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.


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.”


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.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Hornets Salvage an Ugly Point

Hornets 26 - Oldham 26

Everybody loves a story with a twist in the tail - but Hornets made hard work of salvaging a draw against an Oldham side that tore up the form-book and came within a whisker of leaving Spotland with both Championship points.

After the euphoria of the Featherstone game, this was a head-splitting, coach-killing comedown: a pig-ugly mess of a game in which Oldham showed sufficient composure to pick-off a relentless litany of Hornets mistakes.

Dumb penalties, wayward passes, sloppy carries and - for the first time this season - flaky defence handed Oldham ample opportunity to steal this game almost by stealth: edging further and further away from a Hornets side disappearing up its self-made fundament of errors.

But even when this Hornets side looked destined to be derailed by a tank-slapping wobble, it somehow found a way to avoid the inevitable: stubbornly refusing to lose in a miracle last five minutes.

Hornets started like a missile: Oldham shipped a penalty with the first tackle of the game; Hornets marched straight upfield, where Lewis Palfrey skipped into space on the last tackle to send Ben Moores in off an inside pass. Palfrey the extras and the Roughyeds shellshocked at 6-nil.

Having taken command, it took a mad 30 seconds to pull Oldham back into the game. Two consecutive 6th minute penalties walked the visitors to the Hornets goal-line where Walne ran a looping arc through the centre channel to score. Leatherbarrow locking it up at 6-all.

Then it all went to shit - Hornets spending most of the next 20 minutes playing without the ball. Whilst Rob Massam and Chris Riley looked strong under the ensuing aerial bombardment, back on the ground things looked pretty grim: Miles Greenwood waiting far too long for a kick into the in-goal to settle, snagged at the expense of a drop-out; Oldham gifted a freakish penalty after a voluntary tackle by their own player; then handed the feed at a scrum after Hewitt dropped the ball cold; great defence wasted as Danny Bridge coughed the ball 2nd tackle. All sorts of horrible.

On the quarter-mark Samir Tahraoui drew a rare penalty. Hornets opted to take the kick: Lewis Palfrey hoisted the effort wide.

On the half hour Josh Crowley produced a shocker of a pass to bring another attack to a premature halt. And when Chris Riley was captured in-goal off an excellent kick-chase, only one side looked like scoring.

But wait…

In the last four minutes of the half, the Hornets cogs engaged - courtesy of two moments of lucidity from Josh Crowley. First he followed up a skittering Lewis Palfrey break to crash in off a flat inside ball; then he produced a huge line break, drawing the full-back to slot on Jack Holmes. The hooter sent Hornets in 14-6 up.

Oldham began the second half with visibly more purpose. And when they produced a smart last tackle blind-side play, Leatherbarrow sent Clay over by the flag. Leatherbarrow made no mistake and at 14-12, we had a game on our hands.

Hornets responded well, but having received a penalty at closae quarters, they over-played it and spilled the ball first tackle. Off the hook, Oldham trekked straight upfield where Egodo dived through a napping defence to touch-down a speculative kick going nowhere. Leatherbarrow banged over the two and - from out of nowhere - Hornets were chasing the game at 14-18.

The next ten minutes were an object lesson in how to hand momentum to the opposition. Danny Bridge’s first-tackle suicide pass handed Oldham soft possession; Jo Taira knocking on on the second tackle; a penalty for Oldham from a Taira high-shot, then Miles Greenwood again skittled in-goal off a hit & hope kick. Relief came as Tyson specacularly knocked-on the drop-out - but Jo Taira capped a shocker by knocking on early in the tackle count.

With the hour approaching, Hornets forced a rare Oldham drop-out - only to over-play again up the blind-side with a passage of play that saw the ball sail into Row D. The next possession ended with a frankly awful forward pass on the first tackle.

The only great surprise was that it took Oldham until the 62nd minute to capitalise on the chaos: direct running from Walne exploited a stretched Hornets defence after a clutch of defenders failed to wrap-up the ball in the tackle. Leatherbarrow on-target: 14-24 and the game rapidly departing.

When Hornets were pulled for ‘ripping’ in the 70th minute, Oldham elected to take the two: Leatherbarrow flawless, Oldham 14-26 to the good. All pretty frustrating.

But all good stories have a twist and this one came in the shape of two tries out of nothing. On 75 minutes Gav Bennion prised his way through defenders to score the try that gave Hornets a chink of hope. Palfrey the two: 20-26 And when Ryan Maneely produced a mercurial run from acting half with two minutes remaining to plant the ball under the black-dot Spotland erupted. Lewis Palfrey hit the two and Hornets were to receive the kick-off with one minute to find an unlikely knock-out punch.

Even then there was time for Hornerts to cough the ball and hand Oldham the feed with 30 seconds to play. But when Oldham conceded a penalty on the hooter, Hornets had one last throw of the dice to come-up with a winning play.

As it was, Lewis Palftey failed to find touch and it took some mad scrambling to pin Oldham back and hold on for the draw. Crazy.

In the end, this was a fracturted, flawed, fragmented Hornets display in which they seemed compelled to produce every error in the book.  And, despite this, a well-drilled Oldham outfit still couldn’t come up with the win that looked like a done-deal after 70 minutes.

Whilst Hornets were sloppy for long periods, the departure of Gaz Middlehurst with injury did signal a drop in Hornets’ defensive intensity - his talismanic work-rate clearly the glue that holds the read-white & blue line together.

But it’d be churlish to complain too much. The A627M El Classico delivered in spades: a no-holds barred local derby in which two committed sides couldn’t be separated. But both coaches will watch this back tomorrow and wonder what the hell happened.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Sunday's Coming: Oldham

Whilst the Law Cup is a pleasant pre-season distraction, this Sunday sees the return of  global sports most hotly contested local derby - The A627M El Clasico™.

With both teams now in the Championship, this game - potentially the first of four this season - brings with it a sense of import for both sides. For Hornets, it’s a chance to build some momentum after last week’s head-turning win at Featherstone (“He’s missed it… oh…). For Oldham it’s the opportunity to kick-start their stuttering season.

Oldham sit ninth in the table with just one win from four games - with last week’s contest v Dewsbury falling foul of the weather just an hour before kick-off.

Having started 2017 with a 26-10 win over Sheffield, Oldham lost narrowly at Featherstone (8-6) and v London Broncos (18-20), before ending up on the wrong end of a 48-nil blowout at Hull KR (Rovers led 30-nil at the break!).

Having had last weekend off, Scott Naylor has Adam Neal, Danny Grimshaw, George Tyson and Richard Lepori in the frame for a return to his side. Good news for his as - thus far -  he’s had little by way of dual reg. support due to Huddersfield’s ongoing injury crisis.

Hornets fans at the Law Cup may recall Tyson’s outrageous brain-fart after the final hooter, as he rained punches onto Jake Eccleston. The incident led to a four match ban, on which Chris Hamilton said: "George knows now that he will have to learn - and learn quickly”. Well he’s had a month to think about it…

Naylor will be without prop Phil Joy (dislocated shoulder) and Craig Briscoe (knee injury).

In case you’ve been on Mars or in a coma for the last week, Hornets come into this game on the back of a frankly stunning 9-10 win at Featherstone. Hewn on the back of some super-human defence, it was a result that made the championship sit up and take notice.

Having rested some players, Alan Kilshaw and his coaching team now have some major headaches about who to select for Sunday’s game. But it’s a high-class problem to have.

Indeed, in the media and online, suddenly people are talking about Rochdale Hornets as this season’s shock-package in the Championship. And while it’s nice to get some much deserved attention, it’ll be even nicer if we can roll over Oldham on Sunday. This one promises to be a classic El Clasico. Get there early and warm-up your vocal chords - it’ll be a belter.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

They Think It's All (R)over - It Is Now!

Make no mistake about it, this game was a hand to hand battle from first to last. In semi aquatic conditions, this huge-hearted Hornets side withstood a relentless bombardment from a massive Featherstone pack, frustrating them into a litany of poor decision-making, harrying them into cul-de-sacs and finishing the stronger of the two sides to record a famous victory.

Featherstone came into the game unbeaten in their 2017 campaign - but we left there wondering how that was ever possible. Time and again - assisted by a frankly ridiculous 15-4 penalty count - they set up camp close to Hornets line only to find their particular brand of blunt-instrument football thwarted by a Horners defence on top form.

In the opening exchanges, Hornets were direct and physical. Featherstone’s go-to response was to milk every opportunity as much as possible, referee Mr Hewer a willing audience for their bleating as he handed out penalties like sweets. But Hornets were in no mood to relent - Jo Taira ripping in and forcing early errors in the Rovers pack.

Following a mad five minutes where Mr Hewer gave the home side four back-to-back penalties AND put Hornets on a team warning, the best Featherstone could come up with was a series of flaccid jabs into the in-goal.

Having ridden out the storm, Hornets marched straight up field where Featherstone conceded their first penalty of the afternoon. Hornets didn’t need asking twice: Lewis Palfrey banging it over for a 0-2 lead after quarter of an hour.

Featherstone reverted to Plan A: Hornets’ defence first driving Hardcastle into touch, then scrambling back to snuff out Turner up the left. In turn, Hornets struck up their left side: Danny Yates to Danny Bridge, Bridgey the drop-off to Jake Eccleston, but the ball goiung to ground at the death

Featherstone responded with a rare moment of fluid football: Thackeray punching the hole, Hardman in support Jack Holmes tracking back 40 metres to pull off a great tackle. Danny Yates was deemed to have attended the tackle too late and for too long and was given a yellow card.

Hornets riposte was swift, direct and clinical. A man short, Hornets worked the overlap up the left edge; Rob Massam bludgeoned his way up the touchline, Lewis Palfrey quickest to respond at the play the ball, finding Danny Bridge arriving at pace to skittle retreating defenders and score. Cue mayhem amongst the visiting fans. Palfrey adding the extras to send Hornets in 2-8 up at the break. Stunning stuff.

Featherstone started the second half in determined mood: a deep kick fumbled by Miles Greenwood, Rob Massam appearing out of nowhere to hit Hardman like a train as he lined up his spot for what looked like a certain try. Indeed, it was harder not to score.

Aided by a series of penalties, Featherstone racked up the pressure, forcing a repeat set as Miles Greenwood was snagged in-goal.

And when Mr Hewer gifted Featherstone a penalty late in the tackle count, they shifted it wide for Ulugia to score a converted try. The hour mark approaching: 8-all. Featherstone now with the momentum.

And it was the home side who came closest to scoring next, working up the narrow side. It took a miracle intercept from Jack Holmes to deny the try - his fingertips nudging the ball to ground for Lewis Palfrey to tap dead in-goal. If committed defence wins you games, this was one of those moments.

Hornets went straight back on the attack, working the ball swiftly and directly down the Post Office Road slope; and when Danny Yates dinked the ball into the in-goal for Gav Bennion to touch down, the celebrations were cut short as Mr Hewer consulted a touch-judge who deemed him offside.

Featherstone accepted the let-off and pushed back up the hill where Thackeray dug out a drop-goal with 11 to play to give the home side an undeserved lead. Hornets didn’t panic.

With Featherstone visibly tiring, Hornets forwards turned up the torque and when Josh Crowley broke up the guts of a flailing Rovers defence on 86 minutes he took the ball 40 metres to the ten metre line, where defenders lay all over him. No Yellow card, this time, but Mr Hewer gave a penalty and Lewis Palfrey was the coolest man in the ground, sliding the ball between the sticks to send the home fans heading for the exits. Hornets in front 9-10. Hornets fans jubilant.

With the home side out of ideas and energy, Hornets snuffed them out in the closing exchanges to register a quite superb victory that ruined Rovers’ perfect Championship start.

This was a day where it came down to which team wanted it most. Conditions were challenging, the refereeing verging on a surrealist interpretation of the laws. But in the wash-up Hornets were prepared to dig deeper than Featherstone and refused to yield to their one-dimensional battering ram approach.

On radio Leeds afterwards, Fev coach Jon Sharp questioned his players’ attitude.

No such questions need asking of Alan Kilshaw’s Hornets - who laid the Featherstone hoodoo to rest in emphatic style.

By the way: how’s your drop goal looking now, Featherstone?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Sunday's Coming: Featherstone

Featherstone’s been a graveyard for as long as we can remember. Since we started watching Hornets back in 1971, we’ve seen us win there twice. The first of those on a rainy Tuesday night in about 1993 was our first win there since 1948! The other was Deryck Fox’s first game in charge at Hornets when he took a decade’s experience of playing Fev’s tiny pitch back and kicked them to a standstill. That was 1999.

It's Twins! Jon Sharp hones his Keith Hill tribute act
by contemplating a heavy pitch.
Even when we’ve been compelled to play other teams there, the curse has stood firm. Ian Talbot’s high-flying Hornets comprehensively flogged by York City Knights at Post Office Road in 2013. So can Alan Kilshaw continue his run of hoodoo-breaking results?

These days, Featherstone has a full-sized pitch - and the Rovers sit second with four straight wins so far in 2017. Having started with a couple of close-run affairs (26-32 at Halifax and 8-6 v Oldham),  Jon Sharp’s side has hit the straps the last couple of weeks - an impressive 6-32 win at Batley and a comprehensive 13-30 demolition of Swinton (Swinton led 7-6 at the break - how does that  drop goal look now?).

Much has been made of Fev’s Dual Reg partnership with Leeds this season (Rovers used to be fervent opponents of the inititative) and, just this week, they’ve added Leeds half-back Corey Aston to their squad on loan. But it’s up front where Fev have placed their real firepower.

Fev Massive: the biggest bench Jon Sharp has ever picked
Last week, Keith Hill lookalike Sharp ran with what he described to the Ponte & Cas Express as: “… the biggest bench I’ve ever picked…”

Comprising Frankie Mariano, Richard Moore and Rhinos’ dual-reg. forwards Anthony Mullally and Brett Delaney they outmuscled Swinton over the 80 minutes.

On Radio Leeds post game, Sharp re-iterated his commitment to wheeling out the big guns, saying that if we have the threat of heavy conditions going into Sunday’s game, he’ll run with the same tactic. So expect a forward battle.

Back in the Ponte & Cas Express he said: “Big players sap energy out of the opposition…we had some big blokes on the bench… and (it) worked a treat for us.”

“I thought Mariano was great and added a real good dimension over on our right. Mullally was awesome and Delaney got through a big workload”

Last week, Fev lined up as follows:
Featherstone Rovers: Ian Hardman, Luke Briscoe, Jason Walton, Chris Ulugia, Ash Handley, Anthony Thackeray, Matt Wildie, Andy Bostock, Keal Carlile, Jordan Baldwinson,  Michael Knowles, John Davies, Bradley Knowles-Tagg.  Subs: Brett Delaney, Anthony Mullally, Frankie Mariano, Richard Moore.

Knowles-Tagg - who was banned for 8 matches in 2013 for racially abusing a Salford City Reds player in an Under-20s fixture - is doubtful after picking up an ankle injury last week.

Hornets come into the game off the back of two defeats - but both were steps up the learnng curve rather than a wobble. From our point of view, the key lessons have been that if you switch off for a single play at this level you’ll get punished and, however you let the opposition off the hook, they’ll punish you too. But these are the challenges of stepping up a level and, despite the disappointments of the last couple of results, Hornets have shown that we can mix it with the best at this level.

Indeed, when you feel disappointed that Hornets have slipped out of the top four of the Chamopionship, you know you’re in a very different world.

So, get yourselves over to Featherstone. Let’s get together, make some noise and give the lads a lift. Hoodoos are there to be broken - and in this of all seasons, why not on Sunday? It’s an intriguing one for sure. See you there.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Hornets Defeat Built On Straw

Hornets 6 - Halifax 20

We speak often here of how, sometimes, teams have to find a way to win. But over the 80 minutes of this sloppy, scrappy performance, Hornets somehow found enough ways to lose to a Halifax team that looked bereft of ideas for long periods.

Amidst a tsunami of dropped ball, fumbled passes, forced plays and frankly awful penalties, Hornets somehow also found time to spurn four penalties within kickable range AND find themselves reduced to eleven men as referee Mr Straw gradually lost contact with the realities of what was happening around him.

Hornets had started the brighter of the two sides: ealy breaks from Rob Massam and Ben Moores had the visitors back-peddaling;Gaz Middlehurst producing a teasing dink to force a drop out. After just four minutes, allowing the resulting drop-out to trundle into touch looked like a casual error - especially when, just 90 seconds later - Rob Massam reeled in a shaky pass up the narrow side to  crash through two coverinfg defenders to score by the flag. Palfrey perfect off the touchline and Hornets looking bright at 6-nil. And when Lewis Galbraith had an effort chalked off on 8 minutes due to a knock-on somewhere in the build-up, it didn’t feel particularly significant.

Fax sputtered briefly: a pinpoint 40/20 from Murrell gave his side an attacking position deep in Hornets’ half. But stern defence was squandrered when Blythe knocked on. Again Halifax threw themselves haplessly onto the Hornets defence and, when they came up empty handed, an excellent Hornets set ended with a kick-chase that saw the visitors start agan from their own 10m line.

On 18 minutes Hornets were fortunate to gain a rare penalty after Danny Bridge had overcooked a kick into the in-goal, but a shocker of a pass from Gaz Middlehurst bounced off Samir Tahraoiu’s chest and Halifax were off the hook. They took full advantage.

Having worked the ball upfield, the visitors forced a driop-out after Chris Riley was snagged in-goal off a poor last tackle kick.
Lewis Palfrey’s drop-out was a short, scuffed effort and Barber stepped back inside across a compacted defence to score two tackles later. Tyrer levelled the scores.

Hornets then began racking up the errors. Initially pulled for a dubious forward pass, they shipped a penaty at the resulting scrum, followed by a penalty for not being square at the ruck - and another for offside. Gifted four repeat sets in Hornets 20m zone Halifax ran pointlessly at the wall of the Hornets defence, reduced to five drives and a big hoof. But when Jo Taira was penalised in possession for not playing the ball properly, Halifax cooly took the two points, whereas Hornets had declined two similar options minutes before. 6-8.

Hornets responded well: a big break by Danny Bridge putting Halifax on the back foor, only for Lewis Palfrey’s poor last tackle kick to ease their pressure. And when Halifax knocked on, with the half ebbing away it looked like a chance for a late test of the visitors’ defence. Hornets knocked on on the 2nd tackle. The last action of the half saw Murrell launch another huge 40/20 only for Halifax to run out of ideas long before the hooter.

Half time 6-8 and nothing in it.

Halifax began the second half on the front foot: three consecutive penalties giving them momentum, bit still they were clueless at the end of their sets. Increasingly it looked like a period of error-free football would seize control of the game, but when Grix knocked-on manwatching in a tackle, it looked like neither side had it in them,

Breaks from Lewis Palfrety and Josh Crowley gave the home fans brief hope of a breakthrough, and a kick through saw Rob Massam held-up. But a last tackle kick was defused by Worrincy, compounded by another penalty aganst Hornets in the ensuing set. In the resulting play, Tyrer outjumped Matty Blythe to score an unlikely try in Halifax’s first serious attack of the half. Tyrer slipped on his arse in his run-up sending the conversion attempt scudding along the ground. 6-12.

With the hour mark approaching, referee Mr Straw stopped paying attention to what was happening around him and began listening to the voices in his head. Hornets shipped a soft penalty for a sloppy Gaz Middlehurst high shot. Halifax took the two, Middlehurst dispatched for ten minutes. Halifax allowed the kick-off to go dead, but when Matty Blythe dropped the drop-out and Lewis Galbtaith gathered from an offside decision, it was all you could do not to shake your head.

From the resulting penalty possession Halifax went close - but when Ben Moores hung on too long in the tackle, Hornets were reduced to 11 - and Halifax smelled the opportunity. Hornets’ 11 man defence were tenacious, forcing Halifax to hand-over on the last tackle. Unable to break the line against 13, the visitors eventually took full advantage; and when Worrincy hit a hole on 65 minutes, the try was inevitable. Tyrer slipped over the extras for 6-20.

As Hornets regained numerical parity, Halifax went back to their impotent jabbing. And when Ambler stuck an illegal shoulder on Gav Bennion followed by a needless attrack on his head, tempers boiled over. Halifax somehow got the penalty. Beyond belief.

The game ended in a ragged mess of handling errors and slapdash play-the-balls - Mr Straw doing the only decent thing all afternoon, putting this shoddy show out of its misery.

In the wash-up Hornets were murdered in the penalty count and the reduction to 11 men finally broke the back of this game. But this was a pretty poor day at the office for all concerned. Halifax could have run at a 13 man defence all afternoon and not scored - pitifully short on ideas and over-reliant on Murrell’s boot and Mr Straw’s charity to make any ground. Indeed, it was a shocker for Mr Straw too - whistle-happy throughout and inconsistent in his policing of the ruck and of ‘illegal contact’.

In the search for positives, it’s good to view every game at this level as a learning experience. Halifax showed their Championship nous - patiently waiting for opportunities to take advantage and showing a ruthless streak when they arose. It’s simple, but effective.

There were plenty of questions asked afterwards about Hornets’ decision to run four clearly kickable penalties: effectively 8 free points up for grabs. In tight games, every opportunity to take points has to be considered seriously.

Indeed, it’s a dubious positive that Hornets can play this disjointedly and still not look out-classed at this level. So let’s take the learnings and move swiftly on.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Sunday's Coming - Halifax

Richard Marshall’s Halifax have had a somewhat ordinary start to the 2017 campaign. Currently sitting 7th with one win from three, ‘Fax finally got their season up and running with a 42-16 win over perpetual basket-cases Sheffield. Having previously shipped 58 points in their defeats against Featherstome and Batley, it looks like Marshall has just about got his finger on Halifax’s leaky defence.

Much like Tim Sheens, Marshall identified attitude as the key component in arreesting his side’s defensive rot.  “Attitude was the biggest difference,” he said, speaking to the Halifax Courier. “The team took some pride in what they did today… we had some passion, desire and heart and proved a point.”

But Marshall still has the air of a coach who’s not entirely sure of his best 17. Having brought in Huddersfield (via Siddal and Bradford) hooker Adam O’Brien on loan (he only met his new teammates for the first time on the Thursday night before the Sheffield game) to accompany Salford loanees Ryan Lannan and Matthew Wilkinson, last week saw Will Sharp, he said (again in the Courier): “We threw a team together during the week really and I thought it gelled pretty well. We had Adam come in, young Ryan Lannon from Salford up front and Matthew Wilkinson at hooker again. All credit to the players for making it work.”  An interesting technique for sure, but whatever works…

Leading the way in last week’s game was flying try-machine winger James Saltonstall who scored a hat-trick. We’ve seen this lad before and he combines pace with an ability to get where gas can’t to get over the line. One to watch. Also catching the eye is former Penrith Panthers junior product Mitch Cahalane, who we last saw running round in the NSW Cup for Mount Pritchard Mounties.

It’ll be an eerily familiar afternoon for Halifax on Sunday when they line-up aganst Hornets’ Jake Eccleston, Gav Bennion, Ryan Maneely and Miles Greenwood: all formerly of the Shay.

Hornets go into the game on the back of a powerhouse performance against Hull KR. With the game in the balance until the 75th minute, Hornets sent a strong signal to the Championship that we’re not only here to play, but we’re here to shake it up. Indeed, last week’s performance busted the myth that the top end of the Championship is for those with deep pockets and dented Super League reputations.

Sunday’s game promises to be another full-on encounter and we can’t wait. See you there.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Hornets the real deal as million-pound Robins sneak it.

Hornets 18 - Hull KR 28

Forget the disparity in budget. Forget the pedigree of the Hull KR Coach. Forget the travelling hoardes who bayed their displeasure at every refereeing decision. Look at this coldly as a contest between the top two sides in the championship and the casual observer could never tell that one of these sides is a defacto-Super league outfit slumming it in the Championship.

For long periods, Hornets bossed their big-spending full-time visitors. And with the Robins clinging desperately to a two point lead with 5 minutes to go, Hornets were in the hunt for the win - their frankly stunning performance busting the myth that the top-end of Championship is somehow a legitimate stepping stone to the nirvana of Super League.

In the end it took a late, late try by Rovers’ best player Lunt to save their blushes - and a needless penalty after the hooter giving the scoreline the somewhat tarnished sheen of comfort.

But it was Hornets who started from the gun. A huge bust up the guts of the visitors from Rob Massam took Hornets deep into Rovers terrotory. Hornets then forced an error close to the Robins’ line, Ben Moores showed his kicking credentials and Gaz Middlehurst pounced to score. Lewis Palfrey the extras - the visiting supporters in stunned silence.

Then a huge free-play hack downfield from a dropped Hull KR pass had defenders scrambling - but Lewis Galbraith’s pass found a Rovers hand and play was returned to the scrum.

After quarter of an hour, Rovers hit their straps with three quick-fire tries in five minutes: Moss going wide by the flag; then a Minns double - his first a carbon copy of Moss’ effort, the second a slutchy one after a Hull KR hand looked to have knocked on a speculative bomb. Ellis useless with all three conversion attempts: 6-12.

Hornets regathered their composure: huge hits from Rob Massam and Gaz Middlehurst lifting the defence. Hull KR now looking long on errors and short on ideas. Then a peculiar decision from referee Mr Campbell. What looked for all money like a Rovers knock-on was given the other way and from the resulting posession Heffernan found space of a short ball to score. 6-18 at the break, the visitors flattered.

Hornets began the second half with a couple of errors, but dusted themselves down to produce a try of the highest quality: Gaz Middlehurst the peach of a pass to unzip the Robins’ defence, Danny Bridge the break up the channel and Danny Yates outpacing the cover to bring the main stand to its feet. Palfrey the two and a palpable momentum shift at 12-18.

Jo Taira was let-off his fumble in the first play of the kick-off set when Lewis Palfrey came up with a big 60 metre intercept to take Hornets back up field. And you could sense that the visitors were rattled when Ellis hoofed an attempted 40/20 out on the full. Hornets pressed hard. On 50 minutes, Danny Yates’ produced a teasing kick into the corner, Rob Massam just outreached.

On the hour another punishing Gaz Middlehurst hit was deemed high: Rovers took the two. You could almost hear the sphincters squeak at 12-20.

Hornets’ response was immediate. A brutally direct set drove Rovers backwards. Samir Tahraoui slammed in to be held just short and, from acting half, Ben Moores exposed the Robins' soft underbelly, mugging them for a smart try from acting half. Palfrey the two. 18-20 with 19 minutes to play. Just stunning.

Hull KR now on the back foot - unforced errors, Hornets forcing a drop out, caught in possession on the last tackle. Hornets pushing hard. But a ‘get-out-of-jail’ penalty on 75 minutes relieved the pressure and it took a moment of individual initiative from Lunt to save the day. Ellis the two 18-26.

As mentioned, a pedantic penalty after the hooter stretched Hull KR’s winning margin to ten points. We make that 100 grand per point in the winning marging that Hull KR have spent to edge past huge-hearted Hornets. Money well spent? Well you couldn’t see the difference on the day.

Ultimately, this one was billed as a clash of the Championship’s early pace-setters - and it didn’t disappoint. This was a gargantuan struggle in which Hull Kingston Rovers hinted briefly at what they might be capable of. But more importantly, it sent a message to the Championship that Rochdale Hornets are the real deal.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Sunday's Coming 2: Hull KR

It’s that time of the week where we usually do a run down of the opposition’s squad. Unlike last season, it’s easier to get more detail on players, but our favourite run-down of the Hull KR side from last week’s narrow win at London Broncos comes courtesy of Hull Daily Mail reporter Gareth Westmorland - who was brutally honest in his summary of the Robins’ individual performances in that game

Adam Quinlan: “Came up with crucial tackles… unpredictable but very effective”
Kieren Moss: “… Poor defence in the second half… “
Thomas Minns: “Strong in the tackle…  but will seek to improve his defence…”
Andrew Heffernan: “Looks to be improving in confidence… despite the poor overall team performance”
Ryan Shaw: “Comfortable under the high ball and got KR out of trouble a few occasions”
Jordan Abdull: “Could prove to be crucial in his side's fortunes during 2017”
Jamie Ellis: Takes control of each match he plays in… did just about enough in the playmaking contest”
Nick Scruton: “Good in the hard yards within KR's pack”
Shaun Lunt: “One of a few praised by coach Tim Sheens after an abject showing from the squad… devastating from dummy-half”
Mitch Clark: “Made the crucial yards required for KR to get on the front foot …finding the extra yardage with increasing leg work”
Maurice Blair: “A quiet display… did just about enough to secure a win”
James Greenwood: “Guilty of uncharacteristic errors and missed tackles … has to improve to keep his spot”
Danny Addy:  “Could look to get more involved in the attack”


Liam Salter: “Slotted into the second-row in a new position in the second-half”
Chris Clarkson: “Brought vigour from the bench when Scruton and Clark were substituted”
James Donaldson: “Another body to bring some power from the replacements”
George Lawler: “Got stuck in when brought onto the field”

Former Bradford prop Ben Kavanagh will be added to Tim Sheens' 19-man squad for Sunday's game. Having missed out on a full pre-season due to the collapse of the Bulls, Kavanagh is creeping back towards the form that saw him selected for Scotland in last year’s Four Nations.

Assistant coach James Webster told the Hull Daily Mail: "We still think he's a couple of weeks off from the standard which he played so well at for Scotland. He's in contention to play on Sunday for sure, like he has been the last few weeks.”

But Webster, like Head Coach Tim Sheens, has also questioned his players’ attitude given their leaky defence over the first couple of weeks.

According to the Hull Daily Mail: “…tricky wintry conditions will see (HKR’s) play adapted to more forward-based work. A war of attrition is expected in Manchester (sic - they clearly have no idea where Rochdale is) on Sunday and KR are hoping to adapt to the conditions quickly on their travels.

Webster said: “I’ve seen plenty of Championship teams win games without making a line break. We would love an open free-flowing game which suits us but at the moment, it's winter, the start of the year and there'll be plenty of stuff down the middle. However, Rochdale will look to throw the ball around, judging on their opening games."

On playing a part-time side, he’s quoted as saying: “I think people devalue a lot of teams in this competition, simply because they don't see them on TV. These players are as physically strong as Super League players. When I was at Wakefield and we trained with other clubs, the weights in the gym are the same – it's just the other factors, such as us training full-time, which gives us that advantage."

Which is, of course what Toulouse and Bradford thought.

See you Sunday.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Sunday's Coming 1: Hull KR

Polished Performer: Sheens may be
a Rugby League legend, but he's
never won a Law Cup!
Here at TLCRF80mins, we’re not sure who’s most shocked that Sunday’s game sees Hull Kingston Rovers travelling to Championship leaders Rochdale Hornets in a first v second clash - us or them!

Last year the clubs were two divisions apart, but heading in distinctly different directions. Indeed, Hull KR fans have the boot of Salford’s Gareth O’Brien to thank for their trip to Spotland this weekend. His monster Golden Point drop-goal in last season’s Million-Pound game slammed the relegation trapdoor behind the Robins as they slid into the Championship.

And if you’re still having to pinch yourself to prove that Hornets are indeed at the top of the Championship (did we mention that at any point?), somewhere in an office in East Hull the actual Tim Sheens is spending this week trying to work out how to avoid being embarrassed by Hornets.

Sheens is a bona-fide RL legend, with a reputation for turning ailing sides into champions. He took Penrith to their first finals series ever in 1985, coached Canberra Raiders to their first premiership in 1989, winning two more premierships with Canberra in 1990 and 1994.

After a stint at North Queensland Cowboys he replaced Terry Lamb at Wests Tigers in 2003, leading them to a 2005 Grand Final win over the Cowboys.

Having coached four premiership winning teams, only Wayne Bennett has coached more and Sheens was awarded the Dally M Coach of the Year in 1984, 1990 and 2005. And. on 3 May 2010 Sheens became the first coach in Australian rugby league history to reach 600 games. A staggering feat.

At rep level, Sheens has coached both ARL City Origin AND the NSW State of Origin teams; and in
2009 he was appointed coach of the Kangaroos, leading them to a 2013 Rugby League World Cup win in which they conceded just four tries in the entire tournament (interestingly, all v England in their opening match!).

After a stint at Salford as Director of Football, Sheens now finds himself charged with returning Hull KR to Super League.

Depending on who you talk to, Hull KR are estimated to have a 2017 season budget ten times that of Hornets - but on their first two showings, they look to have a decidedly leaky defence: shipping 24 points against Bradford and a further 22 last week as they squeaked past London Broncos in West Ealing.

Perfectionist Sheens is not a happy man. Speaking in the Hull Daily Mail this week, he said: "The scrappy defence will come back to haunt us at this level. Teams will look at that and see that as our weakness. It's only a weakness because of our attitude, not so much anything else.”

“If you're playing poorly and you're still winning, it's much better (than the other way around). But it's not good enough if we have any aspirations to do better than playing Championship for the next two years.”

He went on: ”I think everyone had a part of the day where they weren't happy. I don't think there was anyone really happy with what you would call a great game. There were moments from lots of players, from the skipper (Shaun Lunt) at nine, but overall I don't think anyone will be very happy with their game at all."

"We couldn't shake London off throughout the whole game. We were our own worst enemy. They played with determination and we tackled poorly, that's generally when you turn up thinking 'How good are we?”

"I had plenty to say (to his team)  about it. Your defence always shows your attitude and we weren't good enough. We put 50 on the board (against Bradford Bulls), and you think it's just going to happen again. But again, we gave up the first try softly, and scrambled a number of times to stop possible tries, though we had some chances bombed too.”

"There were some stupid things done by players who should know better."


But expectations are high in East Hull this year - with both club and coach under pressure to deliver a return to Super League at the first attempt.

Described as ‘sloppy’ by the Hull Daily Mail, the Robins allowed the Broncos to eat away at a convincing lead, to end the game hanging on to their six point cushion. And you get a sense of the pressure-cooker scrutiny the club is under from a couple of paragraphs in the same publication, where Paul Cooke writes:

“Players who should know better were guilty of errors, which eventually cost the team energy and the leaking of far too many points. Unfortunately, these types of wins will be all too regular for the best team in the Championship. Playing average will gain two points more often than not, regardless of a narrow six point win or on many occasions throughout 2017, it will even yield a comfortable win.”

“It can breed the bad habits that Sheens will be desperate to eradicate before it catches up with his team in big games. Being professional, ruthless and reaching standards Sheens expects and the players have set, will be a big battle for the squad this year.”

Two interesting insights here. 1.  Hull KR are already being vaunted as ‘the best team in the Championship’. Maybe there’s an underlying case of believing their own publicity going on here. 2. If reaching high, professional standards will be ‘a big battle’, you have to strongly question whether there’s an attitude issue to be addressed - certainly Sheens himself strongly suggests that there is.

Conversely, league leaders Hornets are high on confidence after a dream start to the Championship campaign. Last week’s attritional win at Odsal showed that this group of players is as happy to scrap it out as it is looking to play expansive football. And stern defence has been at the heart of this early success - Hornets shipping fewer points in two games than Hull KR did against Bradford alone.

The more cynical observer could suggest that this weekend sees a clash of ideologies: Small, fan-owned underdogs taking on the multi-million-pound might of what is, essentially a Super League juggernaut on a gap-year to the Championship. But if this is the league we want to play in, these are the games we should relish: a chance to test and measure our club’s progress against the the strongest of opponents.

And - however it pans out - we reckon Sheensy’s looking forward to it a lot less than Alan Kilshaw. This WILL be a cracker. Don’t miss it.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Strong-arm Hornets Win The Battle With The Cattle

Bradford Bulls 14 Hornets 22

I met a traveller from an antique land, 
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, 
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read 
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; 
And on the pedestal, these words appear: 
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; 
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! 
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
Percy Bysshe Shelley -1818

Shelley wrote Ozymandias as a treatise on fallen empires: how even the most powerful of superpowers will eventually buckle under the weight of their own hubris and become ground to sand. It is a story of vainglorious arrogance brought low, of monuments toppled. Of pomposity, entitlement and failure.

Indeed, 4,000 Bradford fans will be waking this morning to look on the remnants of their once mighty Bulls - and despair is a fitting response.

Brought low by profligate conceit, this ‘new’ Bradford were handed a lesson in focused determination by a Rochdale Hornets side that patiently ground the Bulls down with a display of ruthless attrition.

Facing conditions akin to arctic tundra, this was never going to be a classic - but a stronger, smarter Hornets rope-a-doped their flailing opponents for an hour before pounding the life out of them in the last quarter.

Hornets gifted the large partisan crowd the start they’d wanted: a loose carry in the first set, back to back penalties in their own 20m zone and Leeds loanee Lilley dinking a kick into the in-goal. The ball squirmed free for Thomas to touch down to give the home side an early - if fortuitous - lead. The home fans in a frenzy. Thomas hoofing the conversion attempt comedically wide from in front: 4-nil.

As Hornets settled, it became increasingly apparent that  - pretty much everywhere else on the field - Bradford were bereft of ideas: Hornets stern defence driving back a series of one-out drives.

On 15 minutes, Hornets produced a moment of clinical football: Ball shipped left, Danny Yates the flat drop-off pass, Miles Greenwood slipping through a static defence to level the scores. Lewis Palfrey the extras and Hornets with their nose in front. at 4-6.

With Bradford now in retreat, they shipped a soft penalty which Lewis Palfrey dispatched to stretch Hornets’ lead to 4-8.

With the game now locked in an old-skool arm wrestle, Bradford got themselves a lucky break: Lilley again providing the grubber, the ball pin-balling through limbs in the in-goal and Bentley diving in to score. Thomas on target and, somehow, Bradford in front at 10-8.

And Lilley was involved again just past the half hour when an attempted Jo Taira chargedown was deemed to have involved a shoulder. Taira shown the yellow-card; Thomas the penalty and Bradford into the sheds 12-8 up at the break.

The second half began with a stutter: given another penalty at the behest of the crowd, Thomas extended Bradford’s lead to 14-8. Hornets visibly cranked up the intensity. A brutally direct approach-set on 52 minutes ended with Samir Tahraoui bullying his way under the posts with a crowd of defenders clinging to him. Palfrey the extras : 14-all.

Then five minutes later, more dominant power from the Hornets pack, defenders sucked in to the middle and the ball worked left for Danny Bridge to crash through and score. 14-18.

In the final quarter, Hornets’ exquisite game management choked the life out of the Bradford resistance. Lewis Palfrey forcing the Bulls back under their own posts; solid defence limiting Bradford’s sets to 30 metres gained. And when the home side got sloppy, Palfrey cheerfully slotting an easy penalty: 14-20.

As Hornets went for the kill, Danny Yates’ drop-goal attempt struck a post. And with Bradford snagged offside in the dying seconds, Lewis Palfrey used up his whole minute, banging over the two after the hooter to give Hornets their first win at Odsal since November 1971.

Given the awful conditions, this wasn’t a pretty win - but what a win it was. Don’t be fooled by the scoreline: Bradford didn’t break Hornets defensive line once in 80 minutes with ball in hand. And when Hornets took the ball forward they drove Bradford backwards throughout - indeed there were easy metres up the guts of the home side all afternoon. And the number of metres gained after the contact was phenomenal.

In the end, it was the Hornets fans in full voice as the Bulls contingent streamed for the gates long before the hooter.

But, Jesus what a bunch of moaning, whiny, petulant spoilt brats the Bradford fans are: every Hornets pass forward, every play-the-ball offside, every tackle high. And their knowledge of the laws is pitifully poor - this is clearly a generation weaned on shouting ‘gerrem onside’ and cheering when the music plays. To paraphrase Graham Taylor: ‘did they not like it’ one bit.

Ultimately, if mindfulness requires you to live in the moment , this was a moment to savour. Hornets remain top of the Championship and - with a 16-point differential - Bradford now need to win NINE more games than Hornets to finish above us.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Sunday's Coming: Bradford

Bradford Squad news for Sunday

BRADFORD Bulls wing Omari Caro is set to miss the club's next three games. Caro damaged ankle ligaments during the Bulls' pre-season friendly at Huddersfield last month. According to the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, he missed the opening game of the season at Hull Kingston Rovers and will not figure in Sunday's first home game against Hornets.

New signing Phoenix Hunapo-Nofoa was yesterday confirmed as being at least two weeks away from making his Bulls debut.

Leigh Beattie makes just one change to his 19-man squad for Sunday’s game. Hooker Vila Halafihi comes in for Jonny Walker.

The 19-man Bradford squad is: Ethan Ryan, James Mendeika, Ross Oakes, Iliess Macani, Leon Pryce, Liam Kirk, Joe Lumb, Colton Roche, Oscar Thomas, Jon Magrin, Ross Peltier, Johnny Campbell, James Bentley, Brandan Wilkinson, Vila Halafihi, Jordan Lilley, Sam Hallas, Joshua Jordan-Roberts, Mikolaj Oledzki.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Sunday's Coming: Bradford Bulls

“The collapse of Bradford Northern RLFC in December 1963 sent shock waves throughout rugby league in Great Britain. Northern were the first team to appear in three successive Wembley Cup finals, from 1947 to 1949, and were top of the league at the start of the 1954–55 season. However, by December 1963, this once proud club had sunk to the bottom of the league table and withdrew from the competition in mid-season. It was the first time since the 1920s that a team had pulled out of the league without completing their fixtures. Their membership of the Rugby Football League was terminated and that season’s record was expunged. No club in the game’s history had fallen from the heights quite like the old Northern…”

‘Come on Northern - The fall and rise of Bradford Northern RLFC 1954 to 1965’: Trevor Delaney, 2012.

Hornets travel to Bradford on Sunday to partake in the latest act in Rugby League’s longest and, frankly, least interesting soap-opera.

The club entered administration for the third time in four years back in in November before spectacularly tanking on the 3rd of January following a protracted sinking of Titanic proportions.

Former Super League darlings Bradford Bulls’ not only left a trail of devastation in their wake, they inspired an outpouring of chest-beating grief usually reserved for the death of a North Korean leader.

Amongst protestations that Bradford was a club too big to die and that Rugby League NEEDS a strong Bradford Bulls, the pantomime unfolding at Odsal - the administrator hawking for bids, deadlines being moved, arguments over the lease on the ground, failed bidders champing at the bid to slag off the process, players jumping ship, a 12-point penalty, RFL press conferences trumpeting “the least worst option’ as a successfull conclusion, new high-profile Kiwi owners , the despicable sacking of Rohan Smith and the appointment of Geoff Toovey as the ‘coach who’s not allowed to coach’ - sucked every last drop of oxygen out of the Championship pre-season coverage.

Indeed, Bulls owners Andrew Chalmers’ and Graham Lowe’s decision to appoint former Manly coach Toovey to steer the club away from the Championship drop-zone was - depending on your view - a move of genius or barking madness.

Having been in the country for a fortnight Toovey is not allowed to take an active role until his visa is processed - and that certainly won’t be by Sunday: Bradford’s first game back at Odsal since their rise from the dead (expect a fevered outpouring of emotion).

Whilst Toovey will be presented to the crowd before the match, he will be leaving coaching duties to former academy coach Leigh Beattie, who has overseen Bradford's three defeats this year at Huddersfield and Keighley and Hull KR.

With a squad made-up primarily of academy players, Leeds fringe loanees and a few old stagers (and an average age of just over 21), The Bradford Telegraph and Argus is already describing Sunday’s game as ‘crucial’. Indeed -  if a bit of mental arithmatic is your thing - Hornets’ win and Bradford’s defeat last weekend leaves the Bulls having to win eight more games than us this season to finish above us. A win at Odsal on Sunday would leave them having to win NINE games more than us to finish above us.

Speaking in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus after the 54-24 defeat at Hull KR, Beattie said: “We got a little bit giddy at the start when we went ahead but it didn’t last too long. We’ll get back on the training field this week – there’s plenty to work on so we’ll go through the video.

“There’ll be some tired blokes in our squad after that so we’ll fix them up first, and then we’ll go again. We’re a little off with our pre-season, so Hull KR looked slicker than us obviously, but with that effort and a bit more work we won’t be far off.”

And, when asked about Hornets’ thumping 46-0 routing of Dewsbury Rams, he  said: “Good – that’s more of a challenge for us, so bring it on.”  We're sure he won’t be disappointed.

Bradford lined up last week as follows:
14 Oscar Thomas
2 Ethan Ryan
3 James Mendeika
4 Ross Oakes
5 Iliess Macani
6 Leon Pryce (c)
28 Jordan Lilley (Leeds Rhinos Loan)
8 Liam Kirk
9 Joe Lumb
17 Ross Peltier
11 Colton Roche
20 James Bentley
21 Brandon Wilkinson

15 Jon Magrin
31 Mikolaj Oledzki (Leeds Rhinos Loan)
29 Sam Hallas (Leeds Rhinos Loan)
30 Josh Jordan-Roberts (Leeds Rhinos Loan)

The pairing of 36 year-old Leon Price and Rhinos wunderkinder Jordan Lilley at half-back makes for an interesting afternoon. And starting prop is Ross Peltier - who last played against Hornets for Keighley when we thumped them at Spotland.

Hunapo-Nofoa: delighted to be leaving the World tig-&-pass
league for the comforts of Odsal
The latest spike of madness to emanate from the Odsal crater is the breaking news that the Bulls have beaten ‘several NRL clubs’ to the signature of Samoan rugby *nion 7s player Phoenix Hunapo-Nofoa (no - us neither).

Hi-stepping, showboating 7’s ‘utility back’ (isn’t every player in *nion 7s a ‘utility back’?) Hunapo-Nofoa was one of the early targets for Bulls’ non-coach Toovey. Needless to say, how a nippy lad used to acres of space against *nion defences would fare against getting hit at full-tilt by Trigger whilst negotiating a ball dropping out of the drizzle of Northern spring sky is open to question.

According to, whether he will sign/arrive in time for Sunday’s game remains ‘unclear’.  Which we translate as ‘he won’t’. We/he can only hope the new Bulls away kit comes with brown shorts.

As Alan Kilshaw astutely pointed out this week, Sunday will be a day of high emotion, adrenalin and expectation as the re-animated Bulls return to their spiritual home. Hornets will need cool heads if they’re not to get sucked into the occasion.

Certainly Sunday is a big one for all concerned. And - for the first time ever - we can say: Championship leaders Rochdale Hornets go to relegation-haunted Bradford Bulls in search of the win. So get yourself over to Odsal - the tenuous plan mooted on Facebook is for fans to gather on the terrace behind the dug-outs - get together and let’s make some noise. Let’s face it - this is our party too.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Dewsbury Rammed!

Hornets 46 - Dewsbury 0

In his after-match assessment, Alan Kilshaw described this as an ‘incredible performance’. And it was. Rochdale Hornets put down a stunning Championship marker, handing a gutless Dewsbury a lesson in enthusiasm, forward power and slick support play.

Indeed - as we predicted - a frankly awful Rams were impeded by the inclusion of four Wakefield Dual Reg players who looked as if they’d really rather be somewhere else. Keegan Hirst, a big lump with no hint of an offload; David Fifita a rag-handed penalty waiting to happen; Max Jowett, removed with what looked like a broken spirit on the hour mark; and Mason Caton Brown, bombed to a standstill and pinned in his corner by the onrushing twin-juggernaut of Rob Massam and Lewis Galbraith for most of the afternoon.

While the opening exchanges were relatively even, it was obvious that Hornets were the better organised side. Rapid ruck speed, quick play-the-balls, Ben Moores prying and probing - easy metres after the contact in every tackle.

And when Hornets drove close after quarter of an hour, Gaz Middlehurst hit Samir Tahraoui with a short ball five metres out and he slammed through retreating defenders to score. Palfrey the two and Hornets’ Championship tilt up and running at 6-nil.

Hornets fans steeled themselves for a Rams response - which never came. Instead Hornets went back on the offensive and it was Ben Moores weighing in with two contrasting tries out of the top drawer. His first a cheeky mugging from acting half, his second finishing off a sweeping 70 metre move: Lewis Palfrey the break, Danny Yates in support, Mooresey on a searing run to touch down. Quality. Palfrey good with the boot: 18-nil - Hornets fans rubbing unbelieving eyes.

Indeed, Hornets had a flawless 100% completion rate for the first 30 minutes and Dewsbury just couldn’t live with their level of intensity.

On 35 minutes Gaz Middlehurst picked out Matty Hadden, who strode into open field; he launched Danny Yates on an arcing run to the line and Hornets went in at the break 22-nil to the good.

The second half followed much the same pattern. Hornets strong and direct, Dewsbury shipping penalties, backing off tackles, rudderless. On 49 minutes Fijian wrecking ball Jo Taira topped a fearsome performance with the most direct of tries: Danny Yates the short pass, Taira unstoppable from 10m, defenders scrambling to get out of the way. Palfrey the two and Dewsbury’s body language shot.

With the game slipping away, the Rams entered ‘spoiler’ mode - Fifita the main culprit, coughing two soft penalties in-front that Lewis Palfrey gratefully accepted to pass the 30 mark

Dewsbury flickered briefly just past the hour mark, shipping the ball across the face of the Hornets posts, but a needless showboating pass fell into the arms of Chris Riley who hit the gas to take the interception fully 60 metres. From a quick play-the-ball Lewis Galbraith hit Rob Massam with a peach of a pass and he skinned Caton-Brown to score by the flag: 36-nil

Five minutes later provider turned scorer: Fifita a dumb penalty, Miles Greenwood sucking in defenders, Ben Moores picking his pass and Trigger scooting in to bring up the 40. Just stunning.

But Hornets weren’t quite done. Try number eight captured the contrasts in this contest in microcosm. A dumb Dewsbury penalty, Danny Yates swiftly launching Lewis Galbraith into space, Ryan Maneely in eager support to skate through a soft, shambolic defence. Palfrey on target and Hornets home and hosed at 46-nil.

As announcements of arrival go, this was something very special indeed. A close on perfect performance that showcased how good this Hornets side could be. And, with Bradford taking a whacking at Hull KR, it makes next week’s trip to Odsal a very exciting prospect indeed. Already, the Bulls will need to win eight more games than Hornets to finish above us.

Meantime - at least for this week - Hornets sit top of the Championship. That’s just one place off Super League, folks. Who’d’ve thought it eh?