NCL DIVISION ONE MATCH REPORT - UNDERBANK RANGERS 18 HUNSLET CLUB PARKSIDE 26
Rangers lose big game, but stay top
Underbank’s tentative grasp on the league title was loosened with only their second defeat of the campaign against their arch rivals who now assume pole position in the race to become the NCL Division One Champions in 2017. Both of Rangers’ defeats have come at the hands of the Leeds based side, with both games having winning margins of less than ten points indicating the tightness of the matches, plus there being little to choose between the teams. Parkside’s promotion to the Premier Division was confirmed with this victory and winning the title is now in their hands. Underbank remain atop of the league table with 34 points, the same as HCP, who are behind on points difference, but crucially Parkside have a game in hand on Rangers. With three rounds to go (four for HCP) Underbank have certainly not given up all hope of finishing top and will go into the remaining games determined to win all of them, keep the pressure on Parkside, and hope that they slip-up on the final run-in.
The loss could be accredited to a number of external factors such as Rangers missing key players Kris Harrop, and half backs Luke Pogson and Danny Hirst, plus coaching staff Richard Knight and George King. However, the simple matter is that Parkside were better with their ball control, final tackle options, concession of penalties in crucial parts of the game and field, plus converting their chances and getting the rub of the green on 50:50 match official calls. It wasn’t as good a contest as many had predicted pre-game, but it was well contested, with stifling defence shown from both sides that limited the clear cut scoring chances to a minimum. Underbank were the better team in the early exchanges racing out to a 12 point lead in the opening ten minutes of the game, as they had in the reverse fixture in May, and as in the previous game you have to learn to kill off your opponents when you have the chance. The second period was like a game of chess as each side battled for supremacy and the chance to clinch the game, and it was the visitors who took control in the final quarter posting three tries in just six minutes to seal a crucial win and two vital competition points.
On a dry pitch, the Cross Grounds wondrously bathed in warm early autumn sunshine, and in front of a season high, bumper crowd, Rangers had a few changes from the previous game three weeks ago at Normanton with Owen Restall returning at full back for the unavailable Kris Harrop, Tom Eidson in the starting line-up for the first in twelve month following injury at half back for the suspended Danny Hirst, Sam Rochford returning at 9, and veteran John Birt taking his place on the replacements bench after hamstring trouble alongside Dan Farrand who replaced the unavailable Luke Roberts. There was also no place in the 17 for the squad members Jack Thompson, Jonlee Sanderson, Tom England and Dave Dyson, whilst leading try scorer Sam Ansell was once again missing with his chronic groin injury and Luke Pogson was unavailable.
It only took five minutes for the hosts to open the scoring. Back rower ran a great line to receive the ball and thread his way through the Parkside defensive line in his own half of the field, and then had the wherewithal to attract the Hunslet full back and give a perfect pass to the supporting Craig Williams who raced under the black dot from 30 metres. It got even better just four minutes later when following a penalty awarded to Rangers, the ball was worked to ten metres from the goal line and hooker Sam Rochford scooted from the play the ball dummied to his right causing hesitancy in the defence, and then changed pace to plunge through a gap to score a great individual try at the side of the right hand post. Centre Nathan Chappell had the easiest of kicks following both scores, which he duly converted and Underbank led 12-0 after just ten minutes elapsed on the clock. However, Hunslet were to respond in impressive fashion on 16 minutes. Home wing Courtney Allette was guilty of spilling the ball on the first tackle from a scrum in Underbank’s own quarter. Hunslet’s front rower Luke Pettman charged in on the next play, and despite the attention of three defenders, was able to offload superbly in the tackle and release centre Jack Kirmond to score wide on the right. The conversion attempt was missed. Then came a crucial period of the game as Underbank created three clear cut, scoring chances as they moved the ball wide at pace with five eighth Jakob Garside being the major creator. However, two scores for Allette and back row forward Joey Eichner were wiped out for the defence splitting passes being adjudged forward, and on the third miss the final pass was thrown into touch instead of to winger Will England who had a clear run to the line. Rangers were to rue those missed chances that could have taken the game away from Parkside if they had been converted. As it was Hunslet were next to score as Ryan Campbell sped through and found the trailing Ryan Gaunt on his inside and the half did the rest. Five eighth Andy Hullock converted the try from under the shadow of the posts and Hunslet now trailed by just two points at 12-10 to the home side. Underbank had a chance to increase their lead on 36 minutes as John Birt was caught high after a sniping run from acting half, but Chappell put his penalty kick to the right of the posts, and then Hunslet had a penalty shot in the final minute of the half, after Rangers were penalised for disputing a decision, but once the attempt was wide of the target.
The second half was a stalemate for the large part with neither side able to break free from the domineering tackling. However, for a period Underbank looked the more likely as Allette had a searing run up the left wing after being released by Chappell, but the chance came to nothing, and then they turned down two kickable penalty shots and came away empty handed from the resulting possessions. Hunslet also had a great chance to break the deadlock on 55 minutes as huge front row forward Jamie Fields spilled possession just five metres from the goal line with no-one to beat, but he made amends after 68 minutes as he powered across after being sent through a gap in almost identical fashion to the previous chance. Fields converted his own try, and Hunslet led for the first time (16-12) in the game. Just four minutes later they were over again as Hullock kicked ahead and as the ball eluded Allette he grabbed his opposite number preventing him from touching down, but Danny Harrison wasn’t to be denied as the referee awarded a penalty try. The win was then completed for the visitors on 74 four minutes (their third try in six minutes) as left centre Michael Waite left three defenders trailing in his wake to score to the left hand side of the posts. Hullock converted the Waite try and Parkside led by 26-12. However, Underbank gamely refused to throw in the towel and in a final flourish Dan Farrand forced his way over for a consolation score. Chappell converted to give a final score line of 26-18 to Hunslet Club Parkside at the end of an enthralling match-up.
A dogged and game team effort was highlighted by a sparkling display from full back Owen Restall who was duly awarded the Bengal Spice, Man of the Match and front row forward Dave Valentine was selected by his team mates as the The Rose & Crown, Thurstonland Players’ Player of the Match for his tireless effort in the front row.
Underbank return to action at relegation threatened Hunslet Warriors next Saturday, while Parkside also travel to a side deep in trouble at the wrong end of the table, Featherstone Lions. Rangers need to win to keep the pressure on HCP as it can’t be taken for granted that they will win at the Lions.