WEST Hartlepool won’t have to travel away from Brinkburn again until 2015 – and they’ll be hoping that the December fixtures will get their season back on track.
Their last two games have seen two defeats where they rarely looked like crossing the try line.
West travelled up the A19 to Percy Park as clear underdogs. The home side unbeaten at Preston Avenue and vying with Sheffield for the top spot.
They faced a West side with its usual number of changes. Hooker Andrew Rollins arrived late and started on strong looking bench alongside Liam Bailey and top try scorer Sam Miller.
In last week’s narrow defeat at the hands of Wheatley Hills, the home side forced 14 penalties in a row but still couldn’t come away with the win.
Percy Park showed them how it should be done by going in at half time 13-3 up – mainly thanks to a penalty count in their favour of 11-2.
Referee Graham Crozier had given West skipper Dan Boatman two controversial yellow cards the last time they met at Northern and, as a result, Stuart Waites was handed the captaincy for the day – a job he carried off with some aplomb.
However, his constant organising from full-back could not prevent a lacklustre display, which saw West kicking the ball away, failing to find touch from penalties and unable to get the ball out along the backs.
Park went into the lead after just three minutes with a penalty from fly half Ash Smith, and further ahead on 20 minutes when they opted to kick a penalty to the corner.
With former West professional James Ponton still in fine form in the line out they went for the catch and drive and steamrollered over the line thanks to the extra input of five backs.
Hooker Andrew Dunn was the man to emerge from the 20-man melee with the ball.
Smith’s conversion from the touchline gave Park a 10-0 lead. He soon added to it from a penalty in front of the posts after a West hand was spotted nudging the ball back in a ruck.
The home side should have gone further ahead when Smith put Ali Blair through with a delightful inside pass but the Park centre lost the ball as he crossed the line.
West’s forwards had been holding their own in both the scrum and on their own line-out.
However, the visitors didn’t threaten until the half hour when centre Peter Youll burst through a gap in midfield.
When he was brought down Park were penalised and Zac Southern got the visitors on the score sheet.
West had all three of their replacements on for the second half, but it didn’t make much difference as Park stepped up the pace and looked to get the ball out wide.
They went further ahead when Andy Foreman just managed to get to a grubber kick. From the resulting five-metre scrum, Andrew Dunn got his second try of the afternoon and Smith once again converted.
The stand-off then got himself on the scoresheet –dummying his way through from 10 metres and racing in behind the posts to set himself up for an easy conversion.
Park were looking for their fourth try, and a bonus point, and it came on the hour from another penalty kick into the corner.
This time only full-back Dan Osborn stayed out of the drive with back row Ben Bell the man to touch down.
West re-jigged their side with Stu Waites and Zac Southern switching roles, and the visitors began to mount some pressure on the home line.
A flowing move up the right saw Sam Miller, Jay Corbett and Andrew Foreman all take the ball on.
They forced a scrum five metres out, and when Park infringed, the ball was quickly sped out right where Zac Southern sidestepped two men to go over and give his side their consolation score.
West coach Peter Robinson said: “The lads worked hard but we couldn’t get any fluency in our play.
“We gave the ball away far too often both from our own errors and from the high penalty count.
“There were some good individual performances with Danny Boatman outstanding, and I don’t think the scoreline was an entirely fair reflection on our efforts.
“It could well be that Percy Park go through the season unbeaten at home, and I told the lads after the game that our target is simply to learn from this and put the effort into the next two games.
“They are both at home and are very important for the rest of our season.”
West host Bradford & Bingley on Saturday.
Percy Park: Dan Osborn, Jimmy Baldwin, Ali Blair, Richard Berne, Toby Davidson, Ash Smith, John Scott, Harry Watson, Andrew Dunn, George Purdy, Josh Hedley, Michael Langlands [captain], James Ponton, Ben Bell, Sean Williamson.
Subs (all used): Jon Kiddy, Leo Caulfield, Tom Turnbull
Tries: Dunn (2), Smith, Bell
Cons: Smith (3)
Pens: Smith (2)
West: Stu Waites (captain), Scott Butcher, Andrew Foreman, Peter Youll, Kyle Jamieson, Zac Southern, Ryan Painter, Jack Angus, Ross Wood, Adam Coates, Joe Rafferty, Jay Corbett, Chris Atkins, Jordan Baggs, Dan Boatman,
Sub (all used): Liam Bailey, Andrew Rollins, Sam Miller.
Try: Southern. Pens: Southern
Referee: Graham Crozier (Northumberland)