West Hartlepool lose out to Northern in battle of unbeaten sides
Something had to give at McCracken Park as the only two sides with 100 per cent records met '“ sadly for West it was their defence which gave way all too often.
The Brinkburn side started the and finished the game well. But for the main part they played second fiddle to a Northern side dominating the line-out, and which moved the ball with pace and power when they needed it.
To West’s credit, they never gave in and earned a try bonus point.
They could also have added an unlikely-looking losing bonus point in the dying seconds as prop Adam Coates charged for the line.
However, the visitors once again managed to infringe as he was tackled just short and Northern gratefully kicked the ball into touch to end the game.
West had coaxed big Rob Thorn out of retirement, as they looked to fill the gaps left by the five players who were missing from last week’s derby win over Rovers.
Unfortunately, the powerful winger had to wait until halfway through the second period before getting a chance to unleash one of his trademark runs.
The visitors did take an early lead from a Stu Waites penalty, but that was all they had to show for the first 15 minutes when the ball was largely in the home half.
When Northern did start to get things together, they quickly equalised but had to wait until the 25th minute for their first try.
Their tactic of kicking for the corner and securing line-out ball - mainly through No 8 Laurence Annis - was one of their main weapons. It created the first try with a missed tackle in the West midfield allowing wing Iain Lyndon to go in at the corner.
Home kicker Donal Collins was in imperious form all afternoon and slotted the conversion.
The line-out in the corner once again proved costly for West three minutes later with centre Harrison Clark benefiting from missed tackles to go in under the posts.
Northern kept up the pressure with excellent support play.
So, it was no surprise when they scored again just before half time - Collins going over from close range. He once again converted from wide to give his side a 24-3 lead at the break.
West needed an early second half response and got it from a line-out of their own. Peter Youll chased down a kick to force full back Joe Young into touch, and from the line-out the alert Isaac Robinson darted over.
Not to be outdone, Waites added his own conversion from the touchline.
However, any hopes that the try would inspire a major West revival were quickly dashed.
It was the Northern full back who finished off some pressure in the right corner - again Collins stroked the ball over to give his side a 21 point margin.
With just less than half the game to go West were staring down the barrel.
But with their scrum continuing to work well, and their line-out improving, they made their way back into the Northern half forcing several penalties which were all kicked to the corner.
Once again the line-out proved to be the best attacking weapon of the afternoon with Jay Corbett powering over to make it 31-15. Unfortunately, he paid for his efforts having to leave the field with a shoulder injury.
West’s right winger Callum Johnston showed his potential in his first game of the season with a powerful run up the right, but good cover stopped Will Hilditch in his tracks as he collected the youngster’s pass.
Liam Rutherford also came on for his debut in the centre and put in several good tackles before making a burst through the middle for the home forwards. That led to the West pack powering to the line where hooker Andrew Rollins touched down.
At 31-20, West were almost back in the game with the next try the important one.
It went to Northern in simple fashion as they moved the ball quickly right where another missed tackle allowed Harrison Clark to get his second score of the afternoon. Collins once again on the spot.
The game was effectively won, but West did have the last say as they looked for a consolation bonus point.
It came from prop Adam Brown who forced his way over next to the post to bring the score to 38-27 with that late effort from Coates almost adding that other bonus point.
Northern: Joe Young, Iain Lyndon, Harrison Clark, Nathan Whitworth, Chris Malley, Donal Collins (capt), Ali Gray, Rob Liley, Ben Smallwood, Matt Hirst, Pat Douglas, Tom White, Tom Burt, Phil Kay, Laurence Annis.
Reps (all used): Chris Ure, Cam Walker, Michael Henderson.
Tries: Clark (2) Lyndon, Young, Collins.
Cons: Collins (5)
Pens: Collins (1)
West: Zac Southern, Callum Johnston, Will Hilditch, Peter Youll, Rob Thorn, Stu Waites, Ryan Painter (capt), Adam Coates, Andrew Rollins, Adam Brown, Jake Linighan, John Bunter, Chris Atkins, Isaac Robinson, Jay Corbett
Reps (all used), Liam Rutherford, Connor McLurg, Craig Hadwen.
Tries: Robinson, Corbett, Rollins, Brown.
Cons: Waites (2)
Pens Waites (1)
Referee: Graham Crozier ( Northumberland)