Miners Rangers maintained their play-off push with this hard-fought win in a niggly contest at Raider Park. With Oulton battling to escape the relegation zone and coming into the match on the back of a resounding win over Ince Rose Bridge the previous weekend, this was never going to be a match for the faint-hearted and so it proved as a mood of tetchiness prevailed, but Miners did will to avoid being drawn in as they secured the two points.
The Leigh side were without Martin Lewis and the injured John Woods, with Liam Coleman switching to centre and Josh Ward coming in at stand-off. Jonny Carroll featured outside Coleman on the wing and with Adam Thomason on the bench Danny Jackson started in the back row. Oulton were without the injured Danny Stanley so youngster Emile Saunders came into the side and the old stager Carlos Sanchez was on the bench.
In pleasant, sunny conditions it rapidly became apparent that this was going to be a tough challenge as the gargantuan Oulton pack, given the runaround in the return fixture at a sweltering Twist Lane, came into their own with some punishing forward play led by Josh Lancaster, behind which the Machiavellian Tommy Griffiths enjoyed an excellent game. Miners sought to use their quality out wide with the best early chance coming after a break from Ross Bradley, continued by Sean Pendlebury and Ward, but the scrambling defence just about held their line intact. At the other end Saunders almost stepped his way through but Jonny Youds managed to hold him up over the whitewash. The breakthrough didn’t arrive until the 23rd minute when some slick passing from Ward and Scott O’Brien created the mini-break for Thomason who threw the pass out wide for Coleman to score out wide, Youds adding the excellent conversion. Having made the breakthrough Miners extended their advantage when the outstanding Darryl Kay broke down the left wing to take the visitors deep into Oulton territory before play was switched across the field and Youds dinked the kick through and Coleman showed an electrifying burst of pace to sprint through, gather the ball and step inside the fullback to score under the posts, Youds goaling.
Miners appeared comfortable at this stage and with the slope in their favour in the second half they seemed in a strong position but the game took on a whole new complexion as Oulton scored before the break, forcing an error deep inside the Miners’ half and Griffiths with the classy sidestep to score to the left of the posts. Right on half time and Oulton narrowed the gap to one point as Sasch Brook landed a penalty for tripping.
The fractious nature of the game continued into the second half as the importance of the two points was clearly apparent to both sides. Miners extended their lead when Youds landed a penalty after O’Brien was taken out off the ball, and the two combined not long afterwards with a crucial try as O’Brien dropped his shoulder and shot through the gap just inside the Oulton half and with only the fullback to beat he sent the supporting Youds in for the six-pointer. Oulton though remained unbroken and they narrowed the gap again when Danny Hardy sliced through down the right channel to score a try improved by Brook, and it was a tense finish to the game with a succession of penalties. Miners though worked hard in defence and rubber-stamped their win with the final play as Youds landed another penalty for 22-12 to leave Oulton on the brink and Miners still pushing for a top six spot.
Oulton – Tommy Griffiths, Dane Charles, Andy Williamson, Danny Hardy, Stuart Biscomb, Haydn Mann, Matt Bullough, Adam Biscomb, Emile Saunders, Josh Lancaster, Sasch Brook, Mark Falkingham, David Stogden Subs – Carlos Sanchez, Rob Stanley, Graham Davey, Ian Booth
Tries – Grififths (34), Hardy (61)
Goals – Brook 2
MoM – Tommy Griffiths
Miners – Jonny Youds, Sean Pendlebury, Ross Bradley, Liam Coleman, Jonny Carroll, Josh Ward, Scott O’Brien, Kevin Howells, Aaron Gorton, Darryl Kay, Danny Jackson, Lee Gittins, Danny Jones Subs – David Rowlands, Adam Thomason, Tom Farrimond, Shaun Marsh
Tries – Coleman (23, 29), Youds (57)
Goals – Youds 5
MoM – Darryl Kay
Referee – Mark Hebblethwaite