A new-look Sherwood Wolf Hunt rugby league squad dug deep in the closing minutes to see off a spirited come-back by local rivals Derby City RLFC to gain an excellent third home win, 44-32, and go fifth in the Midlands Premier Division on Saturday.
The Wolf Hunt finished off with a wonderful long range effort from fill-in loose forward and Man of the Match, Aaron Bainbridge of Worksop.
The Wolf Hunt side showed 10 changes from last week’s win against Birmingham Bulldogs.
The new-look team took some time to find their cohesion, but worked hard for each in defence to keep Derby’s experienced team out of the reckoning for most of the game.
Delighted coach Carl Hardwick said: “We had nearly a complete new starting line up from the squad that beat Birmingham.
“To pull that together and beat an experienced Derby team was a credit to the new lads and our more experienced players worked very hard together to steady the ship. All in all we are very pleased.
“We are fifth in the league after only 12 games ever. There’s a long way to go, but we are heading in the right direction.”
The game started with some ferocious tackling from the Wolf Hunt pack and backs. This put Derby on the back foot from the off and was a sign of things to come.
Both teams tested each other’s defence for the first 15 minutes, with neither managing to break the line.
The Wolf Hunt had the best of this opening stanza but spilled the ball close to the line several times due to miscommunication between new and more experienced players.
But as the Wolf Hunt pressed the line it was inevitable they would score first. The try came from Glenn Holt to the left of the posts after great ball handling from Matt Upton and Luke Walters. Walters kicked the goal, the Wolf Hunt led 6-0 and were looking up for the win.
On receiving the ball, great running from newcomer Ed Simmons and Jonathan Richardson put the Wolf Hunt back in the opposition half and great driving from veteran league props Chris Wright and Shaun Underwood, wore down the Derby resistance.
A well worked move on the right hand side, put prop Brain in on the right hand side. Walters kicked the long range goal and Wolf Hunt were 12-0 up and seemingly in command.
However, Derby were not done and several errors from the Wolf Hunt in their own half put Derby back in the game with two quick tries taken by the Derby centres. Both conversions were made, leaving Sherwood to start all over again, all square with 22 minutes gone.
The Wolf Hunt regrouped, the forwards and new boys Alan Simcox and Simmons worked tirelessly with some barraging attack, putting Derby under immense pressure both in attack and defence. Replacement loose forward Bainbridge worked hard with the ball in hand, bringing on the forwards, and had Derby on the run.
This led to a wonderful crossfield kick from Upton, which Jonathan Richardson delicately volleyed on, chased and beat the defence to score his fourth try in four games.
This brought an added confidence from the Wolf Hunt and this in turn led to them battering the Derby line for the last 10 minutes.
Derby heads went down when Upton threw a ridiculous dummy from four yards out to go in under sticks. The conversion was made by Walters and the Wolf Hunt led 24-12 at the halfway mark.
On the restart Derby were more confident and forced several errors from the Sherwood team, in the tackle to gain valuable possession in the first 10 minutes.
The Wolf Hunt held out until great running from close in led to stand -ff Joe Gazzard going in close to the sticks. The conversion successful, Derby were back in it at 24-18.
This excellent game really came alive now with both teams working tirelessly in defence and attack. Barnstorming running from Wolf Hunt forwards Underwood, Wright, Bainbridge and Matley Brain, matched excellent defence from Walters, Glenn Holt, Matt Upton, and new boys Simmons and Simcox in the centres, ensured that the Wolf Hunt stayed on top for the first 20 minutes.
Derby were battered and bruised and frustrated at not being able to throw the ball around.
The Wolf Hunt managed one try with substitute Steve Frankland filling in in the centres, going in at the left corner to put the Wolf Hunt 14 points ahead with 15 minutes to go.
On the 25-minute mark referee Mr O’Shea was forced to dismiss Derby City stand-off Gozzard for dissent.
This fired up Derby and with 12 men, working hard for each other, they turned the tides on a tiring Wolf Hunt defence.
Great ball work and running from their backs brought two quick tries to bring Derby back into contention.
The pressure was on the Wolf Hunt to tighten up their defence and hold on to the ball in attack.
Too many forced passes, gave possession back to Derby and stunted the Wolf Hunt attack.
With eight minutes to go, the game was even at 32-32, Derby were still in with a shout, but as Bainbridge took control of the ball, and had the forward and backs running down the centre channel, the Derby line looked vulnerable.
Twice the Wolf Hunt were denied tries by the referee, one for a forward pass to winger Bradley Gozzard and one when Luke Walters was held up when trying to dive over from dummy half.
As the pressure told, Bainbridge put Ed Simmons in from 15 yards out, scoring to the left of the sticks. The conversion was successful from Walters and the Wolf Hunt had a 38-32 lead.
Then came the piece de resistance from Pro Cook Doncaster Man of The Match Bainbridge. Starting at a scrum on the Wolf Hunt 25 line, two drives from the forwards set the ball up just inside the half.
Great handling by Upton gave the ball to Bainbridge, who this time, dummied to Frankland, and sliced through the Derby City defence with ease. He ran 55 yards to score on the right. The crowd of mainly Wolf Hunt fans went wild.
The conversion was narrowly missed by Walters, but the game was won.
On the restart the Wolf Hunt played sensible forward rugby and wore down the Derby defence, playing two sets in the Derby half.
This game was great test for the new-look Wolf Hunt who were missing 10 players, including star centre Michael Allan, captain Adam Bates and flying stand off Manasa Qui Volaikisuva.
The squad had five debutants, three of whom had never played a game of rugby league before. After some learning on the job, Simcox, Simmons and Christopher, coped admirably in attack and defence.
Only a knock to Simcox saw him leave the field in the second half. Simmons celebrated with his first try for the Wolf Hunt and Christopher ran well in attack causing numerous problems for the Derby defence.
As always in rugby league, defence is key. Once again the Wolf Hunt team stood up to the challenge admirably for most of the game though a few tired slips in the mid-second half, let Derby back in with a shout.