....during which they kept Stafford from scoring despite conceding territory and possession with a series of penalties against them.
Kini Bulli started at full back with Matt Leadingham and Dan Sharratt on the wings. Sam and George Hunt were in the centres and Dan Needham and Gary McDermott were at half back.
Skipper Bobby Cheadle, brother Ed and Lee Williams made up the front row with Luke Hardern and Ben Barlow at lock. Simon Drew, Joel Booth and Andy Thompson started in the back row.
The impactful bench of Adam Smith, Ed Harrison and Naz Narawa were all to have a strong influence on the match later.
Leek’s first possession looked promising before a loss of the ball gave Stafford their first chance on 4 minutes and they duly scored. Good passing down the left, some indifferent tackling and a ruck on Leek’s 22 led to an overlap on the right and the wing scored a neat try. The conversion missed but the home side had shown intent early. 5-0.
Leek came back strongly though and on 11 minutes were under the Stafford posts with a penalty for slowing the ball at the ruck. A quick tap by Dan Needham, who had spotted an overlap on the right, was thwarted by a knock on and the chance seemed to have gone as Stafford had the scrum. However, a big effort from the Leek pack turned the ball over and Joel Booth picked up at No.8 and crashed over for a try on the right. Gary McDermott converted and Leek took the lead at 5-7 on 13 minutes.
From the kick-off, Leek infringed having set the ruck on their own 22 and the Stafford 10 made no mistake restoring the lead for his side at 8-7.
On 22 minutes, an offside against Leek led to a lineout in the Leek 22. However, the maul ended with a knock on and scrum to Leek. At this scrum the Leek front row was penalised for coming up out of the binding and the resultant penalty success increased Stafford’s lead to 11-7.
Leek came back strongly again as they went through the phases quickly. It led to a line out in the Stafford 22 on 32 minutes and after initial good Stafford defence, Dan Needham set the maul up. Leek added 12 players to the fast moving maul and Gary McDermott touched down at the back of it with the home side powerless to stop it. He then converted his own try to lift Leek back into the lead at 11-14.
Leek ended the half conceding a penalty for back chat. Stafford went for the lineout deep in Leek’s 22 but solid technique from the pack knocked the Stafford maul back and won a scrum from which Leek cleared.
Half time – Stafford 11-14 Leek.
The 2nd half opened in dramatic fashion with the Stafford backs passing the ball long across the line only for the alert Andy Thompson to intercept on half way. He made it to the Stafford 22 before being tackled and as the defence tried to take the ball off him, Joel Booth was adjudged to come into the ruck at the side and was yellow carded for non-use of arms.
Stafford worked a position 4 minutes later allowing the fly half to convert another penalty as Leek went off feet at the ruck and at 14 all with 45 minutes gone, the game was neatly poised.
Stafford couldn’t take any further advantage of the extra man and on 58 minutes, it was to be Leek that scored the next points after great work by both backs and forwards from their own half. Great continuity and offloads including from Naz Narawa and Dan Needham led to Sam Hunt getting a sight of the line and the full back sprinted in to score by the posts. McDermott converted to hand Leek the lead at 14-21.
The next 25 minutes was littered with penalties and interspersed with good play from both sides as they wrestled for territory and possession. Leek didn’t do themselves any favours as they repeatedly infringed but Stafford couldn’t break the resolute Moorlanders defence. Then on 74 minutes, with the game finally opening up, a Stafford clearance kick only found Sam Hunt midway in his own half. The full back, having a great game, set off on a strong run and with Stafford’s defence turned, the rest of the Leek backs produced a move down the right with Gary McDermott breaking right and George Hunt taking the inside pass on the Stafford 22. The centre had a lot to do from there but his pace and diagonal run got him to the try line with his opposite man trying desperately to tackle him. It was the move of the day and the whole Leek team descended on George to congratulate him as Leek scored their bonus point try. McDermott’s conversion hit the post and stayed out but at 14-26 with less than 10 minutes to go, it was a tough ask for the home side now.
As the teams lined up for the restart, Leek skipper Bobby Cheadle was yellow carded for not controlling his team over the course of the game. Joel Booth skippered the remainder of the game and try as they might Stafford couldn’t break the superb Leek defence and with the last play of the game and from behind their own posts, the Leek backs combined right to left to set Dan Sharratt up for a run to the half way. Sam Hunt took over and it looked like a pass inside to brother George would add another try but hesitation and a good tackle ended the game in the gloom.
It had been a tough well fought game by both sides and despite the sometimes stop start nature, the spectators were given a good game to recall.
For Leek, Sam Hunt’s performance when moved to full back shows the undoubted talent he has in that position and it will be interesting to see the selection for this week’s encounter at EsterChem Park.
Leek (3rd, 37 pts) was the only top 4 side to win on Saturday as Stourbridge (1st, 43 pts) lost their unbeaten record when improving Kidderminster (5th, 29 pts) won by the odd point in 21. Camp Hill (2nd, 38 pts) went down at Tamworth (6th, 26pts) by 23-17 and Walsall (4th, 36 pts) lost at Veseyans (7th, 23 pts) 21-20.
Newcastle (9th, 15 pts) won at Shrewsbury (12th, 7pts) 12-10 and Old Yards (11th, 13 pts) beat Old Salts (10th, 14 pts) by 19-3. Stafford ( 8th, 20 pts).
This Saturday is the last league day of the first half of the season with league leaders Stourbridge Lions travelling to Leek for a 2.15pm KO.
It promises to be a fantastic occasion and it will be very busy, so get down early and enjoy the festive spirit.
Author John McDermott