Thursday, 19 January 2017

Sunday's Coming: The Law Cup

Social commentator and philosopher William Hazlitt once said: “The only vice that cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy.”

Back in 2013 Rochdale Hornets took no end of stick from Oldham fans for our DR partnership with St Helens. In social media - and to our faces - we were called ‘cheats’, ‘St Helens Reserves’, ‘Rochdale Saints’, and told that we’d sacrificed the soul of our club. They were still at it when we beat them in the playoff-final seven months later. Those that stayed to the end, that is.

The Roughyeds’ ire peaked in the game at Whitebank - the one where Lee Gaskell was bussed in, forced three or four line-up changes, had a 24 carat shocker and we lost. The tsunami of vitriol was relentless.

Fast forward to 2017 and Oldham find themselves in a DR arrangement with Huddersfield. Oddly their fans are super-keen to learn which Giants players they’ll have access to, to strengthen their championship challenge. Some have even gone as far as hoping that they’ll get Lee Gaskell to bolster their backline. How times change, eh?

In order to avoid unfair accusations of Roughyeds’ hypocrisy, Hornets travel to Bower Fold on Sunday to take on Stalybridge Giants in the Law Cup.

Indeed. what used to be the A627M El Clasico is now the ‘A627M, B6194, A635, A6018 El Clasico - sponsored by AA Routefinder’ - as the Roughyeds remain shacked up with Stalybridge Celtic in that  Far-Eastern, no-man’s land corner of Greater Manchester that can’t really decide if it’s in Cheshire, Derbyshire, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire or old-skool Lancashire.

Whilst we appreciate that pre-season games are an imprecise indicator of teams’ true potential capability, Oldham have had a bit of an indifferent start: beaten 32-14 in their first pre-season game at Swinton Lions and scored late to salvage a 22-all draw at League 1 Barrow last week having been behind 8-0, 12-10 and 22-16. All five Barrow tries were scored down Oldham’s left channel. Oldham featured four dual-reg players from Huddersfield Giants in last week’s game.

Scott naylor’s squad for 2017 looks like this:
1. Scott Turner
2. Adam Clay
3. George Tyson
4. Nathan Chappell
5. Jamel Chisholm
6. Scott Leatherbarrow
7. David Hewitt
8. Phil Joy
9. Sammy Gee
10. Adam Neal
11. Jack Spencer
12. Danny Langtree
13. Liam Thompson
18. Ben Davies
19. Joe Burke
20. Gareth Owen  (c)
21. Kenny Hughes
22. Danny Grimshaw
23. Craig Briscoe
24. Michael Ward
25. Keiran Gill

Hornets could well have five ex-Roughyeds in Sunday’s  line-up, with Lewis Palfrey, Gary Middlehurst Jack Holmes, Josh Crowley and Miles Greenwood all having had stints in the Where’s Wally jersey. Sixth former Roughyed Dave Cookson remains injured.

For those in any doubt about the credibility of the Law Cup, Scott Naylor said this week: "The season starts here. This is for real," , while Alan Kilshaw said: “We’ll be taking this one more seriously.”  With both rivals back in the Championship, it’s the precursor to what promises to be an exciting season. Bring it on.

If you’re embarking on the trip on Sunday, directions from the Stalybridge Celtic website are:

Leave the M60 at junction 24 (M67, Denton) At the roundabout join the M67.
Stay on the M67 to the very end, Junction 4.
At the roundabout turn left (exit 1 of 4) onto the A57 (Hyde Road)
After 1/2 a mile you will reach a set of traffic lights (signposted Stalybridge).
Turn left onto B6174 (Stalybridge Road).
Almost immediately, there is a mini roundabout.
Turn left (exit 1 of 5) onto Roe Cross Road (A6018).
Follow this road for 1 3/4 miles passing the Roe Cross Inn on the right and through the cutting (Mottram Road) When you pass the Dog and Partridge on the right, you will be almost there.
Bower Fold is on the left opposite a sharp right turn next to the art gallery.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Hard-hitting Hornets Pack a Punch in Season Opener.

Hornets 18 - Salford 44

If you use last year’s game against Salford as a benchmark, the Red Devils are at the same point, whereas Hornets have improved a little - which is a pretty accurate summary of this pre-season contest. But there was something markedly different about Hornets’ approach in this full-blooded encounter - a whole new level of physicality. Indeed Salford struggled at times with the intensity of the contact much to the rumbling displeasure of the travelling support.

Having regained the kick-off, Hornets began on the front foot, but progress was short-lived as Salford showed their potential. The momentum of the visitors’ early pressure was paused as Murdoch-Masila was removed from the field after just three minutes with a knee injury. But, once settled, the visitors whipped up two quick-fire tries to O’Brien and Jones to take a 12-nil lead after just 7 minutes.

It didn’t augur well - but slowly Hornets climbed back on top of the game. A 13th minute Danny Yates kick fumbled by O’Brien and an immediate penalty gave Hornets a good platform deep in Salford’s half - but a hurried play the ball let them off the hook.

With Salford now shipping penalties, Hornets grew in confidence, but a Gary Middlehurst knock-on in front of the posts was another let-off.

Hornets were sparked into life on the quarter-mark when Lewis Palfrey hoisted a bomb in the direction of Salford full-back O’Brien. Lewis Galbraith hit the afterburners in pursuit and, as O’Brien gathered in the ball, Galbraith pulled the trigger on an impeccably-timed sledgehammer of a tackle that left the crowd shuddering. As the ball bounced loose, Ben Moores was on hand to gather and score under the black dot. After extensive treatment, O’Brien was removed on a stretcher, with the visiting fans braying for retribution.  I’d be surprised if he’s hit by a better timed tackle this season.

Palfrey slotted the two and Hornets were back in the game at 12-6.

Indeed, with the game locked in a fascinating arm-wrestle, Hornets produced a moment of clinical football. As Salford players continued to drop like flies, a slick interchange of passes between Jordan Case and Danny Yates sent Yatesey skittering in for what looked like a well-crafted try - only for referee Mr Roberts to somehow spot a forward pass and chalk it off.

No matter. On 26 minutes a great 80 metre set  - propelled by the perpetual motion of Ben Moores - took Hornets downfield through a retreating Salford defence, but a fumbled pass again allowed the visitors to exhale. And their response was immediate - the ball worked wide for Johnson to score by the flag. Dobson the two: 6-18. Harsh.

Just past the Half hour Mr Roberts pulled Jo Taira out of a pretty ordinary tackle on Krasniqi to wave a yellow card at him (no idea what for). Krasniqi slow to get up.

Salford capitalised on the extra man: Sa’u - sporting what appears to be a Limahl tribute wig - crashing through  a stretched 12-man defence to score. Dobson on target and a battling Hornets 6-24 down at the break.

Hornets began the second half with purpose. After Lewis Galbraith had planted their prize full-back, the Salford fans had been screaming for him to be given the ball so that he coud be dealt a reprisal. On 43 minutes Yatesey found him with an inch-perfect flat-ball and the nearest any defender got was watching him plant the ball under the black-dot. Nice. Palfrey the extras for 12-24.

And Hornets were in again just five minutes later - Jo Taira first to react to a kick in the in-goal after Ben Moores had driven close. Palfrey the two and a game on our hands at 18-24.

With both coaches keen to take a look at as many players as possible, the last half-hour struggled for shape and cohesion: the key difference being Salford’s full-time size and fitness. A brace of tries up the left channel gave Johnson a hat-trick; a debut try for Welham came via the same route, and a late effort from Bibby stretched the winning margin.

All up, both coaches will be happy and see things to work on in equal measure. Certainly, Ian Watson will be asking questions about his players’ durabillity - Hornets clearly winning the impact battlle.

And that’s not a bad yardstick for progress at all.