Rodillian 4 St John Fisher 0
ONE moment of magic was all it took to realise one school's dream and break the hearts of another in a memorable Yorkshire Post
Sporting Chance Rugby League Nines grand final.
The high standards of rugby league that had been shown by all the 53 schools who competed in the inaugural year of the tournament for Year Seven pupils continued to the very end at Kirkstall on Saturday.
Ultimately it was a strong run by long-striding stand-off Jonathan Austin which won the day for Rodillian in an amazingly close match against St John Fisher, whose disappointment will be tempered by the knowledge that they will rarely play as well again and lose.
Austin's powerful break from a pass by team-mate Leon Crampton saw him shrug off three whole-hearted attempted tackles to score the winning try and complete a remarkable rise by the Leeds school which only began playing rugby league at the start of this term.
Rodillian had reached the finals stage by winning a strong festival featuring the best of schools from Leeds and Bradford – Woodkirk, Holy Family and South Craven – and were unfancied against three schools soaked in rugby league pedigree.
But after accounting for Castleford High in their semi-final they produced a mighty defensive effort to keep St John Fisher at bay throughout an epic final to become the toast of Yorkshire.
Nerves played a part for both sides who did well to limit the number of handling mistakes in greasy conditions caused by heavy rain which stopped just before the semi-finals kicked off and began again soon after the post-grand final presentation.
St John Fisher, a school which has produced a host of rugby league internationals including Leeds Rhinos captain Francis Cummins, made the stronger start and twice went close to snatching an early lead.
But after Jamaine Akaidere had been foiled in his cheeky attempt at an interception, St John Fisher's star player Joel Gibson was also denied, resolute defence by Rodillian holding him agonisingly close to the line.
Strong defence was a feature of the whole match and it soon became clear that just one mistake could prove costly, as St John Fisher found to their cost when a knock on close to their own line set up the position from which Austin won the day for Rodillian.
The final result had special significance for Craig Spence of sponsors Yorkshire Water, who have been delighted by the success of the
Yorkshire Post Sporting Chance RL Nines in its first year.
"As a Rodillian old boy I'm thrilled that my old school won but even more thrilled at the standard of competition we have seen," said Mr Spence.
"The final was one of the best games of rugby league I have seen all season.
"Yorkshire Water are proud to be involved in this great tournament. Our aim was to raise the awareness of school sport and I am sure we, and all the boys who have been involved, have done just that."
Rodillian received their trophy, and a water cooler for the school courtesy of Yorkshire Water, from Great Britain player Chris Joynt at the interval of Saturday night's Test against New Zealand, when all the players from the four finalists did a deserved lap of honour at the McAlpine Stadium to great applause from a crowd of over 23,000 people.
Ron England, the chairman of the Yorkshire Schools Rugby League, who organised the tournament in association with the Rugby Football League, said the success of the
Yorkshire Post Sporting Chance RL Nines had defied expectations.
"It was a challenge to see if the schools could get up and running so soon after the summer holidays and they all rose to that challenge magnificently," said Mr England.
"Fifty three schools entered this year and next year we hope we can double that number.
"The Yorkshire Post's Sporting Chance campaign is giving school sport a unique profile and we in rugby league are proud to be involved. It is a fantastic campaign and something that school sport has needed for a long, long time."