Thursday, 27 April 2017

Sunday's Coming: Hull KR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Blue Monday


Swinton 23 - Hornets 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Saturday, 15 April 2017

Hornets struggle with Eagles life in the slow-lane


Hornets 18 - Sheffield 42

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Friday's Coming: Sheffield Eagles

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

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

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

From the outset, Sheffield had the air ephemerality about them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Party Fears Too.

Batley 38 - Hornets 36

We’ve all been there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

video

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

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