Good Friday is where possible Derby Day in the world of rugby league – it sees big clashes such as Wigan v St Helens and Hull FC v Hull KR. London Broncos used to play Les Catalans in their equivalent but of course aren’t in the same league now. They headed up the M6 to Featherstone Rovers and came away with a win, which was no mean feat!
My Good Friday game saw 2 teams I have a season ticket for matched – with Hemel Stags making the short journey to Tottenham to play London Skolars. they play at the New River Stadium in White Hart Lane – where are Spurs is always my thought as I drive along the road to the ground. Nowhere to be seen!
My game pick will always be rugby, of both codes ahead of footie, so not a problem! London Skolars were starting their 1st Kingston Press League game after a period of turmoil. Joe Mbu had been sacked as Head Coach after their dire loss to Swinton Lions in the Cup – losing by a mere 82 points – strangely I sat down to write that match report and just couldn’t bring myself to! It would simply have been a list of try scorers!
Jermaine Coleman was appointed Head Coach in the weeks following the game, he’d been a player at Skolars but went over to Stags as Assistant Coach a couple of years ago. The coach and team hadn’t had much time before this 1st game to have a big impact.
Troy Perkins Head Coach at Hemel Stags has been building his team for a number of years, they play a quick and sometimes gritty (verging on brutal) brand of rugby league. I recalled the first time I saw the Stags play, it was a true local derby against St Albans Centurions – I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything like it! It was pouring with rain and the word battle isn’t an understatement, it was more akin to the film 300 than a game of rugby league!
The Stags stormed through their league that season and were promoted into this league, it was a worry to me that they wouldn’t be able to temper their style and that a few players might spend a lot of time in the bin. But, they polished the edges and have fared well at this higher level.
The problem with being a sports fan rather than a staunch supporter of one team alone means I find myself conflicted at times – this was no exception, I’d decided when I bought both season tickets I’d support the home team when they played each other.
My notes tell me that as the game started Skolars looked the more dangerous team in attack, Charlie Lawrence, of Stags, had a kick charged down in his own half but his team mates managed to regain the ball.
BJ Swindells a long time Stags man who has shone each time I’ve watched him play made the 1st try dummying with ball in hand before passing to Michael Brown he evaded the tackler passing to Mo Agoro who scored. BJ added the extras to take Stags to 6.
Skolars had a spell of attack, they were held up over the line, getting 6 more tackles. A high kick into goal was knocked out by Stags giving another set. Skolars looked good going forward before Will Lovell knocked the ball on as it was passed to him. It looked from the sidelines that he was looking at the oncoming defender rather than the ball.
Skolars were next to score however after successive sets – Will Fairhurst forcing his way through to put the ball down; Sam Druce converted the try to take the score to 6 apiece.
One feature of the game was knock ons! They seemed to be plentiful by both teams, thank goodness this wasn’t the ‘other’ code with it’s prolonged scrums!
Stags went on the attack and were met with some strong tackles before James Woodburn-Hall made the 1st of 3 great offloads – Jamie O’Callaghan was the beneficiary and he ran in to score. Unusually for BJ he missed the conversion.
Two consecutive penalties for Stags gave BJ the chance to add the 2 points however with a penalty – there were no renditions of ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ as is often the case when rugby league players take the kicking a penalty option!
The teams went in at half time with the score on London Skolars 6 Hemel Stags 12.
The ball was kicked off by Skolars to start the 2nd half – and – Woodbury-Hall – knocked on! The theme continued! However Stags were the first to breach the line through James Helliwell, again the try wasn’t converted.
A great feature of the 8- minutes for Stags was their offloading game, a disappointing feature their flopping on a tackled player, it was annoying that the referee ignored it every time. Skolars also had one attack in particular where the ball was passed across the line only to be knocked on by Mike Benson.
I should probably apologise to the individual before I type this next piece from my notes – ‘Rob Thomas is a monster!’. Rob is a player who was with London Broncos then Skolars, he’s a talented forward who at times has been too big to make a proper impact if that makes sense. He’s now with Stags and looking in better shape, he was a very hard man to stop, often pulling 4 men into the tackle.
One set by Skolars will have been of great frustration to their new coach I imagine – they were attacking close to the Stags line, rather than pass the ball out to the waiting attacking line who had space they chose to batter the line which was more than adequately covered. The efforts came to nothing.
The next try can only be described as shout out loud exciting! it went the way of the visitors – Charlie Lawrence chipped a kick over the Skolars defenders – Mo Agoro came from nowhere to catch the ball – he ran in to score a spectacular try! BJ converted to take the score to Skolars 6 Stags 24.
We were treated to a length of the pitch try as Derrell Opherts showed his pace – he was largely unbothered by the Skolars defenders. BJ added the 2.
Stags continued to press and Alex Anthony scored after Skolars had been forced to kick out, BJ made a good effort at the conversion but the ball went wide.
The promising thing for Skolars was that in spite of a 28 point gap they didn’t stop playing, in fact Matt Cook scored a consolation try in the 79th minute taking the final score to a more acceptable London Skolars 12 Hemel Stags 34.
Good Friday was a good day for 3 ‘Southern’ rugby league teams, with Hemel Stags, Gloucestershire All Golds and Coventry Bears all winning – who says rugby league is only a Northern game? For London Skolars there will be a lot of hard work ahead, but hopefully things will click and the wins will come.