Bolton Mets – Season Review

With the season now at an end it is time to look back and review the highs and lows of 2017.

Even before we took to the pitch we experienced several highs early in the year after finalising eleven sponsors for our new Home & Away playing kits. Some hard work by Chairman Stuart Cooke reaped rewards as the sponsors started to confirm their interest, but it was the work and family connections of a number of players that really helped secure our highest level of sponsorship in the club’s history. Our thanks must go to AD Sprinklers, Steamy Windows, Essa Academy, Greenhalgh’s Craft Bakery, Fireless Sprinkler Protection, Bunbury’s, University of Bolton, Superior Design, Plus Opto, Nkono and Serious About Rugby League for the help and support throughout the year and we look forward to working with you all again in 2018.

The kits were being supplied by our new manufacturers O’Neills, an Irish company with an office at Leigh Sports Village, and with the sponsors list complete it was time to add them to our awesome designs. Our Home kit had a Red & Black hooped design, whilst the Away kit had a Green and Brown chequer board effect, the Green being the corporate colour of our after match food suppliers Greenhalgh’s. Both kits were well received upon the unveiling and certainly helped maintain our large social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.

The first action of the year was in February and the 4th Annual Old Boys game, this turned out to be the closest encounter so far as just two points separated the sides at the final whistle, unfortunately, it was the experience of the Old Boys that helped them just nick it. A friendly versus Culcheth Eagles followed, but with a large number of players away it was a bit of a non contest.

After only joining the club in June 2016, Head Coach Al Scarbrough was able to get a full preseason under his belt and put his mark on the squad. Unfortunately, we lost a few players to family or work commitments over the off season but also managed to recruit some new players who could hopefully move the club forward. Our opening game was Away to Garswood Stags, and even though it ended in defeat it was a great improvement on our previous meetings with them.

As the season progressed it was clear to see that defensively we were still a long way from where we wanted to be, the newer players in the team still struggling with technique and the physicality of the game. A couple of big defeats left us sitting at the bottom of the table, but an upcoming derby versus Bury Broncos A gave us something to aim for.

Our rivalry with Bury Broncos has been running now for the past 10 years or so and it is always a close contest when the two sides meet. Al’s first game in charge of the club in 2016 was a narrow 2 point defeat at Philips High School, unfortunately, lightning was to strike in the same place twice as we were again on the end of a 2 point loss despite being 8 points in front with 10 minutes to go.

As the fixtures started to come thick and fast some good performances weren’t quite matched by the results. Playing the A teams of well established clubs like Saddleworth Rangers, Clock Face Miners, Halton Farnworth Hornets and Leyland Warriors was always going to be tough as they tend to have the blend of youth and experience that can put any side to the sword.

As we reached mid July, it was time for the return fixture against the Broncos, the only league fixture we won in 2016. The game was another close encounter with the Mets leading 20-18 with just 5 minutes to go, but as you may have guessed we let the lead slip again. Some poor play in those last 5 minutes allowed Bury to score 10 points and snatch the win at the death for the second time in the season. The players, coaches and side line support of Bolton Mets were crest fallen, our first win of the season evading us yet again.

So far, it had mostly been lows on the field but all that was soon to change with our tour to Rotterdam. Obviously, a rugby tour is a more social event designed to help the lads let off a bit of steam and to aid team bonding, but it was also about gaining some confidence with the performance and result against our friends the Rotterdam Pitbulls. Some might say that the lads went a little bit too hard on the first night, considering they had a game the next day, but it all clicked into gear once they took to the field. Some well drilled defence kept the Pitbulls at bay before we managed to open the scoring late in the first half, we then added to that in the second 40 minutes before coming out 14-0 winners at the final whistle.

This was our third game vs the guys from Rotterdam in three years, twice in the Netherlands and once in England, and with the Mets winning 2 of the 3 it resulted in us claiming victory in the series. Thijs van der Zouwen, a Pitbulls player and founder member, presented Captain Ste Hickey with ‘The Cup’ which was quickly filled with Heineken and passed amongst the players. The Cup is the first piece of silverware the Mets have ever won, we’re not counting the fair play award we won back in the mid 2000’s, and it will take pride of place on the mantel piece.

Back in the UK, the hunt for our first league win continued and despite our results we were still confident we could get it. Two solid performances versus Garswood Stags and Wigan Spring View took us close, but it was the Home game against Blackbrook A when the deadlock was finally broken. Our first two points of the season, plus a forfeited game elsewhere, helped move us off the bottom of the table, however, this all came from Blackbrook A being unable to field a team and not travelling to Bolton. With all the kit hung up in the changing rooms, the pitch set out for 80 minutes of Rugby League, and several players already kitted up we received a call to say the side from St Helens weren’t coming, resulting in a 24-0 victory.

September started with a win and it was to end with a win, our final game of the season was the Home encounter against Halton Farnworth Hornets A, but this also resulted in 24-0 win due to them being unable to raise a team. This meant we finished the season in 10th place out of 11 in NWML Division Five.

As much as we’re disappointed with the results and the league position we can in fact take several positives from the season. We’ve picked up some talented new players who will no doubt improve the squad next year, we’ve had some young & old players from Bolton RUFC coming across to try League for the first time, and above all we’ve had fantastic team morale throughout the season despite the results.

Another positive comes from fulfilling all our league fixtures, something that only three other sides in NWML Division Five can say this year, those being the top three placed teams. It would have been very easy to forfeit games against some of the top teams but at Bolton Mets we have always had the attitude that we’re here to play Rugby League, something that has been instilled in to the players from our inception in 1995. We have received many compliments from other clubs this year due to our ability to get a team out, our never say die attitude and our determination to get the win, which has been nice to hear at times when we’ve been feeling at our lowest. We aim to come back stronger next year and make improvements in both attack and defence.

Our End of Season Evening took place after the win over HFH A and this is where the players received their rewards for all their efforts. Al thanked them and praised their attitude that has been top notch since the start of the year, something that has helped carry us through on more than one occasion.

The awards started with the Oppositions Player of the Year, third place going to Captain Ste Hickey, second to the evergreen Joe Harte and first to Ryan Terry. After two years out, Ryan’s return saw him win MOM in 7 of the 13 games he played.

The Top Try Scorer Award is normally won by just the one person, but this year it was a three way tie between Ryan, Joe and new player Josh Bourne.

Most improved Player of the Season was Jason Nuttall, he has come on leaps & bounds this year so the award couldn’t have gone to anyone else. Having won the Most Improved award last year, Andy Platt was next up as he walked away with the Club Player of the Season to add to his collection.

Now in his second year as Head Coach, Al took great pleasure in awarding Josh Bourne Coaches Player of the Season, based on his consistent performances and strong leadership.

Next up was the big prize, Players Player of the Season, and as the name suggests is voted by the players themselves. It shows the winners that their teammates have noticed their contributions and consider them to be the best players at the club. In third place was Captain Ste Hickey and in second place was Josh Bourne, tied on points with the winner but losing out due to first place votes. Claiming his third award of the night was Ryan Terry, winning Players Player of the Season for the first time since 2014 but more importantly showing how much his performances stand out to both the opposition and his teammates.

The players showed their thanks in return to Chairman Stuart Cooke, Head Coach Al Scarbrough and club volunteer Sam Heyes for their hard work and efforts off the pitch. The club would also like to thank our match day medical staff for their commitment, sometimes in the worst of weathers, all for the benefit of team. Photos of all the winners can be found here.

That’s all for 2017, we will be back in January 2018 when we get back to preseason training and get ready for our 23rd season of bringing Rugby League to Bolton.