Sunday, 29 June 2014

There's No Good Way to Say This...

Keighley 48 - Hornets 6

The second half in this game marked a season-defining turning point: the painful realisation that the 2014 miracle isn't coming. A slow-motion, forty-minute car-crash in which Hornets' allowed Keighley's scrum-half Paul Handforth as much time and space as he needed to hand them a masterclass in leadership and distribution.

But, as so often this season, it started so very differently. A Hornets side shuffled to accommodate Saints' five-eighth Gary Wheeler (removed at half-time, never to return) looked sharp on both attack and defence in the early exchanges.

The first half was a tale of missed chances: Lewis Sheridan's 80 metre intercept struck-off for a holding back penalty that no-one in the ground saw; sustained pressure, but no final killer pass; a knock-on over the line.

Indeed, it took a Hornets implosion on 20 minutes to break the deadlock. Wayne English's pass from a 20 metre restart was deemed forward, gifting the Cougars the perfect field position for Handforth to score a last-tackle sucker try. He added the extras for 6-nil.

Hornets kept coming, but a hard-earned repeat set deep in Keighley territory was criminally squandered when no-one went in at acting half for a quick Dave Llewellyn play-the-ball, gifting possession to the home side.

Then two consecutive attacks broke down: firstly Ryan Millard's long cut-out pass to Ryan Sheridan was wildly high, then Hornets were snagged for obstruction. Frustrating.

Conversely, Keighley chugged off up the other end and - just as their set looked to have run out of steam - a last tackle kick going nowhere was allowed to bobble in the in-goal for Haley to touch down. Awful, really, after a half of concerted hard work. Half-time 10-nil - and nothing between the sides.

The pattern for the second-half was set almost immediately: Lewis Sheridan royally cocking up a benign Handforth bomb, Lawton strolling in for a simple try off the loose ball. Handforth now with his eye in. 16-nil

Hornets strove to get back in the game; quick hands to the left, but Sheridan fumbled the final flick-pass with the line begging. Off the hook, Keighley swept straight back downfield where Handforth picked an inch-perfect pass for Lynam to hit at pace and score untouched. Handforth the two: 22-0.

It was that man again four minutes later: a cute show & go created a huge hole and exposed Wayne English to a two-on-one he was never likely to win. Craven the scorer. Handforth the two and the game dead at 28-nil with 25 minutes still to play.

Hornets response was to hoof the kick-off out on the full. Just awful.

Hornets finally gave their supporters someting to cheer on 56 minutes when a great break from Stuart Littler slotted Ryan Millard in for a try that hinted that underneath this carapace of lack-lustre dreck there was still a decent footballing side struggling to get out.

Sadly, it was too little to be of consequence and Hornets spent the last 20 minutes standing off Handforth who went through his repertoire like a matador extravagantly building up to the coup de grace.

First: a huge cut-out pass to send White in by the flag. Next: a tricksy interchange of ticka-tacka passing that slipped Craven in off a short-ball. And then: a perfectly weighted dink-kick for Haley to touch-down.

Finally, Handforth capped his one-man-show performance with a jinking solo-try through a retreating defence. He banged over the two for good measure. 48-6 - and every point of it as bad as it sounds.

Whilst the Hornets fans strove to applaud their team, there was a discernible sense of shell-shock. Yes, we've always known that staying up was a big ask in this of all seasons, but at least we hoped we'd go down fighting. Not like this…

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Sunday's Coming: Keighley

Sunday sees a game that marks the end of two exiles. The first is that it's the last game of Hornets' six week annual odyssey imposed by the Spotland pitch works.

The other is that - by our calculations -  it's the last game of Cougars' coach Paul March's two month stadium ban imposed after the RFL found him guilty of verbally abusing match officials.

The terms of his ban mean that he cannot be present in the stadium 90 minutes before the kick off at any first or second team Keighley Cougars game, he can only return to the stadium 30 minutes after the full time whistle, and he is not allowed to communicate with his team or staff during the game.

Wax on, wax off - Paul March's new viewpoint today
Having seen the ban upheld despite an appeal, March has found an interesting work-around.

"It's not so bad when we're at home because I've got a viewing point outside the ground," March said. "At the back of the posts there's a petrol station and I can see 90 per cent of the pitch from a fence in the car wash. The frustrating thing is that I can see things going on and I can't do anything about it because I can't communicate with the bench."

So expect to see him gazing forlornly through the fence on Sunday.

This week Ross Heppenstall - Bradford Bulls reporter for the Argus and the Keighley News, who also covers the Cougars - described Keighley as: "… well placed in eighth spot heading into Sunday’s home clash with lowly Rochdale."

Whilst he's clearly a patronising bastard soured by watching too much of lowly Bradford's slow Super League suicide, sitting comfortably with an 8 & 8 record - plus four of those elusive bonus points - Keighley do have the feel of a club that's got to grips with Championship life, and has acquired the nous that enables them to not only find ways to win, but more importantly to 'lose well'.

Keighley come into Sunday's game buoyed by a cheeky 13 point win at fast-fading Sheffield who, incidentally, have won only two home league games at Owlerton -  the Whitebank of the Championship. Danny Jones with the late drop goal to deny Sheffield the bonus point.

Indeed the win was engineered by Jones and his half-back partner, the redoubtable Paul Handforth, who provided ample opportunity for Cougars' jumbo-sized pack to wreak havoc. So a clear danger there.

Hornets can take confidence from last week's game at Halifax. Take three freakish long-range tries out of the equation and the game was pretty even, Hornets showing the graft and determination that takes you a long way - but boy, do teams hit your errors hard at this level …

Sunday provides a great opportunity to tee-up our return to Spotland with a morale-boosting performance, so let's get over there in numbers and hope we can all top-up our tans on the popular side at Lawkholme Lane.

See you Sunday - bring your singing voice.

Keighley - Parking Warning

If you're heading over on Sunday, a friendly word of warning from BurleyCougar on parking around the ground. He/she says: " If you happen to park at the Bottom end of the ground (Opposite the McDonalds end ) please DO NOT park on any of the side roads that lead off the main road (Royd Ings Avenue) as a few of them are private roads , if you park there you will get ticketed. They turn up after kick off and pounce, have lost track of the amount of tickets they have dished out this season. Also anti-Cougars parking are the following: Retail park behind K.F.C., the swimming pool further back from ground on Hard Ings Road and the Carpetright just after petrol station on same side of ground. There is plenty of parking on the main road at bottom end of ground (Royd ings Avenue) and there is a club car park about 50 yards from the bottom turnstiles"

So now you know.

Official RFL Preview
Keighley Cougars coach Paul March is preparing for the penultimate game of his two-month stadium ban on Sunday.
Cougars host struggling Rochdale Hornets, who have lost their last seven games, just seven days after an impressive victory against Sheffield Eagles.
But Rochdale coach Ian Talbot insists his side can halt their recent run of form, having been encouraged by last week’s 42-24 defeat against Halifax.
Talbot said: “There were big signs of improvement in that game, and at 55 minutes the game was there for the taking.”
Hornets expect to have Ryan Millard available after a recent knee injury, with Talbot reporting no new concerns in his squad.
He added: “Keighley are hitting a bit of form and it’s never easy to go to Cougar Park.
“They’ve got experience across the park, with Danny Jones and Paul Handforth steering them well and Richie Barnett is always a threat out wide.
“We’ve just go to take each game as it comes and just worry about ourselves and the challenges in front of us.”

Monday, 23 June 2014

Confidence is a Preference...

Halifax 42 - Hornets 24

Confidence is an ephemeral thing. We spoke here last week about finding ways to 'lose well', and - despite the result at the Shay - this was an old-skool battling performance from a Hornets side that sometimes finds it hard to believe in its own abilities.

In marked contrast to recent weeks, Hornets began in solid style. The early  exchanges were tight, but it was Hornets looking the more eager.

In just the second minute a high kick launched into 'Fax's left corner saw Shaun Robinson wrestle the winger for possession on the home goal line, but Mr Bloem's dubious penalty for offside let Halifax off the hook. And let's not even talk about the 'Fax penalty for holding down two minutes later. Shocker.

On 15 mins, a good spell of Hornets pressure drove Halifax backwards, but James Dandy's last tackle lunge from acting half landed just short. Halifax exhaled and shipped the ball rapidly left through a stretched Hornets line for Divorty to race home on the end of an 80 metre move. Tyrer the two, 6-nil - somewhat against the run of play.

Hornets hit straight back. Again, determined approach work took them close, but Anthony Walker knocked on close to the line and the chance went begging. Adding insult to injury, a poor penalty for offside swept Halifax back downfield. But with Halifax looking to spread the ball wide it took a superb crunching tackle by Shaun Robinson to dump his opposite number into touch. 

This gave Hornets a visible lift. A great exit-set followed by a good kick-chase pinned Fax back. And, having snaffled possession more good approach-work took Hornets close, but they couldn't find the killer-pass to unlock the Fax defence.

But Hornets kept coming. More good error-free approach work, with  a well-placed Crooky kick to push Fax backwards. Under pressure, Fax produced a freak try - a series of finger-tip speculator passes somwhow stuck and Divorty expoited space out wide for a long-range try. Tyrer the 2: 12-0.

On the half-hour some nifty footwork by Holmes set up a three on one on Wayne English, Fieldhouse the beneficiary. Tyrer put the simple kick wide: 16-0

With a shellshocked Hornets now desperately trying to regain their shape, Halifax again busted the line from distance, but fluffed the last pass for a thankful let-off.

Composure regained, Hornets marched straight back upfield where Dave Llewllyn embarked on an arcing, dummying run for a well-taken individual try. Crooky the extras and Hornets batting down the clock to go in at the break 16-6 down.

Hornets began the second half with a bang. With barely a minute on the clock, a break by Alex McClurg saw him step into open field and slot Lewis Sheridan in by the posts. No mistake from Crooky, 16-12. Game on.

Hornets were now playing with confidence and, on 44 mins, a terrific exchange of passes had Halifax in all sorts of trouble, but the last pass from Wayne English to Danny Davis was deemed forward by the eagle-eyed former Halifax player Mr Bloem to maintain his former club's lead.

Having played their get-out-of-jail card, Halifax exploited a stretched Hornets line to go up the other end to send Ambler in. They repeated the feat six minutes later - Mr Bloem noiticeably less concerned with the two 'flat' passes in the build-up. A poor spell from the ref: Halifax 28-12 up.

Hornets got back in the game on the hour when good passing up the left Channel saw Paul Crook score a terrific try off a neat Stuart Littler pass. He celebrated his 1000 points by smacking home the conversion and Hornets were back in the chase at 28-18. But an almost immediate lapse of concentration saw Hornets fumble the ball under their own posts. 'Fax took full advantage, working the ball around until a big hole appeaed, through which Divorty cavorted to score: 32-18.

But this wasn't a day for lying down. On 68 minutes Chris Baines was launched exocet-style off a short-ball to crash through a tangle of defenders to score, Crooky slotted the two and at 32-24 you could hear the home sphincters squeak.

Hornets began to turn the screw, but a 70th minute mystery-penalty for God-knows-what took 'Fax fully 60 metres upfield, where a last tackle kick behind a tiring defence was touched down by Divorty: 36-24.

Hornets sucked-in hard for one last spell of pressure, but the good approach didn't quite have the crucial end-product. Conversely, Halifax launched one last attack where a hopeful kick going nowhere was allowed to bobble one time too many and Adamson got a hand through a crowd of legs to score. FInal score 42-24.

But despair ye not. The disappointment of seeing that elusive Bonus point slip is mitigated by a hard-working, no-frills performance that showed that - when it comes to the crunch - we're really not that far short of competing with sides who have ambitions (and budgets) significantly loftier than ours. Indeed, if Hornets can pull some of the grit, determination and hard-work of this performance into the last third of the season, we may yet surprise some people. Not least ourselves,

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Sunday's Coming: Halifax

Since we played them at Spotland, Halifax seem to have got their unconvincing Championship challenge back on track, though gifting Workington their NINTH bonus point of the season in an 18-10 win last week suggests that they flatter to deceive. 
A baaa-d view at Halifax: but we are not sheep.

Having come back from a 10-nil deficit (including a try within a minute) 'Fax eventually scrambled home. Coach Karl Harrison blamed the previous game against Leigh and an escalating injury list for his side's low-key performance.

Speaking in the Halifax Courier this week, he said: 

“We were down to the bare bones in terms of players; they were the 17 we had fit and Adam Robinson was 18th man after 12 weeks out. We’ve got a lot of busted players; it turned out that Gareth Potts played 55 minutes at Leigh with a broken ankle. Paul Mennell is probably the closest to coming back for Sunday, but we’ll have to assess things this week.

One player who looks increasingly likely to miss the cut is second-rower Dane Manning, Charged with a Grade E shoulder charge and Grade D striking offence from the Leigh game. A call of guilty on both counts could see him staring down the barrel of a 12 week suspension. But Harrison is convinced of his innocence: "

“I’ve watched it from different angles," he said, "some of which are more conclusive than others… it’s clearly not a shoulder charge, it’s a pushing motion to the chest… we’ve got a solicitor involved…" Right.

However it plays out, Hornets need to find a performance that lifts confidence. As Workington have shown, you might lose a lot, but losing well can pay dividends. Having effectively grabbed three wins' worth of points from losing, Town are a walking embodiment of why performances more than results pay off at this level.

We've often said here that, when the chips are down, good teams find a way to win. But if we can't do that, we need to find a way to lose well.

See you at the Shay on Sunday - even though it's one of our least favourirte grounds for away supporters.  In typical dumb-ass Yorkshire fashion, Halifax like to corral fans behind the posts where you can see feck-all. Given that we don't want act in such a sheeplike fashion, we'll (hopefully) be in the main stand. Let's try and get together, make some noise and get behind Tol and the lads.


We've just seen this:

And we remember this:

So we'd ask this:
How is it possible that a referee who used to play for Halifax and still lives in Halifax can officiate a game involving Halifax - at the Shay? Some mistake surely?

RFL Match Preview

Halifax coach Karl Harrison is forced into making at least one change to his starting line-up after second-row forward Dane Manning was given a 10-match ban earlier this week.

Manning was found guilty of grade E intentional striking and grade D sustained punching, and received five-match suspensions for each offence.

The news comes as a further blow to Harrison, whose side is already struggling with injuries. Gareth Potts (broken ankle) is the latest to be sidelined.

Harrison said: “We’ve so many people out at the moment, but that’s rugby league and that’s why you’ve got a squad.”

In contrast Rochdale Hornets coach Ian Talbot has reported a “clean bill of health, other than our long-term injuries” ahead of Sunday’s Kingstone Press Championship clash.

Talbot has called for his team to increase their concentration for the trip to the Shay.

Talbot said: “At the minute we’re making far too many errors with and without the ball, and we’re getting punished for them.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Hornets Suffer the Curse of Friday the 13th

Swinton 39 - Hornets 18

Not even the final hooter could provide the sizeable Hornets following with respite from this Friday night shocker. With 80 minutes gone and the hooter sounded, Hornets' desperation in chasing the increasingly elusive bonus point led to a series of flapping passes that saw Swinton's Barber snaffle a loose ball and score.

In reality, it ended as it had begun: Hornets coughing the ball on the 2nd tackle of the first set; 30 seconds later Ackers plunging in to score. O'Brien converted and Hornets, again, were 6-nil down before many had got settled in their seats.

Having forced a knock-on from the resuting kick-off, Hornets were given an early chance to rectify their dozy start, but the last tackle dink kick rolled harmlessly dead.

On the next foray into Swinton territory Hornets did conjure up one of those moments of slick, lucid football that only serve to tease us so mercilessly. Ryan Millard picked out Wayne English making the extra man; Wayne smuggled the ball to Shaun Robinson who finished in style. Crooky hit the extras for 6-all.

But rather than settle nerves, the try seemed to compel Hornets to force passes where there were none to be had. Two incidences in as many minutes gave Swinton easy possession the wrong side of half-way, but a poor Lions kick allowed Chris Baines to clear the lines.

With litle more in their armoury than a big hoof behind Wayne English, Swinton looked short on ideas, but when Referee Hewer was the only person in the ground to spot a high tackle on 17 minutes, the resulting penalty gave the Lions the platform to build some pressure.

A kick into the in-goal was defused by Paul Crook to give the home side a repeat set. And when Mr Hewer snagged Hornets for offside at a play the ball under their own posts to give Swinton a third bite of the cherry, it looked a matter of 'not if, bit when'.

To Hornets' credit their defence held up But when a last tackle kick going nowhere struck a Hornets foot Mr Hewer wiped the tackle count and Nanyn gathered the bobbling ball to score through a stunned defence. O'Brian the two: 12-6

On 25 minutes the game took a bad-tempered turn. Shaun Robinson had the ball stolen on-on-one on the 2nd tackle, but reacted to the manner in which it had been taken. With the home fans baying for retribution, Mr Hewer broke up a growing scuffle and gave Hornets the penalty.

Given the chance to build some pressure of their own, Hornets got pulled for offside, Swinton took the 60 easy metres and Ackers scooted softly from acting half through a napping defence. O'Brian the extras and, at 18-6, Hornets looked in all kinds of trouble.

Brief respite was provided on the half-hour when Hornets moved the ball left via Ryan Millard, whose bouncing pass was seized by Shaun Robinson who scored by the flag. Cooky a great kick from the touchline for 18-12.

But still the momentum refused to swing Hornets' way. on 38 minutes Mr Hewer gave a Swinton knock-on when the ball bounced out of a tackle, on the Lions 30 metre line. But with Hornets packing down to launch one last attack of the half, Mr Hewer changed his judgement, gave Swinton a mystery penalty for ball-stealing and swept the home side fully 70 metres downfield. One minute later Brown went barrelling in under the black-dot and Hornets went in at the break 24-12 down.

Hornets started the second half at a significantly higher tempo. Gifted good field position after Swinton hoyed the kick-off dead, Ryan Millard's last-tackle show and go created just enough space for him to stretch in and score. Crooky the two; 24-18. 

Immediately Hornets were back on the attack. A high-tempo set ended with a great last tackle play that saw Ryan Millard feed Stuart Littler, whose cheeky kick through forced a repeat set. With further pressure courtesy of a penalty for holding down and repeat set off a Crooky kick, Hornets sought the killer pass, but - having expended three sets under Swinton's posts - they came up with a poor last tackle option and it all came to nought.

Swinton took the chance to launch their own attack, but - having withstood it - Hornets coughed the ball on the second tackle, Watson provided the fulcrum for a tidy exchange of passes and Barber said 'thanks very much' with a straightforward finish. O'Brien good with the boot and, at 30-18, you could sense the shift in momentum.

A 10-minute spell of scrappy play, dropped ball and scrambling defence was ended by a run of pernickety Swinton penalties surmounted by a drop goal that took the bonus point out of reach at 31-18.

With 10 minutes remaining, Hornets were now compelled to chase the bonus point rather than the game, but hurried passes, fumbled catches and poor kicking options just increased the sense of frustration.

With their fans calling for a drop-goal to secure the bonus point, Hornets persisted with the ball in hand, but a 77th minute attack could only come up with a dropped forward pass. Not great.

And when Hornets conceded a penalty under their own posts for ball-stealing, O'Brian slapped home the two for 33-18.

This left Hornets with only one option to secure the bonus point. A short kick-off from Paul Crook was gathered by his onrushing team-mates, but with time ebbing away, Hornets came up with another forward pass.

But this game had one last kick in the spuds waiting. In possession as the hooter sounded Hornets panicked the ball out of a series of tackles - only to hand Barber a clear run to the line. O'Brian added the coup-de grace to give Swinton a 39-18 win.

Notwithstanding the fact that Hornets look like a side unable to resist repeating their now standard litany of errors, this surely must be the season's nadir. Before this and the previous game Swinton had lost six on the trot and looked like a busted flush, but a couple of wins down the line, they look to have regained their confidence.

The loyal, noisy Hornets following - who, incidentally, outnumbered their Swinton counterparts in a crowd that struggled to crawl over 400 - can only hope for something similar.  In the meantime, we have what remains of this weekend off to get over this disappointing  horror-show.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Friday's Coming: Swinton Lions

Those bonus ponts are a bit of a bastard. With one win fewer than Hornets, Swinton got a leg-up off the bottom of the table following their excellent result at Big Spending North Wales Crusaders™ last week.

Speaking in the press this week, Ian Talbot recognised the importance of the dreaded bonus point to clubs' survival hopes.

“Not only do we need to win matches but we need to pick up bonus points too,” he said. We’re not finishing games how we should be and for that reason it means we miss out on a bonus point.

“Bonus points could be crucial in this league, at the moment the bottom three sides are all on the same number of points so that shows how important they can be. It again comes down to us not playing well in stages of the match. We need to keep our performances up for the full 80 minutes, not just for a brief period."

And 'Tal' recognises that Hornets are still on a learning curve when it comes to being savvy at this level: “We’re always learning with each new match so hopefully we’ll get back to winning ways against Swinton on Friday.”

Spelly + Swinton = the perfect couple
As for the Lions, it's hard to dislike any team that goes down to the Land of the Leek and hands the Welsh their arse in their own backyard. With lots of good RL mates at Swinton, TLCRF80mins was quite pleased at the thought of 600 Crusaders fans bleating in defeat and Spelly having a splendid weekend. Then, clearly, we were less pleased as the Lions leap-frogged Hornets in an increasingly intense Championship relegation dogfight.

Indeed, it's all very tight round the bottom, where every point really counts. Workington sit in tenth with only three wins, but have 8 bonus points - at that rate they could lose by 11 every week and win the bloody title!

As every pundit would attest, Friday night at the Leigh Sports Village comes with an exciting double edge: a local derby that's an old-skool 6-pointer. As we all know, everything at Swinton (including possible the laundry and the pie-deliveries) goes through Ian Watson. As if proof were needed he weighed in last week with a try, though most notably the game saw the debut of Martin Aspinwall on loan from Leigh and saw Mick Nanyn back from injury. Add to that Swinton's 'line-up lottery' strategy that sees a weekly random inclusion of Warrington players and you have a tricky game to navigate.

Finally, as 'Tal' succinctly put it in the press this week, "They’re a good side but we just need to focus on our own efforts. The best Rochdale Hornets side beats the best Swinton Lions side in my opinion.”

Hornets are hoping to have hooker Alex McClurg and wing Ryan King back in contention, but Gaz Langley and Mike Ratu remain sidelined.

RFL Match Preview
Swinton Lions coach Ian Watson is aiming for back-to-back wins after last week’s morale-boosting 42-24 victory over North Wales Crusaders.
The Lions remain nine points behind ninth-placed Batley Bulldogs, but could narrow that gap by beating Rochdale Hornets on Friday.
However, Hornets look set to be boosted by the return of Tony Suffolk and Alex McClurg, although Gareth Langley and Mike Ratu are still ruled out.
Hornets coach Ian Talbot said: “This is a massive game for us, given the disappointment of finding ourselves at the bottom of the table.
“I’m not really a believer in classing games as must-win, but this one is massive if we’ve any ambition of getting off the bottom and then trying to climb up to ninth place.
“For 60 minutes we were good against Batley last week, but in the other 20 minutes we conceded five tries and that’s the game gone. We can’t afford to repeat those mistakes this week.”
Talbot has been dealt a further blow with confirmation that Sean Casey has suffered a broken jaw, despite an initial diagnosis of dislocation. Casey will see a specialist on Thursday about a possible reconstruction.

Monday, 9 June 2014

When Luck Breaks Down

Batley 44 - Hornets 28

We know that we can gripe about referees until the cows come home, but one moment of this game typified how this new generation of pisspoor officials have trouble applying even the most basic of the laws.

77 minutes played and Hornets pressing hard to try and snatch that all important bonus point. Lewis Sheridan scoots from acting half up the left channel, skips through the first Batley tackler, the next defender he encounters steal the ball in a one-on-one - but, being the second tackler involved in that play, it should have been a penalty. Both referee and touch-judge (under whose nose it happened) waved play on; Batley brought the ball away and the chance was gone.

Pretty bloody awful - and it put the lid on another afternoon where luck deserted Hornets and left their noisy supporters scratching their heads.

Once again, though, Hornets put their fans through the emotional wringer - coughing a penalty for holding down in the first set to give Bretherton the opportunity to gather a lofted kick and score with barely a minute gone. Leatherbarrow added the two: 6-0.

But Hornets responded in dynamic fashion. Paul Crook driving close to the line on 4 minutes; then John Cookson arriving like a juggernaut off a short ball to crash through untouched. Crooky with the extras. Game on.

On 12 minutes Hornets forced an error off a Crooky kick and quick-hands left threaded Shaun Robinson in by the flag to give Hornets a 6-10 lead.

With the game now pretty even, Hornets sought a way out of the mid-field arm-wrestle. A steepling last tackle kick from Ryan Millard was gathered on the run by the returning Joe Greenwood, but his hurried pass bounced away from the Hornets support. No matter.

On 23 minutes a mesmerising last tackle show and go from Ryan Millard carved Batley wide open and he jinked through for a great solo try. Crook good with the boot and Hornets deservedly up by 6-16.

Then, with Hornets seemingly in control and Batley going nowhere, a dropped bomb under no pressure, followed by a loose third tackle carry gave the home side a bit of a platform to play in Hornets' half.

A series of overly picky penalties allowed Batley to set up camp in the Hornets 10m zone: the three back-to-back sets they yielded finaly told when Griffin touched down. Put the assist down to Referee Thomason. 10-16.

Hornets confindence looked visibly shaken and - handed the momentum, Batley came up with two quick-fire tries: the first a 70 metre break by Greenwood, the second a pig-ugly short-range effort from Nicholson and Hornets retired to the sheds shellshocked at 22-16 down.

The second half began with Mr Thomason applying the rule-de-jour: snagging the Hornets attack for an obstruction that no-one else in the ground saw. The resulting penalty swept Batley down the hill where Hurst went steaming under the posts to score. Leatherbarrow the conversion: 28-26.

Then, disaster. With Hornets still trying to work out what the hell happened, Brown ran the kick-off back fully 70 metres to score a shocker. To add insult to injury, Leatherbarrow hit the target from wide out and, at 32-16 down, Hornets were left chasing a fast-departing bonus point.

And, to be fair, they gave it a dig. Over excitement on 50 minutes saw Woz Thompson fumble a Ryan Millard dink-through; then Millard himself stepping and dancing through to show great strength and score from 15 metres. Crooky with the two and Hornets back in the hunt at 34-22.

Immediately, Batley responded: a long-distance strike through broken field, Black the decisive pass for Greenwood to score. Add the extras and the gap extended again at 40-22.

On the hour mark, Batley hoisted a bomb more in hope than expectation: you'd've had your house on Wayne English making the simple catch. But an uncharacteristic misjudgement saw the ball slip- from his grasp and Batley took ruthless advantage, shipping the ball wide for Brown to score. 44-22.

A smart short Crooky kick-off found a touchline, and Hornets went back on the attack. A great move up the left saw Stu Littler smuggle a terrific ball to Shaun Robinson, but the winger was bundled into touch via the flag.

Now it was all Hornets. On 67 minutes batley were pulled for obstruction, but Hornets couldn't find the killer pass; then great defence forced Batley back into their in-goal to concede a drop-out.

On 70 minutes it looked like Lewis Sheridan had successfully burrowed in, but the try was struck-off for a double movement. Five minutes later Wayne English was first to react to a Batley error, snaffling the loose ball to steal away for a 40 metre breakaway try. Crooky with the two and Hornets desperately closing in on the elusive bonus point. But it wasn't to be.

The officials' appalling ball-steal decision denied Hornets a penalty deep in Batley territory, and when Anthony walker fumbled the ball at the death, the chance of consolation was gone.

Again this was a frustratingly disappointing afternoon. For 65 minutes there was nothing between these teams - and for large tracts of the first and last quarters, Hornets were the only side playing any real, lucid football.

Batley (back to full strength - and with a huge pack running off ex-North Sydney Bears half Ben Black) showed why they were Championship Grad finalists last season. And that's at the crux of it for us. We're playing decent sides who punish lapses ruthlessly - and it's nigh-on impossible to claw games back at this level.

No-one gave us a snowball in hell's chance this season. But get a couple of wins and it's hard not to let your expectations run away with you. So let's all take a deep breath and have a contemplative moment of perspective. We've had just a dozen games at this level and, for long-periods of this one, Hornets looked like the better side. We know that losing hurts, but how easily we forget how far we've come.

In closing, we offer you this: while we were losing a fast, frenetic game at last year's Championship grand finalists (and scoring some great tries in the process), Oldham were losing at Hemel in front of two men and a dog.

Who's the lucky one now?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Sunday's Coming: Batley

And so we go to Mount (un)Pleasant to find last year's Championship Grand finalists staring into the abyss at the wrong end of the table.

The previous week's win at Swinton ended Batley's four-match losing run, but normal service was resumed last week when their injury-hit side went down by 32 to 26 at Featherstone.

Two unconverted tries in the last seven minutes from Pogo Paterson and Alex Rowe were enough to snaffle the bonus point - but the Yorkshire Post's match report gives us a sizeable clue to how Batley crept back into a game that Fev looked to have wrapped up.

"Featherstone’s clinical nature in attack, particularly on the flanks, and ability to nullify Batley near their own line proved the catalyst to the victory, despite going through two torrid periods with discipline and ball retention that saw Batley score 20 of their points." Put simply, it doesn't matter who you are and who you're playing,  if you give the opposition enough ball, they'll score. As we saw only too clearly at Barrow…

Indeed, Batley are the living embodiment of why bonus points are so critical in the Championship restructure dogfight. They currently sit in the hallowed 9th spot, with only one win more than Hornets, but with a big fat five bonus points. Yes - effectively two free wins. For losing. Complaints on a postcard to Nigel Wood. Who doesn't really care as he's most likely on a Rugby League International Federation jolly to Port Moresby. Or Parramatta. Or Pontefract…

But don't worry, everyone: Batley's John Kear has a typically doom-mongering 'Yocksha' view on the future of our game. Speaking in the Daily Star 18 months ago he said:

1895 and all that: John Kear takes his seat at Twickers.
“I am not confident about the code’s long-term prospects as an elite, full-time sport. The threats to the game now are greater than ever, leading me to question whether in the long-term there will be league at professional level. In a few generations it might be amateur, or at best a semi-professional, part-time game.”

“The dangers are two-fold. Union will swallow League or there will be a hybrid game, combining the two sports as they are now."

As we all know, not only were  the 'Gallant Youths' original members of the Northern Union, they were the first winners of the Northern Union Challenge Cup in 1897 beating St. Helens 10-3 at Headingley - so Kear's fatalistic view would be heresy to Batley's proud founders who took the brave step of telling the RFU to go f*ck itself in 1895.

Back in the present, Hornets need to repeat the robust, hard-working performance that denied Batley the points at Spotland. Indeed, a win of any shade would boost confidence as our six-week exodus - as always - begins to take its toll.

A big mention here to the Hornets fans who made the trip up to Barrow and made themselves heard. Every body and every voice is essential to give the lads a vital lift. We know we can beat Batley - we've seen it happen already. Time to see if lightning can strike twice.

See you there.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The One That Got Away

Barrow 38 - Hornets 18

Don't be fooled by the scoreline - it doesn't tell anywhere near the whole story of this surreal pantomime of a game.

It became clear at 2.45pm that the ego had landed. The announcement of 42 year-old Bobbie Goulding at half-back for Barrow ensured that - regardless of the score -  there would only be one story to emerge from this game.

As it was, this was one of those irritating games that always seemed within Hornets' reach, but which - almost imperceptibly - ebbed away in a receding tide of dubious referrring decisions and unforced errors.

Indeed, a vociferous Hornets contingent enjoying the Barrow sunshine was 'treated' to possibly the least glowing start. On Barrow's first set, their winger was dragged into touch on the last tackle, the ball bouncing loose in the process. 

But referee Crashley - old-headed for long tracts of this game by Goulding -  gave the home side the feed at the scrum from whence the ball was shipped wide to Wiper who scored by the flag with a minute on the clock. Shaw added the two and Hornets looked behind the metaphorical 8-ball before they'd even started.

In fairness (or, indeed, in Furness) Hornets took the game back to Barrow with a solid, direct set, but a loose ball launched a 70 metre rearguard action with Lewis Galbraith compelled to touch down in goal. This signalled a period of sustained Barrow pressure, but they lacked the guile to capitalise.

On 15 minutes Hornets got the break through they deserved. A huge Chris Baines break through the heart of the Raiders line, a fantastically delicate dink-kick from Josh Jones and Ryan Millard strolled through to score great try. Crooky with the two and Hornets back in the scrap.

But Hornets' desire to play expansive football came back to bite them. A penalty for obstruction as the ball was worked across the line (the first of four 'obstructions' in the game) swept Barrow 60 metres downfield where Grant somehow squeezed through a backpedaling defence to score. Shaw with the two, 12-6.

Almost immediately Barrow were back on the attack - Chris percival going for a 23rd minute interception, knocking the ball on and handing the home-side easy possession. But the Hornets defence stood firm. Having defused the danger, a great 80 metre exit set pressed Barrow back in their own 20m zone, but with ball in hand, Hornets forced a couple of passes and, with Barrow booming the ball deep into Hornets half Lewis Galbraith showed great pace to win the foot-race and touch down to concede a drop-out.

Having policed a laissé faire ruck for 35 minutes, Mr Crashley decided to re-interpret the laws relatng to holding down in the tackle, snagging Hormets for an innocuous effort. The penalty piggy-backed Barrow to within 10 metres of the Hornets line, where they sent in a big lump off a short ball from a yard for a pig-ugly try. Shaw faultless: 18-8.

The half ended as it had begun, with a frankly shite refereeing decision. Swept downfield by yet another obstruction penalty, Barrow's set was going nowhere. Hornets admirably committed bodies to the tackle, but the ball carrier persisted in wrestling his way to an extra few metres. With the tackle seemingly still in progress, Mr Crashley blew for not releasing the ball carrier - despite the fact that he'd quite patently failed to call 'held' - and, with the siren sounding, Shaw took the two to send Hornets a disappointing 20-6 down - with Barrow barely having had to work for a single point.

The second half began in frenetic fashion: Barrow on top buoyed by the goading of the hyperactive tannoy announcer and some Goulding histrionics. But it took close on 20 minutes for any meaningful activity. And it was as disappointing as it was shambolic. With the last tackle of a another Barrow set going nowhere, an aimless kick into an empty in-goal caused undue chaos. The gathering Hornetrs defence cocked it up royally, gifting Campbell a horribly easy try. Shaw with the two and the bonus point heading for the exit at 26-6.

But Hornets hit straight back. A sweeping 80 metre break instigated by Paul Crook and finished in style by Lewis Galbraith. Crook with the two and a chink of hope. It was now Hornets' turn to build pressure and on 72 minutes the Barrow defence cracked as John Cookson crashed in to score off a short ball. Crooky with the two and the Hornets' fans in full voice at 26-18.

But this game had a predictable twist in the tail. On 77 minutes Goulding came back off the bench to put the game to bed: his close range inside drop-off ball slotted Jones in by the posts. Shaw added the two. Hope extinguished as the Bonus Point left the building, 32-18.

In one last desperate throw of the dice, Hornets risked a short kick-off, but Barrow came up with the ball. 30 seconds later Lloyd went steaming under the black dot; Shaw adding the two on the siren and Hornets shellshocked at 38-18.

Hyperactive Tannoy Guy invited the crowd to congratulate "Bobbie Goulding and the Barrow Raiders" -  interesting to see who gets top billing here. And, whilst Goulding proved his usual pain-in-the-arse handful, he was for long-periods reduced to an Alfred-Hitchock-esque cameo role, a familiar face strolling past in the background as the action whirled around him. Indeed, Barrow were more lively, more dynamic with him off the field. But in the end, his niggle-value was sufficient difference.

And we'd say to Hornets fans scratching their heads about how this one got away, don't be fooled by the scoreline. All bar 12 of Barrow's points came directly from the result of a penalty or a Hornets error. Not once in the first half did Barrow carry the ball over the half-way line: the referee's whistle their only means of gaining ground.

At times Hornets looked more like the smooth, slick footballing machine we all want to see, but it's hard to gain any momentum when the game is repeatedly broken up  like this.

Missing Langley, Ratu, Llewellyn, Case, Suffolk, Bowman and Sheridan this still has the feel of a patched-up side. The addition of Stuart Littler should provide some respite - his shift at Craven Park commendably adept, he gave it a proper dig.

On a weekend where all teams except Barrow in the bottom five lost, nothing much changes. So we dust ourselves off and go again next week - hoping, as we do, for a more equitable rub of the green.