Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Sunday's Coming: Keighley Cougars

It's Twins! Twice as likely to get sin-binned.

Having only played Keighley a month ago in a pre-season hit-out, you might imagine that there'd be little to add to our preview from that game. But with half of the March Brothers Rugby League Circus Franchise installed as coach of the Cougars, all you have to do is sit back and wait for the news to come
to you.

Indeed, for those of you seeking comparitive performance in the Championship, Keighley got whacked 30-12 at Doncaster last week (in front of 170 fewer people than were at Spotland) having trailed just 14-8 at half time.

And if you're looking for a contributory factor, it's interesting to see coach Paul March leading by example. Having coughed the kick-off to gift Donny a try after 90 seconds, he contrived to have himself sin-binned twice. The first for his involvement  in a 'fracas', the second for dissent following a 74th minute penalty. The result: leaving his charges a man short for almost a quarter of the game (the latter departure with less than 10 minutes remaining).

March’s side had opened their Kingstone Press Championship campaign beating Whitehaven 36-14 at home home the previous week - underlining the importance of beating those teams around us in what is effectively a league within a league.

Given the rude awakening to the standard of the Championship in our pre-season game at Lawkholme Lane, Hornets' promising performance against top-four aspirants Dewsbury showed a marked improvement - and an ability to stand toe-to-toe with the better end of the league for 65 minutes. The rest will come with experience - and the addition of Ryan Millard and Sam Te'o who bring an altogether more intense standard of firepower.

Having seen plenty of positives in the Dewsbury performance, we #believe there's plenty of improvement in us yet - starting on Sunday!

RFL Preview
Danny Davies (shoulder) faces a late fitness test before Rochdale Hornets coach Ian Talbot is able to confirm his team to face Keighley Cougars.

Hornets lost 42-12 against Dewsbury Rams last week, but Talbot believes his team is not far from the levels required in the Kingstone Press Championship.

Talbot said: “The scoreline was a big disappointment because I think we matched them for large parts and at times were probably the better team.

“We know that if we give it our best shot week after week, and put that level of performance in, we’ll pick up some points.”

On Keighley, he added: “Paul March is very influential figure for them. He’s a very smart player and he’s one to watch and one to stop.”

Cougars coach Paul March will demand a much-improved performance from Keighley after last week’s defeat at Doncaster.

March said: “We let ourselves down and I let the team down too.

“We didn’t stick to the game plan. The bottom line is we came away with nothing and that’s what’s disappointing.

We’ll go to Rochdale and fight for a win, not go there just expecting a win.”

Monday, 24 February 2014

Hornets Get Home Draw in Challenge Cup

The draw has been made for the third round of the Tetley's Challenge Cup.
See the face you love light up -
with a home draw in the Challenge Cup!

Due to the withdrawal of the French league teams, two Championship clubs were handed byes straight through to the fourth round. In a pre-draw, Featherstone Rovers and London Skolars were handed byes. Five Championship One clubs were placed alongside the 11 winners of the second round games to be drawn against the remaining 16 Championships teams. Got that? Good.

The draw in full is:

Batley v Kells
British Army v Doncaster
Dewsbury v West Hull
Egremont v Oldham
Hull Dockers v Halifax
Hunslet v Oxford
Keighley v Wath Brow
Milford Marlins v Barrow
Normanton v Workington
North Wales v Pilkington Recs
Rochdale Hornets v University of Gloucestershire All Golds
Sheffield v East Leeds
South Wales v Hemel
Swinton v Gateshead
Wigan St Pats v Leigh
York v Whitehaven

Games will be played on the weekend of March 15/16

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Benchmark Established

Hornets 12 - Dewsbury Rams 42

Make no bones about it, the scoreline flatters Dewsbury. For an hour the anticipated gap in class twixt Championship 1 and the Championship wasn't evident, as Hornets played most of the football against a Dewsbury side that looked like they thought that turning up would be enough.

The killer difference was two periods where Dewsbury scored two tries in two minutes - effectively 24 points to stretch the scoreline and make the win look more convincing than it was. But it's the clinical ruthlessness that Dewsbury applied in those two spells that Hornets have to acquire to bridge that gap.

Hornets started brightly: a teasing lofted kick to the corner after just two minutes accelerated pulses but came to nothing.

Dewsbury then gave us a hint of what lay under the bonnet when a sweeping 80 metre break by Grady rushed the rams upfield Matt Dawson and Sean Casey combining to snuff it out. But Hornets hurried the restart and fumbled possession on the first play out of their own 20 to put themselves under unneccessary pressure. Thankfully Dewsbury had nothing in response.

With the game locked in an intriguing arm-wrestle - Hornets camped in the Dewsbury half, but unable to find the killer ball to unlock a resolute Rams defence - it took a mistake to crack open the game: Paul Crook uncharacteristically failing to find touch from a penalty, handed Dewsbury easy possession after 28 minutes.

Within a minute, Dewsbury's rotund wrecking ball Gallagher came barreling onto a short ball from a metre and gravity did the rest. 4-nil Dewsbury, Hemingway swinging the conversion attempt well wide of the mark.

Hornets continued to press hard. A booming Paul Crook 40/20 on 34 mins took Hornets within 20 metres of the visitors' line, but confusion and poor execution on the first tackle saw the ball go to ground and let Dewsbury off the hook.

With the half ebbing away, Hornets launched one last attack, this time a bustling break by Matt Dawson pushed him into space and he swatted off defenders on a 30 metre run to the line. Cue the music. 4-all. Bedlam.

Crook added the extras and - having played 40 minutes of Championship football, Hornets were 6-4 to the good. Grins all round.

Dewsbury started the second half in a focused, determined mood - handed field position by two Hornets mistakes. Firstly a knock-on in the first set gave the Rams an attacking platform, then a penalty in front of the posts gave them an opportunity to launch six tackles from 10 metres. They elected to take the two. Speaks volumes.

Dewsbury were now beginning to creep out of their shell, On 49 minutes quick hands stretched the Hornets right side defence too thinly and a swift ball by Pryce threaded Morton in by the flag. Hemmingway with the extras: 12-6

From their next possession, Dewsbury launched a long-range strike: a huge bust through centre-field by loose forward Brown was finished under the black-dot by Thackray. Hemmingway with the formalities: 18-6

But Hornets dug in and took the game back deep into Dewsbuy's half. Needlessly pushing the last pass of the set, the atack came to nought, but on the next foray, Paul Crook hit the ball up into Dewsbury playmaker Hemmingway, who crumpled in the tackle.  As he was helped from the field, Hornets shipped the ball right. Tony Suffolk dinked the ball behind a reshuffling defence and Joe Greenwood showed great determination to dive in past a flapping full-back to score. Crooky added the two and, with the hour on the clock, Hornets were back in the contest at 18-12.

Dewsbory responded almost immediately: good approach work, Pryce sliding the ball into the in-goal, a scramble of bodies. Fortunately, referee Mr Bloem spotted a knock-on and the main stand exhaled.

Four minutes later, Hornets conceded a soft penalty on 40 metres after Tony Suffolk took a needless second bite at the tackle. Hyde took the two: 20-12 with 15 to play.

On 69 minutes Dewsbury launched their own 40-20: from the resulting possession Godwin took advantage of a napping Hornets defence to burrow in from acting half. All a bit scrappy. Hyde with the two: 26-12.

Straight from the kick-off Brown produced a carbon copy of his earlier break, shrugging off a tiring defence that had given its all. This time, comedy full-back Sheriff was the beneficiary. The score line now looking decidedly lop-sided at 30-12. Hyde added the two…

With the Hornets defence already running on empty, a dumb penalty for talking back put Dewsbury on the attack. They capitalised with a freak try. 

Hornets defence swarmed around winger Morton, driving him inexorably towards the touchline. As the bundle of bodies heaved into touch, Pryce was the first to realise that - in the melée the ball had been left behind. It was all he could do to pick it up and put it down over the line unopposed. Gutting.

With the final hooter imminent, Dewsbury whacked the ball downfield more in hope than expectation, Wayne English alert to scramble the ball dead with chasers gathering. Thackray peeled off the resulting scrum to scoot through for a simple try. Hyde added the two as the hooter sounded. Final score 42-12.

If every game contains a lesson, this initiation into Championship football contained a crash course in how to win a game from nothing. In general, open play there was nothing between the teams: but Dewsbury's ability to turn half chances into points when it really matters was the real difference.

With that experience in the bank - and Ryan Millard and Sam Te'o in the wings to add a crucial bit of quality and steel - Hornets don't look too far away from the benchmark. Equally encouraging was the attendance of 817 - third highest in the competition.

And with established Championship sides Barrow, Workington, Keighley and Swinton getting similarly thumped this weekend, this could shape-up into a very interesting season.

Teamsheet - Hornets v Dewsbury

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Sunday's Coming: Dewsbury Rams

Seemingly unfazed by coach Glenn Morrison's flirtation with the NZ Kiwis job or the loss of key strike player Austin Buchanan to a Twitter-oriented RFL ban, the Rams have hit the season running after impressive pre-season wins over both Bradford and Castleford (the latter were nilled!).

Those who live in anticipation of shock results in this year's Championship need look no further than the Tetley Stadium last Sunday, where Dewsbury kicked an early dent in Featherstone's ambitions, beating the hot favourites for a SL berth by 11 points to 10. The teams went in scoreless at half time and Fev led twice before a 79th minute Anthony Thackeray drop-goal sealed the deal.

Dewsbury made one of the most attention-grabbing Championship signings of the the off-season, luring ex Castleford, Wigan, Hull, Bradford and Salford rake Wayne Godwin down to Owl Lane. Godwin played 13 years and almost 250 games in Super League, so will be one to keep quiet.

Indeed, Dewsbury's squad has a thick seam of unassuming quality running through it.

Recent signing, ex-Wakefield utility back Jordan Grayston returns to the UK from InTrust Super Cup (Queensland Cup in old money) premiers Mackay Cutters. Up front, Dewsbury's pack features former Halifax and Hull KR PNG war-horse Makali Aizue.

More interestingly to us - Dewsbury become the latest club after Leeds Rhinos Academy , Keighley, London Broncos, Widnes, Hull KR, Toulouse, Batley, Widnes (again), Hornets, Batley (again), Swinton and Leigh to try and get journeyman lump Tommy Gallagher match fit.

If anything, last Sunday's result at the Tetley's Stadium laid down two markers for the forthcoming season. 1. The Championship provides a leap forward in all aspects: every person involved in Hornets - fans included - has to be the best they can be if we are to capitalise on the opportunities ahead of us this year, and 2. If Dewsbury can do it, why not us?

The test begins on Sunday. The best we can do is give it 100% and #believe. Let's do this...

RFL Match Preview

Rochdale Hornets are without Alex McClurg for their season opener, while Dewsbury Rams coach Glenn Morrison could name the same side that secured an 11-10 win over Featherstone Rovers last week.

Morrison said: "We've built momentum over the pre-season and we've got a good result last week, but it's only one win. We've got to keep that same intensity each week because there are no easy games in the Kingstone Press Championship."

Morrison admits he is taking a step into the unknown ahead of Sunday's clash with Rochdale. He said: "It's a hard one. They didn't get their game in last week against Sheffield, but they've got a dual registration agreement with St Helens and there's talk of a few Saints boys playing for them, so it's hard to work out a plan to break them down.

"We just have to concentrate on ourselves and be ready to go, whoever they put in front of us."

Saturday, 15 February 2014


Bad news, folks:

Following a pitch inspection at 1.30 today (Saturday),  Hornets Championship opener at Owlerton has been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.

As my dad used to say: "Mud's a great leveller..." - shame we won't get to find out for ourselves.

No new date has been scheduled.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Sunday's Coming: Sheffield Eagles

So, hands up - who's just a little bit excited about the impending Championship season?

Coached by Sheffield legend Mark Aston and assisted by Dave Larder and Keith Senior, Sheffield have proven themselves to be a side that punches above its weight and, as league runners-up and convincing grand-final winners last year, provide possibly the sternest test Hornets could face in this crucial Championship season.

One new Sheffield player who'll be delighted to see Hornets again will be ex-Oldham dual reg. centre Jon Ford who, alongside Will Hope, joins Sheffield on a season loan from Salford. Clearly joining a side that actually wins finals was an attractive proposition.

Sheffield's key threat comes from the eye-catching Samoan Quentin Laulu-Togaga'e. In 2013 he crashed in for a staggering 35 tries: making it 70 in two years. An amazing strike rate. But he's not alone in knowing his way to the line.  Laulu-Togaga'e shares the try-scoring limelight with PNG international Menzie Yere who has weighed in with 118 tries in 147 games since 2009. Scary Stuff.

Owlerton Stadium: How far to the touchline?

The fulcrum for this points avalanche is the halfback pairing of Pat Walker and Dominic Brambani - and the latter is a bit of a points machine in his own right.

Last season Brambani broke Mark Aston’s goals-in-a-season record set in 1988/89, bagging 168 goals +1 drop goal. He also smashed Aston's season’s points-scoring record of 307 points, scoring 361 points [38 games - 6 tries, 168 goals, 1 drop goal]

It's worth noting that Sunday provides a great opportunity to catch the back-to-back Championship champions cold, as their truncated pre-season programme could leave a side featuring plenty of new faces a bit undercooked. 

Last Sunday's last-gasp win at York has been their only pre-season hit-out, after a trip to play in France was cancelled due to an air-traffic control strike. In a game that York dominated for long spells, the Knights led led 18-14 with three minutes to go, but late tries from Conor Scott and Menzie Yere nicked a 24-18 win for the eagles.

Ahead of the York game, Aston said: “We need to get some of the rust out of the players who will start the season. The emphasis will be on getting them ready and looking where they are."

Aston took a 21-man squad to Monk's Cross - minus hooker James Davey (hamstring) and new recruits Ben Jones (groin) and USA international Lelauloto Tagaloa.

In a tiny, but interesting speck of Rugby League history, Sunday sees Sheffield's return to the 6,000 capacity Owlerton Stadium. Aston said: “The first game at Owlerton is important – it’s 30 years since the club was started there. We need to hit the ground running and win that first game against Rochdale.

It's reported that improvements have been made to the changing rooms and postage-stamp-sized pitch - which is out there somewhere beyond the speedway track, the greyhound track, three perimeter fences and a set of floodlights - but as a trip to Sheffield has always entailed a level of eyestrain (or binoculars), it shouldn't be much different to the view at Don (gone!) Valley.
Owlerton Stadium: view from the main stand
NOTE - the game is a 2pm kick-off, so don't be late!

Getting there

Owlerton Stadium 
Penistone Road
S6 2DE

From the North
Leave M1 at J36 (signposted Sheffield North) and at roundabout take 3rd exit A61. Follow signs for Grenoside and then Hillsborough. You will pass Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (on right) and the stadium is 1/2 mile further on the left.

Match Day Parking
Owlerton Stadium has over 300 car parking spaces available directly in front of the stadium. Car park is available for all supporters on match days at a price of £3 per car which is payable opon entry to the car park. Prices for coaches and minibuses is still to be confirmed. 

Sheffield's 2014 squad is:
1 Quentin Laulu-Togaga'e
2 Scott Turner 
3 Menzie Yere 
4 Jon Ford
5 Misi Taulapapa 
6 Pat Walker 
7 Dominic Brambani 
9 Andrew Henderson  
10 Mitch Stringer 
11 Michael Knowles (c) 
12 Peter Green 
13 Joe Hirst 
14 James Davey 
15 Alex Szostak 
16 Duane Straughier 
17 Liam Higgins
18 Will Hope
19 Jack Blagborough 
20 Ben Jones 
21 Matt Garside 
22 Lelauloto Tagaloa 
23 Matty Hadden
24 TBC
25 Eddie Battye 
26 Lee Sanders
27 Connor Scott 
28 Corey Hanson 
29 TBC
30 TBC
31 Tom Ashton 
32 Cory Aston 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Championship Launch Press Release

By our media correspondent Ed Tackle

Today was the official Kingstone Press Championship 2014 launch at Media City. Needless to say the RFL crashed out a press release excitedly heralding the most fantastically awesome season in the history of Rugby League restructuring. Not since 1995's switch to summer/Super League have we read such propagandist hyperbole. So we fed the press release through our patented Bullshit Translator to identify the true meaning behind the hype.

Press Release

The Kingstone Press Championships season is set to be the most exciting and captivating of all time after details of promotion and relegation were confirmed.

(Half of the league will be crapping themselves at the thought of going to Oxford and Neath to play in front of 200 people)

Both competitions, Championship and Championship One, are to undergo major change at the end of  2014 as the sport prepares to embrace new league structures from 2015, when the top two divisions will each comprise 12 clubs.

(We're screwing over five championship clubs and the whole of Championship 1 because Super League told us to)

Before then the new season, which kicks off with a full round of Championship fixtures this weekend, will feature some of the most dramatic action in the competition’s history.

(Those clubs whose grasp exceeds their reach will be blowing cash they don't have to scramble into the top 9 - and we'll stand back and watch the car-crash unfold)

From Sunday February 16, the 14 Kingstone Press Championship clubs will battle it out over 26 rounds to secure the top nine finish they need to retain their place in the Championship.

(Dance, panic-monkeys, dance)

Eight of the top nine clubs will then go in to a play-off series culminating in a title-deciding Grand Final. The five clubs finishing the season in 10th to 14th positions will be relegated into Championship One

(We couldn't work out a top nine playoff, but the club that finishes 9th will be too delirious to care)

The Championship One season kicks off on Sunday March 2 and will conclude with a five-team play-off involving the clubs finishing in first to fifth positions at the end of the regular season. The play-offs climax with a Grand Final, the winners of which will be crowned champions and promoted into the Kingstone Press Championship in 2015.

(We came up with this idea in the lift. That the team finishing top of Ch.1 should replace a team finishing 10th in the Championship - they'll make excellent cannon-fodder in 2015)

Full details of the promotion and relegation format and other issues were presented to the Kingstone Press Championships clubs at a meeting at Featherstone on Thursday (February 6).

(A fait accompli was presented to the Kingstone Press Championships clubs at a meeting at Featherstone)

RFL Chief Operating Office Ralph Rimmer said: “It was a momentous meeting and as such it was very pleasing that all the clubs in attendance made a full and candid contribution"

(I didn't hear any complaints: I had my fingers in my ears going 'La-la-la')

“The return of promotion and relegation across the three top divisions from 2015 has been welcomed by everyone and the Championships clubs remain genuinely enthusiastic about the new structures that will deliver a fully integrated competition"

(Someone's going to go bust by chucking money they don't have at an unrealistic Super League ambition - well, it's worked for Bradford. Twice!)

“The clubs were provided with, and accepted, details of the financial distributions that will be in place from next season, when the sport enters an exciting new era"

(The clubs were told 'like it or lump it' - especially the ones most likely to make-up the bottom five)

“We were also able to confirm that we are exploring alternatives to the broadcasting arrangements for the Kingstone Press Championships for 2014 following the withdrawal of Premier Sport.”

(We pissed off Premier by sucking up to Sky behind their backs, so they told us to f*ck-off. Now we're pleading with Sky to show the Grand Final)

"The 2014 Kingstone Press Championship season comprises 26 rounds and concludes with the title-deciding Grand Final over the weekend of October 4-5 at a venue still to be confirmed"

(We have no date and no venue confirmed for the Grand Finals - we're awesome)

Championship Preview

The championship teams met at Featherstone last Thursday where the RFL laid bare their fantastic plans for the 2015 season -  as well as their significantly less than fantastic transitional plans for the forthcoming 2014 season. Indeed, we think it's always good to hear what you're going to be playing for 10 days before the season starts (or a month before the season starts if you're Oldham).

As anticipated, it was confirmed that teams finishing 10th, 11th, 12th , 13th and 14th in the Championship will be relegated to Championship 1 at the end of this season, with 1 team promoted from Championship 1 via the playoffs. 

In our opinion not the brightest idea as we'd imagine that team finishing 10th in the Championship would be of a sigbnificantly better standard than any promoted team - but that's the RFL for you (you could finish 10th - outside the playoff places on bonus points or points difference - and lose your place to a Ch.1 side. That should go down like a turd at a buffet). 

However it plays out, there will be some good quality 'proper' teams who get the chop - but it will create that magical, revered, holy-grail of a 12 team Championship - where teams can (and will) launch deperate kamikaze campaigns to try and haul themselves into that middle, pseudo-Super League 'promotional eight' .

It'll also give you a 14 team Championship 1, with Coventry Bears mooted as the likely addition in 2015. Though, given the RFL's previous record for inventing Ch.1 teams, it could be anyone. Or no-one…

Going forward, two teams will then be promoted at the end of 2015 (Champions plus play off winner), with the bottom two from the Championship relegated. Got that? Good!

At the recent Members' meet the team Q&A evening, Ian Talbot spoke of the Championship being a divided competition, where the one half will effectively compete amongst themselves for honours, whist the others will compete to stay in the Championship when the league restructures next year.

With that in mind,  we've considered the Championship as two 'pools', based primarily on last year's finishing positions, but with an allowance for 'Big Spending North Wales Crusaders™' - having chucked some cash around in the close season to grab some key players with top-flight experience (Michael Platt, Mark Offerdhal, Stephen Wild - plus the Ashall brothers) - to be most likely to challenge in 'Pool A'

With five clubs earmarked for the drop in the restructure, in order to stay up a team would have to finish at least 9th  - that's  effectively second in 'Pool B'.

As a guide, champions Featherstone topped last season's championship with 70 points from 22 wins - an ambitious total, we think. The teams that finished 8 and 9th last year gained 39 and 37 points respectively from 11 wins. Workington in 8th also secured 6 bonus points. Doncaster in 6th only achieved one more win (+6 BPs) - then there was 14 points of daylight between them and Batley in 5th.

At the meeting Tal spoke about beating the teams around us, looking for at least 10 wins over the season, as many bonus points as we can grab on the way - plus a couple of 'shocks' against 'Pool A' clubs.

So, as we count-down to the start of the 2014 season, here are our 'Pools' and the teams we'll be scrapping with for that crucial 9th spot. 

Whilst this may well be the trickiest possible season to get promoted, we've earned the right to have a go - so let's give it a good go. If we stick together and #believe, who knows what we can achieve?

'Pool A'
Featherstone Rovers
Sheffield Eagles
Leigh Centurions
Batley Bulldogs
North Wales Crusaders

Pool 'B'
Workington Town
Rochdale Hornets
Swinton Lions
Dewsbury Rams
Keighley Cougars
Barrow Raiders

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Sunday's Coming: Hunslet

They've swept the seas before and so they shall again - but, in the meantime, Sunday sees supporter-owned Hunslet Hawks visit Spotland for Hornets' last pre-season trial game. The 'awks of 'unslet swapped places in the league with us last year -  dropping through the trapdoor into Championship 1 having taken 6 wins - and an astonishing 12 bonus points!

Whilst Sunday is possibly their last short away trip for a while, Hunslet have recruited well for 2014 and have already shown enough to suggest that they'll be amongst the front-runners in the 'League of Slow Death™'.

Beaten 40-20 by Wakefield Trinity Wildcats last weekend, Hunlset overturned a young Leeds U19s side 20-16 in their annual Lazenby Cup fixture. They also gave a good account of themselves on New Year's Day, going down 26-nil at Featherstone - an improvement on the 48 points they shipped there in September that saw them relegated.

If the Hawks are a reflection of their coaches Barry Eaton and Mask Cass, they'll be combative and redoubtable - and we'll be in for a long afternoon fagging the ball, as no-one likes a long kick more than Barry. 

Eaton's most eye-catching signing has been the permanent capture of hooker Liam Hood from Leeds Rhinos. With four Super League appearances under his belt, he spent much of last season with Hunslet on dual registration and was being sniffed around by several Championship clubs.
Hood Up: Hawks coach Barry Eaton checks out
Liam Hood's kicking game...

Amongst  the familiar names in the Hunslet squad are sibling half-backs off the St John Fisher, Wigan production line James and John Coyle, Ex-Batley paceman Danny Maun and ex-Hornet Chris Clough. And - hot on the heels of his better-looking brother - let's not forget David March.

In the Hornets camp, Ian Talbot will be looking for improvement after last week's lack-lustre show against Saints. Speaking in the League Express, he was clearly not happy: "It was embarrassing… Saints (out)enthused us from start to finish and we didn't stick to any kind of pattern or structure."

He went on: "… some of the Saints players put their hands up to get picked by me for Rochdale. They have a few with nowhere to play and perhaps we'll bring a couple in to stiffen us up…"  Tol hinted in the press this week that the block-busting Connor Dwyer could be an option.

Indeed, it looks like we need reinforcements at the moment. Sunday's game saw both Benji Lloyd and James Dandy injured: an x-ray shows no serious damage to James' thumb. No news on Benji. Alex McClurg remains unavailable due to illness. Liam Gilchrist is unavailable after eye surgery and Chris Tyrer is still in recovery after last year's serious groin operation, but may come into contention on Sunday. Winger Ryan King may also be back in the reckoning.

On the plus-side, Hornets have re-signed Dave Llewellyn, who was a keystone of last year's side. It'll be good to see him back.

The Hunslet Squad for 2014 is:


Monday, 3 February 2014

Work in Progress

Hornets 6 - St Helens 62

Wearing our positive head, we can say that pre-season games are there to be lost. To iron out wrinkles, try a few combinations, look at familiar faces in unfamiliar positions. To experiment, trial and learn.

And so it was that a St Helens team featuring a smattering of Super League names amongst their next generation of stars provided Hornets' sternest test yet in preparation for the 2014 season.
Line-ups - a few familiar names in the Saints side

With a line-up featuring ex-Hornets dual reg. regulars Carl Forster and Joe Greenwood, Saints looked dangerous across the park - but for 10 minutes Hornets competed on a par and looked pretty comfortable.

However, when Saints hit the gas, Hornets' challenge rapidly disappeared into the distance.

A huge break up centre field by Dwyer looked to have come to nothing as his hurried pass inside bounced - seemingly forward - to ground; the loose ball was snaffled by an on-rushing Fleming who had the momentum to push past Benji Lloyd. Referee Mr Turley was happy with the approach, Charnock added the extras and Saints had a tenth minute lead.

Whilst a constantly changing Hornets plugged away gamely for the remainder of the half, Saints hit their rhythm and showed their clinical side. Whilst Hornets turned half-chances into chances, Saints turned half-chances into points.

On 13 minutes Makinson launched a huge last-tackle cross-field bomb - more in hope than expectation, it has to be said - and Ade Gardner was first to react, out-jumpiing Benji Lloyd to score. Charnock good with the boot for 12-nil.

Six minutes later, Hornets gifted Saints a repeat set from a dropped ball and the visitors shipped it through quick hands for Carl Forster to duck in by the posts. Charnock with the two.

Despite some improved Hornets resistance, Saints ended the half with a five minute double whammy: first, good yards made through centre field provided the platform for Clough to barrel in under the black dot; then Forster the fulcrum as Wheeler's neat pass slipped Charnock under the posts. Charnock with both conversions and Hornets looking punch-drunk at the break 30-nil down.

Hornets started the second half with noticeably more puropse and after just three minutes a neat Steve Roper dink behind a flat-footed Saints defence saw Hornets man of the match Wayne English dive through to score. Crooky with the two and Hornets awake at 30-6.

Unfortunately, it just served to get Saints revved up and when they they engaged the cogs just four minutes later, they didn't look back.

47th minute: a lightning break from Tommy Makinson, outpacing the cover to score. Charnock with the goal.

49th minute: Wheeler's kick to the corner; Gardner out-jumping Kyle Buckley-Mayall. Charnock's first miss of the day.

55th minute: Slick hands across the line for Galbraith to score by the flag. Charnock with the two.

62nd minute: repeated pressing up Hornets' weaker right defence found space for Rochdale's own Jack Ashworth to stride through and score. Charnock wide with the conversion.

70th minutes: a twisting long-distance strike from the mercurial Galbraith turned the Hornets defence inside out for a well-taken solo try. Makinson with the two.

73rd minute: some suspect Hornets defence as Tisdale jinked and stepped through a series of flaping tackles to score. Makinson with the two.

Phew - whirlwind stuff!

In the end, Saints showed some real class, not only in the speed and slickness of their execution, but in their organisation and structure. And one suspects that Ian Talbot will be scratching his head this morning, as an exercise designed to clarify plans for a starting 17 leaves him with a few questions still to be answered.

Whilst accepting that - in three or four years - most of the lesser known names in this Saints side will be plying their trade at the highest level, we're not really sure what was learned from this game:  other than this iteration of Hornets remains a very definite work in progress.