Monday, 21 May 2018

Unlucky Hornets Go Close

Batley 23 - Hornets 14

As Mount Pleasant baked in the afternoon sun, Hornets game agonisingly close to stealing this one from under Batley’s nose.

The somewhat distended scoreline belies how close this game was. It certainly doesn’t reflect the fact that, for large tracts of this game, Hornets were the only side wiling to play lucid football of any description and - but for two harsh refereeing calls - we could easily be writing up an entirely different outcome.

Indeed, while the Batley machine churned away in the background, Hornets produced some of their most fluid, dynamic football of the season thus far - and at the heart of this was a towering performance from Lee Mitchell, who covered every blade of grass on attack and defence in a perpetual motion display that Batley found hard to handle.

Facing a literal uphill first half, it wasn’t the finest of starts for Hornets - making a complete hash of the kick-off to give Batley an early platform. The home side pressed hard but were held-up in goal - then they knocked on. Phew…

Hornets responded positively, shoving Batley’s plus-sized pack back up the hill: Earl Hurst wiped out late by a high shot en-route: Referee Mr Dolan opting for just a penalty. Hornets’ retribution was swift. Fast hands across the park found Dec Kay in the line and his pinpoint cut-out pass found Rob Massam who acrobatically finished in the corner in front of the celebrating travelling support.

Batley got a lucky break on 14 minutes. Mr Dolan appeared to stop play for a Batley forward pass, only to give the home side a mystery penalty. Brambani taking advantage to step through a retreating defence to score. Walker the extras and Batley ahead 6-4.

The home side then capitalised on this momentum shift: a huge line-break by Batley lump Rowe  sending Harrison under the black dot. Walker on target to extend Batley’s lead to 12-4.

With the momentum in their favour, Batley sucked the game into a midfield battle where they feel more comfortable and which restricted Hornets’ desire to move the ball. But on 28 minutes, Hornets produced a moment of free-play magic: Dave Allen forcing a Batley error, Danny Yates gathering the loose ball, launching Rob Massam up the touchline. The Welsh flyer burned 70 metres up the slope and, with defenders gathering, found Deon Cross in support to score the try of the game. Wonderful stuff. Tyler Whittaker added the extras and Hornets were back in the chase at 12-10.

But Batley regrouped, played through their sets and - on 32 minutes - Farrel produced a nice drop-off pass for Bretherton to score. Walker the two and Batley eight points to the good down the slope with half-time looming.

There was still time for Hornets to go close: another attack up the left, but Rob Massam was bundled into touch as he lunged for the corner. Half time 18-10 - and Hornets looking forward to playing downhill.

The second half began with both sides exchanging drop-outs - between which Dec Kay was helped from the field with a leg injury.

As Hornets shuffled the backline (Richard Lepori to Full-back, Alex Gaskell onto the wing), Batley capitalised: Farrell mugging defenders from close range with a cheap dummy. Walker comedically wide with the conversion attempt and Hornets left in search of two scores at 22-10.

Hornets continued to press: a big last tackle kick from Danny Yates falling to Rob Massam who was harried into touch; then Earl Hurst unable to find a way to the line as the defence appeared to part.

On 67 minutes Hornets looked to have the break-through: Lee Mitchell with the break, his pass sending Alex Gaskell into acres of open space - only for Mr Dolan to deem the pass forward. The travelling support unconvinced.

Then Mr Dolan found a knock-on in Danny Yates’ last tackle chip & chase. Frustration.

On 70 minutes, Batley rumbled to life long enough for Farrell to drop a goal that left Hornets needing  three scores to win. And two minutes later, quick-hands wide found Rob Massam with space to round Ainscough and score.

With the clock ticking down (and Batley effectively having parked the bus), Hornets continued to push forward and when Jordan Syme split defenders up the channel to break downfield to launch Deon Cross towards the line, he too was pulled for a forward pass. Agonising stuff.

So, don’t read too much into the scoreline: this was a performance of determination, dynamism and dexterity that deserved more. But, again, we saw in Batley the ability to dictate the pace and pattern of the game at key times - to suck the daylight out of the game and grind it into stasis. Indeed, someone commented afterwards that not only do they know how to play the game, they know how to play the referee - and it’s that kind of ugly nous that comes with experience.

But the Hornets positives were there for all to see: a significantly improved performance and a clear mandate for the players to be expressive and expansive. The noisy appreciation of the travelling support proof that things are heading in the right direction - and the knowledge that a clutch of players are close to a return should give everyone heart for the back half of the season.

While Hornets were battling at Batley, Swinton tossed away what looked a likely win to hand Barrow a draw with the last kick of the game. Which tees up next weekend’s game at the Summer Bash nicely - if ever two teams needed a win…

Again, we urge all Hornets supporters to get themselves over to Blackpool and get behind the lads. There are still some tickets remaining at the club office, so don’t leave it too long (call in at the office between 10am and 4pm, or call 01706 648004).

This year seating is unreserved, so It’s easier for fans to get together and make some noise: the tenuous plan after yesterday’s game was for Hornets fans to meet in a block as close to the back of the dugouts as possible. So wear your colours (if only so we can find each other), bring your singing voice and let’s have another day to remember.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Deja-Vu: Batley

it’s with a sense of deja-vu that we head for Batley’s Mount (un)Pleasant for part two of this back-to-back fixture ‘double-header’:  the ‘Dogs having the advantage after last week’s win over a busted Hornets who tried hard but eventually buckled under the strain of a mounting injury list.

A Hornets team pulled out of shape, backfilling with willing bodies, was the perfect foil for Batley’s industrial ‘play-by-process’ style. The game was a series of object lessons in exploiting weaknesses: Force errors, build pressure, exploit uncertainty, run big guys at small guys, run quick guys at tired defenders, suck ‘em in, switch it out. Indeed, Batley played their way through the procedure and die-cut themselves a comfortable win.

Whilst it might be a style untroubled by aesthetics, it is ruthlessly effective So how do Hornets chuck a spanner into the ‘Dogs… er… cogs?

Whilst it was frustrating, last year’s trip to the Mount gives us a big pointer. As Batley ground through the gears, Hornets played a high-tempo, expansive game that  - courtesy of two preposterously poor refereeing decisions - very nearly paid off. Only when Hornets got sucked into the home side’s ‘process’ did Batley make progress.

In his video preview, Alan Kilshaw did confirm the return of Dave Allen, Earl Hurst and Richard Lepori to the squad for Sunday, so there’ll be an uplift in experience in key positions as Hornets look to gain some momentum ahead of next week’s trip to Blackpool.

Indeed, we are told that the club still has some tickets remaining for the Blackpool Bash, so why not come and join us for a great day out.

Meantime, see you Sunday.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Hornets Suffer Industrial Action

Hornets 10 - Batley 48

It was a classic case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ on Saturday as Hornets buckled under the strain of a growing injury list that left the team shored up by an ever increasing number of kids, loanees and DRs. Having lost Gary Middlehurst and Lewis Hatton in last week’s Dewsbury game, Hornets this week lost Dave Allen ahead of the warm-up, necessitating a reshuffle of the pack and the introduction of Alex Gaskell into the 17.

Indeed, Batley’s rather special brand of utilitarian industrial-process football is hard enough to overcome with a full strength side, so when Hornets took a shock lead after 13 minutes - Dec kay dancing through a flat-footed defence after 13 minutes - expectations were temporarliy raised.

But as Batley’s heavy-duty approach began to gain traction, they slowly hauled the game their way, building pressure as Hornets struggled to get out of their own half. Batley cane close after 17 minutes, but Rowe backed into the post on the last tackle when it looked easier to score. But, when Deon Cross fell victim to a spiralling bomb and Hornets were snagged offside in the aftermath, Batley sub Ward went slumping in from 18 inches. Walker the extras and Batley edging ahead.

Then more pressure from the visitors: Jo Taira snagged for a penalty attending his first tackle, then Rob Massam knocking the ball dead after Batley had stretched the defence. But Hornets stood their ground.

Starved of the ball for much of the first half hour, Hornets needed a break - which came when Danny Yates went skittering through a hole to unzip the Batley defence, but his inside pass out of the tackle  went to ground. Off the hook, Batley trundled back upfield where Hornets defence switched off on the last tackle to allow Crookes to lean in and score. Walker the two and Batley extending their lead to 4-12.

Hornets did endeavour to play some football - Seta Tala launching Rob Massam for the corner after 34 minutes, only to see him bundled into touch by the flag.

With the half running on fumes and Hornets now on the ropes,. Batley hit them with a late double whammy - Galbraith stepping up the left edge; Day backing up a Walker break - to give half-time score a decidedly lop-sided look at 4-24.

Most disappointing was that majority of the damage had been self-inflicted through poor decision-making, needless errors and frustrating penalties.

Batley began the second half with a bang - somehow bombing a 4-on-1 sitter with the last pass comically forward. This heralded a scrappy period where neither side looked capable of completing a set. The stasis was broken when Galbraith talked himself into a penalty, then a 10m addition, then a yellow card.

But it was Batley who capitalised on their numerical disadvantage. First on 52 minutes, two needless show-boating reverse passes from Danny Yates and Dec Kay led to a 50m interception try by Ainscough, Then Farrell taking advantage of some ordinary defence to score. Walker good with the boot and Batley heading for the distance at 4-36 with 25 minutes still to play.

With the result now in no real doubt, the game entered a scrappy period: the only respite coming from Billy Brickhill who went agonisingly close after Hornets had forced a 60th minute drop-out.

Hornets did get some reward for their persistence, Dec Kay backing up a Deon Cross break on 70 minutes to score his second. But the relief was short-lived, Batley’s Gledhill cruising in under the black dot after a huge line-break. This time Farrell with the two.

With the game in its death throes, Jonah Cunningham was dispatched to the sin-bin for lying in the ruck; Batley making the most of this late advantage with Brambani grabbing a try with 90 seconds remaining.

Regardless of the scoreline, this was a game so unsightly its mother would struggle to love it. Yes Hornets looked like a side struggling for shape and fluidity - lots of graft on show, but little real craft. But for Batley ‘winning ugly’ is their modus operandi. They are a side untroubled by aesthetics - preferring the application of torque, pressure and impact. And, we think, withstanding these, is the first step to overcoming them.

Let’s see if Hornets can when we get to do it all again at Mount (un)Pleasant next Sunday.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Saturday's Coming: Batley

Batley Bulldogs coach Matt Diskin probably didn’t feel much like celebrating the May Bank Holiday. Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post last weekend he said: “We have got a big month coming up. If we are going to be where we want to be at the end of the year we have to be really switched on.”

By Sunday evening, the Bulldogs had completed a peculiar heavy woollen double as - like their neighbours at Dewsbury - they fell at the death to a late, late try, going down 20-18 at Barrow. And, like the Rams, they’d led the game three times only to switch off with 90 seconds remaining.

‘Dogs assistant Danny Maun also sees may as a month full of ‘huge’ games. Speaking ahead of the Barrow game, he said in the Batley News: “The next four games are huge in our season as we play Barrow, then Rochdale twice and the Summer Bash against Dewsbury Rams.” He went on to say: “… lapses in concentration cost us and you can’t do that against the better teams.” Or Barrow, it seems.

Currently sitting 7th, it’s probably fair to say that inconsistency is a key theme at Mount Pleasant this far. Having taken Toronto close and produced a miracle win over Toulouse, they then shipped 50 at Featherstone (having conceded 40 at home to them back in March) - and then clocked off early at Craven Park.

Batley had half-back Patch Walker back from… er… a back injury at Barrow and he weighed in with a try and  three conversions. His half-back partner Dominic Brambani was also pivotal, with a couple of try assists. But our one to watch is is Lewis Galbraith. Insert your own anecdote here….

Elsewhere, prop James Brown is facing at least another month on the sidelines with a broken thumb, while Diskin recalled Alex Bretherton and Joe Chandler from dual reg. stints at Hunslet for last week’s defeat.

Hornets come into Saturday’s game with a new spring in the soul. The celebrations after last week’s last gasp win at Dewsbury a release of emotions after a brutal run of injuries and a real crisis of confidence.

There’s no denying that the lads given their chance at Dewsbury grabbed it with both hands and played with a visibly refreshed vigour - proof, if any were needed, that desire and attitude take you a long way in this game (indeed, after the game Rams coach Neil Kelly came out and accused some of his players of not trying - a brutally harsh accusation).

New boy Tyler Whittaker put down a real marker with an influential 16-point performance, and debutant Jonah Cunningham looked tidy, tight and took us forward. While it would be unfair to single any one player out for special praise, Seta Tala put in a real ‘coming of age’ performance - tenacious on defence and all but unplayable with ball in hand. Indeed, there’s no finer sight in sport than a Fijian in a Rochdale Hornets shirt tearing a Yorkshire side a new bumhole.

On the squad front, Alan Kilshaw has added a other young gun to the Hornets pack this week, signing Halifax utility forward Jordan Syme on loan. We’re looking forward to seeing him get stuck in.

See you Saturday - and bring a friend.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Dews-buried by Heroic Hornets

Dewsbury 27 - Hornets 32

This was a win of heroic proportions. Stripped of eight regulars, this Hornets side made up of kids, triallists, loanees, DRs and sheer determination produced a stunning last-play win to break a debilitating losing streak and turn up the heat on the clutch of sides above them on six points.

We wrote in our preview that desire would be the telling factor and - in what proved to be the tightest of games - every single person in the ground of a Hornets persuasion wanted it more than their Dewsbury counterpart. Indeed, the club as a whole needed this to lift spirits, boost confidence and reinstate some belief - and the scenes on and off the pitch at the final hooter revealed the relief and dissipation of the doubt that had crept in.

Dewsbury on the other hand had six regulars back in their side, but for long periods struggled to make meaningful headway against some stern defence.

Hornets began by applying some early pressure: a Danny Yates kick drawing the fumble out of Worrincy only for the ball to slip loose from Earl Hurst hands in traffic as Hornets shifted wide.

With both sides wrestling it out, Hornets got the break they needed: the impressive Tyler Whittaker pouncing on a loose Rams pass to blast 50 metres to score. Whittaker the first of a flawless afternoon with the boot to give Hornets a 0-6 lead.

Dewsbury responded swiftly. Scott striding through a stretched defence after 11 minutes to put the home side on the board.

The game was now attritional. Dewsbury making good metres; Hornets pushing the Rams back with a barrage of kicks. And when the home side were awarded a 19th minute penalty, Hornets produced some great defence as the home side ran out of ideas - and then shipped a penalty.

Upfield, the home defence was snagged again and Tyler Whittaker slotted home the two-pointer: 4-8.

Back in the grind, Hornets came close when the ball squirmed from Lee Mitchell’s grasp with the line at his mercy. Off the hook, Dewsbury turned the screw, Hornets again producing some tough defence - but having withstood the pressure, Tyler Whittaker was fooled by the postage-stamp dimensions of the pitch, sending his clearing kick into Row D. Dewsbury saw their chance - Brown hitting a flat-ball to score under the black dot, Glover the two to edge Dewsbury ahead at 10-8.

On 33 minutes all hell broke loose: Danny Yates hit very late by a shoulder charge, Matty Hadden diving in to exact retribution, both sets of players squaring off. After some admonishing chat to the captains and a bit of finger-wagging, Referee Mr Mikalauskas gave Hornets the penalty.

Hornets marched straight downfield where impressive debutant Jonah Cunningham was held up over the line. Next set the ball was worked to Seta Tala who looked to have few options - except pile it in and drag defenders over the line with him to score. Impressive. Whittaker the two and Hornets headed for the sheds 14-10 to the good.

The home side began the second half in determined mood: Speakman looked held-up over the line (and the body language of his team-mates looked to confirm it), but a try was given. Glover the extras to put the Rams back in front at 16-14. Hornets hoofed the kick-off dead, the resulting penalty taking the Rams deep into Hornets’ half - only for the home side to butcher the chance spectacularly up the narrow side.

On 47 minutes Worrincy coughed the ball cold in the tackle - no-one more surprised to get a penalty than him. Guzdek taking advantage as Hornets switched off on the last tackle. Glover on target and the home side in charge at 22-14.

But Hornets had other ideas. on 56 minutes Tyler Whittaker kept the ball alive in front of a retreating Rams defence, finding Seta Tala who powered in for his second. Whittaker on the mark, 22-20. Game very much on.

With Lewis Hatton removed - staggering after a cheap, late high shot - Matty Hadden returned to the fray as Dewsbury pressed hard - but a timely Richard Lepori interception cleared Hornets’ lines. Up the other end Hornets worked the ball to Matty Hadden who proved too strong for the Rams defence, slamming in to score on 65 minutes. Whittaker raising the flags to reinstate the lead at 22-26. Dewsbury now chasing the game.

And it was the home side who struck next: an outrageous show & go from Moore opened up the defence for him to score: then controversy as one touchie flagged the conversion as good, the other as having missed. The referee said ‘no’ and the sides were locked-up at 26-all with six minutes to play.

In their desperation, Dewsbury went early for the clincher: Moore the 75th minute drop-goal to edge them ahead and send the home fans into wild celebrations. But wait…

The Rugby League gods gave us 80 minutes for a reason - and with the clock ticking down, Hornets kept cool heads and edged the ball to within 20 metres of the Dewsbury line. Looking to get something from the game, Tyler Whittaker’s drop-goal attempt was charged down - and with a new set of six, Hornets went for the knock-out blow. With the home defence now out on its feet, the ball was worked to Dec Kay, who produced some slick footwork to leave a trail of defenders grasping at air as he weaved his way under the black dot to cue wild celebrations as the home fans streamed for the gates. Whittaker slammed home the two and - with the singing off the noisy Hornets contingent riding in their ears, Hornets played out the last tackle of the game with no dramas.

What a day, what game, what a performance. Brave, gutsy - and yes, heroic. Post game Alan Kilshaw said it was one of the finest victories of his tenure - and who are we to argue? Every single player gave every ounce they had and the appreciation of the travelling support at the end recognised that.

It was - in every sense - the transformation we needed. Now let's kick on...

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Sunday's Coming: Dewsbury

“We basically went with all of our remaining fit players. For a small squad, having eight players out is a significant number. We’re looking to bring people in, but unfortunately the cupboard is bare. There aren’t that many players about generally and it’s worrying for the game - I know we’re not the only club in that position.”

If Alan Kilshaw had said that after Hornets defeat against Sheffield, you’d find it hard to argue, given the tsunami of injuries that has crashed its way through the Hornets squad.

But he didn’t.

This was Dewsbury coach Neil Kelly speaking to the League Express earlier this week, following his side’s 64-4 demolition at full-time London. And thereby hangs part of the problem.

The financial gravitational pull of the full-time sides in the Championship has caused an inflationary ‘trickle-up’ of player quality - and salary - expectations as the sides clinging to the slipstream of Toronto, Toulouse, London and Leigh stretch their resources to stay competitive.  And this ‘forcing’ of the standard, leaves smaller clubs struggling to keep pace.

Doncaster Chief Carl Hall said this week - as his side snapped up Frankie Mariano from Featherstone -  “League 1 now is where the Championship was four years ago: if you look back, that was a real tough league and we’re getting as strong in League 1 now.” And he’s right.

What we see is a clear split in Championship ambition and capability. The ‘Big Four’ - with Featherstone and Halifax in the mix - cleaving towards - and taking players from - Super League; then the bottom half of the championship and the top half of League 1 edging closer together - all of whom are in direct competition for players of a similar standard.

It’s an interesting - and critical - issue as the game enters a period where all eyes are on the ‘haves’ at the expense of the ‘have nots’. And as Super League seeks to take greater control of Rugby League in order to feather its own nest, Aaron Bower’s interview with Carl Hall in this week’s League Express is definitely worth a look on this subject. Click here to see the full article.

Dewsbury’s loss at London was their Rams’ eighth straight loss in all competitions (they too lost at Whitehaven in the cup!) and - speaking to the Yorkshire Post  - Kelly said: Kelly said: “We have had a run of tough games and we are disappointed and upset at what has happened.”

The Rams were without influential captain Paul Sykes at Trailfinders Stadium - the victim of a hamstring injury in their game against Halifax.  According to the Yorkshire Post: “… Sykes could be facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines…” - Neil Kelly has taken Wigan stand-off, Lewis Heckford on-loan as cover.

Having fielded a patched up side in the much-improved performance against Sheffield, Alan Kilshaw must have been left wondering if he’d broken a mirror, as further injuries accounted for Lewis Hatton, Jo Taira, both Adamson Brothers and Dave Allen to strip his options to the barest of bones.

With Dewsbury in a similar boat, it gives Sunday’s game a bit of a ‘lottery’ feel - where it’ll come down to the bounce of the ball and the desire of those involved to make their own luck.  Dewsbury sit three places above Hornets in the table, amongst a clutch of sides on six points. And with Swinton playing Toronto on Saturday, you have to see this as a real opportunity to get a result at the Tetley Stadium, close the gap on the sides above and create some daylight between us and the Lions.

So get yourself over to Dewsbury: let’s make some noise, lift the lads and do our bit.

See you there.