A much improved Stanley Rangers maintained their unbeaten home start to 2016 with a fiercely contested 18-18 draw against high flying Thornhill Trojans.
After a humbling defeat last week on the road to Saddleworth, head coach Gary Lord challenged his side, through the week, to rip up the form book and give Ranger nation a performance that it could be justly proud of. They didn’t disappoint.
The much larger Thornhill forwards came out of the blocks at a lightening pace making early inroads to the Stanley defence and a strong scoot near the line gave the buoyant visitors their first try to give them a 6-0 lead. Undeterred by the Thornhill enthusiasm, the home team, showed commitment to Lord’s newly devised game plan and quickly established a dominant foothold in the game. Hooker James Fox was bringing the inspired Stanley forwards in to the game around the ruck with strong carries from Liam Crawley, Chris Grice and the outstanding Richard Cattley laying a great platform down the famous Stanley slope.
After the quarter hour mark, good field position allowed captain Danny Grice, to deliver a beautifully weighted cross field kick for Jack Shepherd to touch down in the corner, on his return to the side. Grice added the touchline conversion to tie the game at 6-6. Buoyed by their success, the Rangers didn’t allow themselves to deviate from the task, they stuck relentlessly to the game plan and imposed themselves on Thornhill around the ruck, with Brown, Robinson and Hartley rumbling forward, the home pack were establishing a dominance.
Experienced backrower Richard Cattley was very unfortunate not extend the Rangers lead cutting a penetrating line back across the Thornhill defence, he was held agonisingly short and unfortunately knocked on whilst reaching for the line. The second Stanley try was almost a carbon copy of the first. Another Perfectly executed cross field kick from the boot of Grice was expertly taken by the superb Joel Marsh, in between two Thornhill defenders. Once again Grice was successful with a touchline conversion, 12-6.
By the half hour, the game had found its equilibrium. Both sides were trying to create chances but were met by smart and strong defending. Thornhill, unable to break the Stanley line, put up a plethora of towering bombs to pressure Marsh in the Stanley backfield. The classy fullback diffused every attempt and instantly put Stanley back on the front foot with strong carries up the field allowing Bell and Duce to come in and move the Rangers down field. Some enterprising interplay between pivots, Ackroyd, Ledger and Grice moved Stanley into promising field position and the panicking visitors were pressured into conceding a penalty, with little time on the clock the home side went for the points but unfortunately were unsuccessful with Grice’s kick going wide of the upright. Half time score 12-6.
Warned about an early Thornhill backlash in the half time team talk, the enigmatic Stanley backrow, set a high intensity in the early stages Cattley, Crawley and Nunns were unrelenting on the Thornhill forwards hitting them back at every stage. Equally the Stanley fringe defence was on point with a calmness in their decision making, Duce, Shepherd, Bell and Brickwood were making intelligent decisions and allowing their opposite numbers neither, time nor space, to make any headway.
The early second half war of attrition was broken in disappointing fashion for the Rangers. Back to back penalties, plus a sin binning for the impressive Adam Robinson, gave Thornhill the field position and opportunity to hit a lead runner through a hole and score to the side of the sticks, in spite of a valiant cover tackle from Danny Grice. A successful conversion tied the game at 12-12.
Disgruntled but focussed Stanley were back on task, marshalled by Ackroyd and Grice the forwards regained the upper hand. Strong carries from Grice and Crawley took Stanley to within inches of the line only for wily halfback Neal Ackroyd to power his way through some soft Thornhill ruck defence. Successfully converted, Stanley took an 18-12 lead with 15 minutes to go.
A tense final stage to the saw the big Thornhill pack surging down the mount Stanley slope with renewed vigour but the unyielding Stanley defence refused to falter. Within the final 10 minutes, aided by back to back penalties, Thornhill were gifted a great opportunity on the Stanley line to craft a chance in the left hand corner to tie the game with a try and a touchline conversion. Two late attempts by Thornhill at a drop goal and then later a 40 metre penalty were unsuccessful and unable to split the two teams. The final score was 18-18 with Danny Grice being named man of the match.
The dramatic turnaround in performances by the team from last week to this, is testament to the hard work on the training field from the head coach and players. While the Stanley men will be disappointed with what seems a point lost. They will certainly be excited with a glimpse of the potential in this group of players and will be looking forward to a very important away fixture at Stanningley on Saturday.