Match Report; Nottingham Outlaws 26 : Royal Artillery 30

Nottingham Outlaws took to the field at Lenton Lane on Saturday for their first game of the 2024 campaign, the annual Heroes Trophy clash against the Royal Artillery.  Their rugby-starved fans were not disappointed as they were treated to a highly entertaining game which ebbed and flowed before the Outlaws finally succumbed to a 26-30 defeat.

With temperatures more akin to winter rather than summer rugby, Outlaws started the new campaign somewhat sluggishly, perhaps not surprisingly considering this was their first competitive game for over seven months! Indeed some of the early tackling attempts were more than lacklustre as they fell 8-0 behind following an early brace of trys to the visitors.

With fifteen minutes on the clock the new look Outlaws squad finally began to gel and they swept down the field thanks to a fine break by Tom Wigglesworth that was finished off by James Hood who used his size and strength to get over the line for a fine try. Gaz Whitfield added the extras to reduce the deficit to 4-8.

Despite having got back into the game the Outlaws defence continued to let them down as once again they fell off the tackle with alarming regularity resulting in two more scores before the break. However the Outlaws did keep chipping away and they got just reward when Harry Hemmingway got his first try for the club from short range to leave the Outlaws trailing 20-10 at the break.

If the Outlaws were to stand a chance of getting back into the game it was important that they got the first try after the interval and they did just that when Captain Coryn Ward used his pace and footwork to scoot over in between the posts from ten metres out. Whitfield converted from bang in front to reduce the deficit to one score at 16-20.

The Ward try seemed to buoy the Outlaws further and they settled into some great form. Indeed the first twenty minutes of the second stanza was probably their best spell of the game as they hammered away at the Gunners line but some over-eager play saw the ball go to ground when a cooler approach would have probably yielded more scores.

As so often happens in rugby league, their failure to capitalise on their dominance was destined to be punished and so it was as the Artillery extended their lead 16-24 with a rare foray into the Outlaws red zone.

The Outlaws dominance in possession and field position continued despite the setback but once again it looked likely to go unrewarded until big prop Mikey Bennet who used size and brute strength to crash over despite the attention of three Artillery defenders for a great solo effort. Whitfield slotted over to reduce the deficit to the narrowest of margins at 22-24.

With fifteen minutes to play it was all Outlaws now as they looked to snatch the trophy from the Gunners grasp. Indeed on three occasions they crossed the whitewash only to be held up over the line by some desperate Gunners defending.

Despite the prolonged assault the Outlaws had failed to take the lead and they were duly punished when the Artillery broke from deep to go fully eighty metres down the pitch for a fine solo effort that extended the visitors lead to 30-22.

Despite the setback the Outlaws went back on the attack from the restart and this time they were rewarded when Harry Hemmingway  wrestled his way over in the corner to complete a brace of try’s and cap a fine day at the office for the rookie winger.

As the clock ticked down the Outlaws threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the Gunners defence and on the very last play of the game it looked like they were about to level the scores as second rower Oliver Hopkins dived over in the corner but the ball fell agonisingly from his grasp and the try was disallowed.

After the whistle there was plenty of chat around who might grab the coveted player of the match award. There were quite a few players in with a shout but the award deservedly went to Gaz Whitfield for some excellent work from the fullback spot

Despite the defeat there were plenty of positives to take from the game with Coach Shepherd more than pleased with how his young squad was beginning to shape up as the new league season rapidly approaches.

Match report courtesy of Kath Radford and photos by Chris Murratt

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