Sunday, 27 July 2014

Catch Twenty Two

Hornets 22 - Leigh 72

In the post match speeches, Hornets' Chair Mark Wynn described Leigh as a 'juggernaut'. And we couldn't better that. 

Despite a gutsy, never-say-die performance, Hornets' efforts weren't enough to withstand the onslaught when Leigh's turbo-charged steamroller clicked into gear. But for 20 minutes, Hornets held the upper hand,

After just five minutes Paul Crook hoisted a teasing bomb and, as Leigh fullback McNally made a specacular hash of it, Gaz Langley celebrated his return, swooping to score. Crooky the extras: 6-nil.

Hornets continued to test the Leigh defence and when Joe Greenwood made a huge break after 10 minutes, Adam Swift was on hand to take the pass and embark on a mazy, twisting run that tied the Leigh defence in knots; going 40 metres to score a blistering solo try. Crooky the two and, at 12-nil, the travelling hordes from Leigh were reduced to shouting 'offside' at every play the ball.

On 15 minutes the game erupted. Tony Suffolk drove the ball in; Leigh's Sarsfield had a rush of blood and - whilst pinning Suffolk with a hand round the throat - rained punches into his face. This sparked an all-in brawl. Referee Leatherbarrow's response? A craven yellow card for Sarsfield and a puzzling one for Joe Greenwood. Hornets at least got the penalty.

But the brawl did exactly what Leigh hoped it'd do: it broke Hornets' momentum and disrupted their rhythm. Loose handling and back to back penalties put Leigh on the front-foot for the first time in the game and they responded witgh two quick-fire tries: Barlow crashing in from a yard, then Ridyard's break to slot McNally under the black dot. And, from nowhere - almost imperceptibly -  Leigh were level at 12-all.

Hornets' response was direct: a good approach set saw Anthony Walker drive in from close range, only to be deemed held-up over the line.

On 25 minutes, another needless penalty (this time for a high-shot) waltzed Leigh downfield, where they worked an extra man on the left for Kay to score: 12-18

No matter, Hornets again took the game back to Leigh: this time John Cookson arriving at speed onto a short ball, but adjudged by Mr Leatherbarrow to have knocked on over the line.

On the half hour came one of those moments that can make or break a game. Dave Llewellyn spotted an opportunity and came ripping out of the line to make an interception, but despite his best efforts, he nudged the ball back into Leigh's hands and they exploited space out wide for Sarsfield to score Ridyard the two off the touchline for 12-24. 

With half-time looming, Leigh had a flaccid set going nowhere - only for it to end with Hopkins barreling over the line to score a try out of nothing. Ridyard converting 12-30.

The half ended with Hornets camped under Leigh's posts, but they couldn't find a way through some determined defence. Half time 12-30 - and the Hornets supporters wondering how the hell that happened.

The second half, Leigh were brutally irresistible; a tsunami of high-tempo, high-intensity football that - at times - even had the Hornets fans nodding in grudging acknowledgement.

46 minutes: Armstrong first to react to a speculative kick. 51 minutes: Pitman scoring off a lightning 70 metre attack. 56 minutes: Brierley first to the ball off a Ridyard kick. 60 minutes; McNally launched from 40 metres for another long-range strike. Ridyard flawless with the boot and Hornets reeling at 54-12.

Respite came on 64 minutes. With Leigh put on a team warning for persistent offending round the ruck, Jordan Case came skating through off a short-ball to score. Crooky the extras 18-54.

Sparked into life, Hornets began to play with more purpose. A great break by Adam Swift and Lewis Sheridan unzipped the Leigh defence, but the last pass went to ground in traffic. Leigh countered instantly. A Ridyard chip to the corner, Gaz Langley conceding 12 inches to Armstrong who outreached him to score. Ridyard the two: 18-60

On 72 minutes, Brierley produced an outrageous cut-out pass for Pitman to score by the flag. Ridyard, inevitably, the conversion off the touchline; 18-66.

Despite being on the ropes for most of this game, Hornets were going down swinging and, on 78 minutes, a quick, tight approach set fed Anthony Walker in off a short ball to score. Crooky the extras: 66-22.

But this game had a kick in the nuts right at the death. As the hooter sounded Pitman rounded an exhausted Hornets defence to bring up the 70. Ridyard the two to complete a whirlwind of a game.

There's no doubting Leigh's ambitions to play at the top level, and they've built a team and a club that can mix it with the best - as Leeds will attest. But, like any juggernaut, it costs a fortune to fuel and Hornets simply aren't at that level. But you can't buy team spirit and Ian Talbot's team has that in abundance. Indeed, If I were Paul Rowley this morning I'd be thinking "If Hornets can put 22 points through us, what would a really good side do?"

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Sunday's Coming: Leigh

This is a good week to play Leigh.

Having had their veneer of invincibility shattered at Doncaster a fortnight ago, they were in no mood to piss about last week - clinically spanking Keighley Cougars 30-0.

Tom Armstrong, Robert Beswick and Oliver Wilkes all scored converted tries in the first 25 minutes to give Leigh an 18-nil half time lead. Gregg McNally and Martyn Ridyard weighed in after the break (Ridyard flawless with the boot for all five conversions) to stuff Keighley down into the relegation mix.

But while Leigh have pretty much had every side's pants down this season, they've struggled to beat Hornets.

In two consecutive weeks back in March/April they coughed-up a bonus point beating Hornets by 34-22 at th LSV, then in the cup they sneaked through wining 22-28 at Spotland. Scoring 44 points and an 18 point losing margin over two games shows that Hornets can compete with the best at this level. Which makes games like last week's scrap-fest at Workington even more frustrating.

Ian Talbot takes a philosophical view: “We’re not reading anything into any previous results; it’s all about this week. We let ourselves down last week, but to be disappointed with a bonus point is testament to our performances over the last few weeks.”

He added: “We were below par throughout (against Workington). We coughed up way, way too much possession. We gifted them possession and, while we defended well, it meant we were down on energy when we did have the ball. We need to be better this week.”

Jordan Case (calf), Shaun Robinson (knee) and Ryan Millard (groin) will all be given late fitness tests before Tol finalises his side.

Centurions coach Paul Rowley is selecting from a fully fit squad.

Rowley said: “Rochdale have been within touching distance of us both times we played them, and they’re arguably one of the form teams in the league.

“They’ve got some good dual-registration players, and they’re a good team. League positions count for nothing in the Championship and we need to remember that on Sunday.”

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Offside

Workington 30 Hornets 18

Anyone wondering where Cumbrians get their reputation for being dour miserablists from could do worse than spend an afternoon at Workington. From first minute to last, the hardy knot of Hornets fans had to suffer a relentless wave of whining, griping and moaning from the locals. Every play the ball offside; every pass forward; all three officials bent, blind or bastardly. Or a combination of the three.

And all this on a day that the sun cracked the flags and their team won. God knows what they're like when they lose in the rain.

On the field Hornets got off to a shoddy start, allowing the kick-off to roll sloppily dead. Fortunately Workington knocked on from the resulting possession.

Hornets finally got started after 4 minutes when two pieces of trickery from Lewis Sheridan (a neat one-two and a reverse kick that forced a drop-out) built pressure, but James Dandy was held up over the line.

With both sides tangled in an arm wrestle, it took a moment of freakish fortune to crack the Hornets defence. In a hurry to switch play, Town's acting half dropped the ball cold at his feet, but referee Kendall bizzarely waved not only play-on, but also wiped the tackle count and, with Hornets' defence scrambling the home side worked the ball wide for Carter to score by the flag. Forber the extras off the touchline for 6-nil.

This heralded a horribly scrappy period for Hornets. Gifted a frustrating last-tackle penalty for holding down on half-way, Workington began their set 10 metres from the Hornets line and, in a carbon copy of its predecessor , it was Hulme this time on the end of the move to score. Forber hit the post with the kick: 10-nil. To make matters worse, Hornets hoofed the kick-off straight out to invite Workington to have another run at them. This time, though the defence held firm as the king-sized Town pack piled in from close range.

Hornets responded well. A towering kick from Lewis Sheridan was dropped by Carter under no pressure, giving Hornets a good platform deep in Town territory. Struggling to find a way through, switching Paul Crook back to stand-off delivered an instant dividend when swift hands right sent Dave Llewellyn careering in for a try that had the locals grumbling further. Crooky with the two; 10-6.

With Hornets now making steady inroads, it was another error from Mr Kendall that pulled the rug from under them. Making a complete hash of a decision on a Hornets' 'free-play' following a Town knock-on, he gave the home side the feed at the scrum. To add insult to injury, Hornets were mugged out of the back of the scrum as Hulme darted through the narrowest of gaps to score; 16-6.

Clearly shaken, Hornets got the yips: first shipping another penalty late in the tackle count, then dropping the ball 1st tackle in a great attacking position.

Having shouted for 'offside' for the entire first half, the locals finally got their wish on 39 minutes as Hornets got snagged and Town were swept 60 metres downfield, but they were beaten by the clock. Half-time 16-6: the grumbling Cumbrians berating the officials from the field at the end of a frustrating, scrappy half.

Hornets began the second half with noticeably more purpose. After just 4 minutes John Cookson produced a miracle-pass out of the back of the tackle to send James Dandy scampering under the black-dot. Crooky the two, 16-12: game-on.

The game then entered an ugly, scrappy period as both sides struggled to find any fluidity. Workington coming closest to scoring - stopped by a cracking try-saving tackle by Shannon McDonnell.

The stalemate was broken with two moments of inspiration either side of the hour: first a neat one-two sent McAvoy in to score under the posts, then by far the biggest 40/20 we've seen this season from Lupton gave him the platform to launch a teasing bomb that was snaffled by Mossop who scored out wide. Within the space of two minutes Hornets were 28-12 down and chasing a bonus point.

Having sparked briefly, the game shrank back into a gritty scramble and, when Town were given a close-range penalty for a spurious high tackle on 70 minutes Forber took the two for 30-12. The locals in moaning-overdrive "Ya should'a run it".

Despite the game's deterioration into a shapeless mess, Hornets kept plugging away and were rewarded on 76 minutes when Lewis Sheridan intercepted a sloppy pass from Lupton to outpace the Workington cover from 80 metres and score. Crooky the two and Hornets with the bonus point in the bag at 30-18.

Having written at length here about the need to find a way to 'lose well', there's irony in taking a bonus point out of Workington - the masters of the 'constructive defeat'. But in a sloppy, fragmented game that needed big hearts to dig in to get anything from it, this was a creditable performance by a Hornets side shorn of the twin attacking threats of Ryan Millard and Wayne English.

Needless to say, the Hornets faithful were philosophical about the result: a hard-working performance, a bonus point and an implausibly warm day in Cumbria. The locals, conversely, grumbled to the very end. Whilst most applauded Town from the field, the bloke next to us turned on his heel and as he passed us, muttered "Bloody rubbish."

Guess there's just no pleasing some people.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Sunday's Coming: Workington

Workington earlier today - the crowds flock to celebrate
nine bonus points.
We've spoken at great length here over the last few weeks about how finding a way to 'lose well' could be the key to survival in this particularly punitive Championshiop season. And no-one has mastered the art of getting points for losing quite as well as Workington ToWn. With only one win more than Hornets, they have a staggering 12 points more, courtesy of NINE bonus points. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, three free wins for coming second in nine two horse races. 

We've always been ambivalent about the bonus point, seeing both its value in encouraging teams to compete and its stupidity for basically rewarding losers - but Workington have turned 'losing well' into an art form - and sit only a point behind Whitehaven in 7th!

The other thing that's caught our eye with Workington is their dual reg relationship with Wigan. Just as we've striven to make our partnership with Saints work as effectively for both parties as possible, there's been a steady stream of pie-eating talent heading up the M6 all season. Indeed Wigan prodigies Lewis Tierney and Jack Murphy weighed in with ToWn's three tries last weekend as Workington snuck past Keighley by 16 to 12 in the archetypal game of two halves.

Sitting on a comfortable 16-nil half time lead, Worky's wheels came off in the second period, much to the disappointment of coach Phil Vievers. Speaking in the News & Star this week he said: “Why do we seem to let teams back into it in the second half? It’s about a mentality issue. It’s about them listening to instruction and then applying that to the game… We know we can stop people scoring and there was only six or seven minutes when they scored, but I thought that was irrelevant really… we’ll sit down during the week and look at the video and take the positives out of it and address the negatives of what we shouldn’t be doing and move onto Rochdale at home".

With four wins on the trot - including a 'shock' defeat of Featherstone - ToWn have a bit of momentum. And with wins up at Derwent Park pretty hard to come by at the best of times, Hornets will need to reprise the best bits of the last two weeks' performances to keep the pressure on Swinton and 'Big Spendng North Wales Crusaders™' above us. Indeed, with North Wales at Dewsbury and Swinton at Doncaster (who derailed the Leigh juggernaut last week), favourable results could see Hornets leapfrog both into 11th - and pull Workington closer to the pack.

With 8 games and 24 points still to play for there's still plenty to believe in. So stick three mates in the car, treat yourself to a lovely day out in the lakes - and get over to Workington to get behind the lads.

Official RFL Match Preview
Workington Town coach Phil Veivers has the option of recalling Declan Hulme following his recent suspension. Town have now won four consecutive games to move within three points of fifth-placed Dewsbury Rams. Veivers was frustrated with his side’s second-half display against Keighley Cougars last week, but is now focusing on a fifth straight victory.

Veivers said: “Our confidence is bound to be high because we’ve got a bit of momentum about us.”
Hornets coach Ian Talbot hopes to have Mike Ratu and Gareth Langley available for selection, while Shaun Robinson could also feature after joining Rochdale from Dewsbury Rams.
Talbot’s men won 54-22 against Barrow Raiders last week. He said: “If we compete set for set with any team at this level, we’ll give ourselves a chance. That will be our aim, and then hopefully that frustrates Workington."
“They were the bonus point masters at one stage, but since then they’ve won four games and are competing for ninth spot, so they’ll be the favourites. We’ll just concentrate on ourselves and what we can control.”