It was quite an unfamiliar side that took the field at Glasshouse Lane for Leek as the club wrestled with a lot of unavailability and late cry offs.
Debutant Adam Kelly started at tight head with Ed and Bobby Cheadle making up the front row. Andy Thompson and Phil Tomczak continued at lock from last week. Andy McFadden was at No.8 with Simon Drew and George Hunt on the flanks.
Gary McDermott and Ollie Drew were at half back. The centre partnership was all Fijian with Kini Bulli and Naz Narawa. Nick Palmer was back on the right wing. Dan Sharratt was on the lefty wing and Isaac Reaney was at full back.
Another debutant, Nathan Bull was on the bench with Liam McDermott and Tom Fairhurst gaining his first senior call up
On a glorious afternoon with the pitch in great nick, Leek were soon behind. After an interception on 3 minutes flatfooted Leek, they just managed to shepherd the right wing into touch on their own 5 metre line. However the ensuing clearance kick only found the winger again and he used the back division to set up a ruck on the 5 metre line. The ball was quickly recycled for a try on the right. The conversion was good and Kenilworth led 7-0.
Leek came back strongly. Dan Sharratt was stopped 5 metres from the home line after a promising break but was penalised for holding on after 10 minutes. 2 minutes later, Gary McDermott missed a penalty after a maul offence.
The game ebbed and flowed but Leek’s defence was sound and unlike last year, the home backs couldn’t break through a solid looking midfield.
On 30 minutes, Leek broke from their own 22 on a turnover and reached the Kenilworth 22 for a ruck. Another penalty came for in at the side and this time McDermott slotted the kick to reduce the lead to 7-3.
On 38 minutes, Kenilworth won a penalty on the Leek 10 metre line but the attempt went wide. Naz Narawa made a fine break as the half wound down, breaking the line and into the 22 and but for a strong tackle from the Kenilworth full back, Leek may well have ended the half leading, but a penalty for holding on gave the chance to clear and the half ended 7-3 in a close match.
The 2nd half opened as the first with an early try for the home side.
A break from their own 22 had the Kenilworth backs in full flow but Leek’s defense crowded them out on the Leek 22. Unfortunately, Leek lost their lineout and as the ball sped across the line and a couple of offloads, the referee missed a knock on and as Leek’s players lost their concentration, the centre nipped in for a try. The conversion missed but at 12-3, Leek needed to respond rapidly.
Leek were now pressing and on 58 minutes won a penalty for offside at the Kenilworth lineout for blocking. McDermott was accurate and deservedly Leek had got back into contention on the scoreboard. 12-6.
Could they go on and take the game from Kenilworth in the last quarter? From the kick off, Kenilworth retrieved the ball and then won a kickable penalty for slowing the ball and with this conversion Kenilworth restored the 9 point lead at 15-6. From the next kick off, the Kenilworth scrum half kicked over the forwards onto the Leek 22. Gathered by Narawa, who was by this time playing at No.8, his pass back to Isaac Reaney had the youngster touching down in goal for a 5 metre scrum. The home pack nudged Leek over their own line for a try on 60 minutes and although the conversion was missed at 20-6, Kenilworth was now hunting the try bonus point as Leek required a converted try to get a losing bonus point.
Leek threw everything at Kenilworth from this point on, winning ball all over the park, recycling and trying to find the breakthrough. Stout defence kept them out and then on 70 minutes after a couple of penalties close to the Kenilworth line, the ball was spun wide. An easy overlap on the right looked likely to give Leek the try they sought and deserved but Nick Palmer’s pass went forward to Bulli and the chance was gone.
As the game entered overtime, a tired Leek scrum lost its own ball and the clever scrum half kicked over the blindside and won the race for a touchdown to secure the bonus point. 25-6.
It had been a great game, evenly contested really but Kenilworth took their chances and Leek couldn’t create enough to be competitive on the scoreboard in the 2nd half.
Despite this, the management will take a lot away from the game, particularly the way Leek responded collectively when conceding the 2nd try at the beginning of the 2nd half.
Next week Leek is still on the road. This time it’s away to Worcester Wanderers, the side which finished 2nd last year. It will be another tough game. KO 3 pm.
There is a coach leaving the clubhouse at 11-30 am with the players. Any supporters wanting to travel can do so. Please arrive at 11 for 11-30 getaway.