With their normal ground (Leeds Rhinos, Headingly) under refurbishment, Royal Navy Rugby League settled on Penns Place and Petersfield RFC as the venue for this their 17th ‘State of Origin’ match. Initially begun as a final selection run out for the RNRL squad, the fixture has gained much more weight over the years and you are either a Maroon, (Western command) or a Blue, (Eastern command), for life.
It was a busy day in sweltering heat which opened with the VCC Field Gun competition between Cadets from HMS Sultan and HMS Collingwood. A challenge of strength, stamina and speed and an object lesson in teamwork, the Cadets put their hearts and souls into the runs and ended with honours even.
Then, whilst the ‘grown ups’ were at a charity luncheon in the Clubhouse, the RNRL Ladies staged a grassroots coaching session for local youngsters. Led by “Wrenegades” Head Coach, Jim Bowen, the session was well attended with about twenty lads joining in before returning at the end of the Masters’ fixture for a final session to hone their skills.
The first fixture of the day was a veteran’s match, the inaugural “Masters’ Origin” match, with the Blues representing the Eastern Commands and a Petersfield Select side representing the Maroons and the West. In testament to the spirit of RNRL, many former players had travelled a long way to be part of the event and were joined by local stars and former Navy men like David Sloan and Mathew ‘Ruby’ Murray.
Sometimes laboured and often inaccurate, both sides did well to combat the blistering heat whilst putting on a great show of physical Rugby League. The sides swapped the lead a few times before the Maroons put the hammer down and ran away with the game in the final quarter to win 12-40. The crowd, well fed and watered, thoroughly enjoyed the game and it was great appetiser for what was to come in the main event.
If the crowd had been excited by the physicality of the Masters’ game, they were about to be shown a completely different standard with no quarter given by either side in defence and attack. Somewhat amazingly given the bone-dry, rock solid pitch and the ferocity of the hits, there were no serious injuries on the day.
The Maroons arrived with a mission to further close the gap on the Blues in the overall tally and create history by claiming their first ever back-to-back wins. On the other hand, the Blues were out to stop them.
The game kicked off following the presentation of the teams to Mayor of Petersfield, Mrs Hilary Eyre, and a rousing rendition of the National Anthem. The Maroons came out of the blocks quickest with a try inside five minutes and looked for all the world as though they would run away with the match, such was their dominance.
The Blues had a lot of defending to do throughout the first half and could not make their sets count when in attack. However, they kept faith and, as the first half ended, finally hooked up a successful attack to end the half 16-6 down.
The Blues maintained their momentum at the start of the second half, levelling the match after 60-minutes with a brace of tries. It was now the Blues who looked like they were edging the battle, but the Maroons were unwilling to roll over and, almost immediately following the Blues equalising score, drove straight through the heart of the Blue defence to retake the lead.
As the clock ran down both sides made a monumental effort, the Blues to get back on terms whilst the Maroons tried to close the game out. Ultimately, however, the Maroons recovered the swagger they had lost at the end of the first half, scoring three more tries to bring the game home 34:16; a final score line which does not accurately reflect how close this game had been for so long.
RNRL President, Commodore Paul Marshall, presented man of the match awards to Adam Birkett for the Easts and Matt Holland for the Wests, both forwards played for most of the match excelling in both attack and defence. The final Presentation was made by Mr Chris Groves from Origin Sponsors QinetiQ handing over the trophy to Wests Skipper Sili Buinimasi. This was an emotional moment for the Fijian star as he has announced his retirement from playing so this was his last Origin match. It is fitting the he will keep the trophy at home for the near future to reflect on a wonderful playing career both for RNRL and RNRU.
In addition to the history-making fixtures, the day also raised £1,000 to be split between Royal Navy Charities and Home Start – Bordon.
Updated 17:13 - 21 Jul 2018 by Paul Harrington