The high-flying Middlesbrough side just fell short of a promotion play-off slot and ended fourth in their division just as had Rovers in Durham Northumberland One and provided a tough test for the Whites in the annual RF Oakes Memorial Match.
After a convincing 17-10 win in their last outing on home turf against Alnwick, Rovers have shown that on their day they are a match for any side and the challenge now is for the players to reproduce this form every week, and especially on the road where the team struggled last season.
Off the pitch the weekend was a great success with a centenary dinner dance on the Friday evening and an after-match dinner that was attended by ladies and gentlemen and members of the late Bob Oakes’ family.
The atmosphere and support over the three days of the centenary celebrations have surely given the feeling that this historic event simply has to continue and Middlesbrough have made a kind and generous offer to continue to participate.
Saturday’s first game saw a RF Oakes Centenary Invitation XV, principally based around the West Hartlepool 1st XV, beat a Fire Services Select XV 50-15. The scoreline didn’t really reflect the contest and the contribution of the Select XV but the Invitation XV demonstrated the advantage of playing together every week.
The final game of the weekend on Sunday saw a Rovers/West Veterans XV play the Cleveland Fire Service veterans in a match in memory of the late John Howe with the firemen running out 53-12 winners.
The RF Oakes Memorial Match was played in excellent conditions and Rovers took the lead after 21 minutes when a lineout from a penalty saw the ball passed along the line to Liam Austwicke
on the away 22 and the centre’s mazy run took him inside and outside defenders to touchdown, Chris Sainty
adding the conversion.
Huge defence was then needed by Rovers on half time as Middlesbrough stayed inside the home 22 and a spell of pressure ended with away skipper Richie Barker burrowing over after a tap and go, Jack Bircham converting.
Middesbrough took control of the game after the interval by starving Rovers of the ball and being denied a try when the White Shirts managed to hold the away pack up over the try line.
The visitors should have scored in the Steetley corner just after the hour when Peter Wright and Andy Micklewright combined down the right wing but flanker Sean Kay incredibly grubber kicked the ball dead when within touching distance of the line.
Rovers made Middlesbrough pay for this let off after 64 minutes when, after two promising runs by sub Jack Gunn, the forwards took over when a stewart grazier
lineout steal saw them maul to the line. Ian Pinchen was stopped just short, but Michael Tucker
was in support to touch down to the left of the posts, Sainty’s conversion regaining the lead 14-7.
Rovers stayed in the Middlesbrough half and after more good forward play through Grazier, Tucker and Ian Pinchen, Gunn was held up in the left hand corner, but Mark Power
on the charge made his way over the line. Sainty’s touchline conversion increased the lead to 21-7 with 71 minutes played.
In the closing moments, Middlesbrough got into the Rovers 22 and Josh Lynas powered over from a lineout play.
Rovers: Sainty, B Cushlow, Austwicke, Durrans, Grand, Evens, Pelser, Wise, J Cushlow (c), I Pinchen, Power, Hanley, Dring, Whitehead, Grazier. Subs used: D Smith, A Pinchen, Tucker, Coulson, Gunn, Bragman, Little
Middlesbrough: J Bircham, Micklewright, Todd, Moore, Secret, Lee, Wright, Helm, Kearney, Lynas, Barker (c), Theakston, Kay, Howe, Dixon. Subs used: C Bircham, Holden, John, O’Farrell
Referee: Paul Candlish (Durham Society)