Newcastle Thunder Match Report
COVENTRY BEARS 32 NEWCASTLE THUNDER 28
By Dave Musson, Butts Park Arena, Sunday 24 February
“The highest of highs.”
That’s what head coach Tom Tsang called the result that has everyone in rugby league talking about his Coventry Bears and, well, it’s a summary that it hard to argue with.
Hosting a big-spending and much-fancied Newcastle Thunder – keen to bounce back from their opening day defeat to Doncaster last week – few would have predicted the Coventry side to maintain their perfect start to the 2019 Betfred League One season.
But, that’s exactly what they did with a scintillating display that was every bit as sparkling and sumptuous as the balmy February sunshine.
A quick-fire brace from Elliott Hall, plus tries from Jacob Jones, Rob Butler, Hayden Freeman and Nick Newman secured a first-ever win against Thunder – and it was a win that was thoroughly deserved.
Tsang said: “There’s a lot of hard work has gone into that win today and for me – having been here for eight years and seen how we’ve developed and built – we’ve had a lot of tough times and a lot of good times, but that’s the highest high we’ve had.
“Newcastle are obviously tipped to be in the top two this year and for the boys to give them no respect and just rip into them from the first minute is exactly what we’ve been asking for.”
This was no scrappy win, nor was it a case of the Bears catching Thunder on an off-day; the Bears were magnificent throughout and played some of the most sensational rugby league the Butts Park Arena has ever seen, scoring six eye-catching tries.
Tsang added: “That’s the way we want to play and that’s how we’ve been training since November – it all came together and it was a perfect storm today. Everything just seem to fit in; it just shows that with work ethic and some pride in the shirt and the club, you can go a long way.”
It took just four minutes for the Bears to cross the Thunder line, with a somewhat bizarre try; second row Jones lined up a tackle only to emerge with the ball and 30 metres of clear space to race into.
The suggestion of an upset became much more real a few moments later, with Hall scoring two delicious tries in the space of three minutes.
His first came on 12 minutes, where he applied the finishing touches to a sweeping move that saw James Meadows and Chris Barratt combine to lay the try on a plate.
Three minutes later, Hall was in again; this time benefitting from being on the inside shoulder of Newman, whose clever side-step created space for a break, before drawing the defender and playing his colleague in.
Newman converted both of Hall’s tries to put the Bears 16-0 and in dreamland.
That shook some life into hotly-tipped Thunder – still smarting from their season opening defeat last week – who had drawn level within a quarter of an hour thanks to tries in each corner from Alex Clegg and Mo Agoro, and Evan Simons burrowing in from dummy half.
Undeterred, the Bears regained the lead four minutes before half time with another lovely try; Meadows’ silky footwork broke the line, and he popped the ball to the onrushing Butler who crashed over.
Even though big-spending Thunder drew level again three minutes after the restart – Liam Finn converting his own try – the Bears continued to dominate the game, and scored another pair of excellent tries before the hour mark.
First, Freeman flew down the left wing only to be halted by a desperate tap tackle from Agoro. However, a quick inside ball from Nathan Conroy to Kam Pearce-Paul created an overlap, and Freeman touched down in the corner.
Then, just after the hour, the match-clinching try – and arguably the best of the afternoon.
Conroy gathered his own delightful chip before scooping the ball to Newman, who dashed under the posts for a try that he converted himself to give the Bears a ten-point cushion.
It still wasn’t comfortable for the Bears - Liam McAvoy powered over to bring Thunder back to within four points, and then the Bears lost Butler to the sinbin for over-aggression at a tackle.
But the hosts held on for a famous win on their day in the unseasonably bright February sunshine.
Up next is a trip to Keighley next Sunday for the Bears – the scene of a club-record loss last season. Famously, the Bears got their revenge in the reverse fixture last July, and now go into this game as the form side.
However, coach Tsang was keen to keep a level head – in spite of his side’s fantastic start to the year.
He said: “I don’t want anyone associated with the club to get too carried away because one win doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of the season. We’ve proven to ourselves that we can win matches, now it’s just about holding onto that belief and working week-in and week-out.”
Bears: Elliott Hall, Hayden Freeman, Kadeem Williams, Kam Pearce Paul, Reece Rance, James Meadows, Nick Newman, Rob Butler, Nathan Conroy, Peter Ryan, Jacob Jones, Chris Barratt, Kieran Sherratt
Subs (all used): Sam Davis, Ollie Purslow, Will Tully, Ben Gray
Tries: Jones (4), Hall (12, 15), Butler (36), Freeman (54), Newman (61)
Goals: Newman 4/6
Sinbin: Butler (66) – aggression
Thunder: Lewis Young, Mo Agoro, Misi Taulapapa, Joe Brown, Alex Clegg, Remy Marginet, Liam Finn, Liam McAvoy, Evan Simons, Jack Aldous, Rhys Clarke, Aaron Ollett, Sam Luckley
Subs (all used): Harry Aldous, Jared Blanke, Conor Clayton, Alex Rowe
Tries: Clegg (21), Agoro (26), Simons (31), Finn (43), McAvoy (64)
Goals: Finn 4/5
*Photos by Dave Jessop*
Bears Supporters’ Club Man of the Match: Nick Newman
Penalty Count: 6-3
Half time: 22-16
Referee: Tom Crashley
SCORING SEQUENCE: 4-0, 10-0, 16-0, 16-4, 16-10, 16-16, 22-16; 22-22, 26-22, 32-22, 32-28.