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Leek Rugby Club Season review by captain John McDermott

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: May 07, 2014

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LEEK'S first team squad has enjoyed its best ever season since its formation in 1923.

The club has won the Midlands Two West (North) Division with a total of 95 points, having won 20 of its 22 fixtures.

Leek won all their home league and cup games, making 17 wins from 17 games.

The 11 home league games produced 454 points with only 93 points against and were the corner stone of the league championship.

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Two games were lost away from Esterchem Park. The first league defeat didn't happen until December 14 when Moseley Oak lowered Leek's colours in Birmingham. This was the only fixture all season that the squad 'didn't turn up'.

Moseley Oak played very well and deserved their win, and it seemed that they and Crewe and Nantwich would prove hard nuts to crack over the season.

The away win at Crewe and Nantwich, on November 23, by a 15-22 margin, was perhaps the away performance of the season. With both sides sporting 100 per cent records at the time, something had to give and it wasn't Leek. A superb all round defensive effort which Crewe hadn't experienced all season left Leek to take command in the second half for a famous win.

The game at Bridgnorth on November 2 was also a quite breath-taking game. With both sides at the time unbeaten, Leek managed to kick a last gasp penalty through the boot of Gary McDermott to win 26-28 and was the first of three very close games with the Shropshire outfit.

It wasn't until January 18 that Leek was really tested at home when Wolverhampton came within one point of taking Leek's home record. Playing for 60 minutes with only 14 men, the south Staffs side came back from 17-0 to lead 21-17 and Jack Newton Taylor's 70th minute try was just enough to see Leek home.

Against Bridgnorth at home, Leek won an incredible match 3-0 after tense battle. Leek were down to 13 men in the last few minutes, which saw Bridgnorth spurn three points in order to go for the win that never came.

Strong wins at home to Crewe (29-0) and Moseley Oak (56-5) sealed Leek's momentous league season and so when the team travelled to Old Salts and lost 24-17, the minds of the players were then on a huge cup game the following week.

The season started with a Staffordshire Cup match against Willenhall in which a comfortable win would offer no clues as to Leek's consistency to come. Leek booked a place in the Staffs Cup quarter final with that win and so on December 28, in front of a big crowd at St Edwards, Leek took on the might of Burton, lying second in Midlands West One (North), a full division higher than Leek. The team played exceptionally and thoroughly deserved their 24-5 win to set up a semi-final match against Lichfield.

Sadly, Leek could not fulfil the fixture because of other cup and league commitments and so were eliminated without playing the match.

The National Intermediate Cup is for clubs that play at Level 7 in England. There are around 260 such clubs. Above this level, there is no national competition because of the fixture pile ups that would occur, so at this level, it is still a great competition that starts with each club playing within its regional division.

Leek played in the Midlands Division and it started off in round one with a home fixture against Dronfield, from north Derbyshire, and duly won comfortably by 40-12 in September.

Next up, in round two, was Nottingham Casuals away, in October, with Leek near the top of their league and Casuals near the bottom of theirs, Leek unsurprisingly dominated the game and won 37-7.

The third round saw Leek entertain Market Harborough at Esterchem Park in November. This was a defining game for Leek's season as their opponents looked to completely dominate the game and at 13-31 with a little over 20 minutes to go, Leek's cup dreams looked in tatters. Then the fight back started, momentum changed and three tries later with time running out, Leek slipped into an unlikely lead and held on.

The quarter-final pitched Leek into Leicestershire and a game against Loughborough, a side they have played in the past.

On a difficult pitch in December, Leek were usually in control of the match and after Josh Mays Woodhead's interception first try, the Moorlanders went on to win 30-12.

It was now starting to get serious and at the semi-final stage Leek and Bridgnorth from Midlands 2 West (North) had battled their way to away draws to the top two teams in Midlands Two East (South). Whilst Bridgnorth went to Leighton Buzzard, which was boasting the best league record of any club in England at the time, Leek travelled to Newbold on Avon on February 1.

Bridgnorth came away with an awesome victory, confirming their much improved form, when they defeated Buzzard 18-21 to reach the final. At the time, they were desperate to find out who they would meet, but Leek's game was postponed because the river Avon had spread onto the pitch and it wasn't until February 22 that the teams would meet.

In an epic battle, Leek came from behind to land a 24-24 draw and the game went into 10 minutes each way extra time. Newbold scored a converted try in the first half and Leek almost matched it as the first half ended but a knock on under the posts stopped it. The second half of extra time saw Newbold trying to run the clock down but Leek won the ball with five minutes to go, won a series of penalties, saw two home players yellow carded before a quick tap penalty from Dan Needham set up a try for Nick Palmer with the last play of the game. Gary McDermott needed to add the conversion to secure an away winning draw and the skipper duly obliged with an immaculate kick sending the visiting supporters into rapturous applause.

Uniquely, two clubs from the same division would play out the Midlands Final and Leek had the fortune to win home advantage.

Bridgnorth had suffered two close losses to Leek in the league and with 3 new players bolstering their side and strong results recorded since the loss at Leek in the league; the Shropshire side went into the game as slight favourites against a Leek outfit still top of the league and wining well also.

On March 15, 2014, the two sides met at Leek's Esterchem Park in front of over 600 spectators. It was a fantastic day for all concerned and the players, now with an enlarged replacement team of seven, looked forward to a close, tense game of rugby between two well matched sides.

McDermott landed the first blow to edge Leek into a 3-0 lead before Bridgnorth equalised and then took the lead from a mistake when the Bridgnorth centre snapped a loose ball up and ran in for the opening try: 8-3. Another penalty before half-time extended the Bridgnorth lead to 3-11 and leek needed to respond in the second half. Unfortunately, it was still Bridgnorth on the front foot despite the home support and on 47 minutes, another penalty for Bridgnorth saw them opening up a formidable lead at 3-14.

A missed penalty and then another decision from Bridgnorth to kick for a lineout went awry and signalled a Leek comeback. The Bridgnorth skipper was yellow carded for slowing the ball and on 70 minutes with Leek now winning more territory, Sam Hunt went on a run that split the Bridgnorth defence. He won a penalty near the Bridgnorth try line and McDermott took the three points to reduce the deficit to 6-14.

Another penalty came on 78 minutes for slowing the ball down and another yellow card was produced as McDermott prodded the ball over the bar again to reduce the lead to 9-14.

It was all Leek now and as the game entered added time, the Leek backs combined to get the ball into the Bridgnorth 22. A couple of rucks later, with the visitors now tired, McDermott's pass to Naz Narawa allowed the centre to score an unopposed try. McDermott's conversion went over and Leek held on for another famous, late win and the Midlands Trophy.

The Midlands winners always play the North winners in the national semi-finals and Aspatria from Cumbria beat York to set up another home fixture for Leek on April 19.

This game produced an even bigger gate with well over 800 supporters coming. After Aspatria's opening burst which saw them score two tries, Leek overcame their northern opponents with two tries of their own, scored by Luke Hardern in the first half and Shane Dicker in the second. Some good penalty kicking from McDermott gave Leek the win by the relatively comfortable margin of 27-15.

This victory gave the Moorlanders the prize that all amateur rugby players aspire too and not many get the chance.

The opportunity to play at Twickenham in a competitive match, a cup final, is so special that all players will treasure it for the rest of their days and anyone witnessing their own club there will do the same.

Leek had managed to overcome a tough league season and a gruelling cup campaign, using 38 players and scoring over 1000 points in all to be able to end their long seasonal campaign with a trip to Rugby's Headquarters, Twickenham.

Sadly, that encounter didn't turn out as the club and their supporters had ardently hoped, with Leek losing 19-22 to a strong Trowbridge side – see the back page of this newspaper for a full match report.

Leek's efforts this season are the result of many years hard work, both on and off the field.

Special mention must go to the coaches, Ian Gittens and Chris Mudd.

They have worked tirelessly for five years to present this opportunity for the players and the players have duly responded with a work ethic and commitment to the cause that has seen them come through some tight games.

The players, led by skipper Gary McDermott and vice-captain, Andy McFadden also deserve their day in the limelight. Most of the players are in their early 20s and so can take the club forward next season into the harder division above which boasts teams of the calibre of Stoke, Walsall, Hereford and Whitchurch.

James Floyd scored an amazing 23 league tries with Nick Palmer scoring 15, Jack Newton Taylor 14 and Liam McDermott 11, with another 21 players scoring tries in league matches.

Skipper Gary McDermott scored seven tries, kicked 31 penalties and 71 conversions in an unmatched season, with the reward of proudly leading out his side onto the field at Twickenham.

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