West Yorkshire Police beat Cheshire/Merseyside Combined Police 34-24 in the PSUK National Cup Final at Widnes.
A famous young scholar once said, “adversity introduces a man to himself”, writes Richard Oxley.
Coach Adam Jon Dawrant Newton must have woken on Wednesday 21 October 2015 in a positive frame of mind contemplating, over a coffee at Cucina’s, his West Yorkshire team’s PSUK National Cup Final against Cheshire/Merseyside Combined.
Although it was raining outside, it was set fair for the afternoon; the final was to be played at the, as yet, unrivalled venue of the Select Security Stadium, the home of Super League’s Widnes Vikings; and what’s more he wouldn’t have to play as he had 19 fit players to choose from.
Forward-wind a few hours as he sat at Carr Gate, down to 14 men which included one who could hardly walk never mind run, one who had to catch the train and wouldn’t be there until after kick off, a 46-year-old veteran prop having to face a full 80 and of course now………. himself!!
Undeterred though, and now faced with greater adversity than previously expected, the small band of men set off once more across the Pennines to face their foe who waited for them in numbers. Could they create history and become champions, retaining the trophy for an unprecedented fifth consecutive time?
One could have forgiven the West Yorkshire dressing room for been a slightly reserved and sombre place, especially as the news broke that their opponents had a squad of 21 to face them.
Far from it, quite the opposite in fact, as Newton introduced debutant Dave Stanford the place was awash with quiet confidence and banter. Indeed it was good to look around and see the return of Andrew ‘Dallas’ Jackson who looked as if he’d been in the gym and ready for action once more; it hadn’t taken long for the two West Yorkshire legends Paul ‘Cavey’ Devine and Phil ‘Cannonball’ Chappell to resume their banter as Devine questioned whether Chappell’s tattoos had been drawn on with a biro; James Gross made a point of the fact that he hadn’t bought new boots for the final this year so at least this time his feet wouldn’t be in tatters after a few minutes (if only he knew it wasn’t his feet that were about to be ruined); talking of new boots Ryan Heeley had actually purchased a pair for the occasion; they were bright pink!!
And finally Dan Stocks set the tone for the rest of the day as, despite hardly being able to walk, he put his hand up to play due to the lack of numbers and hobbled off to the physio room.
Perhaps in doing so he didn’t realise that he had set an example of the courage required that was soon to be followed by the rest of his team mates.
As the players walked down the tunnel and into the impressive playing arena, following the path of Rugby League’s finest, they had the words “simply the best” ringing in their ears with a set of basic rules to focus on, being quick play the balls, control the ruck speed, complete the sets and discipline.
The whistle went as James Sergeant was still on the train to Widnes, but a clever kick off from Newton saw Gross collect and apply immediate pressure on the Cheshire/Merseyside line, resulting in an early penalty.
From the quick tap Captain Jon McCloud fed Newton who in turn found the rampaging Chappell with a neat drop-off, who lived up to his nickname skittling defenders out of the way to touch down under the posts.
Newton added the two but, despite being first on the score-board, if the situation wasn’t difficult enough for West Yorkshire it was just about to get a little bit worse, as Gross realised that his right index finger looked like his surname as it had dislocated at a rather unusual angle.
Despite his and physio Cath Walls’ attempts to put it back where it should belong, it wasn’t having any of it and off he went to Halton General Hospital.
West Yorkshire were down to 12 men now as Sergeant was still on the train to Widnes.
Taking advantage of their numerical advantage Cheshire/Merseyside started to throw the ball around with their scrum-half testing the West Yorkshire defence.
In fact on one such occasion he found himself sliding through a gap and into open space with a clear run to the line in front of him, only to see him brought down by the ‘Widnes Sniper’ with no defenders in sight.
Back came West Yorkshire though with typical strong drives from the ever willing Oli Sterling and the impressive debutant Stanford taking the ball deep into their opponents’ 20, resulting in a penalty in front of the posts.
Newton took his time giving his 12 men a deserved breather as he slotted the goal just as Sergeant pulled into Widnes train station.
Something had to give though as international hooker Andrew Stanton began to have more influence for Cheshire/Merseyside and it was no surprise that they were next on the scoreboard as stand-off Si Tickle threaded through a neat kick to the line which saw West Yorkshire’s Oliver Laing penalised for obstruction.
From the tap, the ball was whipped quickly to the right corner where from the quick play the ball Stanton used his strength from acting-half to touch down.
The conversion was missed as Sergeant entered the ground.
Yet another clever kick off from Newton resulted in the ball being fumbled and, although retained, Cheshire/Merseyside were on the back foot as the big hits tore in from the likes of Stirling, Chappell and the non–stop tackling machine that is Alex Daniels.
In fact it was one such hit that saw the ball dislodged from the prop as he attempted to escape his twenty, but instead became face-to- face friends with the synthetic surface.
From the attacking scrum Heeley showed why he was worthy of his bright pink boots as he sliced open the onrushing defence with a sublime step to feed his centre Dan Taylor who in turn showed his strength as he was held up just short of the line.
Playing with eyes up as always the West Yorkshire and British Police captain McCloud was too fast and too strong as he burrowed over from acting half to score to the right of the posts.
Newton was in fine form slotting over the two, as Sergeant sprinted onto the pitch like a runaway train.
Joking aside though, the repetition was merely to emphasise the effort that this player had put into getting to the final after a shift at work.
The first quarter certainly had belonged to West Yorkshire and it was about to end that way as Cheshire/Merseyside’s ill-discipline allowed Newton to send his kick spiralling deep into enemy territory. Once more the forwards didn’t disappoint as Sergeant made an immediate impact, followed up by Chappell who offloaded in the tackle to Taylor who once more was held up short of the line.
Yet again the quick thinking of McCloud allowed him to stretch out with a telescopic right arm and touch down to the right of the posts. Newton obliged with the conversion for a 20-4 lead.
Cheshire/Merseyside now had their extensive bench to call on to rest their tiring limbs, having the luxury of bringing on British Police current squad members Darryl Rotherham and Kieron Spruce.
This fresh impetus saw them take a hold of the game, running in the next two tries.
The first was created by that man Stanton who again used his skills at acting-half, dummying to his left before putting his right winger over in the corner with a bullet pass.
The next came on the back of ill-discipline from Newton as he was marched down the pitch for constant back chat. Newton was adamant that he was only joking with the match official, but the ref clearly didn’t get the one about his mother-in-law!!
Anyway Stanton was once more able to take advantage as with his fine hands from the floor he found Rotherham to power over the line to the left of the posts.
This time the two were added: 14-20.
West Yorkshire really had to dig deep now as Cheshire/Merseyside threw everything at them in search of the equaliser, but their wave after wave of attacks were repelled by equally impressive defence from all 13 of the West Yorkshire men, perhaps the most impressive tackle of them all being from Stocks, defying all the odds to launch himself at Gaz Jones, causing him to lose the ball over the line in the act of scoring.
Steady hands from the experienced trio of Heeley, McCloud and Newton were able to steer West Yorkshire into the break without further damage though, and they in fact went further ahead as Jackson used his new found extra pace to take the ball deep into the Cheshire/Merseyside half.
He was held down in the tackle and awarded the penalty in front of the posts once more.
Up stepped Newton to add the two to take West Yorkshire into the break 22-14 ahead.
As the whistle went for half-time a collective deep breath could be heard from the West Yorkshire men, especially, not surprisingly, the loudest being from Phil ‘Darth Vader’ Chappell.
Never has a half-time break been more welcome for the West Yorkshiremen as Newton called on his warriors to carry on playing basic rugby, to cut out the errors, hold their shape, but most of all to carry on working hard for each other.
Cheshire/Merseyside started the second half as they ended the first with Rotherham now becoming more prominent, with his cultured left foot beginning to take advantage of the space between the onrushing defensive line and the fullback.
In fact it was one such chip which led to the first try of the half as he collected it himself to draw the fullback and feed Jones who, with a clear run to the line, touched down to the left of the posts, Phil Macey adding his second conversion.
The conversion was successful and it was suddenly a two-point ball game at 22-20.
Once more West Yorkshire found themselves turning their blood to water in defence as Cheshire/Merseyside were relentless in attack in an attempt to take the lead.
This time though they came up against a resilient West Yorkshire brick wall, again it being difficult to pick anyone out in particular, but I will mention the three back-to-back tackles by Stirling.
Having survived this particular onslaught, against all the odds, West Yorkshire found their second wind now taking the game by the scruff of the neck.
In a performance a man half his age would have been proud of, Chappell rolled back the years using his deceptive speed but obvious power to drive the ball deep to the right edge inside his opponents’ 20.
A quick play the ball allowed McCloud to find Newton who, with great deception, dummied the front runner, creating the gap to find Jackson on a delayed run out back, who in turn scorched over to the left of the sticks.
Newton calmly slotted over the extras, 28-20.
At this point instructions from the touchline were given to Chappell to pass on to his team to which he replied, “I’ve got hell on breathing, never mind talking.”
The next attack from West Yorkshire began deep in their own half, started by Taylor, who took it upon himself to take two hit ups out of the first three.
This allowed McCloud to find Stanford bursting through the defensive line at pace drawing the fullback and finding Jackson on his left shoulder, who again used that extra found pace to race away and score under the posts.
Newton made no mistake, 34-20.
West Yorkshire could have had the game sewn up when another foray looked to be a certain score for centre Steve Lumley as he reached out to his full 17 feet, but the ball fell agonisingly short of the line.
Perhaps he’d lost a few inches having to wear one studded boot and one Astroturf trainer due to his boot exploding earlier.
Any thoughts of the game being won though were far from their minds when they were once more down to 12 men for the last ten minutes due to Sergeant picking up a rib injury he couldn’t shake off.
This was compounded even more as the deficit was cut yet again when the Cheshire/Merseyside loose forward Simon McEvoy powered over in the left corner.
The conversion was missed bringing the score to 34-24.
Once more the Cheshire/Merseyside coaches emptied their bench to launch a final onslaught literally camping in the West Yorkshire half only to come up against lung busting heroic defensive efforts from their stubborn opponents.
If ever a team didn’t want to release their grip on the trophy then this was it from one to 12 left on the pitch, some barely standing, the effort was simply phenomenal.
Someone was heard in the stand to say, “a Rorke’s Drift performance” and that just about sums it up, personified, to single another moment out, by Heeley’s cover tackle on the left winger to prevent a certain try but, as long as this report is, I could mention many more.
The whistle went to end a top class final served up by both sides at a top class venue seeing West Yorkshire victors for that record breaking fifth consecutive time.
Befitting such a final the man of the match award and Championship trophy were awarded by ex Super League legend, current SKY TV pundit and local Widnes boy Terry O’Connor who wasted no time in asking if Barrie McDermott could be arrested.
The deserved man of the match award went to the Cheshire/Merseyside and British Police hooker Andrew Stanton.
Next up on the Police Rugby League calendar is the much anticipated British Police tour to Daytona Beach, Florida, USA on November 17th 2015 when they will attempt to retain The Atlantic Cup, good luck to all involved.
Head Coach Dameon Pickles and Player Coach Newton must have been impressed by the efforts of all their squad players involved and slightly relieved that most came through unscathed, including James Gross who, thankfully, has confirmed he’ll be good to go.
Congratulations to Oli Stirling who, on the back of a string of impressive performances for West Yorkshire, has been selected to tour to the USA with the British Police and also congratulations to Dave Stanford on an outstanding debut.
Back to this year’s final though and perhaps the efforts of the West Yorkshire team can be summed up by the following: “One thing about a Championship team is that they’re resilient. No matter what is thrown at them, no matter how deep the hole, they find a way to bounce back and overcome adversity.”