LATE DRAKE STRIKE STUNS UNDERBANK
Bramley Buffaloes 30 (10) v Huddersfield Underbank Rangers 24 (12)
Bramley Buffaloes snatched a dramatic late victory over West Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Underbank Rangers in the RLCN Play-Off Semi-Final on Saturday at Stanningley to book their place in the Grand Final for the fifth consecutive year. When Chris Thorley edged Underbank in front 22-24 on 73 minutes it looked like it could be game over for the Buffaloes, however Drake coolly slotted over a 35m penalty on 77 minutes to tie the scores up and extra time loomed. An Underbank attempted drop goal from just inside the Buffaloes half on 79 minutes was read by Drake who charged the ball down and then had the composure to re-gather the ball and out pace the chasing cover to score underneath the posts. He duly converted his own try and then there was just enough time for Underbank to re-start before the referee blew for time. Gallant Underbank will now play newcomers Nottingham Outlaws at The Cross next Saturday to see who will meet Bramley in the Grand Final the week after. A game of this intensity and excitement would be a fitting spectacle for the final, however Nottingham will have something to say about that yet.
The Buffaloes suffered a double blow before the game losing Andy McGann and Nicky Fontaine, however on paper there looked very little between both teams who had already defeated one another once this season with a winning margin of no more than 2 points on both occasions.
Both teams completed their sets early on and it was Underbank who created the first opening on 2 minutes when Shaun Mitchell was put into space and looked to outpace the Bramley covering defence, however his inside pass was collected by Shaun Flynn who returned the ball with interest. On the back of this attack Bramley forced a drop-out which came to nothing, however a second drop out 4 minutes resulted in the ball being spun from left to right allowing centre Matt Mullholland to cross out wide. Paul Drake added a superb touchline conversion. The flow of the game was marred by a succession of niggling penalties which on 15 minutes tested the referee’s patience too much when he sin binned Paul Drake for one high shot too many. Huddersfield took full advantage when hooker Andy Boothroyd proved too strong and scored by the post almost immediately. Barrett added the conversion to tie the scores. Bramley replied within 3 minutes when following two penalties and good runs by Craig Green and Chris Gardner, Richard Hulme proved equally difficult to stop from 10m out to edge the Buffaloes in front 10-6. For the next 15 minutes the game ebbed and flowed as both defences remained tight. The Underbank forwards were making good metres, prompted by Hawkyard, Senior and Boothroyd, whilst for the Buffaloes Harrison, Speight and Elliker were also impressive. The game flared up in the last 5 minutes of the half as first a huge bomb was spilled by Dan Caston as the Underbank players looked suspiciously offside. From the resulting scrum Tom Senior showed impressive balance and footwork to evade several would be tacklers to score under the posts. Barrett added the conversion to put Underbank in front. Two minutes later Simon Speight lost the ball in the tackle when his legs were lifted over the horizontal and his head hit the floor. Although he was able to leave the field unaided tempers were charged on both sides. The referee saw no foul play and it was probably a good thing that he blew for half time shortly afterwards.
Underbank were penalised twice in quick succession upon the re-start allowing Bramley good field position. Graham Harrison took full advantage on 42 minutes when he dived over from dummy half from a couple of metres out. Drake added the simple conversion to put Bramley 16-12 in the lead. Danny O’Connor made a big impact in the early stages of the second half as he made several powerful runs, and this set up yet more good field position resulting in a typical John Elliker try on 47 minutes when he crashed over from close range. Drake converted. Underbanks woes were compounded on 50 minutes when Senior was sin binned after they had conceded a succession of penalties. Within 30 seconds Neil Barrett was harshly dismissed for stamping. Bramley almost to their cost; did not use their advantage wisely. Looking to put Underbank away when they had them on the ropes they threw some ill judged passes and lost the ball. Hudderfield Underbank then showed their resolve and grit by taking the game to the Buffaloes. Albeit a man light Underbank attacked with purpose and it came as no surprise when Lee St Hilaire squeezed over in the right hand corner. Chris Thorley added a terrific conversion to cut the deficit to four points. From seemingly being out of the game on 50 minutes, Underbank were now posing all the attacking threat as the Buffaloes struggled to get their hands on the ball. Underbank’s back row of Keegan, Senior and Hawkyard were causing all sorts of problems whilst St Hilaire was proving a handful with his weaving runs. On 68 minutes Hawkyard showed great strength to somehow stretch over in the left hand corner to level the score, Thorley was just wide with his conversion. A nail biting last 12 minutes followed, Underbank had momentum and had shown great character to put themselves in this position, which got better on 73 minutes when Thorley kicked an easy penalty after a high tackle. As the clock ticked down Drake tied the scores on 77 minutes and then made a match winning intervention almost on time.
Buffaloes coach Mark Butterill paid tribute to both teams after the game and acknowledged that for the supporters it was an exciting and tense affair, however for the respective coach’s there was work still to be done.
An exciting game that was literally decided with almost the last play of the game. Both teams can certainly play better and maybe the occasion had much to do with both teams making numerous errors; however at this stage of the competition it is the result that matters. Underbank will be a stern task for Nottingham next week, however to have defeated Hemel and Featherstone in successive weeks is no mean feat so another tense game beckons.
Game star: Buffaloes Graham Harrison had another top all round. Capped off by another trademark try.
Game breaker: No question about it! From a potential match winning drop game situation to an inspired charge-down, composed re-gather and lung bursting run to the line, Paul Drake we salute you.
Bramley Buffaloes: 1. Shaun Flynn, 2. Dan Caston, 3. Matt Mullholland, 4. Matthew Booth, 5. Craig Green, 6. Paul Drake, 7. Jon Nicholls, 8. Richard Leese, 9. Graham Harrison 10. Chris Gardner, 11. John Elliker, 12.Simon Speight, 13. Richard Hulme, Subs (all used) 14. Scott Pendlebury, 15. Jim Shuttleworth, 16. Danny O’Connor, 17. Daniel Lavery
Tries: Mullholland (8), Hulme (19), Harrison (42), Elliker (47), Drake (79)
Goals: Drake 5/5, Booth 0/1
Huddersfield Underbank Rangers: 1. Chris Thorley, 2. Will Midgley, 3. Lee St Hilaire, 4. Shaun Mitchell, 5. Richard Aka, 6. Richard Knight, 7. Neil Barrett, 8. Dave Valentine, 9. Andy Boothroyd, 10. Richard Lofthouse, 11. Gary Keegan, 12. Darren Hawkyard, 13. Tom Senior, Subs (all used) 14. Joe Worthington, 15. Napoleoni Vinaka, 16. Graham Hyland, 17. James O’Brien.
Tries: Boothroyd (16), Senior (38), St Hilaire (58), Hawkyard (68)
Goals: Barrett 2/2, Thorley 2/3
Sin-Binned: Drake (Buffaloes) 15 mins – Persistent Offending, Senior (Underbank) 50 mins – Persistent Offending
Dismissed: Barrett (Underbank) 51 mins – Stamping
Final score: 30-24
Referee: Charlie Neilson
Man of the Match:
Bramley Buffaloes: Graham Harrison
Huddersfield Underbank Rangers: Andy Boothroyd