Saints' exciting young half back Lewis Dodd steered Lancashire to a series-clinching 30-24 victory in the third and deciding Origin Academy fixture of 2019 laying on tries for fellow Saints Josh Simm and Matty Foster.
The series has been a story of Lancashire coming from behind, as they lost the opening fixture at Castleford in April and were trailing again at half-time in the decider at Wakefield.
But Dodd followed the instructions of his Saints and Red Rose coach Ian Talbot to take a step back and keep his cool and played a key role in the tries for fellow Saint, Josh Simm that levelled the scores after 49 minutes, then the clincher for Widnes hooker Jacob Dugdale with six minutes remaining.
Dodd also landed five goals from six attempts, another way in which this performance stirred memories of a couple of other Widnesian half-backs who have excelled for St Helens – Bobbie Goulding and Danny Richardson.
Dodd’s current Saints club-mates were also instrumental, with Simm scoring a try either side of half-time, and Jamie Pye, Jake Wingfield also Matthew Foster also making a number of telling contributions – the latter from loose forward when he combined with Oliver Leyland for Lancashire’s opening try.
Leyland was one of two London Broncos youngsters who have played key roles in the series for Lancashire, alongside the rangy second-row Kai Pearce-Paul.
And there was more evidence of the importance of Academies based outside the game’s traditional heartlands as Alex Donaghy, a tall stand-off from Newcastle Thunder who began playing with the Cramlington Rockets junior club, scored two stunning tries for Yorkshire in the first half.
Yorkshire had taken the lead with Donaghy’s first try, supporting a break from the Castleford prop Lewis Peachey, another youngster who has tasted first-team rugby this season – and had set the tone for this match with a huge tackle in the very first collision.
Lancashire equalised through Foster, only for Yorkshire to regain the lead through the intelligent Leeds hooker Corey Johnson.
Dodd then laid on Simm’s first to bring the scores level again before Donaghy scored his second, with Ben McNamara landing his third conversion from as many attempts – the sort of strike rate his father Steve would have enjoyed, as he followed the game from Perpignan before his Catalans took on the Broncos.
However McNamara junior didn’t have any further opportunities in the second half until stoppage time by which time the game had been settled, as Dodd supervised Lancashire’s domination.
They took the lead for the first time with a 65th minute penalty earned by the Saints prop Jamie Pye and then pulled 24-18 ahead when Walters and Umyla Hanley combined from a scrum move to send the Wigan wing Ben Holcroft in at the left corner.
Dugdale, who made a real impression around the rucks after coming off the interchange bench, then collected a delicate Dodd kick which bounced cruelly for Yorkshire, and although the Leeds centre Jack Broadbent capped a quietly impressive performance with a close-range try which McNamara again converted, it was too late to affect the outcome.
“Congratulations to Lancashire, but I’d extend that to everyone involved in what has been a really good series,” said Dave Elliott, the RFL’s National Programmes Manager who will now lead selection of an England Academy squad for two Tests against France at the end of the season – with planning further ahead to the 2020 tour of Australia very much part of those considerations.
“We have had a lot of players withdrawn through the series, which has been disruptive in some ways – but the way we look at it is as a win-win, because it means lads are being picked to play senior rugby by their clubs, and it gives us the chance to see more players exposed to this level of competition.
“In total we’ll have seen around 60 in this series, which gives us so much information when it comes to assessing players for England selection in 2019 and 2020.
“For example this weekend, we’ve seen Morgan Smithies and Harry Newman, who were team-mates for England against the Aussie Schoolboys last year, going up against each other in the Leeds-Wigan game on Friday night – and Dom Young, who impressed for Yorkshire in the first two Academy games, making his Super League debut for Huddersfield at St Helens on Friday night.
“Add in lads like Jack Welsby at Saints, and Mikey Lewis who’s just gone up to Newcastle, and you can see that group last year set a bit of a precedent.
“But the other great thing about this series is that every club with an Academy has had representation. To see the performance of Alex Donaghy for Yorkshire in this game, as a kid from the North-East who we weren’t sure about in terms of handling this level – that’s such good news, for Newcastle and for us.”
Academy Origin Series, Match 3 – Yorkshire 24 Lancashire 30.
Lancashire win series 2-1.
Yorkshire: Stephens (Leeds); Tindall (Leeds), Hall (Wigan), Broadbent (Leeds), Tibbs (Huddersfield); Donaghy (Newcastle), McNamara (City of Hull); Peachey (Castleford), Johnson (Leeds), Aydin (Wakefield), Bailey (Wakefield), O’Hanlon (Bradford), Gannon (Warrington). Interchange: Bourouh (Wigan), McGowan (Huddersfield), Stevens (Huddersfield), Martin (Leeds).
Tries: Donaghy 2, Johnson, Broadbent. Goals: McNamara 4.
Lancashire: Hanley (Wigan); Hill (Widnes), Halsall (Wigan), Simm (St Helens), Holcroft (Wigan); Leyland (London), Dodd (St Helens); Rushton (Wigan), Wingfield (St Helens), Pye (St Helens), Pearce-Paul (London), Walters (Leeds), Foster (St Helens). Interchange: Dugdale (Widnes), Baxter (St Helens), O’Neill (Wigan), O’Connor (Leeds).
Tries: Foster, Simm 2, Holcroft, Dugdale. Goals: Dodd 5.
Referee: A Sweet