A new year, a new season as the televised Betfred Challenge Cup got under way when Orrell St James entertained the Army in a first round match this afternoon.
The Army team reached the fourth round in in 2020 – the last full Cup season before Covid disruption took its toll on the amateur teams - before going down to Rochdale Hornets, Orrell have their own pedigree in the game – being the club where both Johnny Lomax and Kevin Brown started out in the game.
The home side made a number of threatening moves in the opening minutes, but the Army repulsed all their sorties and by 10 minutes into the game we’re the dominant team and were looking a good bet to face the Royal Navy, who beat Bridgend Blue Bulls by 60 points in the opening game on Friday night.
But it was the soldiers who experienced two head injuries in the opening quarter, playing on with walking wounded. And it was Orrell who opened the scoring following a break by winger Lavin after 20 minutes, opting to kick for goal when the Army were not quick enough to get onside for a play-the-ball on the 20m line.
They nearly made it 8-0 five minutes later when former St Helens trial list Kai Siyami looked likely to score under the Army posts, only for a wild offload to end up in the hands of the visitors’ defensive line.
But Orrell made amends on 30 minutes as Sean Findlow took advantage of a penalty which saw them start play inside the Army’s 20 and easily powered over to the side of the posts for a 6-0 lead.
The half-back failed converted his own try though.
Five minutes later, the soldiers crossed Orrell’s line to show they weren’t out of it but were held up. They pressed again with the clock counting down seconds to half-time but ran out of time.
Orrell continued their dominance after the break though, forcing aa repeat set just three minutes into the second half. It looked for a moment as though they’d extended the score, but the last Army defender got his hand to the ball as it bobbled over the line from a grubber.
The hosts had to content themselves with a third set. Then the Army game them a fourth set by stepping into touch when it looked like they had snuffed out a break down the right side. their defender.
Orrell moved the ball across the width of the field to cross in the left corner. Again, they failed to convert, and the score was now 10-0 to the hosts.
After a 61st minute penalty on Orrell’s 20m mark, the Army looked like they might open their scoring, but Orrel’s defence forced them to spill the ball over the line. The soldiers started on the 20 again after injury break and pushed for the line once more – but failed once more to convert pressure into points.
Then, with 69 minutes gone, the Army’s persistent pressure finally told when Geoff Baines burrow over for a try, and a successful conversion by Roche narrowed the gap to just one score at 10-6,
The soldiers kept up the pressure, forcing a dropout with just five minutes to go when the Orrell defence just beat the advancing Army attack to ground a grubber kick. Kieran Roche levelled the score on the next play-the-ball and slotted the conversion for his own try to give the team in red the lead for the first time with just minutes to go.
Kenneth Brown sealed the victory when he added the icing on the cake with a try to take the score to 10-16. Roche converted to take the lead to 10-18.
And as the clock ran down, there the score stayed, and it was the Army team who won through to take on their rivals from the Senior Service in an all-military second-round clash.
Score progression: 0-0, 2-0, 6-0. Half Time. 10-0, 10-4, 10-6, 10-10, 10-12, 10-16, 10-18. Full Time.
Half Time: 6-0.
Full Time: 10-18.
Orrell St James: McHugh; McLoughlin, Taylor, Lavin, Burns; Davies, Findlow; Johnson, Wood, Siyani, Whittle, Kennedy, Lewis. Interchange: Kellk, Ball, Ellis, Dunn.
British Army: Boardman; Koroi, Holmes, Hoyle, Matamosi; Roche, Brown; Pickles, Scott, Welsh, Kerman, Harling, Watkin. Interchange: Baines, Lindsey, Harrison, Bussey.
Referee: Matty Lynn.
Venue: Bankes Avenue Recreation Ground.