Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Sunday's Coming: Keighley Cougars

Since they won the iPro Cup, courtesy of a Paul Handforth masterclass in how to boss a game, Keighley seem to have been stricken with a case of the yips.

Going down to a two point home defeat against Barrow last week via a penalty after the hooter was, according to coach Paul March ‘an absolute sickener’, coming as it did a week after the Cougars spectacularly tanked at Toulouse by a staggering 84-6.  You can see Keighley get a proper French flogging in the video below.

The two consecutive defeats leaves Keighley’s chance of making the top four dependent on Doncaster and Barrow’s forthcoming results (both Doncaster and Barrow inflicting home defeats on the Cougars this term).

Speaking on the club’s website,  Head Coach Paul March said: “We must keep going on now, we had that massive low at Toulouse where there was no effort or commitment to each other but it was the total opposite today but at times we weren’t smart enough.”

“We had a lot of the ball in the second half but spilt the ball early in sets when we should have been building pressure and getting repeat sets, but we were giving up possession too easily and allowing Barrow to build the pressure on us.

“There (are) some big games coming up now against Rochdale and York and we need to dust ourselves down and hopefully we’ll get the effort and smart Rugby League from the lads on Sunday at Rochdale.”

Conversely, Hornets secured a top four berth with last week’s flogging of Hemel Stags. Sitting third on 21 points with two games remaining, only Doncaster are close enough to overhaul Killer’s side (18 points with two games remaining). Fifth placed Barrow have only one game left and can only reach 19 points. (Whisper it quietly, but - having seen the format of the super 8s - if you finish fourth, the side finishing top come to you: second or third, you go to them!). Keighley sit 6th on 16 points with two remaining: a possible 20 points: but they do have to play us and York, who’ll be seeking revenge for their iPro Cup final defeat.

If you like a bit of mental artithmetic, the Super 8s Format is:

1st - Home v 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th / Away v 4th, 7th, 8th
2nd - Home v  3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th / Away v 1st, 5th, 8th
3rd - Home v 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th / Away v 1st, 2nd, 6th
4th - Home v 1st, 5th, 6th, 8th / Away v 2nd, 3rd, 7th
5th - Home v 2nd, 6th, 7th / Away v 1st, 3rd, 4th, 8th
6th - Home v 3rd, 7th, 8th / Away v 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th
7th - Home v 1st, 4th, 8th / Away v 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th
8th - Home v 1st, 2nd, 5th / Away v 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th

And the current league table is:

Hornets fell an agonising two points short of overhauling York last week - but had enough in the tank to power past a hardworking, but flaccid Hemel without really releasing the hand-brake. Notable last week was an absence of DR players - Corey Lee and Jordan Case making eye-catching returns, new boy Josh Crowley slotted in well and will only improve as he beds in. Mentions too for Samir Tahraoui and Jono Smith who caused endless panic in the stags defence, and James Tilley who pulled so many tackles we lost count.

Keighley, though pose an altogether more complex challenge: a hardworking, well-drilled side before you add Paul Handforth to the mix. Indeed, every time we've seen Keighley play Handforth has pulled the strings. It makes Sunday's Old Head v Young Gun contest with Danny Yates an intriguing prospect. See you there.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Corey Lee-ves Hemel Reeling

Hemel Stags 6 - Hornets 60

Corey Lee came roaring back into the Hornets team with a stunning performance. A hat-trick of tries, one slick assist and a second half stint at full-back in which Hornets nilled the hapless Stags saw the speeedster have his best game yet in Hornets colours.

And, while the scoreline eventually reflected Hornets’ dominance, this was a game that posed some gnarly challenges - especially in the ruck, where referee Mr Bloem’s somewhat liberal tolerance of the home-side’s  desire to slow the game to a standstill gave the game a stuttering, stop-start nature.

And - to add injury to insult - Chris Riley copped a broken hand that will see him sit out the next few weeks.

The game started in sloppy fashion, early dropped ball gave Hemel a gift of a chance. Held-up over the line, Delaney then produced a teasing kick for Hall to touch down - only for the try to be struck-off for offside.

Having escaped the early threat, Hornets produced a pair of quick-fire tries to seize momentum: Corey Lee at the heart of both. After 5 minutes his lightning break up the left found Danny Yates in support; five minutes later the ball was whipped wide where he found space to squeeze in by the flag. One from two for Crooky and Hornets up with the clock at 10-0.

To their credit, Hemel hit back at the earliest opportunity: keeping the ball alive, with quick hands for Bryan to score. Swindells added the extras and, at 10-6, the noisy bunch of visiting fans in a paltry crowd of 115 shook heads and raised eybrows; but Hornets took back control immediately.

On 18 minutes Jono Smith hit a flat-ball from Yatesey to pile in through traffic to score, followed swiftly by James Tilley hitting a crash-ball at pace from 5 metres. Two conversions from Crooky and a veneer of respectability at 22-6.

As the half wound down, Hemel had one last trick up their sleeve -  a huge break from Adams off a high kick had Hornets defenders scrambling, but the line held firm. Indeed, Hornets marched straight downfield where Jono Smith was pulled back, touching down off a forward pass.

With the timekeeper shaking his hooter, a break engineered by Samir Tahraoui and Jono Smith ended with Corey Lee scooting away to score. Half time 26-6 - and still some work to do.

Three tries in the opening 7 minutes gave Hornets a dominant start: a shambolic knock-on-athon from the kick-off, Jono’s break up the left and Jordan Case capping an eyecatching return, crashing in. Two minutes later a Samir Tahraoui break led to a Yatesey kick for Jono Smith to force a drop-out. New-boy Ryan Maneely showed a good eye for a gap, jinking across the face of the defence, to step in and score. Three minutes later it was Jono Smith again wreaking havoc in the home defence, sucking in defenders before finding Lewis Galbraith with a peach of a pass. Hornets out of sight at 42-6.

Hornets almost stretched the lead further when the ball slipped agonisingly from Jordan Case’s hand as he reached through a tangle of defenders to touch down. And stretch it they did four minutres later when Jo Taira found Danny Yates in support, Corey Lee on hand to take the pass for his hat-trick try.

With ten minutes remaining Hornets took advantage of a tiring home defence to sign off with two more well-crafted tries. Firstly Jono Smith’s dancing feet bamboozling defenders to set up an inside ball for Danny Yates to score; then Lewis Galbraith snaffling a Yatesey kick on the run to leave defenders in his wake. Crooky slotting the two and Hornets good value for their 60-6 win.

The game ended in a flurry of angry air-shots - Dale Bloomfield arbitrarily selected for a pointless yellow-card on the hooter.

In the wash-up, this was a convincing win - but for long periods Hemel hung in and took the game to Hornets. And, while the Stags, took full advantage of some favourable refereeing to sprawl, spoil and frustrate, Hornets found ways to play round the mess and rack-up the points. Frustratingly, York remain just two points of points difference ahead in second place.

But next week they travel to Toulouse, while Hornets welcome a Keighley side that seems to be having a bit of a confidence crisis since they were handed their arse in France last week, slipping to a narrow home defeat to Barrow on Sunday.

Keeps life interesting. And, having seen Spotlland’s lush new swathe at the weekend, it’ll be good to end this first phase of the season on home turf.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Sunday's Coming: Hemel Stags

We're loving Hemel's new mascot.
It’s not a good year for Hemel Stags, sitting, as they do, stone cold last in League one with just a single win under their belt.

In the eleven games so far, they’ve shipped 526 points, which clocks in at around 48 points per game on average - making last week’s 62-4 pounding at Barrow slightly worse than an average week. 46-0 down at at half-time, Hemel fluttered briefly through Harrison Brough's try at 56-nil, but merely provided a bit of a speed bump as Barrow seem to have got their season into gear.

Hemel’s win came back in April down at SW Scorpions and, when you look at their performances against fellow developmwnt side, they do have a few points in them (They scored 28 in defeat at Hunslet - their highest tally of the season).

A cursory glance at the Stags 2016 squad shows its development credentials weith players signed from RL hotbeds of Northampton, Leicester, the armed forces, Bedford, Southport and Philadelphia.

It puts quite a bit of emphasis on half back Chad Isles who has NSW Cup experience with the Canterbury-Bankstown bulldogs and fellow Aussie/Maltese international Kyal Greene, previously of CRL Group 6 side Oaks Tigers (which, for you anoraks, is about 40km North West of Wollongong).

If Troy Perkins is looking for a crumb of comfort from what looks to be a bit of a consolidating/rebuilding season after losing half a team to the predatory London Skolars, it’s this:  the Stags conceded fewer points at Toulouse then Keighley - and lost there by a smaller margin.

Hornets come into this weekend’s game on the back of a gnarly, hard-won victory at underperforming Newcastle ThunderFalcons. One change for sure will be to fill the hole left by the departure of Joe Philbin. Dubbed by many as ‘this year’s Joe Greenwood’, the Wire DR utility has put in some sterling performances for Hornets this season - but he’s been snapped up this week by Bradford Bulls to bolster their run at the Championship qualifying 8.

Indeed, with the 8s looming in League 1 too, it’ll be all heads switched on to avoid a potential banana skin at Pennine Way. And with York sneaking above Hornets on points difference last week, it’d be useful to rack-up a few while we’re down in Hertfordshire.

Whilst we appreciate that it’s a fair trip down the M1 - and it’s the third consicutive away trip - if you can get down there on Sunday, please do. The support at Newcastle last week was tremendous and it does make a diference. Bring your singing voice and your flags - and let’s ‘ave it.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Hornets Put Thunder Under

Newcastle 30 Hornets 38

The trek up to big-spending Newcastle with half a dozen Aussies in their side and their frankly awful plastic pitch to contend with was never going to be an easy one. And so it proved. This was a tough see-saw of a game between two teams who threw absolutely everything at it.

Newcastle took the lead in the 6th minute when Reudiger snaffled a dropped ball and used the free-play to his advantage. Seemingly going nowhere, he just kept taking the yards up the narrow side until he found himself in the in-goal.

Hornets response was positive. Having built some pressure to pin Thunder back in their own half, Toby King charged down a flapping last tackle clearing kick to gather and  score from 40 metres. Cooky with the extras and Hornets in front at 4-6.

On 16 minutes that lead was extended when Lewis Galbraith dropped the ball onto his toe in heavy traffic for Danny Yates to plunge through a hestitating home defence to score. Crooky on target for 4-12.

With the half hour approaching, Newcastle had failed to carry the ball into Hornets’ half - progress only provided by a series of particularly picky penalties. And when another such penalty set them up on an attack that looked to have run out of ideas, they whipped the ball wide to Fox who dived in by the flag through some ordiinary defence: 8-12.

Minutes later - again out of nothing - Newcastle prop Clarke lumbered onto a forward-looking pass to tie the scores, Parker the extras and - somehow - the home-side in front at the break: Alan Kilshaw compelled to contemplate a change in his half-time conversation.

Whatever he said, it worked. Hornets began the second half like a house on fire. Within a minute Paul Crook dinked a kick behind a slow-turning defence for Sam Wilde to touch down. Crooky adding the two to restore Hornets advantage.

Two minutes later Danny Yates was the kicker and Dale Bloomfield pinned Fox in-goal to force a drop out as Hornets turned the screw. Indeed, it seemed inevitable when Dave Cookson swatted off a series of defenders to crash in and score in the 48th minute to give Hornets a 14-22 lead.

But Newcastle simple refused to go away.

Two tries in 10 minutes - Fox up a crowded blind-side, getting a rare post conversion penalty in the process, prop Clarke launching his rotund frame at a centre - to give Newcastle an unlikely 24-22 lead going into the final 15 minutes.

Hornets sucked in for a big finish and came up with a quickfire brace of their own. On 70 minutes Woz Thompson was unstoppable off a Danny Yates short-ball; on 73 minutes Chris Riley made the extra man out wide to score his 150th career try. Crooky nailed both to pass his career 1500 points total. Hornets looking comfortable at 24-34.

As the game ebbed away, Newcastle’s attempts to salvage something from it became increasingly desperate and a free-play on 78 minutes gave them licence to string together a dozen basket-ball-style passes before Olipherts scored wide out. Hardcastle slotted the extras and, at 30-34, Thunder had less than a minute to come up with something.

What they came up with was a pass to Fox that didn’t reach its destination - intercepted by Dale Bloomfield to put the game to bed as the noisy travelling fans vented their relief. Crooky cool as with the boot as Hornets secured a vital two points.

With Toulouse hammering Keighley and York slapping a half-century on Oxford, a win of any kind was imperative at Kingston Park - and while the Thunder put up a stern resistance, Hornets had just enough in the tank to get us home.

Congratulations go to Paul Crook and Chris Riley (reaspectively the Ginger General and the Ginger NInja) on their fantastic career milestones - and again a mention for the Hornets fans who outsang their home counterparts all afternoon. Onward to Hemel next week…

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Sunday's Coming: Newcastle ThunderFalcons

Whilst researching Newcastle ThunderFalcons this week, we came across an interesting pre-season quote from the Newcastle Chronicle.  “Thunder, now under the ownership of Newcastle Falcons and sharing their Kingston Park stadium, finished a disappointing eighth in the League One table last season.”

They currently sit 10th in League 1, with only four games remaining to get into the top eight before the bottom seven get cast adrift to scrap it out for the trophy that no-one really wants to win.

Newcastle are coached by former Canberra Raiders under-20s coach Mick Mantelli - which probably explains the unlikely inclusion of two players from Queanbeyan in his squad. He was also the assistant coach of the Italian national team at the last World Cup, so plenty of experience there.

Perhaps the measure of the ThunderFalcons real ambitions lie in the fact that their captain Joe  Brown was pleased with a 22-32 defeat  by TOXIIIC on Kingstone Park’s plastic carpet  last weekend.

On this week (interesting omission on the word ‘League’ there) he said: “I thought that it was a great effort from all the lads, we knew what it was going to take to try and get a result out of them and we just fell short towards the end. I think we can take a lot of heart from the performance that we gave.”

Though our favourite quote from the post-match interview came in the narrative: “Only being beaten by ten points, the smallest margin of victory that Toulouse have recorded this season, Brown says that his sides game plan worked…”

Would be interesting to see what happens if the game plan doesn’t work - but there are lots of indications that Newcastle simply run out of gas late in games.

Having led for much of the first half, Newcastle were overhauled in the second half last week: similarly so a fortnight ago against York.

Brown again: “A lot of the teams that Toulouse have played this year have been steamrollered by them and have gone into half time around 20 points down before coming back as they ease off a bit so we knew we had to get into them straight from the off which we did. We managed it for about 60 minutes.”

“The first fifteen minutes of the second half didn’t help us but they had some really good experienced players in their squad. There are guys in there who have player NRL and Super League and we lacked a bit of a cutting edge towards the end to try and get those final points.

Mantelli’s squad is an eclectic mix of local talent and League 1 journeymen, but a deeper dig reveals a thick seam of Aussie infliuence including: Prop Fran Welsh from CRL Group 9 side Young Cherrypickers; Ben Thorburn halfback from Brisbane comp side Souths Logan Magpies; Vincent Rennie, former Canterbury Bulldogs NSW Cup and Melbourne Storm U20s prop - and Cook Islands international; Fullback Tom Reudiger from Canberra’s QueanBeyan Blues; Centre Josh Atkinson from Canberra comp side Queanbeyan Kangaroos and Aaron Teroi - ex-Melbourne Holden Cup half back. So at least four of us at the game on Sunday will have been to Seiffert Oval.

Hornets make the trip on the back of the repercussions following an underwhelming performance at York. Last Saturday Alan Kilshaw had the whole squad in at Mossway at 8am. Augmented by a handful of willing bodies from Warrington, he ran them through a full 80 minute game - 13 on 13, with no subs - to raise the intensity of the prep ahead of Sunday’s game. We’d assume it safe to suggest that Hornets would struggle to play that badly again - and Sunday provides a stern challenge as we look to cement a place at the front-end of the eight ahead of the impending split.

Last years games against ThunderFalcons were intense, tight affairs - and we anticipate the same this time round. So get yourself up there and help make a difference: let’s make some noise and cheer the boys home.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

York Shambles.

York 40 - Hornets 12

The scene was set for a great day’s Rugby League. in the summer sun of Bootham Crescent, Hornets had assembled one of their biggest away followings of recent years: in high spirits and fine voice, they anticipated a keenly fought encounter and a realistic chance of overturning York's bogey-team hoodoo.

What they got was was an ill-disciplined omnishambles: a coach-killing clusterfuck of cheap penalties, dropped ball and frankly awful decision-making.

For the first 15 minutes it was nip & tuck, arm-wrestle stuff, with some hand-bags in back-play chucked in for good measure. But when a string of flapping, fingertip York passes found their way out wide for Buchanan to score a converted try by the flag, Hornets simply came apart at the seams.

York stretched their lead by two points after back-to-back penalties took them the length of the field. And when a move going nowhere ended with a dink into the in-goal, Hornets defence turned like a canal-barge to see Buchanan reaching out to score his second.

After a 32 minute wait, Hornets found some fluency with a direct, high-tempo approach set, but undid all their hard work with the worst-possible, flapping, panic-passing last tackle option that ended with York in possession; followed by a knock on in the next set - and in the one after that.

With half-time looming, Hornets’ defence simply switched-off up the left channel, where Nicklas burrowed in to score. 0-16: could things get worse?

Yes, much, much worse.

With seconds remaining in the half, Crooky launched a long-kick from the back of a scrum for Dale Bloomfield to chase. York returned it with interest up their left edge: Saxton’s chip & hope caught Michael Ratu in two minds and his indecision gave Morland the half-chance to snaffle the bouncing ball and put Dent in for an embarrassingly easy try.

Hornets into the sheds at 22-0 down - and looking poor value for the nil.

The second half was a seamless continuation of the same chaos. Wayne English snagged for obstruction at the back of a scrum after two minutes, then soft defence inviting Brining in for a try just 60 seconds later, effectively ending the game as even the pretence of a contest.

And when Joe Philbin was caught in possession on the last tackle, York whopped the ball left for Tonks to bring up the 30. Murmurs amongst the sizeable Hornets following about the potential for a nilling.

Hornets roused briefly from their torpor around the hour mark: Jono Smith held up from close range, then a Danny Yates chip into the in-goal; Dale Bloomfield out muscling Buchanan to touch down to ironic cheers from the home fans. But the respite was short. Hornets knocked-on the kick-off possession, York moved the ball wide for Tonks to stroll in and score.

In the aftermath, Ben Moores was sinbinned, Hornets shipped a penalty straight from the kick-off - then 10 metres for talking back.

A man down, Hornets had their best spell of the game, forcing two consecutive drop-outs before Jono Smith barelled in to score. Crooky the extras for 34-12.

Enough for the day, surely?

Ah… no.

This turd of a game was regally iced at the death by a singular moment of Keystone Cops calamity that distilled the essence of the previous 79 minutes perfectly.

A sloppy, hurried Wayne English pass to Chris Riley on his own goal-line was fumbled, resulting - almost inevitably - by Emmett piling in from close range. Base comedy.

The extras added to bring up the 40, the hooter sounding to put this game out of its misery.

Positives are pretty thin from this one, but we shall remain optimistic and say that the one big plus to take away is that Hornets would have to go some to play this badly again. One to forget, for sure.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Sunday's Coming - York

It’s been a busy week for York City Knights. Having choked at the death in last weekend’s iPro Sport Cup final, they got back on the horse with a midweek 32-14 win over a heavily depleted Coventry Bears.

In Blackpool York had been a distant second best for an hour, but somehow found themnselves with an 18-16 lead with five minutes remaining when Ed Smith acrobatically snatched a cross-field kick from the air to touch-down.

But with 90 seconds left, the Knights defence switched-off to a Paul Handforth dink into the in-goal and Charlie Martin took advantage to take the silverware back to Cougar Park.

Early doors, York looked dangerous up the edges, with full-back Ben Dent coming into the line up the right channel to make the extra man, but good line-speed pressure from the Keighley defence forced repeated errors. Coach James Ford identified errors as a key factor in the defeat: "… too many errors put us under pressure. It takes a good team to concede that many errors and defend so much, yet come close to winning a game. Maybe our naivety cost us a little bit."

Certainly the York threequarter line carries some real threat, particularly via the partnership of Smith and Buchanan.  Indeed, Smith weighed in with a hat-trick in the victory over Coventry.

And this week, the Knights have bolstered their workmanlike pack with the addition of former Halifax back-rower Ross Divorty, who links back up with on-loan Halifax outside back Tommy Saxton.

Speaking after the midweek game, York coach James Ford recognised the impact of playing twice in five days. Speaking in the York Press he said: “We weren’t as crisp as we normally would’ve been and we had a few decisions go against us. Coventry also played well – they had territory gifted to them but they asked us questions… we counted 12 poor calls against us in the first half to create pressure and we conceded ten points.”

We think it’d be fair to say that Ford is a bit out of love with the officials at the moment. Again in the York Press, he said: “In the last two games, at Blackpool and here, we’ve had the worst two referees in the competition… I can take it when a referee gets the odd decision wrong. We speak to the assessors and they try to educate you on how referees see things. I get that. But that (by Tom Crashley) was an absolutely disgraceful performance.”

“It didn’t affect the outcome. But how momentum was taken away from us and pressure created on us, I’m not having it that that’s the best performance he can serve up. I don’t think he’s got anything against the club or anything like that. He’s just put in a really poor performance.”

“Normally we’d tell the players to take the referee out of the equation. But the stuff he was giving – it was horrendous.”

Wow - good job they won!

Interestingly, just over a year ago when York bombed out of the iPro Sport Cup to a late, late Newcastle flurry, Ford refused to blame Crashley for York being on the wrong-end of a 14-8 penalty count. Speaking then, he said: "It's not for me to comment on the officials' performances…”

For Hornets, Sunday heralds the first game in our annual on-the-road odyssey that drags us the length of the country over three weeks. And it’s these games that will define this first ‘module’ of our season before the Super-eights kick-in.

As always, all we can do is implore everyone who can make it to York to get over and get behind the lads. See you there.