Before the Birkenhead Park game the informed thinking was that a victory with a four try bonus point would see Penrith home and dry and their league status guaranteed. The team delivered this with a magnificent performance but the informed thinkers were well wide of the mark, everyone had expected Beverley to come away from a difficult fixture at Rossendale with nothing but they matched the Cumbrians with a win and a bonus point so all is still to play for.
The Penrith side were clearly up for the fray and made a good lively start and looked dangerous, they soon had their noses in front courtesy of a Steve Wood penalty. Birkenhead Park are a big strong side and are always very dangerous once in possession in your 22, their first visit to Penrith’s resulted in a converted try. They kicked a penalty to the 22, won the lineout and the power of their forwards took the maul virtually to the home line, the cover was sucked in and when the ball was moved they found a gap in the corner.
Penrith came back at them and although at this stage they were having difficulty breaking through the visitor’s defensive line they were causing them to concede penalties. Wood, who had a good day with his place kicking (100%) slotted two penalties to put his side in front again at 9-7. The lead was not to last long as the visitors repeated the trick, this time from closer in. Penalty kick to the corner, catch and drive from the lineout, try. This time not converted.
At this stage the home side were looking a little frail, that was two visits to the Penrith 22 and two tries. Things nearly got a lot worse, a Wood chip out to the wing was read by the visitor’s threes, the kick was intercepted and the line looked open with most of the home side behind the play and a potential 10 point deficit loomed, that was until Mike Stephens
seemed to appear out of nowhere corner flagging at pace and completely enveloped the player allowing the cover time to get there to clear the danger.
After failing to clear their lines Penrith conceded a penalty to trail 15-9 on the half hour and a bonus point win was looking a long way off. It was their talisman Steven Wood who was to make all things look possible again as he so often has done with an interception try running the ball in from the 10m line, his conversion had the home side’s noses in front once more.
Penrith this season have been guilty on several occasions of conceding scores on the stroke of half time but this time they turned the tables and were deep in the visitor’s 22. The forwards were battering the line following a five metre scrum and were just inches short when the defenders were penalised, Ian McDowell
took a quick tap and charged for the line but hit the defensive brick wall, the ball then came to Wood who spun it wide where James Ellar
and Mike Hawley
combined to release Jon Fell
who dived in at the corner. Wood’s boot was unerring as he converted off the touchline for a 23-15 advantage at the break.
Birkenhead started the brighter of the two sides after half time and although the home men defended stoutly they still conceded a penalty for the visitors to move within a score. It was anyone’s game at this stage and the home side were on the attack next and another Wood penalty opened the gap up again.
Penrith were again having to defend but now they had the measure of the visitor’s catch and drive tactic from the attacking lineout and on a couple of occasions actually drove them backwards. On one such occasion they did really well to steal the ball on their own line, only for it then to squirt out of the ruck invitingly for the visiting forward who crashed over in the corner.
Into the last quarter and the game was still in the balance at 26-23 as Penrith pressed and won a penalty, it was just about within Wood’s range but the decision was made to kick to the corner. Penrith then proceeded to “out Birkenhead” Birkenhead. The lineout was won and it was the Penrith men who drove for the line, it was wheeled one way and then the other, over the line and fittingly it Rob Dawson
who came up with the ball and the score, Wood’s boot pulled the lead out to ten points and the game was looking safe.
Penrith now had the upper hand and thoughts were turning to the fourth try to secure the bonus point. Hawley running from full back had made ground all afternoon and went close on a couple times, once passing unselfishly when he may have made the line himself, Wood and Phil Fell
combined up the left wing and also went close.
There had been a number of injuries and in the ninth minute of stoppage time Penrith found the score they were looking for, turn over ball came to Wood and he chipped into space in behind the defensive line on the right, Ed Swale
on as replacement on the wing chased at full tilt. He won the race by the skin of his teeth and the ball sat up invitingly for him to run on to, he took it in his stride and acrobatically dived in to much joy among players and supporters alike.
This was going to be the try that secured the home side’s league status, it wasn’t as it turned out but it was just as important. It was the try that keeps the team’s destiny in their own hands, they now know if they go to relegated bottom of the table Altrincham Kersal and repeat this performance and come away with a bonus point win they are safe. Another must win, all or nothing game in seven days time.
This was without doubt the gutsiest performance of the season, it begs the question why not every week but that’s for another day. Two Penrith men played through the pain barrier for their team. Paul Newton
in addition to a groin problem hurt his shoulder in the last league game, after ten minutes he looked as if he couldn’t go on, he did and although suffering was as influential as ever. Billy Barton
picked up a rib injury last week and lesser men wouldn’t have played, Barton did and dished out pain throughout the game. It’s not really fair to pick out individuals, James Thornton
led the line wonderfully well, Rob Dawson
held the whole thing together, Ryan Johnson
was immense, Gary Hodgson
played out of position at centre and couldn’t have done any better and Steve Wood just wasn’t going to be beaten, in attack or defence. No one had a poor game, everyone played they part and it’s on to Altrincham!