With passions running high on both sides, two old rivals who haven’t crossed swords now for a couple of years, finally met again on the field of honour, and served up a traditional rugby league derby filled with end-to-end breaks and brutal tackling, and punctuated by incidents as tempers constantly threatened to boil over.
From the outset it was clear that St. Jude’s, who have only recently returned to the First Division after an unsuccessful spell in the Premiership, were going to try and intimidate their way to victory. Highly aggressive tactics, both physical and verbal, were employed from the kick-off, but the Sharks were in no mood to be bullied. In consequence, the forward clashes were as fierce as any I’ve seen in junior rugby, and though for the most-part they were clean, there was persistent niggling from both teams, which the referee penalised repeatedly.
St. Jude’s got onto the score-sheet first, finally battering their way downfield, but then, after what looked to be a clear knock-on near the Sharks’ posts, re-gathering and throwing the ball wide, their right centre stepping neatly through the narrowest of gaps.
While this wasn’t exactly against the run of play, the Sharks had been comfortably absorbing everything Jude’s threw at them up to this point, and briefly looked devastated. There was a danger that heads might drop – even this early in the drama – but the conversion was missed, and this seemed to revive the home team at just the right time. Hard work got them back downfield, and then hooker Brad Cartwright
struck gold, scooting from dummy-half and bullocking his way through three or four defenders to reach the whitewash.
Stand off Cameron Boulter was accurate with the boot, and suddenly Shevington were in the lead.
To their credit, Jude’s didn’t buckle either. They stuck at it, and the remainder of the half was a tale of unrelenting forward drives, gut-thumping defence – some of the midfield take-downs were quite spectacular – breathtaking near-misses on the line and endless pushing-and-shoving incidents.
At the interval, the scores stood at 6-4, and the game could still have swung either way. But in the second period, unexpectedly to many, Shevington suddenly looked the stronger outfit, gaining the upper hand by increments but coming close at least twice – only to be denied by the official, before finally, inevitably scoring again. This time it was wingman Joe Foster
, who scooped up a loose ball after a long, looping pass from centre Harry Finch
went astray, and rounded two defenders to dive over in the corner.
Boulter was unsuccessful in his attempt to improve matters, but Shevington now had the upper hand. There were more murderous exchanges in the middle – Jude’s hadn’t given this one up by any stretch of the imagination – and lots of argie-bargie, but Shevington were advancing strongly. Midway through the second half it looked as though they’d sealed it, when fast hands again found Foster in open space, and this time he crossed unopposed. Scrum half Rob Pritchard attempted to add on the extras, but fell short.
At 14-4, lesser teams might have been dead and buried, especially with only a few minutes to go, but St. Jude’s never gave up the ghost. Tenacious work midfield saw them barge their way back down to the strike-zone and at last cross the line close to the posts, a score that was subsequently converted and which, at 14-10, threw the game back into the balance.
The last couple of minutes were torturous for Shevington, as Jude’s attacked with everything they’d got, but they successfully rode out the last set of six on their own line, and on the final whistle, were almost too exhausted to cheer.
The Jude’s lads looked utterly despondent, but they certainly had nothing to be ashamed of. They too played well and competed hard, but on the day it didn’t go their way.
For Shevington, there were heroes aplenty. Scrum-half Rob Pritchard had his best game for many weeks, tackling like a Trojan as well as rattling the ball wide every time he got it. Hooker Brad Cartwright
ran his blood to water, both in defence and attack. Stand-off and team organiser Cameron Boulter was the fly in Jude’s ointment, looking a real live-wire but remaining cool-headed at all times. Among the backs, centres Ryan Shaw
and Harry Finch
gave as good as they got against very tough opponents, while wingmen Joe Foster
and Connor Bishop never missed a tackle, and full-back Jake Simm was safe as houses under the high ball and made massive inroads on the return, his mazy running style constantly catching the Jude’s defenders out.
Ultimately of course, it was in the pack where Shevington were victorious. Aggression and steel were met with aggression and steel – which perhaps hadn’t been expected by the opposition, and the Shevington stars of the show in this regard were props Kevin Chesney
, Jack Purdham
, John Lowe and Adam Bewley
, tireless second-rowers Sam Gray
, Anthony Wilkinson
, James Cunliffe
and Kyle Downes
, and loose-forward and skipper Sam Wilde
. Wilde in particular ran some amazing lines off Boulter, Pritchard and Cartwright, constantly breaking defences and causing chaos in the visitors’ defence.
It’s a good thing that the Shevington coaches no longer give out trophies after matches these days, as they would have struggled to pick any individual who gave more than his mates in this non-too-pretty but utterly unforgettable match.
In terms of confidence alone, the Sharks look to be in a very good place. If they can kick on from there, anything is possible this season.