Thursday, 28 June 2012

Look Out Here Come: Gateshead

Filtrona Park yesterday:
almost exactly like the Bernabeu

Why aye, let's howay to Gateshead, man. Or, more specifically, Filtrona Park in South Shields - home of South Shields Mariners (not to be mistaken for the Hunter Mariners, though both are close to Newcastle).

After a promising start - and a decent showing at Spotland earlier in the season - Gateshead have seen normal service resumed and sunk like a rock to the bottom of Championship 1. 

Thunder have now gone 57 matches since their last win against London Skolars in March 2010. Having shipped an average of 45 points per game, the currently winless Thunder have two bonus points to show for the first half of the season and come to Sunday's game on the back of a brutal 78-6 flogging by Doncaster.

Beleaguered coach Kevin Neighbour wasn't happy: "I felt we let ourselves down… the lads worked hard over the last couple weeks on the back of a much improved performance against Barrow. Looking back the weekend off was no good for us at all. We now have consecutive games which we can work on week to week. I'm sure everyone will hold their hands up for all the things we didn't do…"

Kev's honest analysis was that it was: "… a very harsh lesson learnt and it's time to put things right for next week's challenge of Rochdale."

Indeed, the game poses challenges for Hornets too. Sunday sees Oldham travel to fourth placed Whitehaven, and a win for either party there makes a win at Gateshead absolutely essential if Hornets are to stay in touch with the leading pack.

A healthy win for Hornets and defeat for Oldham would open up a bit of daylight behind and put us in the box seat in the chase for fourth. But a win for Oldham would draw Whitehaven closer - making a win even more imperative. And with Oldham stariing to slip in the points-difference column a convincing Hornets win at Gateshead would make a big difference.

Buoyed by the fantastic win at Whitebank, this is a road-trip well worth making to give the lads a boost. So fill yer car, get up the A1 and let's get behind the lads.

Reports today that the North East has suffered heavy rain and flooding in some parts, but forecasts for the next few days and the weekend look much better.

Monday, 25 June 2012


Oldham 4 - Hornets 30

It's said that defence wins you games, and for 80 minutes it gave Hornets the upper hand in this, ultimately, one-sided derby.

But for 25 minutes there was, literally, nothing in this game; scores locked at nil-nil, both sides struggling to find any real fluidity. The only indication of the eventual outcome had been some sterling Hornets goal-line defence, prepared to scramble as a unit to repel an Oldham attack happy to persist with blunt-instrument charges at the line.

Then, up the hill and against the wind, Paul Crook hoisted a booming diagonal 40/20, and Oldham's body language indicated a chink in their resolve. From the resulting scrum, Steve Roper and Wayne English combined in a flowing right-to-left move to create space for Johnny Leather to score in the corner. Crooky banged home a sublime touchline conversion and the natives became restless.

There was a glimpse of hope for the home fans when Greenwood scooted in off a trademark Roden pass just before the hooter, but 6-4 after a nip and tuck half was scant indication of what was to come.

Hornets drilled the kick-off dead under the twitchy foot of Oldham scrum-half Whitmore (who had an absolute nightmare of a game), and set-up camp in the Oldham half. Within minutes, Gary Middlehurst was sent ripping through the smallest of gaps, only for the try to be struck off for a forward pass. No matter.

On the next foray to the Oldham line, Roper and Tony Stewart combined to create space for Leather to score his second.

Oldham extracted the digit and worked their way back upfield, where they threw themselves repeatedly against some inspired Hornets defence, and with the hour mark gone, the Roughyeds looked out of ideas.

Hornets on the other hand were more clinical. Having worked the ball close to the Oldham line, Wayne English set-off on a dancing lateral run and, when the opportunity presented itself, he showed great strength to cut inside and score by the posts.

A now dominant Hornets bullied and battered the home side back down the slope, compelling Oldham to start sets under their own posts. And when they eventually crossed the half-way line, shoddy handling presented John Cookson with 50 metres of open field. He took the ball on and, with Leather apearing at his shoulder fed him at pace for the winger to grab his hat-trick. Oldham were gone.

The next possession took Hornets back downfield, where Phil Braddish was rewarded for a hard-working performance with a bulldozing try from close range. Crooky added the extras, 30-4 - glum locals streaming for the exits.

There was still time for Hornets to launch two attacks: a mazy run by Chris Baines halted only by a last-ditch tackle by Onyango, then Chris Hough slamming a monster 40/20 downfield. From the resulting scrum Hornets looked set to open up a now tattered defence, but Roden's interception coming from an offside position denied Hornets the score, and secured him a yellow-card on the hooter.

This was a rock-solid Hornets performance, marred only by a recurrence of Dean Gorton's shoulder injury: a huge concern for all Hornets. We wish him well.

Whilst this is quite possibly the worst Oldham team of all time, you can only beat what's in front of you - and Hornets did that in accomplished fashion. Certainly, Oldham's five bonus points give them a false position in the league (they have only three wins this season) and it's now down to Hornets to chase down Whitehaven in the scramble for fourth.

On this performance, it looks unlikely that Oldham will get much at 'Haven next week, but Hornets can travel to Gateshead buoyed by this emphatic win.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Look Out, Here Come: Oldham

The A627(M) derby has been the subject of press scrutiny this week, as the somewhat ordinary form of both Oldham and Hornets could well see one of Rugby League's oldest rivalries slugged out in next year's 'League of (Slow) Death' alongside a miscelleny of development teams and RFL follies playing in some of the game's deepest UK backwaters.

Artificially sustained by a staggering 5 bonus points, Oldham sit three points ahead of Hornets having won a game fewer - evidence if any were needed that the bonus point system rewards failure. But, with games fast running out, both teams will be praying for the almost inevitable implosion of one of the 'shit or bust' teams currently hogging the top four.

Coming into the game on the back of a 2-point defeat at N.W. Crusaders (where Hornets won, scoring 50 earlier in the season), Oldham are on the crest of a slump at the moment, now seven games without a win. And as if their on-field form wasn't concern enough, a string of vandalism attacks at Whitebank, culminating in extensive damage to the perimeter fence and the burning down of the club's office have hit the club hard .

Tony Benson has also seen his squad stripped to the bones through injury and has drafted in loanees winger Chris Holroyde (Halifax), prop David Tootill (Hunslet) loose-forward Lewis Reed (Keighley) and utilty Colton Roche (Leeds)  to make up the shortfall.

If either team is to maintain a realistic chance of catching the top four, a win is imperative on Sunday, so that gives this usually tasty fixture a bit of added spice. 

Thus far, Hornets have found Whitebank's… er… idiosyncratic conditions difficult to overcome, but Sunday requires sleeves rolled up and a win of any colour, by any means possible. And if we can deny Oldham the bonus point, that'll be a job well done.

Monday, 4 June 2012

We can Worky-doubt

Hornets 24 Workington 37

Stanky had called this a make or break game. But while a heavily depleted Hornets didn't quite make it, a gutsy second half performance showed that their spirit isn't broken quite yet.

But this was a game of contrasting halves. The first was like watching a slow-motion car crash. For 40 minutes Hornets repeatedly gave up soft possession, daft penalties and acres of ground to give ToWn the irresistible momentum to run in four pretty basic tries. The first after ten minutes as Lupton strode through a static defence, Carter after 22 minutes in a carbon-copy walk-in. Then Lupton three minutes later slumping in from acting half, and the ultimate ignominy as serial mercenary Thackray wriggled through a crown of defenders to get the ball down.

A punch-drunk Hornets managed one last swing before the hooter, with Anthony Stewart sucking in defenders before slipping the ball to Barry Clarke for a try by the flag.

Half time came as a mercy. Despite some sustained pressure, Hornets had failed to capitalise, whilst ToWn had cheerfully snaffled the scraps from Hornets' errors.

Stanky said afterwards that, rather than chuck the cups around in the dressing room, he'd asked every player to tell him whether their own first half effort had been good enough. And his incisive, analytical approach came amazingly close to stealing the day, as Hornets came out all guns blazing to blast the visitors with four unanswered tries.

Within a minute, Paul Crook's teasing kick wrong-footed ToWn's defence leaving just enough space for Wayne English to dive athletically and ground the ball; then four minutes later swift hands created space for Dale Bloomfield to score by the flag. Now with the momentum, Hornets forwards began driving the big Cumbrian pack backwards and on 55 minutes, John Cookson crashed in to put Hornets within striking distance at 20-24. The comeback was complete ten minutes later when pressure in the ToWn in-goal caused Carter to cough the ball and Danny Davies was on hand to touch down. Astonishing stuff, but Paul Crook's conversion attempt skimmed a post to deny Hornets the lead - Workington's 'get out of jail free' card.

The shell-shocked Cumbrians sucked in for one last drive downfield, and kept the ball alive for Miller to score on 75 minutes. Bainbridge rubbed it in with a conversion from the touchline. A Bainbridge drop-goal was sufficient to secure the spoils and a late, late Carter try through a knackered defence denied Hornets the bonus point. A cruel denouement.

Having dragged this game back from the brink, Hornets were deserving of some reward, but the first-half deficit (in both score and performance) proved too great a gulf to breach. But whilst this result leaves the possibility of promotion now in serious doubt, it also showed what Hornets are capable of at this level when the cogs engage.

And it also showed the level of performance required for 80 minutes, every week until the end of the season if Hornets are to catch Whitehaven in an increasingly desperate chase for fourth.