Thursday, 25 May 2017

Saturday's Coming: Oldham

Give us a wave: get your factor 50 on for a day at the seaside
And so to Blackpool, where Oldham coach Scott Naylor is seeking to sort out his side’s current defensive crisis. Having shipped an incredible 122 points in their last two games, Oldham come to the seaside riding the crest of a slump - knowing that their form away from home has been somewhat poor, swallowing 48 points at Hull KR, 50 at Batley, 58 at Toulouse, 74 at London Broncos and 48 in the recent Batley home game -  played at Manchester's Regional Arena.

According to the Oldham Chronic, preparations for this weekend have been all about defence:
"Our attacking against Batley last Sunday was good, especially in the first half,” said Naylor: ”But we need a massive improvement in defence against Rochdale and that was the theme of last night's training session.”

"It's not just the physical aspect of tackling well; it's the individual and collective attitude towards defence that needs to be looked at.

Indeed, defence is all about attitude - and that really is something you can’t coach.

OLDHAM will be mising on-loan Castlefords centre Kieran Gill (recalled by the Tigers) and prop Phil Joy’s season is over after he dislocated his left shoulder in his first game back after dislocating his shoulder. Ouch. Utility back Scott Turner comes back into contention, having missed two weeks with concussion.

Oldham currently sit one place above Hornets in the Championship with a two point cushion - so a win at Bloomfield Road would see Hornets leapfrog them on points difference (Hornets currently with a 52 point advantage). Gav Bennion, Joe Taira and Ben Moores are back to boost the Hornets squad, for what is real old-fashioned crunch-game.

Down at the other end of the A627M, Oldham are already bragging that they’ve sold three times the number of tickets as Hornets - but we all know a) it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog that matters and b) selling three times the tickets worked a treat for them at Leigh in 2013.

So get yourself off beside the seaside. Hornets fans look to have been accommodated in Block K - so bring your best singing voice and wear your colours with pride. We’re due for a win - and this one would be a great way to kick-start the back half of our season.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Snooze And You Lose

Halifax 28 - Hornets 2

The word ‘meh’ is a useful, onomatopoeic tool. A verbal shrug that does what it says on the tin. Popularised by The Simpsons via its Yidddish roots, it became the definitive online shorthand for dismissal of something as uninteresting as far back as 1992. In November 2008, it made its way into the dictionary as ‘describing indifference and disapproval’.

And so to the Shay where a half asleep Hornets were undone by a half awake Halifax in a game that crawled by in an atmosphere of deep apathy.

Shipping two early penalties, Halifax were made to pay for their own indifferent start: Danny Yates taking the two to give Hornets a fifth minute lead. Talk about peaking too early.

From the kick-off DR Kevin Penny opted not to run the ball, but sent an old-skool hospital pass to Samir Tahraoui in the in-goal, where he was summarily clattered by the home pack to concede a drop out. The Hornets fans exhaled and looked skywards…

Hornets did show some flickers of early promise: kick-chasing Halifax into the corners - only to let them off the hook with a string of frustrating penalties.

Halifax capitalised when Grady broke up the guts of a flat-footed Hornets defence to send Johnston under the black dot. Tyrer on target and Fax ahead 6-2. Hornets put the kick-off out on the full. Just poor.

On the quarter mark it was another penalty that took Halifax under the Hornets posts, and when the home side went wide, Grady dropped off a neat pass out of the back of a flapping tackle for Tyrer to score a walk-in. 10-2 and the signs weren’t good. Hornets then snagged offside at the kick-off. Awful.

Hornets did flicker briefly: Danny Yates’ kick to the corner gathered by Rob Massam who was ruled to have knocked on whilst touching down; Gaz Middlehurst too knocking on as he stretched to score. But the second quarter of the game was fundamentally Hornets mounting a rear-guard defensive action against a Halifax side that repeatedly found new and inventive ways to squander scoring opportunities.

On 38 minutes, Grady again caused panic in the Hornets ranks as he broke the line, Chris Riley scrambling well to reel him in, but given ten minutes for holding on too long. Once again Halifax ran out of ideas long before the end of the set, but when they launched a haplessly over-cooked hoof into the in-goal, rather than let it go harmlessly dead, Kevin Penny went for the miracle catch over his shoulder and coughed the ball into the popular end. Schoolboy stuff, really.

The half ended with a flurry of handbags after a contested high-shot from Gaz Middlehurst and - somehow - Hornets had rope-a-doped themselves into a slim 8-point deficit at the break: Halifax having had the majority of possession.

The second half began in uninspiring fashion: Halifax knocking on, Hornets getting caught in possession on the last tackle.

This pattern of errors and general cluelessness continued, broken only by a very odd decision from referee Mr Hewer: a Halifax kick dead-in-goal under no attention, but as Hornets lined up for the 20m restart, they were taken back to take a drop out. No - us neither.

The torpor was broken in the 53rd minute when Halifax managed to smuggle the ball out of the back of a tackle that looked long dead: Sharp ducking in, Tyrer the extras and - at 16-2 - the game effectively moribund.

On the hour Murrell broke through some frankly sloppy tackling to send Tangata rumbling in from 20 metres. Hornets fans awoken by some distant half-hearted Halifax applause.

And then…stasis. 20 minutes of anti-rugby league; both sides flapping like headless chickens as the errors, poor passes, knock-ons and clueless last tackle plays sucked every last drop of energy out of The Shay. With the game in its death-rattle, Halifax summoned up one last break up the left, where Grix got on the end of a 40 metre break to put this shocker out of its misery. Tyrer hit the two for 28-2.

In conversation afterwards it was hard to find positives. The relentless prying of Gaz Middlehurst, and the fact that Chris Riley looks like he knows what he’s doing the only two saving graces of a game that struggled to stick in the memory as far as the car.

Meh, indeed.