South London Storm yesterday ran out convincing winners over arch-rivals West London Sharks in the opening game of the RLC Premier at The Twickenham Stoop.
The Storm started the first half strongest, with impressive standoff Mick Walker crashing over for the first try after eight minutes, before converting his own score. Five minutes later fullback Darren Bartley went over in the corner to push the scores out to 10 – 0, with Walker pulling wide with the conversion attempt. On fifteen minutes the lead was extended again when an attacking kick from scrumhalf Richard Spence took a wicked bounce to beat the Sharks fullback Tom Howden allowing him to recollect and add the third Storm try, Walker was again wide with the conversion, but at 14 – 0 the signs were looking ominous for West London.
However, the Sharks began to find some form of their own and put together a passage of good play consistently pressuring the Storm defence which eventually resorted to holding down to slow the fight back. From the resulting penalty powerful Sharks centre Graham Robbings forced his way over, with loose forward Nick Elliott adding the extras to make the score 14 – 6.
On the half hour mark Storm interchange Neil Templeman punished a tiring West London defence with some strong running out wide to go in for a try in the corner to make it 18 – 6. The Sharks hit back on thirty-six minutes through winger Dan Coffey, with Elliott’s conversion from the touchline scraping over via the crossbar to narrow the scores to 18 – 12.
The final minutes of the half saw a flurry of activity with both sides looking to punish tired legs, first Sharks fullback Howden made a blistering break down the eastern touchline only to be pulled down short by some desperate Storm defence; then Storm winger Carl Zacharow almost went in at the opposite end but strayed over the touchline on his way to the try line.
After the break it was the Storm who again started the quickest with hooker Luke Bonner pulled down just short of the line, only for quicksilver winger Neal Ayers to scoot over from the resulting play the ball. Two minutes later Zacharow added another try, this one converted by fullback Bartley, and at 28 – 12 it looked as if the floodgates had burst on the Sharks.
To their credit the men from West London did not capitulate, some reorganisation gave Howden the chance to break with another brilliant, jinking run, only this time there was no last ditch tackle to save the Storm from conceding in the corner. Elliott missed the conversion but at 28 – 16 with fifty minutes gone the Sharks were back within two converted scores.
The South London reaction was to step-up another gear and on fifty-five minutes Craig Guthrie’s try made it 32 – 16, whilst a few minutes later winger Zacharow almost added another but was forced into touch before he could get the offload away. But there was to be little respite for the Sharks, departing ex-skipper Tane Kingi jinked over on the hour, with Bartley’s conversion making it 38 – 16. Not to be outdone Kingi’s back-row partner and successor as captain Al Emerson was to get his name on the score sheet just two minutes later, with Bartley again converting to push the score line out to 44 – 16.
Just as it seemed the Storm were running rampant West London made a late attempt at a comeback with a good period of possession resulting in an effort held up in goal, predictably the Storm only upped their game in response with two much deserved tries in the last ten minutes to the hugely influential Bonner, whose clever running lines and distribution around the rucks was a major force in putting the South London side on the front foot throughout the game.
This win should send out the message to the rest of the RLC Premier South that South London Storm are well primed to defend their title, with the creative axis of Walker and Bonner giving the side real direction. Credit must also go to West London, who showed they can be competitive and who with a few more run-outs to work off the rustiness and to adjust to the summer conditions will offer a far stiffer test when the sides meet again at Storm Park in July.
West London Sharks: (12) 16
Tries: Robbings, Coffey, Howden
Goals: Elliott 2
South London Storm: (18) 56
Tries: Walker, Bartley, Spence, Templeman, Ayers, Zacharow, Guthrie, Kingi, Emerson, Bonner 2
Goals: Walker, Bartley 5