5th November 2018, 13:45 | ncl
Once again we have come to the end of a superb season in the flagship league of the amateur game, the National Conference League. Teams we expected to flourish haven’t and some we expected to falter have triumphed.
At the end of it all who would have thought an amateur team would go through a full season without taking a defeating hit but it happened.
It all began in March this year culminating in the Grand Final on October 6 at the LD Nutrition Stadium, Featherstone. It was a day when three of the most famous names in the amateur game and one fledgling club gave it their all.
In the Premier Division, Hunslet Club Parkside have been termed ‘invincible’ going through the season without losing a game.
It was an incredible effort which saw them not lose a game, whilst scoring 617 points and conceding just 192.
The end of 2018 saw two playoff games the first being at home to West Hull, who they would meet in the Grand Final, winning 9-2. It was then a week off but maintaining their momentum to take the biggest crown in the amateur game, the National Conference Premier Division title, winning 26-18 again over West Hull.
Flying under the radar for most of the season you would maybe not have fancied West Hull to end up in the Grand Final. All credit to Mark Hewitt’s young charges who won five and lost five of their opening ten games but came with a charge towards the end of the season – losing just 2 of their last 12 games.
Their great form saw them beat Egremont Rangers for another crack at the league leaders (following a loss in the elimination semi-final) which again saw them come up short.
Champions Thatto Heath Crusaders were looking for back to back titles, but didn’t even make the Grand Final. They ended the season in third place, but finished their season at the playoff stage.
Matty Norton had a great season for the Crusaders as he scored 18 tries and picked up five man of the match awards. Jack Jones topped 100 points for the season with 30 goals coming from the boot of Bobbie Goulding so plenty of positivity surrounds the side.
Egremont Rangers like championship material this year, as they started the season with five wins out of their first six starts.
They were always in and around the top four and were within eighty minutes off a Grand Final with leading try scorer Fraser McNee plus Matt Bewsher and Matty Henson leading the way.
For Wath Brow Hornets it was again a case of what might have been as they made the playoffs without having a major say in the title race. They finished fifth in the regular season, with their season ending at Egremont with a 28-12 defeat.
Karl Dixon was their lynchpin during the season picking up four man of the match awards from his nineteen appearances. Fran King and Cole Walker-Taylor shared over 20 goals each as King and Curtis Teare led the try scoring charts with nine each.
The pre-season message to Underbank Rangers was to consolidate a place in the top flight, the side however managed to make it all the way through to the playoffs.
The defeat of Thatto Heath will rank as their best win of the season after an eight match unbeaten mid-season run saw them firmly in the mix.
Sam Ansell had a fine season in scoring 28 tries in his 21 appearances with Courtney Allette also amongst the leading scorers. Richard Pogson was their top man scoring 178 points from seven tries and an impressive 75 goals so a real platform to build on for 2019.
Siddal for the first time in many a year failed to make the top six. Inconsistency was their Achilles heel, as they lost three of their first five and failed to put any run of wins together.
Looking for a place in the playoffs Siddal went on to lose seven of their last ten games so poor form going into the business end of the season.
Paul Brearley picked up eight man of the match awards and helped himself to eight tries but Rochdale Mayfield struggled to find any real form in 2018. They hovered above the relegation zone occasionally dipping into it before finally surviving.
Winning just three of their opening ten games wasn’t the start they wanted, with it taking a last day win over Underbank Rangers to retain their Premier Division status.
Kells managed to stave off relegation to remain in the top flight and will be truly disappointed to have lost all four Cumbria derbies. It was a hard place to go for many teams but there was a period mid-season which saw five defeats in a row.
A crucial win with three weeks to go at home to Normanton made sure they had enough points to survive.
Ross Gainford led the way for the Cumbria side with 72 points from 34 goals and try as Tyrone Dalton was the leading try scorer with seven.
Normanton Knights were promoted to the top flight of the game having beaten York Acorn in the playoff final in 2017.
They started the season well with four straight wins but failed to find any real consistency and ended up being relegated back to Division One following a final day defeat.
Connor Taylor scored 138 points for the Knights with Connor Wilson picking up six man of the match awards.
For the first time in their National Conference history Wigan St Patricks have been relegated from the top flight. Relegation was confirmed with them losing their last four games.
Phil Glover was a leading light for Pats in taking five man of the match awards and adding nine tries during the season. The likes of Harry and Luke Warburton plus Joe Higham tried hard but the side were swimming against the tide for long periods.
Drawing their first game of the season plus losing the next seven was the start of Myton Warriors Premier Division demise. From here on in it was going to be an uphill battle from which they never really recovered and hence were relegated.
Ash James was influential as he picked up five man of the match awards and scored over 100 points with brother Lee added ten tries.
Wow what a season it has been and here’s to plenty more in 2019.