Percy Park Pumas 10 – 49 Northern Panthers. Match report by Dean Gray.
A glorious autumnal day saw Northern Panthers make the short trip to the coast to play Percy Park Pumas in the Quarter Final of the Third Team County Cup.
A young squad of predominantly first year University students, ably marshalled by Jack Swain (unfortunately out for the rest of the season with injury but acting as a very effective adjutant) were complemented by a number of "old stagers" such as Neil Carter (in his first game in three years), Ian Brierley, Deano Laws, Tom Sealby, Richard Fullerton alongside "new stagers" Alex Hale, Matty Gordon, Ant Baird and the returnee from climes abroad, Adam Mohammed.
Playing into a strong wind in the first half, Northern showed their attacking credentials early on by moving the ball at every possible opportunity. This also had the effect of quickly tiring a very large but somewhat restricted Park pack and this strategy, combined with a shrewd kicking game ably executed by Matty Gordon and Tom "Cabbage" Boag, when appropriate, meant that Northern dominated, despite conditions being against us. Within thirty three minutes Ian Brierley had scored a hat trick of tries, the pick of the bunch being from an off the top line out on five metres and a long pass to midfield to find "Bear" on a classic out to in line to cut straight through the Percy park defensive line and dot down to the side of the posts. James Allison bagged another fine try sandwiched in between Ian's efforts and a thoroughly satisfying first half ended, with Park eventually using the strong wind to play a territorial game to gain a single try despite manful defence by everyone wearing a white Northern shirt. At half time the score stood at 5-26 with the wind in Northern's favour in the second half.
The wise (?) words of coaches Gray and Reynolds (who came to support coach Gray despite being loaded with cold) were in essence simple- first of all to maintain the high tempo that had reaped such benefits already, to score first in this period and last, to use the wind with no more than two phases of two passes each before "going downtown." Matty Gordon and Tom Boag both executed this strategy and that territorial game, coupled with some slick handling led to the team scoring a further four tries in the second half with Percy Park not being able to answer with a single point. The try scorers were Ant Baird (having his best game in a Northern shirt for a while), followed by students, Paddy Keetley, Ashley Wilde and Alex Hotchkiess, some of the latter tries showing deft offloading skills as confidence reached its zenith.
Final score Northern 49 - Percy Park 10 (they were allocated another try by a miscount- which it would seem churlish to deny them).
I have highlighted some players above but in truth this was a superb team performance across the board, from Deano stepping up to play seventy minutes in the front row to give some heft to the scrum- leading to a smaller Northern pack matching and eventually edging a much bigger one- to a lineout that functioned nigh on perfectly (bar one throw in) with Alex and Tom dominant in the air and hooker James Allison pinpoint in his accuracy, some real grit, determination and physicality across all fifteen players in the collision, meaning that defensively the squad was extremely sold and well executed attacking options across the board, with pace all-round the team especially through our wide men, Dan Stalmeister and Ashley Wilde (being asked to play out of position on the wing). Malachy Kinder (still learning the laws from rugby league), Luke Bell, Richard Fullerton and Alex Hotchkiess worked tirelessly in the back row stemming close quarter attack after attack from Park's big beasts and Neil Carter, mostly ably supported by the always reliable Paddy Keetley, ran his honest and straight lines once again to give a focal point in attack and quick front-foot ball whenever possible. Adam Mohammed's reappearance after four months of absence (I think about a stone a month Adam?) was extremely welcome, and despite being shy of match fitness, showed what a good athlete he is and what soft hands he has. The team was also excellently captained by Rob Thompson, who not only put a "shift" in as always but led the boys with his usual quiet confidence and unflappable authority
All in all a good day at the office!
The only slight blot on the old copy book was that we conceded far too many penalties, often for silly offences on the ground, which led to two yellow cards. This is an area we need to vigilant about and get the penalty count into the very low teens or single figures for the next game up- Ponteland II's in the Semi Final of the County Cup in a fortnight.
I would hope to keep a very similar squad together for this game - which promises to be an absolute corker.
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