Sunday, 17 September 2017

That joke isn't funny any more...

Bradford 72 - Hornets 16

On the way to witness the final death-throes of Bullmania, we passed a circus. But whatever clownery was taking place inside that big top was nothing compared to the base-comedy that was to unfold at Odsal.

Referee Andy Sweet turned in a grossly unfunny slapstick performance that had everything -including a game where the wheels fell off.

Indeed, his loss of control and farcical decision to reduce Hornets to ten men 15 minutes in gave Bradford the opportunity to work the numbers - scoring four converted tries and killing the game as a contest with over an hour remaining.

Hornets had started brightly - an early penalty took them upfield and a bustling break by Lee Mitchell had defenders scrambling, only for the last pass to float agonisingly beyond Kev Penny’s reach.

Bradford responded with some direct football and on 6 minutes Bentley (playing his last game before he takes his ridiculous haircut to St Helens) scrambled in at the corner on the last tackle. In keeping with the comedy theme, Aston hooked the conversion attempt hilariously wide.

Bradford then coughed a spiralling kick-off and Hornets were gifted a penalty on the back of it, but loose hands on the first tackle let the Bulls off the hook.

On 10 minutes Halafihi finished off a sweeping 90 metre move - scoring off an outrageous forward pass. Aston on target for 10-nil.

And then Mr Sweet had his brain fart. Yes, Gav Bennion clattered bulls kicker Keyes somewhat tardily, but Bradford responded by piling in on Jo Taira! Having pulled the ensuing brawl apart Mr Sweet sent Bennion and Taira to cool off for ten minutes. Bradford’s career irritant Scott Moore was also given 10 minutes to consider what happened to his career.

Immediately Bradford shifted the ball wide where Chris Riley landed a bell-ringing shot on his opposite number, incurring the attention of a picky touch-judge. From the resulting penalty Bradford worked the numerical advantage for Kirk to score. Aston the extras for 16 nil

Hornets were then reduced to 10 - Lewis Foster dismissed for dissent - and Bradford used the advantage to its maximum. Tries for Hallas, Oakes and Ryan stretched Bradford’s lead out to a ridiculous 34-nil. The home fans positively tumescent - just like the old days, but with 17,000 fewer fans.

On the half hour - and back to the full complement - Hornets strode upfield where Jordan Case slipped under the black dot off a peach of a Jo Taira pass. Yatesey the two and the Hornets contingent at last with something to cheer.

This heralded a period of Hornets pressure - Kev Penny producing a miracle catch - but Bradford benefited from a loose pass to clear their lines.

With half time approaching, Mr Sweet showed he was as gullible as he was hilarious: Peltier milking  a penalty, Caro the try. And with the hooter imminent, the piece de resistance. Mr Sweet gifting Bradford a penalty after the ball was dropped cold in the tackle, Keyes tapping the ball to himself in back-play more in hope than anticipation and, with neither the defence nor the referee set, ran 50 metres to plant the ball under the black dot. Mr Sweet eventually catching up to give the try. Just ridiculous.

Half-time 46-6: only the Bradford fans laughing.

The second half was quite possibly the longest 40 minutes of the season. Bradford kept the scoreboard ticking over, Hornets found the space to score two well-taken tries: the first finished acrobatically in the corner by Chris Riley and converted from the whitewash by Danny Yates; the second a beautifully weighted kick from Lewis Palfrey gathered and touched down by Jack Holmes.

Additional Bradford tries came from Peltier, Moore and Aston to blow out the scoreline and bring this farce to an end.

But you have to look at the bigger picture. This was a Hornets side shorn of half a dozen first-choice players - and of the lads who took the field, a fair majority were patched-up to play.

And, while the Bradford announcer screamed of ‘bringing the glory back to Bradford’, the reality is that they’re heading for Hemel and we’re not. Indeed. it’ll be interesting to see how many of yesterday’s 3,000 Bulls fans in attendance will still be there in a year’s time. Certainly, they had fewer fans singing yesterday than Hornets.

So here we are. the 2017 season has been and gone. The hope at the outset was always  that we would finish 3rd bottom. As it was, we finished 9th - exceeding expectations (if only slightly). Despite the naysayers, the pundits and the gobshites who had us nailed-on for relegation, Hornets proved everyone wrong. In the end, we scrapped, scrambled and clawed our way to another season in the Championship.

As Hornets look to build from here, Bradford’s future looks less certain. The likelihood is that Geoff Toovey will leave, followed by at least half of this team. Were a more pointless 70 points ever scored?

Finally, a big shout to the Hornets travelling support who have been superb all season. Though we may have come in a taxi, at least next season it won’t be a taxi to South Wales. See ya Bradford.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Sunday's Coming: Bradford Bulls

Odsal Top: Geoff Toovey's strip-cam career was short-lived
And lo, the season draws to a close with a beautiful stroke of symmetry - 2017’s final away-game mirroring the first, with a trip to the Odsal Crater.

Way back in snowy February, Hornets produced a powerhouse performance to beat Bradford 22-14 and stay top of the Championship for a second amazing week. What a journey it’s been since then - for us and for Bradford.

Not too long ago you’d have got ridiculous odds on a season ending with Hornets secure in the Championship and Bradford en-route to the game’s third tier. But here we are…

And if that seems like the punchline to a particularly surreal Rugby League joke, you have to admire Lee Smith’s sense of humour. The Bradford winger sees Sunday as an opportunity to sign off Bradford's relegation season with a home win as a ‘reward’ to their fans. But his recall of this season’s other two games against Hornets is decidedly flaky.

"Rochdale have got us a couple of times…” he said this week in an interview with the Bradford Telegraph and Argus’ relentless Bulls propaganda machine. “… I missed the first game because it was full of snow! They nicked that one and did it again when we were over there a few weeks ago. We probably should have won that day."

We suggest he goes back and watches the videos. Bradford were a distant second best on both occasions - particularly in the Spotland game where two-try Jo Taira ran riot, leaving the Bulls laundry staff with the unpleasant problem of working out how to remove stains from the inside of shorts: Hornets eventually doubling the Bulls tally by 28-14.

Lovers of irony will appreciate that Bradford have run into some (too) late form - winning four of their six shield games thus far and have plenty of positive momentum to carry them into their preparations for life in League 1.

To counter the bad news, the T&A’s hype machine has been in overdrive this week, continuing the trumpet the Bulls in a blatant attempt to sugar-coat the drop. Our favourite from a wave of excitable newspeak is: “The Bulls, who have won ten of their 29 games, have picked up three more points than Sunday's final opponents Rochdale – and would also have finished above Swinton and Oldham without the penalty.”

Exciting times: The Bradford derby with Keighley is ON!
And Lee Smith is buying the pointless hype: “If you took those 12 points back, we'd be safe…” And if I had tits, Lee, I’d be my sister…

For me, though, one reader comment on Smith’s Argus article sums up Bradford’s situation better
than any we’ve seen. Reader ‘Wolford6’ wrote: “We were once the best team in Britain and World Club Champions. Now we are the 12th best team in Yorkshire…”

In the dugout - and definitely not eyeing up the NSW Origin job - Geoff Toovey says it would be good for his side to end a tough season on a high. Again in the T&A: “It's been well documented how tough this season has been for everyone and to go out on a high would be good.”

Yeah - not if we have anything to do with it, Geoff.

I doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to suspect that, since being mentioned in the Media as a possible candidate to try and mop up the mess left behind by Laurie Daley (the Blues have won only one series since 2006 - and only six games from 15 under Daley’s tenure), Toovey’s had an eye on the door.

Speaking to ‘The Papers’, Toovey said last week: “It is a wonderful endorsement that the papers are talking about that but there is nothing official at this stage. It is a great job, a big challenge, and something that I would be interested in – but at the moment it is just in the papers." … er… BECAUSE YOU’RE TALKING TO THE PAPERS GEOFF!  The Australian footy press are also heavily touting Toovey as potential coach of Gold Coast Titans next year. Either way, it’s gotta be better than going to Coventry…

Last week, Toovey’s distinctly un-Origin-standard Bulls scraped a win at Dewsbury by 16 points to 12. Against a Dewsbury side missing gun half-back Gareth Moore and which also had five-eighth maestro Paul Sykes sin-binned, Bradford did just enough to edge a scrappy game three tries to two - one of which came from sizeable unit Ross Peltier who has been Bradford’s best forward in the two games against Hornets this season.

While Bradford fans are busy Googling directions to Hemel, Llanelli‎ and Haringey this winter, Hornets fans can look forward to another season in next year’s Championship (and trips to Toronto, Toulouse and - possibly - Perpignan).

A heartbreakingly narrow defeat at Wake-… er… Sheffield on the back of a performance of poise and swashbuckling bravado showed what Alan Kilshaw’s side is really capable of - and whetted the appetite for further adventures in this competition next year.

With key players already committing to 2018 and, we imagine, some strategic additions to add some extra punch and nous - the prospect of proving people wrong yet again is a delicious one to contemplate.

Back in the present, though, Hornets travel to Odsal seeking an unprecedented triple over Bradford. Missing Gaz Middlehurst, Jono Smith, Ben Moores, Rob Massam and Ant Walker, it has the feel of an awkward outing. But, as we’ve already said, proving people wrong is something this side is very good at. With nothing to lose the shackles are off, and another bold performance would be a fitting way to celebrate the accomplishment of 2017’s mission.

The end of season party starts Sunday - most likely on the popular side opposite the main stand (weather permitting). Let’s hope it won’t be snowing: see you there.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Second That Emotion

Sheffield 26 - Hornets 22

Rugby League is a game that puts you through the wringer - and this was an afternoon of mixed emotions.

Having taken the game to a stultifyingly dull Sheffield Eagles all afternoon, Hornets were thwarted at the death by a breakaway try as they went in search of the knockout punch. Heartbreaking.

At the same time, news came through from Heywood Road that Swinton had condemned Oldham to the third tier next year, thus securing Hornets’ place in the Championship for another season. Jubilation.

You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

What is certain is that this was a bold effort from Hornets - starting the game on the front foot and producing a performance of composure and control.

From the moment Lewis Galbraith gathered the Hornets kick-off, Sheffield looked second best. And when Lewis Palfrey launched a booming 40/20 after just four minutes, Hornets slipped the ball across the line for Kev Penny to score acrobatically in the corner. Danny Yates on target from the whitewash and Hornets ahead of the clock at 0-6.

Yatesey stretched Hornets lead soon after - an infringement in the tackle giving him a simple shot at goal: 0-8

But when Sheffield hoisted the kick-off into the swirling wind, Dec Kay looked in all kinds of trouble and his fumble led to a gift try for the ‘home’ side: Fozzard slumping in from a yard - a classic sucker try. Owens converted from in front and - from nowhere - Sheffield were suddenly In the game.

Indeed, they even had the temerity to edge ahead when Millar played a one-two with Lo, who looked to have put a foot on the dead ball-line in the grounding. 10-8.

But Hornets remained proactive - continuing to take the game to Sheffield, great defence forcing errors. And when Sheffield transgressed at the ruck, Danny Yates gratefully took the two to level the scores.

Then the comment of the day: Sheffield’s Garry Lo coughing a poor pass under no pressure drew the shout, “Oi, Gary - how ‘Lo’ can you go?” Genius.

Sheffield applied some late pressure to no avail - big defence and a timely interception clearing the lines, the half ending with a great clearing kick from Lewis Galbraith with 10 seconds on the clock.

There was just enough time for Sheffield to throw a tantrum because they packed their scrum as the clock ticked down but weren’t allowed to feed it after the hooter. Half-time, a tense ten-all.

Hornets began the second half in determined mood: some impressively direct approach-play capped by a neat pass from Jordan Case sent Matty Hadden skittling defenders to score under the black dot. And when a break from Ryan Maneely up the guts of the Eagles just two minutes later led to Jake Eccleston threading Jack Holmes in by the corner post (Yatesey imperious off the whitewash), Hornets looked good value for their 10-22 lead.

But Sheffield are nothing if not obdurate. Plying their own special brand of ham-fisted anti-football they bludgeoned their way back into the game. A 52nd minute last-tackle kick into the in-goal saw Owens touch down. And, on the back of a series of increasingly puzzling penalties, Wheeldon’s try under the posts had an air of inevitability about it.  Owens converted and the home ‘crowd’ could be heard cheering somewhere in the distance. 22-all.

Hornets then proceeded to chuck the kitchen sink at the Eagles, but were hindered by some frankly brutal decisions from referee Mr Dolan.

Having forced a drop-out, Hornets drove the ball back towards the Sheffield line, where Lewis Hatton was the victim of a blatant spear tackle. Having taken no action, Mr Dolan was super keen to then snag Hornets for not playing the ball properly.

And when Miles Greenwood sneaked over from close range in the 67th minute, Mr Dolan looked to have pointed to the spot, only to change his mind.

Hornets were then bizarrely pulled for offside as they executed an acting half kick into the in-goal. Curiouser and curiouser…

On 74 minutes, Mr Dolan caught Sheffield offside - but Yatesey hooked the penalty agonisingly wide. The tension was wound even tighter two minutes later when Lewis Palfrey’s drop-goal attempt struck the upright. Hornets forced a drop-out from the rebound, this time Gav Bennion called ‘held-up’ over the line.

With the game ebbing away, Sheffield took full advantage of a freak ricochet from Danny Yates’ grubber. Home centre Whiteley carried the ball 70 metres, only to be reeled in by a phenomenal defensive effort from Gav Bennion, but as Hornets’ retreating defence scrambled into shape, Sheffield worked the ball to Yere who had just enough space to score. Devastating.

With a side shorn of regulars, this was close to the performance of the season: gritty, hard-working and full of bravado. Sheffield are the archetypal immovable object: playing a brand of ugly, low-torque, bulldozing football that’s hard to endure. What it lacks in style it makes up for in relentless, glacial momentum - but Hornets found a way to counter their runaway canal-barge style and came agonisingly close to taking something from this game.

But while emotions in the moment were raw with disappointment, they were countered with the deep satisfaction that Hornets had secured Championship status for 2018. And the magnitude of that achievement is not to be underestimated.

Written off as racing certs for the wooden spoon at the start or the year - most notably by Garry Schofield - Alan Kilshaw and his players have done the seemingly impossible.

Fitting then that the over-riding emotion at the end of this game was one of immense pride in a job well done. And we second that wholeheartedly.




Thursday, 7 September 2017

Sunday's Coming: Sheffield Eagles

An enigma, wrapped in a mirage, wrapped in a stadium crisis - it must be Sheffield Eagles.

The last time we wrote about Sheffield, we spoke of how the club -  surrounded by a series of un-named ‘partners’ -  was desperately bidding to be the preferred developer of the stadium earmarked for the old Don Valley site, now managed by the ‘Olympic Legacy Park Ltd’.

The situation came to a head last month when the rights to develop the stadium were granted to a rival bid headed up by Sheffield-born, Brussels-based property developer - and former chairman of Sheffield Utd - Kevin McCabe and his Scarborough Group. This outcome is widely considered to be the worst possible scenario for the Eagles, as McCabe is under no compulsion to complete the stadium to RFL standards ahead of the 2018 season - and, if and when he does, Sheffield will be a distinctly secondary tenant. According to the Sheffield Star: “If the council rubber stamps the OLP’s expected recommendation, then the Eagles must then negotiate with the winning bidder for the terms of their tenancy.”

It is widely believed that becoming tenants at the OLP, rather than a developing partner, Sheffield Eagles could face yet another season away from their home-city base, with sponsorship and support already dwindling five years after the Don Valley stadium was razed. In that time, the Eagles have played in Doncaster, on a school field and now 26 miles from home in Wakefield.

Since news broke of the Eagles’ stadium issue in early August, all parties - art seems - have communicated solely by statement.

Eagles general manager Liam Claffey stated in his statement:  "Whilst the news and decision is not the preferred option of Sheffield Eagles, the club will work with all parties to ensure the club is back in Sheffield and at the Olympic Legacy Park in 2018. The decision made by the Olympic Legacy Park Ltd will now be passed to Sheffield City Council to make a final decision and the club are continuing dialogue with them as well.”

Chairman Chris Noble said: “If we don’t get it we need to start negotiating with whoever the other party is, ask when they plan to build the seating area,” he said. “Part of the heads of agreement state that Sheffield Eagles have to be facilitated. However we will just become tenants at a rate which we don’t obviously know yet. We’ll have no say over when we can play.”

Only weeks after Legacy Park project chief and former sports minister Richard Cabon said that OLP Ltd had: “…  made it absolutely clear to everyone who made an approach that it would also be the home for Sheffield Eagles…” he went on to say: “Following discussions at the Board meeting we have recommended to Sheffield City Council, as Landowner, that it enters into a land transaction with Scarborough Group International for the development of a Stand and other linked facilities. In light of this decision, representatives of Sheffield Eagles have been informed with a view to enabling constructive discussions on accommodating the Club at the proposed stadium.” Hmmm, hardly endorsing…

Scarborough Group International boss McCabe said: “We welcome the discussions as we move forward in working together on the development of a community stadium at the Olympic Legacy Park. We need to clarify certain criteria in the process but we are more than happy to work with the Sheffield Eagles.”

None of which sounds particularly resounding - but given that the Eagles’ backer remained firmly ‘un-named’ throughout the process, perhaps the council and the OLP opted on the side of transparency?

On the field, the Eagles look to be ending their season with a visible wobble. With a Championship Shield semi-final berth already guaranteed, Sheffield have now lost three consecutive games -  going down 18-32 at home last week against against the already relegated Bradford Bulls.

Having trailed by just 10-16 at the break, Sheffield snatched an 18-16 lead after 47 minutes courtesy of a quick-fire brace of tries, but Bradford hit back with two more of their own, adding a late one to blow out the scoreline to 18-32. Most eye-catching stat of the day was the hat-trick that Bulls winger Omari Caro ran through his opposite number Garry Lo.

Defeat to the Bulls came on the back of a frankly brutal trip to Toulouse on Bank Holiday Monday, where Mark Aston’s side was compelled to travel at 7am on the day of the game - which had an 8pm kick-off.  Needless to say, they went down 32-16 in Blagnac.

In an attempt to arrest the wobble, Mark Aston is using the last two games of the season as an audition for the Shield finals, saying this week that any player finding a level of consistency will put themselves in the frame for a place in their Championship Shield semi  - which could mean yet another trip to Toulouse (any bets on a midnight kick-off on a Tuesday?).

Hornets make the trip to Sheff/Hudders/Wake/School - field (delete as appropriate) buoyed by last week’s massive win over Swinton and on the very cusp of securing Championship survival. Having added two crucial points to the gap between Swinton and Oldham, all eyes will be on their relegation shoot-out at Heywood Road. With only two points available after Sunday, the loser of that game won’t be able to catch Hornets.

Oldham’s points difference is 129 worse than Swinton’s, which puts them in grave danger, as - even if they win - should Swinton lose in their last game at Toulouse and Oldham beat Dewsbury in theirs, the Roughyeds could still go down on points difference unless the games throw-up at least a 130 point swing (this weekend’s game pending).

If Swinton win on Sunday AND at Toulouse - and Hornets lose both remaining games - the worst we can finish is 6th, which gains us another Championship season next year.

By far the worst scenario would be a draw at Heywood Road. That would leave a two point gap between Hornets and the other two clubs - so everyone in the mix would go into the last game of the season seeking points to secure survival. But let’s not go there…

In a season that’s seen us slay a couple of  Yorkshire bogey sides, a much overdue Hornets win at Sheffield would make things very simple indeed - and now is the time for our all-important 18th man - the travelling support - to stand-up and be heard.

So here’s how to get there:

The TLCRF80mins short-cut.

Off the M62 at junction 31 as if you’re going to Featherstone. Follow Pontefract Rd towards Featherstone as far as the roundabout at the new West Yorkshire Police headquarters - turn right and follow the A655 towards Wakefield for about 10 minutes until you reach the A638, Doncaster Road. Turn right at the lights and go under the railway bridges, the ground is on your left after about 300 yards. It takes just 50 minutes - so get yourself over there.

Details for your SatNav are
163-165 Doncaster Road, Wakefield WF1 5EY.

Sheffield have been poorly supported all season, so if  we can make some noise and ‘own’ the atmosphere, it’ll give the lads a massive boost! So let’s get there in numbers, out-sing the home support and get the lads over the line in style. No excuses - see you in Wakefield.



Sunday, 3 September 2017

Big-Hearted Hornets Pass the Stress Test

Hornets 16 - Swinton 8

In this most must-win of must-win games, Hornets produced a performance of composure, control and completion to squeeze Swinton out of a game so tight at times, you could hear it squeak.

Indeed this was a tense affair - the nerves palpable around the ground as both sides engaged in a first half resembling a game of chess: move for counter-move.

The game began ignominiously - Lewis Galbraith caught in possession on the last tackle, the victim of a clear and dangerous cannonball tackle by Bracek. Pulled late by the touch-judge, the incident was put on report by Mr. Smith. A weak cop-out.

Next set, though, Mr Smith eager to snag Hornets for a high shot.

Swinton elected to go aerial at the first opportunity, but Chris Riley was rock solid under the bomb - grabbing a penalty for contact in the air for good measure. Hornets reciprocated in the next set - the outcome identical. Swinton’s response was to cough the ball almost immediately. Hornets’ possession - the outcome identical. Nerves on show.

On 11 minutes Swinton were handed a penalty for a late shot and Hankinson made no mistake from the tee. Five minutes later Hornets rewarded similarly after Danny Yates was flattened after a kick. Yates off the floor to even the scores at 2-all.

Having begun under tension, the game was then deprived of all remaining slack, as both teams worked hard to gain advantage.

On 25 minutes Swinton came up with the error, but Dec Kay’s kick and chase into the in-goal was defused with little trouble. Then a pause in proceedings as Swinton full-back Butt was put on report for off the ball contact with Ant Walker, who was lying injured at the time.

Hornets continued to play what little lucid football was on offer, but when Matty Hadden rose to play the ball with defenders crawling all over him, Mr Smith gave Swinton the penalty. Puzzling.

Hornets responded with some gritty defence: Gav Bennion the man on the spot to snuff out a last tackle kick and bring the ball away.

The game edged towards half-time with two rare chances. First Hornets sweeping the ball wide to Kev Penny who was bundled into touch as he stretched his arm around the corner post; then a Swinton kick to the corner, Bergal adjudged offside.

The game ended with a double concern for Hornets: Jake Eccleston injured chasing down a teasing kick, Ant Walker led staggering from the field with concussion. Eccleston patched up to continue, Walker’s afternoon over. Half-time 2-all.

Hornets began the second half with noticeably more purpose: eager, direct. A huge Josh Crowley break up the guts of the Lions defence culminating in a penalty for holding down. Yatesey no mistake, Hornets edging ahead 4-2.

Then a moment that shifted the momentum. Lewis Foster’s steelpling bomb towards Butt, Lewis Galbraith in hot pursuit - pulling the trigger on a shuddering tackle on the hapless Swinton fullback that brought the crowd to its feet. The next set Swinton knocked on first tackle - the home fans could sense the pressure taking effect.

On 48 minutes, the dam cracked: Dec Kay embarking on a big looping run across the face of the Swinton defence, stepping inside defenders to plant the ball down. Danny Yates off the whitewash for 10-2. Daylight…

Swinton then had a slice of luck. Having blatantly knocked down a Hornets pass, the visitors were given the feed at the scrum, followed by a niggly penalty. Camped on the Hornets 10m line, the Lions forced a drop-out, then were handed a repeat set AND another penalty. Hornets under the cosh. Swinton capitalised, shifting the ball to Bergal who stole in at the corner to score. Hankinson on target: 10-8. The tension cranked up to eleven - coronaries all-round…

Hornets response was direct: a huge bust by Jordan Case had Swinton back-pedaling, but a hurried kick option let them off the hook. No matter; two minutes later Hornets again drove close to the Swinton line, where the impressive Ryan Maneely produced a pass you could get an Arts Council grant for - hitting an unstoppable Foster at pace to stretch Hornets’ lead. Yatesey 100% with the boot and Hornets ahead 16-8.

It looked like a done deal after 70 minutes when a Hornets kick into the in-goal led to chaos and Chris Riley touched down - but Mr Smith and the touchie were the only two people in the ground to spot a knock-on. No try.

Swinton did produce a late rally - conjuring up a rare moment of passing football, but former Hornet Robinson saw the ball slip from his fingers with the line at his mercy. Oops…

In response, Hornets closed ranks and saw out a hard-working win that edges them ever closer to Championship safety. During post-match celebrations, news that Oldham had lost at home to Toulouse brought a cheer of relief. Defeat for them next week at Swinton will see them relegated. On this showing, we’d advise any Lions fans with a heart condition to keep their medication topped up.

Meantime, Hornets head for two away games at Sheffield and Bradford knowing the standard required to end the season on an upbeat note.