THORNHILL TROJANS began the defence of their BARLA National Cup title with a narrow 8-6 first-round win away at Waterhead.
The resurgent Oldham-based side went into the game on the threshold of a new phase in their history and have been boosted with the return of a number of players to bolster their ranks.
Thornhill, playing their first game of the new season, may not have played their most attractive rugby, but battled hard in their title defence.
The Trojans gave run-outs to new recruits Tom and Jack Gledhill who have joined from Shaw Cross Sharks. Former Mirfield Stags player Jonathan Hellings also made his first team debut following a series of strong performances in the Trojans’ 11-a-side team. Chris Mitchell was another first team debutant after making the jump from the Trojans ‘A’ team.
The Overthorpe Park side looked to make an early impression on this game and set about the visitors from the off.
Danny Ratcliffe looked impressive as he lead the Thornhill team around the field.
But Waterhead stood firm and absorbed the early pressure.
In a relatively quiet first period the main talking points were the number of high shots in the tackle which halted the game on numerous occasions as players from both teams required treatment.
One recipient of a high challenge was Liam Morley, but it didn’t stop the heavily bandaged Trojan from breaking the deadlock between the two sides in the 34th minute.
Morley’s touchdown was converted by George Woodcock for a 6-0 half-time lead.
As the second half got underway Waterhead looked to up the tempo and sensed they were capable of turning the game around.
But Thornhill were awarded a couple of successive penalties following a period of sustained pressure. The first was for a shoulder charge in back play and the second was for a high tackle. The second penalty was close to the Waterhead posts and the Trojans opted to go for goal – George Woodcock adding the two points.
By now the Waterhead team were still playing with enthusiasm by the bucket-load and refused to give in. The Trojans knew they weren't safe and the next time they were awarded a penalty they went for goal, but Woodcock’s kick drifted agonisingly wide.
The visitors did come close to scoring in the second half when man of the match James Craven made a raid for the try line however Waterhead’s cover defence managed to bundle Craven into touch.
The hosts then powered forward on a run but a brilliant last-ditch tackle from Woodcock stopped the initial raid. But Waterhead pressed on and Jamie Mayall reached over to plant the ball down for the four pointer. Mayall converted his own try to go within two points of the defending champions.
The game suddenly came to life and Thornhill’s defence was severely tested. The home side looked to have scored out wide but Craven pulled off a marvellous tackle to prevent the ball from being grounded. The former Bulldog effectively saved the day for the Trojans as shortly after the referee blew for full-time.
In terms of warm-up games the Trojans could have asked for nothing more ahead of their 2017 National Conference League Division Two campaign.
Thornhill host Lock Lane in the first round of the Challenge Cup tomorrow (2pm).