The Army Rugby League‘s first fixture of the year saw them travel to Oulton for a tricky encounter in the Challenge Cup Second Round.
The team had met up during the week for a training camp to prepare themselves for what would be a tough clash against the Raiders who were high on confidence - coming off victors in a top of the table clash the previous weekend.
A minutes silence was observed for the recent deaths of 6 Soldiers in Afghanistan before the Raiders got the game underway. The Army would have a strong wind at their backs for the first half and made good ground up to half way where Ceri Cummings put in a good kick to pin the Raiders deep in their own 22. It was a good start to the game in which both sides exchanged possession on several occasions, probing each other for weaknesses.
Several phases later the Raiders were set up in good position following an Army knock on. They had a scrum inside the Army 22 to the right of the posts. They sweeped the ball to the open side of the field stretching the Army defence before switching back. The Army stood firm and put in some good hits as the Raiders inched closer to the try line. The home side then switched the ball back to the other side exploiting an overlap before going over for the games first score in the corner. The tricky conversion from the corner into the wind was missed giving the home side an early 4-0 lead.
Things soon got worse for the Army as Oulton extended their lead following the ensuing kick off. The Raiders worked the ball well up the middle of the pitch and on the last tackle they broke through the defence and had support on hand to off load and beat the last defender for a good try under the posts making for an easy conversion giving Oulton a 10-0 lead.
The home crowd was in good spirit following their team’s fine start to the game and the Army were now faced with an uphill struggle to make sure the game didn’t get out of hand. The Raiders continued to put pressure on their opponents and enjoyed good spells with the ball, however the Army were slowly coming into the contest, keeping cool despite the early deficit. They were soon making good ground into Oulton’s half although the Raiders defence did a good job keeping the visitors speedy wingers contained and as the tackle count ran down Ceri Cummings slotted through a drop goal to ensure they came away with something putting the Army on the board.
The Raiders were soon back down in the Army half looking to extend their lead. A lofting kick on the last tackle though stood up against the strong wind allowing Army winger Eppy Naulumatau to jump up and beat the attacker to the ball and make a good break down the sideline. The Oulton defence got across though to make the tackle in touch, but were now fully aware of the threat the Army posed on the outside.
The Army where enjoying some good spells and began to test the Raiders defence, which was standing up to the test, tackling well and dealing with the high ball, preventing the Army from breaking through. Despite being under pressure the Raiders showed how dangerous they can be on the attack. After a few tackles around their own 22 they broke through the Army defence and once again support was on hand to finish the move and beat the last defender to run in for another try.
The Army were firmly up against it now however they kept their heads up showing good spirit and continued to defend well as the Raiders enjoyed some good possession down inside the Army half. The visitors had a couple of chances before the break to add points however were just unable to break through deep in the Oulton half and the half time whistle blew with the score 14-1 to Oulton.
The Army got things underway in the second half and would now be driving straight into the strong wind making life difficult especially in the kicking game. It wasn’t long before Oulton where on the attack and after just a couple of minutes they extended their lead further scoring a try right in the corner to lead 18-1.
The Army did well to keep their heads up and came back at the hosts with some good runs from Marc Donnelly and Captain Colin Marangon to help pound through the defence. They had made good territory pinning back the Raiders inside their own 22 and capitalized on a mistake to set up a scrum in great position. They spread the ball wide early stretching the defence before coming back the other way using good dummy runners to create gaps. Eventually Andy Parkin dove over straight from the play of the ball to score the Army’s first try of the afternoon closing the gap to 18-5.
The score gave the Army a boost and they were soon back in the Oulton half threatening again. Danny Hunter put in a nice kick along the ground which flicked up straight into the path of Viliame Masirewa who was brought down short but stretched over the try line however the referee adjudged him to have made a double movement and gave the penalty to Oulton. Only a few moments later Leo Tuliva thought he had scored for the visitors however the ball was just held up over the line following a good flowing move finishing in the corner.
After a good spell of possession and territory the Raiders tried to regain their authority on the match and following an attack inside the Army half they came away with a drop goal of their own using the wind to their advantage to slot in through the posts.
The Army showed a strong resilience as the second half went on, despite being down 13 points they continued to play with spirit and put together some good moves and were unlucky not to have closed the gap to their opponents.
As time wound down Oulton were once again looking strong and set up camp inside the Army half looking to add to their lead. The Army defence was excellent and stood up to a firm test making key tackles to ensure the Raiders didn’t cross the try line. Eppy Naulumatua was on the prowl on the wing and intercepted a pass to help set up one final attack by the visitors. They made good ground just inside the Oulton half however the ball was knocked on and the referee shortly after blew for full time giving the Raiders the win 19-5 to advance to the third round of the competition.
Despite the score the Army put in a good performance and kept their heads up in a difficult situation where a lot of teams would have folded going down by several scores early. They kept cool and came back into the game and were unlucky not to score on a couple of occasions in the second half. They will look to build on this performance as they work towards their goal of retaining the Inter Services this September.
Head Coach Stewart Ridsdel, reflecting on the game, said, "I was disappointed with the result but as it was our 1st game of the season. I saw lots of promise in key positions, all I have to do now is make sure I keep the group together for the remainder of the year."
Army Team: 1. Ceri Cummings 2. Eppy Naulumatua 3. Viliame Masirewa 4. Colin Marangon 5. Leo Tuliva 6. Danny Hunter 7. Andy Hullock 8. Gareth Lodge 9. Andy Parkin 10. Ryan Taylor 11. Ben Cartmel 12. Casey Shaw 13. Tim Timani 14. Marc Donnelly 15. Ben Taylor 16. Ben Niayaga 17. Andy Gray.
Reported By J. Fowke.