PGRFC 36-26 Kendal
Newly promoted to National League 2, Hoppers began their pre-season programme with a home game against Kendal, also promoted last season into the league below.
As with most pre-season games, this was a night of players changing in and out and swapping positions so the final score was less important than the performance. The game ebbed and flowed for both teams depending on which group of players were on the pitch and both sides provided a fast, running, entertaining game with Hoppers showing dominance in the main with quick handling and good link-up play across the field.
Hoppers opened the scoring soon after the start with Cameron Robinson, on his return to Lightfoot Green, breaking the Kendal defence and crossing towards the posts before retiring with an injury. Ben Pearson had no trouble with the conversion and Hoppers were off to a good start.
From the restart, play was fast and both sides displayed quick handling and support moves which had play flowing up and down the pitch. It was from one of these moves that Kendal broke to the Hoppers’ 5m line and were awarded a penalty from which Flanker, Nelson, scored their first try. The conversion by Weightman levelled the scores at 7 – 7.
Hoppers then took command and for the ensuing twenty minutes showed real dominance, driving the scrums and breaking the Kendal lines right across the field producing three tries in quick succession with Oga Mbaya showing the way with a powerful drive into the corner, followed by a neat piece of footwork by new signing Kev Brown at Full Back who darted over wide of the posts, the third was then scored on his welcome return from injury by Luke Proctor. Pearson was out of sorts with all three but the scoreboard (operated by a visiting Chris Taylor and showing the scorer on each occasion as Chris Taylor!) kept ticking over so at the end of the first period it showed Hoppers ahead, 22 -7.
Changes then saw a shift in the balance with Kendal pressing their hosts’ line for some minutes and Hoppers giving up a series of penalties, from which came a second try for the visitors when number eight, Wrathall crossed under the posts. Weightman added the extras and Kendal doubled their tally, 22 – 14.
The players were being continually switched in and out and Hoppers regained the upper hand when Harry Moulding collected a pass from a fast moving attack to touch down under the posts. Pearson slotted the conversion to move the score on to 29 – 14.
This was quickly improved when another fast-paced play had the Italian under-19’s Francesco Krsul gliding through the defence to make his first contribution to a Hoppers’ score. Again Pearson was accurate and with the floodlights on and time ticking away, the score stood at 36 – 14.
Kendal responded and again mounted persistent attacks on the Preston line resulting in two late tries, a second by Nelson and the final one by Blocksidge which was not converted. The score at the whistle was 36 – 26.
Head Coach Joel Unsworth was pleased with the performance:
‘We’ve had twenty-eight lads playing tonight and the key thing for me is that they’ve all stepped up, some playing at a higher standard than they’ve ever played before.
I thought we started strong and in our first twenty to thirty minutes we were dominant but fair credit to Kendal, they came back at us and in the following thirty they were in the ascendency.
There were some areas that gave them opportunity when the personnel was changed and this is what we need to work on but overall we attacked well and but for one or two handling errors we could have had several more tries.
We now have another test against Newport who have been promoted to the National league the same as ourselves and that will be a good indicator of where we are in relation to teams at that level. Then we go to Lymm before starting the season with an away fixture at Wharfedale.’
Tonight gave the supporters, who were out in numbers, an indication of how the squad is looking. There were good individual performances but overall it was the ‘whole team’ play that was pleasing to see and with a number of key players who were unavailable for this match, the prospect for the season looks very enticing.
Keep an eye on the noticeboard to sign up for the 1869 coaches and let’s get behind the lads as they look to make their mark in the National League.
Report by John Le Page, pictures by Mike Craig