Having spent Saturday watching Saracens play Harlequins at Wembley in front of nearly 84,000 people rugby league was on my calendar for Sunday. London Skolars playing their first home game against Oldham. Two teams with very differing histories. Oldham were amongst the 22 clubs who formed the Northern Rugby Football Union in 1876. So, a Northern team steeped in tradition playing one of the relative new boys. As a starter for the game I arrived at midday to watch the Skolars A team play the South West London Chargers in a pre-season friendly. I’d seen the Chargers play on the same ground last year in a cup game and it struck me then as it did on Sunday that it’s virtually impossible to officiate a game like rugby league with only the ref. There’s so much to see that one set of eyes can’t possibly spot. I enjoyed the warm up in spite of the hailstones that came down part way through; this is meant to be a summer sport! There seemed to be a difference of opinion about the score but Skolars were the victors. It was good to see Ant Cox formerly of London Broncos run in a good try under the posts; a great prospect as a mobile, fast young prop. I’m hoping to see him run out for the first team very soon.
Having frozen on the open pitch on White Hart Lane an hour in the bar with a cuppa and some very lovely chocolate cake was just what I needed! I’m sure the cake was low calorie, but hey, it was lunch! In a small club you get to know visiting fans and it was great to see a few friendly faces, it’s hard to find a match for the passion rugby league fans have for their teams, in most cases they have lifelong allegiances and are so knowledgeable about the game and their team. It was good to see most of the London Broncos team turn up to support the Skolars, a few of the dual club signings being on the Skolars team sheet. The London club hadn’t performed well in their first game against Oxford and I was hoping for much better against tough opposition.
Oldham had a lucky break when John Paxton playing at fullback failed to catch a high kick, Michael Ward powered over from the resulting scrum to give the Roughyeds the lead. Lewis Palfrey added the extras. It was to be Oldham who made the next error; rugby league is a game of small margins and momentum, it can be hard to get that back after a try. But, Oldham let the ball run out over the touch line from the kick off handing momentum straight back to Skolars as they were forced to kick out. Skolars wasted that possession as the ball was knocked on in the first tackle. Oldham looked to have scored again shortly after but the try was disallowed and a penalty awarded. Skolars were awarded a further penalty and managed to trap the Oldham player in goal from the resulting sets, giving themselves another attacking position as Oldham again had to kick out. This time Skolars made no mistake as Michael Worrincy ran on to a neat kick by Courtney Davies to score; Bradley kicked the conversion to take the teams to 6 a piece.
Another penalty by Skolars gave Oldham a good attacking position and they got over the line again only to be held up. Skolars ran out after diffusing the kick in goal from the final kick of the set, they ran out, but the pass was intercepted by Edwin Okang-Ajwang and he ran in to score, Lewis Palfrey again converted. My notes tell me that at 30 minutes Skolars had been making too many basic errors, possession is so key and there were too many penalties being given away by the home team. A funny moment happened on the half hour as the scoreboard was reading Skolars 96 Oldham 12! Now that’d be something to shout about! Skolars did however add to their score after another good kick through by Courtney Davies, this time Mufaro Mvududu was the recipient, with the conversion the honours were even at 12 all. Oldham had several penalties awarded just before half time, 2 of which were eminently kickable, they turned down the 2 points but failed to score. Decisions such as those can often be the difference in going home the winner or loser.
Oldham started the second half with attacking intent and were again held up over the line. Matt Bradley attempted a 40/20 and came very close to a brilliant kick but the ball was kept in play. Oldham attacked and a gap seemed to open up for Brett Robinson who ran through the Skolars with no opposition; Palfrey again added the 2 to put his team ahead by 6 points. Skolars gained some momentum, helped by a strange decision by the officials after Mike Bishay kicked a high ball that seemed to have been diffused in goal. Not how the men on the field saw things and Oldham were forced to kick out again. There were to be a few strange decisions in the second half; and as is always the way when the officials get things wrong things started to get a bit tasty. Michael Worrincy got his name on the scoresheet for a second time as he backed himself and powered through to score ; I’ve watched Michael many times over the years and he hasn’t always used his size and strength to the full advantage; this time he did and 4 points was the result! The try gave Matt Bradley a hard kick to add the extras and this time his kick wasn’t successful. The game finished with a win for the team from the North – London Skolars 16 Oldham Roughyeds 18. My team weren’t to be the winners but they put on a much better performance and played like a team rather than a group of strangers, I’m lookimg forward to the rest of the season! The New River Stadium although not a flashy venue is a great place to watch rugby league; for those who love a pint (not me) they often lay on a guest beer; this time a ‘lemony’ beer from the Caveman Brewery, very tasty I believe! Nick Byram was there from the brewery in his Oldham shirt by chance, maybe next time he’ll have a Skolars shirt on! My day was made once I’d realised who the familiar man was in the queue for tea before the game and I wangled a photo with one of my favourites, Scott Naylor, now coach at Oldham. More rugby league for me this time on a Thursday evening as London Broncos take on in form Castleford Tigers, here’s hoping I’m writing up a win!