Leek's opening away fixture in the league this season saw them make the short trip to Stafford. It ended in an emphatic win as the Moorlanders made their best start to a league campaign for 6 years.
Another week and another completely different centre partnership for Leek as Liam McDermott and Josh Mays Woodhead combined in the centre to make them the 5th and 6th players to start there in the opening 3 games.
Still the rest of the backline looked familiar with Ian Harris and Gary McDermott at half back and Nick Palmer and James Floyd on the wings with improving young fullback Jack Newton Taylor.
The Cheadle brothers, Bobby and Ed started in the front row with Jason Milner. Tom Sims and Luke Hardern were at lock and young Andy Thompson made his full 1st team debut on the blindside flank with Ad Nettel and Andy McFadden making up the back row.
The importance of the bench this season will be key to Leek and in Jamie Gordon, James Wilson and Dan Needham, they had 3 impact players on Saturday.
On a glorious afternoon at Stafford, the expectant home crowd saw their side off to a flying start. Leek knocked on from the kick off and a scrum to Stafford midway in the Leek half saw a simple centre move split the rusty Leek centres. The ball moved to a ruck deep in Leek's 22 and quick ball to the right allowed the Stafford wing to touch down with barely a minute on the clock. The conversion missed and one couldn't imagine at this stage that Stafford was not to score again and Leek would score 5 tries without reply.
On 3 minutes a Gary McDermott long range penalty attempt went just under the bar but on 12 minutes, with Leek recovered from the early Stafford blow, a Stafford attack on the Leek 22 saw the ball stripped and Leek counter. Gary McDermott fed Jack Newton Taylor and the youngster broke into the Stafford 22 where a ruck was set up. It looked all over a try but a Stafford player prevented release and he was yellow carded. Gary McDermott kicked the penalty to reduce arrears to 5-3.
On 20 minutes Stafford had 2 penalties and kicked for the lineout. Leek defended well and 5 minutes later cleared their lines.
On 25 minutes, Leek turned over a ball in midfield and the ball sped wide right where Liam McDermott fed James Floyd. The 21 year old wing sprinted into the Stafford 22, raced past the tackle of the full back and touched down near the posts. McDermott converted and Leek held the lead for the first time at 5-10.
Stafford came back into the game but couldn't convert the territory into points and on 34 minutes a Stafford clearance was fielded by Newton Taylor midway inside his own half. He set off on a run that left 5 Stafford players tackling thin air before he raced down the left touchline. A tremendous last ditch tackle by the Stafford scrum half prevented what would have been a contender for try of any season and Stafford cleared from the lineout.
In the 4th minute of what would be a 10 minute overtime period, McDermott added another penalty after offside on Stafford's 5 metre line and Leek ended the half clearing another Stafford attack and leading 5-13.
3 minutes into the 2nd half and Stafford's team talk at the half seemed to work as Stafford came out strongly and won a penalty in front of the posts for offside. Unfortunately, the attempt missed and summed up the home side's frustration.
Leek then brought on its 3 replacements together as Ian Harris, Luke Hardern and Ed Cheadle made way.
Dan Needham showed his intent with 2 quick tapped penalties which resulted in play getting into the Stafford 22 and then an offside allowed McDermott to extend Leek's lead with another successful penalty. 5-16.
On 50 minutes, the turning point in the game arrived as Leek's backs countered again outside their 22 prompted by Dan Needham. Liam McDermott drew his man and kicked through for Mays Woodhead to chase. The Stafford 13 followed through and elbowed the Leek centre in the face. The referee instantly drew the yellow card and McDermott left the field to recover. From the penalty lineout on the Stafford 22, a series of rucks gave Leek quick ball and allowed James Floyd to go outside his man and score his 2nd try of the day. The conversion missed but Leek had now moved to 21-5 and it would need 3 Stafford scores to take the game away from the Moorlanders.
Stafford, to their credit came fighting back and a penalty for offside meant a lineout on Leek's 5 metre line. A couple of rucks later and it appeared Stafford had gone over for a try but the referee was on the other side and deemed the ball held up. From the scrum, Leek's front row came up and Jason Milner was yellow carded for the technical offence. This was Stafford's chance to score with their weight advantage and Leek countered by putting Josh Mays Woodhead in the scrum to try and hold the expected drive. The Leek pack held firm and in the pick up, the defence again was solid and Leek cleared.
On 68 minutes, Needham took another quick penalty on half way and Leek's loose forwards with Jamie Gordon in the van took play deep into he Stafford half. Quick ball left and clever handling by Josh Mays Woodhead and the restored Liam McDermott gave Nick Palmer the opening to sprint in from the 22. Gary McDermott's conversion missed but with 12 minutes to go, it was now a matter of if Leek could score one more try to secure a bonus point as Leek extended their lead to 5-26.
On 76 minutes, a great tackle on the Leek 22 saw the ball spilled into Leek hands and great running and a fantastic kick behind the Stafford defence looked like giving Newton Taylor a score but the referee brought them back for a Stafford late tackle. Dan Needham again took a quick tap and Nick Palmer sprinted off up centre field with Gary McDermott on hand to take the pass and score under the posts. His conversion confirmed a bonus point haul for Leek as the lead moved to 5-33.
Stafford were offering little now and on 79 minutes, handling by backs and forwards saw an attack which looked certain to bring another try but in the act of taking the final pass, the Stafford 13 hauled Josh Mays Woodhead early and was red carded for his 2nd yellow card offence. McDermott kicked the penalty and Leek moved to 5-36.
On 83 minutes, the Leek full back finally got the try he deserved after Dan Needham fed James Floyd. His turn of pace and change of direction saw him race to the Stafford 22 where he passed to the excellent Jack Newton Taylor to round off the try scoring. Skipper Gary McDermott converted for a personal tally of 23 points and boost the score to 5-43.
There was just time for one last play. As Leek collected the restart deep in their 22, the backs started off again running and passing their way around a tired Stafford outfit. The forwards joined in and it looked only a matter of time before a Leek player would score, but when the final pass came and Josh Mays Woodhead touched down by the posts, the referee adjudged it forward and the game ended.
Leek's players could not have put more effort into this game and it was a great afternoon putting a lacklustre performance behind them from last week and giving them something to build on for the season. The forwards worked particularly hard in defence and Andy Thompson had a fine debut. Tom Sims and Luke Hardern are developing a strong partnership at lock and the front row continues to develop as they adapt to the new scrum law.
It is early days yet and the squad will have to maintain its concentration and training to continue to improve.
Next week, Leek takes a break from league rugby and welcomes, for the first time to Esterchem Park, Midlands 2 East (N) outfit Dronfield. This is the opening round in the RFU Intermediate Cup for level 7 and level 8 clubs.
Kick off is at 3pm and your support is welcomed.
The day kicks off much earlier at 1pm though as the Rugby Club's Beer Festival continues from Friday evening's start.
Please come and enjoy some local beers and fine hospitality and food. Bring your friends and family and enjoy the game.
On October 5th, the league resumes and Leek entertains Tamworth at Esterchem Park. Kick off is at 3pm.
In other results, Crewe and Nantwich, which moved sideways from a level 7 league in the North are the early pacesetters following their 2nd 5 point haul with a win at Tamworth. Bridgnorth, Moseley Oak and Leek make up the rest of the sides with unbeaten records so far.