Nottingham Outlaws have made the perfect start to their 2016 rugby league campaign when they secured victory in the annual Heroes Trophy match against Royal Artillery.
In an entertaining game the Outlaws led from the start against an Artillery outfit that battled hard but eventually succumbed to an emphatic 44-12 Outlaws win.
Going into the match, player Coach George Strachan resisted the temptation to make too many changes to the squad, naming a familiar looking team to the side that took to the field at Kells a month ago.
However there were a couple of changes with Nottingham students Crabtree and Simm both rested ahead of their student rugby league cup final on Wednesday.
Other switches saw Adam Cunlife return to the number one spot after a run in the halves at Kells allowing Alex Whittle to partner up with rookie number six Will Martin in the all important half back pairing. There were a few minor adjustments in the pack too as Chris Prime and Ben Scott Nelson shared the hooking role and big Pat Crummay returned to the second row.
The bench also had added interest as Joe Goulty and Nick Tasker both returned to the rugby league fold having missed all of the 2015 campaign with injury.
The match started in almost perfect conditions for rugby league football with little or no breeze and a fast, dry track that favoured the smaller, more-mobile Outlaws front six.
Indeed the Outlaws started at break-neck speed, almost scoring from the first set as Strachan breached the Gunners first line of defence only for the final pass to go to ground.
With the Outlaws continuing to make all of the early running it came as no surprise when the home team opened the scoring on the seventh minute and it was that man Strachan who did the damage again, powering over from ten meters out for a try under the sticks.
Cunliffe added the extras as the Outlaws opened up an early 6-0 lead that they were destined to keep for the full 80 minutes.
With the Outlaws proving too hot to handle in the opening exchanges the home fans were treated to another try three minutes later as a superb crossfield kick into the in-goal by Whittle was caught on the full by John Christie and at 10-0 the Outlaws had stamped their control on the match, scoring at the rate of a point a minute.
After starting so promisingly the Outlaws then became their own worse enemy, over-playing on several occasions leading to dropped balls and twice being penalised for dissent as their early composure evaporated.
Indeed, as the first quarter came to a close the game became a decidedly scrappy affair as both teams dropped the ball with alarming regularity.
Having weathered the early storm the Artillery finally began to capitalise on a glut of possession, pounding the Outlaws line and they almost scored but somehow Alex Whittle managed to get under the ball to stop the grounding.
Despite the intense pressure the Outlaws held out before finally storming back up the field and superb hands by Sam Campbell released John Christie who slid in for his second try of the match to make it 14-0 to the Outlaws.
The Christie try proved the only highlight of a scrappy twenty minutes play by the Outlaws and as the half reached the closing stages it was the
Artillery that was asking all the questions and they deservedly got on the scoreboard to reduce the deficit to 14-6 with a converted try that pegged the Outlaws lead back to 14-6 as the first stanza came to a close.
The coaching team used the interval to make one or two positional changes and second rower Pat Crummay came back into the fray to add some cutting edge to the Outlaws pack.
The half time changes immediately bore fruit as straight from the re-start the long-striding Crummay broke through the middle to score from twenty metres out as the spectators were still taking their seats. Cunliffe converted from bang in front as the Outlaws stretched their lead to three scores at 20-6.
The Crummay try gave the Outlaws added confidence and they looked to have scored again on the very next attack only for the referee to chalk the effort off for a forward pass in the build up.
After making such a good start the second half followed the pattern of the first with the Outlaws once again over-playing, dropping the ball with alarming regularity and resulting in a glut of possession to the Gunners.
As a result and the hard working army unit immediately capitalised as they scored a second converted try that brought them back to within two scores at 20-12 and the game appeared to be in the balance.
With only eight points in it the next score was vital and thankfully for the home team it was the Outlaws that got it.
The crucial try came at the start of an Alex Whittle masterclass in try creation. In a magical ten minute spell the wily half back tore the Gunners apart with three superb pieces of attacking play.
Each play ended with an Outlaws try that ultimately broke the gunners resolve and cemented the man of the match trophy in the hands of the Outlaws number seven.
The first try came from a superb grubber that sat up nicely in-goal for Adam Cunliffe to pounce as the number one marked a good day at the office with his opening touchdown of the new campaign.
The second try was created when the elusive scrum half offloaded in the tackle to Oliver Dale and the fleet-footed number thirteen crashed over despite plenty of attention from the Gunners defence.
The third try in the Whittle masterclass came off a superbly weighted pass hat opened up the tiring Gunners defence and the effervescent Coryn Ward scooted through a yawning gap for a try at full throttle.
On each occasion Cunliffe added the extras and at 38-12 the Outlaws were home and dry.
However, the home team were not yet done and with the clock ticking down there was just time for Will Martin to cap a fine afternoons work with an excellent thirty metre solo effort that showed the emerging number six will be a real handful at this level in the coming season.
Cunliffe closed out the game with his sixth conversion of the match to wrap up the scoring with the scoreboard showing the Outlaws had regained the Heroes Trophy with a superb 44-12 win.