They welcomed local rivals Stafford to Esterchem Park. However, with the Park only just playable, the decision was taken to play the match on top field where the drainage is good and the light better than the tree lined home pitch.
After Leek's last league game ended in the first defeat of the season at Moseley Oak, it was a welcome relief to start the 2nd half of the league campaign with a bonus point win against a side that belies its league position and which was only overcome in the final quarter of a game that saw the referee yellow card 3 players from each side.
Liam McDermott started at scrum half with Ian Harris unavailable. He teamed at half back with brother Gary. Nick Palmer moved to 12 with Josh Mays Woodhead at 13. Jack Newton Taylor moved to the left wing as Sam Hunt started at full back with James Floyd on the right wing.
Bobby Cheadle, Luke Granger and Jason Milner were in the front row and Ed Harrison with Luke Hardern started at lock. Andy McFadden was back on the flank as veteran Neil Edge continued in the absence of Ad Nettel on the other flank with Luke Staton starting at No.8.
James Wilson, Dan Smith and returning Dan Cooper were on the bench as the game kicked off with Leek soon putting together a fantastic phase on 4 minutes resulting in the forwards picking and driving down the left, creating space on the right and good hands allowing James Floyd to score down the right and make it easier for Gary McDermott to add the conversion. 7-0.
Leek were in generous mood in the opening 10 minutes conceding 4 penalties and enough to have the referee issue a warning to Leek. The 4th penalty for offside on Leek’s 22 resulted in a penalty conversion by Stafford to reduce the Leek lead to 7-3.
4 minutes later and Andy McFadden was yellow carded for in at side of the maul. The resulting lineout near Leek’s line wasn’t straight and Stafford had missed a good chance.
On 25 minutes, Luke Hardern won a penalty as he went on the crash ball and as Andy McFadden returned Leek won a penalty in the Stafford 22. The lineout was won and Leek looked to drive over the Stafford line, but an infringement led to the first Stafford yellow card. Another line, another penalty to Leek but still the resolute Stafford defence held and eventually won the ball and cleared.
As the game approached added time in the first half the Stafford centre was yellow carded for slowing the ball, but this spurred the visitors and they held the Leek attack well. As the game entered the 8th minute of added time Luke Granger was then yellow carded for not releasing in the tackle. The subsequent penalty missed and the half time whistle blew at 7-3.
Leek started the 2nd half as the first, on the front foot and scoring a great try.
With the half only a minute old, Leek were running the ball from their 22. A great pick up off the floor by James Floyd saw the wing sprint into the Stafford half. He offloaded to Sam Hunt who outran the cover defence to score in the right corner. The conversion missed but Leek extended the lead to 12-3.
3 minutes later and Leek were trying to run the ball again, but this time from their own 5 metre line. The ball was dropped and the Stafford centre pounced on it to score a simple try. A good conversion followed and Leek’s lead was reduced to 12-10.
On 47 minutes, Ed Harrison was held up over the Stafford line but Leek couldn’t capitalise from the scrum as Stafford’s defence was solid. At the scrum, Dan Cooper came on as Luke Granger was still in the bin. Finally on 49 minutes, Stafford was caught offside and Gary McDermott slotted the penalty to move Leek to 15-10. Still it was any sides’ game and Stafford were still very much in the hunt as they probed the Leek defence.
On 53 minutes, James Floyd tried his luck with a kick through and sprint up, but the Stafford wing touched down ahead of him. Leek needed to try something different and on 62 minutes, with James Wilson now on, the No8 picked up from the back of the scrum and ran blind. It had the Stafford forwards stretched as Leek set up forward momentum rucks. Then as the ball moved to McDermott, Nick Palmer came on a great angle to take the ball at full tilt and he scored under the posts. McDermott converted at 22-10
The Stafford lock back chatted to the referee at the try and he received a yellow and Leek were awarded the penalty on half way. A quick tap from Gary McDermott and Andy McFadden made a break on the right. His pass found Dan Smith and the full back’s run and offload to James Floyd allowed the wing to score his 2nd try of the day in the right corner. McDermott missed the conversion but at 29-10, Leek had scored their bonus point try and were looking to close out the game.
On 68 minutes, Ed Harrison was again held up over the line but Leek were penalised and Stafford cleared. On 76 minutes, James Wilson received a yellow card for obstruction as Stafford put together a break into the Leek 22.
Stafford won another penalty as Leek collapsed the maul and the 5 metre lineout gave the visitors a good platform to score but strong Leek defence saw the Moorlanders make a turnover in midfield.
As the game reached 80 minutes, Leek had a lineout outside the Stafford 22 on the right. Good retention, good rucking and a smart move in the centre saw Jack Newton Taylor take a ball at pace and the youngster burned through tackles to score a great try near the left post. McDermott converted at 34-10.
From the kick off, Stafford had caught Leek in their own 22 but were then penalised for offside. A quick tap and a Dan Cooper ruck set up then allowed Luke Granger to take a crash ball on a great angle and the Leek hooker charged in from the half way line under the posts. Gary McDermott converted to complete the scoring at 41-10.
This was a very tough encounter with Stafford very much in the game until the final 20 minutes and all credit to them for taking the game to Leek. Although the game was disjointed for long periods and an unusual number of cards produced, the teams still produced an excellent game of rugby and the 135 spectators had another fine afternoon’s entertainment.
Only 2 other matches were played in the league – Bridgnorth overwhelmed Aston Old Eds and Moseley Oak defeated Willenhall. The other 3 games were postponed, so Leek and Moseley Oak both leapfrogged Crewe and Nantwich in the table. Bridgnorth moved up to 4th as well as the 2nd half of the season could well be affected by waterlogged pitches up and down the Midlands. Leek’s top pitch, which drains excellently, should provide the alternative should Esterchem Park not be available.
Next week, Leek travel to Tamworth for a 2.15pm kick off.
Leek’s next home game is on January 18th against Wolverhampton