May 10, 2021
Derby Elks kick the season off with a win!
In the 21 months since the last rugby league match at the Stute we have seen a club rebranding to Derby Elks RLFC and a return of a number of past players. First match of the 2021 season saw Birmingham Bulldogs RL travel to Ilkeston, a very tough start for both teams and after almost 48 hours of rain there was a risk of postponement but the weather gods fancied some rugby league also!
Sunshine out, pitch in excellent condition after great work by Groundsman Sean Wright everything was set for a great afternoon. Covid-19 restrictions and requirements were always providing an immense challenge to all but the home side adapted to the requirements, roping in welcome volunteers to ensure that all players and staff were kept safe.
The Elks received the kick off playing uphill, long kick caught by Joshua Jackson who offloaded to prop Lewis Sturgess to take the first drive, a three man tackle by the Bulldogs didn’t stop him making valuable yardage. Further drives by prop WIll Tully and Loose Joe Doughty linked by hooker Niall Collett continued the drive up the pitch. A deft kick to the right corner wasn’t managed well by the Birmingham full back and a knock on gave Derby a fresh set. After only two drives, second row Reza Kashefi dived straight between the posts for his first try since 2014! Converted by Niall Collett.
Same kick off receipt with again Sturgess making 10-15 yards. This time quick hands down the left side saw full back Keiran Jones dart through missed tackles to score to the left of the posts, ably converted by Collett. After 11 minutes Derby Elks were 12 points to nil up but previous matches between these clubs had always been close affairs so the Elks needed to ensure they kept their structure.
Lesson still not being learned by the Bulldogs as they persevered with the same kick and received the same return! The next 10 minutes saw a very competitive point of the game with both sides sharing sets in the middle of the field but the home sides defence and brave 2-3 man tackles ensured that the Bulldogs big units didn’t make too much distance. An end of set kick by the Bulldogs was returned firstly by Jones, then left wing Craig Woodason took a spiral run up the field. A pick up on the half way line, a number of missed tackles allowed winger Zak Fellows to burst through the defensive line and run half the pitch to score between the posts. Again converted by Collett. Derby Elks RL 18 Birmingham Bulldogs RL 0.
Captain Jamie Baxter left the pitch and allowed Charlie O’Mara to enter the field for only his second appearance in 8 years. Immediately there was a change to the structure and we saw an explosive O’Mara burst through the Bulldogs line, step the winger and then full back to slip over the line. Try converted again by Collett and after 30 minutes Derby were starting to establish a rhythm and only the competitiveness of the Bulldogs ensured that the game remained a competitive event. Derby Elks RL 24 Birmingham Bulldogs RL 0
Over the next few minutes the Elks lost their Vice Captain Doughty to a nasty head wound which required stitches and returning prop Dean Chapman bravely stopped a rampaging Ethan Priest of Birmingham in the home sides 20 metre area but Physio Ryan Smith considered the contact necessary for Chapman to leave the field. Derby continued to ring the changes and use a large amount of the bench. This resulted in an interchange in the Bulldogs twenty metre area between the Derby backs and replacement hooker Joe Cockshott burst over the line. This was converted by Jones.
Half time Derby Elks RL 30 Birmingham Bulldogs 0
Second half saw Derby score two unconverted tries through centre Liam Gavin and winger Fellows got his second of the game. Playing down hill the Elks thought they had the game in the bag which resulted in loss of structure, wayward passes and some weak tackling.
This allowed the Bulldogs the opportunity to break the Derby line to score a converted try. With just over 60 minutes on the clock a nasty knock to Birmingham’s Jay Neath saw the game stopped. Sadly the need for an ambulance curtailed the game with an agreed result of Derby Elks RL 38 Birmingham Bulldogs RL 6.
Derby started the season off in the best manner possible, forward unit Sturgess, Tully, Doughty, Stephen Hunt along with the returning Joe Gazzard, Kashefi and Tom Pottinger provided a platform in both attack and defence for the backs, backs provided options and ensured that the valiant Bulldogs had to work hard for any yardage.
The Ilkeston RUFC Chairman’s Man of the Match could have could to many of the home side players but debutant Will Tully was the recipient of the award.
We thank Birmingham Bulldogs players, coaches Sean Flynn and Sean Sudgrove and staff for making it a great afternoon of league at the Stute and wish them well for the season. Good news to hear that Neath is safe and well after his hospital assessment and hope for a speedy recovery.