Miners Rangers began their defence of the Conference Challenge Cup with this confidence-boosting win over Rose Bridge. Compared to the epic tussle with Egremont at the Halliwell Jones last autumn this was a somewhat understated victory in what was at times a very scrappy affair, but Miners won’t bother about that as they rattled up a handsome score to book a home tie against Rochdale Mayfield in round two. The Leigh side were able to welcome back Andrew Groves, Dave Rowlands and Kevin Howells who had all missed the previous weekend’s loss to West Hull, with Adam Thomason dropping to the bench and Semisi Cocker unavailable. Bridge were missing a number of regulars through ill-timed holiday arrangements but they had internationals Tom Whittle and Matt Meaden in the side whilst Darryl Appleby also featured, creating a quirky piece of history as he and his younger sibling Todd became the first brothers to play against each other in a Miners’ match.
Miners made the perfect start and again it was a Scott O’Brien kick to the left wing which provided the opening, the Bridge duo of Jamie Malone and Ryan Eccleston getting in each other’s way as they went for the ball and Shaun McDonald benefitting as he gathered the loose ball and put Andrew Hodson over for the try, Jonny Youds goaling. However straight from the restart it was back to level pegging as Darryl Kay had the ball stripped by Whittle in a one-on-one tackle, the bearded centre storming on to score a quick-witted try with Conor Mathews adding the conversion. But the favour was immediately returned as Bridge spilled the restart and from the scrum the ball was moved right for Groves to score at the corner. Already handling errors were setting the tone as both sides struggled to complete sets but Miners had the greater firepower and this was demonstrated as Groves produced two pieces of classy winger’s play to grab his first hat-trick in Miners’ colours, inside the first fifteen minutes. Firstly he finished well from almost forty metres out, slicing through the defence for a fine score and then he showed his finishing qualities from closer range as he cut inside off Youds’ pass to bring up his treble, Youds with both conversions and 22-6 after fifteen minutes played.
Already the game appeared beyond Bridge although they narrowed the deficit somewhat with a well-worked score of their own, Mathews and Whittle linking up and the centre drawing his man before putting Eccleston in at the corner. Boosted by that score the Ince side enjoyed a promising spell but felt aggrieved by the some of the decisions as Miners escaped what appeared a knock-on inside their own twenty and then marched downfield off a penalty, before a ‘momentum rule’ pass by Danny Jones put Kay over from close range. Their mood wasn’t improved as Martin Butler was sin-binned for dissent and in his absence Miners added one further score, a tapped penalty thirty metres out proving Bridge’s undoing as Hodson took advantage of a slumbering defence to sneak in at the corner for a 32-10 lead at the break.
Despite the flurry of points the quality of the game had been dubious in the first half but Miners were controlled and composed after the interval and whilst the tries didn’t flow with quite the same abandon the standard of rugby from the home side certainly improved. Tom Farrimond set the ball rolling again as he dived over the line from acting half and within four minutes Miners had another score in similar fashion, this time O’Brien wrestling his way through the markers and dotting the ball down. Bridge weren’t quite finished and they engineered another good score, Mathews finding Eccleston on half way and the tall winger strode away down the right flank before passing inside for Alan Nuttall to finish off. But Miners had the final word as both wingers added to their tallies, firstly when the home side showed their own finishing quality with some sparkling rugby, Danny Jackson making yards before finding McDonald who in turn took play forward before putting Hodson in for his treble. With six minutes remaining Groves moved back ahead in the scoring stakes as he finished well at the corner off Thomason’s pass to round off a comfortable victory for the cup holders.
Miners – Jimmy Muir, Andrew Hodson, Shaun McDonald, Jonny Youds, Andrew Groves, Steven Marsh, Scott O’Brien, Kevin Howells, Tom Farrimond, Darryl Kay, Liam Coleman, Danny Jackson, Danny Jones Subs – Adam Thomason, Dave Rowlands, Luke Murfin, Todd Appleby
Tries – Hodson (1, 32, 66), Groves (5, 10, 15, 76), Kay (25), Farrimond (48), O’Brien (52)
Goals – Youds 4
MoM – Andrew Groves
Bridge – Jamie Malone, Callum Hughes, Robbie Valentine, Tom Whittle, Ryan Eccleston, Connor Matthews, Daniel Hesketh, Martin Butler, Matthew Meadon, Ritchie Shaw, Darryl Appleby, James Highton, John Seddon Subs – Alan Nuttall, Andy Collier, Michael Houghton, David Hoctor
Tries – Whittle (3), Eccleston (19), Nuttall (60)
Goals – Matthews 2
MoM – Connor Matthews
Referee – Andrew Smith
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