Della shine brighter!
On a sun drenched Melbourne Avenue the Green and Golds were looking to upset the league leaders after losing out to them down at Salford in February.
To make the task more difficult Fleet had a number of injuries to contend with alongside key players being unavailable which meant a first start this season for Head Coach Steve Woodburn.
The early exchanges were dominated by the visitors, their tackling was immense which put Fleet under all kinds of pressure, however it was the hosts who had the first opportunity to strike from a penalty, full back Gavin Rowell nudged it just wide. Both prop Scott Dobbie and outside centre Scott Richardson made decent runs forward with ball in hand but on each occasion were thwarted by Della. After successive scrums deep in Fleet territory Della scored their first try and conversion making it 0-7. It was becoming hard work in the warm sunshine for Fleet, inside centre Mike Kelly made a decent break only to lose the ball, Rowell misplaced a penalty kick which was caught and kicked back with interest. From a Della penalty the ball struck the upright which allowed flanker Jordan Brocklehurst to gather the ball and run out of his 22, only to spill the ball that unfortunately gifted the Salford men a further try with conversion making it 0-14.
By now Della were in complete control in terms of possession and territory, every Fleet attack was met with a stone wall defence, fly half Karl Bowling and hooker Devon Brown both on the receiving end of ferocious tackles. Even when a home lineout in the opposition 22 provided an opportunity to draw closer the ball was knocked on. Despite the pressure Fleet were gaining the upper hand in the scrummage and the lineout, veteran second row Rob Brookfield was in the thick of the action as was his partner James Lilley. As the half was drawing to a close Fleet enjoyed some territorial advantage and were camped in the Della 22, the scrum was heading in the right direction and the home side came with wave after wave of attack only to be finally penalised for not releasing the ball in the tackle, the opportunity to score went begging. To rub further salt into green and gold wounds a further try and conversion was conceded after major pressure following a scrum in the home half. At the interval, it was 0-21 and Fleet were looking at a potential battering.
Within a minute of the re-start Della increased their lead to 0-24, a penalty was struck cleanly between the sticks. This clearly irritated a number of the home players who seemed to spring into life, youngster Alex Ogden broke with the ball who passed to Brookfield who then spun out of a tackle, offloaded to prop Chris Jones who carried strongly before Lilley burst threw at pace. In support was the sprightly prop Pete biscuit Benny who gathered the pass from Lilley before crashing through from 5 yards to score, Rowell added the extras to make it 7-24. Was the comeback on? From the resulting re-start the referee halted proceedings after a clash of heads, apparently accidental but ruled a penalty to Della, and in keeping with the day the upright felt the full force of the ball, the score remained 7-24. As if the task seemed to becoming easier Fleet had a player sent to cool off for 10 minutes, Richardson was penalised for not releasing the ball in the tackle so a yellow was given, harsh when a penalty was sufficient. Although down to 14 men the Green and Golds opted for a risky run everything from anywhere approach as kicking had not worked well for them. This was to pay dividends as Fleet increased the tempo and realised that route one up the middle of the pitch courtesy of the forwards, eventually Kelly crossed the whitewash in the corner, no extras the score now 12-24. With Fleet in the ascendency would Della wobble? Sadly, for the home fans not as player number 2 was dispatched to the bin, a high tackle that looked fairly innocuous from Woodburn was given a yellow. A few minutes later the referee decided to give Brocklehurst a rest and held the yellow card in his direction, harsh but to the letter of the law after indiscretion at the ruck.
The feeling on the side lines was that the next score would settle the result, and like league leaders Della increased their attack this time off the back of a scrum to score a try and conversion, to make it 12-31. And that should have been game over. Not as far as Fleet were concerned, showing plenty of character back they came this time Bowling scored a try, conversion added making it 19-31. With minutes left to play Fleet launched a series of attacks, but just like they had done all day Della held firm much to the delight of their travelling fans.
This was a difficult day at the office for those wearing Green and Gold, as the poor showing in the first half alongside 3 yellow cards effectively lost them the game. Della regularly turned defence into attack and dominated for large periods of the game which allowed them to dictate. However Fleet should take heart from their second half performance where they outscored and outplayed Della, and could well taste victory on a more regular basis if they found their form from the first whistle.
In terms of who played well, the team functioned decently throughout the second half but overall the pick of the players this week comes courtesy of the forwards. Front row players Brown and Benny both contributed and carried well, Brookfield was at the centre of everything good as was his work rate. The backs, in particular Kelly and Bowling gave a decent account of themselves and never gave up trying to unlock the Della defence. However, for his tackling, carrying and an overall solid performance this week Lilley was awarded man of the match.
The curtain comes down on the season next week as the green and gold contingent travel to Oldham for their final game, and all travelling supporters are welcome on the team bus!
Report by Dan Jefferson