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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Cumbria on the map - match report from Cumbria RL v England Knights

THE pride of Cumbria once again punched well above their weight on home soil as another national side found out just how tough it can be in rugby league’s far north-western corner.

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CAPTAIN’S SCORE: Kyle Amor (left) and Liam Harrison celebrate the former’s try REF: 50025810B011

On paper, the two sides lining up at Whitehaven’ Recreation Ground had no right to produce a contest worthy of the international game, but yet again coach Paul Crarey and his men demonstrated why they are never to be underestimated.

Over 80 minutes, Cumbria showed immense spirit and no little skill to frustrate and harangue a Knights side who only a week earlier had walked all over the French.

They would find no such easy afternoon here though, with the home side demonstrating once again why they deserve to be brought into the rugby league mainstream on a permanent basis – whether as part of an Origin series or as regular opponents for top-class international sides, rather than the fringe nations regularly sent to these parts on autumn and winter tours.

Crarey’s desire of seeing that dream of an Origin series against Yorkshire and Lancashire become a reality may still be some time away, but on this showing – and with several first-choice Cumbrians unavailable – there is little doubt his team would be no ‘third’ county.

In a game which provided a stern test and produced some real tot-to-toe action, the two teams went head-on in the first half, with neither giving an inch.

The county’s defence proved more than capable of containing a Knights attack steered around the park by high quality half-backs Richie Myler and Luke Gale.

Forwards Oliver Wilkes, Jamie Butler, Kyle Amor and Mike Whitehead were immense workhorses, never giving an inch, while 18-year-old pack man Brad Singleton showed why he has been marked down for such a great future in the game with some huge hits.

The home half-back pairing of veteran Darren Holt and Raiders ace Liam Campbell – reunited having played together previously at Craven Park – were proving handy too, probing with their kicks and jinking runs which tested the Knights to the full.

Liam Harrison was denied the chance to face-off with younger brother Ben as Knights coach Kieron Purtill missed a trick in leaving him to watch from the bench, but proved himself more than capable against such high-quality opposition too.

His power with the ball in hand was menacing and it was left to the imagination what would have happened had he faced down his younger sibling.

There was one family feud out there on the field, with Hensingham brothers Jason and Lee Mossop – the latter having enjoyed a brief spell on loan at Barrow two years ago – lining up on opposite sides. Lee certainly showed no mercy with his charging runs and bone-shattering tackles, as well as becoming involved in a brief bout of handbag-wielding with Cumbria’s Oliver Wilkes in the second half in a flare-up out of keeping with an otherwise keen but fair contest.

That was certainly the gist of the opening 25 minutes, Chris Larkin chasing back to collect an awkwardly bouncing kick which had threatened to put Josh Charnley in and Brett Carter expertly defusing a Gale bomb under pressure, both from the Knights and the presence of his own winger Will Sharp.

The action in the middle of the park was intense, one tackle by Singleton and Whitehead dislodging the ball from the normally safe hands of Myler and leaving him shaking his head in shock.

And on the Knights line, impressive hooker Chris Smith was stopped short by the sticks and Singleton was halted by the same posts.

Cumbria’s only errors were coming in the final five yards as several times great opportunities went begging with errors, and these missed chances eventually proved costly as Joe Westerman sent Leeds back Zak Hardaker sprinting down the right wing and past a despairing dive from Carter to score on 26 minutes.

With the deadlock broken, it was a question of whether more points would flow and whether the Cumbrian damn had been broken.

They wouldn’t and it hadn’t as the home side pressure, the national A-team again, with Harrison unable to take a poor pass at his feet as he tried to run in.

The second half produced the majority of the points in the game, though it was far from the walkover for the Knights the eventual margin of victory might suggest.

Following the exchange of views between Mossop and Wilkes, Cumbria were unable to make ground and England took advantage when a Holt kick went out on the full. They attacked swiftly, with Chris Riley, Myler and Westerman putting Gale free and through to score.

Crarey’s side came back though and camped themselves at the opposite end of the field.

There looked to be no way through the Knights defence, but they found a little luck as a poor Carl Sice pass along the line came to the feet of Amor. Unable to take it with his hands and either by luck or by judgement, he kicked the ball on into the in-goal area and chased through to catch England unawares for the score.

The Knights tried to respond, but fine defence from Harrison as he pounced on a loose ball, and a swift break up the centre from Campbell swelled the Cumbrian sails.

There was perhaps a little too much confidence though and a Sice pass was intercepted by Kris Welham in his own half and he raced away to score and make it 16-6.

Quick work from Sharp denied Hardaker a second as he kicked the ball dead from his own in-goal area, but Liam Watts did barge over with 10 minutes to go.

This opened up a flattering 22-6 gap, but Cumbria would not lie down and some of their best rugby came in the closing stages.

They were rewarded for their attacking intent when a superb short pass from Campbell sent Singleton charging over for a try on his county debut.

Justice would have made that the final say, but Charnley had other ideas and scored in the corner on the hooter.

That took some gloss off the day, but Cumbria had shown their skill, their desire and their ability once again.

It remains to be seen whom, or if, they will play next year. Rather than the touring sides such as the USA they have played in the past, they surely deserve more, and this game was another example of why.

Cumbria Starting XIII: Brett Carter, Chris Larkin, Jason Mossop, Liam Harrison, Will Sharp, Liam Campbell, Darren Holt, Jamie Butler, Chris Smith, Kyle Amor, Mike Whitehead, Oliver Wilkes, Brad Singleton.
Substitutes: Carl Sice, Karl Ostrum, Paul Cullnean, Elliott Miller, Aaron Low.

England Knights Starting XIII: Chris Riley, Josh Charnley, Zak Hardaker, Kris Welham, Jodie Broughton, Richie Myler, Luke Gale, Lee Mossop, Scott Moore, Paul Clough, Joe Westerman, Chris Clarkson, Liam Farrell.
Substitutes: Liam Wattts, Matty Smith, James Donaldson, Joe Arundel, Tommy Makinson.

Referee: James Child.

Attendance: 1,163.

PLAYBACK

26 MINUTES: Zak Hardaker try, 0-4
47 MINUTES: Luke Gale try, Josh Charnley conversion, 0-10.
52 MINUTES: Kyle Amor try, Darren Holt conversion, 6-10.
64 MINUTES: Kris Welham try, Charnley conversion, 6-16.
71 MINUTES: Liam Watts try, Charnley conversion, 6-22.
75 MINUTES: Brad Singleton try, Will Sharp conversion, 12-22.
79 MINUTES: Charnley try, 12-26.

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