by Andy Coldrick 

Bramley Buffaloes 32 (20) v Warrington Wizards 20 (4)

Bramley Buffaloes took a huge step towards securing their fifth successive Minor Premiership title when they defeated their closest rivals, Warrington Wizards 32-20 at Stanningley on Saturday. The Buffaloes won their first Minor Premiership title in 2006, their third season in the league, and they have not looked back since; holding off challenges from Hemel Stags, Featherstone Lions, Crusader Colts, Huddersfield Underbank and now Warrington Wizards in the meantime. They can rightly claim to be the most consistent team in the league over the past 6 seasons (they finished second to Bradford Dudley Hill in 2005). With 3 games remaining of their regular season they need just 2 points to secure the title and travel to Featherstone next Sunday. The Wizards proved determined opponents and showed why they have gone so well so far this season, a Grand Final spot is clearly within their grasp this season.

Dean Townend failed a late fitness test for the Buffaloes and Jimmy Waddington was unavailable. Tony Williams returned at full back and Dan Caston returned from injury to make up a strong looking bench for the Buffaloes. The Wizards welcomed back Jono Smith to their starting line-up and Buffaloes old boy Shaun Gilmour moved to the front row. Coach Chris Campbell moved to centre allowing Matt Taylor to move to his more familiar role in the second row. Both teams looked to have fielded strong teams. Special mention to Shaun Flynn as he became the first Bramley Buffaloes player to make 100 starting league/play-off appearances for the club, a superb clubman.

In a game which Warrington had to win to stand any sort of realistic chance of finishing top of the table, they made the perfect start on two minutes when after a fine passing movement which covered half the length of the field and went from right to left ended with Chris Campbell scoring a fine try in the corner. There was no conversion from Ayres, however the Wizards had signalled their intent early. The Buffaloes started slowly, conceding some early penalties and failing to clear their own half through some loose play. This enabled the Wizards to mount plenty of early pressure and throw the ball about as they sought further points. Andy McGann made a good tackle on five minutes to put Campbell in touch and further Wizards pressure saw them held up on the line. Robin Wilkes, the Buffaloes loose forward who had a top game, made good metres coming out of his own 10m zone before he popped an offload to John Richardson who scooted 40m on a weaving run before being hauled down. On eighteen minutes a Wizards penalty failed to find touch and they paid the price as Richard Leese was held just short and Graham Harrison somehow reached out to touchdown under a mass of tacklers. Drake added the conversion. Bramley came again and Richardson was stopped short by some fine scrambling Wizards defence on twenty two minutes. Paul Drake was sin-binned by referee Bloem three minutes later for a head high tackle and Ayres missed the simple penalty shot at goal which rebounded off the upright. The Buffaloes re-gathered the ball and on the back of a couple of penalties moved quickly downfield leading to powerful centre Brown shrugging off several tacklers to score, Williams added the conversion. Straight from the kick-off the Wizards turned over possession and Bramley attacked again. Substitute Dan Caston scored a terrific try showing speed and strength as he crashed over, Williams added another fine conversion. Williams, who had a top class game at full back, attempted a 40/20 on 31 minutes, however the ball eventually came to rest in goal and a great Buffaloes kick chase ended with Cosgrove being tackled in-goal. Brown almost put Hulme over on thirty three minutes before a Drake penalty on thirty eight minutes brought the first half scoring to a close, 20-4. Bramley finished the half on the front foot, whilst little had been seen of the Wizards as an attacking unit in the final twenty minutes of the half.

The Wizards came out in the second half determined to take the game to the Buffaloes, their plans were undone though within four minutes when they were penalised for stripping the ball and John Elliker fed centre John Richardson a great pass to allow him to go over under the posts. Drake converted again. Bramley continued to press the Wizards line, however to their credit the Wizards scrambled well and were rewarded for their efforts on fifty one minutes. Jono Smith caused the Buffaloes left hand defence problems all afternoon with his strong running and clever off-loads and it was he who burrowed over for a try, his own conversion coming back off the post. Buoyed by this success the Wizards closed the gap further six minutes later when Smith again scored from close range, this time successfully converting his own try. The Buffaloes were unlucky to lose the impressive Dan Caston midway through the half to a nasty head wound that required immediate hospital treatment. James Brown caused the Wizards all sorts of problems all afternoon and on the back of him stripping the ball in a one-on-one tackle, John Richardson showed excellent pace and footwork to get away from the covering defence to put Williams into space from 10m who needed no second invitation to score his sides fifth try of the afternoon on sixty four minutes. Drake kicked his fourth successful goal. Another Drake chip forced a second drop–out as the Buffaloes looked to put the Wizards away. The Wizards held firm and on sixty nine minutes a long Drake pass was intercepted by Healey who with support around him raced from his own 20m line and looked a certain scorer. Great Buffaloes defence hauled him down 10m from the line and through a mixture of indecision and great scrambling defence the opportunity to post more points was lost. John Elliker was sin-binned on 72 minutes for interference at the play the ball. The Wizards had the last word as Campbell bagged his second try on seventy eight minutes as he ghosted through some poor tackling to score, Smith converted to grab the Wizards a bonus point.

A scrappy game that did not produce the type of rugby league football that maybe both coached had hoped for beforehand, that said Buffaloes coach Mark Butterill was satisfied with the result that puts his team in pole position for the Minor Premiership. The decisions by the referee clearly affected the flow of the game and there appeared to be some inconsistencies in the decision making. On current form both teams look destined to meet again in the play-off’s and another tight game looks in prospect.

Game star: Jono Smith was outstanding for the Wizards, particularly in the second half as he sought to drag his team back into the game, however Graham Harrison takes the plaudits for another non-stop display at hooker. Robin Wilkes and Richard Leese were not far behind.

Game breaker: Williams try on 64 minutes restored the Buffaloes 18 point cushion and with time running out that proved sufficient to seal the points for the Buffaloes.

Bramley Buffaloes: 1. Tony Williams, 2. Andy McGann, 3. James Brown, 4. John Richardson, 5. Shaun Flynn, 6. Paul Drake, 7. , 8. Richard Leese, 9. Graham Harrison, 10. Junior Brandford, 11. Simon Speight, 12. Craig Green, 13. Robin Wilkes, Subs (all used): 14. Dan Caston, 15. Richard Hulme, 16. Danny Mitchell, 17. John Elliker.
Tries: Harrison (20), Brown (26), Caston (29), Richardson (44), Williams (64)
Goals: Drake 4/4, Williams 2/2

Warrington Wizards: 1. Ryan Cosgrove, 2. Graham Healey, 3. Dave Yii, 4. Chris Campbell, 5. Darren Forshaw, 6. Alan Reddecliff, 7. Ian Stephenson, 8. Shaun Gilmour, 9. Warren Ayres, 10. Matt Clarke, 11. Matt Taylor, 12. Jono Smith, 13. Matt Wilson, Subs (all used): 14. Craig Middlemore, 15. Adam Knight, 16. Dan Faulkner, 17. Dan Stubbs.
Tries: Campbell (2 & 78), Smith (51 &57)
Goals: Ayres 0/2, Smith 2/3

Half-time: 20-4
Final score: 32-20

Penalty Count: 10(5)-13(5)
Referee: Jamie Bloem
Sin-Bin: Drake (Buffaloes) – 25 mins, Elliker (Buffaloes) – 72 mins

Man of the Match: 
Bramley Buffaloes: Graham Harrison
Warrington Wizards: Jono Smith

Next game: Sunday 8 August 2010
Competition: RLCN
Opponents: Featherstone Lions
Venue: Away
Kick-off: 2.30pm