Rugby League National League 3: St Albans Centurions 28 Huddersfield Underbank Rangers 22.
It's taken 108 years but St Albans have finally won a rugby league match in the National League! To be fair, they've only played three matches at national level since the code broke away in 1895 but the first victory for the city came in thrilling fashion at Woollams on Saturday when they overcame a strong comeback from Huddersfield Underbank Rangers.
Established over 100 years ago, Rangers are one of the best known amateur clubs in the country and their rural ground is seen by millions in the ITV drama Where The Heart Is, where it acts as home to Skelthwaite Scorpions. Rangers provide extras as officials and players. But they were still defeated by the eight-year-old upstarts from Hertfordshire who have now won one game narrowly, lost one narrowly and been hammered away from home so far.
"It was great to get the first win under the belt," said Centurions coach Peter Tonkin. "We have proved to ourselves and a few others that we are more than capable of holding our own in this competition. Our defence was a lot stronger than the last two games, which forced Huddersfield into making errors, our ball control - considering the awful conditions - was a vast improvement and we kept to our game plan for 65 minutes of the game, as opposed to about 25!"
It was not really summer rugby as we know it. A strong, bitterly cold wind was blowing down the length of Woollams' Pitch Two on a grey rainy day, contributing the numerous handling errors which littered the play: there were ten in the first ten minutes.
St Albans, playing into the wind, went in front on nine minutes when Brian Stokes scored from close in. Nick Walker converted to give St Albans' their first lead in the National League.
On 16 minutes, Quentin Kersh forced his way over on the first play from a penalty awarded against Huddersfield for offside, and although Walker missed the conversion, a further try from the excellent Stokes and the conversion by Walker put the Centurions into a 16-0 lead after just 21 minutes.
With ten minutes, Rangers were back into the game. A knock on from the Centurions on their 30m, a great move from right to left and a try by Matthew Larder was swiftly followed by a tremendous 40 metre bust and offload by Huddersfield prop Neil Pollock to enable Larder to score again, and Isileli Fa burst from deep through a gap to race away to the line. Two goals from three by Holmes left the game all square at 16-all.
The thrills continued at dazzling pace when, on 36 minutes, a great curving move from the Centurions had centre Dene Miller held up short and from the next tackle Kersh scored and Walker converted to give Centurions their first half-time lead at this level, 22-16.
Not surprisingly, Huddersfield - who were without Scotland international Kaveh Bahadori, threw themselves into the second half, being held up over the line after a few seconds before scoring moments later through full-back Fa. Holmes missed the conversion but made amends when Centurions kicked the ball out on the full from a drop out to make it 22 apiece!
Walker added a penalty but no-one could predict a winner with any certainty until eight minutes from time when Welwyn Garden City youngster Miller - one of the most exciting emerging talents in the division - scored on the left side of the sticks. Walker missed the conversion but with the scores at 28-22 and Huddersfield having Holmes sin-binned for dissent after the try, there was no way back for Rangers - St Albans had made history.
"There were a lot of guys not playing to their full potential in previous games," admitted an elated Tonkin. "But they showed myself and themselves what they are truly capable of on Saturday."
Huddersfield Underbank Rangers: Larder (26, 28) Fa (34, 42) Conversions Holmes 2 Penalty Holmes 1 Sin Bins Homes (72)
St Albans Centurions: 1. Nick Walker 2. Mathew Aristazabal 3. Dene Miller 4. Neil Yates 5. Craig Gunnell 6. Tom Eisenhuth � 7. Daniel Wortley 8. Scott Drewe 9. Brian Stokes 10. Jon Warner 11. Brian Molyneux 12. Quentin Kersh 13. Adam Cox Subs: 14. Matt Saunders, 15. Geraint Edwards, 16. Curtis Thomas, 17. Mark Cullen
Underbank Rangers: Fa, Dunn, Dunne, Holmes, Brown, Swift, Walsh, Pollock, Birt, Hutton, Mellor, Smith, Donoghue. Subs: Steel, Larder, Higgins, Brooke, Steel.
Referee: James Child
Saturday's win over Underbank takes the Centurions level with five other clubs in the 10-team division: a surprisingly well-matched opening three weeks has seen only Bradford Dudley Hill and Teesside remain undefeated with local rivals Hemel Stags pointless.
The club have mixed emotions about having this weekend off due to the holiday break. "I'm sure Peter and the players are raring to get another game played but off the field we can take stock after what has been a hectic and sometimes frantic few weeks," said Centurions media officer Gavin Willacy. "We have lots to do still but with the Woollams pitch being rested. We have no home game until 14 June by which time we hope to have every Match Sponsorship package sold and many more members signed up. After all, you can hardly have asked for two more exciting National League games so far!"
Potential sponsors can contact Gavin on 07796 442 041.