of performance that, before the game, he actually asked the RFL time keeper to keep an eye out in case he missed a free-play. That he then went on to mis-interpret two, indicates that he actually knows that he doesn’t understand the laws.

As it was, Mr McMullen gifted London three back to back penalties in the opening stages which gave the visitors a platform to pound the Hornets goal-line. Four sets later - and having run out of ideas - London were stood under their own crossbar after Ben Moores mugged a napping defence to steal in from acting half-back to give Hornets an early lead.

These early exchanges set the pattern for the half. Mr McMullen working his way through the I-Spy Book of Stupid Penalties, London all thud & blunder with the ball, Hornets working hard to repel a pretty one-dimensional attack: London caught in possession twice on the last tackle.

After half an hour of mounting a rear-guard action, the pressure finally told on Hornets’ hard-working defence. Again, after multiple repeat sets, London finally managed to string three passes together, Dixon looping in as the extra man to score out wide; Sammut the extras - the crowd close to mutiny.

Hornets hit straight back: regaining the lead with a Harvey Livett penalty, then a great break by Dec Kay took Hornets deep into London territory. But the momentum was sucked out of the game when Sammut ‘old-headed’ Mr McMullen, starting a punch-up at the play the ball and giving the Broncos defence a chance to regather.

With the half ebbing away, both sides exchanged knock-ons under the visitors’ posts and, with the last kick of the half, Dec Patton slammed home a drop-goal to send Hornets into the sheds leading 9-6. Stat of the half was a Hornets completion rate of 80% versus London’s shoddy 50%.

London began the second half at a noticeably higher tempo and three quick-fire tries shifted the balance of the game: on 45 minutes, Dixon again arcing in to score - then a carbon-copy double from Adebyi (the first after a string of penalties) taking London into a 9-22 lead.

But Hornets hit back: on 56 minutes London knocked-on a Hornets last tackle kick, Deon Cross gathered the loose ball in open field and sprinted away for a certain score - only for Mr McMullen to somehow interpret the situation as a Hornets offside, rather than the Free-Play it was. Perhaps he should have consulted the time-keeper. Disgraceful.

Dixon’s hat-trick try on the hour sent the obligatory taxi-load of London fans into paroxysms: he converted his own try to extend the London Lead to 9-28.

But Hornets keep on coming: building pressure to send in Dec Kay off a short-ball for a well-worked try. Harvey Livett the extras and 15-28 a more reasonable reflection of Hornets’ contribution.

There was still time for Mr McMullen to leave his grubby stamp on the game. Hornets forced into a 78th minute drop-out found touch with a short-kick, but despite being 40 metres away, he over-ruled his touch-judge marking the point at which the ball exited the field of play to award London a penalty in front for Hornets not propelling the ball 10 metres (despite the touchy clearly indicating that they had). Shite, to be honest,

But if you thought that that was as bad as it got, the game reached a refereeing nadir in the 78th minute.

London coughed the kick-off possession, Richard Lepori gathered the loose ball and touched down - only for  Mr McMullen to bring Hornets back to feed a scrum. He clearly has no understanding of how a free-play works - and you began to think Oscar Wilde was right when he said “Once can be considered unfortunate, but twice looks like carelessness”.

Hopefully RFL Timekeeper Colin Morris had a discreet word afterwards.

In the end Hornets strove hard against a full-time side abetted by some frankly terrible refereeing. Indeed, a 15 point margin against a full-time side would be impressive enough - but for two perfectly good tries to be chalked off through some indifferent officiating sticks in the throat. 12 more points would show you just how close Hornets are to matching the supposed quality of the full time outfits in the Championship.

But we need to be given a fair-go - and, on this showing, Hornets might have to wait a little longer for a victory under Mr McMullen’s control.