Aire show class to close preseason out with a win.
By Si Davies
With the season drawing near, Aireborough travelled to local rivals Burley to close out the preseason. Burley sits in the Yorkshire Division 4 setup, one league below Aire, but on their home turf, anything could be expected. - By Tom Clayton
The Wolfpack expected to travel with plenty of substitutes for the match by Kirkstall Abbey, but a few last-minute drop outs meant Aire only had use of around three subs, two less than they had taken to Yarnbury on Thursday.
Burley utilised a clear game plan from the off of running straight and hard through the middle, exposing Aire’s tired bodies following that gruelling Thursday match.
The hosts grabbed the early lead going down the hill through a big runner shrugging off a few tacklers, a score they would near enough replicate five or six minutes later.
Despite an Aireborough try splitting the two tries from the hosts, discipline was beginning to become a factor, as consistent penalties meant burley were allowed into the Aire 22 time after time.
However the visitors finished the first quarter with a slick try that came from a near lateral run from Tony ‘TC’ Clitheroe who eventually found the three-man overlap on the Aireborough right hand side. Quick hands and feet saw Harley Stevenson-Cocks in under the posts. The score at the quarter break tied at 12-12.
A brief chat allowed Aire to settle down and look at what needed to be done on the restart. The second quarter saw the visitors use the ball more efficiently and were much more effective.
It was Eddie Brewer and Richard Lister that set the standard for tackling in the forward pack. A few marginal penalties were given against Aire but the defensive line looked far more solid than it had done in the first 20 minutes.
The defensive effort saw the Wolfpack make ground into the Burley half and start to put pressure on the defence, as Harley Stevenson-Cocks and Nick Holdsworth were constantly hitting lines that made it awkward for Burley to hold. Aire scored two more tries in the second quarter whilst going up the hill, both from similar moves out wide.
Youngster Mikey Dolan, who performed excellently throughout the first half, scored the pick of the bunch in the first half. As the ball went out wide, Kris Brook moved it inside to Jamie Sykes, whose offload found Nick Holdsworth, who then found Dolan in space from another offload. The colt dived over between the sticks on the stroke of half time, giving Aire a healthy advantage at the break.
After the break, Aireborough were going down the hill and used this to their advantage. Four tries followed in fifteen minutes. A mix of players from the backs all dotted over the line to give Aire the clear and unassailable lead. Try scorers included Jamie Sykes, Nick Jackson and Kris Brook, who was selflessly handed the ball by Harley Stevenson-Cocks (who probably wanted to avoid getting the drinks in after the game for an almost inevitable hat-trick).
At the 3rd quarter break, Aire were 12-39 up and just had to see the game through until the full time whistle blew.
That they did, in impressive style too. By this point discipline had turned around and Aireborough were cutting out some of the silly penalties that had nearly cost them so dearly in the first half.
During preseason, Aireborough don’t often award the Champagne Moment, but if they had it probably would have been given to Jonny Mackey. Burley had a lineout in their own 22m, won the ball and as it came down to be passed out, a salmon-esque leap from Mackey saw him intercept the ball, beat the on rushing defence and score a in the corner, something I’m sure we’ll be hearing about for a while. 12-44
The visitors were missing a few chances and could have easily surpassed 50, or even 60 points on the day. Aire very nearly did reach 50 with their final try of the game that saw them over in the corner, however the conversion was missed and they finished their scoring on 49.
Burley scored a late try two minutes or so from the end, with a drive over the line with their forwards, giving them something for their efforts in the second half. After this, the full time whistle blew giving Aire a 19-49 win over local rivals Burley to cap off a promising preseason.
Early on in the match, it became apparent that fitness would be a factor, certainly going up the hill. However Aire capitalised on gaps in the defence and strong running from forwards including Eddie Brewer, Tim Baxter and Alan Justham. Captain Ollie Catherall controlled the game well from the fly-half position and used those outside him well.
Preseason friendlies are now finished for Aireborough, as we now have three training sessions until the season opener away at Halifax Vandals.
If one thing, it has become abundantly clear that going into this season, Aire have a very strong forward pack. Forwards that did not play at Burley include Si Hill, Phil Shopland-Reed, Jonny Hiles, Tom Pendriss, Luke Exley, Charlie Middleton, Martyn Booth (blame that on a dodgy Chinese the night before) and new signing Tom Dean. Not forgetting the performances of the youngsters pushing into the squad, with impressive preseason displays from the likes of Mikey Dolan and Dan Moore. It is clear that competition for places in the squad this season will be hotter than ever.
Though there are still areas to work on, Head Coach Si Davies has some big positives heading into September and beyond. With three training sessions until the season starts, it’s now a case of working out the kinks and putting together the strongest starting team possible to hit the ground running on 1st September.