Maroons suffer last-gasp defeat

Skipper Gordon Bland was one of Whitby's try scorers in their defeat to Hartlepool. Picture: Brian Murfield
Skipper Gordon Bland was one of Whitby's try scorers in their defeat to Hartlepool. Picture: Brian Murfield

Whitby Maroons lost 30-27 to Durham and Northumberland Division Two leaders Hartlepool in a pulsating encounter at the Showfield.

Daryl Grason’s men produced a superb comeback to recover from 27-3 down to level the scores with just three minutes remaining, only to concede a late penalty which the visitors converted to win the game.

Just five minutes were on the clock when the away side gave warning of things to come.

From a drive infield, the ball was cleverly switched back to the blind side and a two-man overlap was too much for Whitby to defend, and Pools touched down for a 5-0 lead.

The Maroons – with skipper Gordon Bland to the fore – surged upfield and won a penalty following a series of rucks.

Stuart Gregson, who is developing into a reliable kicker, converted to reduce the deficit to two points.

Hartlepool are not top of the league by chance and their catch and drive game – allied to clever switches to the blind side – continued to cause problems and they added two more tries to stretch their lead to 17-3.

With the visitors’ scrum-half orchestrating proceedings, another touch down arrived when their right wing went over the line following a stunning break.

On the stroke of half-time, with Hartlepool again in the ascendancy, Jack Braithwaite received 10 minutes in the sin- bin for deliberate offside at the ruck and although Whitby initially held firm, the pressure told and Hartlepool scored wide out for a 27-3 lead at the interval.

Playing downhill and following a half-time talk based on encouragement, the Maroons began to lift themselves back into the game.

The catalyst for their improvement were the efforts of young right-winger Janni Jacobs who showed that the Hartlepool’s defence was not infallible as he set off on two mazy runs, beating numerous players in the process.

The Whitby forwards, with Phil Coverdale and Anth Craig on his season debut, took the game to the visitors, and Luke Brown powered over with Gregson adding the extras.

This score seemed to inject confidence into the young Maroons, and a pick and drive saw the in-form Coverdale smash his way over with Gregson again converting.

The Maroons continued to up the tempo and a fine backs move saw Gregson and Jack Reeves combine to put Gordon Bland into space, the skipper producing a brilliant sidestep to leave the Pools full-back grasping thin air as he touched down for 27-22.

An unfortunate event after a scrum then saw Mitch Cannon red-carded for foul play, and after going down to 14 men it would have been easy for heads to drop but again Whitby responded positively.

Great hands from fly-half Jack Pearson saw winger John Hatton squeeze in at the corner to tie up the scores. Gregson was unable to add a difficult kick.

With just three minutes to go, Hartlepool kicked off and the Maroons boldly ran the ball out of their own 22, but a pass went down giving Hartlepool a scrum.

With the visitors gathering clean ball from the set piece and pushing forward, the Maroons tackled superbly to keep them at bay, but to the home crowd’s dismay the referee chose to make the biggest call of the match and penalise Whitby for coming in at the side of a maul.

Hartlepool duly kicked the goal for a 30-27 lead, this being the last action in the game.

Craig was the pick of the forwards, while Jacobs and Gordon Bland went well in the backs, the former being awarded the man of the match award.