Fylde Hawks and Preston Grasshoppers 2nds fought out a well contested Cotton Traders Premier League game at the Woodlands. The nature of many 2nd teams in this division is that the personnel changes constantly. 1st team calls, injuries and unavailability all contribute to line-ups which alter substantially week to week. Both teams at the Woodlands yesterday reflected this ‘churn’ of players, mixing 1st team fringe squad members, a few experienced old heads and emerging youngsters coming through from lower teams and Colts set-ups.
It’s been a rather disappointing season for a much changed Hawks squad this season but, hopefully, this victory against the 3rd placed ‘Hoppers 2nds will re-energise the 6th placed team.
The 1st half was dominated in terms of possession and territory by the bigger, bulkier ‘Hoppers XV. Whilst they battered away at a defiant Hawks defence, the home side looked more dangerous on the counter attack. There were one or two fiery moments reflecting the competitive nature between games at any level between these two neighbouring clubs. An early skirmish saw the excellent, experienced referee Rod Sheard use the sin bin to quieten down Toby Harrison and a ‘Hoppers forward. More significantly, a little later, Mr Sheard showed a yellow card to the highly experienced ‘Hoppers fly-half Mark Murray for a high tackle on Hawks fullback George Brookes. Murray’s subsequent comments to the referee earned him a second yellow and that was the end of his game.
In fact, Hoppers made relatively light of being down to 14 players and, initially, the difference hardly showed. What did show in spades throughout the game was the dominance of the Hawks scrummaging. Their front row of Dan Richardson, Blake Wilkinson and Andy Stevens shoved their opponents backwards at a rate of knots. One of the men of the match was the ‘Hoppers no 8 who had to pick the ball up from the back of a retreating scrummage time and again. And he did it very well in taxing circumstances.
The Hawks did look dangerous when breaking out of their own half. It was from one of these attacks that the only points of the 1st half were scored. Some 25 minutes in, lively flanker Jamie Brookes, mercifully free from the latest in a string of injuries, broke an initial tackle around a ruck and set off from the halfway line. He shrugged off another tackler and raced away to score a fine individual try under the posts. Fly-half Danny Carlton added the extras for a 7-0 lead. Carlton made up a very experienced halfback partnership with the evergreen Jon Green (!) and the powerful scrumhalf rolled back the years with an excellent 80 minute performance.
The 2nd half was the reverse of the first 40 minutes, with the Hawks firmly in control. Pressure inside the ‘Hoppers half soon resulted in the Hawks sucking in defenders in the middle of the pitch before moving the ball right where skipper Matt Garrod scored easily. Danny Carlton’s attempted conversion drifted wide but the Hawks had a 12-0 lead.
Continued pressure from the Hawks pack, with new no 8 Will Hopwood leading charge after charge, wore down ‘Hoppers 14 men. The visitors had a scrummage 5 metres out from their line and, after the usual pressure from the Hawks front row, the ball went loose and flanker Toby Harrison got the touchdown. Carlton’s conversion extended the lead to 19-0.
‘Hoppers had their moments but Hawks were continually dangerous in open field positions. There were lots of turnovers as the play switched this way, then that. Replacement Rob Taylor, usually a forward but introduced for the 2nd half in the backline, made a superb 50m break towards the Clubhouse. He made the line without a hand laid on him but, sadly, dropped the ball in the act of putting it down.
Another break late on by George Brookes saw him race down the right with the try line at his mercy but 20m out he pulled up sharply with what looked like a hamstring injury and the ball was cleared.
‘Hoppers heads never dropped and in the last five minutes they scored an excellent consolation try through a long breakout run by Oliver Yates. The conversion was missed for a final score of 19-5.
It was good to see centre/wing James Bailey back in action after his own troublesome hamstring injury which had kept him out of action for a number of weeks and centre Luke Fowden continuing his education in the 15 man game after switching from RL. The Hawks coaching staff selected Will Hopwood as their man of the match but he must have been closely followed by Dan Richardson and Jon Green in what was, overall, a much improved team performance and a deserved victory.
Photo above: Jon Green in recent action for the Saracens.