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A workmanlike Birkenhead pack competed strongly throughout the game and tested the Harrogate defence with driving mauls. However, the home backs were in a different class and frequently turned defence into attack with length of the field tries. Full back, Rob Almond set up most of these counter attacks and Noel Minikin grabbed 4 of Harrogate’s 9 tries. He was duly punished in the Clubhouse for being greedy.
The game opened with a spell of Harrogate’s trademark running rugby. Park’s defence was stretched and captain, Jimmy Browne drove over for the first try converted by Calum Irvine. The visiting forwards came straight back at Harrogate from the restart and, after some prolonged pressure created enough space for winger, Rob Houliston to score.
Stung by this reverse, Harrogate upped their game and an attack was thwarted illegally by centre, Danny Rich who was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes. Although down to 14 men, Park were the next team to score when a Dave Hall penalty punished a Harrogate offside offence. Almost immediately Harrogate went ahead when Minikin seized on a delicate Irvine chip to score his first try.
Rich returned to the field to put Park back to full strength but Harrogate’s pack went on the offensive and Nathan Smith powered over for a converted try. Park were still competing but a powerful Kyle Dench midfield break resulted in a Harrogate attacking line-out. James Spencer won clean ball which was spun right for Minikin’s second try just before the break.
The second half opened with Harrogate carrying on where they left off and Sam Bottomley carved a hole in Park’s midfield to let Minikin complete his hat trick. The next Harrogate score came from an Almond break and Smith supported well for his second try. Park’s forwards were still taking the game to Harrogate and reduced them to 14 men for 10 minutes when Tom Harvey was binned for being persistently offside. This didn’t stop Harrogate extending their lead when a brilliant Irvine midfield break created room for Almond to dance over.
Still Park tried to compete but a great Irvine interception again turned defence into attack and Oli Denton scored a fine converted try. Harrogate’s ninth and Minikin’s fourth try ended the match when he gathered a clever Almond chip to score.
Almond, Denton, Dench, Bottomley, Minikin, Irvine, Wickham, Metcalfe, Maycock, Browne, Harvey, Spencer, Wilson, Seyres, Lewis, Wackett, Smith, Innes
Hall, Houliston, Hughes, Rich, Morgan, Woof, Walton Cassidy, Brown, M Ibbotson, Ashcroft, Campbell, Mabbutt, Cupples, D Ibbotson . Rushman, Chapman, Finneran
Calum Howard (SE Division)