NCL DIVIOSION ONE MATCH REPORT - NORMANTON KNIGHTS 18 UNDERBANK RANGERS 42
Underbank secure promotion
With this comprehensive victory, their 17th from 18 games combined with a surprise loss for third placed Milford Marlins, the only side that could prevent Underbank gaining promotion at the start of the day, the season’s first goal was achieved elevation to the NCL Premier Division in 2018. The win resulted in Rangers opening up a two point gap over Hunslet Club Parkside who did not play. Rangers knew in the preparation for the game at Normanton that two more wins from the five remaining fixtures would confirm their third promotion in four seasons. However, Milford’s loss hastened that eventuality and the players were ecstatic as news filtered through of the Marlins’ drubbing at Featherstone Lions.
The win was not for the first time this season built on punishing and sometimes brutal defence that would not break even though the Knights threw everything except the kitchen sink at Underbank. The first half showing was clinical and rivalled the first 40 minutes of the previous week’s win over Milford as the best performance of the season, and even though again they didn’t hit the same heights in the second period, Underbank were far too good for the Knights and eased off in the later stages through to the final 42-18 margin. Four tries were scored in the first half by Underbank through left wing Courtney Allette, front rower Luke Roberts and a brace from Nathan Chappell, plus five Chappell goal kicks. Right wing Will England scored in the second half and half back Jakob Garside chipped with two great tries, with Chappell adding a further two conversions.
On a dry pitch, and the Normanton ground bathed in warm sunshine, Rangers once again had a much changed side from the previous week, as with Jack Thompson, Kris Harrop, Mikey Holmes, and Will England all returning to the seventeen in place of Owen Restall, Luke Pogson, Sam Rochford, Dan Farrand, Jonlee Sanderson and John Birt, while both Nathan Chappell and Tom Eidson made their season debuts as Underbank’s squad depth was tested to the full.
Against the run of play it took just five minutes for the hosts to open the scoring. Rangers defence had limited the Knights progression down the field, but after a charged down kick had given Normanton another set, and following a fumbled last tackle kick, the Knights somehow conjured a score as centre Connor Taylor reacted first to a stabbed through kick and touch down. Taylor added the extras to give his side an early 6-0 lead. That was as good as it got for the home side in the first half as they never threatened again as a result of Underbank’s superb defensive stint. Rangers were level after 11 minutes as Chappell released his left win Allette, who looked to have been stopped in a three man tackle, but the big bustling flank man somehow managed to wriggled free to cross in the left corner. Chappell added a superb touchline conversion and the scores were tied. From this point on Underbank totally dominated the half and should have been much further ahead at the break if not for some dodgy decisions by the match officials. Three tries were strangely chalked off in a ten minute period, but one try that did count came in the 23rd minute as Luke Roberts rumbled over from ten metres following a sweeping Rangers move. Roberts started the four man handling move with an offload in the tackle, and then the ball went through the hands of Chappell, Billy Rogers and Kris Harrop before finding itself back in the hands of Roberts who finished in style. Chappell again converted the try, and then added a penalty goal on 34 minutes to stretch the lead to 14-6. Then followed two tries in four minutes from Chappell and he combined with Rogers to devastating effect on the left edge of attack. After 36 minutes following strong, clearing runs from Garside, Joey Eichner and Alex Chatterton, the ball was moved swiftly left and Rogers timed his pass to perfection to release Chappell on a 50 metre barnstorming run to the line, and then three minutes later the pair combined once again with the same result another four pointer for Chappell. He converted both of his own scores as Underbank went into half time with a dominant 26-6 lead.
Any hopes that the home side had of getting back into the game were quickly dashed in the second half as England raced over after receiving a great ball from Chatterton, and then a Garside double in the 50th and 60th minutes confirmed the leaders’ dominance. His first came after a superb charge and offload from Rogers, and the second after a superb 30 metre scoot and quick play the ball from the outstanding Danny Hirst playing in the unaccustomed position of hooker. Garside had plenty to do to score both tries once he got the ball in hand and he did so with great aplomb beating several defenders with his weaving and darting style. Chappell converted two of three second half tries to give Underbank an unassailable 42-6 lead with twenty minutes left on the clock. However, the expected deluge of points didn’t happen as the Knights showed some character in the final quarter to register two close range scores from front row forward Clark Thompson converted by Connor Taylor. However, that could not dampen the spirits of the Underbank boys as Rangers marched on to their goal for the season of automatic promotion.
A great team effort was highlighted by a sparkling display from hooker 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 for the second successive game. However, he was challenged for the honours by many superb performances especially from the dominant pack with lock forward Craig Williams and Billy Rogers in superb form, plus the ever dangerous Nathan Chappell ripping through defences out wide.