Thursday, 29 March 2012

NW Crusaders Game Update

From the RFL's Co-operative Championship 1 Preview 
Rochdale coach John Stankevitch released seven players on Monday, including Craig Johnson and Danny Pyke, who both played against East Hull in the Carnegie Challenge Cup.
Stankevitch said: “In the short term I'm not looking to bring anybody else in. We expect to have Stephen Bannister back this week, as well as Wayne English and Mark Hobson.”
Danny Davies (whiplash) is also doubtful after being involved in a road accident.
Stankevitch added: “If we get beat, we'll have been beaten by the better team on the day because we're taking a strong side to Wrexham.”

Look Out Here Come: North Wales Crusaders

Wales Yesterday: L-R: Oggy, Oggy, Oggy, Oggy and... er...
Sunday sees Hornets return to the Racecourse Ground Wrexham to play re-booted former Super-League expansion brand North Wales Crusaders.

Having flown Icarus-like too close to the SL sun, the former great-Welsh-hopes find their (three) feathers singed and starting from scratch under the auspices of Welsh RL stalwart Clive Griffiths.

Currently shoring-up CC1 with none from two and a points difference almost twice as bad as Gateshead (having shipped 92 points in two games), they'll be eager to get their… er… crusade underway sometime soon.

When Hornets played at the Racecourse in a pre-season friendly, 'The Cru' stung us for 50 points and the huge home support celebrated like they'd won the Challenge Cup. I did tell the bloke in front of me that we did have 10 U23's in the side and six of them were playing out of position, but did he listen? No - he just kept gibbering 'whaddabou'tha'then' like Max Boyce on speed.

Thus far in the league they took Barrow to the wire losing 24-26 in Round 1, but their bubble was pricked in Round 2 as Skolars rammed 66 points through them (it was 40-nil at half time).

However, Crusaders come into Sunday's game on the back of a decent Challenge Cup win over Toulouse, so will be re-energised for the league campiagn on the back of some regained confidence.

Griffiths says: "The important thing is for us to build on our excellent performance when we take on Rochdale this Sunday at the Racecourse. We can't be one of those teams who has a good game one week and a bad one the next. It's a long term process and we're looking to get better and better as time goes on."

And he has a realistic view of their friendly win pre-season: "I'm not even going to look at that game at all. I'm going to look at the matches they played recently as the team Rochdale have got now isn't even 50% of the side who played against us in the friendly. It's a new centre partnership, new full-back, new wingers and different combinations throughout."

Indeed, Griffiths hinted that we was going to make some additions to his own squad to add 'experience'.

The Crusaders squad is a decent mix of good quality former conference talent (both NCL and RFL), Championship experience and former academy/U23 youth. It's a work-hard unit with few big names, but stand-outs include former Swinton Prop Chis Tyrer, Billy Sheen (ex-Leigh) and former Hornet Jamie Durbin - the latter most famous for defending out on the flanks because he's not tall enough for the rides at Alton Towers.

Certainly one interesting element of the New Crusaders is that they seem to have retained a sizeable chunk of their former Super League following - and silencing the vocal home support will be top of most visitors' to-do lists this season. So get yourself over there on Sunday - it's a much, much shorter drive than Whitehaven.

Most importantly - don't forget that it's a 2.30 kick off.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Up Fer't Cup?

Hilton Park Yesterday

The glamour-tie against one of the game's big-guns didn't materialise in last-night's draw for the Challenge Cup Fourth Round.
With Warrington the last remaining Super League side in the bag drawn before Hornets number 21 emerged, it was clear that a home tie would be the best we could expect. We got Leigh. Away.

The good news is that Leigh won at London Skolars in Round three shipping 26 points in the process and they're currently 4th bottom of the Championship, so the upset's on. And it's a short drive.  

The draw for the Challenge Cup Fourth Round (with our tips for success in bold) is:

London Broncos v Dewsbury Rams
Widnes Vikings v St Helens
Leeds Rhinos v Wakefield Trinity Wildcats
Whitehaven v Salford City Reds
Featherstone Rovers v Castleford Tigers
Hull FC v Huddersfield Giants
Wigan Warriors v North Wales Crusaders
Swinton Lions v Gateshead Thunder
Hull KR v Catalan Dragons
Bradford Bulls v Doncaster
South Wales Scorpions v Halifax
York City Knights v Sheffield Eagles
Keighley Cougars v Warrington Wolves
Leigh Centurions v Rochdale Hornets
Oldham v Barrow Raiders
Hunslet Hawks v Batley Bulldogs

Monday, 26 March 2012

Banana Skin Avoided.

East Hull 20 Hornets 48

You can't really win in these Carnegie Challenge Cup games against amateur opposition. If you win by 80 people say, "What did you expect, they're just amateurs?". And if you win by half a dozen people assume you were crap. 

Thankfully, this game came somewhere twixt the two, Hornets having enough in the tank to deliver the requisite win, but East Hull providing sufficient frisson of an upset to make it an entertaining contest.

And the shock was on after just two minutes; Partis with the neat chip, Noble gathering in traffic and Easts 6-nil to the good. Hornets fans raised eybrows and shook heads. But Hornets were swift to respond.

With Easts going backwards on the end of consecutive penalties, Hornets worked the ball to Gary Middlehurst who found space by the post. Chris Baines added the two.

But Easts had brought their bag of kicking tricks with them and produced a beauty from the back of a scrum on the Hornets 30m line. Partis lofting the ball into space for Edwards to sweep in and score. Two attacks, two superbly executed tries, Hornets shellshocked.

Hence, the finger was extracted. With Roper, McDermott and Hough taking the Hornets pack forwards, Chris Baines capitalised on some sustained pressure bursting in off a short ball from Roper on 15 minutes; then Middlehurst showing good strength to burrow in on 20; and John Cookson alert to a neat offload by Middlehurst to score under the black dot on half an hour. Hornets now with some breathing space, with a 24-10 lead. 

The last action of the half saw referee Merrick lose patience with Easts loose forward Precious, dispatching him for 10 minutes for repeated infringements in the tackle.

The second half had an eerie feel of deja-vu about it; Easts wasting no time to ship the ball right for Edwards to score.

An injury to Steve Roper saw Hornets compelled to improvise at half back: Danny Pyke in at stand-off, Houghy going to scrum half, with Jonny Leather going to fullback as Paul O'Connor moved up to fill the centre berth.

It was a major shuffle that required Hornets to play their way back into some sort of shape and there was an air of stalemate until the 60th minute when some neat interchanges saw Phil Wood scooting through a tiring Easts defence to score.

On the next carry downfield, Hornets repeated the move; this time it was Paul O'Connor the beneficiary. 

Easts continued to work hard, forcing repeat sets on more than one occasion, but it was Hornets who created the chances. Firstly Phil Wood's neatly-timed short ball sending Jonny Leather in on 67 minutes. And it was Wood again - using John Cookson as the fulcrum - who provided the pass for Gary Middlehurst's hat-trick try.
Baines added the extras to give him eight from eight with the boot and grab the man-of-the-match award.

But, it was Easts who had the final word, scoring the 'send 'em home pissed off' try in the 80th minute - Moody with the four, Puckering with the two for a final score of 48-20.

So, more perfunctory than spectacular - but take nothing away from East Hull. They came with a clear game plan and executed it superbly well. The quality of their in-play kicking only serving to emphasise the size of the hole that Paul Crook's absence creates.

As for Hornets, they did enough. In his post match interview John Stankevich likeded the game to 'pulling teeth' and it's a fair summary. With five players missing, Hornets were a bit out of shape and the loss of Steve Roper after an hour did cause a major restructure.

But, ultimately, you only need to do enough to win in knockout football. And in situations like this where - whatever you do - you can't really win, that's all we can ask.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Fiji's Coming Home!

Suva - exactly like Rochdale in every way!
The Rugby League World Cup 2013 today announced the group games and quarter final matches for the tournament. The tournament will kick off at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff with a double header as Wales play Italy in the curtain raiser for England v Australia. But all eyes in the first round of games will be on Rochdale as Hornets will host Fiji v Ireland. Indeed, it's already capturing the media's attention.

Today's Guardian Sport said of the game at Spotland: "That may sound an unlikely and uninspiring location but it actually makes a fair bit of sense, as Rochdale has had a thriving Fijian community since a number of trailblazers came to play for the town's rugby league club in the early 1960s.", official website of the Fiji National Rugby League says: "There has been a long history of Fijian players making their mark in rugby league, most notably back in the 1960s when great players such as Joe Levula and Laitia Ravouvou joined Rochdale Hornets and became household names in the English competition."

Certainly, Rochdale will feel like Suva for a day as the town's RL fans become temporary Fijians and celebrate the massive contribution that Fiji has made to the town's sporting culture.

The first round in full is:
Group A (three to qualify) England v Australia – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff*; Fiji v Ireland – Spotland Stadium, Rochdale; England v Ireland – the Galpharm Stadium, Huddersfield; Australia v Fiji – Langtree Park, St Helens; England v Fiji – KC Stadium, Hull; Australia v Ireland – Thomond Park Stadium, Limerick.

Five Gone West for Easts Clash.

Stanky this morning confirmed on Twitter that Hornets will be missing some key personnel for the visit of East Hull. He tweeted: "Good session last night, but gonna be without Davies, Crook, English, Bannister and Hobson for this weekend"

Indeed, the battle at Whitehaven took its toll…

Paul Crook has a partially dislocated collar-bone (or a 'subluxed acromioclavicular joint' for the medical geeks amongst you), Danny Davies suffered a severe dead-shoulder, Stephen Bannister has an eye injury that was treated at hospital on Monday, Mark Hobson carries a dead-leg and Wayne English has ankle ligament damage.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Look Out Here Come: East Hull

The Challenge Cup yesterday.  Get a brolly, it looks like rain.
There are probably only two rivers on the planet where the terms 'West Bank' and 'East Bank' determine your identity and cultural persuasion. One is the river Jordan, the other is the river Hull.

This weekend Spotland becomes 'home' to Conference Premier Division side East Hull in round three of the Carnegie Challenge Cup.

With only two games played in the new Summer NCL, East Hull have had a decidedly average start with one win, and one defeat (their win coming last week against Leigh East).

Their league win came in the back of an, eventually, convincing win over the high-flying RAF, who were 14-nil up after 25 minutes.

But once the cogs engaged East Hull came storming back with tries from Gary Noble, Jamie Edwards, Lee Steward, Tommy Brett, 2011 BARLA Lions half-back Carl Puckering and former National Conference League Player of the year Andy Moody. Jordan Precious (also previously a BARLA Lions half-back) added four goals to give Easts a 32-14 win.

As you'd imagine from Humberside's talent conveyor-belt, there's a decent amount of quality in the East Hull side - and also at the top. East Hull are coached by Steve Crooks - a man with Humberside Rugby League in his veins, having played for and coached both Hull FC and Hull KR. He was previously player performance manager at Hull FC for ten years - so he'll have his team set-up and ready to compete.

A relatively recent results at Doncaster and Swinton have proven, these nervy ties can be proper banana skins, so getting through, with no injuries, will be absolutely paramount.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Oh We Don't Like to be Beside the Seaside...

Whitehaven 30 Hornets 10

Murphy's Law
n: Informal:  a precept stating that if something can go wrong or turn out inconveniently it will. See also Sod's Law.

Fittingly for St Patrick's weekend, this game was an object lesson of Murphy's Law at work. Notwithstanding poor discipline from Hornets that gave the penalty count a decidedly lop-sided look and gifted a steady but unspectacular Haven 13 penalties to six; or a completion rate bumping along in the low 40 percents, it was an afternoon where everything that could go wrong did.

Haven had done their homework, singling out Paul Crook for some decidedly agricultural treatment in the early stages. Hit late twice after 5th tackle kicks, Crooky was led from the field after 15 just minutes with a serious looking shoulder injury; Referee Merrick bottled it, putting Beattie on report. Hornets lost their shape and it was hardly surprising when Haven opened the scoring after 20 minutes when Bauer was quickest to react to a bobbling kick into the Hornets in-goal.

But Hornets dug in. Struggling to find any fluidity, the ball was eventualy worked downfield for Gary Middlehurst to hit a flat pass at speed from close range. Baines took over kicking duties to level the scores at 6-all.

With haf-time approaching and Hornets still hanging onto the game, Haven capped off some sustained pressure, working the ball wide for Calvert to score by the corner flag. Half time 12-6 to the home side.

The second half began in a scrambling frenzy. Haven fumbling the kick-off, Hornets building pressure on the back of repeat sets, but unable to find the killer pass. 

Hornets were handed the advantage when the home fullback Bauer talked himself into the sin-bin, but a string of needless penalties marched Haven downfield where, with a man short, they worked an overlap for Calvert to score out wide. 18-6 and - after just 56 minutes - dark mutterings about the dreaded bonus point.

Having struggled to find any cohesive football for an hour, Hornets sparked to life. A bristling 50 metre break upfield by Steve Roper took Hornets close to the Haven line and quick hands exploited a retreating home defence for Dale Bloomfield to bag the try of the game. And at 18-10 with almost 20 minutes to play the game was afoot.

With both sides struggling to open up the game, it was nip and tuck until the 70th minute. Despite being seemingly incapable of completing a set, Hornets defended staunchly until Stephen Bannister staggered from the field following a heavy tackle in traffic. Having used all of their substitutions, Hornets shuffled their 12 men, but Haven worked the numbers to grab two late tries from McCavoy (both through Bannister's vacated centre channel) for a final score of 30-10.

There's little doubt that losing Pauk Crook early on played havoc with Hornets' organisation - it is tough to stick to the structure with such an influential component missing. But, despite being their own worst enemy at times, Hornets were in the game way past the hour mark, which is testimony to their work ethic (and an indication of how short on ideas Haven really were).

In the end injuries, daft penalties,  unforced errors and conceding soft possession proved to be a combination of factors too great to overcome by merely working hard. Haven are a solid outfit and any capable side should be able to create opportunities from the amount of ball and easy yards they were given. And, when faced with a numerical advantage, they did.

In the end, this was one to write off, the biggest take-out being Stanky's desperate need to get all bodies back up and firing as quickly as possible - espcially the influential Crook.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Look Out! Here Come: Whitehaven

With only one win from four in the Northern Rail Cup (shipping 18 points in the process against Gateshead) and a 48-16 flogging at Doncaster last week (having  trailed 30-6 at the break) , it's safe to assume that Whitehaven are still trying to find their rhythm.

New Aussie coach Don Gailer (formerly of Brisbane A-grade outfit North Devils) set  his stall out early doors, announcing the marquee signings of two current Papua New Guinea test stars - stand-off Glen Nami and centre Jessie Joe Parker.

Nami, 25, played for the Kumuls in the 2010 Four Nations, scoring a try against New Zealand. Parker, 26, also featured in the tournament and already has Featherstone and Wakefield on his UK CV.

Whilst planning his promtion push around these two, Gailer has admitted in the press this week that the club is still waiting for their arrival due to visa clearance issues. So ex-Salford centre Max Wiper and the ever reliable kicking machine Carl Rudd hang onto their places. For now.

Other danger men to watch are ex-Wests Tigers back-row Luke Isakka and the relentlessly tricky Carl Sice.

Haven's side also contains two players familiar to Hornets fans -  Lee Doran and Richard 'Not the Face' Varkulis - who clearly travel to West Cumbria for the sea air and the scenery.

Certainly Gailer looks to be instigating a playing 'cultural shift' at the recre, with players already publicly supporting his 'Aussie Way' of setting the team up.

2nd rower Danny Barker is quoted in Wednesday's 'News & Star': “We have a lot of new faces this year and a different way of coaching,” he said. “A lot of us have never been involved in the Australian way… It’s all about breaking the game down… it's different and it's good…"

We agree: with one win out of five, don't change a thing Don -  it's working a treat.


Richard Varkulis is likely to be missing from Sunday's game with an injury picked up at Doncaster. Luckily for him, it's not the face - most likely knee cartilage damage picked up in the first set of the game. In a step-up that suggests that he's bought a house near a chippy, Varkulis has started all five of Haven’s games this season at PROP and his absence opens the door for veteran Howard Hill.

Lee Doran is back from suspension, but Scott McAvoy is racing the clock with a knee injury. There are also worries about winger Craig Calvert's neck injury.

To (East) Hull - and Back.

Hornets have been drawn away at National Conference Premier side East Hull in Round 3 of the Carnegie Challenge Cup. Games will be played on the weekend of the 24th and 25th of March 2012 - times TBC.
The draw in full is:
Oulton Raiders v Sheffield Eagles
North Wales Crusaders v Toulouse Olympique XIII
London Skolars v Leigh Centurions
Myton Warriors v Halifax
York City Knights v Hull Dockers
Gateshead Thunder v York Acorn
Hunslet Old Boys v Featherstone Rovers
Swinton Lions v Siddal
Workington Town v Batley Bulldogs
Doncaster v Sharlston Rovers
Egremont Rangers v Oldham
Whitehaven v Hunslet Warriors
Wath Brow Hornets v South Wales Scorpions
Barrow Raiders v FC XIII Lezignan
Hunslet Hawks v Royal Navy
Bradford Dudley Hill v Keighley Cougars
Dewsbury Rams v Thatto Heath Crusaders

Has the Northern Rail Cup HIt the Buffers?

And lo, it appears that South Wales Scorpions - the RFL's flaghship expansion club in South Wales - duck a midweek fixture because they're unable to raise a team.

Unprofessional? Yes. Dissapointing? Well...

Some people have been quick to point out that football teams (and their fans) regulalry have to travel the length of the country to play midweek games. The thing is that Association Footballers are full time - it's their job to go to the opposite end of the country to play on a Wednesday night. 

This is about dragging part-time lads on a ten hour round trip to play a meaningless game in front of a small crowd that most likely won't care about the outcome. Football at the level where crowds are similar to ours is regionalised to prevent long, expensive trips. Common sense.

If the RFL had applied common sense and voided this game rather than insisting it went ahead, we wouldn't have this embarrassing situation (there is a precedent with Doncaster v Crusaders a couple of years ago - and, I believe, that this year's Skolars v Toulouse has been scrubbed).

But what this situation does do is amplify the issues around the scheduling and structure of the NRC.

Only half a dozen teams have a realistic chance of getting to the final (indeed, 7 of the eight qualifiers this time were from CC1 and Barrow sneaked thru' on points difference); gates aren't (to my knowledge) split, so there's an inbalance in the financial aspect; three-quarters of coaches involved are realistic about their chances and use it as a series of friendlies to run the rule over squad players (and supporters see it as that too) - and we end up - again - with teams struggling to meet their obligations and the RFL voiding matches (neither of which does much for the credibility of the game or the sponsor).

In an age where the RFL is insisting that clubs be more financially astute, everyone I've spoken to seems to agree that the costs to both clubs (travel, match payments, stewarding etc) would likely outweigh any revenue raised. 

And you do have to wonder whether someone at The Gnoll has weighed up the cost of a fine for a no-show against the cost of feeding and transporting and paying 20 blokes who would have to take at least one day off work to play?

The Northern Rail Cup needs a very careful reassessment before we embark on this ridiculous journey again next year because - for the majority of clubs involved - it's a basket case.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

South Wales Scorpions game is OFF!

A statement on the club's website reads: "Due to circumstances beyond our control, the Northern Rail Cup match between Hornets and South Wales has been postponed, to be rearranged at a later date. As soon as we have rearranged the fixture, we will publicise the new date."

Watch this space, we guess.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Hornets Hand Skolars a Lesson in Finishing

If Skolars have progressed from spoiling easybeats into a side able to compete with Co-operative Championship teams for 79 minutes, then it was hard to see exactly where that improvement has happened.  On this showing, they depend almost entirely on being an ugly, awkward, spoiling unit that drags teams into a fragmented shit-fight, whereupon they have the upper hand.

To Hornets' credit, they rose above the tsunami of lying on, play-the-ball encroachment, flopping and niggling to play some high-tempo, slick football that left the visitors on the end of a winning margin that probably flattered them a bit.

The first ten minutes were pretty even: Hornets probing and testing the Skolars defence with little success. But a repeat set on the back of some sustained pressure saw Gary Middlehurst burrow in from close range.

Hornets' next attack saw a move of Harlem Globetrotters proportions as a break from Paul O'Connor left the defence scrambling, his neat pass found Steve Roper in support. With defenders gathering, he flipped the ball round his back for Wayne English to collect and a tidy turn of pace saw him plant the ball by the flag. Great stuff.

Aided by a couple of penalities, London rallied briefly: swift hands down the line saw Price score out wide, but Hornets restored the ten point margin when Stephen Bannister broke and his pass was snaffled by Paul O'Connor for a well-taken try.
Half time 14-4.

Hornets began the second half at a much smarter pace and with a much more direct attitude: Crook and Roper threading snappy short passes to straight runners and looking to move the second phase wide at every opportunity. London, conversely, strove to slow every play-the-ball to a standstill.

On 52 minutes, Bannister and Roper tore through a back-pedalling defense, the ball finding its way to Phil Wood who hit the gas to find himself spoilt for options with only the fullback to beat. Middlehurst was the recipient of the pass that got the points - but Woody was cynically felled after the event and, after some lengthy treatment, left the field. Skolars' fullback Anthony followed - red-carded for use of the elbow.

Having had enough of London's blunt-instrument tactics, Hornets used the man advantage to take the pace of the game beyond London's ability to cling on.
With props Cookson, Hobson and Bowman making big in-roads in the tackle, Crooky and Roper found willing runners out wide and - after some near misses - another block-busting break from Bannister fed Steve McDermott in just after the hour mark.

Skolars were a busted flush, blowing hard and hanging onto every tackle for as long as referee Sharrad would allow. Hornets continued to move the ball, with Roper finding Hobson arriving at pace, the makeshift prop picking his pass to send Bannister in for a deserved try. Then it was Roper again creating space to send in Gary Middlehurst for his hat-trick and give Hornets a victory that reflected their dominance.

Whilst there is plenty of room for improvement, this was a good benchmark. Certainly, given enough latitude to use the ball smartly, Crook and Roper created lots of options for a threequarter line that looks to have pace as well as size.

Notwithstanding the completely pointless game against SW Scorpions on Wednesday night - this should provide a good platform for our trip to Whitehaven (who were brutally dicked at Doncaster).

As for the Skolars, let's hope they've learned their lesson - that going out to spoil a game spoils it for everyone.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Billy Bragg: Which Side Are You On?

This government had an idea and parliament made it law
It seems like it's illegal To fight for the union any more.
Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?
Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?
Billy Bragg: Back to Basics, 1987

Back in 'Thatcher's 80s', Billy bragg was the (singing) voice of working class dissent. Armed only with a guitar, a radical left-wing attitude and Woody Guthrie's politcal lyricism wrapped in an estuarine Essex drawl, he was the music business' social conscience - a true people's poet.

Back then I was educated, agitated and organised, against everything, everywhere all the time  - and Bragg provided the soundtrack as a beaten generation buckled under the repeated blows of a brutal Conservative government.

Billy Bragg's albums formed the backbone of my early record collection - and seeing him spit passionate vitriol as a staple of the never-ending strike-benefit gig circuit was inspiring. If you had a guitar and something to say, you could get up and say it. 'Sticking it to the man' was now a form of expressive art. It was uplifting; liberating.

But Bragg wasn't just a left wing propagandist. Beneath the politics and the polemic beat a sensitive heart. And 'New England' was his anthem describing the crooked arc of real-life heartbreak in a society where everyone loses.

It was a clenched fist in a woolly glove. A sweet punch that hit you where it really hurt.

Fast forward 25 years and what's really changed? As an essentially Conservative Government crafts policies designed to make the poorest, most vulnerable in society pay for the excesses of the greedy, the stupid, the corporate and the criminal, you'd imagine that the stage was set for Bragg to pick up his guitar and play.

Well he has, but this time he's changed sides - soundtracking the new Lucozade Sport advertising campaign which features one of England's most discriminatory establishment bodies of the last century - the English Rugby Football Union.

Let's not forget that the 1895 split in the Rugby Codes was essentially an industrial dispute. The payment by clubs for 'broken time' compensating working-class players for missing work to play on a Saturday was seen as a crime of professionalism by the RFU. And they issued discriminatory sanctions against clubs, players and officials involved in Rugby League - until Union itself took the professional shilling in 1995 -  a full century after the formation of the Northern Union.

But the discrimination against League continued: as recently as 2005, a memorandum of the all party Parliamentary Rugby league Group to the Select Committee on Public Administration stated:

"Rugby League continues to be held back by what can only be described as a continuing inbuilt "establishment" bias against the sport. We see this in particular in the way it is treated by the London based national media and in other areas such as the honours system"

"Our members have a wide range of opinions on these matters but we are united in our view that rugby league as a sport is being quite blatantly discriminated against within the current arrangements."

"In light of the historical evidence that the game has throughout most of its existence had to battle against quite open hostility from what might be described as the British establishment, we believe that the treatment of rugby league within the honours system is an excellent example of the way such a system can be argued to exacerbate social divisions."

And if that's not enough, let's not forget that the Union code in France sided with the Vichy Government to criminalise League and strip it of its assets in an attempt to wipe it from the sporting map. W. Mann's review of Mike Rylance's book "The Forbidden Game: The Untold Story of French Rugby League" summarises:

"The French Rugby Union's collusion with the Nazi-backed Vichy Government to ban Rugby League is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of sport."

"It all but destroyed a sport that was, at the time, threatening to overtake rugby union in popularity terms, even though league was only introduced to France six years earlier. Had league continued its meteoric rise, the map of world rugby - and I mean both codes - might today be very different."

"Yet there is still a sense of denial about what happened to Rugby League in France, and even today, the game is discriminated against - try asking the Catalans Dragons about their difficulties sharing a supposedly municipal stadium with union club Perpignan."

For Billy Bragg to align himself with the English RFU is to concede that he  - after hoodwinking us all - has chosen which side he's on. The 'Union' he fights for these days has carefully cultivated its place as the sport of the establishment; and has wielded its substantiual influence against a sport rooted in a working-class fight for fair-treatment, fair pay and a fair hearing.

Values that Billy Bragg once claimed. And which - fittingly, given his new allegiance - he seems to have kicked firmly into touch.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Look Out! Here Come: London Skolars

There's only one London League club with any real credibility at the moment - and it's not the Broncos.

London Skolars' last minute defeat to Halifax last week - having led for 79 minutes - made everyone sit up and take notice. Coach Joe Mbu (in the running for the shortest name in Rugby League) captured the mood succinctly: "This will change the perception of a side that people just turn up and beat."

Certainly Karl Harrison recognised that Halifax allowed the Skolars to control the ruck speed and dictate the pace of the game, but they seem to have gained some steel on defence too, after shipping 80 points in their previous two NRC games against Batley and SW Scorpions.

The Skolars' main threat has always come from from the vastly experienced Neil Thorman at half-back and their two established strike-weapons in Austin Aggrey and Ade Adebesi. But Mbu has added some heavy duty back-up with Ben Bolger, Lamont Bryan, Rob Thomas and Joe Ridley joining on dual-registration terms from London Broncos. They have have also drafted in Sydney A-grade second-row Brad Hopkins from NSW Group 6 grand finalists Campbelltown Eagles.

Certainly, as season openers go, this will be no walkover - but having played for three weeks against higher division opposition, Hornets will have some valuable learnings in the locker.

The kick, bollock and scramble to get out of CC1 starts here. A 6 month dogfight that will make our division THE competition to watch in 2012.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Warren Piece

It's our almost midweek look at what the opposition coach said about last weekend's game. But when we scoured the West Yorkshire press for pearls of Warren Jowitt's wisdom, they were harder to find than a blade of grass on Dewsbury's swamp-like pitch.

So we had to look to the Rugby League press to find out his view.

In the League Express he was happy: "It was very pleasing… " he said (clearly delighted to have seen his side make it to the 62nd minute before clocking off this week). In the League Weekly he made a case for getting a new watch for his birthday: "I got a 70 minute performance today…" he said "… overall, I'm pleased…".  Only another ten minutes to find, then.

He was less happy with the Tetley's Stadium pitch (so named because it's small, square and cuts up like a wet tea-bag, perhaps?).

 "… (the conditions) were really bad, it was like a quagmire out there…" he squelched in the League Express. In League Weekly he was more taciturn: "Conditions weren't the best…"

The game wasn't the best either, to be honest. In a competition that's not the best.

Now - let's get on with the real business...

Monday, 5 March 2012

Persistence is Futile

Dewsbury 32 Hornets 10

As an exercise in futility, this game ticked all the boxes. Two teams with no chance of  qualification put out much-changed teams to scrap out 80 minutes of pointless football on a quagmire of a pitch in dreadful conditions. Is it any wonder that the Northern Rail Cup lackes either attraction or credibility amongst the majority of Championship clubs.

Stanky gave debuts to six players, played at least three regulars out of position and was left seething when a rush of injuries left him with no subs in the last quarter of the game.

So far, so bad, then. 

As for the game, it was a low-key mudfest in which Dewsbury played the tight pitch and deteriorating conditions better. Indeed, they were off the mark in the first minute when a stalling Hornets defence allowed Walker to catch a hopeful bomb and smuggle the ball wide for Faal to score.

The Rams next attack seemed to be going nowhere until Spaven hoisted a kick more in hope than expectation. With all players following its flight into the in-goal, the ball bounced back off the upright into the hands of prop Crossley who gratefully grounded it at his feet. Freakish. 12-nil.

For the next 20 minutes Hornets clawed their way into the game, forcing repeat sets on two occasions and testing a stern Derwsbury defence for little reward.

Having held-firm, Dewsbury schlepped their way downfield and two quick tries courtesy of slick hands in the threequarters (from Esders and Akaidere), sent the home side in 22-nil up at the break, though they never looked particularly comfortable.

But the Rams began the second half with real pace and purpose. Direct running, smart offloads and clinical finishing saw Akaidere and Craven stretch their lead to 32-nil by the 50th minute, but then - they simply stopped! Hornets seized the opportunity and took the game to Dewsbury. 

With the game compressed in the middle third, the home side looked out of ideas - and Hornets the more likely to create an opening. It came in the 63rd minute when Jonny Leather capped his debut with a well taken try wide on the left.

This heralded Hornets' most cohesive phase of the game, sub John Cookson causing havoc with some blockbusting runs and debutant Paul Brearley ripping in on defence. Too enthusiastically for referee Mr Kidd, who dispatched him to the sin-bin for a chicken-wing tackle at the behest of his intervening touch-judge. 700 people shook their heads in bemusement.

Going down to 12 didn't halt Hornets' progress. And when Steve McDermott hounded a bobbling ball 30 metres through a flapping Rams defence to touch down after 75 minutes, we had a second half of 10-all and Hornets dogged pride restored.

And so we look for the positives from this year's 'No-one Cares Cup' odyssey.

With other teams going shit or bust to get out of CC1 this year, any sliver of advantage should be gratefully received. Having played three games against higher-division opposition, Hornets should hit the ground in good shape to compete with teams of similar status. And London Skolars at Spotland next week, will provide a more accurate benchmark.

Beyond that, we have quite possibly the ultimate exercise in pointlessness when the RFL compels South Wales Scorpions to travel the length of the country to play a dead-rubber in front of 200 people on a Wednesday night. There is a precedent in this competition for a game between two teams with nothing to play for being discreetly voided. Indeed, one might argue that forcing both teams to incur cost and the risk of injuries in a game that means nothing will damage the credibility of the competition greater than drawing a line under this phase of the competition.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

It's a crazy plan, but it just might work...

As the NRL kicks off with a nail-biting one point win for the Dragons, there's only one question on every League fan's lips this weekend: can Hornets actually qualify for the next stage of the Northern Rail Cup?

The answer is - possibly. Maybe not. But possibly...

Admittedly, it's not entirely in our hands.

Keighley are in the last qualifying spot on 6 points and a + 18 difference.

On Sunday they play Oldham who are on -70 - so a narrow Oldham win at Keighley would give them 6 points and a minus points difference (and reduce Keighley's points difference slightly).

London Skolars  and the Scorpions have 3 points each, with two games to play - so they need to gain fewer than 3 points from their remaining games. Skolars play 'Fax on Sunday and the Scorpions have yet to come to us.

Hornets have no points and a -56 difference (better than either Dewsbury and Oldham). Say Oldham beat Keighley by 8 points, leaving them on +10, we would need to gain six points and better the +10 difference to get into 4th place.

So, given that the other results go in our favour, a ten point winning margin against Dewsbury would leave us needing to beat the Scorpions by 57 points  (46 + 11) to nick 4th.

It's not over till the fat lady sings.