Buffalo Soldiers Win Title
BRAMLEY BUFFALOES 38 HUDDERSFIELD UNDERBANK RANGERS 22 – Halliwell Jones Stadium
The unerring boot of Bramley’s Paul Drake ensured that the Buffaloes ended their Grand Final drought.
Three times the bridesmaids in the last four Grand Finals, the perennial league leaders’ have faltered at the biggest fence but, against a seemingly inhibited Rangers in their first major decider, Bramley redressed the balance and more emphatically than the final score line suggests.
Drake, a nominee for the RLCN ‘Player of the Year’ and the unanimous David Oxley Medal winner, had a foot in four of his side’s seven tries, provided the telling pass for two more and used the wind to devastating effect.
He tormented Rangers with his array of chips and punts, along with two 40/20’s, to keep Huddersfield pinned in their own half for the majority of the game.
“It’s been a long time coming” Drake said, “and we are going to enjoy the night. We started well, had a blip, turned too much ball over and were a bit sloppy but got back on track.”
“To be voted the best player on the pitch is a massive achievement.”
His supreme display overshadowed a hat trick for centre Matthew Booth, whose treble all came courtesy of Drake’s inventiveness.
All season the sides have been extremely well matched, their three contests prior being settled by no more than a converted score, but Rangers gave only glimpses of the form that saw them finish runners up in the regular season in their 125th year, in a match failed to spark into life despite a great atmosphere.
Underbank – who were well served by Chris Thorley and Tom Senior – were without four try Final Eliminator hero, second rower Darren Hawkyard who could not delay a flight to America, his brother Richie filling in at hooker for ineligible Andy Boothroyd.
Bramley welcomed back busy winger Nick Fontaine, the hero from their Grand Final victory in 2006 when they defeated Hemel, and looked strong off the bench.
Buffaloes got the perfect start, Thorley penalised for a flop and after charges from Richard Leese and Simon Speight, John Elliker was held up over the line.
A quick transfer to the left saw Drake uncover Booth who rolled out of Will Midgeley’s tackle to go over out wide, Drake’s conversion attempt hitting the post and staying out.
That was the Buffaloes most productive route and they were unfortunate not to increase their lead, Elliker and Richard Hulme going close before Drake’s long scoring pass to Shaun Flynn was ruled forward.
Senior tried to get Rangers moving but they were penalised at marker and then again for holding down in front of their own posts, Drake taking the points on offer to make it 6-0.
From the re-start Hulme knocked on as a shower passed over and from the scrum, on their first foray into the Buffaloes quarter, Thorley twisted his way free and over by the posts, Neil Barrett levelling.
More direct and purposeful in the tackle, Buffaloes regained the lead in the 19th minute, Danny O’Connor forcing an error from Gary Keegan on his own 40 and after charges from O’Connor and Speight, Drake was again the destroyer, his kick to the right seeing livewire Fontaine out jump Richard Aka and tap the ball back for Matt Mulholland to gather and go over.
Thorley’s grubber just eluded Lee St Hilaire as Rangers established some field position, gaining a drop out and even though Buffaloes were guilty of giving away consecutive penalties, Rangers could not sustain significant pressure.
They did get back in the contest with their best move – again on the back of a Buffaloes indiscretion – Hawkyard and Keegan, with a fine off load, sending Thorley over for his second touchdown in the corner to make it 12-10.
On the next set, though, Drake’s presence was again decisive, his towering bomb eluding St Hilaire and skipper Jon Nichols rushing through to gather the ball and head to the posts.
Underbank were unlucky to have a forward pass ruled against them when St Hilaire tracked across the line from a Drake kick on his own ten and shipped the ball on to Midgley and from the scrum Drake’s delicate dab to the corner was batted back by Flynn for Booth’s second to make it 22-10 at the break.
Three minutes into the second period the Buffaloes effectively sealed the title, Drake’s bomb inducing a penalty from which the ball was delightfully swept through the hands of Nichols, Drake, Andy McGann and Booth for Flynn to cross in the corner, Drake adding the touchline conversion.
On the back of his second 40/20 and a spilt ball on the first tackle by Rangers, Drake’s finely judged chip over again uncovered Booth who took the ball at full diving stretch.
Drake attempted a drop goal on the hour as Underbank gave away possession too easily with innocuous kicks, although Aka was unfortunate to be unable to cleanly grasp a Thorley down town from a scrum in a race with Fontaine.
When Rangers did break out – through Barrett, Thorley, Senior and Aka – they lacked a decisive finish but again with the aid of back to back penalties, they scored on their fourth consecutive set; Hawkyard, Senior and Shaun Mitchell getting Aka in at the corner and Barrett converting to make it 32-16.
Huddersfield’s afternoon was summed up as they pressed to narrow the gap further, forcing a drop out but knocking on from it.
In contrast, on their next foray, Nichols, Drake with a lovely short ball and McGann put Elliker over for Bramley’s seventh touchdown.
Rangers had the consolation of the final score, Hawkyard and Senior gaining the position and St Hilaire exploiting a gap close in.
Even on the hooter Rangers were denied, Napoleoni Vinaka sending Midgley on a run but Nichols got back to deny him and begin the Buffaloes celebrations.
Bramley coach Mark Butterill, in his first season, added the title to his Coach of the Year award and couldn’t have been happier.
“I’ll sit down tonight and think about everything that’s happened” he commented. “It’s all fallen into place and above expectations.”
“We’ll always score tries but defensively sometimes we do come unstuck as happened at the back end.”
“We’ve got the bridesmaid’s tag well and truly put to rest. I’d like to think the future of Bramley is in the professional ranks but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
“We’ve got a new nucleus of players this year, the goal was to win it and we’ve got the monkey off our back so hopefully onwards and upwards.”
GAME BREAKER – Shaun Flynn’s well crafted try, three minutes into the second half, to put Buffaloes 28-10 ahead, ensured they would be in the winners enclosure this time.
GAME STAR – Paul Drake tormented Rangers with a kicking masterclass, constantly keeping his side on the front foot and territorially dominant.
BUFFALOES – 1 Andy McGann, 2 Nick Fontaine, 3 Matt Mulholland, 4 Matthew Booth, 5 Shaun Flynn, 6 Paul Drake, 7 Jon Nichols, 8 Richard Leese, 9 Graham Harrison, 10 Chris Gardner, 11 John Elliker, 12 Simon Speight, 13 Richard Hulme; Subs (all used), 14 Dan Caston, 15 Scott Pendlebury, 16 Craig Green, 17 Danny O’Connor
Tries: Booth (3, 37, 54), Mulholland (19), Nichols (32), Flynn (43), Elliker (68)
Goals: Drake 5/8
RANGERS – 1 Lee St Hilaire, 2 Will Midgley, 3 Richard Knight, 4 Shaun Mitchell, 5 Richard Aka, 6 Chris Thorley, 7 Neil Barrett, 8 Dave Valentine, 9 Richard Hawkyard, 10 Richard Lofthouse, 11 Gary Keegan, 12 James O’Brien, 13 Tom Senior; Subs (all used), 14 Joe Worthington, 15 Napoleoni Vinaka, 16 Nick Bellas, 17 Sam Housley
Tries: Thorley (14, 29), Aka (65), St Hilaire (70)
Goals: Barrett 3/4
Men of the match:
BUFFALOES – Paul Drake
RANGERS – Chris Thorley
Penalty count: 12-10
GLDO Forced: 0-2
Half time: 22-10
Referee: Craig Halloran