West Hartlepool seal big win against Northern but now need away wins
West Hartlepool kept alive their slim chance of avoiding relegation from North One East with a resounding victory against fellow strugglers Northern.
The hosts started the game rock bottom of the league table but with the bottom six separated by only 10 points, a bonus-point victory would keep them in the hunt to get out of the bottom three.
After a scrappy first half, West put in a tremendous second half performance, running in six tries in total, two coming from speedy winger Liam Checksfield.
On a wet afternoon, both sets of players had to deal with some tough conditions for handling.
It was Northern who started by far the better of the sides and probably had their best spell of the match in the opening 15 minutes.
Despite their dominance, they trailed on the scoreboard after eight minutes when Liam Checksfield scored with West’s first attack.
A slightly fortuitous deflection off Peter Youll resulted in Zac Southern’s pass on half way wrong-footing the defence and a nice inside pass put Checksfield through a gap to race away and score under the posts.
Northern did pull a try back through a rolling maul in the right corner and then took the lead with a penalty from scrum-half Ali Gray at the end of a series of penalties awarded to the visitors.
Despite being behind, the home forwards were well on top in the scrum and at the rolling maul and three successive kicks to touch saw mauls brought down and referee Carl Hall despatched Ben Smallwood to the sin-bin.
On the stroke of half-time, West made their pressure tell and retook the lead with Southern running a loop and Gavin Painter putting the fly-half away for a nicely worked try. Painter converted for a 14-8 half-time lead.
The second half was very much one-way traffic as West’s forward dominance began to tell.
Their third try came on 48 minutes with Andrew Rollins the beneficiary of another powerful scrum close to the line resulting in a loose ball the skipper was grateful to tidy up.
A fine conversion from Painter stretched the lead further before a fine solo try from Rob Thorn on 55 minutes.
Fielding a clearance kick on half way the winger burst through three tackles on his way to the line, securing the all-important bonus point in the process.
A confrontation in the 22 after the try was scored resulted in Painter being yellow-carded, but Southern stepped up to stroke the touchline conversion through the posts.
Northern winger Dan Matthews followed Painter to the sin-bin five minutes later after Checksfield tackled him into the advertising boards on half-way and he lashed out in retaliation.
The reaction of his own team mates seemed to suggest he was lucky to only depart for 10 minutes rather than the rest of the game.
With the pressure of the result drifting away, West began playing with more confidence and two tries in the closing minutes put a nice gloss on the score.
Will Hilditch was first to go over, powering across the line after it looked like he would be stopped well short and then Checksfield kept up his charge for retaining the team’s top try scorer prize with his second of the game after a well-worked backs move.
Painter converted both tries, again from wide on the left, to complete a fine afternoon with the boot.
Whether this result will be enough to keep West in North One next season remains to be seen, as a complicated set of permutations remains.
However, should they be able to win both their remaining games they will be in with a good chance - but with both games being away from home it looks a tough ask as West have yet to win on the road so far this campaign.
West: Hilditch, Checksfield, Youll, G Painter, Thorn, Southern, Siddle, Key, Brown, Rollins, Linighan, Bunter, Barker, Butcher, Turner.
Reps: Coates, Atkins, Peacock
Tries: Checksfield 2, Southern, Rollins, Thorn, Hilditch
Cons: Painter 6, Southern
Referee: Carl Hall [Durham Society]