NORTH East Worcestershire Ravens continued their rebuilding of the senior squad with a hard fought game at an experienced Nottingham Outlaws team in the Midlands Premier Division on Saturday.
Ravens fielded a young team featuring seven players aged just 19 or under, whilst three more players made their senior rugby league debut and passed the test with flying colours despite the 48-8 defeat.
Ravens started the game with a strong defensive set, gang-tackling the Outlaws winger and driving him into touch. However, the wet and slippery conditions led to an error-filled opening half and the more experienced Outlaws managed to convert more of their opportunities as they outscored Ravens by six tries to one.
Ravens winger Rob White ran in a great blindside try on the 15-minute mark but his side trailed 32-4 at half time.
The second half developed into a much livelier half with some interesting refereeing decisions which frustrated both sides, but Ravens struggled with the situation more.
Nottingham quickly took advantage but Ravens refused to lie down and scored through a perfect cross-field kick from captain Dave Swaysland, which was spectacularly touched down by flying full back Brad Sinclair.
It took until the 50th minute for the Outlaws to reply with a try off the back of several dubious penalties going Nottingham’s way. Despite their comfortable position, Outlaws became frustrated with the Ravens’ tenacity and tempers boiled over as Nottingham’s number 11 repeatedly punched Ravens prop Dylan Fennell as he stood up to play the ball.
Fennell retaliated and the rest of his squad quickly followed him into the altercation. Both players were sent to the sin-bin and Nottingham were penalised for the original offence.
Both down to 12 men, the teams tussled away during the sin-bin period and only Nottingham managed to score with the extra space on the pitch.
This seemed to motivate the battered and bruised Ravens into a final 25 minutes which was defensively the best of the season. The small squad worked as a team, scrambling for every tackle and put their bodies on the line to stop any further Nottingham advances.
Ravens showed superior fitness in the final period of defence but the energy-draining efforts took its toll on the attack and time after time the final pass near the hosts’ line went astray.
The final act of the game saw Nottingham outpace the exhausted Ravens line to score in the 80th minute.
Ravens were disappointed with the loss but pleased with the second half performance as well as that of the debut players, especially man of the match Chris Cooke.
Ravens host Boston Buccaneers at home on Saturday and their U13s return to Nottingham on Sunday for a Midlands-wide festival.