Hartlepool West grind out Ponteland win to maintain top of the table challenge
If the mark of a successful side is winning when you are not on form, then West may well go on to maintain their challenge at the top of the table.
For long periods of this game it was impossible to tell who was third top and who were second bottom strugglers.
With a handful of regulars missing, the Brinkburn side had started the day as clear favourites to overcome Ponteland, who had only won one game from their first seven.
West did start well with Ryan Painter crossing after just four minutes.
Stu Waites’s easy conversion looked to be the start of a decent score for the home side, but Ponteland had other ideas.
They seized on their opportunity when Jay Corbett was yellow carded for tackling with his shoulder.
It was the first of a number of penalties which Ponteland fly half John McConnell gratefully accepted.
He was on the mark again after 10 minutes, but his next kick hit the post when his side had got their first try of the afternoon after mounting a series of surges on the West line.
Ben Davies finally crossed over the line to give his side a four-point lead.
Another penalty from McConnell added to the lead before a rare West foray into the gale saw full back Zac Southern come into the line. He took a well-timed pass from Waites to go over the line.
Waites’ conversion to level the scores rebounded off the post, and it was Ponteland who soaked up a long spell of pressure before breaking out to go into half-time leading 17-12, thanks to McConnell’s fourth penalty success of the half.
With the elements in their favour, the West faithful fully expected their side to comer out all guns blazing, and they were not to be disappointed.
From the kick off, West moved the ball quickly right where winger Callum Johnston still had plenty to do, but he was able to force his slide his way in at the corner.
The conversion attempt was wide, but West were back in the lead.
However, it wasn’t to last long as the visitors continued to use their big forwards to batter their way through the middle, Chris Freer forced his way over in the corner to restore his side’s lead.
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Ponteland’s forwards continued to have the better of things and tested West’s defence.
However, they finally put some phases together to force a line-out ten metres from the visitors’ line. West’s line-out had been solid all afternoon and, with the visitors expecting a catch and drive, the ball was thrown to the back where Jay Corbett collected to dash his way over to regain the lead and give his side a try bonus point.
With only a two-point lead going into the last ten minutes the game was still wide-open.
However, Johnston settled the nerves with a copycat try in the right hand corner to give his side a seven point margin.
Ponteland searched desperately for the converted try which would have been a deserved equaliser, but the West defence held firm to claim the 29-22 victory.
Next week, West travel to bottom club Whitby.
West: Zac Southern, Will Hilditch, Peter Youll, Liam Rutherford, Callum Johnston, Stu Waites, Ryan Painter (capt), Adam Coates, Adam Brown, Danny Cookland, John Bunter, Joe Rafferty, Chris Atkins, Connor McLurg, Jay Corbett.
Reps (all used): Jonny Hunter, Andy Turner, Adam Peacock.
Tries: Johnston (2), Painter, Southern, Corbett.
Cons: Waites (2). Yellow: Corbett.
Ponteland: Oscar Redman, Luke Chick, Elliott Blain, Jamie Taylor, Connor White, John McConnell, Luke Bailey, Stu Browne, Paul Baron, Larry Mew, Jonny Livingstone-Evans, Chris Freer, Ben Davies, Matt McKenna, Sam Long.
Reps (all used): Chris Steven, Jack Spells, Connor Beswick.
Tries: Davies, Freer. Pens: McConnell (4).
Referee: Craig Sakowski (Potomac Society, USA).