Hoppers 2ndXV 36 Chester 2ndXV 11
Mike Lough’s second team are the Bateman Premier League Champions after a hard fought but well deserved victory over a dogged Chester side who were intent on spoiling the Preston party.
Hoppers started strongly and looked as if they were going to overwhelm their visitors and their early dominance was rewarded when Keenan stormed over after some sustained pressure. Purnell’s kick drifted wide but Hoppers led 5-0 and were up and running.
However Lough’s men took their foot off the gas and could not convert their dominance into more points. Chester’s first bit of sustained possession combined with some poor defence saw the visitors score in the right corner and the match was tied. Lough was clearly not happy as his team were trying to force the final ball in an effort to break their opponents down. Preston did buck up somewhat and quick ball from a line out saw Tom Grimes glide over on the right for a very impressive try. Purnell missed the extras and Hoppers then made a meal of the resultant restart. Chester applied some pressure and Hoppers transgressed giving them an easy three points. Hoppers led 10-8 and some were wondering if Chester were going to do Macclesfield a huge favour. Fortunately for the home team they scored shortly before half time as some good opportunism from Reddick saw him chase a kick down before grounding it successfully. At half time Hoppers led 17-8 but to make sure of the spoils they needed to step up a gear.
The Adelaide hair dryer was out at half time as Lough laid down the law to his side for he knew that a poor forty minutes would ruin their summer. Chester started the stronger though and a penalty saw the lead cut to 17-11. However this was the last threat that the visitors posed as Hoppers took control, seemingly intent on winning the title which their form over the year so richly deserved.
The men from Lightfoot Green had dominated the scrum with Dan Madden giving the Chester tight-head a torrid afternoon and Dan Fletcher pinching a lot of line out ball. Frustratingly for Hoppers the Chester hooker left the field and this meant that the curse of the uncontested scrum had struck again. Lough offered to lend Chester a hooker or a prop but the visitors declined although no explanation was given as to why. This appeared to galvanise Hoppers and they set about seeing the game out. Greg Horsfall launched a blistering counter attack that ended with Hoppers camped on Chester’s line. Their pressure was rewarded as Matt Conway sniped over from the back of a powerful maul. Purnell added the extras, Hoppers led 24-11 and Lough’s men had one hand on the title.
Purnell was then involved in the clinching score as his kick through set up Reddick for his second try of the game. The conversion hit the post but Hoppers led 29-11 and were counting down until full-time. Hoppers rounded things off in style as the excellent Madden turned the ball over on the Chester twenty two. Preston had quick ball and the Chester defence were in trouble, Purnell who enjoyed. Fine afternoon went himself to score under the posts. He converted his own try and Hoppers were 36-11 to the good.
Preston saw the game out and were champions again for the first time in six years. In recent seasons the league has been dominated by Macclesfield or Sedgley Park whilst Fylde make up a trio of National League One clubs that Hoppers have to battle with. However there can be no doubt that they fully deserve their championship and have earned their place as the leader of the Bateman Premier League pack. In both segments of the season Hoppers boasted the most points scored and least points conceded with their statistics making impressive reading. In twenty five games played Lough’s men have won 21, lost 4, scored 1037 points whilst conceding a miserly 289.
There will have been a few sore heads on Sunday morning as Hoppers enjoyed long and very loud celebrations. This is no more than they deserve and everybody involved can be extremely proud of their efforts this season. The championship is just reward for all their hard work and is a tremendous reflection on the work that Dave Baldwin, Mike Lough, Ade Jebb and the rest of the staff have done with the senior squad.
Below is a selection of Mike Craig’s pictures from the game.
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