St Albans Centurions picked up the 2007 RLC Premier South title yesterday with a hard fought 18 - 10 win against the holding champions South London Storm.
The opening exchanges were a cagey affair, marked by frequent penalties from both sides, St Albans in particular looking rusty after a three-week rest period. So it was no surprise when the Storm put first points on the board through a try from winger Ollie Bloom after eleven minutes. A 40-20 kick from Storm scrumhalf Darren Bartley gave his side the field position to build pressure on the opposition line, before Bloom collected a smart cross field kick from Steve Guan to touch down in the left hand corner.
However, the Storm were to suffer a major setback ten minutes later when influential hooker Luke Bonner picked up a match ending injury attempting to burrow his way over the line.
The Centurions levelled the match on twenty-four minutes when centre Russ Kellaway scored a superb individual try, using some deceptive broken field running to weave his way through the Storm defence.
Storm hit the front again just three minutes from the break when a well-executed passing move saw Bartley deliver the final ball to Paul Bottomley who dove over for the try. Bartley converted to provide a six-point cushion.
The Centurions immediately stepped up the pressure at the other end, and duly earned a penalty for not standing square at the play the ball from the back-peddling Storm defence, providing hooker Richard Smith the opportunity to power his way over under the sticks. Craig Foster added the conversion to send the sides into the break 10 a piece.
The first ten minutes of the second half opened brightly with some end-to-end, free flowing rugby, with both sides dropping the ball in promising positions, before the St Albans side really began to click. Winger Rudi van der Merwe broke free of the Storm defence to race over and end the deadlock. Five minutes later his colleague on the other wing, Ollie Fountain, scored the try of the game with a weaving run through the Storm defence to make it 18 – 10.
At that stage the men from South London looked to be running out of steam, but managed to find a second wind as the game entered its final quarter. Loose forward Mickey Walker looked to have put the game back in contention with a well weighted chip over the Centurions defence on sixty-seven minutes, but the resulting touch down was ruled out by a very harsh offside call.
St Albans dug in and worked their way through the pressure with some solid, percentages rugby league, driving down the middle of the field and turning around South London with some intelligent positional kicking. Five minutes from time Centurions fullback Kristian Warner found himself in the sin-bin for a professional foul on his own ten metre line, but a tiring South London were unable to capitalise on the extra man advantage.
The Centurions will now have a week off before facing Welsh side Bridgend Blue Bulls in Bristol to claim a place in the final of the national competition.
St Albans Centurions: (10) 18
Tries: Kellaway, Smith, van der Merwe, Fountain
South London Storm: (10) 10
Tries: Bloom, Bottomley