Wolfpack Remain Unbeaten In Muddy Whitehaven
Match report by RICHARD de la RIVIERE
THE Wolfpack juggernaut stormed on unabated on the west coast of Cumbria on Sunday afternoon as Rugby League’s newest team won 24-10 against Whitehaven, one of two teams relegated from the Championship at the end of last season. Things weren’t as one-sided as they had been against London Skolars a week ago, but Toronto were comfortable winners nonetheless.
While Canadian supporters will have been more than familiar with the city in which their team played their first match, the town of Whitehaven will not be as well known to them. Formed in 1948, the local club have spent all of the modern era in the lower divisions. Their most notable achievement is making the semi-final of the Challenge Cup in 1957, when they were minutes away from a place in the Wembley final. In 2004, they came within an ace of being promoted to Super League, but were denied in a gripping final by Leigh Centurions. Of late, the town has made headlines for political reasons rather than sporting ones, with a parliamentary by-election seeing the area vote in its first Conservative Member of Parliament for decades.
The filthy conditions promised a game in sharp contrast to the Wolfpacks’ opener on the speedy 4G surface at London Skolars, and so it proved as the first quarter saw Whitehaven go toe to toe with their illustrious opponents. With little ball movement from either side and defences well on top, the sides appeared well matched in those early stages.
Early penalties gave Haven promising field position, but they were unable to capitalise. At the other end, Wolfpack skipper Craig Hall broke through after taking Rhys Jacks’ short ball, but was brought down by the cover defence. Two plays later, Bob Beswick knocked on at the ruck and in frustration threw the ball at James Newton, sparking a brief skirmish.
Wolfpack flyer Jonny Pownall broke through from his own line and seemed a certain scorer until Haven’s loose forward Karl Olstrum appeared from nowhere to scythe him down. But the former Workington firebrand was penalised for preventing a quick play the ball and when the visitors subsequently engineered a three-on-two in the right-hand corner at the Kells end of the Recreation Ground, Pownall touched down for the game’s first score. Hall goaled magnificently from touch.
Just as pleasing for the Wolfpack coaching staff were their team’s defensive efforts, both down the middle and on the fringes. Haven had their fair share of attacking sets, but didn’t look like breaching the whitewash.
When the Wolfpack found themselves in Haven territory again, Liam Kay was denied a try for putting a foot over the sideline. Haven winger Dave Thompson dropped Blake Wallace’s high kick a moment later, but Hall inexplicably dropped the ball as a second try seemed inevitable.
When another score did come, it was via the boot of Hall, whose penalty goal extended the lead to 8-0 as first-half sands ebbed away.
Top teams have a habit of hurting their opponents and just as it seemed that Haven would get back into the sheds just eight points in arrears, Toronto exposed a blindside weakness which saw Hall engineer a try for Kay. Whitehaven supporters were justifiably upset at a forward pass from dummy half, and Hall’s conversion only served to exacerbate the pain. The half-time score of 14-0 failed to reflect the home side’s efforts, but despite failing to dominate the game, the Wolfpack had shown the requisite killer instinct in difficult conditions, which will serve them well in their promotion quest.
Haven began the second period with consecutive sets on Toronto’s line, but a combination of the ankle-deep mud and excellent defence saw them come up short again. Ninety metres away, just as the Wolfpack looked to exert their authority, Elliott Miller produced the moment of the match with an imperious try-saving tackle to deny Pownall his second try.
Toronto didn’t have to wait long, though, as Beswick, the former England Academy hooker, plunged over from dummy-half in the 56th minute. Hall missed the conversion, but at 18-0 the game was as good as in the bag.
Inevitably, the West Cumbrians refused to roll over and after 140 minutes of league football the Wolfpack finally conceded points. Paul Crook opened the defence with a splendid reverse kick and Miller was on hand to touch down. Crook converted and Haven were just a dozen points behind.
Pownall did get his second try in the 68th minute when Jake Emmitt, Wallace and Richard Whiting combined to create an overlap. The former Leigh man cut inside to evade the cover and was able to touch down five metres in from touch. Hall’s superb goal took the score to 24-4.
The winger was denied a hat-trick when a Whitehaven hand diverted a pass into touch moments later. Hall dropped the ball on the first tackle from the scrum base and soon after he lost possession in another promising position. The skipper had otherwise produced a fine performance.
Whitehaven deservedly had the final word when Thompson’s cute kick inside from his wing was touched down by his three-quarter partner Chris Taylor. Haven fans went away happy with their team’s efforts – a vast improvement on their recent defeats to local rivals, Workington Town.
Wolfpack Head coach Paul Rowley was equally delighted with his players. “People talk about our attack, but defensively, we’re pretty good,” he said. “Whitehaven scored after two kicks and that’s all. We’re more than happy. We were ruthless from start to finish and by far the better team.”
1 Elliott Miller
30 Dave Thompson
3 Chris Taylor
4 Jessie Joe Parker
5 Jordan Burns
18 Paul Crook
7 Ste Roper
8 Marc Shackley
9 James Newton
17 Tommy Holland
12 Connor Holliday
13 Scott McAvoy
19 Karl Olstrum
19 Glenn Riley
10 Carl Forster
34 Lewis Foster
14 James Tilley
Tries: Miller (60), Taylor (80)
Goals: Crook (1/2)
1 Quentin Laula-Togaga’e
2 Jonny Pownall
4 Craig Hall (C)
3 Greg Worthington
5 Liam Kay
6 Blake Wallace
7 Rhys Jacks
21 Adam Sidlow
9 Bob Beswick
29 Jake Emmitt
11 Andrew Dixon
12 James Laithwaite
13 Jack Bussey
14 Gary Wheeler
19 Steve Crossley
21 Richard Whiting
23 Toby Everett
Tries: Pownall (21, 68), Kay (40), Beswick (56)
Goals: Hall (4/5)
Referee: Liam Moore
Man of the Match: Jake Emmitt was magnificent all afternoon in the Toronto Wolfpack back row.
Air Transat Three Stars
Images From The Match
This match report has been presented in association with the English weekly newspaper League Express.