Siddal denied in National Conference decider

editorial image

Siddal’s attempt to win back to back National Conference Grand Finals ended in the most frustrating of failures as Thatto Heath edged home 16-12 in a tense decider at Widnes.

On the day their coach, Gareth Greenwood, confirmed he would step down after five seasons in charge to seek a job in the professional game, Siddal dominated the first 40 minutes but were unable to convert clear superiority into points on the scoreboard.

They scored early through Ross White, added a conversion and a penalty, had two more first half tries chalked off by the match officials and were held up on the line twice by desperate defence.

But Thatto Heath limited their half time deficit to 8-6, then grabbed a 12-8 lead two minutes into the second half.

Siddal finally levelled when winger Gavin Stead scrambled over, but in a dramatic finale, the St Helens regained the lead with a slick try before Siddal half back Shaun Garrod, who was subdued by his own high standards, put Stead over in the corner on the final play of the game, only for the referee to disallow the try.

Siddal had started bristling with the same intent that overwhelmed Leigh Miners a year ago, the speed and aggression of their defensive line leaving Thatto with nowhere to go in attack.

And the Halifax side made it count on the scoreboard after 10 minutes, White hitting a short pass on the right and spinning out of full back Dan Birkett’s desperate challenge to open the scoring.

Gareth Blackburn converted for a 6-0 lead and added a penalty on the quarter hour after prop Iain Davies had been held down in the shadow of the posts.

By that point, Siddal might have been further in front, Blackburn having been denied by the touch judge as he applied a flying finish to Garrod’s long pass.

At 8-0, Thatto were struggling for any significant field position and their try, when it finally came after 25 minutes, owed more than a little to luck, with successive kicks evading the defence and Sean Leicester coming up with the ball to score, Birkett converting for 8-6.

Siddal stormed back; Freddie Walker and George Ambler both being held on the line as they piled on the pressure.

They had a let off at the other end, Leicester losing the ball with the line open, but might have stretched their lead again when Joe Martin put Ben Hinsley through, only for the back rower to be pulled back for a forward pass decision that must have been marginal.

Thatto emerged fired up after the break and were in front within three minutes of the restart, Matty Walton touching down after Birkett’s burst and speculative offload had opened the defence.

The full back added the conversion, leaving Siddal, who must have been more than a little shellshocked, to gradually work their way back into the game.

They eventually cracked the St Helens side with 12 minutes to go, an improvised kick from the veteran prop Gareth English sitting up for Stead, who scored in the corner.

Blackburn’s sideline conversion attempt fell short to leave a 12-12 deadlock, but Thatto were back in front almost immediately as hooker Sean Kenny carved out a chance for half back Jack Jones.

Birkett’s missed conversion gave Siddal a glimmer of hope at 16-12 with five minutes remaining and they did force one final opportunity, but Garrod’s short, lofted pass to Stead, the winger touching down by the flag, was ruled forward by the officials.

Siddal: Walker; Blackburn, McComb, West, Stead; Garrod, Martin; Davies, Sanderson, Smith, Hinsley, White, Smithies. Subs: McCormack, Ambler, Georgiou, English

Thatto Heath: Birkett; Taylor, Leicester, Saunders, Allen; Frodsham, Jones; Hesketh, Kenny, Norton, Tracey, Prendergast, Quinn. Subs: Crehan, Lea, Davies, Ashurst

Referee: Joe Stearn