Hoppers 3rd XV 44-24 Leigh 2nd XV
The 3rd XV started the new season in the same fashion as they finished the last with a hard fought victory over Leigh 2nds, the side they beat in last year’s cup final.
After being put through a gruelling pre-season campaign courtesy of new coaches Wayne Steel, Richie Sands and John Peterson, the thirds were relishing the new season. The selectors were able to choose a relatively similar team to the one that started that final with the addition of a couple of new faces. With usual, rotund No.8 Leeming absent, in his place Luke Mills got his first run out in the blue and white hoops. The Geordie medic impressing every single one of the home support. Ryan Fish also made his debut from the bench and the man mountain of a prop showed glimpses of what he will bring to the side this season. It was also pleasing to see passive 2nd rower Chris Ringrose’s return to the side following nearly a year out through injury.
Hoppers kicked off into a slight breeze and quickly set up camp in the Leigh 22. Following several pick and go attempts, the forwards forced a penalty in front of the sticks that Peterson knocked over to put Hoppers 3-0 to the good. In warm sunny conditions neither side managed to put together many phases and the game continued at a frenetic pace with little structure. Winger John Platt managed to capitalise on a lack of organisation in the Leigh defence and brushed off several would-be tacklers to rampage over from 20 yards. The conversion unsuccessful.
In pretty much Leigh’s first visit into the home team’s half, ex-Hopper Oli Farley knocked over an impressive penalty to reduce the arrears to 8-3. Hoppers quickly responded with another close range try from Richie Sands, highlighting the dominance the home team’s forwards were enjoying, to stretch the lead to 15-3. However, the wind would be soon knocked out of their sails following a nasty looking head injury to one of Leigh’s props. With no front row replacement available the scrum went uncontested and Hoppers struggled to maintain their tempo. Credit must go to Leigh who reacted far better to the change in dynamic.
With a much more solid set piece to build their attacks from, it was that man Farley who brought them back into the game with a fine solo effort down the right wing, barrelling defenders out of the way to score in the corner. Farley converted from the touchline to bring Leigh back into the game at 15-10. Leigh would heap further misery on a now abject looking home side in the last play before half time. The ball pinged out of the back of a line out and Leigh’s skipper reacted quickest to score under the sticks for a rather fortunate try. Again the kick was successful and despite dominating large parts of the opening period, Hoppers found themselves trailing 15-17 at the break.
The coaching staff asked for a response at half time and with the introduction of Fish and Beaty, they were answered almost immediately as outside centre Craig Proctor raced away from half-way to score. The try not too dissimilar from the one last season’s Senior Colts captain scored in the final in May. Alex Ward was instrumental in the increase in Hoppers’ tempo and application, forcing the pace by supplying plenty of quick ball and taking tap penalties at every opportunity. Luis Dunne followed up Proctor’s effort shortly after with another break away. The gargantuan centre proved he can still shift despite his ever increasing size and followed his try with his own version of Bebeto’s baby celebration after recently becoming a father for the second time. Both tries were converted by Peterson who added a further penalty to take Hoppers 32-17 in front.
Peterson quickly added his own try, shimmying through the Leigh defence from close range with a waggle of those trademark hips and added the conversion to put Hoppers into an unassailable 39-17 lead. Leigh’s heads did not drop and they capitalised on a lapse in concentration in the Hoppers’ defence to grab a consolation late on before the evergreen Heath George concluded the scoring with another close range effort.
An opening day 44-24 win was extremely pleasing start for a third team that has struggled a lot in Division 1 in recent years and will give the players confidence that they can more than compete at this level. Watching from the sidelines, injured 2nd row Jamie Best mused “Unfortunately I had to pull out of the squad this morning with a runny nose but it was great to see the lads carry on from where they left off last year. I know I will have to get to training this week to try and reclaim my spot in the side.” Luke Mills capped off a great debut with the Man of the Match award. Next week sees a long trip away to fellow newly promoted side Crewe & Nantwich.