Thursday, 17 August 2017

Samedi's Coming: Toulouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of finishing fifth, yes.

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

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

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

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

This weekend’s other games are:

Batley v Oldham
Sheffield v Dewsbury
Swinton v Bradford

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

Monday, 14 August 2017

Number Crunched.

Hornets 14 - Batley 34

Jeez, where to start with this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 11 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 6 August 2017


Dewsbury 56 - Hornets 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Sunday's Coming: Dewsbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With 7 games/14 points to play for:

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

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

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

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

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