Leek completed the double over Staffordshire rivals Walsall on Saturday and in so doing took their unbeaten home record in the league that stretched back to February 2017.
It was a very satisfying win complete with try bonus point with the only downside a red card for Joel Booth.
Sam Hunt, Tom Scragg and Matt Leadingham were the back 3. Rob McDermott and a welcome return for James Floyd made up the centre partnership with Gary McDermott and Ollie Drew at half back.
Lee Williams, Ed Cheadle and Bobby Cheadle were in the front row. Ben Barlow was back at lock with skipper Luke Hardern.
George Hunt, Joel Booth and Jack Conlon making a return made up the back row.
Kini Buli, Will Graham and Jason Milner were on the bench.
Following a minute’s silence to remember a Walsall stalwart, the game kicked off on a cold, grey windy day with Leek defending the clubhouse end.
After a couple of early forays by Walsall, Leek won a penalty on 8 minutes for not rolling away at the tackle and Gary McDermott’s 40 metre penalty sailed through the uprights to give the Moorlanders an early 0-3 lead.
6 minutes later though a deliberate knock on in the tackle as Walsall attacked on the Leek 22 gave the fly half the chance to draw Walsall level and he duly converted. 3 all.
From the kick-off, Leek kept Walsall pinned in their own half and won a penalty for in at the side of the ruck. McDermott kicked for the lineout on the right 5 metres from the Walsall line.
A good catch and drive and the forwards worked their way over the line for Joel Booth to touch down.
The conversion missed but Leek retook the lead at 3-8.
Leek was pressing again on 24 minutes just inside the Walsall 22 on the left when the ball was lost. Walsall countered across their 22 with the left wing chipping ahead smartly and regathered the ball.
This took out the Leek defence and a neat inside pass and then outside pass saw the centre score a great home try on the left.
The conversion was good and Walsall took the lead for the only time at 10-8.
Leek then picked up the pace and on 28 minutes spent a few minutes battering the Walsall line with pick-ups and rucks but eventually lost the ball forward for Walsall to clear. Nevertheless, Leek were starting to
control the ball and on 34 minutes, after George Hunt had put a huge tackle in on the scrum half and then won the ball on the floor, some good continuity left Jack Conlon with a mazy run for the line, beating a couple of defenders before touching down on the right.
Gary McDermott converted and Leek retook the lead at 10-15.
The half ended with Walsall pressing the Leek line but the defence was strong and then a high tackle offence allowed the fly half a last chance to score a penalty but the attempt went wide for the half to close at 10-15.
The 2nd half opened with Leek winning a penalty at the scrum in Walsall’s half for the front row coming up and McDermott slotted his 2nd penalty to advance the Leek lead to 10-18 on 43 minutes and then
3 minutes later another penalty for not rolling away at the tackle saw him add 3 more points from in front of the posts to give Leek a strong 10-21 lead after 46 minutes.
Then the game entered the final 30 minutes, a time when Leek would play 20 minutes of it with 14 men and the last 7 minutes with only 13 men.
Gary McDermott was yellow carded on 50 minutes as he was adjudged a high tackle on the rushing Walsall centre and the fly half duly converted the penalty to bring Walsall back to 13-21.
It may have been expected then that Walsall would drive home their numerical advantage but the opposite happened as Leek’s 14 upped their game, kept the ball and on 57 minutes produced a phase of play involving forwards and backs that left the home side another try down as great hands from Sam Hunt, James Floyd and eventually Will Graham saw the young left wing score his first try in the seniors in the left corner for Leek’s 3rd try.
Sam Hunt converted superbly from the touchline to increase Leek’s lead to 13-28.
As McDermott came back on, Leek were pressing again with a series of rucks in centre field and then exploding into the Walsall 22 on the left gave them a penalty. Joel Booth took it quickly, the ruck was set up and finally Sam Hunt crashed over on the left for the 4th Leek try on 64 minutes. The conversion just missed but at 13-33, it was a long way back for Walsall.
Credit the home side , they came powering back knowing they had to do something and great continuity with Leek’s defence stretched had them outflanking Leek’s defence on the right and scoring a good try on 68 minutes. The conversion was good and at 20-33, the game wasn’t quite over for Leek yet.
Then on 73 minutes, with Walsall pressing in the Leek 22, Joel Booth was shown a red card for a swinging arm and Leek endured 13 minutes of torrid defence as Walsall threw everything at them. Lee Williams was yellow carded on 79 minutes for an accumulation of offences and there were still 7 minutes to play, but try as they might, Walsall couldn’t find the answer to a strong Leek defensive line and the courageous defence held their line until the end.
The bench had played their part with all 3 coming on in the early 2nd half to add to the growing belief that a win at Walsall was possible and apart from the final quarter Leek was mainly in control of the match. The result and performance will have given the Leek players a lot of confidence ahead of the cup game this weekend.
Leek’s win lifted them above Walsall into 4th place on 36 points. Whitchurch beat Crewe & Nantwich and Spartans maintained 2nd with a win over Old Saltleains. Kidderminster completed back to back wins and Newcastle just failed at Tamworth as the hosts won 21-20. Veseyans beat Ludlow.
Leek plays Cleobury Mortimer next in the league at EsterChem Park on Saturday February 3rd. KO 2.15pm
This Saturday, the Midlands Intermediate cup semi final match kicks off at 2pm at EsterChem Park.
This will be Droitwich’s 1st visit to Leek and the unbeaten leaders of Midlands 2 West (S) will be well respected.
The ground is going to be very busy so please get there early. Parking is available on the Wall Lane Pitch and you are reminded to park responsibly. Please consider leaving your car at home and getting a lift.
Come down and support the Moorlanders in what should be a really exciting day for the club.
Author John McDermott