Sunday, 14 January 2018

Hard-Working Hornets take Wolves to the Wire

Hornets 10 - Warrington 24

It’s a long way from Caringbah to Spotland, but in the last six months that’s the journey taken by Warrington’s new coach Steve Price. Bumping into the former Illawarra St George Dragons coach before the game did require a bit of a double-take (last time we saw him was at WIN Stadium) - and his debut in the British game saw his Super League Wolves eventually overhaul a much improved Hornets in a close and combative contest.

Hornets started with real intent. An early ‘bump and break’ from Jo Taira saw him feed his fellow prop Matty Hadden through a flat-footed Wire defence from close range. Yatesey the extras, Hornets ahead of the clock and a decent Wolves following left shaking heads.

The visitors finally entered the fray after 8 minutes when a Lineham break and a no-look speculator was deemed to have hit a Hornets hand in flight. From the resulting scrum Johnson hit a short ball at pace to score. Ex- Sharks, ‘Dogs and Souths three-quarter Goodwin hit the spot to tie the scores.

With both sides exchanging frequent knock-ons, the game became a scrappy arm-wrestle.

On the quarter mark, Livett was forced into a last-tackle fumble by some determined defence. The Wire then gave away a sloppy penalty as Hornets turned up the heat, but Yatesey’s let tackle kick was just too long for Rob Massam.

In the next set a moment of old-stool slapstick as an Earl Hurst tackle shredded the shirt from Moran’s back, leaving the warrington player temporarily exposed.

An increasingly frustrated Warrington side began shipping penalties to give Hornets the momentum. On 25 minutes a shift to the left edge was only halted when Lineham knocked down the pass; then Hughes was shown the yellow card for a late shoulder on Danny Yates. Before he’d reached the bench, his side had coughed another penalty for interference 10 metres out. 12-man Warrington clearly rattled.

The recrimination for their behaviour was immediate: Hornets took the ball close to the line, where Ryan Maneely exposed some lazy marking to burrow in from acting half. 10-6.

Warrington got lucky from the kick-off, a swirling kick and a wicked bounce gave them good position in the Hornets half. Then a penalty gave them a strong attacking platform. Just past the half hour a grubber going nowhere was fumbled by Dec Kay and Livett snaffled the loose ball to grab a fortuitous try. Goodwin on target to edge Warrington ahead 10-12.

With the half running on fumes, former England prop Ben Westwood had a spectacular brain-fart: penalised for a clear double movement, he was then yellow-carded for dissent. We’re pretty certain that a sin-binning for back-chat in a pre-season game in Rochdale won’t make it into his career highlights.

Westwood’s act of extreme dumb-assery brought the half to a close: Hornets trailing by just the two points.

Warrington started the second-half with noticeably more intent; going wide to both edges early-doors to test a Hornets defence that scrambled well. But the pressure told on 50 minutes when King arrived at pace into space off an inside ball to bisect the defence and score. No mistake from Goodwin; 10-18.

On 54 minutes Ben Moores was snagged for one of the more bizarre penalties we’ve seen: interference with the tackler whilst in the act of playing the ball. We know - us neither…

As the game settled into a midfield struggle, Hornets found space to produce some tidy football: first some concerted pressure where makeshift stand-off Ben Moores’ last tackle dink was well handled by the Wolves defence. Then a mazy 60 metre break by Danny Yates  off a loose Wire pass - twisting and turning defenders en-route upfield, where Warrington gave away yet another soft penalty. Hornets turned the screw with some direct forward running, but  - again - the defence had the measure of Ben Moores’ kick.

Having matched their Super League opponents for long periods, the visitors full-time class and fitness finally told: a 75th minute shift to an edge for Prell to score by the flag. Goodwin with his fourth from four to give Warrington a 10-24 win.

In the wash-up, this was a fiercely contested, no-nonsense workout for both sides. Hornets looking much more cohesive and showing some mice touches; Warrington relying on their nous and class to pull then through.  In his post-match comments, Alan Kilshaw was pleased with the progress made this week.

As for Steve Price, he starts his UK venture with a win - and we can promise that it’ll get warmer. Eventually.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

A Law Unto Itself

Hornets 24 - Oldham 28

Forget form, forget league status, forget everything you know about the game. The Law Cup exists in a unique Rugby League bubble; a hermetically-sealed 80 minutes of boiled-down, distilled, concentrated local emnity where two of world RL’s oldest rivals bust gut and sinew for a pot first awarded in 1921.

In any other circumstance, this would be considered a ‘friendly’ - but at either end of the A627M, it has hallowed status: genuine history in progress and that most rarified of prizes: local bragging rights.

Played out in plummeting temperatures buy two nascent, undercooked sides (Oldham fielding 10 debutants, Hornets 11), this was a victory for stubborn effort rather than flowing football. And given the incestuous, soap-opera nature of the history between these two venerable clubs, former Hornets marksman Paul Crook came back to provide the crucial penalties that proved the difference between the two teams.

On a bleak evening where even the floodlights struggled to penetrate the gloom, Hornets began with a knock-on and a couple of soft penalties - and the visitors capitalised after 10 minutes, working the ball wide for Reid to score by the flag. No conversion from Crook; 0-4.

Oldham continued to dominate possession, Hornets working overtime on defence - the home side eventually completing a set after 12 minutes, pinning Oldham into a corner - and when Ben Moores backed up a Gaz Middlehurst break to score, Lewis Palfrey added the extras to edge Hornets ahead.

Palfrey then blotted his copy-book minutes later, failing to find touch from a penalty 10 metres from the touchline.

Hornets lead was doubled on 24 minutes when a kick into the Oldham in-goal induced chaos and Gary Middlehurst provided a cool head and quick reactions to touch down. Palfrey the extras for 12-4.

Oldham responded in kind, working good field position for Crook to hoist a teasing kick into the corner, where Barlow reached out to score. Crook with the kick off the touchline to take Hornets into the sheds holding a slender 12-10 lead.

In a case of deja-vu, Hornets began the second half with a fumbled ball and a penalty from a Dave Allen tackle interpreted as a high-shot by the eagle-eyed touchie. Crook took the gift two to tie the scores at 12-all.

As multiple interchanges began to impact on the rhythm of both teams, the game became a battle of wills - stern defence from both sides limiting any fluid football. But on the hour, Gaz Middlehurst and Dave Allen contrived to concede a penalty for hanging around too long in the tackle. Crook didn’t need asking twice, slotting the penalty to nudge Oldham in front.

Within a minute, the visitors had extended their lead: a huge break  and an outrageous dummy from Reid leaving the Hornets defence flat-footed, Crook on-target and Oldham 12-20 to the good.

Hornets replied with a foray up the left flank, but Callum Mulkeen ran out of field amongst gathering defenders. No matter, on 70 minutes Luke Adamson charged down Hewitt’s kick, scooping up the loose ball to score from 30 metres. Palfrey on target for 18-20 and a grandstand finish in prospect.

As it was, the visitors found something out of nothing when a Crook kick into the in-goal found Nield's outstretched hand for 18-24. Crook no mistake with the conversion: 18-26.

Hornets then failed to send the kick-off 10 metres and, when Oldham were handed another penalty, Crook completed a good night with the boot for 18-28.

Hornets rallied late when Blake Turner showed impressive guile to muscle over from close range, Lewis Palfrey adding the extras for a final score of 24-28. Close, but no cigar.

It’s hard to be objective about quite possibly this most meaningful of ‘friendlies’, but this was an attritional battle on an awful pitch by two teams still finding their shape. Both coaches will have taken much from this: Oldham looking in reasonable shape, we thought; Hornets still a work in progress.

And with progress in mind, we look forward to Saturday’s challenge when Hornets take on Super League partners Warrington Wolves, kick off 3pm. See you there.