Friday, 23 June 2017

Sunday's Coming: Batley


We spy with our little eye, something else beginning with 'B' as, hot onthe heels of Bradford, Batley Bulldogs make their way to Spotland on Sunday in search of a third consecutive win.

And they do it having delivered quite possibly the most eyecatching scoreline of this championship season so far - having flogged Sheffield Eagles by 70-12 at the Mount last week. En route, Batley racked up 11 tries (four to wing Wayne Reittie) and stand-off Patch Walker ended the game  with a 100% record landing 13 goals. He also weighed in with two tries to complete a 34-point personal haul.

Playing up the slope, Batley led 38-nil at half time in what coach Matt Diskin described as a 'near-perfect performance'. The victory hoisted Batley over the Eagles into sixth place, but after the game Diskin conceded that, despite the impressive nature of the win, his side's target for the 2017 season looked likely to be missed.

Speaking in the Batley News this week he said: “The top-four was our initial goal and it looks as though we’ve fallen short of that, but we want to finish as high as we can. We’ve gone above Sheffield now and we need to keep chipping away.”

Diskin will run the rule over injuries to Alex Rowe and Alistair Leak ahead of Sunday’s game - and Back rower Dane Manning is in line to play the 200th game of his career.

Having surprised everyone by making the Middle 8 last year, the Bulldogs have slipped backwards a bit, but continue to punch well above their weight in this competition.

As a club, Batley have a long and distinguished history that pre-dates the Northern Union and have the rare disctinction of still playing on their original ground. The Batley Cricket, Athletic and Football Club played its first game of 'rugby' against Bradford Zingari on the 2nd November 1880 at  'The Mount Ground' - a home win by 2 goals, 3 touchdowns, 2 dead balls and one touch goal to nil. Now that IS an interesting scoring system!

The dressing rooms used at this time were located at the Royal Hotel, Bradford Road and were quoted in the official handbook as being:  "8 minutes walk from the ground".

Hornets come into Sunday's game with confidence boosted by a convincing win over Bradford Bulls - and given the results of Wednesday evening's Championship fixtures, it was a timely two points. Midweek, Swinton crashed 36-2 at Featherstone and Dewsbury sneaked home at Oldham (16-20) as the the battle at the bottom of the Chamoionship tightened up considerably. There are now only three points between 8th and 11th - and Hornets yet to play Swinton at home and Dewsbury and Oldham away - so two points on Sunday would help maintain our slight cushion in 8th.

Certainly a performance resembling last week's effort would go a very long way to delivering this. And with Hornets unceremoniously robbed of victory by some frankly surrealist refereeing decisions at Mount Pleasant earlier in the year, payback would be nice. Thankfully, Mr Straw is ruining Swinton v Halifax, so at least we have a fair shot at it.

See you there.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Bulls Hit by Hornets Blitz

Hornets 28 - Bulls 14


Bullshit: Don't believe the hype.
Once Hornets got onto the scoreboard, this Battle with the Cattle was only going one way. A superb last hour lock-out left an increasingly impotent Bradford looking a distant second-best, as the Bulls gave debut coach Geoff Toovey a birthday present to forget.

Indeed, it's an indicator of how far the mighty can fall that former Super League cause-celebre Bradford and Grand-Final winning coach Toovey were handed a lesson in commitment, desire and punishingly penetrative football.

To their credit, Bradford started the brighter: a double-whammy of tries around the quarter-mark - Bentley off a well-picked line, Chapelhow hauling defenders 10 metres to the line - giving the travelling Yorkshire hordes brief reason to bang their drum. But they really hadn't accounted for anything like Jo Taira.

Fresh from the bench, the Fijian Wrecking ball made an instant  - and game-changing - impact. On 25 minutes, he took the ball close to the Bradford posts and, as a gaggle of defenders flailed around him, Jo found the strength to muscle the ball down. Danny Yates the two for 6-12.

Bradford turned up the heat: four back-to-back sets gave them 17 consecutive tackles in the Hornets 20m zone, but their best efforts were repeatedly repelled by some fearsome defence.

You could sense Bradford's nerves as they took the two at a penalty, but with the half ebbing away came the two minutes that completely shifted the momentum of this contest.

A niggle at a tackle that saw referee Mr Straw talk to Bulls' awkward lump Peltier and Ben Moores had the Bradford fans baying for Peltier to 'knock him out'. From the next play a Hornets dink into the in-goal found Lilley scrambling back to gather. He was unceremoniously sacked and, as Mr Straw gave the drop-out, backplay eruped into a flurry of punches as Bradford's resolve snapped.

From the drop-out, Jo Taira took the ball at pace and - from 40 metres - blasted his way through the Bulls' defence, stepping hapless fullback Thomas on his way under the black dot for a try that lifted the roof. Yatesey no mistake and Hornets into the sheds 12-14 down. You could sense the confidence in the Hornets ranks.

Hornets began the second half with a bang. With just five minutes on the clock, Danny Yates launched Lewis Galbraith with a peach of a flat pass just past half-way; Trigger hitting the gas to outpace the Bradford defence to score a top quality try. Yatesey off the touchline with the extras and Hornets in front at 18-14.

Offered a rare opportunity in a 9-3 penalty count, Hornets kept the scoreboard ticking over with a Danny Yates penalty on the hour mark.

Hornets were now in complete control: Danny Yates and Lewis Foster repeatedly kicking the Bulls back into the corners, walking their big pack back time and again to start 10m from their own line. And when Hornets ventured forward, you could hear Bradford sphincters squeaking as the home pack made big metres in every tackle.

On 65 minutes, Hornets opened up the Bulls defence at close quarters, but the ball slipped tantalisingly from Lee Mitchells's grasp with the line begging. Bradford responded by sending Peltier - by some distance their most dangerous player - in off a short ball, but again some outstanding Hornets defence somehow held him up in the in-goal.

With Bradford now desperately looking for the draw, Danny Yates launched a 75th minute drop-goal attempt, but it was deflected dead by a Bulls defender. From the drop-out Hornets went straight back to the Bradford goal-line where Ben Moores found the deftest of cross-field kicks for Matty Hadden to gather, wrestling off defenders to score. Hornets fans in raptures, Bulls fans heading for the exits in their droves. Yatesey the two for 26-14 - then adding a cheeky two-pointer from a penalty on the 40 metre line to cap a quite stunning victory that leaves the busted Bulls staring at the trapdoor to League 1.

More importantly, it leaves Bradford six and a half wins behind Hornets in the league table.

In the wash-up, this was a great win. All the talk in the week was about Toovey and how Bradford could get to zero. But on this performance, you'd be hard pushed to tell which of these sides used to be world club champions. Hornets were resolute on defence and patient on attack - and seeing Danny Yates walk an increasingly crestfallen Bulls round the field with an imperious display of controlled kicking was a delight.

In his post-match interview,. Geoff Toovey bemoaned his side's "... bad luck and biscuit tackling..." as reasons for the defeat. Given that Bulls cashed-up owner Andrew Chalmers spent most of the last hour of this game with his head in his hands, it looks like it'll be an interesting chat at Odsal on Monday morning.

Conversely, Hornets can start looking up with renewed confiidence.

And finally:  this result sent RL anoraks racing for the record books to check-out the last time Hornets did the double over Bradford. One journalist has it at 'over 50 years' - if anyone has details, please let us know.







Thursday, 15 June 2017

SUNDAY'S COMING: BRADFORD BULLS


Bullsh*t detector: The RFL's investigation into Bradford's
liquidation went to extreme lengths.
The big news coming out of Bradford this week is that Geoff Toovey has finally got his visa to coach the Bulls after a five month 'holiday' in Weast Yorkshire. The former Manly stalwart taks the reins for this Sunday's game at Spotland - and with Bradford still paying of their 12 point penalty for going toes-up in the off season, Toovey is wasting no time in talking up his side's chances.

In the Bradford Telegraph and Argus this week he said: "The last couple of months has been very difficult with injuries and now suspensions, so this is one positive step and hopefully we can take another one by winning at the weekend."

 "The players are fairly young and inexperienced. We can deal with adversity but we can't seem to maintain that level of consistency, whether that be during the game or week-to-week. So we need to learn how to stay in contests and how to compete for the full 80 minutes. That's very difficult when you've been put in a situation like this."

Indeed, Bradford are currently mired in the trough of an 8-game losing slump - and remain 8 points behind Dewsbury in the table - and Toovey has wasted no time in sniffing the air for reinforcements for his beleaguered squad.

Again in the T&A he said: "We're actively looking. I can't say too much but we're really in the market. Unfortunately so are many other clubs at this stage of the year. There's not too many players out there at the moment, and those that are good quality have been picked up already."

"That search does include Australia but they're in the midst of a season as well, so obviously they need their players. But you can always pick up the odd one or two that have slipped through the cracks and that's what we'll be aiming to do."

"Bringing those reinforcements in would definitely boost our hopes of survival but hopefully we can win a few more games before that happens and give ourselves a chance."

And he needs 'em fast at the moment - especially after contentious Aussie signing Dane Chisholm (signed for a rumoured £10,000 after a contractual tug-of-war with Sheffield) blew up 60 minutes into his debut and faces the remainder of the year recovering from a knee reconstruction.

Less than a than a week in the post, Toovey is bemoaning Bradford's bad fortune this season: "Our bad luck started with Easter weekend, when all the loan players were called back, and over the last few weeks it's been a combination of injuries and suspensions, meaning we've only had 18 players to select from,"

"Those hurdles, including the Dane Chisholm injury and then relying on some steady loan players – which we're very grateful for – does make it very difficult to organise game-plans and training sessions. So we're hoping for a bit more luck going forward."

Lovers of irony will have noticed that Bradford only have a squad of 18 courtesy of four loan players from former bitter rivals Leeds Rhinos. and the quartet of Jordan Lilley, Cameron Smith (not that one), Sam Hallas and Mikolaj Oledzki (whose name gets you 130 at Scrabble) have agreed a week to week extension to their ongoing loan deals.

Last week Bradford spectacularly imploded at Featherstone.Leading 12-10 at the break, they shipped  26 unanswered second-half points to crash by 12-36 - the score blown-out by two tries in three minutes at the death, as the Bulls faded badly.

Hornets also come into the game on the back of a defeat, but you can't read too much into last week's result at Toulouse. With six debutants plugging holes in a patched-up side, it was an uphill task from the off, but with several first choice players back in contention this week, Hornets should be in decent shape to try and prevent Bradford getting to that long-awaited zero points.

Jono Smith, Chris Riley, Gary Middlehurst, Jo Taira and Lee Mitchell are all in line for a recall, alongside Leigh loanee hooker Lewis Foster and re-signed prop Anthony Walker, rejoining Hornets after a stint at Wakefield to add a bit of grit and mobility up front.

This one should be an intriguing contest - and both sides see it as a catalyst for the rest of the season. But for us here at TLCRF80mins if someone had said to us three years ago that we had a great chance to do the double over Bradford Bulls, I'd have laughed at them. But it's on, it's real - and it's happening on Sunday. These are the games we signed up for folks: don't miss the Battle with the Cattle - it'll be a cracker.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Heat Stroke

Toulouse 56 - Hornets 16

Just occasionally the scoreline doesn't tell the whole story The story of this game is one of a patched-up Hornets side shorn of six regulars, bolstered by DR kids and a couple of debutants who gave the cause everything in the punishing French heat.

With the Mercury creeping up over the 32 degree mark, this was always going to be a tester of a game, but against a strong TO side that relishes the conditions, it was a test too far.

Hornets started innovatively, teasing the home defence with a short kick-off. But when TO passed the ball into Gav Bennion on the floor in the ruck, referee Mr Hewer ignored the RFL's guidelines on conning a penalty and marched the home side downfield: less than a minute on the clock and TO cheating.

It was hardly a surprise when Mika launched himself onto a short-ball to score. The tannoy announcer barely with enough time to tell the crowd to cheer.

From the resulting kick-off TO conned another penalty out of Mr Hewer after they appeared to drop the ball, but this time the Hornets defence stood firm and lines were cleared with a good out-set.

Hornets finally got a break when tyro full-back Dec Kay fielded a deep kick, only to be near decapitated by the on-rushing Planas. From the resulting possession, Tyler Whittaker's teasing kick was just too long for Miles Greenwood.

As TO brought the ball away, a shuddering shot from Rob Massam knocked the ball loose, and when another good set ended with TO bringing the ball back from their goal-line, a clutch of French fans retreated away from the noise of the Hornets contingent. Lovely.

TO's response was clinical: ball shipped left, Ader overlapping on the edge to score. Khierallah the extras 12-0.

But Hornets stuck to the task. Good completion, good metres with the ball, good kicking options drove TO backwards and, when Josh Crowley forced an error from Mika, Lewis Hatton was held-up over the line. From the next play Lewis Galbraith was snagged offside as he reeled in a Danny Yates kick to score.

TO finally cracked when a neat flat pass found Rob Massam with plenty of space to run over his opposite number and score. 12-4 and the home fans silent. Well, we say 'silent': when their side was on defence or bringing the ball out from their own half, they casually chatted amongst themselves - neither caring nor knowing what was going on on the field. Bizarre.

Hornets continued to push hard, Matty Hadden and Trigger taking metres out of every contact and a brilliant kick-chase saw the home pack still walking back three tackles later.

Then disaster: Hornets wilting to concede four tries in a nine minute period to change the course of the game. First Robin allowed to continue a mazy last tackle run to score; a break up the guts of the defence, Ader out wide the beneficiary; then an outrageous show & go by Khierallah after a big 40/20; then that man again under the black dot after TO worked a tidy 'out then in' shift through a tiring defence.

Having played nine minutes of lucid football in forty, TO went in at the break a punishing 34-4 up. A punch-drunk Hornets kept out on the field in the cool of the shade at the break as Alan Kilshaw regathered his battered troops.

The second half began  in the worst possible way: the ball dropped loose second tackle, forwards Mika and Boyer exchanging passes for a simple try, but Hornets dug in, pushing forward to force a drop out at the other end. Then some unsavoury play from the home side, Danny Rasool and Lewis Hatton both hit late in back-play, the latter leaving the ground with a face full of stitches.

TO took full advantage of the disruption to set up a try for Marion, but once Hornets settled, they took the game back to the French side.

On 55 minutes the ball slipped from Lewis Galbraith's grasp as he reached to score; then a Miles Greenwood break up the left, his cheeky dink into space just beyond the reaching fingertips of Danny Yates; then - at last - reward in the shape of a Dec Kay interception, blasting clear of a slow-turning defence to score under the posts. Tyler Whittaker the extras for 46-10.

Straight from the kick-off, another head-shot on Lewis Hatton saw him receive attention for blood streaming down his face.

Just past the hour Hornets forced a drop-out when a great kick behind the defence forced Khierallah's arse to prolapse, straight from the drop-out a big drive from Gav Bennion and a short-ball to Miles Greenwood saw the winger blitz defenders on his way under the posts. Tyler Whittaker the two, the home fans distinctly miffed that Hornets dare offer any French resistance.
(46-16)

Hornets went into the last ten minutes out on their feet, the score line bloated courtesy of two late tries to Marcon and Curran, but Hornets were innovative to the last: finding touch with the kick-off and forcing a drop-out with seconds remaining. The game ended with Lewis Galbraith reaching painfully short with the last play of the game. Final score 56-16.

In the wash-up this was a game of a quarter and three quarters: the five try burst either side of half-time the killer blow in a contest in which Hornets matched TO for long periods. What was essentially a skeleton team shored-up by DR kids and debutants gave a good account of themselves in the face of some pretty heavy odds. Indeed, this was an identical winning/losing margin to last year's league game - and we all know how that panned out.

After the game, the players were disappointed that they hadn't done more - but we're not sure there was much more could be done. Every player gave every ounce and that's all you can ask.

Off the field a big mention to the noisy Hornets contingent who put in a sterling shift - especially Gill and George who drove up for the game from Benidorm! That, my friends, is dedication.

Monday, 5 June 2017

This is a Lo.

Sheffield 38 - Hornets 14

In Garry Lo, Sheffield have one of the most potent attacking weapons in the Championship - and his five try performance proved to be the unbridgeable difference between a well-drilled, but unspectacular Eagles and a Hornets side that worked hard and strove to play what little lucid football was on offer in this ugly pan-Yorkshire grind-fest.

Hornets started brightly, Rob Massam held just short after a looping run by Lewis Galbraith after just two minutes. But when the Hornets defence let Sheffield move the ball  - standing off Menzie Yere’s crabbing run - Lo stepped inside to open his account. Brown hoofed the conversion attempt wide.

Both sides exchanged aerial attacks - Rob Massam held up just short on the last tackle, Lo beaten by the pace of the ball - but it was a last tackle dink & hope into the in-goal that caused the damage: Miles Greenwood making a meal of the bouncing ball, Lo following up to touch down for his second. Awful.

The remainder of the half became an arm-wrestle, Sheffield repeatedly fed easy possession from a stream of Hornets errors and some peculiar decisions from referee Mr Roberts. But the defence held firm as Sheffield looked light on ideas beyond five drives and a kick into the in-goal.

Hornets’ persistence paid off with a minute of the half remaining: Danny Yates the provider, Jono Smith straight through the Sheffield defence to score; Lewis Palfrey with the extras on the hooter and Hornets back in the contest at 8-6.

The second half was an unpleasant contrast - and began as it meant to continue: Hornets knocking on on the 2nd tackle, then Yere playing the referee to gain a penalty: the Eagles producing a ridiculous cut-out-pass to Lo who blitzed through to score. Brown finding his range for 14-6.

On 49 minutes came the sixty seconds that effectively ended the game as a contest. Sheffield worked a simple overlap wide on the left for Yere to stroll in. Lo returning the kick-off from 65 metres for his hat-trick try.

On the hour, Sheffield got lucky: another punt and pray kick into the in-goal was heading nowhere and - when Minchella threw a flailing arm in the ball’s direction only to bounce it dead - Mr Roberts stunned the 351 present by giving the try.

Hornets hit back immediately: Jono Smith regathering the klick-off, slotting Rob Massam into space for him too outpace Flynn and score by the flag for 30-10. And he was in again soon after, booming in off a Jono Smith short pass for 30-14. Lewis Palfrey wide with the kick from pretty much bang in front.

On 75 minutes, Sheffield capped an agricultural performance with one of the ugliest tries you’ll ever see. With Jordan Case down in back-play, Sheffield broke downfield, Jake Eccleston tracking back to halt progress. And as the ruck descended into a melee, Lo snuck up the blind-side to score in the corner. Scrappy, horrible - but the whole Sheffield experience in microcosm.

With the last gasps of air wheezing out of the game, Sheffield went, one last time, to their only real strike option, and Lo obliged with his fifth try. Having said that it’s their only real option, it does seem to work every time. Indeed, it was said on the way back to the car that if we’d stiffed Lo after his first try, we might’ve won it with 12.

In summary, Sheffield are ugly to watch, but effective in a kind of blunt-instrument way. Their Championship experience gives them the smarts to know how to win - and Hornets are still on that learning curve. Indeed, the residual vestiges of Sheffield’s full-time experiment and a trio of Kumul internationals gives them a tough-to-beat edge.

Off the field, the Hornets fans put in a noisy shift - matching Sheffield in both volume and numbers. Indeed, with Sheffield’s future supposedly hanging in the balance, you have to wonder how much longer they can afford to invest in three clearly talented PNG internationals on crowds of 350. And, whilst they may beat Hornets now, our long-term future looks somewhat more certain than theirs.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Sunday's Coming: Sheffield


Hot on the heels of our quite spectacular victory over Oldham at the Summer Bash, Horrnets head over to Wakefield to take on… er… Sheffield… er… Shwakefield Triniteagles, we guess.

Having also come away from Blackpool with a win (30-24 over Swinton), the Eagles thoughts returned this week to securing their long-term survival.

As dyed-in-the-wool League fans know, any news of a takeover of a club that includes the words ‘secret ‘ and ‘investor’ usually sits somewhere between bad news and bullshit.

But that’s the phrase coming out of Sheffield this week as the club faces continued uncertainty about its future. According to reports in the Sheffield Star and on the club’s own website, the Eagles continue to wait for news on two fronts: the un-named investor and their bid for tenancy/partnership in the proposed redevelopment of the old Don Valley stadium site.

The Star stated two months ago that “A mystery investor has pledged to build a £7 million stadium around the all-weather pitch if he gets planning permission for a £35 million green power plant nearby.”

Indeed, it appears to us that each depends on the other - no investor, no stadium / no stadium no investor - a somewhat uncomfortable chicken and egg situation that leaves the Eagles in limbo.

Last year’s ‘delayed funding’ from ‘an un-named sponsor’ almost saw the Eagles fold - and coach Mark Aston has revealed this week that the current ‘secret investor’ is the same party. When asked by the Sheffield Star to confirm that the investment is getting closer, Aston said: “I think the answer to that will probably be yes…”  - almost nearly probably certain, then. Perhaps.

Aston was able to confirm of his ‘secret investor’ that:  “I think if he doesn’t get the green light with the stadium then questions will be asked. It was said three or four years ago that this will be a rugby stadium. We will be mightily disappointed if that changes.”

But promises that the Eagles would be playing back in their home city next season remain in some doubt.

Whilst the Eagles are one of three bidders for the stadium, they have been reassured that if they are unsuccessful, the winning bidder must permit the Eagles to play there. But if they go there as secondary tenants, there is less of an imperative to complete the development  ahead of the 2018 RL season, leaving the club potentially homeless for another year.

And that could be one year too many according to Aston: “The big thing is about how we can get this club back to the city by 2018,” Aston told The Star. “That is a massive thing for us because if we are not back in the city by next year, I fear for the club. I am not entirely sure the authorities will let us play outside the city again, certainly not at Wakefield that’s for sure.”

It's a Stadium: honestly, it really is
As recently as March this year, stadium development body ‘Olympic Legacy Park’ were still claiming that Sheffield Eagles would end the swason playing at the new stadium - though aerial photographs suggest that there’s quite some considerable way to go before the site is useable. The one thing we do know is that the new stadium will have a plastic pitch, the laying of which began recently.

On the field, Aston still has his eye on a top four finish. Sheffield were comprehensively beaten at Toulouse a fortnight ago (45-20), having surprised pretty much everyone by winning the home fixture 32-14 way back in Round two, but last week’s win over Swinton sees them loitering in 6th place, six points shy of the top four.

Last week he said: “If we can get (that) momentum with Swinton, Rochdale, Halifax and Batley coming up, then at the end of that period I think that we’ll know whether we have a realistic chance of hitting the top four.

“We have to take it week-by-week but at the back of my mind, the next four games will potentially determine our season.” So - a big chance to put a dent in Shefield’s season.

Duane Straugheir: a proper veteran
Potential ’un-named’ recruits notwithstanding (there are a lot of ‘secret’ issues at Sheffield, it seems), the Eagles’ line-up should look pretty similar to the side that eventually sneaked past Swinton; PNG strike players Garry Lo and Menzie Yere continue to play despite long-standing knee injuries. On-loan St Helens full-back Jack Owens made his debut for Sheffield at Blackpool. In turn, the Eagles have released former Leigh utility back Eze Harper and former Melbourne Storm/Bradford Bulls half-back Dane Chisholm. Second row Duane Straugheir (that’s 'Straffer') missed out at Blackpool with a groin injury - not surprising, given that Wikipedia has him down as being 87 years old!

Hornets come into the game buoyed by a huge win at Bloomfield Road. Having had a pretty ordinary first half, Hornets produced a flawless second half performance that left Oldham chasing shadows - and made the Championship sit up and take notice. Once again the support was tremendous at Blackpool. As always, we urge you to stick a couple of mates in the car and get yourselves over to Wakefield, where a bit of noise could make this one feel like a home game and give the guys a boost.

If you are heading over, it’s worth noting that additional security checks will be in place at Belle Vue. Bag checkes and searches will be in place for all those entering the stadium. Sheffield have advised fans to allow time for these checks to be carried out and only to bring bags with them, if they feel it necessary to do so.

Belle Vue’s postcocde for your satnav is WF1 5EY. Directions we have are:
From the M62 take Junction 31 and take the A655 towards Wakefield. Turn right and join the A638, go under the railway bridges. Head straight on and you will see Superbowl 2000 on the left hand side. The Stadium is just beyond on the left. See you there.


Monday, 29 May 2017

Hornets Rock on Blackpool Debut

Oldham 28 - Hornets 38

Hornets made their debut at the Summer Bash with a performance that was as astonishing as it was welcome. Much like the rides on the Pleasure Beach it was a game of ups and downs, where you felt queasy at times, but afterwards wanted to go back and do it again.

In an archetypal game of two halves, Hornets produced a flawless second half display of poise, control and absolute domination, as Oldham ran out of steam to blow a 20 point lead for the second year running.

The early exchanges were pretty even, though.

On 8 minutes Turner followed a grubber into the in-goal to give Oldham the lead.  Leatherbarrow the extras: 6-nil

Oldham’s Clay coughed the kick-off and, from the drop-out possesssion, Hornets went wide right where Jake Eccleston slipped the ball out of the tackle for Miles Greenwood to score in the corner .

The game erupted into a flurry of blows on the 15 minute mark, Jo Taira and Oldham’s Lepori sent to cool off for 10 minutes. Oldham happy to take the penalty to stretch their lead to 8-4.

Hornets were the first to settle into a 12-man shape, going back to the right channel where, this time Lewis Palfrey found Jake Ecclestone who crashed through to score. Danny Yates wide with his second conversion attempt of the afternoon to tie the game up at 8-all.

On 25 minutes, Oldham got a lucky break when Langtree’s ‘chip and hope’ into the in-goal evaded defenders and attackers alike, Matty Hadden’s fluffed clearance attempt letting Oldham’s in-house irrirtant Tyson to sneak in and score. Leatherbarrow added his third goal for 14-8, Tyson blew kisses to the Hornets fans. How that would come back to haunt him…

Having conceded a sloppy try, Hornets seemed to fall apart: First Spencer up the guts of the defence to put Lepori in, then Langtree the provider to give Lepori a carbon-copy second and - out of nowhere, Oldham led 26-6 with half-time approaching.

Hornets offered their fans a chink of hope when Lewis Palfrey again exploited Oldham’s soft left centre channel, timing his pass perfectly to slip Jake Eccleston through a gap to send his side in trailing 26-12 at the break.

During the extended TV break, the mood amongst Hornets’ noisy following was one of frustration. But, whilst most clung to their optimism, what happened in the next 40 minutes would confound, amaze and delight the Hornets contingent - and ruin the weekend of all those associated with Oldham.

Whatever was said in the sheds at half time, it worked brilliantly. Yes, Oldham took an early penalty to stretch their lead to 28-12, but Hornets looked in determined mood.

On 48 minutes, Hornets changed the direction of attack - this time targeting Tyson up the left edge, Lewis Galbraith laying on a peach of a pass for Rob Massam to finish brilliantly by the flag: 28-16.

Hornets were now piling on the pressure and, after Jono Smith and Lee Mitchell had gone close, Ben Moores hit Oldham with a classic sucker-punch from dummy-half : Danny Yates on target to close the deficit to six points. Hornets now with the momentum - the Blackpool tide having turned.

With the hour approaching, Hornets moved the ball with menace deep in Oldham territory and, when Chris Riley smuggled the ball out of the back of a tackle, Lewis Palfrey produced a millimetre-perfect kick across field where Jordan Case gathered and twisted between defenders to score a top quality try. Yatesey Yates added the two to tie the scores at 28-all. Oldham now clinging to the ropes.

A rare Oldham attack saw them gain a repeat set off a charge-down, but almost immediately Leatherbarrow coughed the ball into in the arms of Lewis Galbraith, who hit the gas to score a spectacular 80 metre try that brought Bloomfield Road to its feet. Danny Yates added the two and -
following a chat with the video referee - Hornets were awarded an eight-point try, Yatesey adding the penalty from in-front to lead by 28-36. Astonishing stuff.

The last 15 minutes saw an increasingly impotent Oldham jab flaccidly at the Hornets defence with little sign of any meaningful intent. A late tackle on Yatesey was penalised and he happily took the two to extend Hornets lead to ten points. Oldham were placed on a team warning, their fans streaming for the exits. Beautiful.

As the Hornets supporters sang the clock-down, the game ended in yet another scuffle, Oldham’s Gee shown the red card to put the lid on a pretty lousy afternoon for the Roughyeds, Yatesey sin-binned, leaving the field to a hero’s ovation.

The hooter heralded ecstatic celebrations on and off the pitch as this result hoisted Hornets above Oldham in the Championship on points difference. And, whilst the Hornets contingent were put through the emotional wringer at Bloomfield Road, it was, ultimately, a truly amazing day to remember. Certainly there would have been some bad heads and some sore throats on Sunday morning.

From a playing point of view, this was a vital confidence booster. It showed that, when this team clicks, it’s capable of competing with anyone in the Championship and, looking at the quality of some of the other games, we’re the equal of any side in this league. We just need to believe that we are.

Onwards and upwards.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

Saturday's Coming: Oldham

Give us a wave: get your factor 50 on for a day at the seaside
And so to Blackpool, where Oldham coach Scott Naylor is seeking to sort out his side’s current defensive crisis. Having shipped an incredible 122 points in their last two games, Oldham come to the seaside riding the crest of a slump - knowing that their form away from home has been somewhat poor, swallowing 48 points at Hull KR, 50 at Batley, 58 at Toulouse, 74 at London Broncos and 48 in the recent Batley home game -  played at Manchester's Regional Arena.

According to the Oldham Chronic, preparations for this weekend have been all about defence:
"Our attacking against Batley last Sunday was good, especially in the first half,” said Naylor: ”But we need a massive improvement in defence against Rochdale and that was the theme of last night's training session.”

"It's not just the physical aspect of tackling well; it's the individual and collective attitude towards defence that needs to be looked at.

Indeed, defence is all about attitude - and that really is something you can’t coach.

OLDHAM will be mising on-loan Castlefords centre Kieran Gill (recalled by the Tigers) and prop Phil Joy’s season is over after he dislocated his left shoulder in his first game back after dislocating his shoulder. Ouch. Utility back Scott Turner comes back into contention, having missed two weeks with concussion.

Oldham currently sit one place above Hornets in the Championship with a two point cushion - so a win at Bloomfield Road would see Hornets leapfrog them on points difference (Hornets currently with a 52 point advantage). Gav Bennion, Joe Taira and Ben Moores are back to boost the Hornets squad, for what is real old-fashioned crunch-game.

Down at the other end of the A627M, Oldham are already bragging that they’ve sold three times the number of tickets as Hornets - but we all know a) it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog that matters and b) selling three times the tickets worked a treat for them at Leigh in 2013.

So get yourself off beside the seaside. Hornets fans look to have been accommodated in Block K - so bring your best singing voice and wear your colours with pride. We’re due for a win - and this one would be a great way to kick-start the back half of our season.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Snooze And You Lose

Halifax 28 - Hornets 2

The word ‘meh’ is a useful, onomatopoeic tool. A verbal shrug that does what it says on the tin. Popularised by The Simpsons via its Yidddish roots, it became the definitive online shorthand for dismissal of something as uninteresting as far back as 1992. In November 2008, it made its way into the dictionary as ‘describing indifference and disapproval’.

And so to the Shay where a half asleep Hornets were undone by a half awake Halifax in a game that crawled by in an atmosphere of deep apathy.

Shipping two early penalties, Halifax were made to pay for their own indifferent start: Danny Yates taking the two to give Hornets a fifth minute lead. Talk about peaking too early.

From the kick-off DR Kevin Penny opted not to run the ball, but sent an old-skool hospital pass to Samir Tahraoui in the in-goal, where he was summarily clattered by the home pack to concede a drop out. The Hornets fans exhaled and looked skywards…

Hornets did show some flickers of early promise: kick-chasing Halifax into the corners - only to let them off the hook with a string of frustrating penalties.

Halifax capitalised when Grady broke up the guts of a flat-footed Hornets defence to send Johnston under the black dot. Tyrer on target and Fax ahead 6-2. Hornets put the kick-off out on the full. Just poor.

On the quarter mark it was another penalty that took Halifax under the Hornets posts, and when the home side went wide, Grady dropped off a neat pass out of the back of a flapping tackle for Tyrer to score a walk-in. 10-2 and the signs weren’t good. Hornets then snagged offside at the kick-off. Awful.

Hornets did flicker briefly: Danny Yates’ kick to the corner gathered by Rob Massam who was ruled to have knocked on whilst touching down; Gaz Middlehurst too knocking on as he stretched to score. But the second quarter of the game was fundamentally Hornets mounting a rear-guard defensive action against a Halifax side that repeatedly found new and inventive ways to squander scoring opportunities.

On 38 minutes, Grady again caused panic in the Hornets ranks as he broke the line, Chris Riley scrambling well to reel him in, but given ten minutes for holding on too long. Once again Halifax ran out of ideas long before the end of the set, but when they launched a haplessly over-cooked hoof into the in-goal, rather than let it go harmlessly dead, Kevin Penny went for the miracle catch over his shoulder and coughed the ball into the popular end. Schoolboy stuff, really.

The half ended with a flurry of handbags after a contested high-shot from Gaz Middlehurst and - somehow - Hornets had rope-a-doped themselves into a slim 8-point deficit at the break: Halifax having had the majority of possession.

The second half began in uninspiring fashion: Halifax knocking on, Hornets getting caught in possession on the last tackle.

This pattern of errors and general cluelessness continued, broken only by a very odd decision from referee Mr Hewer: a Halifax kick dead-in-goal under no attention, but as Hornets lined up for the 20m restart, they were taken back to take a drop out. No - us neither.

The torpor was broken in the 53rd minute when Halifax managed to smuggle the ball out of the back of a tackle that looked long dead: Sharp ducking in, Tyrer the extras and - at 16-2 - the game effectively moribund.

On the hour Murrell broke through some frankly sloppy tackling to send Tangata rumbling in from 20 metres. Hornets fans awoken by some distant half-hearted Halifax applause.

And then…stasis. 20 minutes of anti-rugby league; both sides flapping like headless chickens as the errors, poor passes, knock-ons and clueless last tackle plays sucked every last drop of energy out of The Shay. With the game in its death-rattle, Halifax summoned up one last break up the left, where Grix got on the end of a 40 metre break to put this shocker out of its misery. Tyrer hit the two for 28-2.

In conversation afterwards it was hard to find positives. The relentless prying of Gaz Middlehurst, and the fact that Chris Riley looks like he knows what he’s doing the only two saving graces of a game that struggled to stick in the memory as far as the car.

Meh, indeed.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Sunday's Coming: Halifax


A big fan of Halifax: Theresa May talks the Tory faithful
through her programme collection
The world took a weird turn this week when the Tory party chose Halifax as THE perfect place to launch its manifesto ahead of the General Election. You’d probably pin down Halifax as a Yorkshire bastion of blue-collar social conscience - but it’s not quite as clean cut. Having last returned a Tory in 1983 Halifax has since has been a Labour seat - but it’s now a frontline marginal: Labour candidate Holly Lynch this time defendng a majority of just 428.

So having had Theresa May in town avoiding a baying crowd, it’s Hornets’ turn to front-up in ‘Fax on Sunday, to try and put a cross in a very important box as Hornets seek to gain momentum ahead of the Summer Bash. (see what we did there?)

After a stop-start month in which Hornets showed signs of breaking our run of frustrating defeats, but only came frustratingly close, Alan Kilshaw’s side makes the short trip to the Shay in search of that elusive win.

Halifax come into sunday’s game having been hoofed out of the Challenge Cup, a going down 24-12 at Featherstone. League-wise, Halifax sit in the 5th on points difference - jointly on 18 points with London and Toulouse, a three club peloton in pursuit of Fev and Dull KR.

Ahead of Sunday’s game, Halifax have signed Brandon Douglas - a 20 year-old Cas Tigers prop, who’d been on dual reg at Dewsbury - for the remainder of the season. Also in the frame to feature in Richard Marshall’s side at the weekend are Salford dual reg. pair Dan Murray and Adam Walne.

Murray has already been farmed out to both Bradford and Warrington this term, Walne has previously done DR stints with Workington and Barrow. Fax also have second row Simon Grix back in contention for Sunday.

Having identified ‘a lack of discipline’ as the major contributory factor in his side’s cup loss at Featherstone, Marshall knows that a similar performance could open the door for Hornets. Speraking in the Halifax Courier this week he said: “Rochdale have been close to a lot of teams without quite getting results, but they play a fast, expansive game and they can rattle teams.”

Hornets will be looking for an improvement on February’s 20-6 reverse, though the stats sit in Fax’ favour: Halifax winning the last six encounters comfortably, scoring 24 tries to 8 in the process. Wearing our glass-half-full head, it loioks like we’re due for one - and you’d hate to miss it if you did.

Early indications are that the Hornets supporters will be getting together somewhere in the main stand, rather than see nowt behind the posts. So get yourself over, make some noise and give the lads a vital boost.




Monday, 8 May 2017

Fev Put Hornets to the Test

Hornets 8 - Featherstone 38

“Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to” - George Seaton.

There is a school of thought that life is a series of tests - and that it’s not the passing of those tests that define us, but the way in which we address the challenge.

When Hornets confounded common sense last year in becoming League 1 Champions, we knew there would be days like this: days when we’d get flogged by much better teams; days when confidence would fade. Days when our faith would be tested.

Certainly Featherstone Rovers’ performance will have put the faith of every Hornets fan under extreme scrutiny - but that’s this week’s test in what can be a punishing RFL Championship.

Being as philosophical as we can be, Fev didn’t just hand Hornets a withering defeat - they gave us a valuable lesson. Their brand of brutally direct, ruthlessly clinical high-tempo no-frills football is the standard to aspire to. Indeed, had we been neutral observers, their first-half performance would have been impressive - but for those of us with an emotional investment, it was a challenging watch.

Rovers started with a blistering bang: two quick-fire tries from Hardcastle and Hardman (the second after a blatant obstruction missed by Referee Mr McMullen) had Hornets reeling at 10-nil after just 7 minutes.

Hornets composed themselves long-enough for Jordan Case to slip a teasing kick into the Rovers in-goal for Miles Greenwood to touch-down for 4-10.

Hornets went close two minutes later: back-to-back penalties took Hornets to the Rovers goal-line, but the ball was spilled on the first tackle. The visitors marched swiftly upfield where they hoisted a teasing kick for their three-quarter line to chase. Chris Riley rock-solid under extreme pressure.

With the quarter approaching, Featherstone hit the line hard, leaving Hornets’ defence in all sorts of Trouble: Hardman on the end of a winding, jemmying 40m run that they couldn’t find a way to stop. Aston the extras for 4-16.

Hornets had brief hope when Fev dropped the kick-off, but a forced pass from Jordan Hand gave them easy possession. Rovers took the ball left, but Hornets defence scrambled just enough to force Ulugia into touch.

Having played the game on the ragged edge, Fev overstepped the mark on 26 minutes when a blatant high-shot on Danny Yates as he looked certain to score left him struggling. Mr McMullen taking no action beyond the penalty; Rovers fans booing Danny Yates as he received treatment: all class.

Hornets did force a repeat set off a Lewis Palfrey kick - but were shambolic in handling the drop-out, Featherstone gathering the ball to sweep fully 70 metres. Fortunately the last pass sailed into Row E.

Just past the half hour Featherstone probed again - a teasing kick behind the Hornets defence. Chris Riley was down bravely to smother the threat, but a flurry of boots into his head and body knocked the ball loose and - with Riley lying prostrate in back-play - Knowles gathered and put the ball down. The touch-judge stood off, the referee ignored him and Riley was helped from the field to take a concussion test as Aston hoofed the conversion attempt wide: 4-20.

With Hornets now hanging on for half-time, Rovers produced a sucker-punch shipping the ball through hands for Turner to score by the flag. All a bit too easy. Hornets then put the kick-off straight into the Sandy Lane end. Unforgiveable, really.

Hornets rallied briefly before the hooter: a Jo Taira break up the right, an inside pass to Jack Holmes; Holmes bundled into touch, Taira injured in the process.

Featherstone ended the half as they’d begun: a good aporoach-set, Turner running into the space behind a static defence to touch-down the most basic of kicks. Half-time 4-28.

Rovers began the second half with a moment of fortuitous luck: having knocked on, Mr McMullen handed them the feed and, inside a minute, Hardman broke up the guts of the Hornets’ defence to put Wildie under the black dot. Aston found his range for 4-34. This was going to be a very long half.

As Hornets struggled to make meaningful headway, Featherstone comfortably soaked up the pressure. And when the ball was shipped wide for Taulapapa on 52 minutes he stepped through some very ordinary tackles to stretch Rovers’ lead to 4-38.  Whereupon they pretty much racked the cue.

The last 20 minutes was dominated by a deteriorating performance from possibly the least attentive referee we’ve seen this season: Hornets snagged for a ridiculous offside after Feaherstone had put the ball to gound; Danny Yates a try struck off for an obstruction that no-one else in the ground saw (both touch-judges happily standing at the dead-ball-line ignored); Hornets put on a team warning (no, us neither).

With the game reaching a state of stasis, Hornets did come up with a great kick to the corner, where Rob Massam out-jumped his opposite number to score (8-38), but it was a hollow consolation.

Certainly, this was a tough one to take - but Featherstone are second in the league and a team in form at the moment, whereas Hornets seem unable to shake off this dip in confidence.

And if you look at the results of the other clubs around us, most of the sides in a similar situation were on the end of similar results yesterday, as the Championship begins to cleave into a division of two divisions.

On promotion last year, everyone agreed that finishing third bottom would constitute a successful season - and that basic requirement hasn’t changed. Indeed, having over achieved in the early part of the season only raised expectations, when it was clear that the established Championship sides would only improve.

With confidence at a low and doubt creeping in, all we have left as we scrap for third bottom is faith: faith that the lads can find the confidence to play as we know they can, faith in the coaching staff who’ve taken us on this challenging journey and who will be feeling the same frustrations, faith in our club to continue to work hard and do the best we can with what we have:  faith that, ultimately, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog.

That’s the test, folks - and we should thank Featherstone for reminding us of that.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Sunday's Coming: Fev

What was the winning margin at your place, Jon?
Since Hornets won 9-10 at Post Office Road back on the 5th March, ‘normal’ service has resumed at Featherstone Rovers, the flat-cappers grinding their way to third in the league with just three defeats to their name - having only slipped up to Toulouse, Hull KR and us!

Having shipped 30 points in their defeat at Hull KR a month ago, they come to Spotland on Sunday looking for a fourth consecutive win.

However, speaking in the Pontefract & Castleford Express this week, Fev Coach Jon Sharp is acutely mindful of what an on-song Hornets can do to a decent side

“Rochdale are a difficult team to beat,” he said. “They have beaten us this season and pushed some other top teams. They are well coached, they are well organised and they work hard for each other so we are expecting a tough one this Sunday.”

Having stuttered past  Sheffield Eagles by 25-14 last week, Sharp is looking for improvement on Fev’s 45% completion rate.  Again, from the Ponte & Cas Express: “We need to play a little bit better and for longer. We are making too many errors and conceding too many penalties.”

Whiile Sharp has been pretty objective in his analysis, it seems emotions are a little closer to the surface amongst his squad: their veteran prop Darrell Griffin seeing Sunday’s game as a ‘Revenge Mission’

He’s quoted in the Ponte & Cas Express as saying: “They beat us earlier on in the season and ended our unbeaten start to the year, which hurt us as a team.”  Ah, bless…

“We are under no illusions in terms of the task at hand this weekend. Rochdale went well against Hull KR last weekend and they will be looking to upset the odds by beating us.” Whereas: “We were poor against Sheffield and are working hard this week to rectify our performance”

Fev are likely to be without without  Frankie Mariano, Jason Walton and Andy Bostock (injured) and also  Luke Briscoe (suspended) but have got Michael Knowles and Anthony Thackeray back in the running for selection.

Sharp has also said he will check availability of dual-registered Leeds players after they have announced their the squad for Saturdat’s Catalans Dragons game. Last week’s team contained FIVE Leeds DR/loan players : Cory Aston, Josh Walters, Jordan Baldwinson, Jack Ormondroyd and Mikolaj Oledzki (whose name gets you 130 at Scrabble).

Hornets come into Sunday’s game off the back of a confidence boosting performance at a pretty ordinary Hull KR. Given a little luck and the flight of the ball, Hornets could have taken the runaway Championship leaders even closer. But for one ten-minute spell of Rovers pressure early in the second half, Hornets looked prety comfortable at Craven Park. Certainly, we’ve never heard the East stand so quiet.

With Hornets looking to break a frustrating run of narrow defeats - and Fev looking for revenge - this promises to be a proper contest. See you there.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Culture Clash

Hull KR 24 - Hornets 16

One dictionary definition of ‘culture’ is: ‘the propagation of bacteria, in an artificial medium’. And it is with this in mind that we consider Hornets’ trip to the UK city of ‘culture’ to take on Hull KR.

Indeed, a trip to East Hull is very much like peering down a microscope: you may be vastly outnumbered by the simple life-forms you see, but life at both ends is very, very different.

A trip to Craven Park is something you need to endure. The sense of hubris and entitlement is all-pervading. From the jobsworth posturing of the stewards to the pavlovian reaction of the East Stand to anything that dares offer the slightest resistance to the Robins juggernaut, it’s an unedifying experience. And when they screw you for £23 for a seat behind the posts, it becomes perfectly clear that - as an away fan - your role for the afternoon is to have the piss taken out of you.

On the field, Hornets set about their task with impressive composure: strong resistance the order of the day as the home side threw themselves into the Hornets defence to no avail. Having refused to buckle in the early exchanges, Hornets went on the attack where Ben Moores was held up in the Robins’ in-goal.

Despite a flurry of dubious penalties, Hornets stood firm and, on 18 minutes, Jordan Case arced into  the line to leave the home defence flat-footed to score the try that stunned the East Stand into slack-jawed silence: 0-4.

In the next phase of play, Rovers’ very own peroxide pillock Greenwood put in the sort of horrendous lifting tackle that has seen other players banned for weeks. A casual word from the ref and a penalty was deemed sufficient. But fear not. Within minutes he was yellow-carded for niggling, after Rovers were placed on a team warning. Palfrey took the penalty and Hornets looked pretty comfortable at 0-6. And when Sam Wilde was held-up in-goal on 25 minutes, Hull KR were visibly wobbling.

But a dubious penalty - incorporating a Hornets team warning - took the home side fully 60 metres and when they moved the ball left late in the tackle count Lawler found space by the flag to score: 4-6.

On the half-hour Hornets came up with their first error of the game: Chris Riley had superbly fielded a long kick, only for the ball to be fumbled on the next play. As the Robins pushed hard, Lewis Galbraith was snagged by the referee and dispatched for 10 minutes - but Rovers knocked-on under good defensive pressure to the jeering despair of the home fans.

With the half ebbing away and the home side back to 13 men, Rovers worked the numbers well for Shaw to score up the right edge. Ellis hit the extras and - out of nowhere - Hull KR went to the sheds 10-6 in front.

Hull KR began the second half with noticeably more purpose: an 80 metre break from the base of a scrum reeled in by Lewis Galbraith; a couple of penalties to establish a platform and two quick-fire tries (Lunt off a neat offload, Kavanagh stepping through tackles, Ellis good with the extras) and with the hour mark approaching the game apperared to be slipping away at 22-6.

On the hour the fire alarm in the North Stand sounded and, while the stewards swarmed around sniffing the air for smoke, the Hornets contingent sang: “North Stand’s on fire, your stewards are terrified”. Out on the field, Rob Massam out-jumped Oakes to gather and score off a kick to the corner 22-10. Cue more singing…  Hornets continued to press: Rob Massam producing a miracle offload for Danny Yates to plant the ball down: no try, forward pass.

With Hornets now back in the game, Hull KR returned to their ‘six-drives and a big hoof’ tactic - and when a last tackle kick was was clearly knocked on by an onrushing Robins hand, the referee confounded logic to give the feed to Rovers. Having begged another dubious penalty, the home side underlined their lack of adventure by taking the penalty: 24-10, with 11 to play.

Going into the final phase of the game, Hornets looked to be finishing stronger and, when Yatesey slammed a huge 40/20 downfield, Jordan Case hit an inside ball at pace to score. Lewis Palfrey hit the target and with four minutes to play - and mindful of how Hull KR lost the million pound game from an 8-point advantage - the Hornets fans sang “eight points won’t be enough”. Cue scowls from the locals. Hilarious.

As it was Hull KR hung on to secure a 24-16 victory, but Hornets had run Tim Sheens' full-time outfit very very close indeed.

In the wash-up, Hornets looked tight, solid and hard-working. Led by the ruthless graft of Gary Middlehurst, the relentless torque of Rob Massam and some clinical finishing from Jordan Case, this performance showed what Hornets are really capable of at this level. Indeed, this sets the bar for the remainder of the season.

As for Hull KR, I hope they and their fans think they got their money’s worth today. In a city with one of the UK’s lowest levels of disposable income, you sense that - at £23 - struggling to overcome a part-time team is taking the piss out if its own fans too.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Sunday's Coming: Hull KR

Hull KR come into Sunday’s game on the back of knocking Super League Leigh Centurions out of the Challenge Cup on their own meadow. Their reward? a nice trip to Salford in a replay of last season’s Million Pound Game.

Having seen his side win 10-23, Hull KR coach Tim Sheens says he’s not getting carried away. He told the Hull Daily Mail: "Getting flogged would have shattered us but winning is not fooling us, we have a long way to go… (we) were much more aggressive this week with our defence and on the edges we were determined to do that. We tried to upset them which we did. We're a long way yet from where we need to be, though.”

"Scoring early took the pressure off us. In France, we couldn't score early when we should have. That rocked us a bit but we got away with a good start and with a good defence caused the turnover time and again. We were in their faces…”

‘In France’ refers to the previous game where the Robins got shot down 14-6 by TOXIIIC having lost their unbeaten Championship record in an arm-wrestle of a game.

In the week where Sheens admitted that it would take more than just his strongest 17 to climb out of the Championship (he used 29 players in three games spanning 8 days over Easter), he’s added  former junior Kiwis captain Zach Dockar-Clay to his squad. Dockar-Clay fills in at both hooker and half-back - handy cover for veteran rake Shaun Lunt Lunt who missed both Easter games with a toe injury, but made it back for the game at Leigh. Thomas Minns (concussion) and Kieren Moss (heel) are in line for a return this Sunday.

Hornets go into Sunday’s game shorn of some forward fire-power, thanks to some trigger-happy refereeing in the defeat at Swinton.

At the RFL disciplinary this week, Samir Tahraoui received a 2 match suspension for a ‘Dangerous Throw’ in the 8th minute (no, us neither), whilst Jo Taira received a one game ban for ‘reckless contact’.

Interestingly, the invisible offence for which Jordan Hand was sin-binned was adjudged to be worthy of ’no charge to answer’. The disciplinary report states: “As player approaches opponent, he raises arm in order to fend opponent. Player does not promote elbow. Opponent clashes head with team mate as other defender enters the tackle.”  A shocking decision that cost us the game. To our knowledge, the ‘team mate’ involved was not censured for an accidental head-butt.

Danny Yates was also adjudged ‘no charge’ after a non-existant high shot in the 48th minute. His report reads: “Player completes upper body tackle on opponent at the same time as team mate makes lower body tackle. Player does not make contact to head of opponent however opponent’s head makes contact with the ground as tackle completes.” Basically, Yatesey was penalised for the effects of gravity, given that there was no ACTUAL high-shot.

As ‘games to get back into the groove’ go, Sunday’s is as tough as they come. A repeat of the heroic effort from the reverse fixture at Spotland will do wonders for confidence. As always, if you can get yourself over to Craven Park, do it. Our support is appreciated and - win, lose or draw -  we can make a difference.  In the popular Super League tradition stretching all the way back back to 1995, Hull KR like to segregate away fans, housing them in the North Stand - which (in typical ‘Yocksha’ fashion) is behind the posts. So let’s go make the most of it. Olé, olé, olé…

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Blue Monday


Swinton 23 - Hornets 22

There was to be no miraculous resurrection for Hornets on this horrible Easter Monday. Sucked into a shit-fight by a Swinton side desperate for only its second win of the season, Hornets' discipline crumbled to leave 12 men clinging to the wreckage of a draw as late as the 73rd minute.

Having ticked their way through the ‘I-Spy Book of Dumb Penalties’; having had Jordan Hand sin-binned after being targetted all afternoon; having had Jo Taira shown a red card after the use of an elbow long after the tackle was complete; having endured all of that, somehow Hornets had clawed their way back to the brink of a scruffy, scrapping game that would have tested the patience of the most ardent Rugby League saint.

Hornets started in unconvincing fashion: Miles Greenwood dropping a kick at the end of Swinton’s very first set to give Butt a walk-in try. Atkin the extras: Swinton 6-nil up before many had left the bar.

Hornets then succeeded in conceding a penalty from the kick-off possession, Swinton knocking on to let Hornets off the hook. But things got worse. Jordan Case bundled into touch was unfortunate, followed by a sloppy high-shot from Jordan Hand kept Swinton camped in the Hornets half. On 8 minutes, the intervention of a touch-judge saw a supposed lifting offence put on report: Atkin took the two for 8-nil.

Hornets’ poor start continued when Greenwood carried an aimless kick into touch, then Rob Massam uncharacteristically dropped a bomb under pressure: thankfully deemed tackled in-flight, the referee ruled no try.

Hornets did stutter into life briefly: but a poor pass from Lewis Palfrey went to ground with the Swinton defence in retreat. The error was compounded less than a minute later when Lewis Galbraith was pinged for holding down. Atkin took the 2: 10-nil.

Swinton dropped the kick-off: Hornets capitalised. A neat double-pump pass from Danny Yates sent Lewis Galbraith through tacklers to score. Lewis Palfrey on target and Hornets back in the contest at 10-6. Hornets closed the gap to 10-8 when Palfrey took the two after a high shot on Gary Middlehurst.

The remainder of the half became locked in a stasis of penalties and niggle: Hornets with the only clear chance when Rob Massam had a try struck off for a forward pass. On the hooter Hornets were gifted a penalty 30m from the posts. Lewis Palfrey hooking his kick-wide to send Hornets in 10-8 down at the break.

Hornets began the second-half brightly: Matty Hadden carrying deep into Swinton territory, a great break from Lewis Galbraith releasing Rob Massam, Yatesey’s pass put down by Lewis Palfrey. Hornets continued to press, but Lee Mitchell unable to reel in the ball in traffic.

On 48 minutes, Swinton’s Murphy went down horribly in a tackle and the game was delayed for 10 minutes while he received careful attention.

On resumption, Hornets recovered swiftest: Lewis Galbraith finding a miracle offload in the in-goal for Rob Massam to touch-down. Hornets in front 10-12.

Hornets went straight back on the attack, but whern Jordan Hand carried the ball into a tackle, the Swinton tackler hit the deck awkwardly (couldn’t see who it was from our vantage point). After another lengthy break for treatment, Hand was shown a yellow card. Swinton’s response was instant, shipping the ball left for Dwyer to score out wide. Atkins the extras and Hornets 16-12 and one man down.

Now with the momentum, Swinton went forward with purpose and when Bracek strolled onto a pass from 5 metres, he sauntered past some very ordinary goal-line defence to stretch the Lions’ lead. Atkin made no mistake, Swinton looking comfortable at 22-12.

Direct from the kick-off, Hornets’ job got even harder: Jo Taira dropping into a tackle with an elbow, the referee going to the back pocket, Hornets down to 11 men.

On 68 minutes Hornets finally opted to play some football, ball shipped wide for Rob Massam to score by the flag. Palfrey wide with the kick 22-16. Four minutes later we had a game on our hands when Samir Tahraoui was first to react to a loose ball in the Swinton in-goal. 22-20. Palfrey wide with the kick, but given a chance to redeem himself with a penalty after the conversion following a foul on Samir after grounding the ball. Palfrey on target from in front and - with 10 minutes remaining, 12-man Hornets had the game locked-up at 22-all.

But when Jordan Hand digged a Swinton player in the tackle, Alan Kilshaw removed him from the game before the referee did. From the resulting penalty Swinton were piggy-backed into drop-goal range where Atkin obliged to give Swinton the win.

To the neutral, this was a fiery, feisty local derby taken to the wire by two committed teams, but to those with an emotional investment it was a coach-killing tsunami of niggle, penalties and poor discipline.

Indeed, the week-off can’t come soon enough for Hornets. There’s a clear need to go back to the drawing board and rethink some key areas. Post match Alan Kilshaw said that there are some serious questions to be asked of both players and coaching staff. And, yes - just like Easter itself -  this is a real test of everyone’s faith and fortitude.






Saturday, 15 April 2017

Hornets struggle with Eagles life in the slow-lane


Hornets 18 - Sheffield 42

Even the the most ardent purist would have struggled to appreciate this dog-ugly turd of a game.

Sheffield wore Hornets down in super slow-motion, playing barely any discernible football in a pseudo-vacuum where time itself ground to a near-halt. It was, by some distance, the worst way to lose - a perfromance bereft of aesthetics, an exercise in ugly stasis. A Derren-Brown-like hypnosis where reality became blurred and, when you woke up disoriented, you just happened to find Hornets stood under their own crossbar anticipating a conversion.

Hornets started brightly: a try from their first attack after just three minutes as Josh Crowley pounced on a Danny Yates grubber. Lewis Palfrey added the two and Hornets had peaked before some people had even taken their seats.

Three minutes later Hornets invited Sheffield back into the game. Having pressed hard with a repeat set and a penalty, Matty Blythe knocked on on the first tackle and 40 seconds later Lo strolled through some very ordinary left channel defence to score. Brown levelled it at 6-all and the game headed downhill - very very slowly.

Sheffield went back to Hornets dodgy left channel after 10 minutes as Lo fed Mincella in for 6-10. Brown good with the boot to double the Eagles’ lead. And when the visitors broke 60 metres up the guts of the Hornets defence two minutes later it required desperate measures to prevent further damage. Having scrambled, Hornets’ stand-in full-back Jack Johnson was brave under a bomb, Sheffield penalised for contact in the air.

For the next 20 minutes Hornets strove to contain a Sheffield side that threatened much, but constantly ran out of ideas. Indeed, they even found a couple of chances themselves: Rob Massam unable to reel in a speculator by the flag, Gary Middlehurst held up in goal - but Lewis Palfrey was snagged for obstruction as he delayed his pass a moment too long from the resulting possession.

And Palfrey was involved again two minutes later, halting a Sheffield attack with a timely interception. Hornets were then awarded a penalty for ripping - but Palfrey failed to find touch from 15 metres. Awful. Thankfully good defence forced Spedding into touch as Sheffield again probed up the left.

Having seemingly ridden out the worst of the torpid storm, Hornets switched off on the half hour mark - Burns strolling through a napping defence from Acting half, Brown the extras for 6-18.

Hornets responded well sending Samir Tahraoui crashing in off a short ball to score with his second touch, but - having reduced the arrears - Hornets were on the back-foot immediately as Matty Blythe carried the kick-off into touch.

Sheffield ended the half landing a shocking double whammy: Yere smuggling the ball out of the last tackle for Lo to appear in the in-goal, followed on the hooter by a huge break by Lo deep in his own half, Spedding released up the touchline to score from 50 metres. Half-time score 12-30. All kinds of awful…

The second half began as the first half ended. A 90 metre break from Millar only halted by a huge defensive effort from Rob Massam. But when Matty Blythe knocked on under no pressure it handed the momentum back to the visitors.

As it was, the Eagles forced their first repeat set after 48 minutes and Straughier was first to react to a frankly awful lost tackle kick for 12-34.

Hornets showed some brief resistance: pushing Sheffield off a scrum to gain possession against the head; Lewis Galbraith hitting a short ball at pace to skip through a flat-footed defence to briefly rouse Hornets fans from their slumbers. Palfrey the extras 18-34.

Sheffield underlined their credentials as the league’s dullest dullards, taking a penalty on the hour mark to stretch their lead, from which point the game shuddered towards its end at a glacial pace, with barely a discernible pulse.

Right at the death, Lo stepped out of some awful tackling to score in the corner, Brown added the two and the Hornets fans sleepwalked towards the exits to the sound of distant cheering. Final score, a horrible 18-42.

There’s no doubt that this was by some distance the worst performance of the season on pretty much every count. Hornets looked flat and low on enthusiasm, their DR left edge of Blythe (poor) and Prell (anonymous) looking for all the world like two blokes who’d won a place on the team photo in a raffle.

What’s most galling though is that Sheffield were bereft of any creativity whatsoever. Set up as a ruthlessly pragmatic, attritional unit, they’re awful to watch, but very effective - and thereby hangs a deeply unattractive lesson in how to survive in this division.

At this point we’d usually ask people to forget this abberration and move swiftly on - but as there’s so little to actually remember about this one, let’s take it as read and hope for a better response at Swinton





Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Friday's Coming: Sheffield Eagles

Split personality: Waisale Sovatabua hadn’t a clue who he was playing for

Sheffield Eagles are a hard team to pin down. Like a half-remembered rumour of a mirage in the dark, everyone’s pretty sure they exist somewhere out there in the Rugby League ether, but no-one is entirelty convinced until they abruptly appear on your fixture list.

For whatever reason, Sheffield have always been considered a bit of a basket-case here at TLCRF80mins: The Shuddersfield debacle, the move out of Don Valley to play on what was basically a school field, going full-time last year only to spectacularly crash & burn and, this year, another step in their peripatetic existence as they opted to play their home games at Wakefield (much like their flirtation with Huddersfield, maybe they think that playing in locations with the word ‘Field’ in the name only feels half as bad as playing at, say, Doncaster).

From the outset, Sheffield had the air ephemerality about them

The day before the Eagles first ever league game on 2 September 1984 - when they beat Hornets 29–10 - the club's sponsor went bust and, by November the club was set to fold due to financial problems. As it was, Sheffield got drawn against Leeds in the John Player Special Trophy first round and the game delivered enough cash to see out the season.

In the decade 1988 to 1998, Sheffield threatened to take solid form. Promotion to the top flight, a Yorkshire Cup final, an 80-2 defeat by the Kangaroos on their 1994 tour, playing the inaugural game of Super League era at Paris Saint-Germain, a record attendance of 10,603 for Sheffield v Bradford Bulls.  And all of this topped by a shock challenge cup victory over Wigan. Who couldn’t be enthused by such stellar progress? Their hubris peaked when ‘Eagles plc’ became the first rugby league club to be floated on the Stock Exchange.

Like Icarus, the Eagles soared, but in similar fashion - within two years -  the Sheffield dream was a pile of steaming ash. Attendances at Don Valley stalled, the Eagles faced relegation and, with hard-faced city shareholders to answer to, the money, the goodwill and the enthusiasm leached away.

12 months after the greatest upset in Challenge Cup history, Sheffield announced that they were a busted flush

The most awful of ‘salvations’ came in the shape of a £1,000,000 Super League ‘incentive’ for Sheffield to merge with Huddersfield. The deal was: Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants would play games at two venues 30 miles apart, Sheffield’s colours would become the ‘away’ kit, shareholders of both clubs could divvy-up a million quid and Rupert Murdoch would be happy.

As Super League 5 approached, it was leaked that the newly merged club had sold just one season ticket to a Sheffield post-code. Half way through the season, Sheffield were discreetly erased from the Giants picture, removed from the badge and consigned to the dustbin of RL history.

Meanwhile, back in Sheffield, a ‘new’ Eagles club was being hatched by Mark Aston - in the right place at the right time, they stepped into the Northern Ford Premiership (remember that!) in 2000, as Bramley stepped out and into RL oblivion.

For the last 17 years it’s fair to say that the Eagles have punched above their weight in the semi-pro ranks - and that Mark Aston has been the singlemost important driving force in the club’s development over that time: switching constantly, it seems, between coaching and CEO duties. Since 2000 the Eagles have a number of grand final wins and promotions under their belt and - having steadied the ship - last year’s decision to go full time seems like a bit of an aberration.

So far this year, Sheffield have been consistently inconsistent, sitting in 8th place with three wins from nine games. Having beaten both London Broncos and TOXIIIC so far, they’ve also been whacked by Oldham, Halifax, Batley, Fev and Bradford. So who knows which Eagles side will show up on the day.

Last week, Sheffield trailed 24-6 at the break and shipped three late, late tries to lost 48-16 at Odsal. The Sheffield Star described the game as: “… a poor start, coupled with a capitulation in the final 10 minutes…” - all good there, then.

Most eyecatching names in the side are both PNG imports: former Cronulla Prop Mark Mexico (formerly of Newcastle Thunder) and Kumuls international Menzie Yere, who holds the Eagles’ all-time try-scoring record with 181 tries in 249 games. In 2013, he scored a club record 46 tries in one season.

Elsewhere in Aston’s squad, they’ve bussed-in Saints centre Jake Spedding, while Toronto loanee Reece Dean is out with what looks like a long-term shoulder injury, forcing Aston to switch former academy winger Ryan Millar into an unfamiliar full-back role.

Hornets go into the game on the back of one of the most galling defeats in recent memory. Having dominated the game for 70 minutes against the team that finished fourth last year, two poor refereeing decisions were enough to swing the game Batley’s way at the death.

Alan Kilshaw sees the short turnaround from Sunday as a positive way of not dwelling on the outcome. And if the lads respond as we know thay can, it could be another tough week for Sheffield. Let’s ‘ave it.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Party Fears Too.

Batley 38 - Hornets 36

We’ve all been there.

You go to a party and - for once - you look good; feel confident. You get chatting to a really interesting girl and she’s actually interested in you. You laugh at each other’s jokes, the conversation flows: you’ve read the same books, seen the same films. As the evening progresses you find a real connection: you both say how you can’t believe this is happening -  you find yourself drawn ever closer. Then comes the moment: she says she has to leave because she has a big day tomorrow; you say ‘I have my car outside, can I give you a lift home?’.  She pecks you on the cheek and says ‘Yes that would be lovely’.

So you go into the kitchen to grab your coat and get back into the hallway just in time to see her jumping into a cab with the biggest dickhead at the party.

And you’re left on the doormat. Keys in hand. Wondering what the hell just happened…

For 70 minutes, Hornets were king of the party - looking good, playing with confidence. Fast fluid football just flowed: the boisterous travelling support bounced and sang…

But at the death, victory jumped into Batley’s cab and everyone associated with Hornets was left wondering what the hell just happened.

Leading 12-36 after an hour, Hornets looked racing certs to take the points. Batley had been a distant second-best - reduced to slugging and scrapping in an attempt to suck the momentum out of the game. And even now, we’re not entirely sure what happened next…

Hornets went off from the gun: capitalising on the Mount Pleasant slope to race into a 10 point lead after tries from Rob Massam (in off a crash-ball by the flag) and Harvey Livett (taking a short-ball from Gav Bennion after Joe Taira had gone close). And when Livett, Ben Julien and Jake Eccleston combined to score a sweeping delight of a try over 60 metres to give Hornets a deserved nil-16 advantage in-pace with the clock, it already looked like a literal uphill task for the shellshocked Bulldogs.

The home side flickered briefly: back to back penalties conceded by Lewis Galbraith (the second for backchat) gave Batley the platform to send in Smeaton  at the corner.

Galbraith made amends for his indiscretion almost immediately: Hornets seizing upon a Batley knock-on, the ball shipped left and Trigger on a big looping run to plant the ball down amongst a gaggle of defenders. Harvey Livett the extras off the touchline for 4-22.

With 10 minutes of the half remaining, Referee Mr Straw put Hornets on a team warning after a string of silly penalties hauled Batley back into the game. Batley’s response was clinical: ball shipped right for (3) to score through a stretched defence. Hornets now with a discernible wobble. A 34th minute high-shot saw Jono Smith sin-binned, and Batley’s pinpoint chip into the space benind the centre channel saw Hallett gather and score: 12-22

The half ended with both sides trading high-shots, Mr Straw favouring the home side, Batley failing to make touch. 12-man Hornets just about making it to the break 12-22 ahead.

Having had the slope, the question was always going to be “Would 10 points be enough?”

Hornets began the second half brightly: a last tackle kick, Gaz Middlehurst unable to reel it in. Then Batley’s Brown sinbinned for a frankly horrendous swinging arm into Middlehurst’s head. Livett taking the two, 12-30.

With the hour approaching, Jack Johnson stepped through some ordinary Batley tackling to race home from 40 metres to give Hornets a 12-34 lead. Livett added the extras and Hornets looked racing certs to take the points… but wait…

Two quick-fire Batley tries gave the subdued home fans a chink of hope: Smeaton given space to score through a stretched defence and the Bulldogs running a big man at a small man at close quarters for Maher to score. Brambani finding his kicking boots to give the home side a sniff at 22-36.

For the next 10 minutes the game became a battle of messy attrition marked by a successsion of slack errors and some distinctly shoddy officiating.

As the game broke into a fragmented stop/start mess, three successive incidents handed Batley the momentum: Danny Yates kicked out on the full (a poor end to a great approach set), Andre Savelio knocked-on on the first tackle with Batley in retreat (a huge let-off) and then Matt Hadden sin-binned for a 72nd minute professional foul after a Batley break up the guts of the Hornets defence.

The home side’s response was immediate, the ball whipped left for Ainscough to score. 26-36. Surely 10 points would be enough…

As it was, back to back penalties piggy-backed Batley down the slope where they reproduced their previous effort for Ainscough to score. Brambani the extras off the touchline for 32-36.

Then comes the moment: Hornets fans headed for the kitchen to get their coats, only to return to find Batley fumbling the ball through the heart of the Hornets defence. Mr Straw ignored both the obvious knock-on and the dubious forward pass as Brambanbi set up Lilycrop to score under the black dot.  Brambani hit the extras to ensure that victory left in Batley’s cab, despite having teased Hornets for 79 minutes. Just heartbreaking, really.

video

We’ve written here recently about how Rugby League puts fans through the emotional wringer, but this was a proper kick in the proverbial spuds. Batley were nowhere near this game for vast periods of time, but they did take advantage of both occasions when Hornets were down to 12 men and that proved to be the decisive factor.

While this was a monumental effort against the team finishing fourth last year, it was a chance unwittingly blown. And when a party ends that way, no-one really cares how good the rest of the evening was.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Normal service will be resumed on Monday 10th April

Monday, 20 March 2017

A Giant Disappointment.

York 26 - Hornets 20

Welcome to the Rochdale Hornets emotional wringer.

From the chest-bursting pride of two weeks ago, we find ourselves this morning trying to not think too hard about that shadow of embarrassment lurking in our peripheral vision.

2017’s brutal wake-up call arrived in the shape of Hornets’ unshakeable hoodoo. We wrote in Friday’s preview of our discomfort of being the giant in a potential giant-killing and, from the moment that Danny Yates coughed the kick-off at four seconds after three, you sensed that it was going to be one of those afternoons.

While York kept their game-plan brutally simple - fast ruck-speed, direct running, minimal errors and something tricky to think about on the last tackle - Hornets disintegrated into a mess of dropped-ball, forced passes, cheap penalties and - for the first time this season - some decidedly flaky defending.

James Ford’s masterstroke, though, was to persuade Jon Presley to put his boots back on. So often Hornets’ tormentor-in-chief last season, he produced a tight, controlled performance that proved to be the difference.

Indeed, after 15 minutes, two kicks into the in-goal had yielded tries for Smith and Batchelor to give York a dream start. Hornets at this point barely having carried the ball. In between Tyson-Wilson slotted a penalty and the Knights looked good value for a 14-nil lead.

When - after half an hour - Hornets finally got some meaningful possession they capitalised. First Lewis Palfrey trickling the ball behind the defence for Miles Greenwood to score; then a bit of a freak try as a Palfrey bomb was lost in flight by York defenders, skittling off Tyson-Wilson for Chris Riley to touch-down. Within the space of three minutes, Hornets back in the contest at 14-12.

Having clawed their way back, Hornets switched off with seconds of the half remaining, allowing Moran to crash through and score a coach-killing try, Tyson-Wilson added the extras and Hornets retired to the sheds 20-12 down for what we imagine was a frank exchange of views.

Hornets started the second half with visibly more purpose, but fell foul of some indifferent refereeing. First Jo Taira seemed to have scored a perfectly vallid try only for it to be struck-off for a highly dubious double movement, then Jono Smith was held-up in-goal despite being face-down on the ball.

Hornets then had a six-minute purple-patch: Lewis Galbraith embarking on a wide, meandering run to send in Rob Massam, followed by swift-hands right for Chris Riley to score out wide. 20-all with 20 to play.

With Hornets looking increasingly desperate to seize control of the game, the errors continued to mount and with time ebbing away there was whispered discussion about the golden point. All that became moot in the 73rd minute when Presley produced a cool offload in traffic to send in the other Tyson-Wilson, his brother spot on with the boot.

Hornets spent the last seven minutes banging their heads on the York defensive wall, closest to a break being a Ryan Maneely step that almost took him clear of a last-ditch grasping tackle.

In the wash-up, this was a shocker in every sense of the word. Hornets couldn’t play this badly again if they tried. But while the result was pretty humiliating, it provides a real test for Alan Kilshaw and his squad. Having had a bit of a boom start to life in the Championship, this result asks lots of questions and they need a big response.

Ultimately, if what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, we can hope that this wretched result serves  some sort of fortifying purpose. But at the moment it just feels like a chastening disappointment - and, it seems, York seemed destined to continue to lurk in Hornets' blind-spot.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Up Fer t'Cup: York City Knights

York City Knights made it to the start of the 2017 season by the skin of their teeth.

The Knights have risen - phoenix-like - from the most acrimonious of implosions, in which the tripartite relationship between the RL club, their football club hosts and the local council ended in a slow-motion shit-fight dragged out over six months.

Shiny: The Challenge Cup earlier today
By the time sports management consultant Jon Flatman was announced as the club’s potential new owner (replacing John Guildford) in November, York had already been omitted from the season’s fixtires

The RFL issued a deadline of 1 December 2016 for ownership issues to be resolved and, late on 1 December, the club issued a statement that ownership of the Knights had passed entirely to a consortium headed by Flatman.

Flatman’s first job was to nail down a two year tenancy at Bootham Crescent, which takes at least one pressure off the club as they wait for the completion of the phantom ‘community stadium’ on what was their Monks Cross site.

His second job was to revert the club back to its ‘traditional’ York RL colours of amber and black - last worn by York Wasps in 2002.

The uncertainty at York heralded a player exodus: we have it at ten departees - mostly heading en-bloc for Keighley, Doncaster and Newcastle. But by far the club’s most important signing for its second new start in 15 years is coach James Ford.

Despite heavy rumours that he was off to Sheffield, Ford stayed put to rebuild at York and he’s assembled a useful side boosted by a Dual Reg. deal with Hull KR and this week took Former Leeds Rhinos and England academy forward George Milton from the Robins. Alongside Milton, Ford has also signed former Harlequins RL and Wakefield hooker Andy Ellis - so two to watch right off the bat. And it looks like their arrival has made an immediate impact.

Last weekend saw York land their first win of 2017 - hanging on to beat South Wales Ironmen 26-24, having led 26-10 in the second half. The week before they were beaten 28-nil at Barrow, having been edged out of the League 1 Cup by North Wales Crusaders 16-17. In the Challenge Cup they fared better, beating Egremont 48-8. So a bit of a patchy start - but they will only improve.

After last week’s narrow win, Ford laid into his team. Speaking in the York Press he said: “We’re not a good enough team to take anyone lightly. We had a bloke turn up late, our warm-up lacked intensity and energy, it was a sloppy start and that just continued through the game."

“South Wales have improved but, to be brutally honest, they weren’t great, were they. We were slightly better and that’s as fair as I can be. There were some good individual efforts. The forward pack were good but our execution across the back line was awful… from one to seven it was not good enough…”

He went on: “The players need to be accurate in their own reflections of where they’re at. What we’re churning out is not good enough. Some players need to realise where we are before we can improve. Everybody knows the systems and we still have more than enough ability, experience and skill to put in a performance much better than that. We’re just miles off.”

Ouch!

Ahead of this weekend’s tie, the ’shock’ news is that Ford is about to haul his assistant coach Jonny Presley out of his short-lived retirement to give his young side a bit of ‘old-head’ experience. The 32 year old’s only outing of the season thus far was a sub’s appearance in a pre-season friendly v Hull FC.

Sunday is also likely to see a return for full-back (and last year’s captain) James Haynes and winger Tommy Saxton.

Much like his counterpart, Alan Kilshaw will have come away from last week’s game thinking that Hornets second-half performance could have been tighter and more error-free. But even in the face of an imminent defeat, this side refused to lose - a positive in itself, we guess.

Likely inclusion in the squad this week will be Jono Smith. Described this week as ‘champing at the bit’ to get his season started and he does give us a bit more renegade firepower up the channel.

Hornets come into this game in a most unusual position: the ‘giant’ in a potential giant-killing. We can’t deny, it’s a strange feeling. York will be looking for a big response from their players and what better way to put down a marker than to roll over a championship club - so not a game to take lightly.

Indeed, this weekend’s game gives Alan Kilshaw’s men a chance to lay another of Hornets Hoodoos (York beating us three times last season). And us fans have a role to play in that. Indeed, the supporters were referred to as Hornets ‘18th man’ this week - so let’s go over to Bootham Crescent, make some noise and give the lads a boost. It’s the Challenge Cup: you’d be mad to miss it.