Kelly’s eye - West must hold nerve

CROSSING the finishing line is not always easy.

History has been littered with those who have fallen short.

I point you to the Titanic and Devon Loch as one non-sporting and one sporting disaster.

Rumour that one David Stubbs was on board both has never been corroberated, whatever that means.

And more recently another David needed the help of Nick to form a “coalition” after the Tories could not unseat the unpopular Labour government on their own.

Not that I’m suggesting that Kevan Oliphant and Tim Sawyer need to indulge in any sort of collusion to triumph in North One East.

Unlike the Titanic, Devon Loch and the Conservatives who looked miles ahead on their journeys, West Hartlepool are not steaming towards victory.

No, West are inching forward bit by bit in a two-horse race with Percy Park to be the league champions.

To lift the title, West must simpy hold their nerve.

True, they have lost first position in the table – while West were toughing it out to an 11-6 win at Pontefract, rivals Percy Park were running up a try bonus point triumph over Wheatley Hills.

But while Percy Park lead West on points difference, Jonny Boatman and his charges have a game in hand.

West do have two tricky away journeys – to Carlisle and Wheatley Hills – but Park have a couple of difficult hurdles of their own, starting this Saturday at Cleckheaton.

West still have their fate in their own hands. The remaining fixtures are:

Percy Park: Cleckheaton (a); Northern (h); Carlisle (h); Morpeth (a); Durham City (a); Rovers (h)

West: T Northumbria (h), Durham City (h), Driffield (h), Carlisle (a), Wheatley Hills (a), Cleckheaton (h), Northern (a).

West have mixed news on the squad front.

They were due to lose Jonny Boatman, who was scheduled to be having surgery today on a toe problem which has been plaguing him. However, the op has been postponed so Jonny will soldier on for the time being.

While the skipper remains, West are set to lose vice-captain Anth Carr, potentialy for the rest of the season because of work commitments. Saturday’s home date with Team Northumbria could be his swansong.

But West have the not inconsiderable figure of Jon Norris to deputise in the number one jersey. Nogga has returned to Brinkburn from Hartlepool and came off the bench to good effect at Pontefract at the weekend.

Saturday’s match against the Newcastle side will be Liam Bailey’s last until April – the teenage hooker is unavailable for the games with Durham City, Driffield, Carlisle.

However, just as West can call upon an excellent replacement for Carr, they have one of the best number twos about to take over from Bailey – Andrew Dixon.

Dicko may not be the pocket dynamo around the park like the bubbly Bailey, but the 35-year-old ticks plenty of the proverbial boxes – technically his hooking skills are top notch and as he proved with his counter-ruck in the win over Percy Park, he offers a different sort of contribution away from the set-pieces.

And, continuing the good news for West, they have two very good back row almost fit and nearly raring to go.

Paul Rudd, who was arguably West’s player of the year before a mid-season absence, is back on the field.

Earlier in the campaign, the rejuvenated Rudd was making yard after yard for the side and could soon be fit to return, a timely boost given the question mark over Jonny Boatman’s participation in the run-in.

And West have a trump card in the shape of number eight Matt Holmes.

The former Mowden Park star, who once was a member of the Newcastle Falcons Academy, has been on West’s books since the summer of 2009 but, one pre-season friendly aside, has yet to make it across the whitewash.

Two summers ago, he aborted plans to play in National Three (North) because he wanted to give a back problem time to heal. And the same goes for this campaign when he never carried his pre-season work into the real thing.

A very strong back row player and good communicator, the former Durham number eight could even feature on the bench this Saturday.

The only worry facing West, Boatman’s injury troubles aside, is the possibility of a ban for Andrew Davies, who was sent off on Saturday at Pontefract for stamping.

While the man who sent him off at Moor Lane, Richard Whelan, indicated to West’s coaches that he believes the sending off will be sufficient punishment, he does not set the length of ban – an RFU disciplinary hearing will do that, so West must await a decision from the bigwigs.

Still on the subect of West, good luck to West Stags who play Durham University this Saturday in the semi-final of the Durham Second Teams Cup.