Valley Cougars recorded a huge upset on the opening day of the Conference National season with a 38-30 win over Warrington Wizards.
The Wizards finished top last year and are established at this level but the league’s newcomers made the perfect start after just 22 seconds.
Paul Emanuelli’s kick-off was allowed to bounce and it was picked up by Tylan Mafi. The big Tongan was brought down before the line but hooker Shaun Owens was able to poach a try from the play-the-ball area.
In a game that saw the lead exchanged between the two sides, it was a moment of real quality that gave the initiative back to the Cougars as the final whistle drew near. Kyle Blackmore found a chink in the Wizards’ defensive line and his break saw him race towards the try line, before offloading to Mafi who put the Cougars in front for the third time in the game.
After a number of physical challenges simmered to boiling point the ref brought together both teams. Once proceedings had calmed and the game was restarted Emanuelli had the presence of mind to kick for a 40-20, giving the Cougars an attacking position from which they were twice held up over the try line.
Having kept the home side out, the Wizards hit back with a try of their own when Dan Faulkner crossed despite the last-ditch attempts of Owens.
Yet indiscipline was to be the Cougars’ undoing. Alan Pope was penalised for a ball steal and the Wizards spread the ball wide from the attacking platform provided by the penalty. Second row Wez Lawton juggled before gathering the wide pass – forcing the Cougars to hesitate – and Lawton scampered over to level the score on 24 minutes.
Emanuelli’s awareness again gave the Cougars the edge. His cross kick held up in the wind, allowing Mike Herbert to get under the ball and go over for the Cougars’ second try. Emanuelli added the extras to make it 14-6 as half-time loomed.
However a quick-fire double – the first from Troy Brophy and the second from Ian Stephenson – ensured that last season’s champions entered the interval with a four point lead. Brophy got his second try shortly after half-time with a well-worked move, but the Wizards continued to miss conversions that would ultimately prove costly.
Emanuelli’s boot was a potent weapon all afternoon. After twice forcing goal line drop outs from the restart, his latest kick-off was fumbled into touch. From the attacking scrum, Pope forced his way over.
The Cougars regained the lead shortly after. Owens took the ball to the Wizards’ line and delayed before releasing James Thatcher to cross underneath the posts.
Then the game took another turn. Emanuelli’s kick to the corner on the last tackle was agonisingly out of wing Danyl Davies’ reach, and from the 20m restart the Wizards raced almost the length of the field before a try preventing tackle from Kyle Blackmore. A quick play-the-ball fed Brophy for his third try of the afternoon.
Warrington’s wide play again bore fruit as they re-took the lead. Dan Stubbs received an offload from wing Graham Healey to score before Mafi and Lewis Fox both crossed for the home side to finally settle an entertaining contest.
Cougars: Grigson, Davies, Fox, Thatcher, James, Emanuelli, Carter, Sadler, Owens, Jones, Pope, Mafi, Phillips
Subs: Herbert, Blackmore, Jenkins, Bray, Morris
Tries: Owens (1), Herbert (32), Pope (47), Thatcher (51), Mafi (72),
Goals: Emanuelli 7/7
Wizards: Campbell, Healey, Yii, Taylor, Forshaw, Reddecliff, Stephenson, Owen, Ayres, Stubbs, Alcock, Lawton, Rourke
Subs: Middlemore, Brophy, Faulkner, Harris
Tries: Faulkner (12), Lawton (24), Brophy (35, 45, 55), Stephenson (39), Stubbs (67),
Goals: Owen 1/4, Lawton 0/3,
Referee: Ian Curzon