Monday, 25 February 2013

Sunday's Coming: Gateshead

Thunder Rolls in on the Wave of a Crest

Jets partnership with the
Roosters really took off
in 2012.
I confess I'm a bit conflicted. Having seen first hand what partnerships with top flight clubs adds to the VB NSW Cup down-under - particularly in relation to 2012 premiers Newtown Jets - I've been open to the positives they bring to clubs like ours in the UK.

Yes it's a new concept, yes it's a leap of faith for the game - and yes it's 'not the British way of doing things', but as shareholder in a (Rochdale) pioneering club I was happy for us to embrace the unknown and see what we could gain as a relatively new and inexperienced organisation.

Indeed, while the debate over potential onfield benefits rages on in some of the more indignantly luddite corners of the game, I've always believed that it's what we learn OFF the field that will stand us in greater stead in the future. If we can absorb 10% of what makes Saints successful as a club, it'll make us 100% better and that alone makes the partnership worthwhile.

But, as I say, I am conflicted and there's a great example of why to be found at North Sydney Oval. 

North Sydney Bears used to be one of the cornerstones of the NRL: founder members, eternal battlers, ever presents. But when Murdoch and his merger police went looking to consolidate the strengths and remove the weaknesses in the competition, Norths were in a slump. Hence they were forced into the fatally flawed Northern Eagles merger with arch rivals Manly. When the relationship reached breaking point and Manly 'extracted themselves', the broken - and broke - Bears found themselves discarded by the elite and forced down into the second tier, to slug out their seasons in front of a dwindling bunch of diehards.

As if that were not ignominious enough, the final insult came when partnerships were introduced into what was previously NRL's 'reserve grade' (AKA, the last bastion of 'proper' Sydney Suburban Football).

While 'traditional' clubs like Newtown and 'new' clubs stepping up from the Bundy Cup like 'Mounties' Windsor and Wentworthville found a level of workable equilibrium with their 'big brother' clubs (the former after an abortive fling with the Sharks at distant Cronulla), Norths faced a dilemma. Earmarked for partrnership with former rivals Souths, they were - unlike fellow NSW Cup sides - compelled to wear the badge of their partner club on the sleeve of their jersey.  And it is this subjugation of a club's identity that makes my teeth itch a bit too much.

I'm uncomfortable enough that the words 'Saint' and 'Helens' appear even in text on a Rochdale Hornets jersey (beneath the crest on the replica - go take a look), but what Gateshead have done is - even for an advocate of partnerships - beyond the pale.

Three crowns on a shirt, Roger Millward gleaming...
Designs released earlier this month show the Hull KR Crest on the sleeve of their 2013 jersey. This willingness to dilute their identity is a step too far for me - and it's provided ample fuel for 'partnership deniers' arguments that all the Super League clubs are doing is 'dressing up' their reserve teams in Championship clothing. The more cynical amongst us might suggest that, as 'Gateshead' have been playing with a Hull FC badge on the front of their jersey for the last 14 years, it's probably no wonder that the Thunder brand was so quick to demean its own identity.

But the reality is that, regardless of your view on partnerships, putting another club's badge on your shirt is  - and should be - anathema to any true fan, regardless of their loyalty. 

So with GatesHull KR at Spotland on Sunday, I admit I'm a bit conflicted. Yes I want partnerships to work. Yes I want to see improvements on and off the field. And yes, I want to see Dane Donoghue do a Daniel Mortimer and lift the Championship 1 Trophy. But would I want to see him do it with a Saints badge on a Hornets shirt? That's the question.

Monday, 18 February 2013

A Law Unto Itself

(Or how an old rivalry holds a lesson for Rugby League)

Hornets 20 - Oldham 22

You've got to love the Law Cup. An attendance of 819 was greater than five out of the seven Championship games on Sunday - and only 1,000 fewer than at the London V  Wakefield Super League contest. 

As our game goes through an uncomfortable evolution, this pre-season challenge with one foot rooted in Rugby League's rich past shows, amply, what's possible when games mean something to those who watch them.

Whether they mean quite as much these days to those who play in them is a quite different matter.

Two teams full of new faces and a conveyor belt of subsitiutions meant for a scrappy game light on passion and offering only fleeting glimpses lucid football, but Oldham settled into a groove quickest as Dallimore threw a hand at a Palfrey kick in to a crowded in-goal to open the scoring.

But disjointedness was the theme for the day. A period of both sides struggling to maintain any meaningful possession - and referee Mr Brooke refreshing his knowledge of the laws by attempting to work his way through all of them - was ended when a Hornets dink through the defence ricocheted off the referee for Benji Lloyd to touch down. Mr Brooke brought play back and gave a scrum.

As it was, swift hands to the right fed Chris Baines through a gap to score, but Oldham hit back with Lepori jinking through to score on the half-hour to go 12-4 up.

Hornets finished the half the stronger, with Steve Roper and Benji Lloyd going wide  for Dave Sutton and Gaz Langley to score on each flank. Half time, Hornets 14-12 to the good.

Oldham began the second half at a higher tempo, playing much more directly - and it paid off after just four minutes as Fildes ducked in for a sucker try, followed by a Ward try off a Dallimore pass shortly afterward. 12-22  and Hornets, frankly, a  bit of a rudderless mess.

This was rectified in the last quarter with the return of Baines - and the shuffle that put Benji Lloyd in at stand-off. Suddenly Hornets had both width and go-forward - as they scrambled back into the game. First a lightning break from Steve Roper ended by Lepori's try-saving one-on-one tackle; then the ball shipped swiftly through to Martin Waring who scored out wide. Chris Baines slotting a cool conversion. 20-22 with five minutes to play and, suddenly, a game on our hands.

It was Steve Roper again who provided the spark for a frantic attack, then Alex Trumper and Gaz Langley unzipping the Oldham defence - only for Waring to fumble the last pass with the line at his mercy.

With seconds remaining, Oldham fluffed the resulting play-the-ball and Benji-Lloyd's last ditch 'hail-mary' into the Oldham in-goal bounced harmlessly out of play.

If there's any lesson to be learned from this game, it's that both teams can get significanly better. Both sides had periods on top - and spells where they looked utterly clueless. And it's interesting that - in teams containing lots of new players - that the only real focused football came from both established half-backs Roper and Dallimore.

From Hornets point of view, there's no doubt that the team missed the threat of Wayne English and the steady hand of Paul Crook, but in Benji-Lloyd, we may just have unearthed the sort of sparky talent that defences struggle to pin-down. Whilst he started slowly at full-back, his move to stand-off revealed some genuine attacking potential.

Utimately, when such a venerable contest played between two of Rugby League's oldest rivals is decided by a missed conversion in front of an enthusiastic bumper crowd, perhaps there's hope for us all yet.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Sunday's Coming: The Law Cup

Here at TLCRF80mins, we love the Law Cup.

It'll be a game of unknown quantities on Sunday as Hornets and Oldham's overhauled squads tune-up in preparation for what both Ian Talbot and Scott Naylor know is a shit-or-bust season for both clubs. With two promotion places available - and N. Wales Crusaders chucking money around like it's going out of fashion - it's going to be an almighty kick, bollock and scramble all the way to September as our two venerable clubs battle to get out of the 'League of Slow Death™' and back onto the Rugby League map.

Having won the annual challenge against the Town Team comfortably, Ian Talbot shuffled his combinations in an inter-squad hit-out at Hopwood Hall last weekend, giving the U20's a chance to play themselves into first team contention.

Hornets 2013 squad is:

1. Wayne English   2. Gaz Langley   3. Owen Livesey   4. Tony Stewart   5. Dave Sutton
6. Paul Crook   7. Steven Roper   8. John Cookson   9. Alex McClurg   10. Warren Thompson
11. Chris Baines   12. Dayne Donoghue   13. Jordan Case   14. Alex Trumper   15. Benji Lloyd
16. Danny Davies   17. Martin Waring   18. Gareth Frodsham   19. Andy Ainscough   
20. Joe Bate  21. John Walker   22. Mike Ratu   23. Dave Hull   24. Mark Goodman  
25. Simon Atherton  26. Dave Llewellyn     27. Jayden Sandford   33. Lewis Sheridan  
34. Fraser Jones Lake 35. Ryan Brown   36. Andy Unsworth   37. Barry Clarke    
38. Jack Knowles  39. Liam Whalley  40. Will Chadwick

Oldham come into Sunday's game hot on the heels of a decent win over Salford's U19's, but it'll be a very different team to the one we saw last year. Only six players from last year's squad survive (the majority of whom seem to have baled to Oxford to play for Tony Benson). The six are  Neil Roden, Jamie Dallimore, Liam Gilchrist, Jason Boults, Michael Ward and David Cookson. 

But Oldham will be without Centre Cookson for Sunday's fixture as he's batting out  a six-month suspension following an inadvertent use of Methylhexaneamine, a Specified Substance on the WADA Prohibited List which crops up in some energy drinks. His suspension expires on February 28.

Scott Naylor's squad contains three former Hornets in Dale Bloomfield, Andy Hobson and Danny Samuel - which should give the game a little extra spice. More interstingly, they've also signed Callum Marriott, son of ex-Hornet legend Karl Marriott.

Latest Oldham first team squad we have is:

Mo Agoro   Dale Bloomfield   Jason Boults    David Cookson   Josh Crowley   Jamie Dallimore

Adam Files   Sam Gee   Liam Gilchrist   Mark Hobson   Kenny Hughes   Phil Joy   Danny Langtree Richard Lepori   Callum Marriott   Chis Murphy   Steven Nield   Lewis Palfrey   Neil Roden   Danny Samuel   Liam Thompson   Chris Tyrer   Michael Ward

Officials for Sunday are: Referee: P Brooke Touch Judges: D McNeice and I Scott

Latest News
Hornets will go into Sunday's clash without Wayne English and Paul Crook, who both have other commitments. Whilst this provides an opportunity for other squad players, Ian Talbot is said to be ready to draft in dual registration players from St Helens.