Report by Rob Faux
As the Stampede weekend approached, the weather looked like it was again going to be unkind to a minis festival. Their less handsome/ pretty older league plays, the juniors, looked favourite to nick all the sunshine on the Saturday, leaving the good looking mini’s with the rain. However, the heavens smiled, and the festival began without a drop of rain having fallen. The Mighty Dragon Under 11’s, who despite having added two more players to their ranks this week, could not quite muster two teams due to injuries etc.
The Dragon coaches warned of a tough game with Elmbridge boosted by their success with the junior challenge cup, and Brentwood equally boosted by their victory against the Dragons the week before. Concentration and desire would be key to this contest, and the coaches were looking for a strong defensive display backed up by and expansive attack.
First up were Brentwood Eels, who looked to make some hard yards up the middle, but whilst the tackling from the Dragons was strong, they were allowing the Eels to run at them too much. Eventually this was to tell and the Eels centre crashed over for the first score. The Dragons responded immediately knowing a loss this early could be costly, and with some strong, but very individual runs, the Dragons pulled level. With the scores tied, the Dragons spent the rest of the match in the Eels half, but the one dimensional attack proved too easy for the Eels to defend and the game ended a draw. Final score 4 – 4
Next up, Guilford, and an improvement in the defensive line, and eventually a realisation that returning to the attacking style of shifting the ball off the lead runner started to pay dividends with three different Dragons crossing the white-wash. Final score 12 – 0
The following match was crucial, as the Dragons faced the Merlins, who had held the Eels, the Eagles and the improved Warriors/ Hurricans to draws. The Dragons kicked off, and immediately recovered the kick, allowing a quick score, in the now reduced length games. With a strong defence now firing, the Dragons regained possession with sufficient time to add a second. Final score 8 – 0
Their fourth game pitted the Dragons against St Albans/ Hemel, and by now the Dragons were in their stride, confidence returning to all the players. Two flowing passing moves had the Dragons level on points with the Warriors/ Hurricans, and the Eagles and Eels still in contention. Final Score 8 – 0
No matches in these festivals are anything other than tough, but the Dragons penultimate outing, was going to be a bruiser. With the return of a number of ex West Croydon players to the game, there was going to be no easy path forward. The Dragons took the lead through a barnstorming run down the wing, but this was immediately replied to, by last year player of the Festival, West Croydon’s Able. The Dragons responded making good ground down field, before spinning it wide to go ahead. The last minute saw some hard hitting defensive work from the Dragons hold the opposition a metre shy, allowing them to run out the clock. Final Score 8 – 4
With pride at stake, the Dragons looked to the final game of the day to remain unbeaten and collect the Festival cup. In a match not dissimilar to the Elmbridge Festival final, the Eagles scored first. This Dragon team, however did not give up, and replied not once but twice, but it was the defensive work that was the more impressive, holding the Eagles at bay for the remaining minutes Final Score 8 – 4
Despite the slow start the Dragons had finished the tournament played some great rugby league, showing terrific pride in playing in a Dragons shirt. The way the boys play clearly impressed as a further the boys are keen to sign up to the red and gold having watched from the sidelines. But don’t take my word for it, come find out. Next up Barking and Dagenham Bulldogs.
Big thanks go to Pete Trumper and John Warby for taking the photos now on the website, and to Ronnie for taking the video.