Thursday, 19 April 2018

Up fer t'cup. Sunday's Coming: Whitehaven

Ah, the magic of the Challenge Cup. Rosettes, rattles, tin-foil trophies - living the dream…

Hornets 2018 ‘Road to Wembley’ continues on Sunday with a trip up the M6 to Cumbria’s most famous Rugby League graveyard, Whitehaven’s Recreation Ground.  Firmly established as pretty much every club’s bogey-ground, the curse of the Recre’ haunts better sides than Hornets. Indeed, having travelled up there in hope dozens of times since I was a kid, you could almost count the wins on the fingers of a boxing glove.

Alan Kilshaw understands the challenge ahead:  “Nobody ever wants a trip to Cumbria, especially not to the Recreation Ground.” he said recently. “We need to embrace it. That is what the Challenge Cup is all about, visiting the old, traditional grounds and playing teams you wouldn’t normally get to play when you are not in the same division.”

Cup Action: Carl Forster gets his hands on some silverware.
At least the RFL put our ribbons on it...

At the Recre’ Killer goes head-to-head with a very familiar face, former Hornet Carl Forster.

When Whitehaven appointed 24 year-old Forster as player-coach in 2016, he became the youngest coach in the professional game - and he’s built a team in his own hard-working, no-nonsense image.

Forster played 12 games for Hornets in 2013, appearing in the famous playoff final win at Leigh. He scored one try in Hornets colours and was a popular presence around the club. “I’m actually looking forward to playing Rochdale because I spent time there on loan and there’s some good people at the club,” he said in the Whitehaven News earlier this week.

But he’s not letting his fondness for Hornets divert his eyes from the prize: "There’s no pressure on us against a Championship side who are expected to win. That was the mindset we had for the last round and the game with Dewsbury, and it will be no different this time. All the pressure will be on Rochdale to come to a League One side and roll us over…”

Another ex-Hornet in the ranks is tackling machine James Tilley - who was a League 1 champion with us in 2016.

If winning is a habit, then the momentum sits with the Cumbrians. Currently sitting fourth in an ultra-competitive League One (just two points behind joint-leaders Doncaster, Bradford and York) Whitehaven go into the Sunday’s game on the back of five straight wins - one of which was the eye-catching 25-18 cup defeat of Dewsbury Rams.

Haven have a few injury niggles in the camp: loose-forward Stuart Howarth hs an ongoing hamstring injury, utility back Jordan Burns is due for a scan on knee injury which has seem him sit out the last three weeks, and Forster himself is keeping an eye on a shoulder injury picked up in last week’s 84-6 annihilation of the hapless West Wales Raiders - that’s 17 tries, but only 7 converted!

Foiled again: We're seriously considering it!
For any club at our level, the Challenge Cup dangles the mythical carrot of a ‘big payday’ against a Super League side - and ‘Haven chairman Tommy Todd has that in mind too. Speaking in the News & Star recently, he said: “We would really like to get through to the next round and earn a plum draw against one of the Super League clubs. That’s what we are in it for, to earn some valuable money for the club.”

Equally, a win for Hornets will see us progress into the last 16 of the Challenge Cup for the first time since 2009 - but the ‘magic of the cup’ comes at a heavy price these days.

The last round at Normanton yielded less revenue than if we’d’ve forfeited the tie and raffled off the match ball (it’s a split of gate revenue after costs). It certainly didn’t cover our costs - and that’s just one of the glitches in the Challenge Cup that the RFL needs to look at. And neither club received a penny from the BBC for the live-stream of the game.

We also learned recently that the further you go in the cup, the longer you wait for your prize money. Rather than pay out round by round, the money is accumulated and only paid out when you exit the competition. So in terms of cashflow in clubs living hand to mouth, it can actually be better to get the hell out of the cup, bank the cash and get on with your season. Not much ‘magic’ there.

Unlike Toulouse - the rest of us must suck-in, swallow hard and fulfil our obligation to the world’s oldest RL Cup competition. Certainly going another round will boost the RFL prize pot available to us (at some point in the future) - and there is still the opportunity to draw a big club and, hopefully’ play them on a day when the sun shines.

In the name of tradition, for the love of our great game and to support our magnificent club, get yourself up to Whitehaven if you can. Brunch at Tebay, lunch at Keswick, a drive through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet - and a chance to say “I was there” when we break the curse of the Recre’. It’s the cup - let’s get up for it. Embrace it...

All together: “We’re the famous Rochdale Hornets and we’re going to Wem-ber-lee…”

See you there.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Hornets Victims of RFL Whistleblower Policy

Hornets 15 - London 30

In an archetypal game of two halves, the work done in Hornets’ top quality opening 40 minutes was systematically dismantled in the second half of the John McMullen show.

Seldom have we seen the shape of a game so directly impacted by the actions of the referee. Mr McMullen was simultaneously pedantic and sloppy, picky and laissez-faire. The only consistency in his performance was his extreme level of inconsistency.

So unconfident was he in his own level of performance that, before the game, he actually asked the RFL time keeper to keep an eye out in case he missed a free-play. That he then went on to mis-interpret two, indicates that he actually knows that he doesn’t understand the laws.

As it was, Mr McMullen gifted London three back to back penalties in the opening stages which gave the visitors a platform to pound the Hornets goal-line. Four sets later - and having run out of ideas - London were stood under their own crossbar after Ben Moores mugged a napping defence to steal in from acting half-back to give Hornets an early lead.

These early exchanges set the pattern for the half. Mr McMullen working his way through the I-Spy Book of Stupid Penalties, London all thud & blunder with the ball, Hornets working hard to repel a pretty one-dimensional attack: London caught in possession twice on the last tackle.

After half an hour of mounting a rear-guard action, the pressure finally told on Hornets’ hard-working defence. Again, after multiple repeat sets, London finally managed to string three passes together, Dixon looping in as the extra man to score out wide; Sammut the extras - the crowd close to mutiny.

Hornets hit straight back: regaining the lead with a Harvey Livett penalty, then a great break by Dec Kay took Hornets deep into London territory. But the momentum was sucked out of the game when Sammut ‘old-headed’ Mr McMullen, starting a punch-up at the play the ball and giving the Broncos defence a chance to regather.

With the half ebbing away, both sides exchanged knock-ons under the visitors’ posts and, with the last kick of the half, Dec Patton slammed home a drop-goal to send Hornets into the sheds leading 9-6. Stat of the half was a Hornets completion rate of 80% versus London’s shoddy 50%.

London began the second half at a noticeably higher tempo and three quick-fire tries shifted the balance of the game: on 45 minutes, Dixon again arcing in to score - then a carbon-copy double from Adebyi (the first after a string of penalties) taking London into a 9-22 lead.

But Hornets hit back: on 56 minutes London knocked-on a Hornets last tackle kick, Deon Cross gathered the loose ball in open field and sprinted away for a certain score - only for Mr McMullen to somehow interpret the situation as a Hornets offside, rather than the Free-Play it was. Perhaps he should have consulted the time-keeper. Disgraceful.

Dixon’s hat-trick try on the hour sent the obligatory taxi-load of London fans into paroxysms: he converted his own try to extend the London Lead to 9-28.

But Hornets keep on coming: building pressure to send in Dec Kay off a short-ball for a well-worked try. Harvey Livett the extras and 15-28 a more reasonable reflection of Hornets’ contribution.

There was still time for Mr McMullen to leave his grubby stamp on the game. Hornets forced into a 78th minute drop-out found touch with a short-kick, but despite being 40 metres away, he over-ruled his touch-judge marking the point at which the ball exited the field of play to award London a penalty in front for Hornets not propelling the ball 10 metres (despite the touchy clearly indicating that they had). Shite, to be honest,

But if you thought that that was as bad as it got, the game reached a refereeing nadir in the 78th minute.

London coughed the kick-off possession, Richard Lepori gathered the loose ball and touched down - only for  Mr McMullen to bring Hornets back to feed a scrum. He clearly has no understanding of how a free-play works - and you began to think Oscar Wilde was right when he said “Once can be considered unfortunate, but twice looks like carelessness”.

Hopefully RFL Timekeeper Colin Morris had a discreet word afterwards.

In the end Hornets strove hard against a full-time side abetted by some frankly terrible refereeing. Indeed, a 15 point margin against a full-time side would be impressive enough - but for two perfectly good tries to be chalked off through some indifferent officiating sticks in the throat. 12 more points would show you just how close Hornets are to matching the supposed quality of the full time outfits in the Championship.

But we need to be given a fair-go - and, on this showing, Hornets might have to wait a little longer for a victory under Mr McMullen’s control.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

We're taking a short break to watch try and watch 20 games of
Rugby League over two weekends. See you back here for the
London Broncos game.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Northern Exposure

Hornets 17 - Manchestoronto Wolfpack™ 18

There’s a point in the story ‘The Emperors’ New Clothes’ where a child points out that the most powerful man in the kingdom is not regaled in finery, but is exposed for all the world to see.

At Spotland on Friday night, the myth woven around ‘Toronto’ Wolfpack was unpicked as they had their  very own ‘Emperors’ New Clothes’ moment, exposed within the game as a fake threat as Hornets’ part-time players led from the front from the 70th second to the 70th minute; cruelly robbed of glory as a late, late penalty spared ‘Toronto’ total humiliation.

As it was, their veneer of invincibility has been destroyed and the door is now open for other Championship clubs to follow Hornets’ lead and inject a major dose of reality into the Wolfpack’s business plan.

After the game, Alan Kilshaw commented on what he and his staff could achieve if they had their players for the same number of hours that Paul Rowley has his. Indeed, this result poses another major question about the ‘Toronto’ project: if their coach has highly-paid professional players for 30 hours a week, but can only come-up a single point better than Rochdale Hornets, then either the players hearts aren’t in it and they’re just taking the money - or the coach isn’t very good.

So which is it?

We sat in pretty close proximity to owner David Argyle on Friday night and he spent much of the time shifting awkwardly in his seat as he watched the embers of 3 million Canadian Dollars get blown away by 17 lads with bigger hearts.

Indeed, Hornets were up and running before Toronto had touched the ball: Billy Brickhill outmuscling his opposite number to a short kick off to give Hornets possession. Five tackles and 60 seconds later, Earl Hurst showed greater appetite to challenge for a high ball than Kay to score out wide. Lewis Palfrey on target from wide out. to give Hornets a blistering 6-nil start.

Toronto responded by knocking on in their first set, then shipping a penalty for a high-shot. Hornets marched straight downfield, but a promising attack was pulled-up as the ball was ripped loose in the tackle.

The visitors did rally briefly - held up over the Hornets line in the 11th minute, then the ball shipped wide for Kay to score. Brierley (clearly comfortable back at Championship level) slotted the extras for 6-all.

Hornets weren’t fazed by this at all: rock solid defence began to frustrate a Toronto attack that increasingly relied on five drives and a Brierley kick & hope.

Even when Brierley went aerial, Dec Kay was solid under the bomb, Hornets looking comfortably in control.

Home hearts skipped on 16 minutes when ‘Toronto’ broke up the right aided by the bounce from a poor pass. But the best they had was a Brierley kick followed by a knock-on. All very ordinary.

Clearly bored by ‘Toronto’s’ aimless huffing and puffing, Hornets drove the visitors back under their own posts where debutant Morgan Smith unleashed a neat flat pass for Gary Middlehurst to crowbar his way between lazy defenders and score. Palfrey the two and Hornets by far the best value for their 12-6 lead.

‘Toronto’ continued peppering the Hornets defence with an array of increasingly impotent Brierley kicks: first Earl Hurst showing steady nerves under a high kick, then Dec Kay’s fluid gather and run to clear the lines. The visitors clearly out of ideas.

On the half hour, Deon Cross reached for the intercept with open field ahead of him, only for the ball to slip from his grasp. No matter, the much vaunted Quentin Laulu-Togaga'e (looking more BLT here than QLT) knocked-on to give Hornets a late attacking platform, only for a short Dec Gregory pass to go awry in traffic.

Hornets spent the remainder of the half swatting away a procession of meandering ‘Toronto’ attacks to go into the sheds deservedly ahead at 12-6.

Hornets began the second half with a solid, steadying set. ‘Toronto’ on the other hand started nervously, Whiting’s pass finding the ball-boy with pinpoint accuracy. They followed this up by coughing a penalty at the scrum. Just garbage.

Toronto did finally break the Hornet’s defence when they exploited Dave Allan’s injury to sweep 60 metres. But having gone that far, they ended the set by simply getting tackled and handing over the ball. The next set they shipped a penalty for lifting over the vertical (put on report) and it was Hornets’ turn to show their Harlem Globetrotters’ skills keeping the ball alive across a scrambling ‘Toronto’ defence.

Having sucked their blowing pack into centre field, Lewis Palfrey hoisted a high kick to the corner where Rob Massam out-jumped Laulu-Togaga’e, producing a miracle one-handed catch to score.
Hornets 16-6 up. Total bedlam.

‘Toronto’ briefly revealed what they’ve paid a fortune for when McCrone was allowed to run to close the gap (Brierley the extras: 16-12) - but then spent the next 15 minutes prodding feebly at the Hornets defence: Dec Kay again looking quality under the high ball.

On 66 minutes, ‘Toronto’ played their last desperate card: start a fight and hope that it’d disrupt Hornets’ momentum. Earl Hurst landed a big shot, black shirts started jumping in from all directions, Kay threw a punch and, for all the world, it looked like the outcome was only going one way. Referee Mr Rossleigh showed ‘Toronto’s’ Kay and big-money signing O’Brien yellow cards - then also dispatched Lewis Palfrey similarly. Oh - then gave the penalty to ‘Toronto’…

In the resulting reshuffle, Maitua squeezed through a shifting defence to tie the scores at 16-all. Brieley hoofing the conversion attempt low and wide.

Hornets sucked in for a big finish. One more time they drove a the ’Toronto’ defence back to their goal-line - and when the ball was snapped to Morgan Smith he slotted the drop goal to re-establish Hornets’ lead. ’Toronto’s’ body language a picture.

Indeed, Hornets saw this as the chance to platy some football and put this game to bed. On 36 minutes Billy Brickhill launched the Tank Rob Massam up the left flank: straight through a flailing  Laulu-Togaga’e, he raced 50 metres, lining-up O’Brien. We’ll never criticise a winger for backing himself - Massam has a big weight and speed advantage over O’Brien - but the ‘Toronto’ full-back showed his class, hauling Massam down, with Dec Kay inside with a clear run to the line.

Off the hook, ‘Toronto’ trundled back downfield for one last attempt to bore us into submission. With Hornets defence scrambling well to repel the Wolfpack’s clueless, one-dimensional fumblings, The touch-judge seized his chance to get on telly, to draw Mr Rossleigh’s attention to an unseen offence.

Even now we have no idea what the penalty was for, but Brierley made no mistake to edge ‘Toronto’ back in front at 17-18.

With the game running on fumes, Hornets moved the ball wide in search of a break - winning a penalty for an off-the ball tackle five metres inside the visitor’s half. Hornets pointed to the posts, fans’ hearts in mouths. The impossible just one kick away.

As it was, Lewis Palfrey pulled his kick short and Toronto were able to hold out for a one-point win that broke Hornets’ hearts.

But there are so many positives: not just for Hornets, but for the Championship. On this cold Friday night in a small ex-mill-town, a club owned by 95 of its supporters took a team owned by a multi-millionaire mining tycoon to the very edge of humiliation. Proving that it IS possible to thwart ‘Toronto’ Wolfpack’s cash-laden juggernaut. That it IS possible to over-achieve when everybody believes.

But mostly Rochdale Hornets proved that its what beats underneath the badge that matters most. And money can’t buy you a soul.

The door is open for the rest of the Championship. Take your opportunity: the emperor is naked.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Friday's Coming: Toronto Wolfpack

Match previews are usually pretty straightforward to write. A look through the club’s website, a quote or two from their local paper, a browse through their last couple of match reports, knit it together with a few opinions and - usually/hopefully  - we get an informative and entertaining window on the forthcoming opposition.

But this one has been very different. Having approached it in the usual way, we came up against a dizzying amount of hype and hyperbole. Journalists and publishers falling over themselves to find an angle from which they could marvel at the concept of a ‘the first transatlantic sports team’. And herein is the issue. The more you read, the more you see that story of the Toronto Wolfpack brand is one shaped by similar soundbites, carefully layered to build the picture they want you to see. And they are a ‘brand’ - in so much as they exist in your head long before you actually see them in the flesh.

One man who should know about the power of brands is CEO - and former advertising executive - Eric Perez. His quote from last year bears this out: "It's fair to say we're the hottest team media-wise in the world right now in rugby league. Everyone's got their eyes on us. We've got tons of interest globally”

They exist as much ‘in perception’ as they do on the field: the creation of a modern sporting mythology. Every League fan we’ve spoken to has an opinion on them. Whether you think of them as standard-bearers for extreme expansion in the untapped sporting nirvana of North America, or a bunch of brash mercenaries braying for attention in a sport desperate for any sort of media approbation, you’ll have an opinion too. And it might not reflect the shiny, happy picture that the zealots would have you admire.

So we ignored the hype, followed our nose - and went down the rabbit hole…

Welcome to Moose-Side
This Friday sees ‘Toronto’ Wolfpack come to to Spotland. Well, we say ‘Toronto’, but they’re more like the Harlem Globetrotters: a curiosity, a freak show, a Rugby League themed circus that rolls through your town and for which you should be endlessly grateful.

Having effectively relocated to the student suburbs of Fallowfield, Manchestoronto Wolfpack™ (MTW™) won’t be calling on their much vaunted sponsor Air Transat to haul themselves the 12 miles round the M60 on Friday tea-time.

Based at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Platt Lane Sports Complex, in South Manchester, one does feel compelled to question as to whether they are actually a ‘Canadian’ team other than in name.

This year not only will they will play all 11 away games in a single run, they’re also playing two ‘home’ games in the UK - one at the Magic Weekend v Toulouse and their game v Halifax at London Skolars (a cheaper trip for ‘Fax Fans, tho’). Chuck in the Summer Bash and their 650 Canadian season ticket holders will feel severely short-changed by their club playing the majority of their games in the UK.

But that’s all part of the pretence that MTW™, the RFL and a fawning media want us to buy into. The IDEA that there could be a transatlantic sports team shuttling backwards and forwards is pioneering, radical, exciting. The reality of a bunch of highly paid ex-Leigh players and a few old NRL faces running drills in the rain in Manchester seems somehow less romantic - and would glean far fewer column inches.

Their case isn’t helped by the appointment of former Salford CEO and Swinton Commercial Manager Martin Vickers as their ‘UK Business Development Manager’ with a brief to develop sporting and commercial relationships in the UK, suggesting that they have at least one eye on establishing/capitalising on their new Manchester roots.

Follow the money
The two things that everyone knows about MTW™ is that they are both ruthlessly ambitious and extremely well-funded.

Reports from both BBC Business and the Financial Times indicate that last season's budget was 3.4m Canadian dollars (about £2m), and this year’s is expected to be more. And that kind of spending power gives you some serious leverage at Championship level.

Since the end off last season MTW™ have shipped out 10 players and bought in 11 more. The three highest profile departures involved the spontaneous ‘release’ of the ‘Triumvirate of Trouble’ Fuifui Moimoi, Ryan Bailey and Dave Taylor. Australia’s Channel 7/ reported that the three were “reportedly sacked by the Toronto Wolfpack for sneaking out and missing curfew twice on the club's pre-season trip to Portugal”. The Canberra Times offered: “ twice breaking team protocols” as the reason for the sackings.

As an interesting epilogue to this incident, all three players have washed-up in unusual settings: Moimoi has been playing *nion at  Bradford & Bingley in the North 1 East league, the sixth tier of English rugger; Taylor has gone back to hometown Rockhampton to play for the Capras in the Queensland Cup; and Bailey has signed for Workington Town.

MTW’s™ most recent marquee acquisition is Salford full-back Gareth O’Brien. Having signed for an undisclosed and “significant” fee only a week ago, we can’t understand why any player would want to take a step down to an easier level to play for a Championship club owned by a multi-millionaire mining tycoon.

The ’tycoon’ in question being 57 year-old  David Argyle, Executive Chairman of Toronto-based oil shale development business Irati Energy Corp and CEO/Founder of Brazil Potash Corp. - a bloke with a finger in lots of mining, minerals and resources pies.

Unless you’re keen to hear his opinions on Potash mining in South America, Argyle is a hard man to find a quote from. But we’re assured that he’s in it for the long-term.  Speaking to BBC News back in February, MTW’s™ Australian General Manager Scott Lidbury commented: "David is 100% in it for the long term…He has a very strong vision, he is a big driver of Toronto as a regional centre of rugby excellence, for both codes."

Hmm, we’re never comfortable with League cosying up too close to *nion.  Though Argyle does have an impeccable League link: he started his career with BHP in Australia, who were sponsors of the Illawarra Steelers!

Having steamed through League 1 last year, MTW™ saw a financial loss  on the season.  But Lidbury went on the record in February to insist that it was all part of a longer-term business plan designed to plot a course to the cash-rich promised-land of Super League. In a BBC article he said: “Promotion this year is obviously the goal. We would be disappointed if we did not finish in the top four."

Behind what is either the best or the most ridiculous idea Rugby League has ever had is Eric Perez. Depending on which version of the Wolfpack story you read, he accidentally caught Leeds v Bradford on TV via a hooky Sky-box in Gibraltar. Or whilst he was channel-hopping in Birmingham. His reaction now forms the foundation of the MTW™ creation myth “It was the most Canadian Sport that I’d ever seen, that I’d never heard of”:  defined by him as having speed, athleticism, non-stop play and a bit of biff for good measure.

Regardless of how it happened, there’s no zeal like the zeal of a convert - and Perez set out to not only take Rugby League to his homeland, but to build a bow-wave of enthusiasm that would resuscitate the Canadian national team, establish a domestic competition and create a top-flight team that would play in the highest tier available in the Northern Hemisphere.

Where pretty much everyone thought it sounded too far-fetched to be plausible, Perez  pushed on regardless: “I had a plan. Nobody understood what I was doing," he said in an Esquire interview. "Nobody believed it could happen. But I was determined, almost relentlessly, to make it happen.  Somehow I did."

When he pulled in 8,000 people to watch Canada take on the RAF in a friendly, Perez knew he might be onto something. Everything beyond that point just builds on the story. Pulling in financiers, sponsors  -  and the Paul Rowley/Brian Noble axis that fanned the spark into something viable. The open trials, the ‘Last tackle’ TV show to find local talent, the signing of FuiFui, the debut against Siddal…  you can’t deny, it’s been a juggernaut.

Perez took a huge risk, put his life on hold and put his solvency on the line. In one interview he was scarily candid: “There were times I didn’t even know how I was going to pay rent. I didn’t know if I was going to eat a meal that night. Should I have some 40-cent pasta or should I try to eat something with some meat in it. That’s how it was to start rugby league in Canada.”

Reality Bites
When you hear it framed in those terms, it’s hard not to be swept away by the momentum and the emotion of it.

But it also makes us think:

- If the ‘Toronto Wolfpack’ project feels so much like a facade - essentially a half decent British-based team, based in the North-West, building UK commercial relationships - travelling 12 miles for Friday night fixture in Rochdale and...
-  If it is a club rubbed out of the ether whose essence is defined by big spending, big names and a ruthless ambition to get into Super League at all costs, with two-thirds of the British game serving only as justifiable collateral damage and…
- If they’re not even going to set foot in Canada until May and the only thing that makes them ‘Toronto’ is a word under the badge…

... is the thing that Eric Perez thought he was going to get? Is this what he wanted? Is it honest? Authentic? Credible? Canadian?

Like Leeds and Bradford on Perez’s TV, Rugby League works best when it has a sense of place. The identity that comes with being anchored in a community where it means something to those it represents. The Wolfpack’s fundamental issue is that it is neither ‘of’ nor ‘in’ Toronto. It shows us nothing of the Canadian nature of the club; and it is disconnected from the community it was created to represent. As it stands, it fails on all fronts.

Despite admiring Perez’s passion, commitment and tenacity, it still feels like ‘Frakenstein Footy’ - built off-plan, rushed into existence, created for world domination -  a ruthless unstoppable force in search of its soul.  Indeed, when the monster realises that the angry villagers can’t see past its outward appearance it destroys the man who created it.  For Eric’s sake - if for no other reason - we hope that this ends differently.

“Toronto Wolfpack plot financial path to Super League rugby”: Bill Wilson, BBC News 2 February 2018 
“Wolfpack kicks transatlantic rugby audiences into play”: Andy Bounds, Financial Times, April 14, 2017
“Toronto Wolfpack's grand ambitions”: Fiona Symon Financial Times, April 13, 2017
“Toronto Wolfpack hope to succeed where French failed”: Chris Irvine, Sunday Times February 4 2018
“Wolfpack Still Hunting”: League Express, 19 March 2018
“David Anthony Argyle P.Eng, MBA - Executive Profile & Biography”:, accessed March 20 2018
“Building companies to unlock superior value”: Forbes & Manhattan, Corporate Presentation 2017
“Toronto and Toulouse to play at Magic Weekend”: Matthew Shaw, Total Rugby League December 11 2017
“Transatlantic rugby club Toronto Wolfpack choose Manchester Metropolitan as UK base”:, 20th November 2017
“Toronto Wolfpack cross the Atlantic for rugby league home opener”: Neil Davidson, Toronto Globe and Mail May 1 2017
“Wolfpack hoping to create a Canadian rugby revolution as trans-Atlantic team begins play in Toronto”: Tristan Fitzpatrick, The Athletic May 5, 2017
“How a jet-setting team from Toronto could save British Rugby League”: Ben Machell, Esquire 19 June 2017
“Toronto Wolfpack: Meet the first transatlantic rugby league team”: Dave Woods, BBC Sport 24 February 2017
“Wolfpack win Kingstone league, earn promotion to second division”: Morgan Campbell, Toronto Star, 9 September 2017
“Wolfpack move so hard to resist - OB” League Express, 19 March 2018

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Hornets Take Cold Comfort from Cup Win

Normanton Knights 8 - Hornets 20

It’s hard to win in games like these: in every sense. The underdog chucks the kitchen sink at you and will always come out of the contest with all the credit. In arctic conditions that numbed the senses, this was a game that singularly failed to spark  - and which froze to a near standstill as the weather (like the game) deteriorated into a swirling, icy mess.

It’s also a cup challenge to bear the relentless barracking of the community side’s fans - and, boy, do the Normanton crowd really love a moan and a swear. Every pass is forward, every tackle is high, every player is offside. And god forbid that you go down with an injury - you’ll just be called a ‘soft c*nt’ by the local crew of man-children who think that touch-judges are called ‘linos’ and that they can ‘flag’ for offside.

Hornets started with a bang as Rob Massam broke the defence direct from a scrum and sprinted 60 metres to score up the guts of the Knights. Lewis Palfrey knocked over the extras and Hornets’ 2018 Cup was up and running.

After just 6 minutes, though Gary Middlehurst was slow getting out of a tackle, removed from the fray with what looked like an eye injury. Fijian triallist Seta Tala was introduced for his Hornets debut.

Normanton then offered 15 minutes of stern resistance before Hornets carved a neat break up the left edge: Rob Massam eating up the metres before dropping off a tidy inside ball to send Danny Yates scampering home from 40 metres.

From the kick-off, Jo Taira’s fumble was compounded by a penalty for a Hornets hand in the ruck to give Normanton their first decent attacking platform, but a knock-on on the 2nd tackle enabled Hornets to stride downfield, where Dec Kay came chiming into the line as the extra man to score off a well executed last-tackle play. Lewis Palfrey the two and Hornets looking comfortable at 16-nil.

Around the quarter mark, the game entered a scrappy period, Hornets forcing passes, coughing up easy possession, helping Normanton build some pressure. And, when Hornets shipped a last-tackle penalty on the half hour, the home side went close: held-up on the 4th tackle. Needless to say, when Knights full-back Connor Wilson popped up in the right place at the right time to score on the half hour, the home fans were more than happy.

Hornets’ response was swift. A direct approach set took play close to the Normanton line; Dec Kay drawing defenders to the right edge. Hornets whipped the ball left, where Rob Massam raced through to score by the flag to put Hornets in control at 4-20.

But all the hard work was almost undone. Awarded a penalty as the hooter sounded for the break, Lewis Palfrey’s kick for touch went seriously awry; Hornets compelled to scramble and back-pedal to prevent what looked like a certain score. A poor end to a decent half.

In contrast, the second half was an ice-cold non-event.  Interspersed with horrendous snow flurries, in plummeting temperatures both sides struggled to make any meaningful progress, And as the game disappeared into the descending blizzard, Hornets error count began to mount. In a forgettable three minutes Lewis Palfrey produced a shocker of a last tackle kick, failed to make touch with a penalty for the second time and coughed up a penalty for obstruction.

With razor-sharp horizontal snow now slicing across Post Office Road Jo Taira gave up a soft penalty in possession, Lewis Palfrey hoofed a last tackle kick directly into touch and Normanton full-back Wilson followed a 70th minute kick into the in-goal for the only score of a wretched second half.

Being positive, this was a banana-skin avoided. Yes it was a poor game played in awful conditions, but the truth is that Normanton never looked like winning it and Hornets never looked like losing it. And as the fans headed home to defrost their extremities, Normanton took the plaudits for a game effort - but it’s Hornets in the hat for the Round Five draw.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Saturday's Coming: Normanton (via Featherstone)

As you whistle down the A655 from J31 of the M62 en-route to Belle Vue, Wakefield, you unwittingly drive past a town with a long Rugby League history. Over to your right - the other side of that field and round the double roundabout signposted for the Welbeck Landfill - is Normanton: home of Sunday’s visitors Normanton Knights.

The town of Normanton has a long Rugby history that predates the creation of the Northern Union,

The first rugby club in Normanton was established in 1879 and was based at the Midland Hotel.  In 1883, they became founder members of the Yorkshire rugby union’s intermediate competition - which was the third tier of Yorkshire football - alongside Hull KR and Keighley!

Following the split, Normanton joined the Northern Union in 1898 and played at semi-professional level until 1906, playing in the  Yorkshire Senior Competition Division 2 (East). It was during this period that Normanton produced a Challenge Cup shock - beating the mighty Leeds in Round One, before losing to Batley.

In 1905–06 the competition changed its format (la plus ca change) reverting to a single division of 31 clubs. Normanton struggled in 26th position and ended the season in such financial difficulty that the The Northern Union ‘kindly’ allowed  Normanton to forego their game at Millom to avoid the expense of travelling.

Ironically, Normanton folded at the season’s end - as did Millom, who finished one position below Normanton in 27th.

But the area was a hotbed of Northern Union football a new junior club, Hopetown Rovers, was formed in time for the new season, joining the Wakefield and Dewsbury District League, and playing on Normanton Common. The club we have today is a continuation of that - having become Normanton ARLFC and Normanton Knights in the early 1980s. They have played at their current home at Queen Elizabeth Drive Field since 1949 - and two of their highest profile professional alumni are David Topliss and Ben Westwood.

Since beating Leeds in 1900, Normanton have reached the third round of the challenge cup twice, Losing to Widnes in 2007 and Workington in 2014.

The new Challenge Cup format introduced in 2015 saw the Knights reach the fourth round of the competition for the first time in the club’s history, beating Myton Warriors, Shawcross  and Oulton Raiders: their cup progress - yet again, 115 years on - was halted by Batley.

Last year saw Normanton climb to their highest level in over a century when they defeated Milford Marlins in a nail-biting promotion final by 22-20, lifting the knights into the NCL Premier Division.

Fast Forward to this year’s Challenge Cup  and the Knights have defeated the Royal Navy (11-12 - in golden point extra time), Rochdale Mayfield (4-8)  and Batley Boys (18-nil) to reach this stage. Conceding just 15 points across three games indicates a game built on solid defence.

Speaking to this week, Knights coach Paul Seal sees Saturday’s game (which will be live-streamed on the BBC) as both a reward for his side’s cup exploits thus far and a test of their capabilities: “We wanted to play a Championship side, the top level you can play at this stage of the competition and we’ve managed to get that, so we’re really looking forward to it. We’re taking the game seriously and hoping to put up a good account of ourselves, not just turning up to make a day of it. We’re actually going there with a serious attitude to try and cause an upset.”

As the NCL Premier League has only completed one round, it’s a bit early to assess Normanton’s third-place position, gained by an 18-10 home win over the other Hornets from Wath Brow - but we did notice that one of their three tries scored came from ex-Hornet Stuart Biscomb and we know all about his hard-running, blockbusting style. The other two came from left centre/wing partnership Lee Hammond and Tom Alexander, so eyes-on up that edge.

Hornets come into the game having put 12-man Barrow back in their box. Regardless of the numerical advantage, Hornets played pretty much all of the football on offer to run in five aesthetically pleasing tries that left the visitors’ defence in tatters.

Needless to say, Barrow coach Paul Crarey has had the onion out this week, shedding a small tear for the cruel unfairness of Rugby League: “We were in total control until that point (the red card). We looked good and we looked structured. I think with all the players running in, the decision is harder for the referee. All of our lads said it wasn’t a red, but it was difficult for me to see up in the stand. But I think Jarrad just patted him on the stomach and it all erupted.”

We think the secondary contact of a player clearly in distress just compounded the severity of the incident. Made the referee’s job significantly easier, we think.

In the end, the result was the boost Hornets needed after what’s been a challenging start to the year.

In his post-Barrow summary, Alan Kilshaw noted that, whilst Hornets played some good stuff, the quality of defence was the cornerstone of a second half performance full of desire and passion; and he feels that there’s still plenty of room for further improvement.

Looking ahead to this weekend, Killer recognises that Normanton are going well and that it’s an unusual for Hornets to go anywhere and not be the underdog. And - especially after last season’s disappointment at York - you sense a determination not to be Monday morning’s front page story.

As with all games of this nature you’re damned if you win and damned if you don’t. Win by 50 and people say “Well, what do you expect?”; win by two scores and people say you’re crap; lose and you’re Goliath in a giant-killing.

In terms of progress for the club, a good cup run would do wonders for confidence - and for the bank balance. So let’s get over to Featherstone on Saturday at 2pm, get behind the lads and let's see where this year’s Challenge Cup takes us.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Hornets Play Their Cards Right

Hornets 24 - Barrow 12

Jarrod Stack’s red card for his brutal assault on Gary Middlehurst on the half hour turned this game on its throbbing head. As the Cumbrian radio commentators railed about how referee Mr Rosleigh had spoiled the game, Middlehurst hauled himself off the floor - a walking metaphor for Hornets who stepped up to hand a brutally blunt Barrow a lesson in imaginative, expansive football.

The game had begun tilted in the visitors’ favour: Mr Rosleigh producing a bizarre decision as Barrow coughed a short kick-off only to be handed the feed at the consequent scrum. Fortunately the visitors ran up a cul-de-sac of their own making, handing over the ball no more than 15 metres from  from where the original scrum took place.

Barrow struck lucky again four minutes later. This time Jo Taira landing the first of a series of bell-ringing shots, forcing the ball free. Barrow again given the feed. Jo’s response was swift, next set landing another blistering tackle.

On 10 minutes, Hornets shrugged off the setbacks: first Danny Yates’ scampering break came to nought when his pass slipped teasingly from the supporting Middelhurst’s grip. Then Lewis Palfrey launching a teasing, kick only for the chasers to be deemed offside. No, us neither…

On the quarter hour mark Barrow produced a rare moment of lucid football: a last tackle ship to an edge where - somehow - Cresswell wriggled past a clutch of gathering defenders to score by the flag: nil-4.

Hornets looked to have caught a break when Barrow dropped the kick-off possession cold on the first tackle, but - again - Mr Rosleigh saw a ripping offence that gifted Barrow 50 metres. Having bludgeoned their way upfield, Hulme arrived at pace off a short ball to crash-in. Marwood finding his range to ease the visitors out to nil-10.

The game then degenerated into a disjointed scrap: forced passes, more oddball refereeing and a string of 50:50s going Barrow’s way: Marwood’s 25th minute penalty carrying the air of inevitability.

Then came Stack’s brain fart: an appallingly executed tackle chopped Middlehurst to the floor; Lepori leading the Hornets’ charge into the ensuing affray; the incensed Hornets fans now baying for Mr Rosleigh to act accordingly. Stack saw red, Lepori yellow and you could sense the momentum shift.

Hornets went straight on the attack: Rob Massam bundled into touch as Hornets doubled-up their wingers up the right edge: Barrow hanging on until the hooter to go in at the break hoping a 12-point lead would be enough.

Hornets emerged after the break in determined mood and three rapid-fire tries knocked the guts out of the visitors. A spat of handbags after just three minutes revealed Barrow’s modus operand, but Hornets shipped the ball wide where Earl Hurst went close and Lewis Palfrey was on hand to exploit the numerical advantage. Barrow then slammed a high shot into the impressive Dec Gregory. From the ensuing possession Hornets drove the Raiders back towards their own line where Pat Moran arrived, booming onto a short-ball to bully his way over. Palfrey the extras for 10-12. Then, on 50 minutes Hornets produced a try out off the top drawer to take the lead. A last tackle kick to the left flank, Rob Massam showing great strength and awareness to keep the ball alive, Deon Cross alert to the opportunity, looping round the outside to score. 14-12 - Barrow’s body language a picture.

Reduced to breaking up the flow of the game, Barrow were reduced to one man drives and scraping penalties. Hornets on the other hand played some tidy direct football and - on the hour mark - Jo Taira produced the sweetest of short lay-offs for Lee Mitchell to score on his 150th outing. Lewis Palfrey the extras, Hornets now rampaging at 20-12.

Barrow continued to poke and prod at a resolute defence, but on 68 minutes Hornets produced an acrobatic aerial try: Rob Massam soaring above his opposite number to take a pinpoint kick in-flight for a spectacular touchdown that brought the main stand to its feet. 24-12 and Barrow all but gone.

The visitors did produce some late pressure: held up over the line twice and forcing a couple of drop-outs, but Hornets stood firm to seal a deserved win.

It would be easy to surmise that Hornets were handed a red ‘get out of jail’ card. But the reality is that the only real football on show came from the home side - and Barrow’s plan-A reliance on big lads running straight and hard needs a bit more finesse when things go south.

Ultimately, you can only play the cards you’re dealt and Hornets did what was necessary as Barrow ran out of luck, gas, ideas and time. It was the win we needed and we can build from here. Hornets the better side: hands down.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Sunday's Coming: Barrow

Barrow come to Spotland on Sunday having made a bit of a boom start to their Championship challenge.

Having been flogged 56-16 at London in Round 1, the Raiders produced two startling results that made the Championship take serious notice of their intent. First of these was the 8-all draw with the travelling Rugby League Circus that is ‘Toronto’ Wolfpack, followed one week later by an eye-catching 24-20 win over Leigh Centurions that edged Neil Jukes closer to the exit.

Normal service was resumed in Round 4, with a 32-12 defeat at Batley. Last week saw Barrow frustrated as their home game with Dewsbury fell victim to the weather.

Rather than implement wholesale changes, Paul Crarey has fine-tuned his promoted side for life in the Championship.

He’s added Italian international prop Alec Susino who comes via Cronulla Sharks Holden Cup side and Mounties in the Sydney Shield. He’s joined by fellow Italian international, hooker Dean Parata signed from Manly’s NSW Cup feeder outfit Blacktown Workers. From closer to home, prop Glenn Riley took the well-trodden path from Whitehaven. Oh - and they signed Jono Smith too: and we know what he’s capable of…

A glance down the Barrow squad reveals a side big on ‘awkward quality’ - lots of familiar names who are a proper handful if left unpoliced.  The Toal brothers Shane and Dan, Lewis Charnock, Martin Aspinwall, Karl Ashall, Jarrad Stack - give these guys half an inch and they’ll unzip you.

Indeed, winger Shane Toal scored a hat-trick against Leigh - and he’s our one to watch this week. Crarey says of him: “He's opportunist and has a desire to have a go and compete with players… we play a system which suits (our wingers) and they're heavily involved.”

Notable absence from Sunday’s line-up will be irksome wonder-half Jamie Dallimore - serving a three-match ban for a Grade C dangerous contact in the Batley game - a cannonball tackle on Dane Manning. Naughty.

Hornets come into Sunday’s game on the back of a harsh French lesson in finishing. Despite Alan Kilshaw’s young team competing well with a huge - and hugely experienced/expensive (delete as applicable) - Toulouse pack, the French side were ruthlessly clinical with ball-in-hand: exploiting every half chance to maximum effect. And it’s that level of stone-cold execution that Hornets must strive to emulate as we go in search of the vital first points of the season.

As our Online Bucket Collection comes to a close, we’ll have the actual buckets out again on Sunday. We’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of not only Hornets fans, but fans across the game and it;’s looking increasingly likely that we’ll get pretty close to the £2,000 mark. Cheers everyone - see you on Sunday.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Hornets Get The French Kiss-off

Toulouse 54 - Hornets 6

Once again we return from Toulouse asking readers to ignore the scoreline. Yes, Toulouse have a team rammed with big-name mercenaries pocketing a fortune to belittle smaller clubs. Yes, they play like the Harlem Globetrotters at times. Yes, they’ll probably buy their way into Super League at some point - and good luck to them: that’s their journey and we’re all just roadkill in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But this blown-out scoreline isn’t really representative of the effort that this young, untested Hornets side put in. And it’s artificially bloated by two gut-wrenching interceptions, a slouchy bounce or two and a dropped ball. As Alan Kilshaw pointed out in his post-match press conference, you don’t need to gift Toulouse 24 points, they’re more than capable of scoring them themselves.

But then they’d have to work for it - and they’re not right keen on the concept of hard graft.

Indeed, if there’s a lazier player in the Championship than Jonathan Ford, I’d be amazed. Prodigiously talented, he plays when he wants and causes endless damage - but he expends less of his energy and talent than any player we’ve seen. He slopes along at 40%, knowing that it’s more than enough to get by at this level - and when he released a languorous kick behind the Hornets defence after three minutes, he stood back and admired his handiwork as Barthau scored.

Hornets did dig in for a spell, sucking Toulouse’s big pack into a centre-field grind, while Ford hung around in back-play, seemingly contemplating a trip to the tea-bar for a bovril or a packet of crisps.

Meanwhile, Ader was busy gallically shrugging off Earl Hurst to score. ‘Bof!” The home fans were roused from their slumbers by the feverish honking of the house band.

Hornets simply went back to work, driving Toulouse back into the corners with some nicely controlled sets. Due reward came when debutant Dec Gregory exposed Ford’s bone-idle tackling technique, scooting through to release Richard Lepori up the right edge: Gregory going back for a neat return pass that sent him scampering under the posts. Ford slouched back under his crossbar to a hail of ridicule from the travelling fans.

Referee Mr Rossleigh had waited over 20 minutes to award his first penalty (to Hornets) and his second (also to Hornets) came hot on its heels, but as Harvey Livett looked to spread the ball up the narrow-side, Toulouse winger Maurel snaffled a poor pass off the floor to go 70 metres and score.

In a bizarre moment of deja vu, Hornets were awarded a penalty when Luke Adamson was tackled in back-play supporting a Richard Lepori break. But when Danny Yates launched a long pass, it too was snatched out of the air - this time Marcon going 80 metres to score. Two gifted tries gave the home side momentum - and when Curran broke free after 36 minutes he too looked certain to score, but a great chase and tackle from Rob Massam halted his progress. As it was, Barthau stepped through a stretched Hornets defence to score on the next play. Exasperating.

Pretty much the last action of the half was Toulouse’s Kiwi lump - Mika crunching in to score. Half time 32-6 and the game basically gone.

Hornets were compelled to shuffle the backline for the second half: Jack Johnson removed feeling the effects of a head-knock, Richard Lepori moved to full-back and debutant Billy Brickhill slotted in at right centre - where he grew in stature was the half progressed.

28 points up, Toulouse staged a ludicrous assault on Luke Adamson: two players trying to hold him in place while Puech rained down punches. Mr Rossleigh consulted his touch-judge and dismissed both Adamson and Puech for 10 minutes. Having been outnumbered three to one, Adamson left the field to a tirade of jeers from the home supporters. Sporting.

After 15 minutes of sterling resistance, the Hornets defence cracked: a quick-fire double whammy from Kriouache and Canet doing the damage. And when Ford finally emerged from an hour’s nap to slide a kick into the 10m Union in-goal, Marcon scavenged on a Rob Massam slip to score.

The game ended with yet another moment of fortuity for the home side, Dec Gregory clipping the ball into Canet’s hands to take them over the half century.

All-up, it was a tough day at the office. Toulouse have a well-drilled, high quality side that looks like it can do some serious damage this season (assuming they don’t choke, d’accord).

Hornets gave it as good a dig as they were able. Competing well for periods, but looking vulnerable when the ball found its way to the enigmatic Ford, who slinks around with all the intensity of a bloke with more pressing things on his mind. They must wash his jersey once a month…

We were impressed with debutants Dec Gregory and Billy Brickhill. Gregory is a compact dynamo whose impact belies his size; Brickhill a solid, hardworking debut that oozed promise. Fellow debutant Blake Turner was overshadowed a bit by opposing forwards with serious NRL credentials, but it won’t be the same every week.

Special mention to the hardy knot of Hornets fans who made the trip to the South of France - especially given the weather conditions leading up to the game. Having sung themselves hoarse for the cause, they gave the home fans a lesson in heart , soul and passion. Indeed - unlike the scoreline - they were impossible to ignore.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Hard-working Hornets keep Killer’s Promise.

Hornets 20 - Halifax 26

Alan Kilshaw promised a response to last Monday’s disappointing game - and his side delivered. In spades.

Halifax carry real ambitions for the top four and beyond, but on this showing looked unlikely candidates for any shade of Championship glory as Hornets went agonisingly close to an old-skool upset.

Indeed, this was a proper game of inches; where tiny margins made the difference as both sides refused to back down from what is currently referred to as ‘the grind’.

There was little between the sides early doors, Halifax exerting some early pressure courtesy of some over-fussy refereeing. An early penalty for the visitors as full-back Sharp launched himself heading into on-rushing defenders as he gathered a kick (contact in the air), then Jo Taira snagged for what was - by his standards - a glancing contact that saw his intended target go down like a sack of spuds.

A ‘Fax break after 7 minutes was halted by a perfectly executed Richard Lepori tackle, but as Hornets responded with some incisive, expansive football, the last pass slipped teasingly from Deon Cross’ fingers.

That man Cross was involved again two minutes later when he intercepted a ropey Fax pass and hit the gas into open field - only for Mr Grant to play the ‘disadvantage’ and bring Hornets back to their own 10m line for a forward pass. We know… us neither…

On 11 minutes a snappy, direct approach-set containing a testing Richard Lepori break laid the foundation for Hornets to go wide where Rob Massam skinned his opposite number to score. Harvey Livett aded thew two and Hornets looked good value for the lead.

On the quarter mark, frustration at the ruck saw ‘Fax ship a soft penalty and Harvey Livett extended the lead by two points.

Unable to gain any meaningful advantage, Halifax looked short on ideas and long on exasperation - players in back-play, arms up, arguing with the referee. Hornets now in the groove - completing sets, drilling the ball into corners, walking Halifax back to start on their own 20m line.

On the half hour Lewis Palfrey was removed from the fray with a shoulder injury, then Halifax got a penalty - exploiting a reshuffling Hornets backline to break downfield where Earl Hurst produced a try-saving tackle. With numbers both sides, Halifax ran out of ideas. Pretty ordinary.

With the half draining away, Halifax finally found some momentum. A big 40/20, then a penalty took them within striking distance, but great defence forced the error. The next set produced a moment of base comedy. A Fax player lying in the ruck, Hornets play the ball under his body, Hornets acting half unable to get to the ball, Hornets penalty, Halifax player now magically injured. And we thought panto season was over…

With a minute left to play, Mr Grant gave Halifax back to back penalties that swept them 70 metres downfield, where hooker Kaye slumped in from acting half from 18 inches. Nice to watch. Tyrer hit the two and Halifax somehow still in it - 8-6 at the break.

Hornets began the second half with more sterling defence. And when Halifax shipped a penalty, Hornets marched downfield where Dave Allen drove the ball into traffic, sucking in tacklers before releasing a peach of a short ball for Pat Moran to score through a flat-footed defence. Harvey Livett raised the flags and Hornets ahead 14-6.

Halifax responded swiftly, playing some rare football for Sharp to score out wide (Tyrer lashing the kick spectacularly wide into the Pearl St end).

Then one of those freak moments that turn games. On the hour A Halifax set going nowhere ended in a kick and hope chip into space. The ball bounced cruelly in front of Deon Cross and Grix just managed to juggle it under control to score. Tyrer the extras and Halifax in front at 14-16 - as much to their surprise as everyone else’s.

But Hornets responded positively. More solid approach work, surmounted by Harvey Livett’s deliciously disguised dink that fell just beyond the reach of Danny Yates.

Once again let off, Halifax went wide where Sharp’s show & go up the left ended in a try. 14-20. Halifax now on a roll, thanks to an escalating penalty count.

On 65 minutes Hornets were pulled for a a high shot that was only seen by Mr Grant, Halifax sought the two; Tyrer once more executing like the bloke from your block of seats kicking for £50 at half time. Wide, low - and really bloody awful.

With the game approaching its denouement, there was a frantic passage of play off the back of a Jo Taira pop-out pass, halted when Halifax defenders ripped the ball from Harvey Livett’s grasp. Oh - and Halifax were given the feed at the scrum after Mr Grant failed to consult his guide dog.

To add insult to injury, Halifax were hauled upfield from yet another mystery penalty, where Barber prised a hole in a tired defence to score. Tyrer - just - added the two for 14-26.

Hornets marched straight downfield, played a bit of tidy football in front of the Halifax defence and - just as he was announced man-of-the-match - Harvey Livett showed good strength to wrestle through defenders and score. The extras a formality and 90 seconds remaining at 20-26.

Hornets moved the ball around and, with Trevor’s hand hovering over the hooter, launched a kick & chase into the space behind the Halifax defence. As Murrell scooped up the ball with the hooter sounding, Mr Grant called play back for an off the ball incident, giving Hornets the chance to kick downfield for one last miracle-play.

Fittingly it fell to Harvey Livett to produce a teasing, trickling kick through the Halifax line, but they managed to get enough bodies round the ball to hang on for the win. Breathless stuff.

Despite the defeat, Alan Kilshaw seemed the happier of the two coaches in post-match comments. Richard Marshall said it felt like a defeat - though, in reality, Halifax played as well as Hornets allowed them to.

The real positive is that Hornets have set a standard. Halifax fully expect that they will be challenging for the top four this season - which puts us in a good place. Yes, Hornets were scrappy at times; yes there were errors and yes, a 13-3 penalty count would punish the best of sides. But we can definitely say that we now have a benchmark for future performances.

And - looking at Leigh’s league position this morning - I know which team and which coach I’d put my faith in.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Sunday's Coming: Halifax

Sunday sees surrogate derby rivals Halifax make the trip over the tops.

Having lost at Fev in round one, followed by a thrashing of Sheffield in round two, Halifax come into Sunday’s game on the back of last week's gruelling battle with the Championship’s ‘Harlem Globetrotters’/WWF-style poseurs Manchestoronto Moosef*ckers (©Jerry Sadowitz 1991).

'Fax led 6-4 at the break and trailed just 12-6 going into the last 10 minutes, but they shipped two late Higson tries to flatter the visitors, who went some way to restoring their veneer of unconvincing invincibility.

Marshall blamed ‘errors’ for his side’s defeat, saying in the Halifax Courier this week: “It’s about controlling the ball a little bit better; we turned the ball over three or four times on tackle two… “We were creating chances, but not sealing the deal. We’ve got to get more composed.”

Indeed, from our point of view, Halifax focused well on ‘standing up’ to the brute-force aspect of Toronto’s game, but having done that, they kinda forgot to to try and play round them too. Toronto stayed patient, withstood the ‘grind’ and scored late, once ‘Fax had emptied the tank.

There was also a moment of controversy when winger Saltonstall was dumped dangerously in a horrific looking spear tackle, to which referee Jack Smith mislaid his backbone and waved only a yellow card at McCrone. On any other day - and with any other team - it was a nailed-on red.

But then no-one would want a repeat of the Barrow outcome, would they…

Richard Marshall has fine-tuned his squad this year, adding  Harry Kidd (University of Gloucestershire All Golds), Kian Morgan (Wakefield Trinity), Dan Fleming (Toronto)  and yet another Rugby League Fairbank in the shape of Halifax born Jack. Indeed,  Marshall has a first-team squad boasting 13 players from the town of Halifax. And we like that - a lot.

Marshall has also augmented his squad with Will Maher, Brandon Douglas and James Clare on loan/DR from Castleford (Clare has haunted us in the past, when he played on DR at York - no more so than the time they flogged us at Featherstone’s Post Office Rd).

Hornets’ preparation for Sunday was a harsh reality check from Dewsbury Rams. Having missed rounds 1 and 2, Killer’s side looked a bit undercooked in the first 40 minutes, but rallied to put in a much improved second-half performance.

It came at a price, though, with Ben Moore, Matty Hadden and Gaz Middlehurst picking up knocks in the process, to add injuries to insult in this shocking start to 2018.

But if strength comes from adversity, then Hornets should be throroughly annealed by now - and we’ll need all the physical and mental toughness we can muster over the next few testing weeks.

A more immediate concern, though is meteorological. Weather experts predicting plummeting temperatures as we head for a forecast record-testing cold snap. Pray for sunshine - and we’ll see you Sunday.

Monday, 19 February 2018

I don't like Mondays

Hornets 6 - Dewsbury 38

After a fortnight of frustration, Hornets finally got 2018 underway with a Monday night performance that bore all the hallmarks of having not played for a month.

In a first 40 minutes of missed tackles, misfired passes, mistimed runs, and frankly miserable handling, a fit and firing Dewsbury raced into an unassailable lead, leaving a punch-drunk Hornets reeling by 0-32 at the break.

Dewsbury laid their stall out early doors, forcing a drop-out first set, then going wide to Worrincy, only to be pulled for a forward pass.

On 7 minutes Gary Middlehurst was snagged for interference at a tackle and, in the following set, Morton out-sprang debutant Deon Cross to open the scoring.

Hornets were still struggling to settle: Lewis Palfrey and Earl Hurst both snatching at passes, the latter gathered by Glover who strolled 30 metres to score. Sykes with the extras and Dewsbury 0-10 to the good.

Just three minutes later saw an almost carbon copy error: this time Dec Kay was relieved of the ball after a lazy Dewsbury kick downfield, and Worrincy bullied his way to the line. No mistake from Sykes and the Rams chasing the clock at 0-16.

Hornets continued to sputter: Hurst again coughing the ball in the tackle, then Middleurst coming up with a high shot to ship a penalty. Thankfully, Dewsbury threw a ridiculous forward pass to relieve the pressure: briefly.

On 25 minutes Joe Taira’s impact was considered a little too robust. A brief flurry of handbags and Gary Middlehurst dispatched to the sin-bin: cause unclear.

On the half hour, Hornets finally go to play some football in the Dewsbury 20m zone: Danny Yates’ kick just beyond the reach of Rob Massam. On the next foray into Dewsbury territory, they went to the same spot with the same plan - yielding the same outcome.

On 33 minutes Hornets were penalised for not being square at the play-the-ball, 90 seconds after Dewsbury had committed the same offence with no punishment. Poor.

Dewsbury gratefully received possession, Knowles jabbed a kick into the in-goal and Brown touched down through a static defence.

And if that wasn’t enough, Worrincy’s 90 metre kick return to score on the hooter put the lid on a singularly difficult first half in which Hornets shipped 32 unanswered points.

The second half was a very different proposition, Hornets finally finding their feet to staunch the flow of points. Unlike the first forty, Hornets were quick off the line, aggressive in the tackle and drew Dewsbury into a real arm wrestle.

For 20 minutes Dewsbury plugged away at the Hornets defence - unlocked eventually on the hour when Guzdek hit a Sykes miracle-ball at pace to score from 40 metres. Sykes the two for 0-38.

Hornets’ response was pretty immediate. A direct approach-set and Luke Adamson racing under the black-dot from a neat short pass. Livett added the two - and the arm wrestle resumed.

It’s fair to say that - beyond exchanging sets - not a great deal of any import happened from there on in. The ‘highlight’ of the last 20 minutes being Sykes’ piss-taking attempt at a drop goal.

After such a shocking opening half, it was heartening to see Hornets regroup to draw the second half 6-all. With a few players carrying bumps - and a few still out with injuries - Hornets are doing it tough at the moment. But there’s a long way to go.

As D-ream said: things can only get better. Here’s hoping.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Monday's Coming: Dewsbury Rams

For the third time of asking, Hornets endeavour to get this wretched 2018 season underway - on a somewhat unusual Monday night: again at the behest of the football club, whose game against Spurs has been selected by the BBC to entertain the nation on Sunday afternoon (sadly it clashes with The Spongebob Movie, so we’ll miss it).

And, yet again, the only story in town has been the state of the Spotland pitch.

After suggesting that its quicksand consistency constituted a danger (of sinking without trace, we assume), Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino was shamed into an apology on Friday, after our landlords took the bold decision to re-lay the pitch this week. Dale Chairman Chris Dunphy told Press Association Sport: “It's beautiful… it's like a snooker table.”

Less impressed was Dewsbury Rams coach Neil Kelly who said in the Dewsbury Reporter this week:  “I am just disappointed that Tottenham have not agreed to fund our game to play it at Wembley. We can’t be 100 per cent sure that the game will even take place, but we need to prepare for it.”

Dewsbury have begun this season in better shape than last. Two home games have yielded a 20-12 win over Sheffield, and an impressive 0-12 defeat to London Broncos, who are tipped by many to make a charge for the top four this season, and who shoved 50 points through Barrow in Round 1).

The loss of two points to London was probably no great surprise, but the big impact was the loss of
gun half-back Gareth Moore, who was carried from the field with what looked like a heavy knock to the head injury following an off the ball incident . In typical robust fashion, it was put on report.

Moore was hospitalised on Sunday evening and will undergo mandatory concussion tests before a decision will be made on his availability for Monday.

After the game Kelly identified a lack of creativity and nous as key reasons for the defeat. Again, in the Dewsbury Reporter he said:  “We spoke in the changing room about the amount of possession we had in good positions, especially in the second half. It was probably enough to win three or four games…  Last week I commented that we weren’t smart enough, as we were giving away too many penalties, which gave Sheffield the opportunity to come and attack us.”

“Maybe we have neglected that in the last few weeks, and this game against London has shown that just banging your head against a brick wall isn’t good enough. Even though that is sheer, honest effort, we need to have more invention in last third of the field.”

Kelly has brought in nine new players this year to bolster his squad: Harry Woollard, Billy Hayes, Jared Simpson and Matty English from Huddersfield Giants, Kyle Trout from Sheffield, Jordan Crowther from Wakefield Trinity, Sam Day from Fev plus Rob Worrincy and Martin Reilly from Halifax.

They lined up last week as follows: Guzdek; Simpson, Glover, Hallett, Morton; Sykes, Moore; Sheriffe, Ward, Teanby, Crowther, Hayes, Brown. Subs: Speakman, Trout, Walshaw, English.

The Ram’s real threat  comes courtesy of the Paul Sykes/Gareth Moore axis at half back - a lethal combination of experience and innovation that turns a workmanlike side into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Hornets meantime have been battling away on a couple of fronts. On the playing side, we can only imagine the frustration of players and coaching staff as the 2018 train has got underway without them; whilst off the field the club continues to wrestle with a month in which it’s had zero revenue.

Indeed, you may well have seen our ‘online bucket collection’ on Just Giving, through which we hope to raise £5,000 to offset some of those losses. The response from fans across the game has been amazing - taking us almost a quarter of the way to our target, having raised £1165 so far.

As fans/members/owners of our club, all we can do is implore you to help. We will have at least one actual bucket at the game on Monday evening, so please do dig deep and help get Hornets through this horrible period.


Let’s get behind the guys in numbers on Monday night - they’ve been slogging their guts out all winter for this moment, and they deserve our backing. And don’t forget - under 16's go free on Monday night, with a full paying adult.  One more time: Let’s do it folks. See you there.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Sunday's Coming: Swinton

Whilst we’re all now champing at the bit to get 2018 underway, all talk of the last week has been of the Batley postponement and the consequent financial implications.

At its most basic, the loss of one of February’s three games deprives our club of 30% of it’s forecast revenue for the month and - after our observations last week of the impacts of the off-season budgetary issues - creates yet another financial hurdle to be negotiated.

Yes, we know that the 25 year lease on Scotland contains a clause whereby any game postponed at the behest of our landlords incurs a compensation payment, but the money that the Batley game would have yielded is needed right now to cover immediate costs.

And, if that situation wasn’t enough to make you shudder, the football club’s continued participation in the FA cup brings Spurs to Spotland for a televised tie on the day we should be playing Dewsbury (our suggestion: switch it to Wembley, have a big day out, pocket the cash and buy some grass seed).

As we said last week - testing times for all concerned.

As for the pitch situation, it has been mentioned endlessly in the media this week, variously between ‘limiting’ and ‘disgraceful’. Word reaches us that the football club has put the groundsman on gardening leave. God help his garden.

Having fought off their own financial demons last year, a new board looks to have steadied the Swinton ship for 2018. Key to that is the recent conformation of their dual-registration agreement with Wigan for 2018

Speaking in the the M.E.N, Swinton chairman Andy Mazey said: "With a tight budget and a small squad this year whilst we rebuild our club sustainably, the partnership with Wigan provides us with the ability to source quality players to supplement our squad when Stuart deems it necessary.”

The Lions began their 2018 campaign with a trip to Toulouse, where they were on the wrong end of a 32-point battering as TOXIIIC logged eight individual try scorers.

Swinton shipped five tries in the last quarter of an hour to go down 46-14. Interestingly, their only points of the second half came from the boot of Hankinson, futilely kicking into the 20-12 half-time deficit  after 56 minutes.

Swinton lined up:
1 Gabriel Fell
2 Mike Butt
3 Chris Hankinson
4 George Tyson
5 James Worthington
6 Danny Ansell
7 Jack Hansen
8 Andy Bracek
9 Hayden Hansen
10 Kyle Shelford
11 Rhodri Lloyd
12 Matt Sarsfield
13 Josh Barlow
14 Oliver Davies
15 Oliver Partington
16 Chris Worrall
17 Connor Taylor

Swinton also took a bit of an off-field bruising: we hear reports that one of their fans was jumped in Toulouse, suffering a broken cheek-bone and a stolen mobile. We wish him a quick recovery.

Coach Stuart Littler has undertaken what the Lions website describes as an ’extensive squad rebuilding’ exercise, bringing in nine new faces

We have Swinton’s 2018 intake as:
Kyle Shelford and Gabriel Fell (both Wigan), Marcus Webb and Danny Ansell  (both Hunslet)
Jesse Jo Sherriffe (Keighley), Chris Worrall (University of Gloucestershire All Golds), Hayden Hansen (Redcliffe Dolphins), Conor Taylor (Warrington) and the Championship’s favourite loose-cannon/sociopath George Tyson from Oldham.

Traditionally, there’s never been very much between ourselves and Swtinton so, as always, we are anticipating a close fought encounter at Heywood Road - and as our delayed season debut, it’d be good to get down there in numbers and make some noise.

AND DON’T FORGET: TLCRF80mins will be having a whip round on Sunday to raise some cash to help Hornets fill the financial hole left by the postponement of the Batley game, which deprives  us of 30% of February’s forecast revenue. We’re trying to get 500 RL fans to chuck in a tenner, with £5,000 our target, so please dig deep and help keep us start the season in as positive a way as possible. 

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Sunday's Coming: Batley

“Adversity has the same effect on a man that severe training has on the pugilist: it reduces him to his fighting weight.”

US writer Henry Wheeler Shaw was an insightful bloke.  And, if what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, Hornets should come out of pre-season in reasonably solid shape.

A series of challenges have tested the club’s fortitude over the the winter, but in typical battling fashion, we go to the 2018 start-line on Sunday ready for another Championship season.

Not withstanding the budgetary adjustment, a Spotland pitch that continues to rot in front of your very eyes, and the loss of club statesman Ray Myers, Alan Kilshaw has pulled the squad tight and got us ready to go. Indeed, Sunday’s kick off should come as both a relief and a release.

We start this year’s journey - like last year - in Heavy Woollen fashion: this time facing Matt Diskin’s Batley Bulldogs, who’ve cornered the market in perfunctory, hard-to-beat obstinance. Having been blindly robbed at the Mount last year, Hornets were overcome in the return fixture by a side that wrung every last drop of its Championship nous out of a performance that was as brutally ugly as it was ruthlessly effective (Batley winning 14-24)

We wrote: “Batley arrived at Spotland with a win-at-all-costs gameplan that tested tyro referee Liam Moore capabilities to the limit - the Bulldogs shipping 12 of the game's 21 penalties as they brawled, sprawled and - eventually - spoiled every last ounce of quality from the game. With a huge pack, Batley's half-backs had a single purpose - to feed the forwards into traffic and grind out a win of any shade.”

And we anticipate more of the same this time round, the off-season having been a period of consolidation and augmentation. As far as we can see, the ‘Dogs have only lost Cain Southernwood (to Hunslet), Diskin having added Jonny Campbell and Keenan Tomlinson (Bradford Bulls), Izaac Farrell (Huddersfield Giants – loan), Tom Hemingway (Dewsbury Rams), Tom Holland (Whitehaven), Michael Ward (Oldham) and a certain Lewis Galbraith to his squad.

Batley come to Spotland having won three from three pre-season games. Having seen off Wakefield’s academy 24-12 and Keighley Cougars 0-28, the Dogs were unconvincing at Doncaster at weekend, struggling to shrug-off the League 1 outfit at the Keepmoat.

Having led 10- 20 at the break and 16-36 deep into the second half, Batley’s defence knocked-off early to finish clinging-on for a narrow 34-36 win - the home side aided and abetted by Farrell’s yellow-card for a professional foul.

Batley Lined up: David Scott, Wayne Reittie, Jason Crookes, Lewis Galbraith, Shaun Ainscough, Patrick Walker, Dominic Brambani, Adam Gledhill, Tom Hemingway, Tommy Holland, Dane Manning, James Harrison and James Brown.  Interchanges – Izaac Farrell, Keenan Tomlinson, Michael Ward, Alistair Leak, Alex Rowe, James Davey, Danny Cowling and Joe Chandler.

The Batley threat - as always - comes courtesy of their half back pairing of Patch Walker and Dominic Brambani who act as flywheel and governor at the heart of the Bulldogs machine. Their edges of Shaun Ainscough and Pound-Shop Vin Diesel™ Wayne Reittie are both no-nonsense, route-one finishers.

This year Ainscough comes paired with Trigger. If ever there was a case of watching your ex. snog your mate’s idiot brother, this is it. On the plus side, we all know where his frailties lie, so there’s an opportunity to exploit that familiarity.

Diskin starts the season minus prop Tom Lillycrop who dislocated a shoulder in the 28-0 pre-season win at Keighley Cougars and faces a lengthy absence.

On the home front, we’re excited to see the new iteration of Killer’s Hornets in action. After a close-season that has seen what feels like a pretty heavy turnover of personnel, we can’t wait to see the impact that the new guys will have. For those of you who’ve lost track, the new members of the Hornets squad are:

Luke Adamson (Oldham)
Toby Adamson (Dewsbury Rams)
Dave Allen (Whitehaven)
Earl Hurst (North Wales Crusaders)
Richard Lepori (Oldham)
Harry Reardon (Warrington Wolves)
Blake Turner (North Wales Crusaders)
Alex Gaskell (University of Gloucestershire All Golds)
Billy Brickhill (University of Gloucestershire All Golds)
Aiden Hema (Halifax)
Dec Gregory (Hemel Stags)
Callum Mulkeen (North Wales Crusaders)
Deon Cross (Blackbrook)

The squad has a good mix of experience and raw talent - which makes not an unknown quantity for us too. But, as we always do, lets don our colours one more time and get behind our team. Whatever waits for us between now and September, ultimately, unity will pull us through. We ask 100% of those who wear the jersey on our behalf - and it’s beholden on us to give the same level of commitment if we are to haul this club of ours all the way to a successful outcome.

Regardless of which side of the wall we spend our Sunday afternoons, we are all Hornets. We stand together, we pull together and we fight together. And while we surely will lose together too, the rewards for winning together will make it all the more satisfying.

Suck it in folks. Here we go…

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Sunday's Coming. And Hornets Lose a Legend.

Sunday sees North Wales Crusaders come to Spotland, for a game that will play with your mind.

Coached by former Hornet - and all-round RL nice guy Mike Grady - and… er… former Hornet Jonny Leather, the Crusaders squad has an eerily familiar look to it.

With a Cru’ team containing former Hornets Steve Roper, Dale Bloomfield, Ryan Smith, James Dandy, Joe Bate, Jordan Case, Alex Trumper and Woz Thompson, it promises to be an interesting ‘reunion’ for Grady’s new-look North Wales.

Speaking on this week, Grady said of what will be his side’s first hit-out of the year: “I’m expecting a really tough test – but that’s just what you want. Whilst it is a friendly, there’s a few lads on either side who have switched clubs, and there’s also a bit of a rivalry between the two sides, so that adds to what promises to be a great match.”

Indeed, previous encounters with Crusaders have been a bit on the feisty side - the last ditch win at Cefn Druids a couple of years ago a particularly spicy favourite of ours. The winning try that day was scored by Dale Bloomfield, who on Sunday lines up for North Wales against his opponent from that game Rob Massam.

Ray Myers - forever a champion: “I am still on cloud nine,
who said dreams don't come true? It was a perfect day”
Whilst Sunday’s game promises to be interesting on lots of fronts, there really is only one story this week - and that’s the passing of one of the club’s senior statesmen, Ray Myers.

Ray first went to the Athletic Grounds aged eight - and by his own admission he wasn’t impressed. Five years later - in 1953 - he was persuaded to try again - on the promise of seeing  “a player so fast he could catch pigeons” - Wally McArthur.

This time Ray was impressed enough to stay - for 65 years: spending 36 of those as club timekeeper, retiring after our Grand Final win in 2013. In recognition of his service, Ray was awarded honorary life membership of the club and in 2013 was inducted into the ‘Heroes of Hornets’.

Respected throughout the game as a true ambassador for Rochdale Hornets, Ray’s commitment to the cause was revealed early on, when he quit his first job at Bateson’s Hardware shop in Rochdale because he had to work on Saturdays - which clashed with Hornets matches.

A Hornet to his core,  Ray will be remembered by all who met him for the love of his club, his encyclopaedic knowledge of Rugby League, the warmth of his handshake and his seemingly bottomless repertoire of jokes.

Our thoughts are with Ena, family and friends.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Hard-Working Hornets take Wolves to the Wire

Hornets 10 - Warrington 24

It’s a long way from Caringbah to Spotland, but in the last six months that’s the journey taken by Warrington’s new coach Steve Price. Bumping into the former Illawarra St George Dragons coach before the game did require a bit of a double-take (last time we saw him was at WIN Stadium) - and his debut in the British game saw his Super League Wolves eventually overhaul a much improved Hornets in a close and combative contest.

Hornets started with real intent. An early ‘bump and break’ from Jo Taira saw him feed his fellow prop Matty Hadden through a flat-footed Wire defence from close range. Yatesey the extras, Hornets ahead of the clock and a decent Wolves following left shaking heads.

The visitors finally entered the fray after 8 minutes when a Lineham break and a no-look speculator was deemed to have hit a Hornets hand in flight. From the resulting scrum Johnson hit a short ball at pace to score. Ex- Sharks, ‘Dogs and Souths three-quarter Goodwin hit the spot to tie the scores.

With both sides exchanging frequent knock-ons, the game became a scrappy arm-wrestle.

On the quarter mark, Livett was forced into a last-tackle fumble by some determined defence. The Wire then gave away a sloppy penalty as Hornets turned up the heat, but Yatesey’s let tackle kick was just too long for Rob Massam.

In the next set a moment of old-stool slapstick as an Earl Hurst tackle shredded the shirt from Moran’s back, leaving the warrington player temporarily exposed.

An increasingly frustrated Warrington side began shipping penalties to give Hornets the momentum. On 25 minutes a shift to the left edge was only halted when Lineham knocked down the pass; then Hughes was shown the yellow card for a late shoulder on Danny Yates. Before he’d reached the bench, his side had coughed another penalty for interference 10 metres out. 12-man Warrington clearly rattled.

The recrimination for their behaviour was immediate: Hornets took the ball close to the line, where Ryan Maneely exposed some lazy marking to burrow in from acting half. 10-6.

Warrington got lucky from the kick-off, a swirling kick and a wicked bounce gave them good position in the Hornets half. Then a penalty gave them a strong attacking platform. Just past the half hour a grubber going nowhere was fumbled by Dec Kay and Livett snaffled the loose ball to grab a fortuitous try. Goodwin on target to edge Warrington ahead 10-12.

With the half running on fumes, former England prop Ben Westwood had a spectacular brain-fart: penalised for a clear double movement, he was then yellow-carded for dissent. We’re pretty certain that a sin-binning for back-chat in a pre-season game in Rochdale won’t make it into his career highlights.

Westwood’s act of extreme dumb-assery brought the half to a close: Hornets trailing by just the two points.

Warrington started the second-half with noticeably more intent; going wide to both edges early-doors to test a Hornets defence that scrambled well. But the pressure told on 50 minutes when King arrived at pace into space off an inside ball to bisect the defence and score. No mistake from Goodwin; 10-18.

On 54 minutes Ben Moores was snagged for one of the more bizarre penalties we’ve seen: interference with the tackler whilst in the act of playing the ball. We know - us neither…

As the game settled into a midfield struggle, Hornets found space to produce some tidy football: first some concerted pressure where makeshift stand-off Ben Moores’ last tackle dink was well handled by the Wolves defence. Then a mazy 60 metre break by Danny Yates  off a loose Wire pass - twisting and turning defenders en-route upfield, where Warrington gave away yet another soft penalty. Hornets turned the screw with some direct forward running, but  - again - the defence had the measure of Ben Moores’ kick.

Having matched their Super League opponents for long periods, the visitors full-time class and fitness finally told: a 75th minute shift to an edge for Prell to score by the flag. Goodwin with his fourth from four to give Warrington a 10-24 win.

In the wash-up, this was a fiercely contested, no-nonsense workout for both sides. Hornets looking much more cohesive and showing some mice touches; Warrington relying on their nous and class to pull then through.  In his post-match comments, Alan Kilshaw was pleased with the progress made this week.

As for Steve Price, he starts his UK venture with a win - and we can promise that it’ll get warmer. Eventually.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

A Law Unto Itself

Hornets 24 - Oldham 28

Forget form, forget league status, forget everything you know about the game. The Law Cup exists in a unique Rugby League bubble; a hermetically-sealed 80 minutes of boiled-down, distilled, concentrated local emnity where two of world RL’s oldest rivals bust gut and sinew for a pot first awarded in 1921.

In any other circumstance, this would be considered a ‘friendly’ - but at either end of the A627M, it has hallowed status: genuine history in progress and that most rarified of prizes: local bragging rights.

Played out in plummeting temperatures buy two nascent, undercooked sides (Oldham fielding 10 debutants, Hornets 11), this was a victory for stubborn effort rather than flowing football. And given the incestuous, soap-opera nature of the history between these two venerable clubs, former Hornets marksman Paul Crook came back to provide the crucial penalties that proved the difference between the two teams.

On a bleak evening where even the floodlights struggled to penetrate the gloom, Hornets began with a knock-on and a couple of soft penalties - and the visitors capitalised after 10 minutes, working the ball wide for Reid to score by the flag. No conversion from Crook; 0-4.

Oldham continued to dominate possession, Hornets working overtime on defence - the home side eventually completing a set after 12 minutes, pinning Oldham into a corner - and when Ben Moores backed up a Gaz Middlehurst break to score, Lewis Palfrey added the extras to edge Hornets ahead.

Palfrey then blotted his copy-book minutes later, failing to find touch from a penalty 10 metres from the touchline.

Hornets lead was doubled on 24 minutes when a kick into the Oldham in-goal induced chaos and Gary Middlehurst provided a cool head and quick reactions to touch down. Palfrey the extras for 12-4.

Oldham responded in kind, working good field position for Crook to hoist a teasing kick into the corner, where Barlow reached out to score. Crook with the kick off the touchline to take Hornets into the sheds holding a slender 12-10 lead.

In a case of deja-vu, Hornets began the second half with a fumbled ball and a penalty from a Dave Allen tackle interpreted as a high-shot by the eagle-eyed touchie. Crook took the gift two to tie the scores at 12-all.

As multiple interchanges began to impact on the rhythm of both teams, the game became a battle of wills - stern defence from both sides limiting any fluid football. But on the hour, Gaz Middlehurst and Dave Allen contrived to concede a penalty for hanging around too long in the tackle. Crook didn’t need asking twice, slotting the penalty to nudge Oldham in front.

Within a minute, the visitors had extended their lead: a huge break  and an outrageous dummy from Reid leaving the Hornets defence flat-footed, Crook on-target and Oldham 12-20 to the good.

Hornets replied with a foray up the left flank, but Callum Mulkeen ran out of field amongst gathering defenders. No matter, on 70 minutes Luke Adamson charged down Hewitt’s kick, scooping up the loose ball to score from 30 metres. Palfrey on target for 18-20 and a grandstand finish in prospect.

As it was, the visitors found something out of nothing when a Crook kick into the in-goal found Nield's outstretched hand for 18-24. Crook no mistake with the conversion: 18-26.

Hornets then failed to send the kick-off 10 metres and, when Oldham were handed another penalty, Crook completed a good night with the boot for 18-28.

Hornets rallied late when Blake Turner showed impressive guile to muscle over from close range, Lewis Palfrey adding the extras for a final score of 24-28. Close, but no cigar.

It’s hard to be objective about quite possibly this most meaningful of ‘friendlies’, but this was an attritional battle on an awful pitch by two teams still finding their shape. Both coaches will have taken much from this: Oldham looking in reasonable shape, we thought; Hornets still a work in progress.

And with progress in mind, we look forward to Saturday’s challenge when Hornets take on Super League partners Warrington Wolves, kick off 3pm. See you there.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

2018 starts here

Happy new year folks - welcome to 2018.

This isn’t quite the match-preview I though I’d be writing to herald a new Championship pre-season.

Originally it was going to mention the rich history of the Law Cup (first played May 7, 1921 in front of 6.000 spectators at The Athletic grounds: final score nil-nil); the ins, outs and cross-overs between us and Oldham (ex-Hornets Danny Bridge, Danny Rasool, Jack Holmes to the ‘yeds; ex Oldham’s Lewis Palfrey, Miles Greenwood, David Allen, Luke Adamson, Richard Lepori and Gary Middlehurst now at Hornets); and - of course - the return of the Ginger General Paul Crook to Spotland in ill-fitting red and white hoops (1,499 points for Hornets, equalling the 82 year club record).

Originally we were going to write about the excitement for one of the most keenly anticipated Law Cups for many a year.

But excitement for the new season has been tempered by the news that an unforeseen hole in Hornets finances due to the collapse of a key sponsor has led to a forced recalibration of the budget for 2018. It is fair to say that this is a concern for fans, but when a club operates on such fine financial margins as Hornets does, any shortfall or minor miscalculation can cause an immediate and damaging knock-on effect.

Whilst Hornets’ small management team (helped by supporter volunteers) burns the midnight oil balancing the books and managing the fall-out, it’s worth reminding fans that - as a members-owned club - we ‘owners’ also have a responsibility for helping address issues arising.

As a fan-owned club, top-down investment must come from the owners - that’s you and me (if you’re a member). The club has had a pretty good run as a fan-owned concern over the last 10 years: trophies lifted, finals won, promotion gained - but all of this creates an increasing financial burden and, as fans and owners, we have to find ways to help alleviate this.

There are some pretty straightforward ways: become a member on standing order, increase your level of membership, sponsor a player/game/matchball or chuck a couple of quid in the bucket collection - every little helps. But the immediate need is for more than a little. In an ideal world Hornets would find 90 benefactor fans who’d invest £500 in the team to cover the shortfall. But the world we live in is less than ideal. All we can do at TLCRF80mins - as fans, members and lovers of this club - is implore everyone to help out in whatever way they can (we’ll be sponsoring a matchball later in the year - and auctioning off the places round our table, so keep an eye open for that one).

Having struggled back from the dead to put our club in the Championship - against most odds and expectations - is a remarkable feat, but we can’t sit back and admire the achievement. Passive fan-ownership is ok for ongoing survival - it will give you relative success in League 1. But If we are to raise our game as a club and become an established Championship side, we need to find ways to raise enough cash to make that possible. And we can’t wear ‘the smallest budget in the league’ as a badge of underdog honour any more. There are teams here with ten-times our budget - and if we are to compete, we need a bit more financial firepower.

We know as well as anyone that Hornets don’t have a secret millionaire lurking amongst us, and we know that everyone is skint after Xmas - but our hard-working, battling, amazing little club needs our help.

As we never tire of saying - every penny raised helps make us stronger and more secure. Offers of Help/investment/donations to new Hornets CEO Steve Kerr on 01706 648004 - or DM us via Twitter @TLCRF80mins

See you Wednesday night.