Vale of Lune season review: Benchmark set for next year
Vale of Lune completed their North One West season in fifth place, just one short of coach Dan Williams' objective for the season.
The Vale did however record their highest league placing since the 2012/13 season when they finished in third place, while in the last two seasons they finished in eighth with 64 and 62 points respectively; this season’s total stood at 79.
In the opening month of the season the Vale faced four challenging fixtures against clubs hotly tipped to be in the eventual promotion shake up.
Vale won their opening game, 41-31, at home against Penrith but lost their next three away at Kendal, 34-3, at home to Kirkby Lonsdale in a tight game, 19-13, and a hammering at Warrington, 45-23.
In the meantime coach Fergus Owens had vacated his position due to a career change and Williams took over the reins.
At home against Eccles the Vale won 51-0 to record their first a clean sheet since March 2013.
The euphoria of the second win of the season was short lived because two defeats followed at Altrincham Kersal, 38-24, and a home thrashing at the hands of Wilmslow, 45-22.
A corner was turned at the end of November with a scrambling victory at Blackburn, 30-21. Two home wins, against Leigh, 23-10 and Broughton Park, 24-7, Owens scoring a hat trick of tries, boosted confidence ahead of a trip to Rochdale which ended in a 14-0 win.
Vale’s run of success came to an abrupt end with the arrival of Storm Desmond which caused the postponement of two fixtures at the beginning of December at home to Widnes and away at Carlisle.
The final home game of the year was against future champions, Kendal which resulted in a 5-0 hard-fought victory for the Cumbrians as the Vale restricted them to their lowest points haul of the season.
At the beginning of January Kirkby Lonsdale completed their first league double over the Vale with a 37-12 win at a packed Underley Park.
A frozen pitch caused the postponement of the home game against Warrington but when fixtures resumed on January 23 the Vale embarked on a five-game winning progression.
Sandwiched between the doubles against Eccles away, 31-11 and Blackburn at home, 16-0, were home wins against Altrincham Kersal, 27-12, Owens bagging another hat-trick, and Widnes, 24-5. Then there was a simply superb away victory against high-flying Wilmslow, 17-12.
The rearranged fixture against Carlisle was played at Silloth because the Carlisle pitch was not fit for purpose with the Cumbrians winning their third and last game of an horrendous season, 13-12.
There was one last intervention from the weather which caused the postponement of the fixture at Leigh at the beginning of March.
Even so the Vale were still on course for a top-four spot following a home win against Warrington 38-0, the fourth shut out of the season, with another duo of doubles, 20-12 at Broughton Park, a real cause for celebration, and a home win against Rochdale, 34-18 following.
The Vale entered the home run in good heart, the fourth place firmly in their sights with four to play but their aspirations took a nasty tumble when they lost at already relegated Widnes, 14-13 in a game full of controversy.
However, a home win against beleaguered Carlisle, 48-7 ensured that normal service was resumed.
A whole hearted team performance at Penrith not only resulted in the fourth double of the season and a 25-23 dramatic last minute win, but it was the first victory at Winters Park since January 2001.
Everything unravelled in the closing minutes of the rearranged fixture at Leigh however as the Vale experienced a defeat that had been snatched from the jaws of victory, losing 29-18.
There were a number of victories to savour and if points had not been lost to those clubs in the lower reaches of the table then the target could have been reached, but the “might have beens” will soon be forgotten ahead of a new season.
Alhough the Vale used a total of 44 players, including nine who were making their debut there was a solid spine of eight players who made more than 20 appearances.
Jack Ayrton played in all 26 games, one more than his back row partner, Sam Wallbank, while Ben Dorrington notched up 24.
Andy Powers and Fergus Owens made 22 appearances and James Birchall, Jonty Higgin and Adam Macluskie all started in 21 games.
The leading try scorer was Owens with 14, a number of his tries underlying what a graceful, incisive player he is, capable of destroying the opposition in one exquisite change of pace.
Dorrington amassed a total of 189 points to make him the leading points scorer. He converted 41 of the Vale’s 85 tries, which included three penalty tries. In addition he put over 24 penalties and posted seven tries.
So in the end the Vale first team just missed their target, but a benchmark has been set for the coming season.