SAINTS Reserves made the long trip up to Newcastle for this warm-up fixture to provide worthy opposition for Jamaican international centre Joe Brown who is celebrating a testimonial this year, writes Graham Henthorne.
This was always going to be a stern test for the Saints up against the full Newcastle first team which had given Whitehaven a severe touch up last week.
The Saints continued last season’s raison d’etre giving debuts at this level to two more of last season’s U16s Sam Royle and Ben Sims, and new signing John Hutchings none of which seemed out of place.
There was also room for Captain for the day Greg Richards, Jack Ashworth and Jack Owens who all gained valuable game time.
The Saints allowed the home team to kick off and on their second possession the locals were treated to something that some of us had the privilege of seeing quite often last year but never tired of. Namely a piece of Regan Grace magic.
The Thunder grubbered through on the last, a difficult kick that Ricky Bailey dealt with masterfully, before making it past the chasers to stay in the field of play. From the play the ball Grace scooted past the markers rounded the defensive line and then never really getting out of second gear outpaced a despairing dive from the full back to go in at the side of the posts.
Unlike other trips up here that the Saints have made over the years this was the Thunder’s first team and they were not about to lie down and take a hammering. They came straight back at the Saints with some hard drives from the difficult to tackle Jack Aldous and an outrageous last tackle dummy from Benn Hardcastle saw the scrum half in under the sticks.
The Saints made the home side pay for some profligate handling as, on the quarter hour, that man Grace again put the Thunder to the sword. From the scrum on the Thunder 40 the ball was swept left for Bailey to spot the overlap sending a pass in front of Calvin Wellington directly to his winger. Seconds later Grace had stood up one man covering with a shimmy and gone around him before he even realised he’d gone. He then showed another sign of his evolution as a talent by taking a step inside to stand up the covering full back so that he strolled over untouched in the corner.
The Thunder then benefitted from some poor Saints discipline and generous decision as the penalty count against grew leaving them defending for long periods in their own half.
The line stood firm until five minutes from the break when, fittingly, Joe Brown twisted his way out of a four man tackle over the line to score. The conversion put the home side ahead at the interval.
At oranges Coach Talbot spoke long about respecting possession, respecting the whistle and, therefore, spending more time in the opposition’s half of the field. And that’s what the Saints managed to do in the second period.
The opening few minutes was another one of give and take as the two sides traded blows. The Thunder coming closest to scoring as Ben Morris and Jack Ashworth were forced to hold a player over the line to save the try.
But as the half wore on the Saints superior fitness, knowhow and sheer determination saw them home.
The deadlock was broken 15 minutes in as the Saints took advantage of two rare penalties on the bounce. Firstly Calvin Wellington, who looked dangerous in possession all day, made a break and gained another penalty. From this restart Greg Richards was again stopped short but from the play the ball the play went left to Jake Spedding who marked his debut in the second row with a well taken try. Jack Owens’ second conversion of the day gave the Saints a lead they hung on to ‘til the end.
On the hour Jonah Cunningham had a try disallowed for a dubious forward pass after Matty Fleming had done all the hard work.
Five minutes later and Spedding could have had a second had the bounce favoured him a little more. And seconds later makeshift scrum half Aaron Smith made a trade mark break. From the play the ball spread the play left and the Saints score, go right as they did and the chance was lost.
As the final whistle got closer the Saints looked ever more secure and came away with a fabulous win and more importantly a great team performance.
Captain Richards led from the front with big minutes, ably backed up by 80 minutes from Ashworth and an increasingly assured performance from “new” standoff Owens.
Chris Follin and Jorge Lewtas showed progression from last year under the steadying influence of Ben Morris an unassuming tower down the middle.
Make no mistakes this was a fine win and one which gives the coaching staff nothing but positives to work on for next week’s even longer trip to Merthyr Tydfil to face the Ironmen of South Wales.
Tries: Benn Hardcastle (9), Joe Brown (34).
Goals: Benn Hardcastle 2.
Tries: Regan Grace (3 & 16), Jake Spedding (55).
Goals: Jack Owens 2.
Half Time: 12-10
Full Time: 12-16
1. Lewis Young; 2. Tyler Craig, 4. Joe Brown, 3. Derrell Olpherts, 5. Peter Fox; 6. Danny Nicklas, 7. Benn Hardcastle; 8. Brett Waller, 9. Evan Simons, 10. Liam McAvoy, 20. Harry Aldous, 12. Corbyn Kilday, 13. Jack Aldous.
Subs: 11. Jake Woods, 14. Dan Parker, 17. Liam Scott, 18. Matty Barron, 19. Josh Stoker, Josh Stoker, 21. Kruse Robinson, 22. Ryan Clarke, 25. Sam Luckley, 26. Ali Blair, 27. Zach Clark.
1. Ricky Bailey; 2. Dave Eccleston, 4. Matty Fleming, 3. Calvin Wellington, 5. Regan Grace; 24. Jack Owens, 21. Aaron Smith; 17. Jack Ashworth, 9. Jonah Cunningham, 8. Greg Richards, 11. Chris Follin, 23. Jake Spedding, 13. Ben Morris.
Subs: 10. Jordan Olmez, 14. Brad Pinder, 15. Ben Sims, 16. Jorge Lewtas, 18. Sam Royle, 19. John Hutchings.