Monday, 30 April 2012

In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can...

Hornets 6 - Doncaster 38

Voltaire said: "Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe". As such, faith can be a fragile thing.

No matter how deeply ingrained your beliefs, it sometimes takes the slightest of knocks to make you question why we're all here at all. But while we all have doubts sometimes, we have to go back to the fundaments of who we are as individuals and as a collective to find the reasons we ever came to believe in the first place.

It's hard to find reassurance from a game like this, as Hornets started slowly and faded away. Second best team by a considerable distance and looking less than the sum of its parts, Hornets fumbled, flapped and frustrated as Doncaster got to grips with the challenging conditions, kept it tight and simple and took their chances - most of which came from Paul Cooke kicks which, in the slippery conditions, caused repeated havoc in a lackadaisical Hornets defence.

The first came after 12 minutes and had a hint of the freak-show about it: Cooke looked to fluff his attampted grubber, the ball ricocheted into the in-goal and Kelly was most alert to dive in and score.

To their credit, Hornets had the bulk of the next 20 minutes, camped close to the Doncaster line but unable to capitalise on multiple repeat sets, once again lacking the killer pass or kick to unlock the visitors' defence.

In contrast, having ridden out the storm, Doncaster took the ball upfield twice in three minutes and came back with tries - Cooke scooting through some poor tackling, Kelly off a short-pass four tackles after the kick-off.

Half time 16-nil.

Hornets began the second half with noticeably more purpose. With just two minutes gone Chris Baines burrowed in from a metre. Paul Crook added the two against a swirling wind and it looked like the catalyst Hornets had been looking for.

Indeed, they produced the game's one scintillating passage of fluid football as Paul Crook fed Danny Davies into space, he fed a neat ball wide to Tony Stewart who sucked in the cover to pop the ball back inside for Phil Wood who uncharacteristically fumbled with a clear run to the posts begging.

It was the let-off Doncaster needed and the confidence crushing blow that sent Hornets back into their shell. Needless to say, Doncaster marched straight back downfield with the resulting possession, where Waterman ghosted through a static defence to touch-down a Cooke kick.

So impressed were they by the simplicity of its execution, they repeated the feat four minutes later and - at 26-6 -  Hornets were left desperately pursuing a fast-departing bonus. In vain.

Playing unspectacular, but effective percentage football off the back of yards gained through a string of needless penalties, Doncaster re-ran the now familiar kick-chase-try plan, this time Ely was the provider and Kesik the recipient.

And there was just enough time remaining for Fawcett to blast a hole in a now shattered Hornets defence and round Paul O'Connor to wrap up the scoring. Beautifully executed, but hard to watch.

Undoubtedly, Hornets are looking low on confidence at the moment and Stanky is clearly unhappy with his lot. In the RL press this morning he's quoted as saying: "A few people need to look at themselves and I'm not just talking about the playing side either. The club needs to decide what kind of direction it wants to go in, because from my point of view I'm doing everything I can. I'm massively considering my future at the moment because some things need to change."

Whatever change is required, everyone needs to pull in the same direction. We have the bulk of the squad that performed so admirably last season, with additions that should make us stronger. But the last couple of weeks have seen results that would knock the confidence of the best of teams.

In a situation where everyone involved needs a bit of self-belief, we have to believe that Hornets can do much better than this. So let's all take a step back, take a deep breath and keep the faith. Because without that, what do any of us have?

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Look Out Here Come: Doncaster

Sunday sees the ostensibly free-scoring Doncaster come to Spotland. 4 wins from 5, the first team in CC1 to hit 200 points, the most meagre defence in the league, the biggest points difference. But closer examination reveals them to be less of a juggernaut than the stats suggest.

Apart from a stunning opening day win against Whitehaven, they've gone on to beat strugglers Gateshead (shipping 22 in the process), Skolars and SW Scorpions, Their defeat came when they faded in the 2nd half to lose 25 to 8 at Barrow.

Whilst the Dons have, this week, shored up their promotion push with the dual registration signing of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats centre Danny Cowling, they were the source of the season's highest profile signing story when they signed East Yorkshire's enigmatic Enfant Terrible Paul Cooke.

Having pumped fans and sponsors to raise the necessary cash, pretty much everyone was amazed when Cooke - a Challenge Cup winner with Hull FC in 2005, who'd been sat at home watching daytime TV after being released by both Hull KR and Wakefield Trinity in 2010 - signed a one-year contract at the Keepmoat.

Whether it proves to be a case of Donny putting all of their eggs in one basket-case remains to be seen and it'll be interesting to measure Cooke's influence on the team - particularly as, thus far, he's only got over the whitewash against 'Haven; though he has proven fairly effective with the boot.

Quoted on earlier this month Cooke says that he's re-discovered his appetite for the game.

"The enjoyment of the game has come back for me. As a professional sometimes you can lose sight of the reasons you play the game with all the extra pressures that come with it but the lads at Doncaster all play the game for the right reasons and my love of the game has returned."
Good for him - let's hope he doesn't enjoy Sunday too much.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Gazza Ban Cut To Four

Gary Middlehurst's ban has been reduced from 6 matches to 4 on appeal. 
On Twitter Stanky says he's "Reasonably happy", but  feels that the reduction is "... still inconsistent to other bans given recently".

Maybe if he'd kicked the bloke's head clean off he'd only have got three games?

Monday, 23 April 2012

Holt Will Tear us Apart (Again)

Barrow 44 - Hornets 18

Every game has a turning point: a fulcrum around which momentum, fortune and confidence shifts. For Hornets it arrived on the 45 minute mark with what, at the time, seemed an insigificant blip in an otherwise confident, cohesive performance.

What came before had been tight, and intriguing; a first half arm-wrestle with both sides showing determined defence. Barrow had started brightly, an early try by Low edging them ahead, but Hornets slowly, steadily dragged the game back in their direction, rewarded on 24 minutes when Paul Crook followed Steve McDermott's scuttling break to send Danny Davies in and lock-up the scores at 6-all.

Both sides blew further chances with last passes that went awry: Barrow flinging the ball away with the line at their mercy, Hornets rushing downfield, Crook's pass to Dale Bloomfield deemed forward.

With neither team able to find the killer break, the half-time hooter saw the game teasingly poised at 6-all.

Hornets began the second half with a bang. Playing high-tempo football they drove a harried Raiders defence backwards. Slick passing and stepping in traffic saw Wayne English combine with Paul O'Connor, who found Paul Crook arriving at pace. O'Connor's pass threaded Crook into space and he out-paced the chasing defence to score under the black dot. His conversion a formality, Hornets had seized the initiative at 12-6.

But what happened next shaped the remainder of the game. Hornets shuttled the ball back downfield via a series of block-busting forward drives. And as the home defence stretched and flapped, a desperate reaching arm to the left of the posts became a high tackle. Two points here would mean daylight between the teams; Barrow compelled to chase the game, needing two scores to regain the lead. Two points seemed the logical choice; simple kick, get the ball back, maintain the momentum.

But the otherwise reliable Crook slotted the penalty wide. Barrow exhaled in relief. Off the hook, they grew in confidence and the game was irreversibly changed.

By the time Hornets troubled the scoreboard again in the 77th minute, Barrow had crashed in 6 tries. What had been a game of inches became an irresistible tsunami of blue-shirts. Orchestrated by the boot of Daren Holt, Barrow swept through the Hornets defence in waves. 32 points in the space of 18 minutes washed the game away from Hornets - Ballard backing up a huge 50 metre break, Larkin overlapping by the flag, Holt lofting the ball into the stride of Nixon, Campbell stepping through disoriented defenders. And the coup de grace, a booming 40/20 kicked fully 100 metres diagonally across the field by Holt; Holt himself the pivot on a runaround from the resulting scrum, sending in Campbell.

This was an implosion of cataclysmic proportions. For fully 20 minutes, Hornets didn't see the ball; either chasing increasingly elusive shadows, kicking off back into an increasingly confident Raiders or stood beneath their crossbar.

When Hornets did get the ball, they marched straight down the field where Steve McDermott scooted in to score. Crook's conversion from almost the same spot as the doomed 45th minute penalty made it 38-18.

There was just time for Ballard to break 60 metres through centre field, going back for a pass from Campbell to loop around a static defence and score. Holt underlined his quality banging over the extras from the touchline. Devastating.

When Hornets took their positions for the 20 metre drop-out in the 46th minute, no-one in the ground anticipated what would happen next. Hornets fans can discuss whether taking a tap, building pressure, compelling Barrow to do more tackling under their own posts would've been a better option than taking the two; but it'd be a moot point. At the time, Barrow were on the rack and an 8 point margin would've taken the game in another direction.

What we can can be sure of is that Barrow used their 'get out of jail' card in devastating fashion and as their confidence grew, Hornets' ebbed away. Ultimately, the real mystery is how a game so taut could deteriorate into such a horror-show. And from that wider perspective, the turning point of this game becomes far less of a significant factor.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Hornets Ready to Push Barrow

John Cookson, Dave Newton, Dayne Donoghue and Paul Crook will be back in the squad at Barrow while Dean Gorton has an outside chance of playing after recently recovering from a dislocated shoulder. 

Stanky's said: "You've got to fight fire with fire when you go up there. You've got to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in, and I'll be starting with a very, very large pack."

Our best guess: Newton, Wood, Cookson in the front row, Bannister and Baines in the second row with Donohue at Loose forward. Braddish, Ekis, Bowman and McDermott on the bench.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Look Out Here Come: Barrow

This week Hornets make their way to the end of Britain's longest cul-de-sac, Barrow.

The Raiders find themselves in Rugby League's own backwater following the deduction of their entire 2011 season's points tally, having been found guilty of salary cap breaches and illegal player payments between 2007 and 2011. Or as we call it at TLCRF80mins Towers 'cheating'.

Having comitted a 'systemic breach' of RFL operational rules C.1.1.7 (failing to record in player contracts all financial benefits or benefits in kind that a player is receiving), C.1.1.11 (no club or club official shall loan money or goods or make payment or provide any benefit in kind to a player unless they are recorded in the player’s contract) and D1.8 (f) (misconduct by committing a breach of Championship salary cap Regulations), the former Billy Big Potatoes of the Championship finds itself slumming it in CC1.
And April's not been the best of months for Barrow - beaten twice in 15 days at Whitebank in twin league and cup defeats to Oldham. That's gotta hurt.
The Raiders sit just a point above Hornets in the league table with an inferior points difference. Having scored just a point fewer, Barrow have shipped 76 points in four league games - so indications of a leaky defence.
Having had a revolving door in the coach's office for the last few years, Barrow are currently coached by peripatetic Cumbrian half-back legend Darren Holt - who becomes their 10th coaching appointment in five years (three last season alone - and his predecessor Dave Clark on four separate occasions. Plus, in 2009, Steve Deakin for six whole weeks. We know how that goes…).
We digress… the new boss agrees his side have a few issues when they don't have the ball. After their cup exit against Oldham he said: “There were too many people who went missing in the second half, physically, in defence and that is something that is going to have to be looked at unfortunately… I thought our right-hand side defence defended very well and most of their tries came on the left-hand side, which has to be looked at."
In addition to the wily Holt, Barrow's is a squad built around home-grown Cumbrian talent - the stand-out thus far in 2012 has been former Ulverston amateur Daniel Toal who's been getting rave reviews at loose forward. Supplementing Barrow's 'shop local' policy is Welsh international forward Andy Bracek. In addition to his 7 Caps for Wales, he has Super League experience with  St Helens, Warrington and Crusaders. An interesting inclusion in the squad is Andries Venter, a South African Ex-*nion prop who arrived via Kendal - so a Cumbrian by association.
There's no doubting that this Barrow side looks like a Cumbrian Rep team, and with Holt at the helm will be a tough proposition on home turf. But Craven Park has been a graveyard for too long for Hornets and we're long overdue a win.
See you there.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The RFL Disciplinary Has Gone Ban-anas

Hornets are to appeal Gary Middlehurst's six match ban for kicking and punching during the North Wales Crusaders game on April 1.
Stanky is quoted as saying: "In light of recent disciplinary hearings, and their findings, Rochdale Hornets will be appealing against the six match ban given to Gary Middlehurst. The basis of this appeal with specifically focus upon the inconsistency of the sentence that was handed down, in comparison to bans that have been handed out over the past few days."
Specifically, we assume,  Rangi Chase's risible three match 'rest' after smashing Fev winger Tangi Ropati's jaw at Post Office Road on Saturday. If you missed it - here it is: brace yourself, it's a shocker...

Monday, 16 April 2012

Hornets Lose In The Battle for Challenge Cup's Soul

Leigh 68  Hornets 18

With all the atmosphere of an asteroid and the aesthetic qualities of an Eastern European substation, the ridiculously-named Leigh Sports Village provided a suitably soulless environment for this hard-to-watch encounter, in a competition that has clearly passed its sell-by date.

The 'magic' of the cup was hard to find here as an understrength Hornets shorn of Gorton, Crook, Roper, Cookson, Newton and Donohue battled in vain against a Leigh side that were bigger, stronger, faster and sharper in every department - except right centre where Stuart Littler continues to tout his own unique style of comedy football.

Indeed, having conceded three early tries from Ridyard, Briscoe and Brierley, it was through Littler's centre channel that Hornets worked their spectacular opening try. Adam Bowman gathered a loose ball one handed and in the same movement slipped a neat reverse pass to Phil Wood; the ball was worked smartly across the line where Anthony Stewart and Wayne English made space for Stephen Bannister to outpace the cover to score.

Almost immediately, Hornets produced a copy-cat move, this time Stewart feeding English into space. Rather than back himself for the line, Wayne's delicate chip over the defence fell fortuitously into the arms of a grateful full-back and Leigh marched back upfield where slick handling gave Littler a walk-in. Most disappointing.

Leigh continued to press, bombing two or three good opportunities. And Hornets' blushes were saved when Wayne English mopped up after some very ordinary defence, pulling off the tackle of the game when Ridyard and the ball were summarily dispatched into touch inches from the corner flag.

Against the run of play, Hornets took the ball upfield where Steve McDermott slotted Stephen Lucas over by the posts on the end of a pinpoint flat-pass. Littler was put on report for dissent.

Half time 26-12 and a pretty fair reflection of the game.

The second half started controversially. Jonny Leather executed a perfectly timed one-on-one tackle on Leigh's McNally, but referee Leatherbarrow was the only person in the stadium to interpret it as a spear tackle (the fact that McNally was never past the vertical didn't seem to matter too much). Leigh hoofed the penalty downfield where Hopkins rushed in to score through a retreating defence. 

With Chris Baines carried limping from the field after an un-punished 'spear-like' tackle (identical to Leather's effort, with added afters), Hornets struggled to get back  into shape. Two more back-to-back tries from Brierley and Littler (who showboated under the posts, gesticulating to the scattering of Leigh fans) stretched the Centurions' lead - but Hornets didn't buckle.

Having worked the ball to within 20 metres of the Leigh posts, debutant Will Chadwick's dainty grubber came back of the post for Paul O'Connor to gather and score. Chris Hough added the extras.

The last quarter was a damage-limitation exercise, a tiring Hornets struggling to make ground; Leigh working their way through a flagging defence at regular intervals with further tries from Hopkins, Brierley and Gardner.

At the final hooter, the Leigh fans celebrated wildly; the noisy Hornets contingent applauding their battle-worn team from the field.

But, whilst we can talk about bravery and determination and 'gutsy' performances, this was a mismatch that was never likely to yield an upset - and this is the nature of the Challnge Cup these days: CC1 teams batter the amateurs, Championship teams batter CC1 teams and Super League teams batter Championship (unless, of course, you're Castleford). Every team in the competition waits in-line for its turn to get flogged, patronised and collect an ever-shrinking pay-day.

It's not too long since Hornets were kicking seven shades out of Leigh at Hilton park - but the creeping compartmentalisation of Rugby League has widened the gulf between each division and the Challenge Cup has become the lens through which this inequality has become magnified.

In a game that has been structured to benefit the strong and disenfranchise the rest, there's very little left of value in the Challenge Cup. When fans of clubs like ours are praying for a draw that will see their team flogged by 70 or 80 points, you have to question the validity and the sanity of it all.

And for a competition that was once the heart and soul of our game, that's a very sad state of affairs.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Good Friday Gone Bad

Five Oldham players were referred to the RFL Disciplinary following their side's defeat in Good Friday's bad-tempered 'Battle of Spotland'.

Consequently, John Clough faces a charge of  'Conduct against the spirit of the game (barging player into wall) in the 80th minute', classified as a Grade E offence which carries a ban of up to 8 weeks.

Jamie Dallimore faces a Grade A fighting charge, as does Martn Roden. Danny Whitmore faces a Grade C 'sustained punching' charge. Alex Thompson who was yellow carded in a clear case of mistaken identity was also reported, but found not guilty. Hopefully that clears up Tony Benson's Wenger-esque 'confusion'.

Hornets Adam Bowman is also charged with the Grade A offence of fighting, though - in his defence - he was somewhat outnumbered.

Gazza Hit For Six

Hornets Gary Middlehurst  has been hit with a 6 match suspension and a £50 fine for kicking out in the recent flogging of NW Crusaders at Wrexham. The RFL Disciplinary described it as "… an ugly incident " which caused "…  an ugly melee". 

In summary: ugly.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Look Out Here Come: Leigh

Don't leave it there - it'll get knocked over!

Coached these days by ex Leigh, Halifax, Huddersfield and England hooker Paul Rowley,  the Centurions stand between Hornets and the possibility of another underwhelming Challenge Cup tie. 

Having caned Swinton 38 to 4 last weekend, Leigh have hauled themselves up to 4th bottom in the Championship in what has been an unconvincing start to the campaign.

Whilst a couple of  30 point wins against teams below them in the league has inflated their points-for tally, their cup journey hasn't been too convincing thus far - shipping points galore in their 26-43 third round win at Skolars (the drop goal speaking volumes here - taken at 42-20, with Skolars finishing stronger).

A cursory glance down the Centurions squad indicates workmanlike qualities rather than a flair for the spectacular.

Alongside ex-Hornet Michael Ostick, the Leigh pack contains the Centurions' best bet for a 12-man finish, Ricky Bibey. Twixt the props is ex-Halifax stalwart Bob Beswick. It also seems that Leigh are currently the club facing the challenge of shoe-horning Tommy Gallagher into an XXL jersey. Good luck with that.

And it also looks like Leigh Sports Village is doubling up as a retirement home for Super League players you haven't heard of since the 40-20 rule was introduced - in particular Stuart Littler and Rob Parker.

Had Hornets travelled to LSV at full strength, this could well have looked like the competition's best bet for an upset, but with Roper, Crook and Middlehurst missing, the chance of a shock might have fallen as far as evens.

Stanky's up for the upset too: “Leigh have everything to lose in this game and they will have to be on their guard against us. We play our best on open, expansive pitches as we like to throw the ball around and utilise the speed of our team and Leigh’s pitch will suit us perfectly. We caused problems for Castleford last season and we were in the lead for 20 minutes so we know we can do a job and Leigh are well within our sights.”

Tickets can be bought at the ticket office on the day - so get there early and avoid the queues. Choices are seats in the West Stand or stood up behind the posts where you'll see nowt. West Stand (seating) Adult £15; Concession £8; Under 16's £5; Under 12's £1.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Benson Boils It Down

In our occasional almost midweek look back at the previous weekend's game through the eyes of the opposition coach, we find Tony Benson able to summarise the game in just 24 words.
"… we didn’t play well enough and we didn’t deserve to win. Our attack didn’t function and there were long periods when we looked lost.”
Yep - that just about covers it. Hope you had a lovely Easter.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Hornets Win Derby Battle of the Biff

Hornets 18 Oldham 10

No-one likes a bad loser. And in this simmering derby Oldham were bad; they lost; and they didn't like it.

Hornets got off to the best of starts. Danny Davies creating space down the left after six minutes to put Wayne English in at the corner as Oldham's talismanic stand-off Roden limped from the game.

Oldham responded after 13 minutes when Oldham worked the ball to Onyango to score by the flag.

As the half descended into a stop-start, penalty-strewn mess, Hornets regrouped quickest and a 60 metre break from Dale Bloomfield caused disarray in Oldham's defence, where Johnny Leather and and Dayne Donohue exchanged quick passes to send Davies in on 25 minutes.

Hornets' lead could've been extended almost immediately when Donohue was adjudged to have lost control of the ball as he stretched for the goal-line.

Looking comfortable, Hornets switched off late in the tackle count and, with Thompson taking advantage to score by the posts, Oldham - somehow - found themselves 10-8 up at the break having been clear second best for most of the first half. It would be the last time they'd trouble the scoreboard.

Hornets emerged for the second half in determined mood and it took just five minutes for the dominant Hornets pack to provide a platform for their third try. Quick last-tackle hands from Phil Wood and Chris Hough sent Chris Baines on an arcing run, out-flanking a retreating defence to score. 12-10.

With the penalty count continuing to tick-over (it ended 9-10), both teams opted to run the ball in an attempt to gain momentum. Despite the best efforts of the overworked Dallimore, Oldham's flagging pack were visibly out of steam and ideas - ultimately punished when Steve McDermott hit them with an acting-half sucker try off the back of a blockbusting run from Gary Middlehurst. 16-10.

With Cookson and Middlehurst now punching holes in the Oldham line, Hornets trooped back upfield and Chris Hough gratefully accepted a simple penalty to put daylight between the teams at 18-10.

And then the pressure valve blew.

Dallimore's looping kick off was regathered by Oldham, Adam Bowman was penalised for a high tackle on Thompson, and - with Whitmore rushing in swinging punches - the referee was left picking the bones out of a 26-man brawl.

Tony Benson has since said he was 'confused' by the outcome, so I'll type slowly to explain. Referee Hewer gave a penalty to Oldham for the initial high tackle offence; he then showed the yellow card - wrongly - to Thompson for punching in the aftermath (it was clearly a case of mistaken identity). Pretty straightforward from where I was sat.

Hornets parked the bus and, with Dallimore fading, were happy to soak-up what pressure Oldham were able to muster, repeatedly forcing them back-upfield with a series of well-executed kick-chases.

But this game had a particularly nasty sting in the tail. As the hooter blew, Adam Bowman carried the ball to the touchline to end proceedings - pursued by Oldham's Clough. In a fit of pique, Clough pushed Bowman from behind into the perimeter advertising hoarding: and - as the Hornets medical team worked on him at pitch-side - the remaining 25 players scrapped it out as Hornets sought retribution for this act of gross petulance. Referee Hewer placed the incident on report and both teams - and coaching teams - continued their 'forthright exchange of views' as they eventually left the field.

Ultimately, Oldham were out-muscled in pretty much every position and Dallimore was 'old-headed' by Chris Hough who expended every ounce of his experience in the Hornets cause. But the Karl Marriott trophy for the Hornets man of the match went to Gary Middlehurst who was the pick of a determined, hard-running pack.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Stanky's Pumped

From the RFL Championship 1 preview:
Bullish Rochdale Hornets coach John Stankevitch insists he is not fazed by Oldham's 100 per cent start to the Co-operative Championship One season.
Stankevitch said: “I don't buy into it. I've got the utmost respect for every team in this division, but three wins out of three means nothing to me. On our day we're the best team in this division, without a doubt.
“There's nobody in the Oldham team that I'd sign and put into our team. There's nobody I'd take over the lads we've already got here.
“The journalists and bookies can come up with their odds, and according to the bookies we're pencilled in to finish fifth or sixth, but we think we're a pretty good team.”
Jesus - even I'm fired up to play: bring it on!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Watch Out Here Come: Oldham.

A cursary glance at the league table shows Oldham steaming away with three wins from three, but a closer look at the details raises questions.

Certainly it's worth asking whether having played two of their three games at the somewhat challenging Whitebank has given them an early advantage. 

Having scored fewer points than Hornets and having conceded more, their stats indicate workmanlike qualities rather than a free-flowing threat - and a propensity to leak points.

Indeed, when you look at their games, Oldham have won in perfunctory fashion rather than with panache. Grinding out a 10 point win at Workington on day one was impressive, a 26 point beating of Gateshead anticipated, an eventual 22-14 win over Egremont in the Cup underwhelming. Last week saw a six point margin in a 58 point thriller against Barrow, after which Tony Benson said: "Our goal in each game is to concede no more than 17 points, so it hurts to let in 26. Nevertheless, our defence carried us through. One day our attack will come good as well and it will be interesting to see what happens then."

One imagines it'll be improved on Friday by the return of Neil Roden - a perpetual and near unplayable thorn in Hornets side for too many years to remember. But this year, Oldham's attacking threat is supplemented by the mercurial Wiganer Jamie Dallimore, who trialled for Hornets in the Blackpool 9's in 2009.

Ultimately, though, you can chuck the form-book out of the window for this one. As usual, the only Good Friday derby that really matters at each end of the A627M will be tense, passionate and full-blooded. We wouldn't want it any other way.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Sons of Bend-O'er

Crusaders 18 - Hornets 54

Don't be April-fooled by the scoreline. Apart from two five minute purple patches, the Crusaders never really got to grips with Hornets and were on the receiving end of a good old-fashioned flogging. 

Post Match, John Stankevich said that the scoreline flattered the home side and he was right. But six minutes in, with Crusaders leading 4-nil from a straightforward ball-through-hands try, not one of the delerious home fans could've anticipated the almighty spanking to come.

On 15 minutes Adam Bowman got an arm free in the tackle, Steve McDermott showed some tidy soccer skills and his pass inside to Paul O'Connor put Hornets on the board and silenced the home crown. Chris Baines added the extras and Hornets were up and running.

Labouring under an increasingly lop-sided penalty count, Hornets soaked up what little pressure the Crusaders could muster, but the Welsh side's impotent jabbing came to nothing and Hornets strode downfield where Steve Roper threaded Mark Hobson onto a short ball to stretch the lead. Hornets were denied a try almost immediately afterwards when Dave Newton was adjudged to have been held-up over the line.

Stanky's introduction of new signing Phil Braddish  caused chaos in the home side's ranks as his block-busting direct approach had them retreating every time he carried the ball. He got his reward on half an hour when he bulldozed through fro short range, exposing the Crusaders' paper-thin goal-line defence.

On the next set in the home-side's half Hornets compounded the misery; Phil Wood taking advantage of a tired defence, Hobson on his shoulder to take the ball on into space, drawing the full-back to send Roper scampering in with winger Wilkes desperately clinging to his legs.

With half time approaching, Hornets conjured up the try of the half; the ball worked wide to Dale Bloomfield on the last tackle, Bloomfield sprinting into space with the presence of mind to dink a kick beyond the approaching fulback for Johnny Leather to gather and score. Only one set of fans singing: the Crusaders drum silent; half time 28-4.

The second half looked a lot like the first. An early Baines penalty stretching Hornets' lead before Steve McDermott found Chris Hough who squeezed past defenders to score on 50 minutes.

Hornets were forced into a re-shuffle at half back when Roper left the field with a leg injury - Houghy goung to Scrum Half; Leather to stand-off.  But before either had the chance to play themselves in, all hell broke loose as Gary Middlehurst and Crusaders' Morrison exchanged blows and were dismissed; Middlehurst accused of kicking out at the player on the floor, the Hornets man claiming afterwards that he'd been extracting his foot trapped under the tackle.

With the home crowd roused from their slumbers, the Crusaders re-structured quicker, with Wilkes troubling the scoreboard for the first time in an hour. But Hornets responded just five minutes later when Hornets nicked the ball one on one from marker and worked the ball upfield for Leather to grab his second.

Less than a minute later, Hornets again drove the ball through a flagging home defence and set up position close to the Crusaders line, where Leather found John Cookson with a peach of a short, flat pass and he blasted through to score a deserved try. Hornets fans sang his name; home fans sulked. Lovely.

With the game in the bag, Hornets took the foot off the gas a little allowing the Crusaders two late consolation scores from Massam and Hulme. But Hornets finished the stronger when Stephen Bannister's break found Adam Bowman on an inside ball for the prop to outpace the Welsh threequarters in a race to the line and bring the 50 up for Hornets. Chris Baines added the extras (nine from ten for him) and the noisy travelling Hornets fans again showed the Welsh how to sing.

This was a clinical, professional performance. Hornets took the game to the Crusaders and drove them backwards for pretty much 70 of the 80 minutes. Again, the forwards were immense, providing a superb platform for some great attacking football.

The Crusaders had little answer to Hornets' high-tempo, direct approach - blowing out of their arses after 20 minutes of both halves and physically dominated in every aspect of the game. If they take anything from this battering, it'll be the need to get fit and toughen up a bit.

Back when our U23s got beaten by a full-strength Crusaders in pre-season, I said to a Welsh bloke who was shouting the word 'YEEEES!' in my face that I'd bet him a tenner that we'd score an aggregate of 100 against them in the league this season.

We're more than half way there, boyo.