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Old Boys edge the Battle of Bolton

The 6th Annual Bolton Mets Old Boys Game couldn’t have been any more thrilling, with things going right down to the wire in the last play of the game.

The current side started the brightest and opened the scoring through Mark Dorning. With the Mets deep inside the Old Boys half, a drop off from Daryl Devlin to a superb angled run from Dorning saw him bypass several defenders on his way to the line. Devlin, who was standing in for the injured Rick Ackers as Captain, converted the try to give the Home side a 6-0 lead.

Despite being made up of several generations of Bolton Mets players, the Old Boys line up was probably the strongest it had ever been. After a shaky start, things started to click for them and they soon crossed for their opening try. With the ball being passed from right to left, Chris Piercy finished off the move by diving over in the corner, but was unable to add the extra 2 points and tie the scores, meaning Bolton Mets still had the lead at 6-4.

The defences were on top throughout the first half, but with the Old Boys on the attack and looking to pass the ball wide, Centre Gavin Hatton intercepted on the halfway line and sprinted away to score his second try of pre season. Devlin again slotted over the conversion to increase the lead to 12-4.

We looked to build on this and score another try in quick succession, a high kick wasn’t dealt with by the Old Boys and Winger Callum Smith went hunting for the loose ball. With his opposite number Stuart MacDonald looking to rectify the error they both went for the ball at the same time, unfortunately, the referee ruled a knock on against Smith, who also picked up a shoulder injury in the process.

One final threat from the Old Boys in the first half saw Ste Hickey break through a tackle and head towards the Mets line. Even though he looked odds on to score, Devlin had other ideas and chased him down from across the field, tackling him inches from the line and stopping the try.

At the half time break, Old Boys Coach Rick Brooks delivered his yearly team talk and pointed out a few weaknesses in the Mets squad. Having made several changes in the first half, mainly rotating the forwards, he reverting back to his starting 13.

For Bolton Mets, it was also the starting 13 that took to the field for the second half with the hope of correcting a few of the errors that occurred in the first.

With Bolton Mets leading by 8 points, the Old Boys wanted to be the next to score, and it was a scoop and carry from Full Back Gaz Hession from dummy half who did just that. As another try went unconverted for the Old Boys, it still left them 4 points behind.

Of course, as we’re still in pre season things aren’t quite as slick as they need to be, and with some poor handling by Bolton gifting possession back to the Old Boys we kept putting ourselves under pressure. When we had the ball, and things were sticking, we looked dangerous, particularly with the hard running Props Neil Walsh and Ryan Terry down the middle and the speedy Wingers of Rob Tuppen and Callum Smith out wide.

One such passage of play saw us score our third try and extend the lead again, Full Back Jonathan McMillan side stepping his way to the line and repeating his try scoring antics from last years Old Boys game. Ever reliant, Devlin sweetly stroked over the ball to maintain his 100% record with the boot.

As mentioned earlier, the Old Boys had possibly their strongest line up we’d ever seen, particularly with players like Ste Hickey, Adam Ryan and Gaz Hession joining Darryl Leech, Mick Booth and Joe Harte. Another of those strong players was Colin Crompton, the Prop Forward took several would be tacklers over the line with him but still managed to get the arm free and touch the ball down. Hickey added the first conversion of the day for the Old Boys to close the gap yet again.

Having been behind from the early moments, the Old Boys scored again to take the lead for the very first time. Hooker Adam Millington managed to catch the Mets defence napping and dived over from close range. Hickey’s successful kick put the Old Boys 2 pints, sorry points, in front with 10 minutes to play.

Bolton, and Head Coach Al Scarbrough, now started to look nervous, had we taken the foot off the gas or had we made too many errors to allow our opposition the chance to snatch it at the death? Driving the ball forward, we received a penalty bang in front and about 30 metres out, the call came to take the 2 points. Devlin put the ball between the uprights to tie the scores at 20-20 with only 5 minutes left on the clock.

Regaining possession from the kick off is where the Home side should have taken control, but yet more handling errors gifted field position to the Old Boys. We knew what was coming, drives to the sticks and an attempted drop goal. The next few plays followed the script, after the third drive the ball was shipped back to Hickey who put the ball over the cross bar to give the Old Boys a 1 point lead.

Well that was it, game over…or was it? Back in possession with only a minute for so to go, the Mets found themselves in position for a drop goal of our own. Devlin received the pass and put boot to ball, then out of nowhere came the figure of Colin Crompton to charge down the attempt and deny his old side the chance to draw the game. Now it was over, what a thrilling end to a very enjoyable game, a 21-20 victory for the Old Boys who now lead the series 4-2.

Picking up Man of the Match for their respective sides were Steven Harrison for Bolton Mets, and Ste Hickey for the Old Boys. With comprehensive stats now being taken on the side lines, Stand Off Paul Charnock earned the Top Tackler award with 12 first man tackles and 6 second man tackles.

The result wasn’t what the current side wanted, but it gave us a real test going into the NWML season and pointed out a few areas that we need to work on. To put a positive spin on things, it was a great game to watch for the large crown down at Greenhalgh’s Pavilion, and to see so many Bolton Mets players, young and old & former and present, taking to the field shows the true character of everyone that has ever been involved with the club.

The NWML season gets underway next Saturday when we host Newton Storm, a 2.30pm KO at Greenhalgh’s Pavilion @ Bolton Rugby Club. Come on down and support your local Rugby League club.

Photo: John McGibbon

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