Midlands 2 West (North)
Leek 41 Stafford 10
LEEK resumed league duties in the opening game of 2014 after their cup exploits over Christmas.
The decision was taken to play on the top field where the drainage is good and the light better than the tree-lined home pitch.
After Leek's previous league game ended in their first defeat of the season at Moseley Oak, it was a welcome relief for the hosts to re-start the campaign with a bonus point win.
Liam McDermott started at scrum half, with Ian Harris unavailable. He teamed at half-back with brother Gary.
Nick Palmer moved to 12 with Josh Mays Woodhead at 13. Jack Newton Taylor moved to the left wing as Sam Hunt started at full back with James Floyd on the right wing.
Bobby Cheadle, Luke Granger and Jason Milner were in the front row and Ed Harrison with Luke Hardern started at lock.
Andy McFadden was back on the flank as veteran Neil Edge continued in the absence of Ad Nettel on the other flank with Luke Staton starting at No.8.
James Wilson, Dan Smith and the returning Dan Cooper were on the bench as the game kicked off with Leek soon putting together a fantastic phase.
After just four minutes, the Leek forwards drove down the left, creating space on the right for James Floyd to score and create an easy task for Gary McDermott to add the conversion.
Leek were in generous mood in the opening 10 minutes, conceding four penalties which warranted a warning from the referee.
The fourth penalty for offside on Leek's 22 resulted in Stafford reducing Leek's lead to 7-3.
Four minutes later, McFadden was yellow-carded for going in at the side of the maul. Stafford wasted a good opportunity from the resulting line-out.
As McFadden returned on 25 minutes, Hardern won a penalty in the Stafford 22. The line-out was won and Leek looked to drive over the Stafford line, but an infringement led to the first Stafford yellow card.
As the game approached added time in the first half, the Stafford centre was yellow-carded for slowing the ball – but this spurred the visitors and they held the Leek attack well.
With play entering the eighth minute of added time, Granger was yellow-carded for not releasing in the tackle. The subsequent penalty missed and the half time whistle blew at 7-3.
Leek started the second half as the first, on the front foot and scoring a great try.
With the half only a minute old, Leek were running the ball from their 22.
A great pick up off the floor by Floyd saw the wing sprint into the Stafford half. He off-loaded to Hunt, who outran the cover defence to score in the right corner. The conversion was missed, however.
Three minutes later, Leek were trying to run the ball again – but this time from their own five-metre line.
The ball was dropped and the Stafford centre pounced on it to score a simple try. A good conversion followed and Leek's lead was reduced to 12-10.
On 47 minutes, Harrison was held up over the Stafford line but Leek couldn't capitalise from the scrum, as Stafford's defence was solid. At the scrum, Cooper came on as Granger was still in the sin bin.
Two minutes later, Stafford were caught offside and Gary McDermott slotted the penalty to move Leek to 15-10.
However, Stafford were still very much in the hunt as they probed the Leek defence.
On 53 minutes, Floyd tried his luck with a kick through and sprint up, but the Stafford wing touched down ahead of him.
Leek needed to try something different and on 62 minutes, with Wilson now on, the No 8 picked up from the back of the scrum and ran blind. It had the Stafford forwards stretched, as Leek set up forward momentum rucks.
Then, as the ball moved to McDermott, Palmer came on a great angle to take it at full tilt and he scored under the posts. McDermott converted for 22-10.
The Stafford lock back chatted to the referee at the try and he received a yellow card and Leek were awarded the penalty on the half-way mark.
Following a quick tap from Gary McDermott, McFadden made a break on the right. His pass found Smith and the full back's run and offload to Floyd allowed the wing to score his second try of the day in the right corner.
McDermott missed the conversion but at 29-10, Leek had scored their bonus point try and were looking to close out the game.
On 68 minutes, Harrison was again held up over the line but Leek were penalised and Stafford cleared.
On 76 minutes, Wilson received a yellow card for obstruction as Stafford put together a break into the Leek 22.
The visitors won another penalty as Leek collapsed the maul and the five-metre line-out gave the visitors a good platform to score but strong Leek defence saw the hosts concede a turnover in midfield.
As the game reached 80 minutes, Leek had a line-out outside the Stafford 22 on the right. Good retention and rucking – and a smart move in the centre – saw Newton Taylor take the ball at pace and the youngster burned through tackles to score a great try near the left post. McDermott converted for 34-10.
From the kick-off, Stafford caught Leek in their own 22 but were then penalised for offside. A quick tap and a Cooper ruck set-up then allowed Granger to take a crash ball on a great angle and the Leek hooker charged in from the half way line under the posts. Gary McDermott converted to complete the scoring.
This was a very tough test for Leek, with Stafford very much in the game until the final 20 minutes.
Although the game was disjointed for long periods and an unusual number of cards were produced, the teams still produced an excellent game of rugby.
Only two other league matches were played. Bridgnorth overwhelmed Aston Old Eds 85-0 and Moseley Oak defeated Willenhall 43-0.
The other three games were postponed, so Leek and Moseley Oak both leapfrogged Crewe and Nantwich in the table. Bridgnorth moved up to fourth.
This weekend, Leek travel to Tamworth for a 2.15pm kick off. Leek's next home game is on January 18 against Wolverhampton.