Grand fightback from Siddal

Siddal v Thatto Heath
Grand Final qualifier
Sean McCormack try
Siddal v Thatto Heath Grand Final qualifier Sean McCormack try

Siddal’s comeback kings powered into the National Conference League’s Grand Final with a 36-22 win at home to Thatto Heath Crusaders in yesterday’s qualifying tie.

They trailed 22-6 at half time but mowed down their visitors with 30 unanswered points to book their place at the Halton Stadium, Widnes on Saturday, October 28.

It was typical Siddal, who seem to enjoy making life tough for themselves with lethargic, error-strewn first half displays at Chevinedge.

However, they showed yet again that they can lift the intensity and physicality of their game to a level which other amateur sides simply cannot cope with.

It was a shattering defeat for Heath, who if they win an elimination tie against the winners of yesterday’s postponed Wath Brow Hornets versus Rochdale Mayfield tie, will have mental scars to overcome if they are to deny Siddal a second successive Grand Final triumph.

Siddal coach Gareth Greenwood is at a loss to explain his side’s Jekyll and Hyde performances within matches but hugely proud that his players have gone through two seasons of Conference league and play-off action without tasting defeat at home.

He said the dressing room at half time yesterday had been a “nasty” place to be, with an honest appraisal of the team’s shortcomings taking place. Less than an hour later it was reverberating with a heartily-sung victory song.

The sides were returning from lengthy breaks, Siddal having finished top of the Premier by a three-point margin from their St Helens foes.

Heath showed a greater cutting edge in the first half and were good value for their 16-point interval lead, which would have been greater had full back Dan Birkett not missed a fairly easy conversion and a long, straight penalty late in the half.

Siddal winger Gareth Blackburn was knocked into the corner flag attempting to touch down before Heath swept 12-0 up in 13 minutes with converted tries from prop Matty Norton and then centre Sean Leicester, when Siddal failed to deal with a last-tackle grubber kick.

Handling errors and ill-discipline were costing the home side but Sean McCormack got them on the score sheet from closed range on 25 minutes, Blackburn converting.

Heath went 18-6 up after 30 minutes, centre Corey Lee completing a move from their own 22 which featured some fine backing up. Birkett stroked over his third conversion.

When huge replacement forward Brad Ashurst ploughed over from close range on the brink of half time for Crusaders’ fourth try, even Siddal’s staunchest supporters must have been questioning whether they could pull it out of the bag this time.

Heath knew what was coming but were powerless to resist the blue and white tidal wave which swept over them. Within 11 minutes of the restart Siddal had gone 24-22 up with tries from prop George Ambler, full back Freddie Walker and centre Ben West following a superb break from Zack McComb. Blackburn added all three conversions.

Shellshocked Crusaders were making basic errors in possession by now but stuck to their guns defensively and stemmed the flow of points until replacement forward Iain Davies went over and Blackburn’s conversion sealed their fate.

In the closing seconds Greenwood’s older brother Lee, standing in at centre but unavailable for the final, went over from close range. The former Halifax winger, now 37, made the most of celebrating what might just be the final try of his career. Blackburn floated over the conversion and another great escape had been completed.