Whitburn edge St Johns
Whitburn Academy progressed to the National Stages of the Champion Schools competition as North East Year 11 Champions following an exciting and dramatic match against St Johns which took the final whistle to finally decide who would prevail.
It was Ethan Nichols who produced a fine display throughout and also earned the Man of the Match award who got the score board moving for Whitburn, scoring two tries out wide following good team pressure and build up play taking the score to 8-0.
However St Johns soon found their rhythm and couldn’t be stopped, Ben Walton powering over from close range and there was no stopping Adam Bielby when he broke the line from within his own half to leave Whitburn defenders watching as he coasted in under the posts to edge St Johns into a 10-8 lead.
The game continued to be tight with text book tackling and some inventive play until Connor Whitton extended St Johns lead further following a break and despite some excellent cover tackling, the line couldn’t regroup in time to prevent Connor diving over.
Ethan Nichols then completed a first half hat trick for Whitburn running onto a perfectly timed kick into the corner again the conversion attempt glided wide in the strong wide. But Whitburn weren’t finished, Will Bentley touched down to level the scores on the stroke of half-time at 16 apiece.
A half time draw looked a certainty until a penalty was awarded on the whistle to Whitburn for a ball steal and this time Ethan Nichols made no mistake and collected what would prove to be a valuable two points to lead 18-16 at the break.
The second period was played to the same intensity as the first with both teams producing some excellent play worthy of any final. Again Whitburn opened the scoring via Josh Nelson from close range, but scoring arguable the tries of the game, St John’s Reece Marsden timed his run to perfection to score twice.
Excellent build up play appeared to be contained by Whitburn on the half way only for Reece’s superb running the cut a hole in the line and turn an 8 point deficit into a 4 point St John’s lead with 10 minutes to go.
The drama wasn’t to finish their though Whitburn regrouped and repeat sets saw Nathan Gaughen cross followed by what appeared to be the game breaker as Josh Nelson created an 8 point advantage.
Although with only two minutes left on the clock and Whitburn looking to make the game safe a wayward pass was intercepted and Jack Hamilton raced the length of the field to give St Johns one last set in possession.
Unfortunately they couldn’t capitalise and Whitburn held out to take the North East title 36-34.