Keighley 24 : Outlaws 22

Nottingham Outlaws came within a whisker of a major upset on Saturday when they almost snatched a point with the last kick of the game at Keighley Albion. It would have been well deserved too as the Outlaws led for most of the game before a late burst by the home team denied them a deserved victory but instead, they had to settle for a 24-22 defeat in what was a highly entertaining game.

The omens were not great for an Outlaws team that suffered a huge 84-0 defeat seven days earlier at Stanley. Things appeared desperate with a string of injuries taking them within a whisker of forfeiting a game for the first time in their twenty-four-year history. However, the club dug deep and with the assistance of no fewer than five new debutants being brought in they managed to assemble a squad to head north.

Despite the makeshift lineup the Outlaws started brightly, defending well and asking a few questions of the home team as they used the slope to their advantage to post a few early raids but lacked the cutting edge needed to get over the whitewash.

Finally, the top two home outfit began to get their attacking act together and they opened the scoring in the twelfth minute to lead 4-0 and for the next fifteen minutes it was all Keighley as they poured forward on the back of a string of penalties. Indeed, the odds against the Outlaws getting anything out of the game rose even higher when scrum half Tom Wigglesworth was helped from the pitch with a head knock that meant he could play no further part in the game.

The home fans expected the Outlaws to crumble at this stage, but this Outlaws team had a much better defensive capability than in previous weeks with Strachan, Ward, Waring and Andrews all combining well to basically put up a steel shutter that Keighley just couldn’t find a way through. Indeed, with near constant attacks coming to nothing the home team began to run out of ideas.

Buoyed by their defensive effort the Outlaws went on the hunt for points and they opened their account on the back of a superb Sam Andrews break. The Outlaws prop was pulled down just short but the ball went left and a superb pass by Gaz Whitfield was well taken by debutant winger Tom Speed to level the scores and then nudge the Outlaws ahead 6-4 when Whitfield converted from the touchline.

The Outlaws try seemed to knock the home side’s confidence and as they became more ragged the Outlaws went on the hunt for more trys. Strachan was held up just short but with five minutes left to the break second rower James Hood took the inside ball at pace from a set move and crashed over under the sticks. Whitfield added extras from bang in front and the Outlaws went into the break 12-4 up with the home support stunned!

There were literally no tactical options available to the Outlaws coaching staff as they had no substitutes available, so it was a case of everyone having to dig deep and play out the last forty without any chance of a breather and what was worse, the Outlaws were now having to play up a steep slope.

With the slope in their favour and some early penalties against them Keighley started poured down the hill and with the second half only five minutes old they scored to reduce the Outlaws lead to 8-12.

Despite the early set back the Outlaws bounced back almost immediately and a superb break by Gaz Whitfield saw the full back slice through the home line with an outrageous dummy and sidestep. As the defence closed in he released debutant Laurence Green in support who won a thirty-metre foot race to the line. Once again Whitfield converted to open up a two score lead in the Outlaws favour at 8-18.

As the half wore on the Outlaws began to visibly tire and with players carrying knocks they began to drop off a few tackles and on the back of this the home side began to slowly chip away at the Outlaws lead.

Indeed, three quick-fire trys in a devastating ten-minute period saw a resurgent home side overturn the Outlaws lead to creep ahead by one score at 24-18 and it looked like it was game over with five minutes to go.

With one last throw of the dice the Outlaws charged forward again on the back of a strong carry by debutante Luke Strauss and on the next play the ball went wide to powerful centre Jake McFarlane who reached out and planted the ball over the line despite the attention of three defenders to leave the Outlaws at 24-22 in arrears with the kick to come.

With time now up Gaz Whitfield struck the conversion from the touchline sweetly enough but the ball just shaded the wrong side of the post meaning the Outlaws had lost out by the finest of margins in a hugely entertaining game.

There were some disappointed looks on the faces of the Outlaws players for failing to register the win that they fought so hard for but for most of the Outlaws faithful the match had been a huge shot in the arm after a tough seven days for the club.

Its a bit of a cliche to say that anyone of thirteen players could have taken the award. In this match it was extremely hard to pick a stand-out player in such a great team effort and there were no complaints when a joint award was made to captain Coryn Ward and prop Sam Andrews for a superb showing over the 80 minutes.