Hornets 30 Whitehaven 28
Owen and Calland conjure up a miracle moment to take
Paul Cullen knows more than most that Rugby league games last 80 minutes.
having seen his team drain every last drop from the clock to take victory
against Oldham last week, he - and we - watched Whitehaven call it a day
after 79 minutes and 15 seconds. Leaving just long enough for a Rugby League
miracle and a quite stunning finish.
But it started badly, Hornets allowing giant Whitehaven donkey-boy Cox
to crash in from a yard. Five minutes in and the customary 0-6 lead to
contend with. Hornets then gained a penalty in a great attacking position,
but once again elected to take the two points off the deficit instead of
looking for parity. The penalty was cancelled out on ' Haven's next visit
to Hornets territory - followed in quick succession by a try from Rob Purdham.
The visitors ahead 14-2, Hornets again took a penalty 2-points on their
next attack before eventually playing some cohesive football to send Brendan
O'Meara in out wide. Haven added another penalty to lead 16-8 at the break.
With Richard Pachniuk sitting out a sin-binning for being offside on
his own line - don't ask, referee Ben Thaler controlled this game using
his own set of rules all afternoon - Hornets started the second half in
determined mood. Calland stepping across the line twice in the same set,
finding Damian Ball with a pinpoint cut out pass to score.
Within two minutes, Haven had restored the gap - Leroy Joe charging
down Ayres' flapping kick to gather and score. Hornets training 22-12 and
looking in all sorts of trouble. But Hornets hit the 'Go!' button. First
Dave Larder shrugging off tacklers to crash in and score, followed five
minutes later by Matt Calland, whose route-one attitude paid dividends
as he barged in to score. The newly introduced Danny Wood coolly slotted
the touchline conversion and Hornets were ahead for the first time on 66
Whitehaven stepped up their spoiling remit, breaking up the play, lying
on at tackles and taking full advantage of Mr Thaler's somewhat loose interpretation
of the play-the-ball laws. Scrambling and stumbling their way to the Hornets
line, 'Haven produced their one last shot - and it worked.
Marc Jackson found space and he blatantly knocked after fumbling the
ball. More in hope than anticipation he regathered and, whilst everyone
in the ground except the referee waited for the scrum, he found found Lee
Kiddie with enough momentum to score. Uproar amongst the ranks; disbelief
at an appalling decision; Haven fans couldn't believe their luck. Kirkbride
converted and with less than five minutes remaining Hornets went in search
of the game.
Taking the footballing option Hornets tried in vain to work the ball
around and, with Whitehaven plonking the ball in touch deep in Hornets
territory with a minute left all hope was gone.
Trailing 28-24 Hornets packed down on their own 20 metre line with 60
seconds remaining on the clock. Having seen their team claw their way back
into a game that they were chasing from the off, Hornets fans whispered
hopes of that freak breakaway try that never comes when you really need
Thus began the countdown to the most amazing minute of Rugby League
that a supporter could hope to see. Ayres fed the scrum and took the resulting
ball infield (45 seconds); Owen took the pass at speed and pulled away
from tacklers to find himself in open field (30 seconds); the defenders
began to gather, tracking him down just past half way (20 seconds); from
nowhere, Matt Calland appeared on Owen's shoulder (10 seconds); Owen stalled,
drew the defenders and delivered a millimetre-perfect pass that Calland
didn't have to break his stride to take (5 seconds); Club Captain Matt
Calland steamed under the posts to touch down - celebrations on the field,
pandemonium in the stand, Woody's conversion to win it and the hooter before
the restart. Magical, magical stuff.
Having had 30 years of Hornets sides that never nick games, this was
testimony to real spirit and the size of the hearts that beat under the
Credit too to the supporters who, having suffered the blow of Thaler's
ridiculous decision minutes earlier, raised themselves for one last roar
in an attempt to raise the team.
Celebrating after the hooter, this felt like a club victory - players
and supporters alike digging into the last of their reserves for one last
push. 'While there's time on the clock, there's still hope' said one supporter
near me - and for once we got what we deserved.