Thursday, 25 May 2017

Saturday's Coming: Oldham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 22 May 2017

Snooze And You Lose

Halifax 28 - Hornets 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meh, indeed.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Sunday's Coming: Halifax


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Monday, 8 May 2017

Fev Put Hornets to the Test

Hornets 8 - Featherstone 38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 5 May 2017

Sunday's Coming: Fev

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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