Benn Hardcastle was the hero of the hour for Newcastle Thunder as his last minute conversion sealed a 24-22 victory over London Skolars at Kingston Park on Sunday.
In an eventful game, which saw two yellow cards and two red cards, Ali Blair’s second try of the contest gave Hardcastle the chance to win the game from the touchline. After hitting the post twice earlier on in the match, the scrum-half made amends with a superb strike to win the game.
It was a poor performance from Thunder overall and they got off to a sloppy start as London claimed the first two tries inside the opening quarter. Sam Nash and Aaron Small were the try-scorers, with Phil Lyon converting both for a 12-0 lead.
Newcastle needed a response against a well drilled Skolars side and they got just that when prop forward Brett Waller, who found himself in the unfamiliar position of dummy-half, barrelled over next to the sticks to get Thunder on the board. Hardcastle’s conversion halved the deficit.
Both sides were guilty of ill-discipline at times and Skolars took advantage when they received a penalty deep in opposition territory. Debutant Lyon, playing his first professional game after signing from amateur club London Chargers, kicked his third goal to extend the capital club’s lead before a quick double-salvo from the hosts levelled matters.
Danny Nicklas weaved his way over the whitewash before Derrell Olpherts was the beneficiary of a deft grubber into the in-goal area. At 14-14, the match was finely poised but there was a bit of drama before the end of the half as Thunder’s Hardcastle and Skolars’ Small were sin-binned for fighting.
Another penalty goal from Lyon regained London’s lead after the restart as Jermaine Coleman’s side looked to settle the ship. With the hour mark approaching, Blair scored his first of two tries to put Thunder back in front.
The topsy-turvy match was too hard to call as either side was capable of turning on the style to win the match. Poor goal line defence from Newcastle gifted Lamont Bryan a try with 13 minutes remaining. Usual goal-kicker Lyon had gone off injured so Nash took over and had no problems adding the extras to make it 22-18 to the Skolars.
London then proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot during the final minute. Prop forward Simona Vavega head-butted Thunder second-rower Liam McAvoy, leaving the referee with no choice but to show him a red card.
There was time for a full set of six to be played and Blair made sure it didn’t go to waste. With heavy defensive pressure in the corner, the winger squeezed over to draw his side level and give Hardcastle the chance to snatch the spoils. The scrum-half was on target to send the Kingston Park faithful into celebration.
The best teams in sport can always grind out victories when they’re not on their game, and this proved to be the case for Newcastle who do look to have something about them this season.
London centre Small was sent off after the final whistle for dissent to the referee, rounding off an afternoon to forget for Coleman’s men who will have been bitterly disappointed.
Newcastle coach Mick Mantelli told League Express after the game: “It wasn’t our best performance, but a year ago we’d have lost that game and the pleasing aspect is that we showed some composure at the end.”
Next up for Newcastle is a trip to Dewsbury Rams in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup this Friday.