The nerves were frayed, the cheers ecstatic, the groans audible, boards kicked and the gods thanked and admonished in the same breath….Rugby duly arrived back at Preston Avenue with glorious agitation and excitement as Percy Park ‘snatched victory from the jaws of defeat’. If the Percy Park faithful thought that a new look side would abate last year’s tension levels I think we need to think again. Running the ball from the 22, interceptions, last ditch tap tackles and high octane attacking play seem to be the order of the day. When pulses ceased to race, all agreed that this performance was more mature and thoughtful; this is a game we would have lost last season…so its heart pills to the ready because it’s going to be a ‘roller coaster’ ride!!
From the onset you could see that both sides were evenly matched with middle ground territory being contested with some huge hits. Percy Park were pressed by a few ‘Yorkshire Schwarzenegger’s’ notably in the YMCA back line, however they held their shape and after an exchange of penalties in the breakdown area Park kicked to the line. I cannot really describe what happened next with any real authority. As the ball was thrown and collected, Joe Wafer found himself in acres of uncontested space. Before the YM defence knew what had just happened he was off. (I might add with some pace toward the Huddersfield line.) Two enormous hand offs saw the defence fall away and the Park player cross the line. With player coach Ash Smith dispatching the conversion Park were ahead by 7.
If you rile a giant you know what you are going to get. Duly antagonised the YM juggernaut took over and some fine defensive work from Richard Chadwick and Michael Grove kept them at bay. Unfortunatly any play Park set up to clear their lines was lost in contact, allowing Huddersfield to cause many a ‘black and white’ heart to flutter and keep the game camped in Park’s 22. Eventually Park were able to break out and showed real pace going forward. With Smith and Seb Rees in the centre Park look a potent threat. One fantastic chip through the YMCA defence had Michael Grove accelerating toward the ball. Although he failed to gather, it was exciting stuff.
As the forwards scrapped it out, a superb pass from the Huddersfield scrum half split the Park defence and with the runner bursting onto the ball, his momentum took him past two attempted tackles. In space the player kicked ahead behind the Park line. A bouncing ball fell invitingly into the arms of the Huddersfield ‘openside’ who dotted down to score. With the conversion taken it was all square.
With the Huddersfield pack gaining dominance in the scrum area, Park made a change to the front row. Little changed as Huddersfield continued to disrupt and push Park back. Michael Langlands at 8 was forced to clear up and make one fantastic tap tackle to keep YMCA at bay. With ‘backs against the wall’ coach Ashley Smith was at the fore with some ‘on field’ encouragement. Up stood Austin Phillips to take responsibility with some barnstorming runs that also saw a warning off the referee. Yet this was the period in the game when young Jared Deacon settled into the contest with some accurate fast passes that fly half Richard Chadwick clearly enjoyed.
With Chadwick getting good ball he neutralised the Huddersfield forward dominance by orchestrating the back line into offensive positions, pushing YM backwards into their own 22. It was ‘see saw’ stuff…and rather enjoyable to watch. With the YM openside caught offside just outside his 22 Smith elected to kick for touch. The ‘Whitley Bay Lighthouse’ duly rose, gathered the ball and trundled to the line…Park held the ball well with Karl Thompson crashing over the line to score. Conversion taken. 14-7 at the turn.
The second half started as the first half ended, with Deacon and Chadwick directing the ensemble. My attention from the game was only taken when some bard in the crowd commented on my three stages of balding. Duly dispatched with witty retort we were back to the action and just as well as Chadwick put in a ‘teasing’ kick to the corner. With YMCA under pressure, they were penalised for holding on. Chadwick to the corner. More pressure. Scrum Park. Langlands pick up. Chadwick over for the try. Great stuff. Unfortunately the conversion wasn’t. 19 -7 to Park.
The organisation in the Percy park defence was ‘first rate’….then…a miss tackle…and the game turned. Huddersfield bludgeoned through. Good defence recovered the ball but the inability to clear their lines attracted trouble. With Deacon caught at the back of the scrum, the ball was stolen and the pressure told. The try made in the corner at too wide an angle for the YM 10 to convert. 19-12.
With Huddersfield in ascendency a ‘knock on’ saw Park whip the ball away and into their dangerous ‘back line’. With the team careering down the pitch, Huddersfield scrambled back, invoking the ire of the referee. Chadwick again to the corner. Ball retained and after a series of ‘pick and goes’ debutant Cameron Coates was over for the score. The conversion rattling the outside of the nearest post.24-12
As game time reduced, the Park support thought it was in the bag. But this is Percy Park and we should know better. There always has to be a drama. Running the ball out of the 22 (please boys just kick the thing and let them work it back!!) Smith made an attempted looping pass over the Huddersfield centre. The crowd groaned…surely Ash Smith had seen he was the size of a behemoth (look it up!!) I mean he had been playing against him all game. With the pass duly intercepted the try was made. Much kicking of the advertising boards…I guess he had noticed how big he was!! …fortunately the kick was missed. Yet that mistake put Park under all sorts of pressure. The Huddersfield ‘gander was up’ and the Park crowd had been silenced. As the clock ticked down, the pressure on the Park line was tremendous. Not helped for when they got the ball back they threw it away. Giving a pass without looking. Huddersfield were stretching, probing and stretching again. With a long pass full back Michael Grove was left with two men on the outside and unable to prevent the score. The conversion taken 24-24.
As the game restarted ‘The YMCA’ were far more dangerous than Park. Park looked tired and very quickly found themselves back in their 22. With Huddersfield electing the same style of stretch, probe, stretch then pass, a score looked likely. As the game ticked to the whistle Michael Grove was able to read the play and on this occasion intercepted that long pass. With the pass ‘cut off’ he ran down that pitch with the Preston Avenue roar and two marauding and angry Huddersfield men at his back. As the leaden legs took over Grove dived for the line to score that match winning try. The jubilant crowd were bouncing with relief. With the conversion out wide the kick was missed. It didn’t matter as the game was ended with Park victorious by 29 points to 24….and one exceptionally happy supporter was pounding the backs of all around him…truly exciting stuff.
Huddersfield played their part in what was a tremendous season opener and yet again win or lose watching Percy Park play is never dull. Next Saturday we are away to Morpeth and we know what those games can be like…bring the tablets and the hip flasks you are going to need them !!