Nottingham Outlaws 40 : Oxford Cavaliers 20

Nottingham Outlaws hit the ground running in their 2024 Midlands Premier League campaign on Saturday when they  scorched to a convincing 40-20 victory over a hard working but ultimately outgunned Oxford Cavaliers outfit at Lenton Lane on Saturday.

The Outlaws went into the game with several changes to the squad that went down to Bedford last weekend, but they soon hit their straps as early as the opening set, moving the ball down the blind side and winger Adam Ward latched onto a cut out pass to nudge the Outlaws into a 4-0 lead with only two minutes on the clock.

If the Outlaws thought they were in for an easy afternoon at the office then someone had forgotten to hand Oxford the script and on the back of successive penalties the visitors nudged ahead 6-4 with a short-range effort on the back of some sloppy home defence.

The deficit didn’t last long as the visitors made a hash from the re-start and from the resulting scrum Gaz Whitfield jinked his way over from twenty metres out and subsequently added the extras from bang in front to put the Outlaws back in the lead at 10-6.

It was a lead they were destined to keep for the rest of the game.

The remainder of the first half was probably the best section of the game for the Outlaws as they began to capitalise on their superior speed and know-how and in doing so they kept the scoreboard ticking over with a great solo effort from Cal Foster who had injected some much-needed pace and vigour from the bench.

Indeed, the young Trent powerhouse went over again five minutes later, wriggling out of the tackle despite the attention of two defenders as the Outlaws lead stretched to 22-6.

Having been through something of a purple patch the Outlaws failed to keep up the intensity and they once again were guilty of some weak defending, dropping off tackles in their right hand defensive channel as Oxford hit back from forty metres out to reduce the deficit to 22-12 as the referee brought the first stanza to a close.

The Outlaws had exhibited some poor form at the end of the first forty and they carried on in the same manner at the opening of the second stanza, once again leaking a try on the back of some basic one-on-one mis-tackles as the lead was cut to one score at 22-16.

Stung by this reversal the Outlaws upped the ante and within five minutes Gaz Whitfield extended the Outlaws lead to two scores notching a fine brace in the process and stretching the score out to 28-16 by adding the extras.

The Whitfield score seemed to knock the stuffing out of a rapidly tiring Cavaliers side who were now rapidly running out of steam and bodies as the visitor’s injury toll mounted, and with it the Outlaws lead stretched out to 34-16 as Haz Ashby used his size and reach to stretch over for a great solo effort.

By now it was all one-way traffic and two minutes later Gaz Whitfield put the icing on the cake for a great solo performance as the sharpshooter completed a well-deserved hattrick to take the Outlaws lead out to 40-16.   

A late try by the visitors reduced the deficit but with their dwindling reserves the referee mercifully brought proceedings to a close early with Outlaws home and hosed at 40-20.

After the game there were a few Outlaws in the frame for the Player of the Match award. On any other day it might have gone to hattrick hero Gaz Whitfield who had a fine day at the office with ball in hand but he was just pipped by rookie utility player Cal Foster who injected some much-needed pace and vigour every time he touched the ball.

After the game coach Shepherd announced his satisfaction with proceedings but also recognised that there was still work to do if the Outlaws were to mount a serious league challenge, adding “I was certainly pleased to get the win and some of our attacking play was excellent, however some aspects of our play left a bit to desired so the lads can enjoy the win today but they know that they will come to training next week and I will be looking at things to work on as they will face much tougher challenges ahead”

Indeed the  Outlaws league campaign will definitely go up a notch next weekend when they pay a visit last year’s champions Telford Raiders.