NCL Division One Match Report - Underbank Rangers 32 Milford Marlins 4
Rangers stay top as they beat nearest challengers for promotion
UNDERBANK RANGERS 32 MILFORD MARLINS 4
With this latest victory, their 16th from 17 games. Underbank all but guaranteed promotion to the NCL Premier Division after defeating the only team that can catch the top two in Division One, Rangers and Hunslet Club Parkside. Parkside scored a last ditch try to scrape home 20-18 over Normanton Knights to remain level on points with Underbank, but with an inferior points difference. Milford are certain of a play-off spot as they are well clear of the other sides jostling for positions 3 to 6, but with this defeat they now fall seven points behind the leading two with just five games remaining of the campaign, and barring a huge disaster Underbank should now be ‘home and hosed’ in the race for automatic promotion. However, nothing will be taken for granted as the side understands that there are no easy games in the competition, and Rangers will prepare to do battle at Normanton next Saturday, knowing that just two more wins from the five remaining fixtures will confirm their third promotion in four seasons.
The win was once again built on punishing and sometimes brutal defence that harried Milford into making unforced errors in the both halves of the game, and Underbank were in the mood to make their opponents pay dearly. The first half showing was the best 40 minutes performance of the season, and even though they didn’t hit the same heights in the second period, Underbank were far too good for the Marlins and eased through to the final 32-4 margin. Four tries were scored in the first half by the home side through half back Luke Pogson, full back Owen Restall, centre Alex Chatterton and front row forward Dan Farrand, and left centre Joey Eichner chipped-in with a brace of his own in the second half. Pogson and Restall (3) added the conversions.
On a dry pitch, the Cross Grounds bathed in warm sunshine, and in front of a bumper crowd, Rangers had a much changed side from the previous two weeks, as they struggled against bottom four opponents Blackbrook and Hull Dockers, with Owen Restall returning at full back for the injured Kris Harrop, Jakob Garside on debut on the right wing in place of Tom England, Courtney Allette resuming his left wing role after injury for Dave Dyson, lock Craig Williams and front row forwards Dan Farrand and Jordan Williams in the 17, Aussie Nick Briggs playing back row with Joey Eichner moving to left centre for the unavailable Jack Thompson, while 35 year old hooker John Birt made his return to Underbank colours on the bench after nine years away from the club.
It only took five minutes for the hosts to open the scoring. Following a couple of near escapes to conceding, Milford were progressing into Underbank’s half of the field and as the Marlins moved the ball wide of the ruck area, Rangers’ half back Luke Pogson anticipated a pass, intercepted it and raced 40 metres to score under the black dot. Pogson added the easy conversion, but ten minutes later was to take no further part in the action as he landed awkwardly in possession and seriously damaged his shoulder. Wing Garside moved into the halves to cover for the injured Pogson with Alex Chatterton relocating to the wing. Underbank didn’t let Pogson’s absence affect them as they proceeded to dominate territory on the back of forcing Milford into numerous handling errors in their own half of the field, and the home side doubled their lead on 18 minutes as a powerplay, last tackle set play saw hooker Sam Rochford shoot out left from the play the ball, the closest Milford defenders all followed him and he gave a fantastic reverse pass to front row forward Dan Farrand who surged through a huge gap in the defensive line for a great score. Owen Restall converted in Pogson’s absence, but the full back couldn’t convert his own try in the 28th minute as he raced onto a well weighted Danny Hirst pass to score. Restall then turned from try scorer to try maker as he sped through the Marlins defence on 35 minutes. As he approached the Milford cover defence Restall kicked the ball for his supporting team mates, the ball wickedly bounced away a Milford player and Chatterton was on hand to touch down just inches from the dead ball line. Restall added the kick and Underbank went to the sheds for the break with a 22-0 half time lead and a job well done especially on defence as Milford had applied pressure, but they were thwarted by Underbank’s resolute and well-organised goal line defence.
Underbank totally dominated the second period as the game was almost exclusively played in the Milford half. However, they couldn’t turn that dominance into the flood of points that the expectant crowd hoped for, but they did add two further scores on 60 and 70 minutes through American centre Joey Eichner. Firstly Hirst stabbed through a inviting kick for Eichner win the foot race and touch down and then Birt rolled back the years as he scooted past the markers from acting half on his own 40 metre line, sold an outrageous dummy to beat another defender, and then drew the Milford full back before passing to the supporting Eichner who finished with ease from 20 metres. Restall added the conversion to mthe second score and Rangers led 32-0 with ten minutes to go. They would have liked to added more points, but also to have kept their own line intact. However, the Marlins registered a consolation score on 75 minutes as left wing Harry Gillfillan sped past Chatterton and touched down in the corner with a spectacular swallow dive. Full back Ryan Oxtoby, Milford’s best on the day, couldn’t convert from the touchline. However, that was as good as it got in the second half for the visitors as they could not build any concerted pressure as they spilled far too much possession to be able to do so, and Rangers marched on to their ninth home win of the a highly successful campaign.
A great team effort was highlighted by a sparkling display from five eighth Danny Hirst who was duly awarded both the The Rose & Crown, Thurstonland Players’ Player of the Match and the Bengal Spice, Man of the Match. His performance was his best of the year for league leaders Underbank Rangers.