Vale finish in fifth despite poor start

Sam Wallbank.
Sam Wallbank.
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Vale of Lune’s first team engineered a remarkable recovery after a dire start to their North One West season to finish in fifth place in the league, the same position they had achieved the previous season.

As October drew to a close the Vale were dangerously adjacent to the swamplands and floundering, they had just about managed to extricate themselves but were too close to shifting muddy morass for comfort.

Since their opening game against Northwich, a 21-8 loss, the Vale were on the ropes; they were outplayed at St Benedicts, 31-0, pummelled at home by Kirkby Lonsdale, 50-8, followed by an ignominious defeat at Eccles, 22-7. History records that this was Eccles’ only win of their season.

Things could only get better and a ray of sunshine pieced the gloom with the return of skipper “Crocodile” Dan Baines at the beginning of October.

He had been serving a four match suspension following a red card in the final game of the previous season over at Leigh. The captain put much needed fire into the Vale’s bellies and the whole squad responded to his ‘up and at ‘em’ approach to record a home victory against Altrincham Kersal, 23-20.

There were a couple more setbacks; a loss at Birkenhead Park, 29-26 after the Vale had staged a remarkable fight back and a home defeat by a free flowing Wilmslow side, 40-9.

The month ended on a high with a competent win at Blackburn, 20-13, which was the catalyst for a five match winning streak; there were home wins against Leigh, 29-18, West Park St Helens, 19-17, Warrington, 29-24, away at Burnage, 25-12 and a satisfying home win against St Benedicts, 15-8, to erase the memory of the foul-up at Mirehouse.

Kirkby Lonsdale ended the unbeaten run at Underley Park in the final game of the year, but the champions elect were made to work hard for their 16-0 victory following a lionhearted performance from the visitors who not only restricted the hosts to their lowest points score of the season but they were the only club to deny them a try scoring bonus point.

In the New Year revenge was gained for the defeat at Eccles with a pleasurable 38-12 win, followed by an 18-18 draw at Altrincham Kersal and then the Vale became the first club to defeat title chasing Birkenhead Park, 13-3, in a thriller at The Lane.

Their next fixture was against second off the bottom, Rochdale, who duly brought the Vale down to earth with a thump in a deserved 28-5 win at Moorgate Avenue.

The hangover persisted the following week at Wilmslow when a lack lustre performance helped the Cheshire side to romp home 30-9.

Heads had cleared for the visit of Blackburn; a 26-5 victory marked the first double of the season. A second followed quickly with a 40-14 win at West Park St Helens and the winning sequence continued with a most emphatic win, 54-17, against Rochdale.

April Fool’s Day lived up to its billing when the Vale came close to snatching an unlikely victory at Warrington in a wacky encounter that eventually ended with the home side hanging on for a 36-33 win.

A stunning try bonus point victory over Burnage, 40-5, primed the pumps but a much changed side lost heavily at Northwich, 57-22; however an important try bonus point was collected from the rubble.

Everything hinged on the final game, position-wise, a rearranged fixture at Leigh, not one of Vale’s most productive venues in recent seasons but the gremlins were swept aside in a 70-12 victory to cement fifth place, albeit with eight points less than the previous season.

During the course of the season 92 tries, including a penalty try, were scored, there were 61 conversions and 18 penalties kicked.

Sam Wallbank was the leading try scorer with 12, followed by Fergus Owens with 11. Damon Hall topped the points scoring list with eight tries, 29 conversions and four penalties.

Three hat-tricks of tries were posted by Fergus Owens, Damon Hall and Sam Stott.

A total of 46 players were used in the campaign which included nine making full debuts.