Thursday, 17 August 2017

Samedi's Coming: Toulouse

And so, Hornets battered troops must once again gird up their aching loins and head for bloody Toulouse.

One imagines, this wasn’t a fixture TOXIIIC really thought they’d ever have to play. Having spunked their ‘get into SL’ budget up the wall in spectacular fashion, The French Ellite’s perennial chokers have once again missed the Championship boat and - instead of anticipating a season of SL glory in 2018 - face another year dragging their own particular brand of churlish football round the Championship. With a trip to Toronto chucked in for good measure. If it weren’t the fate awaiting all Championship clubs next year, you’d have to laugh at the sheer Karma of it.

But we shouldn’t be surprised; TOXIIIC have a proven track record of choking at this level. Having been denied a Super League licence in 2009, Toulouse joined the UK’s National League. Having clawed their way up to fourth at one point, they ended their first season 10th out of 11 clubs. In 2010, new SL qualification rules required any club pitching for a Super League franchise to have at least reached the grand final. Toulouse finished 8th.

In 2011, they got relegated and - rather than face the ignominy of playing in the bottom tier - they retreated to the French Elite to resume their role as a big poisson in a small bassin.

Having come into the Championship as League 1 runners-up, Toulouse peaked this season in second spot, before increasingly regular defeats saw them slip out of the top four behind part-time Halifax and Featherstone. Thus far, they have lost nine games, but sit top of the Championship Shield table.

In the spirit of making the best of a bad job, Toulouse hooker Charles Bouzinac said in the press last week (of the Championship Shield): “I think everyone is motivated and it’s still a trophy to go for. It’s always good for a club a team and its history to win titles.”  And as 2016 League 1 title winners, we should know…

Speaking to Toulouse FM back in January, Toulouse president Bernard Sarrazain revealed that their budget for the 2017 season was €1.8m which, he said, would “allow the club to prepare for the Super League”. “The goal on all levels,” he said then, “is the top four.”

Spent: Bernard Sarrazain in front of the truckload
of cash Toulouse have burned this season.
Having subsequently stormed to a fifth-place finish, Monsieur Sarrazain this week produced a small onion and - forcing a tear - opined to the Club’s website: “The consequences of not making the middle eight are first of all sporting. If we had been in the top four, we would have played the three other best Championship clubs and four Super League teams, a league that we wish to integrate into very soon…”  Very soon being at least a year away…

“We would have been able to measure up to these clubs and inevitably make significant progress by playing very high-level matches… two Super League teams would have to come to Blagnac, where we could have offered a great show to our supporters, and attracted new spectators…”  Instead of putting on crap games against the likes of us, Batley and Sheffield, eh, Bernard? C’est la vie…

“Finally,” he droned on, “the last consequence is of course financial – besides those games where we could have brought more people to Blagnac, the financial allowances allocated next season by the RFL, calculated according to the ranking this season, will obviously be less.” Clearly reserve-grade Aussies don’t come cheap.

So - having blown 2017 - did M. Sarrazain have any regrets from this challenging season? Seems so: “We regret the outcome of this first phase, but we still learn the lessons… of course we discussed this with the sports team and it was obvious to us that the still limited depth of our team was the main reason for our non-qualification. We are therefore already actively recruiting new players, of very high quality, for 2018.” Very high. The best. Ask anyone…

Just in case you haven’t had the opportunity to extrapolate the scale of how disappointed he’ll be next year when they choke again, Sarrazain was happy to set the bar: “… the main (objective) will of course be the top four at the end of the first phase. And, depending on how things are going, it could be that it turns into top two. We saw this season that the team was largely capable.”  

Of finishing fifth, yes.

As it is, Toulouse have begun their Championship Shield quest in relatively underwhelming fashion. An unconvincing round 1 win at Odsal was followed up by defeat at Dewsbury - with the Rams exploiting some frankly awful goal-line defence and a suspect looking middle to come home 36-34 winners.

We reckon TOXIIIC’s ordinary form can be attributed in part to the continuing absence of their Cook Islands international Jonathan Ford. The half-back has missed three months of the season having torn a pectoral muscle playing for his country way back in May - and he remains in doubt for Sunday’s clash.

Hornets too are feeling the injury pinch - announcing on Wednesday that they are likely to be stripped of six players for the trip to France. But occasional miracles do happen in Rugby League - and Blagnac has been known to deliver on that front so we travel, as always, with optimism.

Safe travels to the Hornets contingent making the trip - see you in Toulouse!

This weekend’s other games are:

Batley v Oldham
Sheffield v Dewsbury
Swinton v Bradford

Dewsbury need one win to guarantee their safety (With 10 points to play for, Oldham can only reach 21 and a win at Sheff-/Wake-field would give the Rams 22).  As previously, Hornets need to match or better Swinton’s results to maintain the status quo.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Number Crunched.

Hornets 14 - Batley 34

Jeez, where to start with this one.

Fundamentally, weight of numbers were the deciding factor in this horrendous mess of a game, perpetuated by what can only be described as inconsistent knee-jerk officiating.

Having started as a tight, combative encounter, this game became carved into a series of inedible chunks as referee Mr Grant lost his tenuous grip on both the laws and the game swirling around him.

As it was, Hornets were forced to play 10 v 12 at one point and ended the game on the wrong end of a 13-6 penalty count, deemed twice as bad as a Batley side that took the phrase ‘win at all costs’ to its extreme.

Wringing every last drop from their Championship experience, Batley capitalised on Mr Grant’s visible - and risible - lack of control, sucking Hornets into a shit-fight they were only ever going to lose.

After the game, Alan Kilshaw was incandescent with rage at the treatment meted out to his side at the hands of the officials - and in conversation with a Batley director post-game, even he conceded that Mr Grant had a shocker.

Long before the rot set in, Hornets started brightly - forcing an early drop-out, then creating a hole up the right edge for Jake Eccleston to step inside and score.

At this point, Batley were looking ragged, shipping penalties and, when Gaz Middlehurst was taken out after a last tackle kick, Danny Yates took the two for 6-nil.

Then two quick-fire penalties (Middlehurst in possession for not regaining his feet, then Jo Taira for what appeared to be for ‘rough play’) took Batley to within striking distance, where Scott made the extra man to score. Walker tied up the scores with the conversion.

Then a hint of what was to come. Gaz Middlehurst snagged for not being square at the play-the-ball, a frank exchange of views and then all hell broke loose. Batley coughed the penalty possession, Hornets handed them the ball straight back, then Reittie fumbled under attention from defenders. All pretty awful.

It was the cue for Batley to activate plan B. First, Jono Smith wiped out in back-play - Batley fans booing as he received attention. All class. Then Gaz Middlehurst hit late, Gav Bennion tripped as he broke the line, Farrell putting in a shoulder charge (ignored by the officials) and Yatesey decked at the play-the-ball. Batley placed on a team warning.

Hornets’ response was clinical - ball whipped wide to the right where Kev Penny scored with an acrobatic aerial plunge into the corner. Quality.

But the lead was short-lived. A poor last-tackle kick by Lewis Foster was followed by a penalty and Batley moved the ball to Ainscough who found space to score. Walker added the two and the visitors headed to the sheds 10-12 to the good.

If the first half was combative, the second was chaos - neither side seemingly capable of completing a set.

Hornets came up with a forward pass in the first set of the half, Batley’s response was a knock-on. Lewis Galbraith then muscled himself into open field, but his pass to Chris Riley was pretty awful. Batley’s response? A knock-on. Danny Yates also forced a pass to ground. Batley knocked-on.

It took almost 10 minutes for Hornets to settle: Lewis Galbraith running a great angle to take Hornets close. Jono Smith launching himself onto a flat last tackle pass only for the ball to come loose. Having taken a 20 minute sabbatical from his whistle, Mr Grant then gave Batley back-to-back penalties.

On 50 minutes, Jono Smith failed to come out of a tackle and, as he lay out cold on the field, he incurred the ire of the travelling fans who seem to think it’s perfectly ok to berate a player with concussion. Jono was taken, staggering, from the field.

Having shuffled the pack a bit (Jordan Case stepping in), Hornets dug in for some determined defence after Dec Kay fumbled a teasing bomb. Having stood firm for two consecutive sets, a Batley penalty five metres from the Hornets line proved too much and Bretherton broke through to score. Walker off the whitewash for 10-18.

As the penalty count began to rack-up, things became fractious. And when handbags after Crooke’s try on the hour ignited into a flurry of punches, Mr Grant dismissed Crooke and Middlehurst for fighting, yellow carding Ben Moore in the process.

Hornets were reduced to 10 men four minutes later when Jordan Case was sin-binned for use of the knees.

Hornets then belied their deficit, Chris Riley blasting a huge hole up the Hornets left to send Danny Yates dashing in from 50 metres to score for 14-22.

As it was, the weight of numbers finally told. Despite some heroic defence, Batley eventually did the maths for Bretherton to score, with Scott adding his second through a stretched defence on the hooter to blow-out the scoreline.

In the end, this pig-ugly scrapyard brawl of a game was one that Hornets were never likely to win. You can overcome a one-sided penalty count if you are able to compete on equal terms. And you can overcome a numerical deficit if you are given an opportunity to play. As it was, Hornets were given neither and Batley have way too much nous to shun such an opportunity.

Wearing our analytical head, it’s hard to see in a feisty contest like this, how one side can be deemed more than twice as bad as the other in terms of penalties - and it’s little wonder that frustrations boil over when players have no consistent template to play to.

Fortunately, results at Oldham and Swinton went in our favour, so Hornets live to fight another day. Hopefully, though, not quite as literally next time.

Friday, 11 August 2017

In the week where showed just how detached it is from the realities of running part-time clubs on small budgets and small staffs (they took a petulant pop at clubs for not updating their websites on a daily basis - only for us to find that their Championship and League 1 news pages were up to a week out of date), we discovered that - actually - the whole of Yorkshire's internet is running a week slow.

Thin skinned: The RL story that has Yorkshire horrified.
Every week, we scour the regional and local press (so you lovely people don't have to) in search of exciting, informative and entertaining snippets of news about our upcoming opposition. But this week has been a particular challenge. Not only does the Batley & Birstall News have no updated Bulldogs news beyond a report of their flogging of Swinton last week, that bastion of 'Yorkshireness' the Yorkshire Post carries zip, de nada, rien, absolutely no current Championship news.

Indeed, the main - and most current - Rugby League story on the  Batley & Birstall News left us a little puzzled (see above).

Batley began their Championship Shield challenge with a blistering bang, shoving 62 points through Swinton. Not only did they nil them in the second half, they scored 44 points in the process - having led 18-10 at the break.

The second half tsunami of points came - interestingly - in two waves. Two quickfire tries within six minutes of the restart, then nothing until beyond the hour mark whereupon they ran in six tries in the last 17 minutes (four of them in the last six minutes). So we can assume that Batley finish strongly.

Wayne's World: Reittie tells Deisel to 'do one'.
Once again, Pound-Shop Vin Diesel Wayne Reittie put himself about and weighed in with a brace of tries in a 12-try rout. Centre Sam Smeaton and full-back Dave Scott also grabbed doubles amongst eight try-scorers.

Batley currently sit 2nd in the Championship Shield table, eight points adrift of Toulouse - but Bulldogs coach Matt Diskin says they’re in the shield to win it. Speaking in the Yorkshire Post last week he said: “There is no arrogance, we know it is going to be a tough competition. The Championship is a really tough division and some teams in the bottom-eight have got the potential and quality to push for the top-four – like ourselves and Sheffield. We are not taking it lightly, we have to finish in a good place to get into the semi-finals.”

“Then when you get into semi-finals they are one-off games and anything can happen.”

Indeed, and when you start looking at the Shield as a series of one-off games in which anything can happen, it does change your perspective a bit.

Hornets performance at Dewsbury last week was well below par - but it’s a one-off, so let’s park that and move on. We’ve already seen this season what happens when you take the game to Batley - and barring a couple of shocking refereeing decisions towards the end of the game at Mount (un)Pleasant, Hornets were the far superior footballing side.

With Gaz Middlehurst, Rob Massam, Ben Moore and Dec Kay missing last week - on top of Lewis Palfrey and Miles Greenwood - Hornets lacked a little bit of both grunt and guile, so hopefully a few bodies back will help redress the situation.

Thankfully, other results in the bottom four fell in Hornets favour last week - the most eyecatching being Bradford’s defeat to Toulouse that saw the Bulls relegated in front of a sub-3,000 crowd.

This weekend’s other games are:
Dewsbury v Toulouse
Oldham v Bradford
Swinton v Sheffield

One thing is for certain - Sunday’s game will be a cracker. And, as we know, to avoid conjugating a constantly changing equation, a win keeps things nice and simple. Which is just the way we like it. See you Sunday.

Sunday, 6 August 2017


Dewsbury 56 - Hornets 8

Having been mercilessly flogged by Dewsbury a month ago, you’d hope that lessons had been learned about the Rams. How halves Sykes and Moore orchestrate pretty much everything, how they like to suck you into the middle and then shuttle ball to the edges to exploit the size of their three-quarter line.  But it was a serious case of Deja Vu for the noisy travelling Hornets contingent as they saw their side ship 11 tries to a well-drilled Dewsbury high on confidence.

The day’s most interesting stat was that seven of those 11 tries went through their right channel, where winger Potts grabbed four carbon-copy tries that he barely had to work for.

The afternoon had the sense of dread about it when Dewsbury opened the scoring on 6 minutes from a pass so far forward it appeared as if through a wormhole in the in-goal for Glover to touch down. Sykes added the extras for 6-nil.

Three minutes later Dewsbury went the other way, where Potts took advantage of a compressed defence to score by the flag. 10-nil and Hornets already behind the clock.

Hornets finally got some decent field position on 12 minutes, but Lewis Foster put a simple pass to ground on the second tackle to let the home side off the hook.

This seemed to panic Hornets and they began forcing passes that had little chance of reaching their intended recipients. Indeed, when another forced pass on the first tackle handed Dewsbury easy possession, they strolled upfield where Moore dinked a kick into space, a cruel bounce left Chris Riley stranded and Hallett gathered to walk in from 20 metres. 14-nil.

It wasn’t until the 21st minute that Hornets managed a cohesive attack, the ball fed wide up the left only for Jack Holmes to be bundled into touch.

With the half hour approaching, Hornets finally got on the scoreboard: Jono Smith’s outrageous show and go cleaving the home defence. No conversion, 14-4. The joy was short-lived, though as Dewsbury hit straight back with the softest of sucker-tries: Day strolling in from acting half as the goal-line defence switched off. Sykes the two for 20-4.

Then came the moment in which you knew this really wasn’t going to be Hornets’ day. A lovely flat ball sent Jake Eccleston clean through the guts of the Rams - only for referee Mr Campbell to pull it back for - at best - a dubious forward pass. And in the next passage of play Dewsbury produced a pass a metre forward from the base of the scrum for Potts to score (24-4).

But there was still time for more calamitous freakery. Lewis Foster slammed the kick-off high and long - looking for all the world like it was heading for the terracing behind the posts, but the ball hit the left upright, Dewsbury gathered possession and sent Glover the length of the field for his second of the afternoon. Shocker: half-time couldn’t come soon enough (28-4).

The second half began in much the same vein. On the first play of the half Dewsbury  got a penalty and, 45 seconds later, Potts was planting the ball by the flag for his hat-trick. 32-4 and Hornets fans reduced to scouring phones for news from Batley and Sheffield.

For 20 minutes the game descended into base comedy - a barely watchable farce at which no-one was laughing (even the Dewsbury fans struggled to raise their spirits and their voices). This was underlined as a rare Hornets attack ran in ever decreasing circles up its own fundament, to the point where Dewsbury looked embarrassed to gather the dropped ball.

Rams fullback Guzdek weighed in with a try on the hour, but even Hornets’ consolation try had a sense of the circus about it as a dropped pass was somehow back-heeled by Jake Eccleston into the hands of Chris Riley, who muscled his way over the whitewash for 38-8.

Having seen enough, this game had not so much a sting in its tail, but a monumental kick in the spuds as Hornets folded in the last 8 minutes to ship three frankly awful tries.

Firstly Potts produced his now standard stroll to the flag; Day took the piss by ambling from acting half to score under the black dot and - at the very death - what was (by some distance) the most embarrassing try conceded this season: the ball run 60 metres up the heart of the Hornets defence straight from the kick-off, Glover on hand to nudge off some sloppy tackles to grab his hat-trick. Sykes the two for 56-8 to put the lid on an afternoon to forget.

In the 14 hours between the final hooter and writing this review, we’ve struggled to find many positives. Certainly, having scored a well-made try and come back onto the field after a head injury, Jono Smith was (by some distance) the Hornets man of the match. Beyond that, we can only point to the fact that Oldham and Swinton also got hammered, so things stay much the same in the bottom four, as Dewsbury ease themselves towards safety.

As we always like to end on an upbeat note - Bradford’s loss to Toulouse at Odsal in front of a crowd beginning with a 2 (2,753) saw the former world club champions relegated to the third tier.

And  on this showing, it’s going to be a tense six weeks to see who follows them.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Sunday's Coming: Dewsbury

Horror Show: The jury's out on
Dewsbury's new mascot
After a frustrating delay caused by uncertainty of Swinton’s ability to fulfil its next seven fixtures, we finally have the details of the games that will define Hornets 2017 season.

There is much talk amongst coaches in the eight that the next seven weeks is effectively a series of cup-finals - and, with the 8s fundamentally becoming a zero-sum exercise, every point is going to count.

Speaking in the Dewsbury reporter, Rams coach Neil Kelly boiled down the impact he’s had since he joined the rams.

“… we’ve already got more points this season than the whole of last year. If the season started with Batley at home, which was my first game, we’ve got more points in 15 games than the whole season last year. We are not mathematically safe, but if we don’t win a game in the eights – and I’d hope that won’t happen – Oldham have to win three to climb above us.”

“If we win one, they have to win four. That seems a bit unrealistic. “We realise the job is not done, but I have given the players this week off because their efforts up to now have been superb.”

Having lost their first eight games straight, Kelly’s Rams won 8 of their last 15, ending the regular season with five wins from their last six games to scramble over Hornets into 8th place. It’s an incredible transformation.

With his eyes on a Shield top four finish, Kelly was busy ahead of the deadline, adding former Oldham and Sheffield Eagles utility Tommy Ashton (whose time at Bower Fold was curtailed by a knee injury), former Featherstone and Sheffield second-rower Michael Knowles (17 starts for Fev this year) and French International utility forward Mickaƫl Goudemand. Ashton and Goudemand are on deals for the remainder of this season, Knowles until the end of 2018.

Games against the Rams this season have been pretty polarised in their outcomes. Having handed ‘old’ Dewsbury a 46-nil flogging in the opening game, the ‘new improved’ Rams reciprocated with a 40-10 win at the Tetley Stadium in July, orchestrated by half back partnership Paul Sykes and Gareth Moore.

As everyone does at this stage of the season, we started to do some complex maths to try and work out potential permutations and possible outcomes over the next few weeks.

With 7 games/14 points to play for:

Bradford have 0 pts: maximum possible = 14
Oldham  have 11pts: maximum possible = 25
Swinton have 12pts: maximum possible = 26
Hornets have 15pts: maximum possible = 29
Dewsbury have 16pts: maximum possible = 30

Already, Bradford can’t catch Hornets, effectively leaving four clubs avoiding one relegation place. If Hornets were to win at Dewsbury (17pts) and Oldham were to lose at Sheffield (11pts), Oldham would need to win four of their remaining six games to overhaul Hornets. They’ve only won five of their previous 23. Hornets also have a +102 points difference advantage over Oldham. A draw on Sunday would haul Hornets back into 8th place (Dewsbury having a -125 points difference deficit on Hornets).

Having crunched the numbers, though, we boiled it down to one basic view:  if Hornets match - or better - Swinton and Oldham’s results, we stay up.

The other games this weekend are:
Batley v Swinton
Bradford v Toulouse
Sheffield v Oldham

This really is crunch-time: as everyone says, a series of cup-finals. Last time out at Dewsbury the Hornets fans were superb. Now we need a cup-final effort. Get yourself over to Dewsbury on Sunday and get behind the lads. The 18th man has never been this crucial. See you there.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Class Action

Oldham 24 - Hornets 34

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. At the end of this pressure-cooker derby at Bower Fold it was clear to see, as the Hornets players celebrated a gritty win with their noisy supporters as Scott Naylor sat stone-faced in the back of the stand, visibly gutted by his side’s inability to reel-in a punchy, fluid Hornets who led this contest from the 3rd minute to the last.

Bar a short-lived fightback in the ten minutes either side of half-time - Hornets were by some distance the better side, playing most of the football on offer and putting in some impressive goal-line defence.

Hornets took no time in establishing their dominance: early pressure from Oldham took them close to the Hornets line, but when Hewitt threw a no-look cut-out pass, it was snaffled by Kev Penny who pinned back his ears and blasted fully 95 metres to score. Yatesey no mistake from bang in front and Hornets 0-6 up after just three minutes.

Oldham established a brief period of cursory resistance, but when Hornets drove deep into Roughyed territory on 12 minutes, Jono Smith produced an audacious reverse pass you could get an Arts Council grant for, to send the impressive Dec Kay in for a great try, Danny Yates good with the boot and Hornets up with the clock at 0-12.

Just two minutes later Hornets went back on the attack. This time going right off the back of two cheap Oldham penalties, only for the touchie to deem that Kev Penny had put his foot on the line. No matter.

Having stemmed a foray from Oldham’s walking anger-issue Tyson, Hornets took the ball up the heart of the Oldham defence where Ben Moores found a huge hole to carry the ball into open field. As Neild moved in to tackle, Mooresy dropped the ball onto his toe for Jake Eccleston to gather and score untouched. Danny Yates on target and Hornets 0-18 up with 20 minutes gone. Oldham a ragged mess.

On the half hour, Oldham found their range - on a rare attack, they sent big-lad Smith rumbling in off a short-ball from two metres: Leatherbarrow the extras for 6-18.

Hornets wasted no time in going straight back on the attack, but when Josh Crowley was gang-bundled into touch, the game erupted into a flurry of pushes and punches. The only surprise was that it took this long. Having picked the bones out of it, Mr Hewer dispatched Ben Moores and Tyson for ten minutes. 

With the game now drenched in a downpour, Jake Ecclestone was blood-binned after a high shot, but it was the returning Tyson’s acting skills that drew a penalty from Mr. Hewer. With the half ebbing away, OIdham finally applied some pressure - Ward knocking on over the line when it looked easier to score. The home side did snatch a fortuitous try when a Leatherbarrow bomb landed amongst a tangle of chasers; Clay playing to the whistle to touch down. Leatherbarrow the two and - somehow - Oldham back in the game at 12-18 having played virtually no football at all.

Indeed, they reverted to type immediately, dropping the kick-off possession, then coughing a really cheap, petulant penalty in front for Danny Yates to give Hornets a chink of daylight at the break: half time, 12-20.

It was always likely that Oldham would start the second half with purpose and, within three minutes, they kept the ball alive well in front of a stretched Hornets defence, Hewitt finding the hole to score. Leatherbarrow the two and at 18-20 we suddenly had a game on our hands.

Hornets response was direct, handed the opportunity after Ward had knocked on first tackle after playing the ball incorrectly. Hornets went swiftly left, but Lewis Galbraith did exactly the same to let Oldham off the hook. 

Hornets continued to press hard, Oldham’s best response was to wipe-out playmaker Danny Yates in back-play. but while the home side were looking there, Lewis Foster hoisted a teasing pinpoint bomb into the in-goal where Williams folded under pressure from Kev Penny and Jordan Case dived in to get a hand on the ball: 18-24.

Hornets turned the screw. First forcing a drop-out, then the ball slipping agonisingly from Ant Walker’s grip as he reached out to score. Oldham played their get-out of jail card and set off downfield where they camped on Hornets’ 10m line for three consecutive sets. Hornets defence unyielding, Oldham ending an 18-tackle barrage by flinging a loose pass into touch. Lovely stuff.

On the hour mark came two moments that broke the back of the game: firstly Chris Riley imperious under a steepling bomb, then - 90 seconds later - Ant Walker orchestrating a slick interchange of passes for Dec Kay to ghost-in for his second try of the afternoon. No mistake from Danny Yates; 18-30.

Oldham had one last hurrah in them: Leatherbarrow sliding a grubber into the in-goal for Tyson to score a very angry try. Leatherbarrow adding the two to close the gap to 24-30.

Unfazed, Hornets went straight up the other end, stretched the Oldham defence to breaking point and slotted Kev Penny in by the flag on a huge overlap. 24-34.

There was still time for Mr Hewer to strike off what would have been Dec Kay’s hat-trick after Chris Riley’s pass was deemed forward, but in the wash-up this was a deserved win for a never-say die Hornets who played eye-catching football at every opportunity.

Elsewhere, in-form Dewsbury overcame Sheffield to grab 8th place by a point, leaving Hornets facing three home games and four away games in the 8s. Conflictingly, a choking Toulouse failed to make the middle 8, so Hornets will have to travel - again - to the South of France looking to get a result.

From here on in this competition becomes a game of arithmetic. Swinton’s win at 12-man Bradford means that - with 14 points on offer - the Bulls cannot now catch Hornets. And the +102 points difference over Oldham is a handy contingency. 

You have to feel that, with a few ‘regulars’ back in the line-up, Hornets have more improvement in them for the run-in. And with two derby wins over our local rivals inside a month, the next seven games should be very interesting indeed.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Sunday's Coming: Oldham

The headline in the Oldham Chronicle tells you everything you need to know about Oldham, petulantly screaming “Oldham focus on revenge mission”.

In an article dripping with chippy negativity, the Chronic goes on to bemoan: Oldham not finishing higher than last season’s third bottom, ‘avenging’ their defeat at Blackpool and failing to beat Hornets in three attempts this year thus far. Then it goes on to contemplate relegation - cheerful stuff.

Indeed, this has been a season book-ended by unfortunate issues emanating from the wrong end of the A627M. The Law Cup remembered for George Tyson’s rush of blood to the fists as he threw punches during the post-match handshakes, all the way through to their serious accusations against Lewis Galbraith that couldn’t be substantiated.

As it is, it’s looking likely that Oldham will end the regular season below Hornets - they are only two points adrift, but would need an 82 point swing to scramble above us.

Like most clubs in our positions, the queue for the Oldham treatment room gives round the block at this time of the season, The Chronicle reporting fresh injuries to George Tyson (knee), Matty Wilkinson (calf) and Scott Leatherbarrow (calf)last Sunday; Danny Langtree (bicep), Liam Thompson (sternum) and Kameron Pearce-Paul (sternum) carrying longer-term knocks; and Scott Turner, Phil Joy and Richard Lepori out for the season. What was Turner’s third concussion could potentially end his career; Lepori requires an operation on his damaged ankle. There will also be unspecified ‘updates’ on Gareth Owen, Jack Spencer, Adam Neal and Craig Briscoe.

Scott Naylor has this week added Wakefield Trinity full-back Luke Hooley to his depleted squad for the remainder of the season.  Whilst only 19 years old, Hooley has already been signed at Bradford Bulls, released to Wakefield Trinity and punted out on loan to Dewsbury (for whom he played in their win over Oldham - awks!). But he’s unlikely to make the side on Sunday due to an existing knee problem.

Loan deals with London Broncos’ Sadiq Adebiyi and Kameron Pearce-Paul plus Salford’s Liam Bent and Connor Williams have also been rubber-stamped for the rest of the season.

Last week, Oldham led Sheffield 12-10,after half an hour, but then went on to ship 28 unanswered points (five tries) in the 10 minutes either side of half-time, eventually crashing by 42-28 in front of just 329 people (how do Sheffield survive on crowds like that?).

Naylor’s analysis? “Our fringes struggled massively and we made Menzie Yere and Garry Lo look like world-beaters… (We’ll) need to be better defensively against Rochdale.”

However it pans out on Sunday - barring a freak result - Naylor will lead his side into an 8s where his side will face four away games. But for Hornets the door remains open to snatch the all important 8th place and the prospect not only of four home games, but - if Toulouse follow form and choke v Fev on Saturday - of dodging yet another trip to the South of France.

Regardless of their result, Toulouse will miss the cut if in-form Halifax beat a late-twitchy Hull KR.

The permutations for Hornets are pretty straightforward: a win of any shade whatsoever and Dewsbury to lose or draw at home to Sheffield and we take 8th (Dewsbury have a point more, but a points difference of 125 worse than Hornets).

So that’s it. Nothibgf less than a win will do. Given the way previous games v Oldham have e gone this season, this one promises to be another spicy, heart-stopping no-holds barred battle. And while Oldham have nothing to lose and nothing to gain except this week’s bragging rights, the 80 minutes at Bower Fold on Sunday will shape the remainder of our season.

You wouldn’t usually need motivating to get along to an A627M El Clasico - but this one promises to be special. Come on you Hornets - let’s ‘ave it.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Broncos Blow-out

Hornets 18 - London Broncos 58

In Sunday’s Observer Sports section, Aaron Bower took 1,000 words to lionise the ‘project’ underway at the Trailfinders Stadium to get London Broncos back into Super League. And ‘project’ is a good word to describe the Broncos promotion push. It’s nicely rational, speaks of process and procedure - and that’s reflected by their style of play - organised, pragmatic and productive: football by spreadsheet. Project-managed.

We spoke in our preview about London’s ruthless efficiency and, whilst it’s impressive up close, it does lack a bit of soul. Every player has a set role and it’s left to Jarrod Sammut to pull all the levers in the right order to send the points rolling off the production line. 

With only a minute gone, London signalled their intent, Sammut hoisting a huge bomb; Dec Kay a brave catch, Rob Massam a forceful clearing drive. But within two minutes, London were back on the attack and a neat blind-side sneak caught Hornets napping and Ackers strode through to score. Sammut the two (this would become a recurring theme) for 0-6.

On 7 minutes what looked like a clear London knock-on was - like Rob Massam - pulled back, only for referee Mr McMullan to give the visitors the feed. And when Sammut stepped back inside to score, it had an air of inevitability about it. Sammut with the two: 0-12.

Hornets responded with some direct football, but when Lewis Galbraith was mugged by three London players in the tackle, Mr McMullan gave a knock on. London were similarly fortunate four minutes later: the entire three-quarter line offside at a last tackle kick and, in the ensuing chaos, ref McMullan missed a forward pass in the build-up to Walker’s scrappy try. Sammut on target; 0-18.

On the quarter mark, Hornets sprang to life: Lewis Galbraith testing the Broncos right channel, but as his pass went to ground, Hornets were given a penalty. Immediately Hornets shifted the ball right, where Jake Eccleston steamed straight through his opposite number to score. Danny Yates off the touchline for 6-18.

Hornets then produced a near perfect attacking set: hard direct running to eat up the metres, a block-busting break by Ant Walker and Lewis Foster on hand to score under the posts. Lovely stuff. Yatesey on target and - at 12-18 - it was game-on.

However, when Jono Smith was compelled to end the next set with a kick, London shipped the ball into space on the left edge where that man Sammut popped-up to score, adding the extras too for 12-24.

But still Hornets hit back: Lewis Galbraith turning Hellewell inside out up the left, then a great cut-out pass to Rob Massam who piled in by the flag. Danny Yates slotting the kick from the touchline: 18-24.

On the half hour, London were pretty much gifted a try: Lewis Foster slicing his attempt at finding touch; 45 seconds later Davis mugging a retreating defence from acting half. Horrible. Sammut the two for 18-30.

Despite the setback, Hornets still strove to play some football: first Rob Massam soaring to reach for a teasing bomb, the ball slipping from his fingers as he landed awkwardly. Then Jono Smith unzipping the Broncos defence, only for his reverse pass to fall into London hands.

With the first half almost done, Hornets - for reasons better known to themselves - charged down a last-tackle kick going nowhere on half-way, handing London one last chance to attack, They did, Bienik scored. Sammut converted and Hornets went into the sheds 18-36 down. All a bit freakish.

The second half was - from our point of view - a bit of a non-event. Hornets continued to press, probe and move the ball around: London happy to play to process and keep the scoreboard ticking over - Williams in the corner on 48 minutes; on the hour a fortuitous Evans try that even the London fans couldn’t be arsed cheering; Ackers from acting half on 70 minutes and Walker up the right channel through a Hornets defence out on its feet. All very perfunctory. The London fans banged their drum, sang about Super League and retired to the bar.

In the wash-up this was a tale of two sides with differing agendas. London - as had been made clear in the Observer that morning - have pinned their future on getting back into Super League and secured a second-place finish with this result to give themselves yet another shot at the big time. Hornets, meanwhile, are looking to next week’s game at Oldham to provide a foundation for their Championship Shield challenge, where survival by any means remains the target.

It’s fair to say that, after next week, the season becomes a mathematical equation conjugated week-by-week in two point increments. Indeed - with seven shield games to come - if Hornets win next week and Bradford lose against Swinton, there’s no way for the Bulls to overhaul us, halving the risk of relegation. But more importantly a win next week gives us a realistic shot at snatching 8th place, which guarantees us four home games in the 8s.

It’s tense, nail biting stuff - but it’s what we all signed up for. So let's have it.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Sunday's Coming: London Broncos

Bula Bluebag: Junior's back at Spotland.
London coach Andrew Henderson brings the Broncos to Spotland having already secured a top four finish with games to spare.

Last week’s systematic demolition of Sheffield underlines our belief that London are the best side we’ve seen this season - their ruthlessly efficient disposal of Featherstone at Blackpool close to our best performance by any side the season. Relentless, methodical.

Then, as last week, the key cog at the heart of the Broncos machine was Jarrod Sammut - his perpetual motion-style verging on unplayable.

At the Trailfinders last week he ran the Eagles ragged: scoring one try, setting up each of Ben Helliwell’s four tries and kicking eight goals from nine attempts. Three of Helliwell’s tries came from Sammut’s trademark ‘run wide/inside ball’ shift - so a combination to watch on Sunday.

Also putting in an eye-catching two-try performance last week was Irish-Kiwi Api Pewhairangi. Having begun his career Playing Toyota Cup for Newcastle Knights he had stints at Wenty Magpies (NSW Cup) and at Parramatta, where he played four games in the NRL. In 2015 he had a season back in New Zealand playing NSW Cup for the Warriors before joining the Broncos last year, weighing in with 21 tries in 26 games. This season so far: 11 from 14 - a good strike rate.

Last week, Henderson added French international hooker John Boudebza to their squad ahead of the Super 8s Qualifiers. Boudebza had been playing for Lezignan in French Elte 1, having spent the previous two seasons at Hull KR.

On a personal note, we’re quite excited to welcome back to Spotland Fijian utility forward - and ex-Newtown Jets prop - Junior Roqica (that’s ‘Rong-itha’, folks). Junior played in Rochdale twice in 2013 (v Hornets and Ireland) and the last time we saw him play for Newtown he helped them to a rare victory for the Jets at Penrith. We admit, we’re a little bit conflicted to have one of our favourite Jets players running at us this weekend. Seeing him go head-to-head with Jo Taira will be worth the admission money alone.

Hornets go into Sunday’s game buoyed not only by a gritty win over Swinton, but by the news that Lewis Galbraith has had his 8 match ban overturned on appeal after it was, finally, agreed that Oldham and the RFL had little if any evidence to prove their case against him. Our question here is: who compensates Hornets and Trigger for his enforced unavailability last weekend?

Speaking on the club website, Galbraith said: “I’ve had my name dragged through the mud, and plastered across the back page of my local newspaper. Nobody won here tonight but I’m just glad that I can get back to playing rugby league and helping the boys finish the campaign strong.

“I also want to thank Adam, the board, staff and my teammates who have been behind me on this along with the supporters who have backed me while this has been going on.”

Alan Kilshaw has been left fuming over the whole affair and his thoughts can be found HERE

Trigger is now available for selection on Sunday as Hornets took to upset the form book. There are interesting contests all over the park - and a great opportunity for the club to benchmark itself against a side with Super-League ambitions. As always, it promises to be a cracker - see you there.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Lion Tamers

Hornets 33 - Swinton 28

“The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”
James Arthur Baldwin.

Having announced a potentially terminal financial deficit of at least £100,000 and with the vultures of the HMRC already circling, Swinton came to Spotland with nothing to lose and everything to prove. Add Hornets’ desire to rectify what was essentially daylight robbery at Heywood Road earlier in the season and you had all the ingredients for an explosive molotov-cocktail of a derby. And this game didn’t disappoint.

It began with a bang as, twice in the first three minutes, Jo Taira rattled Atkin’s cage with a couple of range-finders. Referee Jack Smith set the penalty meter running: Atkin took the two.

Hornets response was swift and crafty. A good out-set took them to the Swinton 40m line, but as the Lions retreated for a kick which never came, Ben Moore took the ball up a gaping blind side to send Danny Yates scooting in. Yatesey adding the extras to edge Hornets ahead 6-2.

Then Swinton got lucky. Woods’ theatrical dive at a play-the-ball caught the eye of Mr Smith, then another penalty for Mooresey hanging on too long in the ruck took Swinton to within 10 metres of the Hornets posts.

Atkin spinning out of two tackles to score had an air of inevitability about it. And then all hell broke loose after Jono Smith arrived as soon as he could to let Atkin know he was there. Jono’s yellow card was matched by one for Swinton’s Barlow. Mr Smith awarding an additional penalty for an eight point try: 6-10.

This rush of blood sparked Mr Smith into a frenzy of puzzling penalties: one for ripping after he’d already given a Swinton knock-on; Swinton dropping the ball cold at a play-the-ball, but given one for - well - god knows what…

Meantime, Hornets produced a Harlem Globetrotters play up the left edge, but the last pass went astray. Then Jake Ecclestone unzipped the defence to dart in, only to be brought back for an obstruction that only Mr Smith saw. Poor.

Swinton’s response was a punt and hope kick into the corner where Kevin Penny shepherded the ball all the way to the dead ball line, though not quite far enough to prevent Butt diving in to get a hand on the ball. Atkins the two 6-14 against the run of play.

Just past the half hour mark Swinton’s Bretherton was given 10 minutes for dissent - and less than a minute later, Ryan Maneely sprang under the black dot to score. Yatesey the two; 12-16.

Swinton’s reaction was to march downfield, kick the ball into Kev Penny’s corner and let deja vu do the rest. Atkin the kick, Butt the touchdown. Deeply annoying. 12-20.

Having coughed up the kick-off under pressure, the visitors then wiped out Danny Yates in back-play. Action from the officials? De nada. And when Chris Riley bounced out of a tackle to end a looping run with a touchdown, that too was struck off for a highly dubious obstruction.

To misquote Oscar Wilde, to pull two obstructions is unfortunate, to pull three looks like carelessness - so when Mr Smith snagged Jono Smith as he released Chris Riley up the left edge, you could sense the frustration.

However, when Swinton produced a similar obstruction play at the other end, only for the officials to take no action, it became clear that the ref was pretty much making it up as he went. Awful.

Hornets retired to the sheds 12-20 down, coach Alan Kilshaw - clearly incandescent - sent his captain Chris Riley to ask Mr Smith for his version of events, only to have him waved away. That in itself was interesting, because he seemed fine with having Swinton’s Bracek up his trumpet offering ‘advice’ for most of the game.

The surrealist officiating continued after the break: Danny Yates pulled for a supposed high-shot on Murphy. Then Yatesey producing some exceptional defence to force a hand-over.

On 44 minutes, Kevin Penny revealed his class: a gliding break up the guts of the Swinton defence took Hornets 60 metres and, the next play, the ball was shifted wide to Josh Crowley who steamed through to score. Yatesey the two for 18-20. Hornets with the momentum.

In response, Swinton winger Robinson produced a moment from the ‘Absolute Gits Book of Underhand Tactics’ - playing the ball on the chest of Danny Yates as he lay in the ruck. Despite the RFL’s recent guidance on this, Mr Smith gave Swinton the penalty. They chose to use the possession by creating a huge overlap up the left, where the last pass sailed into Row E. Justice, most felt.

A huge Swinton head-shot on Josh Crowley gave Yatesey the opportunity to tie the scores - which he did. Game on.

On 55 minutes, Hornets took the lead when Rob Massam tapped back a Lewis Foster bomb for Jake Eccleston to score out wide: 24-20. The lead lasted three minutes.

Despite looking like they’d knocked on a high kick to the corner, Swinton were allowed to play-on and Murphy took advantage of a flat-footed Hornets defence to burst through and score. Atkins the two for 24-26.

This time it was Swinton’s turn to switch off. The Lions coughed the kick-off, Jake Eccleston drove close and, when Jono Smith arrived to take a short-ball, he proved unstoppable, crunching in through a crowd of defenders: 28-26.

With Hornets looking to lock the game down with some big defence, Mr Smith saw the ball ripped where everyone else saw a knock-on. Atkin took the two: 28-all with 10 to play.

Having had a flawless game with the boot, it was Atkin’s nerve who deserted him when his side needed it most. Firstly hoofing the ball out on the full on the last tackle. Hornets’ response clinical: a great approach set ended by Lewis Foster’s soaring drop goal (29-28). From the kick-off Kev Penny looked to be tackled in the air, but the penalty was handed to Swinton. Given the chance to win the game, Atkin smacked the penalty against the post and Hornets brought the ball away. It was to be Atkin’s last contribution in a Swinton shirt, revealing after the game that he had secured an early release from his contract to join Hull KR.

With both sets of supporters in a frenzy, Hornets delivered a delicious denouement. Another great set took them deep into Swinton territory, where Foster slid a teasing last-tackle kick towards the corner. Panic in the Swinton ranks saw the ball deflected into the hands of Rob Massam, who pinned back his ears and crashed through his opposite number to score by the flag. Bedlam!

Final score 33-28 in what was a full-blooded, high octane tinder-box of a derby that saw both sides give it absolutely everything.

There had been much talk in the week of this being a crucial game for both clubs - and, though it went to the wire, Hornets proved their mettle by finding a way to win at all costs. Indeed, Alan Kilshaw described it as the most courageous win of his tenure. And who are we to argue with the gaffer?

Other results on the day saw Hornets go back to 8th. Where Swinton go from here is anyone’s guess, but we wish them luck.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Sunday's Coming: Swinton Lions

We’re going to start this week’s preview with a stat that’ll make you wince: it’s 25 years since Swinton left Station Road.

When the Lions locked the gates behind them for the last time, they ended a season in which they’d averaged a crowds of 3,000 per game. Two weeks ago when they produced a shock one point win over Halifax, Heywood Road hosted a crowd of 863 - which at this end of the competition is considered pretty respectable. How times change.

Fast forward to Sunday and Swinton come to Spotland running into a bit of form - just as Hornets appear to be running out of bodies.

Our club this week reported that eight regulars are in line to miss this weekend’s crucial derby - and it couldn’t come at a worse time.

Miles Greenwood (knee), Lewis Palfrey (neck), Gary Middlehurst (concussion), Rob Massam (knee), Jo Taira (hip), Jono Smith (deal-leg) and Gav Bennion (foot) are all on the treatment table, while Lewis Galbraith begins his hotly contested eight-game suspension. So best bring your boots just in case…

Having spectacularly tanked at Dewsbury, Hornets narrowly avoided the drop into the bottom three only by virtue of the fact that Swinton let their game at Sheffield slip away.

The Lions trailed 22-16 at the break, but had the game level at one stage, but fell behind - and then clawed their way back within two points, before Garry Lo popped up at the death the snatch the points in front of just 375 supporters.

Performance of the day came from four-try fullback Jack Murphy, while Chris Atkin hit five from six with the boot.

But while Hornets are having a bit of a confidence crisis on the field, Swinton are embroiled in an off-field crisis that has sent the rumours flying - fuelled by a series of club statements on the Lions’ financial situation following the settlement of a winding-up order last month.

Following a supporter’s meeting on 19th June, Club Chair John Roddy said: “… during our supporter forum the club outlined the difficulties we have experienced this season in respect of smaller gates than anticipated and long term injuries within the current squad which have put pressure on our cash resources."

"Despite enormous efforts by everybody connected with the club, to fill the gap, we now need to raise additional funds from club supporters to ensure our future stability and competitiveness."

The last week, Roddy stepped down. In a statement, Swinton said: “John Roddy has stepped down both as chairman and a director of the club, following discussion with the Board of Directors during the past week. The club wishes to place on record its sincere thanks for John’s input over the past four years, both in terms of time and finance, during which time the club has been promoted from League One and then established itself in the Championship.”

“Negotiations are currently ongoing with potential new directors, with a view to both stabilising the current financial situation of the Lions, and then moving the club forward.”

We held fire on our preview to try and include the outcome of yet another meeting on Thursday evening where a “… a full and frank disclosure of the club’s current position” was on the agenda - but we couldn’t find any reports on the meeting early today (Friday). We’ll update when we know more.

There’s no doubt that Sunday’s game could turn out to be a defining 80 minutes in both clubs’ seasons. A Swinton win could see Hornets drop into the bottom two (Depending on Oldham’s result v Featherstone): A Hornets win could see us leapfrog Dewsbury back into 8th (their result at Batley, pending). So, if ever Hornets’ 18th man was needed, it’s now. We need every last drop of effort and belief from everyone involved. And we owe ‘em one. See you Sunday.

And finally…

There will be a minute’s silence on Sunday as a mark of respect to Adam Cooper, the Culcheth Eagles Rugby League player who tragically passed away last week following a North West Men’s League fixture against Runcorn. The 31 year-old leaves his fiancee Michelle and three children. Swinton Lions has reported that Adam’s father Barry is a native Swintonian. Our thought are with Adam’s family, friends and team-mates.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Nadir oh dear...

Dewsbury 40 - Hornets 10

Jewish polymath Sholem Asch said that it is “... not the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to forget, which is a necessary condition for our existence” - and as we look back on Hornets' bin-fire of a performance at Dewsbury, we concede that there is, indeed, much to forget about it.

Indeed, it'd be easy to forget that for 55 minutes of this - and we use the term loosely - 'contest', it was 12-10 to Dewsbury. But for 25 minutes, Hornets' quite exceptional travelling support was treated to a spectacular self-immolation of errors, penalties, missed tackles and chaos.

And you could easily forget that, for the first 15 minutes, there was little between the sides: both applying early pressure both coming up with errors. But when Hornets elected to run a penalty after a Sherriffe high-shot only to come up with a fumbled carry, Dewsbury forced a drop-out, then were given a penalty for offside. The pressure told when Spicer strode through Hornets' right edge to score. It would become a repeated motif. Sykes edged towards his 2000th point and Hornets trailed 6-nil.

Almost immediately, Dewsbury tested Mr Grant's interpretation of some of the more subtle ruck laws, blocking Gaz Middlehurst at acting half to send Moore scampering through the hole: Hornets scrambling back to defend whilst Middlehurst and his opposite number discussed matters in back-play. Mr Grant called play-on only for Dewsbury to ship a penalty. All very scrappy.

On 22 minutes Moore released a huge 40/20: the precursor to four tries in 15 minutes up Hornets' ragged right channel that effectively killed the game. First Adamson wrestling off some sloppy tackling, then Morton striding through a retreating defence, followed by Spicer off a short-ball at close range and, finally, Hallett hitting a Moore cut-out pass. Sykes ruthless with the boot and shell-shocked Hornets driven to the sheds 28-nil down.

Hornets started the second half in spectacularly awful fashion: Lewis Palfrey sacked in possession on the last tackle of the very first set. Danny Yates repeating the feat on the second set. The game in microcosm, right there, folks.

Hornets sprang briefly to life on 45 minutes, a marauding break from Ant Walker carried on by Lewis Hatton whose pass to send Miles Greenwood under the black dot was deemed forward. No matter - one minute later Hornets found Rob Massam out wide and he obliged by the flag. No conversion: 28-4.

With Hornets enjoying some decent field position: Lewis Foster and Miles Greenwood turned the home defence with kicks into the in-goal, to no avail. Conversely, Dewsbury made a brief trip to the Hornets' goal-line where Sykes slipped a slide-rule kick under the posts for Moore to follow up and score through a static defence. Sykes the extras: 34-4.

Wth the game pretty much settled, both sides degenerated into a mess of errors and cheap penalties (we have the eventual count at 14-10 to Dewsbury). On the hour Hornets got a fortuitous feed at a scrum in a good position only to cough the ball first tackle. Then Ben Moores goaded into reacting at a play-the-ball to concede a penalty in possession and, on 68 minutes, having received a penalty for a shoulder-charge on Lewis Hatton, Lewis Galbraith talked his way to a yellow-card. Poor.

Dewsbury's response was to run Hallett at the hole where Trigger should have been to give Sykes a shot at his 2,000th career point. He didn't miss: 40-4.

At the death, Jordan Case just managed to plant the ball on the line to give Hornets some hollow consolation. Yatesey added the extras to end this shocker at 40-10.

As always, we strove to look for positives, but even we struggled. Jo Taira's 20 minute cameo the highlight as he went on a one-man wrecking-ball mission to pummel the crap out of the Rams. More of this and less of the other stuff please. But the one notable performance came from Hornets' 18th man - their fans. Noisy, resolute and committed throughout, they out-sang their mumbling, grumbling Yorkshire counterparts for the full 80 minutes. Genuinely impressive on a day to forget.

And in that vein, we return to Sholem Asch, who also wrote: "Every dawn renews the beginning" - a philosophy we're clinging to this morning as we get up, dust ourselves off and start again.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Sunday's Coming: Dewsbury

Rammed: Dewsbury's pitch is even smaller
than we thought!
Hornets travel to in-form Dewsbury on Sunday for Part Two of a Heavy-Woollen heavy fortnight.

While Hornets were literally wrestling with Batley last weekend, the Rams were having a momentous afternoon - hoisting themselves out of the bottom two for the first time this season with a stunning win over TOXIIIC.

Having been behind 8-12 at the break - and 8-16 after 55 minutes, Dewsbury came up with four unanswered, converted tries to snatch the game away from the Frenchies, who scored a late, late consolation try to give the veneer of a contest.

The Toulouse game gave (relatively) new Rams coach Neil Kelly four wins in six games - having lost 12 of their first 13. A remarkable transformation.

Worth noting that Dewsbury half Paul Sykes kicked seven goals from seven attempts last week - so another marksman to keep an eye on. Sykes has been a solid pro and Sunday will be his 400th career game. For the anoraks amongst you, that's 46 games for Dewsbury, 34 games for Featherstone, 62 games for Wakefield Trinity, 109 in three spells at Bradford and 137 games in a six year stint with Harlequins/London. He also only needs 10 points to reach a career 2,000. Let's hope he gets to celebrate next week against Batley.

On the squad front, last week Rams coach Kelly secured London Broncos prop Toby Everett on loan until the end of the season, but this week lost Castleford loan-prop Daniel Igbinedion to Featherstone who basically offered him a deal that Dewsbury couldn't match. Kelly will also be without prop Tony Tonks who this week confirmed that a shoulder injury picked up at the Summer Bash has ended his season prematurely. Joining him is fellow prop Mitch Stringer who is due for a clean-up operation on a long-standing knee problem.

Hornets come into the game on the back of a frustrating defeat in which the goal-kicking of Batley's Pat Walker proved the difference - both sides scoring three tries. But confidence remains high in the camp as, again, Hornets look more than capable of competing at this level.

But Dewsbury's wins at Oldham and over Toulouse - plus Swinton's defeat of Halifax last week has squeezed every last gasp of air out of the bottom five. Hornets remain a point clear in 8th, Dewsbury and Swinton in close pursuit, with Oldham taking over as Bradford's pacesetter in 11th.

Sunday sees Oldham host Toulouse and Swinton travel to Wakey to play Sheffield - so a win of any shade is pretty much essential as Hornets chase down an Eagles side in free-fall, losing its last three games by 54-nil, 72-12 and 40-18 (a total of 166-30!).

As was mentioned in Thursday's members' meeting, the support of the Hornets fans has been exceptional this season - and it's got us over the line a couple of times. So please do come join us on Sunday - bring your mates and your singing voice and let's give it a proper dig. See you there.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Hornets Done Dog-Style

Hornets 14 - Batley 24

To misquote Mark Twain: "Never get involved in a shit fight with a big Yorkshire pack -  they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience."

In the week that tyro referee Liam Moore announced his ascent to full-time status, Batley arrived at Spotland with a win-at-all-costs gameplan that tested his capabilities to the limit - the Bulldogs shipping 12 of the game's 21 penalties as they brawled, sprawled and - eventually - spoiled every last drop of quality from the game.

With a huge pack, Batley's half-backs had a single purpose - to feed the forwards into traffic and grind out a win of any shade. Indeed, This was a victory for experience over endeavour as the low-geared visitors bulldozed their way around the park leaving a trail of elbows, knees and niggle in pretty much every tackle.

Hornets got off to a perfect start: Batley spectacularly knocking-on the kick-off, Lewis Galbraith blasting through the line to score after just 45 seconds. Not even enough time for the visiting fans to shout 'offside'.

And in the early exchanges, Hornets strove to play what little football was on offer, going close in the 7th minute, the ball knocked on under the posts.

As Batley hit their stride, the game became increasingly fragmented, Mr Moore setting the bar as he pulled Jordan Case for holding on too long:  Case making amends immediately with a good shot, knocking the ball out of the tackle. A rare loose carry from Rob Massam let Batley off the hook and, on 15 minutes, Bulldogs prop Gledhill arrived onto a short ball to score from close range. Walker hit the target and Batley edged ahead 4-6.

Mr Moore continued to confound: missing a blatant forward pass, then - when Batley put the ball to ground - giving them the feed. Batley's attempt at lucid football ended in a dreadful obstruction-play to hand Hornets possession.

On the quarter mark, the usually tenacious Hornets defence allowed Batley to offload multiple times and a neat offload sent Ainscough under the black dot. Walker raising the flags for 4-12.

The Bulldogs again coughed the kick-off, Hornets pressing hard with Rob Massam held-up in the in-goal.

With Hornets building pressure Batley unleashed a barrage of cheap shots, high-shots and low-blows to get themselves a team warning and, when Lewis Foster found a big cut-out pass on the half-hour mark, Jake Eccleston stepped back inside defenders to score. Again, no conversion: 8-12.

Batley showed their ambition, taking a penalty on 35 minutes - then settled down to basically fight their way to half time. Not happy enough with receiving a gift penalty after they cocked-up a play the ball, Batley instigated a flurry of punches after Jo Taira landed a bell-ringing shot. But having carried the ball to the Hornets 10 metre line, the Bulldogs ran out of ideas.

With a minute of the half remaining, Danny Yates sparked a huge break up the left channel, only to  be brought back to where Gaz Middlehurst and resident Batley nut-job Farell were exchanging blows. Despite having digged Middlehurst after the play the ball, Batley won the penalty. Then they knocked on. Crap, really.

Hornets had enough time to force two consecutive drop-outs, but Batley held on and the sides went to the sheds with the visitors in-front at 8-14.

Having started the second-half with a needlessly forced pass and a knock-on, Hornets showed good defence to track back and snuff-out a rare Batley attack.

The visitors then had a shaky period. Pound-shop Vin Diesel Reittie ridiculously milked a penalty from the gullible Mr Moore, only to ship one three minutes later for entering a completed tackle with his knees. Pretty much his entire contribution right there.

From the resutling possession, Gaz Middlehurst spun through some ordinary defence to score. Danny Yates locking the game up at 14-all with 27 minutes to play.

The game was now a battle of wills as both sides probed for the breakthrough.

Batley got their noses ahead on 69 minutes when Dec Kay was brutally squashed by onrushing tacklers as he took a steepling bomb, then Batley given a penalty in the ensuing set: 14-16.

With the big Batley pack low on gas, it seemed sensible to keep them moving as much as possible, but Hornets repeatedly kicked the ball into the corners giving them time to walk back and get their breath. Fortunately, the visitors struggled to capitalise and the game remained finely balanced. Hornets snatched some good field position after Batley knocked-on Lewis Foster's kick, but with players lining up for one last push, Gaz Middlehurst spilled the ball.

Batley responded: trundling upfield to force a Hornets error, Leak slumping in for a late sucker-try from acting half. Walker the two and the game gone at 14-22.

In a desperate attempt to chase the last crumbs of the game, Hornets slammed the kick-off directly into touch and Walker took the two from half-way to blow-out the winning margin to 10 points.

In the wash-up, Batley showed every ounce of their Championship nous to win this one, grinding the game to a scrappy halt at times. And if every game is a learning opportunity the lessons here are not to get dragged into a forward scrap against a side who've come to do whatever's neccessary to win - and when you're playing a side of big lumps, keep the buggers playing when they're out on their feet. Also, Walker hit six goals from six attempts, Hornets managing just one from three. And in tight games, that can be the difference.

Ultimately, we can be coldly objective: Batley finished 4th last year and have a budget at least twice ours, which buys you a ten-point margin. Or we can chalk this one up to experience and take the learnings forward.

Which applies equally to Mr Moore.

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


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.