Hull Dockers 23 Leigh Miners 16
Miners’ first game of the summer season ended in a nail-biting defeat at Hull Dockers.
The match paired the two sides that had finished neck-and-neck in the standings in the final season of winter rugby, with Dockers having pipped Miners to the final play-off spot.
Whilst the Hull side were largely unchanged from the 2011 team, Miners had a debut for winger Chris Barlow whilst Sean Pendlebury came in at fullback and Aaron Gorton made a return on the bench.
It was Miners who started the stronger despite suffering the disruption of an injury to Martin Lewis in the opening stages, and after concerted pressure the visitors opened the scoring with a ninth minute Shaun Marsh try when the second row forward latched onto a pass from replacement stand-off Gary Gittens to crash through the tackle and score. Scott O’Brien landed the conversion but within five minutes Dockers were back in the hunt. Danny Ulyatt found space down the left channel and his kick behind the line was grounded by Dominic Proctor inches short of the dead-ball line. The Hull side were ahead when they again opened Miners down the left and this time veteran back-row Jon Eccles had the strength to crash over.
The game appeared to be rapidly running away from Miners when five minutes later the home side were in again on the back of a penalty as a Chris Stephenson cut out pass saw Nick Powley go in for his first try. This time Stephenson was able to land the conversion and a lead of 14-10 but as the game entered first-half stoppage-time the visitors had a lifeline with some neat play from O’Brien and a fine pass from Craig Connor allowing Adam Thomason to send Darryl Flannery in at the corner.
Thomason was then involved defensively early in the second half as a storming Dockers’ break saw Ulyatt clear down the middle, the Miners’ international second-row with the pace to overhaul the flying fullback 30 metres from the line. That intervention appeared crucial as Thomason was then again involved, breaking and sending Ross Bradley in for the try, O’Brien goaling to nudge Miners back in front 16-14.
A Stephenson penalty saw the sides level with 19 minutes to go but it also led to a sustained spell of mistakes in the snow, wind and rain, which had returned.
As the game entered the closing stages Miners were camped on the Dockers’ line and if any side looked destined to take victory it was the visitors, but they were undone with a try that deserved to win any game, Dockers running the ball on the last deep inside their own half, and when Kristian Birch broke clear he sent Martin Johnson away on half-way, Powley taking the final pass to finish a flowing move which had taken play 60 metres and across the pitch. Stephenson goaled and added a field goal for good measure to condemn Miners to opening day defeat 23-16.
This weekend the Miners have the long journey down to Portsmouth to face the Royal Navy in the Carnegie Challenge Cup second round. It is a tough test for the Leigh side with the professional clubs in wait in round three.
The U18s get their season underway this weekend whilst the women’s and alliance teams are also ready for the start of their campaigns. For full fixtures information, visit the club website.