Telford Raiders 20 : Nottingham Outlaws 22

Nottingham Outlaws winning start to the 2024 Midlands Premier League Season continued on Saturday when they just squeezed past the wining post with a hard-earned 22-20 away victory at last year’s champions Telford Raiders. In an absorbing contest, the  Outlaws led comfortably at half time before leaking three quick fire try’s to find themselves chasing the game but a late try by James Hood snatched a hard-earned win for the Nottingham outfit.

The Outlaws went into the match sporting a number of changes to the team that had come out on top against Oxford the previous weekend with Mikey Anderson and Sam Andrews returning to the front row and James Hood and Aidan Butler returning to the threequarters.

The match started evenly with both teams cancelling each other out with some strong defending and both struggling to find any fluency in attack. However the Outlaws finally found their cutting edge on the fifteen-minute mark when James Hood proved too big and too strong for the home defence, breaking two tackles before planting the ball down over the whitewash to score the opening try which Whitfield converted and the Outlaws led 6-0.

The Outlaws try seemed to settle the nerves and boost their confidence and they began to move the ball with confidence and they doubled their score five minutes later as Haz Ashby fooled the opposition defence, shaping to pass before scooting through a gap to double the Outlaws lead at 12-0.

Despite the Outlaws lead the home side were still asking plenty of questions and twice in succession they nearly scored but some great defending by James Hood and Adam Ward kept the Outlaws line intact when a try seemed certain.  However on the third time of asking they did manage to get over the line as the Outlaws leaked successive penalties and the Raiders took advantage to reduce the Outlaws lead to one score at 12-6.

With the clock ticking down there was just time for one more attack and once again it was Ashby who fooled the opposition defence, dummying and breaking through the Raiders line before powering over the line despite the attention of the opposition fullback.

Despite the angle Whitfield added the extras and the Outlaws went into the interval two scores ahead at 18-6 but with the contest still very much alive.

With the temperatures rising the coaching staff decided to bring on the cavalry with Page, Burgin and Strachan all joining the fray to breathe some fresh life into the side.

Despite the changes the Outlaws started the second half in similar vein to the Oxford match a week ago with a catalogue of errors handing possession and initiative to the home side and they soon began to chip away at the Outlaws lead.

The first score came off a lost ball and then a second quick fire try on the end of a back-to-back set saw the Outlaws lead shrink to two points at 16-18.

With seventeen minutes left to play the travelling Outlaws faithful feared the worse when Telford scored a third try on the bounce to nudge ahead at 20-18 and it seemed like a half time winning position was going to be handed back on a plate to the now dominant home team.

Having been under the cosh for most of the second stanza the Outlaws desperately needed some energy from somewhere and luckily for them they found it!

With the Raiders beginning to tire visibly Outlaws forwards Luke Wadding, Jack Jonson and Sam Andrews began to get on top with some hard drives into the heart of the Raiders defence.

Half back Tom Wigglesworth was now getting better ball and field position to work with and as a result he began to orchestrate play and mount a series of attacks on the home line. 

Strachan and Mikey Anderson came close before powerful centre  James Hood bagged his second try of the game, crashing through his opposite number to nudge the Outlaws back in front at 20-22. 

As the clock ticked down neither team could add to the tally and when the final hooter sounded the Outlaws players, coaching staff and the travelling faithful breathed a collective sigh of relief on a job well done!

After the game the players waited for the announcement of the man of the match. There were several players in with a shout but in the end it was a joint win with James Hood and Haz Ashby sharing the award with each of the two tyros’ bagging a fine a brace of trys. 

As the squad relaxed coach Joe Shepherd was quick to express his satisfaction and relief on proceedings adding “Whilst we did make it hard on ourselves on occasions we certainly battled well and I am delighted to travel to the home of last season’s champions and come away with the two points. I thought the performance was much better than last week’s run-out against Oxford and I know that there is more improvements to come from this squad.”

Next weekend the Outlaws have the luxury of a weekend off before they entertain local rivals Sherwood Wolf Hunt at Lenton Lane on Friday 7th June (7.30pm).