Park win play-off to earn place in national league

Howard Stock about to score Park's second ry after a great off-load by Ashley Smith. Picture by Stu Robertson.
Howard Stock about to score Park's second ry after a great off-load by Ashley Smith. Picture by Stu Robertson.

PERCY Park will start the 2012-13 season in the national leagues after winning a nail-biting promotion play-off against spirited North 1 West side Liverpool St Helens on Sayurday at Preston Avenue.

It could have been a case of history repeating itself when Park were defending a six points lead with only minutes to go, having been under the cosh for a sustained period at the end of the game.

Liverpool St Helens broke down the right hand side and had a pass to Neil Hull gone to hand, the visitors would have had a kick at goal to steal the game by a single point at the death.

Fortunately for Park the ball was spilled five metres from the line, and a certain try went begging.

Park made a few last minute changes to the bench prior to the game, with influential lock Craig Fidler failing a late fitness test.

Sean Williamson came in and was soon in action as Michael Langlands had to leave the field on eight minutes after a nasty cut resulting from an accidental clash of heads left him requiring 21 stitches.

Ali Blair was nursing a tight hamstring, so coach, James Ponton made the decision to bring in a second back replacement rather than go with three forwards.

The North 1 East runners-up opened the scoring with two Phil Morse penalties in the first half in a game so well managed by the officials that there were only nine penalties conceded in the whole game.

Park elected to take the wind advantage in the first half, and Ash Smith kept the Liverpool side playing in their own half with some good positional kicking.

The opening try came after 23 minutes from Park’s try scoring machine Blair. Andy Dunn broke down the left hand side and offloaded a well judged pass to wing Jimmy Baldwin who cut back inside leaving several tacklers in his wake.

The ball was recycled and found player coach James Ponton charging towards the line before finally passing to Blair who crossed the try line under the posts. Morse’s conversion gave Park a 13-0 lead.

Just before the break Liverpool St Helens shook Park out of their comfort zone with a well earned try by Alex McClurg.

The chunky centre burst through the Percy Park defensive line and found one of his team in support five meters out before receiving a return pass to go over for the try.

Despite being a bright and dry sunny afternoon, the north easterly wind was biting, but this did not deter a large crowd with lots of support from other clubs in and out of the area.

In fact a small contingent of support came from last year’s promotion winners Burnage, proving the fellowship that surrounds the game of rugby.

From the Percy Park kick off after the break, none of the Liverpool St Helens players went for the ball, and open side Jack Davidson snapped it up just outside the visitors 22.

The ball was recycled to fly-half Smith who called for the switch with the young Park wing.

The dummy took out several players and as Smith was brought to the ground he off loaded a one handed pass to Howard Stock who outpaced the opposition full back to score in the right hand corner with less than a minute on the clock.

LSH cam straight back into the game with a lengthy spell of pressure keeping Park penned in their own half, and on 54 minutes Liverpool’s top try scorer Dave Cunliffe scored wide on the right after Park had run out of defenders.

Park held out for the remaining 20 minutes as the visitors threw everything at them.

When the North West 1 side failed to score near the end of the game, Park were awarded a scrum on their five-metre line and played out the remaining two minutes by playing keep ball in the forwards.

As the referee indicated time was up, skipper John Scott received the ball and hoofed it into the proverbial row Z as the final whistle went.

Although there will be a good deal more travelling next season, as far afield as Chester and Birkenhead, Park will be playing rugby at level five, which will be a true test of character for the young squad.