North One East
Bradford and Bingley RFC 27 v Percy Park 36
Superlative Faatau ensures Park avoid the drop
In their final league game of the season, Percy Park travelled across the Pennines knowing that only a ‘five point’ win against fellow season strugglers Bradford and Bingley RFC would secure their place within the North One East structure next season. With the players bus packed full of supporters and numerous vehicles following crammed with the Preston Avenue faithful, we had ourselves a ‘black and white’ convoy ,full of hope that the ‘Great Escape’ could be achieved. And in doing so the players took heart in the knowledge that a vociferous vocal support would offer encouragement to achieve a difficult and demanding result at the home of ‘The Bees’. A ground where Percy Park routinely had struggled to achieve any significant result. It was going to be a tense affair and certainly not a game for the faint hearted.
Bradford started the livelier of the two sides with Percy Park looking edgy and tense. With the game stuck in front of Parks ‘22’, attack met defence with Bradford running short punchy lines before releasing their backs to stretch the defence. Park were able to absorb the pressure albeit with some fortunate tap tackles to hold the Bees at bay. With the play creeping towards the Park try line Sean Williamson fell afoul of the referee by interfering with a quickly taken free kick. With the yellow card shown Park were down to ten and Bradford sensed opportunity. With the extra man Bradford punched holes in the Park defence and brought the play ‘around the corner’ into Parks backline and if it wasn’t for Ross Alexander holding ‘man and ball up’ over the line Bradford would have made the first score. Yet the pressure was relentless and you knew that it was only a matter of time before the Park wall broke. With quick hands Bradford came on the diagonal and with a mismatch in defence wing Kieran Sutherland was bounced off in the tackle and Bradford recorded the first score of the day. Fortunately for Park the Bradford kicker had left his boots at home and he dragged the kick across the face of the goal. Lome Faatau collected his troops behind the posts and short sharp discussion was had. What was said is unknown yet conceding the try and the opportunity to calm nerves did Park a power of good because from the kick off they came out flying.
Phil Morse set the restart high into the Bradford ‘22’. With onrushing Park players the Bradford side allowed the ball to drop to the ground where confusion reigned. A organisational shambles that resulted in a long hopeful ‘get out of jail’ pass being intercepted by Michael Grove who darted under the posts to score. With the conversion taken Park were ahead by 7 points to 5 and more importantly had their first try on the board. It was all Park and it was Bradford’s turn to absorb the pressure. With the Preston Avenue faithful urging patience Park seemed content to do the opposite, happy to throw the ball about with abandon. It was edge of the seat stuff.
With territory gained, and Bradford holding out, Park attempted an audacious long pass which went to ground and left wing Ross Alexander exposed and scrambling for the ball only to lose out to his opposite number, who collected the ball to run the whole length of the field to score. With the conversion missed it was 10 to 7.
Back came Park. Despite being behind they knew they had superiority, especially in the forwards and the set piece. Deep in the Bradford half a ‘free kick’ was quickly taken and held in the forward area before scrum half Jimmy Baldwin released Michael Grove who moved the ball to Phil Morse. Morse then put in Ross Alexander to score a fine try ’under the posts’ .With the kick taken Park were back in front.
Although Park were playing some great rugby Bradford were dangerous on the break and only a try saving tackle from coach Lome Faatau kept Park in front. For the neutral it was a fine game to watch. For the partisan supporter it was like a visit to the dentist. As the game fluctuated it was Faatau who led the back line moving quickly into any space that was made available to him and with the pacey Kieran Sutherland in support Bradford began to struggle. With Sutherland in possession, the player saw off two attempted tackle before being brought to ground. With plenty of players in support the ball moved to the far right hand corner where the Park forwards drove toward the Bradford line before releasing Michael Birkett to ‘crash over’ the line. With the conversion taken Park were ahead by 11 points and three tries to the good.
As the referee blew for halftime there was a collective sigh from the crowd…time for everybody to breathe.
Phil Morse resumed the game sending a soaring kick off high into the air which Bradford failed to deal with. Bradford were under the cosh and Park were in the ascendency. Scrum followed penalty, with the Park forwards pushing Bradford off the ball. With the Park players quickly into the line the ball was moved to the left before Captain Jonny Dubois, running an inside line, was given the ball to exploit the wrong footed defence to score. His actions to be met with an enormous cheer from the ‘Wagon Lane’ stand as supporters stood, danced a jig, fist pumped amidst back slapping hugs as the ‘black and white’ support acknowledged the significance of scoring that fourth vital try to gain the bonus point. All Park had to do now was win the game and that looked likely as Michael Grove accepted the conversion to put Park ahead by 28 points to 10.
A further Dubois break saw him ‘illegally’ brought to the floor and the offender shown a yellow card. Penalty taken; Bradford down to 14; Park ahead by 31 points to 10. Stay together. Stay tight ‘nought daft’ was the thought. And when that thought had popped in your head what do Park do. In a commanding position and two players in space Park kick away the ball where a simple pass could have put them in for another score .Possession to Bradford. With ball in hand their ex rugby league professional blazed down Parks wing destroying all in front of him to score a fantastic individual score. A score that hand the Bradford support jumping. The score 15 points to 31.
The Bradford try seemed to freeze Park who stopped attacking the space and as a consequence Bradford came gleefully back in the game. Another try saving tackle, this time from Jimmy Baldwin, kept the Bees out but their ‘tails were up’. The game got feisty with the Bradford six deciding to have a debate with Fly half Michael Grove off the ball and away from referee’s eyes. Tense. A Bradford warning. Another flare up. Park flanker Ritchie Berne propelled into the fence. Another warning given. The referee was handling the game really well and marshalling two very committed sides where no quarter was being given.
From a Park line out Bradford punished some poor Park handling to pinch the ball and set up a counter attack that catapulted them up the pitch. A move that had Park players sprinting back to cover ground and close their opponents down. It was ‘that man’ Faatau making the all-important stop. Yet he could not stop the Bradford forwards as they covered the ground quickly to bludgeon their way over in the top right hand corner of the field. 20 points to 31. Was a comeback on the cards? At this time it looked possible. Park needed fresh legs.
With the bench being used Josh Hedley (making a welcome return from injury) and Sean Nairn entered the fray. Both players making an immediate impact. A scrum awarded to Bradford. The fresh pair of legs pushed them off their own ball. With Park in possession they drove forward; driving Bradford players backwards allowing Josh Hedley to force himself over from a short range to score Park’s fifth (and final) try of the afternoon. With the conversion striking the post. Park were ahead 36 points to 20.
With both sides tiring mistakes occurred and an accidental high tackle on Ross Alexander saw a small fracas turn ugly as the Bradford Captain raised his hand into a Park players face. A yellow card was issued. Bradford down to ten, yet somehow they managed to summon up enough energy to score the final try of the game almost on the whistle. With the conversion taken the referee brought an end to a pulsating contest accompanied by a roar that travelled across the Pennines back to shores of the River Tyne. A five point win had been achieved…Mission Impossible overcome…congratulations given and many a Bradford supporter commenting ‘What a game. You deserved that’…and they were right they did deserve it. From that game away at Driffield (omitting the Alnwick disaster) they have been phenomenal.
As the players entered the clubhouse the celebrations began. Songs were sang and one who thought he was Matthew Kelly and saw ‘Stars in his Eyes’…an enterprise that had all around him ‘crying’ with laughter. Truly a day to remember.
Next up…Alnwick….Tuesday night… Ashington Rugby Club… Cup Final… ‘Come on Park!!’