Park almost let an opening win slip by

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PERCY Park began their debut season in the National leagues with a short trip to Winters Park in Cumbria to take on Penrith.

And Park just edged it at the end with a bonus point win to open their campaign.

With James Ponton unavailable, Ed Midcalf took control, and the Percy Park faithful were keen to see player coach Michael Stephenson in action.

From the first scrum, the Park pack made their mark, driving the Penrith eight back, and throughout the game had the upper hand, denying the home side any good possession other than from the line out or open play.

After eight minutes, Park scored their first of five tries when Stephenson chipped the ball beyond the rush defence for Ali Blair to chase.

The rangy centre beat the defender to the ball over the line, but an awkward bounce meant both players actually over ran the ball before Blair checked and reached back to dab the ball down for the score. Simon Greetham’s conversion hit the post and bounced out.

Penrith looked lively in the back line, and Mike Hawley took advantage of two Park players lying injured to break through a gap in centre field to score and his try was converted by fly half James Eller. Penrith stretched their lead four minutes later with a penalty by Eller.

Park countered almost immediately when solid possession from a scrum inside the Penrith 22, allowed Ash Smith to race through a gap in the home defence, and with the conversion by Greetham Park restored the lead 12-10.

Both sides showed a little rustiness, and with Penrith on the attack from a lineout on the Park 22, a telegraphed pass was pounced on by Blair who snapped up the interception to run 70 yards to score a converted try.

Park managed to capitalise on a few of green and white’s mistakes, and when a knock on inside the home team’s half gave Park an attacking scrum, the ball was picked up by No.8 Sean Williamson, who passed to John Scott, Stephenson picked up the ball and put on the after burners to glide past the defence. Jonny Ward in support took a flat pass and then stepped inside the cover defence to score close to the posts for Park’s first bonus point of the season.

With half time looming, Penrith attacked again and a speculative grubber kick took a cruel bounce and hit Harry Thorpe on the chest for the ball to ricochet into the hands of right wing John Fell who crossed the line untouched to keep his side in contention at 15-26 at the break.

Park started the second period well and within six minutes Ward had scored his second try. Greetham missed the conversion, but did score a penalty on 51 minutes to give Park a comfortable 34-15 lead.

At this point Park took their foot of the gas, and instead of playing with the previous confidence, a few nerves started to creep in along with a few unforced errors, and Penrith capitalised with tries by Gary Hodgson and Kris Bratton.

This brought the home side right back into the frame and were with a converted try of levelling the match.

Park thought they had scored through Stephenson when he broke through a gap only to be tackled inches short of the try line, with Brett Sylph in support, instead he reached for the line but the referee judged that this was a double movement and the try was disallowed.

Park then inexplicably switched off and Penrith took full advantage with a quick tap penalty and play was taken all the way to the Park 22, and a certain try seem on the cards but for an excellent cover tackle by Liam Blackburn who had come on from the bench moments earlier.

Penrith maintained the pressure and on 80 minutes did cross the line wide out on the left through Kris Bratton for his second try. Hooker McDowell had a difficult conversion attempt to level the game, but the ball flew past the face of goal.

With the last play, Park kicked off and there were two minutes of edge of the seat stuff until the ball was bundled into touch and the whistle went for the end of the game.

Back at Preston Avenue, Park had expected to play Corbridge Centurions but the Tynedale side could not raise a team, so North Shields stepped in.

Matthew Dale scored first for Park. Percy Park’s other tries in a 32-0 win came from Matthew Ovington (2), Richy Dawson, Adam Fidler and Pumas skipper Jon Carlile, with a solitary conversion from fly-half Dale.

On Saturday the 1st XV play Rossendale at home, and the Lions play Darlington Mowden Park away. The Pumas, also at home, play Ashington II.