Following two consecutive away fixtures to West Leeds and Huddersfield YMCA, Alnwick travelled to Dinnington, in what completed arguably their toughest block of fixtures in their five years of competing in the North East One league.
Earlier in the season Alnwick had nervously scraped to an 8-5 home victory over their rivals, and despite Dinnington currently sitting in the relegation zone, they are a formidable force at home, winning every previous home encounter between the two teams.
Alnwick appeared to have the upper hand in the opening exchanges, recycling possession well and making inroads into Dinnington’s half and they were quickly dealt an early advantage, the home team losing their young winger, Trueman, to the sinbin after he tackled Smales in mid-flight as he leapt to take a high ball.
Looking to capitalise in the ensuing ten minutes, good vision from Callum Burn exploited some lazy opposition runners, his pass finding Ben Courty who showed surprising speed to make it the Dinnington 5m line before his offload was picked off by the cover defence.
Despite a strong start, Alnwick would soon find themselves five points down, standing under their own posts. Slick hands from Dinnington, together with some weak tackling, gifted them the opening score of the game, 17-0 with little more than 25 minutes played.
Individual inaccuracies were proving to be Alnwick’s downfall, with the visiting team unable to turn possession into points. However, were rewarded with a penalty just to the right of the uprights, Bird dissecting the posts with his attempt to take the half time score to 17-3.
Alnwick began the second half brightly. A strong passage of play eventually led to Hamilton busting through the middle to score underneath the left upright, gifting Bird an easy two points and taking the score to 17-10.
However, Dinnington were not about to roll over just yet. Again the inaccuracies that had plagued Alnwick’s first half performance crept in and following some strong carries from Dinnington’s heavy forward pack, the ball found centre, Williams, who showed good pace to step through Alnwick’s midfield defence and out-pace the covering tacklers. Bunting Jr failed to add the extra two points and the score stood at 22-10 with little more than 20 minutes left to play.
Throughout the season Alnwick’s fitness has often proved to be the difference between them and their often heavier opposition and with a 12 point deficit to overcome in the closing stages of the game, it would prove to be decisive.
Ill-discipline had begun to creep into the Yorkshire men’s game and they found themselves retreating deep into their own territory. Another Bird penalty reduced Dinnington’s lead to nine points before the home team found themselves camped on their own try line once more. A penalty 8m from the Dinnington try line would normally call for a kick to the corner, however, Hamilton opted for a quick tap, powering his way through four Dinnington defenders before slamming the ball down in the corner.
A tough conversion from the side line followed, Bird making no mistake in adding the two extra points, taking the score to 22-20.
By now Dinnington appeared to be on the ropes as Alnwick looked to take the lead for the first time in the match and things soon took a turn for the worst for the home team. Great work at the breakdown by Duncan Smith won a penalty for the visitors on the half way line and Moralee looked to go quickly. Simon Bunting, who at the age of 48, was making his 100th appearance for the home team, decided to intervene at this point, preventing the Alnwick number nine from taking a quick tap-and-go, leaving the referee little choice but to send him to the sin-bin.
From the resulting play Bird ended up with a penalty in front of the posts and a chance to take the lead late in the game. Uncharacteristically, Bird dragged his attempt wide and the home team were momentarily off the hook.
But Alnwick regained possession, Dinnington infringed at the ruck once more. Quick thinking from Moralee saw him take a quick tap, before sending a trademark spiral kick down the centre of the pitch. In the footrace that followed Moralee was only just beaten to the ball, however, under intense pressure the Dinnington full back was unable to gather and the ball ended up in the hands of Alnwick scrum-half who dived over for a great solo try. Bird adding the extras, with only five minutes to play.
Alnwick were now on the hunt for the bonus point try and it came in the final play of the game. Strong Alnwick defence, eventually forced a turn-over just inside Dinnington’s half and the ball was moved through the hands quickly eventually finding its way to Callum Burn who popped it up to Smales, before he sliced through the Dinnington defence on their ten metre line.
Smales weaved his way past a defender t to dot the ball down in the corner just as the clock hit the 80 minute mark, clinching the full five points for the men from Northumberland.