Saints Women held their nerve in sun-soaked Thatto Heath to inflict a first defeat of the season on the high flying Rhinos, writes Graham Henthorne for saintsrlfc.com
Coach Mark Brennan gave a debut to Rhianna Burke on the wing and she played her part in the Saints spending much of the opening 10 minutes camped in the visitors half.
As happened last week the Saints took the lead but didn’t make the most of the pressure.
It was the kicking game of halves Faye Gaskin and Zoe Harris which combined to give the Saints repeat sets. Six minutes in and on the last a low cross kick from Harris was dropped cold in the in-goal by the Rhinos winger allowing Katie-May Williams to react first by touching down.
The Rhinos showed why they were previously unbeaten as their big pack rolled up the park putting the pressure firmly back on the Saints.
Williams was now called upon defensively as she and Harris combined to keep the line intact. Two tackles later and Rhianna Burke and Gaskin combined to keep the winger short. Unfortunately, from the play the ball both went the same way leaving the dummy half to touchdown in the corner to level the scores.
It was becoming evident that the Rhinos were stronger up the middle and if the Saints were to beat them then a bit of guile and wide running may pay dividends.
That’s exactly what happened to put the Saints back in front.
A charge down of Tara Jones’ last tackle kick gave the Saints another six and after Becca Rotheram and the tireless Channy Crowl had driven the ball in Gaskin took control. Taking the ball in the middle she drifted left before shimmying her way through the line and stepping inside the full back to score.
Missed chances again reared their ugly head as the Saints bombed two five women overlaps on the left by turning the ball inside and being denied.
And two minutes later the Rhinos were making the Saints pay. A knock-on on the Saints 40 gave possession away and four tackles later a miss pass on the right saw the winger in.
With five to go to the break the Saints stretched their lead with Williams’ second try. From yet another repeat set Harris and Lizzie Gladman drove the ball in before Harris straightened up, fixed the defence and gave the ball on to Williams who took three over the line with her.
Again the Rhinos showed their class as their substitute centre went 60 metres down the centre rounding full back Rotheram on her way. But not to be denied Rotheram recovered to haul her down inches short. However, from the play the ball the rest of the Saints defence were still coming back giving the stand-off an easy score from dummy half.
The heat was unrelenting as the second half started, promising a survival of the fittest and the Saints again started the brighter.
Another punishing Gladman drive put the Saints on the front foot and a quick play the ball saw Gaskin send Williams away down the left on a powerful 40 metre run. She was stopped short but the ball was moved right to Emily Rudge who ran a delightful inside line to score.
Gaskin converted and the Saints were six in front again.
The Rhinos were unlucky not to score twice down their left from last tackle kicks as the bouncing ball bounced over the chasers heads and was cleared.
The Saints should have extended their lead but Naomi Williams dropped Gaskin’s ball with the line at her mercy and Leah Burke was stopped inches short after Gaskin, Rudge and Katie-May Williams had combined to get her close.
And so the game entered a tense final ten minutes with the Saints still only six ahead and the visitors looking increasingly dangerous.
But tired as they were the Saints showed the team spirit and desire to scramble their way through repeated Rhinos sets to hang on for the win.
Gaskin was her usual prompting self directing traffic with the strong running Katie-May Williams the pick of the backs.
The pack as a unit did well combatting the powerful Rhinos but head and shoulders above the rest was Channy Crowl who was in everything that was good about the Saints.
Tries: Katie-May Williams (6 & 34), Faye Gaskin (17), Emily Rudge (46).
Goals: Faye Gaskin 2 from 4.
Tries: Hannah Butcher (12), Suze Hill (26), Courtney Hill (38).
Goals: Courtney Hill 1 from 3.
Half Time: 14-14
Full Time: 20-14
1. Becca Rotheram; 2. Rhianna Burke, 3. Naomi Williams, 4. Katie-May Williams, 5. Leah Burke; 6. Zoe Harris, 7. Faye Gaskin; 8. Dawn Taylor, 9. Tara Jones (C), 10. Sarah Lovejoy, 11. Roxy Mura, 12. Emily Rudge, 13. Channy Crowl.
Subs: 14. Carys Marsh, 15. Isabelle Rudge, 16. Lizzie Gladman, 17. Jade Ward.
1. Char Booth; 2. Suze Hill, 3. Marina Spurr, 4. Megan Price, 5. Sophie Robinson; 6. Courtney Hill, 7. Hannah Butcher; 8. Danika Priim, 9. Lois Forsell, 10. Danielle Anderson, 11. Aimee Staveley, 12. Larissa Graves, 13. Rhiannan Marshall.
Subs: 14. Frankie Townend, 16. Caitlin Beevers, 17. Shannan Lacey, 18. Amy Johnson.