N an historic evening at Coychurch Road, Welsh and British Total RL.com Rugby League Conference Champions, Bridgend Blue Bulls, were beaten for the first time in their 28 game history by a well-drilled West London Sharks side.
"We knew the winning run had to end sometime," commented one of the many Bridgend fans, "It was just a shock to see it happen here tonight. I'd have preferred it to have been against another Welsh side."
Bridgend, with just one change from the side that beat Aberavon last week, started the stronger of the two sides but the tough Sharks defence stopped them from crossing the line on a handful of occasions in the opening ten minutes. In fact, it had to be a Jon Williams penalty that put them ahead, following a foul on Kevin Ellis.
However, they grounded only two minutes later. Following a fantastic mazy run from Craig Fox, Grant David was kept out. But from his play-the-ball, he set up Fox to score.
West London hit back almost immediately. Following a penalty for offside, captain Alex Sanerive just forced the ball under the sticks.
They almost took the lead in the 20th minute. Following a set of nice passes down the forward line, Paul Richards dived to ground the ball but was pushed into touch before the ball hit the ground.
Similarly Gareth David could have extended Bridgend's lead on the half-hour, dropping the ball when tackled right by the line but the Bulls did score five minutes later through another mazy run from Fox.
Bridgend went into half-time with a slender 14-12 lead following a incident-packed last two minutes. After Trevor Leota's try was ruled out for an infringement, Bridgend could have scored, but Devereux's pass to Bateman was intercepted. From the next tackle, Lawrence Ross ran half the length of the field to score under the posts.
For a few of the Bridgend players, it was their second game in the space of five hours as the town's two Union sides had faced off against each other in a friendly match earlier that day. In fact, Grant Epton made history by being the first ever Bridgend player to score tries for his home club in two different rugby codes in the same day when he increased the Blue Bulls lead after only five minutes of the second period, grounding in the corner after being set-up by David.
West London soon hit back. Will Amor looked to have scored in the 55th minute but was held up after crossing the line. However, Dan Wright forced the ball home from the next tackle, Andre Wilson's conversion levelling the scores. Then then took the lead from the first time just two minutes later. Following a 40-metre run from Simon Clare, Phil Astbury scored under the sticks.
The quality of the sides started to show in their defensive skills, one of the main reason why they had only amassed one defeat between them this season before this match. The frustration and intensity of the tie had also started to show. Following David's earlier sinbinning, both teams finished the game with 12 men as Mark Barnes and Craig Fox were both yellow-carded after a 75th minute fight.
Bridgend chose to run in the penalty following this incident and almost scored on the fifth tackle but Kevin Ellis' grubber kick went just too far for any Bulls' player to latch onto.
Sharks completed an historic win in the last minute as Clae Morgan forced the ball under the posts. Wilson's conversion making the final score 30-18 and a shock win for the Londoners.
West London captain and man-of-the-match, Alex Sanerive is confident that his side can now win the Harry Jepson Trophy for the first time. He comments, "You can tell these guys are the champions. But they tired a bit in the second half and we were able to take advantage. I'm pleased that we have Ipswich in the semis as they beat us in last year's quarter-finals. But we're a better stronger team this year and we're out for revenge."
Cardiff Demons are now left as Wales' sole representatives in the Rugby League Conference play-offs. They face St Albans Centurions in the Shield Semi-Finals next Sunday.
BLUE BULLS: Marc Davies, Grant Epton, Carle Ellis, Allan Bateman, Gareth David, Jon Williams, Kevin Ellis, Jon Purnell, Craig Fox, Matthew Wareham, Karl Hocking, John Devereux, Marcus Sainsbury. Subs (all used): Paul Morgan, Gareth Bartlett, Nathan Strong, Geraint Lewis.
Tries: Fox (13, 35), Epton (45). Goals: Williams 3/4
SHARKS: Andre Wilson, Phil Astbury, Pat Wadwell, Clae Morgan, Dan Coffey, Mark Barnes, Dan Wright, Alex Sanerive, Simon Clare, Dan Oliver, Nathan Bennet, Ben Hinze, Trevor Leota. Subs (all used): Lawrence Ross, Will Amor, Gav Gordon, Paul Richards.
Tries: Sanerive (15), Ross (39), Wright (56), Astbury (58), Morgan (79). Goals: Wilson 5/5
GAMESTAR: A try that topped off a captain's performance from Alex Sanerive.
GAMEBREAKER: Clae Morgan's last minute try for the Sharks that put score out of the champions' reach. Before that it was always anyone's game.
Men of the Match: Blue Bulls: Craig Fox. Sharks: Alex Sanerive.
Referee: Andy Lindley.
SATURDAY August 7th is finals day in the Total RL.com Welsh Rugby League Conference. The day starts at 11am with an under 17 match between Aberavon Fighting Irish and Cardiff Demons. The Shield Final between Newport Titans and Cardiff Demons kicks off at 12.30 while the Welsh Grand Final between Bridgend Blue Bulls and Aberavon Fighting Irish has a 2.30pm start.
BRIDGEND Blue Bulls face Aberavon Fighting Irish in the Welsh Grand Final on Saturday at Aberavon Greenstars RFC (kick-off 2.30pm).
A "programme-style" book is being planned for the end of the season provisionally titled "Cardiff Demons - The First Five Years". Illustrated with colour photographs, the book will contain information on every Cardiff Demons match ever played from the Challenge Cup run of 1999-2000 where Cardiff eventually got beaten in the third round by Keighley Cougars, to the current season.
BRIDGEND Blue Bulls RLFC will be holding their very own Australia Day six months early next Wednesday (July 7th) at their Coychurch Road ground writes Ian Golden.
SATURDAY June 12th - 2.30pm kick offs
Total RL.com Rugby League Conference Week 8
Bridgend Blue Bulls v Swansea Valley Miners (Bridgend Town FC)
Aberavon Fighting Irish v Newport Titans (Aberavon Greenstars RFC)
Sunday June 13th - 2.30pm kick off
Total RL.com Rugby League Conference Week 8
Torfaen Tigers v Cardiff Demons (Pontypool United RFC)