Sunday, 13 September 2015

And There It Was: Gone!

Hornets 26 - Skolars 22

And so the season ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper. A flaccid limp to the finish line courtesy of a shapeless struggle past a fired-up Skolars - and the failure of Newcastle to produce a second-half miracle to prevent North Wales taking 5th place by a solitary point.

Supporters will look to the last second defeat at home to Newcastle: to the inability to put Keighley away at home, leaving them a chink of light to steal a two point win: to the heroic, but fruitless 12 man defeat at Swinton rather than the floggings we got at Keighley and Barrow.

But like a fading vintage sports car Hornets struggled to start, coughed and spluttered, hinted occasionally at something more impressive under the bonnet, but never really sparked into life, viewing the season not so much as a race to be won, but as an endurance test to be overcome.

Yes we chugged all the way to the very end - but by then the teams with the real horsepower were pretty much out of sight. And, once your hopes rest in the hands of a Newcastle side that has singularly failed to live up to its *nion-backed, big-money billing, you know you’re pretty much stuffed.

As it was, the moribund-rubber of the Skolars game represented our season in microcosm: flashes of brilliance straining to shine amidst a frustrating, error-strewn, penalty-scattered mirage of a game that, just when you thought you could reach out and touch the moment when things would click, it evaporated before your eyes.

Hornets started unconvincingly, allowing Skolars to dictate play. And even when the visitors shipped back to back penalties to give Hornets momentum after 15 frustrating minutes, a 2nd tackle knock-on by Danny Bridge sent supporters slumping back into their seats.

It took 20 minutes for Hornets to break the deadlock: a block-busting run from Woz Thompson took Hornets close; Matt Fozzard spinning free from acting half to score. Crooky the two: 6-nil.

Hornets were suddenly switched-on. 26 minutes - a huge Tony Suffolk break continued by Danny Yates, he found Danny Bridge who launched Lee Paterson deep into the Skolars half. A pinpoint kick to the corner saw Gaz Langley catch and score, but the referee saw an offside somewhere and chalked it off.

No matter - within three minutes Hornets were back in the Skolars 20. A bit of a fortuitous penalty -  after Dale Bloomfield appeared to run into a defender - gave Hornets the platform to swing the ball wide where extra man Wayne English ghosted through to score. 10-nil. Crooky appeared to slot the conversion through the posts, both touch-judges raised their flags - but the Ref. over-ruled them and wiped off the conversion. Bizarre.

This minor glitch became a major wobble as - with 8 minutes of the half remaining - Skolars took full advantage of a static Hornets defence to score two basic quick-fire tries. The first a clean mid-field break by Benson to put Anthony under the black dot. The second an old-skool runaround with Coleman as the pivot for Anthony to stroll through and score. Connick good for both: Skolars in front by 10-12. Frankly, awful.

With the half grinding to an end, Hornets did salvage some respectablity when a clean break by Gaz Langley and some crisp, direct football slotted Alex Trumper in for a well crafted try. Half-time 16-10.

Hornets began the second half in scrappy fashion. A big kick-return by Wayne English was squandered when his needless inside pass fell into Skolars hands. The visitors took full advantage - carving straight through the middle of the Hornets defence for Anthony to grab his hat-trick. Connick the two: 16-18.

Hornets crashed and thrashed around for the next 20 minutes: forced passes, dropped ball, daft penalties galore as they persisted in trying to break down the big physical Skolars pack.

It took until the 62nd minute to work out that the way through was by going round - and when the ball was whipped wide to Dale Bloomfield he hit the gas to skin his opposite number from 40 metres. Hornets in front 20-18.

Two minutes later another big bruising break from Woz Thompson was the catalyst for a sweeping 60 metre move, with Danny Bridge on the end to finish off an excellent team try. Gaz Langley with the two: 26-18.

But the spark was an ephemeral one. With five minutes remaining Hornets again switched off on defence for Morgan to slip in for an eyewateringly easy try: 26-22 and an awkward, edgy finish as Skolars went in search of an unlikely win.

As it was, time ran out and Hornets snuck into 5th place for 24 hours. But it wasn’t enough. In every sense.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Saturday's Coming: London Skolars

And so we come to the last league game of the regular season and - quite possibly - the last game of the year.

In the last couple of weeks the equation for making the top five has become increasingly stark - and the remaining permutation for measuring the success or otherwise of this season is pretty straightforward: Win convincingly on Saturday and then pray to whichever Rugby god you subscribe to that North Wales Crusaders lose heroically at a Newcastle side that has a bit of a point to prove to its squillionnaire owner.

It’s not perfect by any means, but for 24 hours we should remain clinging to 5th, our fate in Stanley Gene’s hands.

And, as it did in 2013, our season balances on a game against London Skolars, as Saturday sees them make the long trip north in search of their 17th defeat of the season.
"Rochdale? On a Saturday evening? Did I hear you right?"
Skolars Coach Jermaine Coleman

Indeed, it’s been a season of rebuilding and consolidation in the capital as the emergence of southern competition has shallowed the player pool somewhat. As such, Skolars have managed just five wins this term - the most recent a good 12-man effort, last week beating Coventry at Butts Park by 28-18.

The vagaries of this year’s fixtures meant that we managed to avoid our usually disappointing trip down to Wood Green, which has been a bit of a graveyard over the years - and what we’ve missed (other than a shambolic flogging) is that, this year, Skolars became one of three RL teams to play on an artificial pitch, following redevelopment of their New River Stadium home.

Skolars are currently coached by Yorkshire-born Jermaine Coleman - his second stint in charge. And he has a creditable League pedigree. Having previously played for Gateshead, York and Hunslet he went on to play 116 games for the Skolars between 2004 and 2011 scoring 19 tries and 14 goals. He then went to Hemel Stags as player/ assistant Coach to Troy Perkins.

And it looks like his influence may by taking effect: three competitive performances against Keighley (16-36), North Wales (16-24) and York (22-30) preceded the Coventry win, so Skolars come to us on probably their best run of form of the season.

Hornets conversely come into the game having had an old-skool shocker up at Barrow. Without raking it over, a game like that needs a big response if we are to embark on playoff football. You might argue that the maths are against you in this super-tight League 1. Eight into five won’t go - and neither will five into two. However it pans out, six teams who would’ve thought they had a decent shot at promotion will be left wondering where the hell their season went. With that in mind, to still be in with a shot on the last weekend of the season isn’t all bad.

Ultimately, Hornets can only uphold their end of the equation and let fate take its course. Don’t stop believing folks - stranger things have happened.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Barrow Leave Hornets Pig Sick.

Barrow 46 - Hornets 28
"The pig lay on a barrow, dead." So begins the Ted Hughes poem 'View of a Pig' and, after quite possibly the most disappointing performance of the year, it appeared to be a remarkable metaphor for Hornets playoff chances: Dead at Barrow.

Once again the 'home-side hoodoo' that has now seen the home team batter the other in the last eight of Hornets/Barrow fixtures has struck.

But after 26 minutes, with Hornets leading 16-6, this looked like a fairly straightforward exercise. However, in the next 40 minutes, a deeply ordinary Barrow side piled 40 unanswered points onto a rudderless, static Hornets cursed by poor discipine, poor decision-making and a collective body language that cried ‘submission’.

But for the spark of Alex McClurg, the consistent, clockwork professionalism of Paul Crook and Wayne English’s ability to tackle pretty much anything that comes his way, this could’ve been a more comprehensive embarrassment.

In looking for specifics, this was defeat by incremental failure - a performance significantly less than the sum of its parts. No one player was drop-dead awful, but the cumulative weight of a hundred tiny lost battles chipped away at Hornets resolve to leave this season’s ambitions as so much dust.

But Hornets started brightly - determined running, good support, a high tempo - and, when Danny Bridge launched Dale Bloomfield into space after just five minutes, he slotted Danny Yates under the black dot for a top quality try that had the home crowd reeling. Crooky the two: 0-6.

The next set saw Paul Crook land a massive 40/20, but a needless forced pass from Wayne English - compounded by a penalty for ball stealing - took Barrow 50 metres downfield. They ramped up the pressure.

Hornets were unlucky to suffer a last tackle ‘back to one’ after Mr Hewer interpreted an awful pass as having been touched in flight and, with the stretched Hornets defence backpedalling it was simple ‘run-and-pass’ football that saw fleming score out wide. Ward the extras for 6-all.

Barrow’s Harrison spectacularly coughed the kick-off and Hornets took immediate advantage: Lee Paterson dropping the ball out of the back of a gang-tackle for Dale Bloomfield to score in the corner. Crooky struck the post with the kick: 6-10 - Hornets now with the momentum.

On 20 minutes a teasing Danny Yates kick for the corner squirmed from Dale Bloomfield’s grasp in the in-goal, then a Hornets intercept under their own posts found the Barrow defence out of shape, but Mike Ratu fumbled the pass second tackle. No matter.

Four minutes later a bullet of a cut-out pass from Danny Bridge found Dale Bloomfield who hit the afterburners. Again he found Danny Yates on his inside, but rather than back himself from 40 metres he took a somewhat scenic route via a selection of scrambling defenders before the ball made its way to the opposite side of the field for Mike Ratu to score. Crooky with the two; 6-16. All very straightforward. But wait…

What happened next set Hornets into a tail spin from which they didn’t recover. Such a minor indiscretion, but it snapped the momentum, gave Barrow renewed belief and impetus. Danny Bridge caught the kick-off under no pressure. In a scrappy tackle words were exchanged, Bridgey successfully goaded into reacting. Mr Hewer gave the penalty to Barrow and, with Hornets still analysing how they’d found themelves defending their own line, Mossop wriggled in through a mess of bodies to score a soft, gift try. Not really acceptable. Ward with the extras for 12-16.

Then things went downhill very fast. Handbags on the half-hour after a Barrow player’s fend ended up in Jordan Case’s mouth. Cries of ‘biting’ all round. Hornets given the penalty, but a frankly awful forward pass ended the set. Then Hornets snagged offside at a last tackle kick - followed by another soft penalty for holding-down. Barrow took the 60 metres with thanks and Ward hit Campbell with a flat-ball into space for a simple try. Ward with the goal and, somehow, Barrow in front at 18-16.

Now reeling from an array of sucker punches, Hornets switched off at the kick-off allowing Barrow to go 70 metres through the heart of the defence where Campbell put Marwood under the black dot. Ward with the two, Barrow into the sheds 24-16 up. Just bloody dreadful.

If Hornets were to salvage anything from this sinking ship of a game, they needed to score first. They didn’t. Mike Ratu was unlucky to be pinged for a knock-on after charging down and regathering a kick. Barrow worked the ball right on the last tackle for Fleming to plunge twixt  Ratu and Paterson to score. 28-16.

On 47 minutes James Dandy coughed another slack penalty to give Barrow more easy yards and, with the the Hornets defence flat-footed, Barrow passed round static bodies for Campbell to score. Ward the two, 34-16.

With Mike Ratu removed injured, Hornets reshuffled the backline - but an impotent last tackle kick to the corner saw Hornets penalised for contact in the air; Barrow - again - swept 70 metres upfield. This time Hornets held-out, but Lee Paterson forced a pass out of the tackle and Ward intercepted to stoll the 20 metres and score. The Thesaurus just hasn’t enough words for ‘awful’.

Barrow piled on the misery. This time Hankinson’s dink and gather leaving Hornets bamboozled. Ward with the conversion and Hornets sunk at 46-16. That’s FORTY unanswered points.

With time - much like Hornets’ season - ebbing away two converted tries from the ever-reliable Paul Crook (one right on the hooter) gave the scoreline a thin veneer of respectability at 46-28, but this was an unmitigated shocker.

However:  with York today beating North Wales Crusaders, the door to the top five has been left very slightly open. Quite simply, if Crusaders lose at Newcastle next week and Hornets beat Skolars at Spotland, Hornets steal fifth place.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Saturday's Coming - Barrow

And so we come to the last league away trip of the season.

Having admitted that they’re already building for a promotion push next year, Barrow have all-but conceded their 2015 challenge. Assistant coach Dave Kendall has stated that the raiders are deep in talks with ‘four championship players’ that the club needs “… to hopefully win the league next year.”

With that in mind, Hornets travel to Craven Park on Saturday (6.30 KO - thanks Barrow), with our own playoff hopes now in the hands of North Wales. Craven Park has, over the years, been a graveyard for Hornets ambitions (the Bobbie Goulding circus two years ago a distinct low), but with two wins required - plus a cock-up by the Crusaders - to get Hornets a ticket in the promotion raffle, this becomes the archetypal ‘must win game’.

Over the last seven meetings, victory has come with home advantage - and the games have been high-scoring affairs yielding 53 tries and 42 goals! The last seven results are:

18th April 2015: Rochdale Hornets win 48-12 at Spotland
13th July 2014: Rochdale Hornets win 54-22 at Spotland
1st June 2014: Barrow Raiders win 38-18 at Craven Park
19th August 2012: Rochdale Hornets win 24-18 at Spotland
22nd April 2012: Barrow Raiders win 44-18 at Craven Park
27th July 2008: Rochdale Hornets win 38-6 at Spotland
16th May 2008: Barrow Raiders win 36-10 at Craven Park

So Hornets will have to break a bit of a historical hoodoo to come away with the points.

But Barrow come into the game on the back of some pretty ordinary form - having lost their last two games - one of them by a point at Keighley - and shipping 66 points in the previous three games against Oxford, Hemel and Coventry (34-22/44-22/44-22). So having a go does, it seems, yield points.

19-man quads named for the Barrow game are:
English, Paterson, Bloomfield, Crook, Yates, McClurg, W. Thompson, Case, Trumper, Tilley, D. Jones, Bridge, Hargreaves, Smith, Ratu, Dandy, Hull, Hadden, Fozard.

Barrow Raiders
Campbell, Crellin, Hankinson, Fleming, Pitman, Bate, Ward, Bullock, Mossop, Dolan, D. Toal, Briscoe, Hambley, Nicholson, Harrison, Tracey, Dawson, Marwood, Litherland

Hornets prop Danny Jones previously played for Barrow - so should be able to offer some insight. Indeed, we’d imagine they’d rather have him in their side than playing against them.

Sorry today’s preview’s a bit late and a bit of a rushed affair: we’ve been travelling with work - but we got there in the end. See you at Barrow, folks.

RFL Match Preview

Barrow coach Paul Crarey wants to use this game to measure his team's progress in 2015.
“I’m looking forward to the game to see how far we have come against a team that hammered us at the start of the year," he said.
"Our form has been good but we have just been edged out in terms of results. We need to concentrate and perform for 80 minutes to stand a chance of winning. We want to put on a show for our loyal fans.”
Hornets go into the game just outside the top five.
Coach Ian Talbot said: “It’s a massive one for us. We need to go and get a win if we are to have any intention of getting into that top five.
"Unfortunately it’s out of our hands. We hope that York do us a favour at Crusaders but we’ll keep fighting until the end.
“It’s never easy going up to Barrow. We beat them at our ground but it’s a totally different prospect going up to their place. I’ve never found it easy with any team I’ve taken up there, so it’s going to be tough."