It is a long time since the Sharks have faced such illustrious opponents as the Premier League’s Orrell St. James.
It is a long time since the Sharks have faced such illustrious opponents as the Premier League’s Orrell St. James in a serious match, and so this Cup draw was one they’d been looking forward to excitedly for some considerable time. Not only was it a chance to renew old hostilities (and friendships, if we’re honest), but it was also an opportunity to test themselves against a footballing side of real quality.
And what a worthy exercise it proved to be.
On the day, Shevington didn’t get the result they’d been hoping for, but they came very close and were able to leave a wet, muddy pitch at the end feeling proud of their efforts.
And yet – and this has to be said – the Sharks, who for most of the game were very strong and aggressive, playing with a much higher level of intensity than they normally do, ultimately contrived to defeat themselves. It is true that the conditions caused problems for both teams, but repeated self-inflicted errors by Shevington – loose carries and subsequent knock-ons, crucial one-on-one tackles missed and, above all, silly penalties – only made an already difficult task into a near-impossibility.
Once again, the Shevington bogey of failing to execute full sets of six in the attack zone through sheer panic manifested itself. Once again, there was a baffling determination to keep the ball among the forwards even though, early on in the game, putting it wide to the Sharks’ fleet-footed threequarters had paid great dividends.
But really it would be churlish to keep focussing on the negatives. Overall, this was a very creditable performance by a First Division team whom several neutral spectators afterwards described as the better of the two outfits on the day.
Shevington certainly got off to a flying start. Competing strongly in the middle and creating a platform for halfbacks Rob Pritchard and Cameron Boulter, the Sharks showed great vision and defied the elements by playing the ball fast and wide. Lightning-quick centre Ryan Shaw was able to take full advantage of this, twice showing a clean pair of heels to the Orrell defence, who looked astonished that the visitors had anyone in their ranks who could simply run around them, and couldn’t seem to believe that they were suddenly 8 points adrift.
Inevitably, St. James fought back but were being held in the middle quite efficiently by a Sharks pack for whom Brad Cartwright, skipper Sam Wilde, Sam Gray, John Lowe and Anthony Wilkinson were outstanding. The action was end-to-end, if a little stop/start thanks to the rain-soaked surface, but defences were generally on top. It was all the more frustrating then, to see Orrell manage to claw their way back in before half time with soft tries scored by their two props from close to the Shevington line.
Undeterred, Shevington managed to get back into the lead in the second half, after a great break by Wilde opened the door for Boulter to touchdown next to the uprights. But having seen their hosts come back from the dead in the first period, their confidence was now a little fragile. As Orrell counter-attacked aggressively, the Shevington mistakes were coming thick and fast, and when the hosts began to rebuild their own points tally the Sharks withdrew into a forward game rather than continue throwing the ball wide, and didn’t re-emerge. That said, Shevington’s final try was a neat bit of work, a well judged up-and-under from Boulter, and a bustling chase to reach it by centre Harry Finch, which caused chaos in the Orrell ranks, allowing winger Kyle Downs to dive over the whitewash.
In the absence of regular kicker, Joe Foster, the Sharks were also hampered when it came to converting these tries. Boulter managed to hook one over, making good but unsuccessful efforts in all the other instances.
Though Shevington eventually lost the game, an interesting thing from the sidelines was the manner in which they stepped up several gears to match Orrell’s Premier League intensity. This was done almost by instinct, and suggests that many of these boys have a latent ability they may not yet have fully realised. Aside from their tendency to panic, most of the Sharks did not look out of place operating at Orrell’s level. The important thing now is for them to maintain it in the league, which is currently wide open again thanks to a recent Blackbrook defeat. If they can manage this, many First Division rivals will be left in their wake.