Huddersfield Underbank Rangers 30 (16) v Bramley Buffaloes 28 (16)

A titanic ‘duel in the sun’ battle between the competition’s leading two sides was settled in dramatic style on 79 minutes as Rangers’ Richard Aka won the race to a Darren Hawkyard stabbed kick to complete a fine hat trick of tries for the flying winger and to seal a tremendous come back win for Underbank and narrow Bramley’s competition lead to seven points, although Rangers have two games in hand. The Buffaloes bonus points picked up in this defeat and that at Nottingham two weeks ago may prove critical in deciding the Minor Premiers at the end of the season.
Underbank welcomed back Richard Flooks, Shaun Mitchell and Andy Boothroyd to their line up, plus they gave a debut to young front rower Sam Housley. The Buffaloes had Paul Drake returning from injury plus Craig Green replacing the suspended Nicky Fontaine in their side. Captain Danny O’Connor, Jon Nicholls, Aidy Manley, Dan Lavery and Antony Ward were all sidelined through injury. Graham Harrison was on the bench and Robin Wilkes remained as loose forward.

The game opened at a ferocious pace with both sides’ packs of forwards putting in huge defensive efforts, but the first quarter belonged to the home side who were playing down the slope. Neil Barrett opened Rangers’ account with a seventh minute penalty goal conceded by Bramley for holding down in the tackle and Underbank’s early domination continued when on 12 minutes Hawkyard broke the line sixty metres out, handed on to the supporting Mitchell who fed his wing partner Aka for the first score. Barrett added the extras and slotted over a penalty 2 minutes later as the Buffaloes interfered at the play the ball. After Mitchell had made a tremendous centre field break Barrett had the chance to extend the lead but pulled the penalty attempt wide. However, Underbank increased their lead further when Dave Valentine broke from deep and Gary Keegan continued the play to crash over, and with Barrett converting the score Rangers led sixteen nil at the end of the first quarter. Bramley were shell shocked by their opponents’ early blitz. Once again ill-discipline was gifting the home team field position and points, however the Buffaloes showed their resilience and gained a foothold in the game when stand off Drake gave a lovely inside pass for powerful back rower John Elliker who crashed over the line from close range. Drake added the conversion and did so again only four minutes later as further Buffaloes’ pressure resulted in winger Shaun Flynn racing over in the corner after receiving a superb long pass from the impressive Drake following a flowing move which saw the ball go through several pairs of hands as it went from one side of the field to the other. Paul Drake added a magnificent touchline conversion. The Buffaloes first half come back was completed when Flynn rose highest to a deft Drake cross field kick to complete his brace of tries, and the sides went to the sheds at half time with the game tied at sixteen all.

Underbank had been well disciplined in the first half however that all changed as they gave away a succession of penalties at the start of the second half and had hooker Boothroyd sent to the sin bin on 41 minutes for a head-butt. Bramley continued their domination at the start of the second period as they scored twice in the opening seven minutes. First hooker Graham Harrison scooted over from acting half back after Andy McGann had gone close to scoring himself, and then after continued pressure from the Buffaloes, Flynn completed his hat trick of tries when he was first to react to a bouncing kick from Drake after winger Bellas fumbled the ball in-goal. Crucially Drake missed the extras to Flynn’s try, but Bramley held a commanding ten point lead. Drake just missed with a 40/20 on 58 minutes and that proved significant. Underbank have not risen to second place in the table without demonstrating a doggedness in their game, and they hauled themselves back into the contest when the powerful Tom Senior raced on to a superb Chris Thorley off load straight from a scrum to cross underneath the posts, Barrett converted, and after Bramley had conceded three consecutive penalties, the ball was worked to the left for Aka to squeeze over in the corner to leave the scores level at 26 a piece. Bramley then re-took the lead with seven minutes remaining as Underbank were penalised for stealing the ball in the tackle, and Drake coolly slotted over the penalty. Richard Hulme was sin-binned on 77 minutes and the Buffaloes were unable to prevent the irrepressible Rangers from snatching victory in dramatic fashion with the match winning score from Aka.

A pulsating game between the top 2 teams went all the way. It would be no surprise if these 2 teams did not meet again in the play-off’s at some stage, if that is the case then Bramley need to learn quickly from their mistakes. Coach Mark Butterill was clearly disappointed and frustrated by his teams’ efforts. After fighting back to 16 all playing up the hill and then moving into a 16-26 lead early in the second half Bramley should have closed the game out, they didn’t and they paid the price. Once again ill discipline was a major factor in the performance as 16 penalties were conceded. So another inconsistent display from the Buffaloes; who now need to find some consistency for the final 5 league games, and up-coming play-off’s.

Game star: Rangers Tom Senior once again proved a handful in attack and defence for the home team.

Game breaker: Richard Aka’s last gasp try meant there was no time for the Buffaloes to respond.

Huddersfield Underbank: 1. Joe Worthington, 2. Richard Flooks, 3. Lee St Hilaire, 4. Shaun Mitchell, 5. Richard Aka, 6. Chris Thorley, 7. Neil Barrett, 8. Dave Valentine, 9. Andy Boothroyd, 10. Napoleoni Vinaka, 11. Gary Keegan, 12. Tom Senior, 13. Darren Hawkyard, Subs (all used) 14. Nick Bellas, 15. Richard Lofthouse, 16. James O’Brien, 17. Sam Housley.
Try’s: Aka (11, 68 & 79), Keegan (21), Senior (62)
Goals: Barrett 5/8

Bramley Buffaloes: 1. Andy McGann, 2. Craig Green, 3. Matt Mullholland, 4. Matthew Booth , 5. Shaun Flynn, 6. Paul Drake, 7. Scott Pendlebury, 8. Alex White, 9. Richard Hulme 10. Chris Gardner, 11. John Elliker, 12. Simon Speight, 13. Robin Wilkes, Subs (all used) 14. Graham Harrison, 15. Daniel Caston, 16. Jim Shuttleworth, 17. Richard Leese.
Try’s: Flynn (28, 34 & 57), Elliker (24), Harrison (54)
Goals: Drake 4/6

Sin-Binned: Boothroyd (Underbank) 51 mins – Head-butt; Hulme (Buffaloes) 77 mins – Punching

Half-time: 16-16
Final score: 30-28

Referee: Jon Downham

Man of the Match:
Huddersfield Underbank: Tom Senior
Bramley Buffaloes: Paul Drake

Next game: Saturday 25 July 2009
Competition: RLCN
Opponents: East Lancashire Lions
Venue: Away (Blackburn RUFC)
Kick-off: 2.30 pm