Dale just edged a battle with Preston by dominating the second half. Grasshoppers went in at half time leading by 14 points to nil and could have taken the game out of Dale’s reach with another score but Dale fought bravely and held them out. With 5 ex-Wharfedale players turning out for Preston one may have thought it would have been a friendly reunion game. It turned out to be a very feisty affair, a lot of petty niggling and off the ball incidents. It did not ruin the game but the succession of penalties and yellow cards meant the match never flowed.
James Gough opened the scoring, after 7 minutes, benefiting from an offload from Matt Lamprey. Tom Davidson added the conversion.
Dale did then get a brief period in Preston’s 22 and had a couple of attacking line outs. The line out which worked well for most of the afternoon faltered and Hoppers managed to clear. Dale competed well but the referee spotted an obstruction off the ball and the home side then pinned Dale back and put pressure on Dale’s line.
Ryan Carlson got Preston’s second after 23 minutes and again Davidson was accurate from the tee. Preston carried on dominating possession and territory but failed to score. The penalty count mounted against Wharfedale and Toms Asejevs was yellow carded.
Near the end of the first half Wharfedale did get the upper hand and Preston started to give away penalties. On 39 minutes James Gough was yellow carded. The first half ended with Dale camped on Hopper’s line and nearly scoring when they drove over the line only to be held up.
Two minutes into the second half Hopper’s lock, Alastair Murray, was sent to the bin for foul play. The home side were now reduced to 13 but they played with great determination and Wharfedale found it hard to penetrate. Wharfedale got on the scoreboard when Jack Blakeney-Edwards converted a penalty. This, at the time, seemed scant reward with a two-man advantage but proved priceless.
Sam Gaudie burst down the blind side to score Dale’s first try which was not converted, but the gap was down to 6 points. Two yellows followed the try. Preston’s Scott Jordan slid into Gaudie after the try had been scored and then he was followed by Dale’s Josh Burridge.
Harry Bullough grabbed Dale’s second try when he caught a clearance kick, broke free and ran to the line. Up stepped Blakeney-Edwards to convert from wide to the left and Dale nudged into the lead.
An exchange of kicks followed the restart which ended when Hoppers dropped the ball for a Dale scrum. More penalties followed and the sixth and final yellow card was shown to Preston’s Ryan Carlson.
Hoppers tried to come back but were held in midfield with the 32nd penalty awarded to Hoppers on Dale’s 10 metre line. This was unique as it was the first penalty for offside!
The match ended with the drama of Tom Davidson taking a 42-metre penalty from wide to the left. His attempt fell short and Dale kicked the ball dead to a rousing cheer from the travelling faithful.
The tide has turned. Dale have now won two games on the trot and more importantly have held on to a close fought game and ended up with the 4 points. It seemed an unlikely result for the first half hour when Dale were making errors and getting involved in petty distractions and niggles. When the Greens tightened up their approach to the game, they managed to gradually get parity and eventually become the dominant force.
Josh Burridge won the Star Man award in the Rugby Paper but this was yet again another match when there was no real outstanding individual. The Green Machine is turning into a well-oiled engine where every part is functioning well and the players are reliant on each other. This was not an example of poetic rugby; it was an example how to work together to produce a result.
There was a hunger evident in Wharfedale’s play, a desire to eat at the table of victory. The reward was the joy of walking off the pitch to the praise and gratitude of the faithful who had crossed the Pennines with them.
Wharfedale: – Harry Bullough, Oliver Cicognini (Joe Altham 27), Ben Blackwell, Will Edwards (Louis Brown 52), Ralph Wellock, Jack Blakeney-Edwards, Sam Gaudie, Toms Asejevs (Oliver Cicognini 37), Dan Stockdale, Reece Ward, George Hedgley, Richard Rhodes (c), Rob Baldwin, Chris Walker, Josh Burridge.
Replacements not used: – Jack Hirst, Joe Metcalfe, Will Lawn.