Is there any such thing as a ‘friendly’ rugby league match? By the very nature of the game, I’d judge not. This warm up game between two of the teams outside of the traditional corridor was fierce. Several players left the pitch in obvious agony, to a man they’ll be nursing bruised bodies until the next time.
I was hoping to see a rugby union favourite, Gavin Henson, but he’d stayed behind in Wales to prepare for his pub to re-open on Monday. But the very recognisable Rangi Chase was there to captain his team and ply some of his magic. West Wales had acquitted themselves well against Championship team Widnes in the Challenge Cup, but an early red card had made that game an uphill battle.
Post this match Head Coach Aaron Wood was very honest in thinking that Cup game may have turned his players heads.
However we were treated to a try fest, in a match that was the definition of end to end! There were crashing tackles all over the pitch, I’ve watched club rugby league for 25 years, and I still winced a few times! The removal of scrums meant the ball was in play fro longer than normal. I’m a fan of both codes and enjoy both equally, but I imagine any players crossing from union to league would struggle with the pace of the game. Fitness is absolutely vital!
So, to the game, Skolars Tom Firth scored 2 early tries for his team, the first was converted by Omari Caro, the second missed the posts. An early yellow card for Raiders was in the middle of the 2, Where Union teams can train to cope with a man down, the pace of the game means it’s virtually impossible in league.
However Raiders struck back with 2 of their own, Frazer Stroud went over first and was followed on the opposite wing by Emosi Nadaubale. Neither were converted which kept Skolars ahead by 2.
During warm up lots of high balls were being put up and fumbled, Skolars third came from a tricky kick aimed for the Raiders in goal area, the ball was fumbled by the defender and pounced on by the on-rushing Skolar, Christian Gale!
A concern when a player like Rangi Chase is on the pitch has to be whether the rest of his team know what he’s going to do next, a pass he threw was nicely anticipated by Skolars speedster Leighton Ball. He ran half the length of the field before touching down. A try that really needed a crowd yelling their heads off for. I was tempted, but in an empty stand that might have been more than strange!
Skolars weren’t finished with their try rush and Lamont Bryan scored with a very different effort, powering over the line. All of that added up to a scoreline at half time of London Skolars 28 West Wales Raiders 10.
The match was actually played in quarters, meaning the sun in the eyes was fairly swapped round, I was tweeting during the match and to my horror got the name of the Raiders eventual hat-trick man wrong on 3 occasions – I must need hearing aids! Sorry Dai!
Talking of Dai Evans, he was first on the scorecard in the second half, his try was duly converted, another high kick wasn’t dealt with and Raiders re-took the ball, Evans, happily recognisable from afar with his flowing locks, ended up with ball in hand and the successful conversion closed the gap further.
That gap was stretched by a sixth try for Skolars, Scored by Michael Greenhalgh (TBC) and the score at 60 minutes was Skolars 32 Raiders 16.
There’d been some real niggle through the game and words were exchanged at the start of the 4th quarter. One of those getting feisty was Dai Evans, it didn’t affect his game, he scored out on the wing to take the score to Skolars 32 Raiders 20.
Skolars again had a problem with a kick and the ball was eventually knocked on, the high ball had been an issue for both teams throughout, something for both to work on. Raiders again benefited from the fumble as Charley Bodman scored their 5th try, the conversion was good to take them to 26.
Skolars responded quickly with a try from captain Iliess Macani, the conversion took Skolars to 38.
One of the final plays of a highly entertaining game came from the boot of Rangi Chase, he put a lovely kick through for Dai Evans, who clearly is on his wavelength. Evans ran down his wing to score his hat-trick try. The final score was London Skolars 38 West Wales Raiders 36. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the New River Stadium.
Some actions shots from the game, apologies if the try scorers aren’t right