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.