In all honesty, we couldn’t really have had a harder start to the 2017 season with the way the fixtures have fallen.
First up was a fixture against former Division One side Wigan Spring View, although this was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, next up was the trip to face Garswood Stags, who finished third in Division Four in 2016, before games versus the A teams of well established clubs Clock Face Miners and Blackbrook.
We travelled to St Helens with a make shift squad but were able to put in a solid performance for the first 40 minutes which certainly pleased Head Coach Al Scarbrough. An improvement in the defence was there for all to see in the first half but with a vast array of experienced players within the Blackbrook side they were always going to be a threat.
The Home side opened up a 12-0 lead with two converted tries around the 20 minute mark but they were certainly made to work for it due to the tenacious Mets defence. Bolton were able to get a try of our own when stalwart Joe Harte crossed the line after a jinking run. Unfortunately, stand in Captain Mark Dorning couldn’t add the extra two points so the score remained at 12-4.
As the half developed, we continuously put pressure on the Blackbrook attack which caused several knock ons. With Bolton now on the attack, second Rowers Andy Platt and Josh Bourne continued to take the ball forward down the middle whilst Centres Calem Thompson and Dan Johnson made some good yards further wide.
The balance tipped back in favour of Blackbrook as they managed to ship the ball wide on two separate occasions to score. With the kicker successful the score was now 22-4 to the Home side as the referee blew the half time whistle.
Al Scarbrough made some changes at the break as he switched around his forwards, Rick Ackers and Jason Nuttall relieved by Gareth Smith and Tom Knight, whilst the returning Sam Abbott entered the fray as he took over the Hooker role.
This was the first ever meeting between Bolton Mets and Blackbrook so it was nice to meet them after all these years. As we entered the second half, Blackbrook started to tighten their hold on the game and dominate, maybe the first half performance from the Mets had drained the tank quicker than expected and unfortunately we allowed them to get a roll on.
Despite being able to up their game we certainly didn’t gift the Home side any tries, they had to work the ball from one side of the field to the other to find a gap. As mentioned, the very experienced players within the Blackbrook ranks knew what they needed to do and soon things started to click for them.
The Mets defence may have fallen short of the standards set in the first half but there were still signs of improvements in the second forty. Prop Forward Jason Nuttall continued his weekly progress whilst Second Row Forward Rob Tuppen put himself about in both attack and defence.
When we had the ball we made some good yards upfield, the angled runs of Ryan Terry and Josh Bourne being supported by Full Back Gareth Shaw. However, with Captain Ste Hickey absent we did lack some attacking impetus.
Several more tries followed for the Home side and the kicker continued to add the extras. As the game came to a close the score ended 66-4 to Blackbrook. It may seem strange to praise the defensive performance on the back of such a score line, but with such an inexperienced squad we put on a good showing in the first half. Our fitness fell away in the second period and this allowed Blackbrook to flatter the score line slightly, however, they were thoroughly deserving of the victory.
It was the Bolton Mets old guard who were picked out when it came to the Man of the Match award, Joe Harte taking first place ahead of Ryan Terry and Mark Dorning. It’s almost impossible to look past Ryan Terry when it comes to Top Tackler but due to being involved in the each of the first 12 tackles of the game Jason Nuttall earns the honours this time around.
Next week sees us face our local rivals Bury Broncos A at Philips High School, this promises to be an exciting encounter after 2 very close games in 2016.