Newcastle's 1st XIII played host to Hull University in the season’s opener at Heaton Sports Ground. In previous years, Newcastle had come unstuck against the strong Hull side, but the kicking game of Billy Sturdy helped Newcastle win the territorial battle in the opening quarter.
NURL, filtered with fresh faces, started the game strong, matching the big pack of Hull down the middle. It took until the 21st minute for the first score, with Hull breaking the deadlock after Newcastle giving up possession inside their own half.
The reply from Newcastle was swift, but mistakes seemed to cost the Owls throughout the game, with multiple knock-ons inside Hull’s 20 metre-line. However, some strong work down the middle enabled NURL to spread out wide, with Billy Sturdy finding Finlay Hutchinson on a great line to put Newcastle level on the 26th minute.
Newcastle’s response wasn’t over; fresher Matt Hogg worked his way over through some good offload play by Newcastle, notably Aaron Leavy who played a hand in assisting the try to give Newcastle an 8-4 lead.
"mistakes seemed to cost the owls throughout the game"
Newcastle at this point seemed to have the wind in their sails, with the ability to punish Hull’s incapability to control the pace. However, nothing came of this domination from Newcastle, and some inabilities in wrapping the ball up put Hull back level under the sticks, with the conversion putting Hull 10-8 in front.
With seconds left in the half, Newcastle’s hard work came undone after a dubious penalty was awarded to Hull, putting them in for a 3rd try of the half, meaning that Hull came in at the break 16-8 up.
At times during the first half, Newcastle controlled the game and looked the better side. However, Hull proved very clinical, more often than not capitalising on Newcastle’s mistakes.
The second half stated in the same vain in which the first half ended. Even though Newcastle were gifted early possession after a kick out on the full from Hull, a knock-on in the next play gave possession back to Hull and in doing so gave them their fourth try of the game.
With the game at 22-8, Newcastle were not yet out of contention and they scored a near-replica of their first try, as Finlay Hutchinson went over and ran under the sticks in the 48th minute. With the score at 22-14, the game was back on.
The Sturdy-Hutchinson partnership proved key on the left edge. From the resulting kick-off, Newcastle ramped up the pressure, with quick play of the balls and an intricate kick from Jason Bass saw NURL force the goal line drop out.
From the next play, NURL knocked on over the line in the corner from some good spread play. Failure in taking up this opportunity was a game-changing moment.
The momentum then shifted, and it wasn’t long until some strong goal line defence from Newcastle had to force the error, with Newcastle getting a penalty in the next play
Hull then got the ball back through a mistake on the tap, with another Hull try making it 28-14. The next try was the decisive moment that Hull didn’t deserve; two plays after a blatant knock on, the Hull scrum-half broke the line and went in next to the sticks.
Though the 34-14 score line may not have reflected the balance of the game, Hull went for the drop goal that reached an unassailable 21-point lead.
"Unfortunately, earlier errors cost Newcastle, and the Owls came up short"
A late flourish from the owls saw Matt Hogg go over for his second of the game, as well as Josh Catlett diving in at the corner highlighted some great work by the Newcastle lads.
NURL finished strongly, dominating the Hull side and trying to create chances from their own 20. Unfortunately, earlier errors cost Newcastle, and the Owls came up short.
All in all, a very good performance from NURL, but their lapses in concentration ultimately proved too costly. If they can address this, it looks set to be a very promising season for the Owls.