At the weekend the last two one hundred percent records in the National Conference League structure went head-to-head as Siddal hosted surprise package Thatto Heath Crusaders.
Siddal prevailed 34-6 and Dave Parkinson caught up with captain Shaun Garrod to talk about their unbeaten start to the league campaign and being the only team outside of Super League to get close to the rampant Toronto Wolfpack.
“I think the Toronto game certainly gave us a lot of confidence,” Garrod said. “We realised that we are a good side. We always thought that we were but then testing ourselves against what has proven to be a very, very good side is a good thing. It pushed us on and made us train that little bit harder.”
The 14-6 loss to the Canadian side when taken in context to the season they are enjoying looks even more creditable and Garrod believes it shows how Siddal would fare in League 1.
“We’ve kept an eye out for the Toronto results just to see where we were in relation to that league,” he added. “I think we proved that we’d be up near the top and would be challenging a lot of those teams.
“That’s given us a lot of confidence when you see a lot of the results Toronto are posting on other teams, and other good teams as well. We took them really close – we were ten minutes away from causing a massive upset and just faded in that last ten, as you would expect.”
Garrod admitted Siddal’s victory over Thatto had been bigger than he could have imagined and he expects the Crusaders to still be challenging for honours at the end of the season.
“We knew it was going to be a big game – they’ve come up from Division One and took the league by storm,” he said. “They got promoted and are on a high, they don’t know how to lose, all they know is winning, all they know is success and we knew that we’d have to meet that attitude and mentality and be ready for a battle.”
“It proved that way. The scoreline probably doesn’t do justice to what a good game it was and what a tight game it was.
“It was 14-6 going into the last fifteen minutes and we ran away with it in the last ten or fifteen, but it was a tough game as expected and we expect them to be up there at the end of the season hopefully challenging with us for honours further down the line.”
The Halifax-based club have been regular challengers for the Conference title over a number of years, winning last season’s showpiece Grand Final against Leigh Miners Rangers. They continue to show a steely resolve, despite being challenged every week.
“We tend to find people come with an attitude against us,” said Garod. “They are always 100% ready to go and ready to knock us off our perch, as you are against any good side. We’ve been the same in the past. I think we are seeing it now.
“We’ve made a bit of a conscious decision and effort to make sure we don’t get out-enthused. That’s a big danger when you have won the league the year before – you maybe drop a level and people come and beat you before you even get out on the field.
“We’ve had a big push this year in that we don’t get out-enthused and we are always ready to go and challenge from minute one. So far we’ve done that. In a couple of games we have dropped our levels but for the most part we have done that and I think it shows in our results.”
Garrod highlighted the performance of some of the younger members of the squad as being crucial to their run.
“Zach McCombe and Joe Martin are probably the two stars that have played well this year,” he said. “The more established lads have had a slower start to the year, myself included and some of the young guys are really carrying us through and driving us on. It’s what you need.
“Siddal have been successful for the past ten or fifteen years because they have always had a conveyor belt of pushing the older lads through and eventually taking their shirts. We did it ten years ago and now some of the young lads are doing it to us. It’s good and that’s what keeps a successful team.”
There are eighteen teams through all age groups at Siddal which includes three open age teams. With upwards of forty regularly attending training, Siddal are strong and even at the foundation level of under 5s they have 50 children training on a weekly basis.
Siddal also field a winter league side that won their division last term and are current holders of the Halifax Cup.
“We don’t field an under 18s side, but we went down the Academy route with Under 19s, Under 23s and Open Age,” added Garrod.
“They are not necessarily just those ages, it’s just to give it a bit of a structure, so there are a lot of young players coming through that would normally play 17s and 18s going straight into the 19s, with a few older heads to look after them and it’s been really successful.”
Underpinning everything is the Siddal mentality based on some of rugby league’s longest standing traditions.
“It’s the same right through,” he said. “It’s tough defence, good attitude, work hard for your mates and don’t let each other down. That will get you a long way, sure there’s a lot of skill that goes into it and there are good players but the actual ethos that sits behind it has been driven into us from a young age.”
At time of writing, the current Conference table sees Siddal lead with Thatto Heath Crusaders and Wath Brow Hornets tucked behind them while traditional powerhouse clubs such as Wigan St Patricks and Leigh Miners Rangers are in the bottom four.
“I think it’s just a tough league,” Garrod said. “This year the three teams that came up have strengthened the league and with only having a twelve team league, it means that everyone is challenging and having a go at each other. It means some good teams are going to get relegated this year.”