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SONICS SECURE GRAND FINAL APPEARANCE

Another hat-trick from in-form full back James Gross helped Bristol Sonics grind out the win they needed to guarantee a second successive Cooperative RLC Midlands Premier Grand Final appearance.The Sonics were far from their best in front of a packed home crowd at Aretians, but had enough quality to overcome Northampton Demons 34-18 and book their place in the August 13th showpiece.In front of a film crew from Sky Sports’ flagship Rugby League magazine show Boots & all, Bristol started well and enjoyed the majority of early possession. Determined tackling, strong running and smart kicking from skipper Dom Swann pushed Northampton back early on, offering the Sonics a chance to attack deep in Demons territory. While a few good chances went begging, a neat crossfield kick from Swann on 15 minutes allowed Bristol to force a goal-line drop-out from the visitors. 30 seconds later, loose forward Tom Verber forced his way over from close range to open the scoring, Swann converting.The Sonics continued to look a threat through the middle and on the fringes, and it was from a run down the left channel that Swann and scrum half Joel Keen carved an opportunity for Josh Sampson on 20 minutes. The strong-running second rower broke the line 40 metres out and headed towards the posts, only to see a certain try slip from his grasp when he lost the ball in the act of scoring.This early reprieve seemed to spur Northampton on, and soon they were back in Bristol territory. On the back of a penalty for offside against the Sonics, the Demons created the position for giant second-rower F Braithewaite to dive over. M Meek added the extras to level the scores.Bristol had been so dominant in the early stages, but now had a fight on their hands. The Sonics responded well, completing their sets of six tackles and pushing Northampton back. The Demons struggled to get out of their own half, and Bristol were in no mood to give them easy territorial gains.On 25 minutes the pressure paid off, as a poor kick from the Demons’ scrum half found its way straight into the hands of Bristol full back James Gross. As he’s done all season, Gross ran the ball back hard, skipping past four would-be tacklers on an inspired 60-metre charge to the line. While Swann couldn’t convert, Bristol were back in charge.The remainder of the first half followed a now familiar pattern, with Bristol pressurizing Northampton and the latter struggling the set a platform. Physically, the Sonics looked the superior of the two sides and would surely make their dominance pay.On the stroke of half time they did just that. Following a Northampton knock-on 20 metres out from their line, Bristol put on a move straight from the scrum. Keen and Swann exchanged passes before finding Gross, who stepped past the final defender and dived over close to the sticks. Swann’s conversion made it 16-6 to the home side at the interval.The second period started in a familiar fashion, with Bristol working the ball downfield. A succession of cheap penalties gave the Sonics a chance to attack Northampton’s line. They grabbed the opportunity with both hands, centre Marcus Brooker turning on a sixpence, stepping back inside and diving over the whitewash close to the left touchline. Amazingly, Swann’s touchline conversion sailed between the sticks to give Bristol a 22-6 lead.Northampton, desperate for a win to keep their slim Grand Final hopes alive, soon got back into the game. A loose pass early in the tackle count resulted in a knock-on from Bristol, giving the Demons a chance to attack on half way. Another penalty for offside saw them advance to Bristol’s 20, where they set up for the position for M Meek to brush off some weak tackling and touch down. He converted himself, bringing the Demons within 10 points of the home side.Bristol continued to make uncharacteristic errors and offer up field position. Having previously looked comfortable, home supporters began to worry that the Sonics were going to let a winning position slip through their fingers. While Bristol’s defence continued to look strong – Gary Carpenter in particular excelling – they were coughing up possession on a regular basis and giving away silly penalties.A piece of brilliant individual skill from Marcus Brooker soon settled the nerves. With 60 minutes gone Brooker set off on a run down the left touchline. Before reaching the final defender he put in an inch-perfect kick ahead. Sprinting past his opposite number, he collected the ball on the second bounce and trotted over for a brilliant try.The score seemed to give Bristol a new lease of life, and soon they’d all but wrapped up the game. After another period of pressure deep in Demons territory, hooker Harry Marson found barnstorming forward Wayne Cochran. He broke through three weak tackles to touch down in the right corner. Swann missed the conversion, but at 30-12 up there would surely be no way back for the visitors.Northampton again rallied on the back of penalties and errors from the Sonics and pulled a try back on 70 minutes, Meek again going over from close range. His conversion reduced the deficit to two converted tries with ten minutes left.The Demons piled on the pressure, but the Sonics defence held firm. Then, with two minutes remaining, Bristol scored the try of the game to wrap up the win. Collecting the ball just inside his own half, Sonics’ skipper Dom Swann kicked and collected an audacious chip over the Demons’ defence before releasing Joel Keen with an inch-perfect pass. Keen was hauled down five metres from the line, but a quick play-the-ball allowed Swann to find James Gross, who scored the try with ease. It completed a second hat-trick in as many weeks for Gross, who has now scored 9 tries in his last three outings.The victory all but secures Bristol top spot in the Cooperative RLC Midlands Premier table, and guarantees a Grand Final appearance on August 13. The Sonics are likely to face Leicester Storm, who picked up a vital win over Birmingham Bulldogs on Saturday thanks to two late tries from former Bristol player Simon Anniss.At the final whistle, Bristol Sonics’ Director of Coaching Karl Fearnley paid tribute to his charges: ‘I’m really proud of the lads for the way that they’ve played over the last few weeks. To qualify for the Grand Final, which was always our aim, with a week of the regular season remaining is a great result. Today we weren’t at our best, but it was still a pretty good all round performance. If we keep maintaining these levels and cut out the errors, we’re in with a good shout of winning the title.’

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SONICS CHIEF WARNS OF ‘DEMONS BACKLASH’

Bristol Sonics Director of Coaching Karl Fearnley has warned his players to expect a “backlash” from struggling Cooperative RLC Midlands Premier rivals Northampton Demons at Aretians on Saturday.A win for the Sonics can would guarantee them a second successive RLC Midlands Premier Grand Final appearance with a week of the regular season remaining, but Fearnley has urged his players not to get carried away. With Northampton needing a win to keep their now slim Grand Final hopes alive following defeats at the hands of the Sonics and Birmingham Bulldogs, the Sonics chief expects a tough encounter on Saturday.Fearnley said: “There’s no doubt that this could be our toughest game of the season yet. Northampton will still be smarting from the 58-12 hammering we gave them two weeks ago, and their narrow loss to Birmingham last week. They simply have to win to keep alive their chances. A desperate team is a dangerous team. Unless we’re at the top of our game we could come unstuck. We need to be ready for the backlash.”Northampton were near unbeatable in the first half of the season and are the only team to have beaten the Sonics so far this campaign, snatching a 32-30 victory at Aretians in June. While Bristol are in great form, few would bet against Northampton providing a stern test for Fearnley’s men on Saturday.Bristol Sonics captain Dom Swann is aware of the threat hat the Demons pose: “Northampton are a very well drilled side with a good pack of forwards and a strong kicking game. We beat them by controlling our game, cutting down our errors and hitting them hard out wide. We’ll need to do that again, and defend as well as we did at their place a fortnight ago. We know a win will get us into the Grand Final, and that’s our aim. It won’t be easy, but the lads are up for it.”Fearnley is likely to stick with the majority of players who featured in last weekend’s impressive win over Leicester Storm, but could hand recalls to utility back Dan Evans and second row Joe Coghlan.

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FOUR-STAR GROSS INSPIRES SONICS

Veteran fullback James Gross grabbed four tries as Bristol Sonics produced another stunning second half performance to down Cooperative RLC Midlands Premier rivals Leicester Storm 50-10 and move within one win of a place in the regional Grand Final.Gross was in scintillating form, combining brilliantly with play-makers Dom Swann, Joel Keen and Harry Marson to rip apart Leicester’s usually solid defence and set up a dizzying second-half try blitz. As they’d done against Northampton the previous week, Bristol cut loose at the start of the second period, notching up five tries in 16 minutes to take the game away from the visitors. It was spellbinding stuff.The first half had gone to form. Bristol started brightly, putting the visitors under pressure through strong forward running and quick, expansive play. The Sonics deservedly took the lead on seven minutes, Gross diving over from dummy half inches out and twisting out of the tackle to touch down.Leicester’s inexperienced stand-off Tom Knott put the resultant kick-off straight into touch, giving the Sonics a penalty on half-way and another chance to attack. Dom Swann drilled the penalty into touch and Bristol restarted deep in Storm territory. After probing the Leicester line for a few tackles, the ball was spun wide to flying winger Mike Norman, who squeezed over in the corner. Skipper Swann converted from the touchline to give Bristol a 10-0 lead with less than 10 minutes gone.It was almost too good a start for the home side. Leicester, playing to a tight, forward-dominated game plan and committing plenty of players to the tackle in defence, began to get back into the game. Bristol were punished for lapses of concentration and discipline, and soon the men from the East Midlands were back in the game.First, a series of quick play-the-balls set-up the opportunity for Storm hooker Simon Anniss to scoot over between the sticks on 18 minutes, Knott converting. Then, on 25 minutes, winger Paul Andrews strolled over wide on the right after a long, looping pass from Tom Knott and the scores were level. Once again, the position for Storm to attack – deep in Sonics territory – came from a combination of handling errors and penalties.Over the following 15 minutes, the tension began to mount. Bristol made a string of line breaks, with Gross, Josh Sampson, Marcus Brooker and prop forward Wes Rodgers all going close. Invariably, good field position was wasted and Leicester lived to fight on. That they did, raising the stakes via some combative defence and the occasional high tackle. Tempers began to fray, but Bristol held their cool and continued to chip away, largely through the hard work of a pack of forwards at the top of their form.On the stroke of half time, the Sonics edged ahead again. It was a try created by hooker Harry Marson, who sold a dummy and cut through the Storm defence with an arcing run towards the try line. While he was pulled down inches short, Gross was again on hand to finish off the try. Swann was unable to convert, but Bristol went into the break 14-10 ahead.Games between Bristol and Leicester have historically been close affairs, and there was little to suggest that this match would be any different. While Bristol had offered more cutting-edge in attack, the visitors had scrambled well in the first period and smartly slowed the Sonics’ progress. More of the same was expected in the second half.Once again, Bristol turned the form book on its head with a dazzling spell of near faultless attacking rugby. Little over a minute after the restart, Gross completed his hat-trick with a typical 40-metre run to the line down the left channel. On the way, he showed great strength to bump off four would-be tacklers.A minute later, the Sonics scored another. With Leicester still reeling after Gross’s effort, skipper Swann took the opportunity to attack the line. It was classic Swann, dropping the shoulder and setting off on a mazy run to the whitewash. It marked the beginning of a mesmerizing second-half performance from the Sonics’ most capped player.Suddenly, Leicester looked shot. Bristol’s forwards were punching holes in their previously solid defence almost at will, while Swann and half-back partner Joel Keen buzzed around the fringes releasing wide runners. It wasn’t long before Gross grabbed his fourth try of the afternoon, this time with a side-stepping run down the left. Once again, outstanding hooker Harry Marson had created the position for the veteran full-back.Now, everything was working for Bristol. Offloads, short passes and probing cross-field balls all stuck, and Leicester had little answer. Andrew Bond set off on

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CLUB TRIP TO INTERNATIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE DOUBLE-HEADER

Bristol Sonics are planning a club trip to the Gillette Four Nations International Rugby League double-header at Wembley on November 5, and ticket orders have to be in by Thursday 21st July at 8pm.

The November 5 double-header sees international Rugby League return to Wembley for the first time in a decade. The day features two matches, Wales v New Zealand and England taking on old foes Australia. It promises to be a great day out, so the Sonics are organizing a club trip to take in the action.

For a limited time, tickets are just

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TABLE-TOPPERS TO TEST SONICS’ SECONDS

Rugby fans in Bristol can enjoy two Bristol-Gloucester derbies for free on Saturday (July 16), when the two cities’ Rugby League clubs clash at Aretians RFC in Patchway.Bristol Sonics A, the club’s second team, face local rivals Gloucestershire Warriors in a top-of-the-table Cooperative Rugby League Conference West of England Division clash.Meanwhile, the two clubs U16 Academy teams will lock horns for the very first time in a curtain-raiser for the adult game, kicking off at 1pm. The game will mark the debut of the Sonics’ elite U16 side, who recently began training under the supervision of coaches Stafford Lloyd and Johann Schoeman at Filton College’s WISE campus.The afternoon’s main match will see the two in-form teams of the RLC West of England division clash in what could be a dress rehearsal for the Regional Grand Final.Gloucestershire Warriors sit top of the league after an unbeaten campaign, with Bristol four points behind in second. The Sonics are the only team to have taken a point off the Warriors so far this year, drawing 26-all at Arerians earlier in the season. Since then, the Sonics’ seconds have won four games on the bounce to climb to second in the table and all but secure a top three finish – and a vital chance of silverware via the play-offs.Bristol Sonics A coach Aran Simm said: ‘I’ve been really impressed by the way our lads have come on over the course of the season. Since we last played Gloucestershire, we’ve been in great form. They’re a fantastic team and it will be hard to beat them, but we’re confident that we can put in a good performance. It would be great to secure second place and guarantee a home tie in the play-offs.’

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SONICS PRIMED FOR PREMIER PLAY-OFFS PRESSURE

Bristol Sonics travel to Northampton Demons on Saturday as their quest to secure a second successive Cooperative Rugby League Conference Midlands Premier Grand Final spot gathers momentum.Having dominated the RLC Midlands West Qualifying league, the Sonics now play home-and-away fixtures against the East Midlands’ finest, Northampton Demons and Leciester Storm, with a place in the Cooperative Rugby League Conference Midlands Premier Grand Final at stake.First up for the in-form Sonics is a trip to face Northampton Demons, the only team to have taken points off them this season. When the teams clashed earlier in the season, the Demons produced an impressive first half performance before holding off a thrilling Sonics second half comeback to win 32-30.Northampton lost their unbeaten record on Saturday at the hands of East Midlands rivals Leicester Storm, while the Sonics enjoyed a weekend off to prepare for the all-important play-offs.Sonics Director of Coaching Karl Fearnley is likely to have a full squad to choose from, with only experienced prop Wes Rodgers missing from his first choice 13. With scrum half Tom James also away, Fearnley must choose between experienced utility player Joel Keen and recent second team star James Gross to partner skipper Dom Swann in the halves. Fearnley may also give a first team debut to impressive second team forwards Ryan Hall and Matt Douglas.Fearnley said: ‘We’re now getting in to the business end of the season and there’s no room for mistakes. Northampton and Leicester are both superb teams and if we’re going to keep alive our dreams of silverware we need to win all four games. We’re capable of doing that, but we need to find our best form of the season and fast. ‘Saturday’s match against Northampton will be a tough assignment, but it’s one we’ve been looking forward to for the last month. As far as I’m concerned, the season starts here.’Following Saturday’s match at Northampton, the Sonics will then play back-to-back home fixtures at Aretians RFC. First they take on Leicester (23rdJuly) before hosting Northampton (30thJuly). They finish their Midlands Premier play-off campaign with a trip to Leciester on August 6.The Cooperative Rugby League Conference Midlands Premier Grand Final takes place on August 13.

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THRILLING END TO JUNIOR SEASON

North-West Eagles are the first ever winners of the Bristol Under 14 Junior Rugby League competition, after a dramatic finals day at Aretians RFC on Sunday July 10. A big and vocal crowd of parents, friends and Bristol Sonics’ open age players gathered at Aretians – the home of the Sonics – to watch the fourth and final tournament in this year’s inaugural Bristol Under 14 Junior Rugby League competition.The assembled crowd was treated to an excellent afternoon of junior Rugby League, with three close games deciding the outcome of the coveted Bristol Junior Rugby League competition. All three teams were kitted out in smart new playing strips provided by funding from Wesport, Access Sport, the Rugby League Foundation, IP Performance and MPD Print Solutions.In the opening game of the afternoon, league leaders Southern Storm strengthened their position at the top-of-the-table thanks to a nailbiting 22-20 win over Chipping Sodbury RFC-based Northern Hawks.Storm’s victory meant that title rivals North-West Eagles would have to win their two remaining games – including a top-of-the-table shoot-out with the Storm – to take home the trophy.The North West Eagles, who are coached by Bristol Sonics first team players Dom Swann and Ross Bergin, held off a spirited Northern Hawks comeback to win their first game of the afternoon 24-20.That left the Eagles and the Storm to battle it out in the final game of the afternoon for the Bristol Junior Rugby League title.In an absorbing, end-to-end contest, the Eagles outplayed their cross-city rivals to record a comprehensive 36-20 win and spark scenes of jubilant celebration from their assembled supporters.After the final whistle, all three teams were awarded medals and Bristol Sonics Junior Rugby League t-shirts by Bristol Junior Rugby League Chairman Stafford Lloyd. After all three sides had been given a round of applause, Lloyd presented the winner’s trophy to North West Eagles’ captain Ben Waterman, amidst wild cheers from his team-mates.Stafford Lloyd said: ‘I’d like to congratulate all the players on a wonderful afternoon of Rugby League. To say that very few had played Rugby League until eight weeks ago shows how much potential talent there is in Bristol. I’d like to thank the local rugby union clubs who have accommodated or training sessions and junior festivals this year, and all the coaches and volunteers who have worked so hard. The first Bristol Junior Rugby League competition was a huge success.’Many of the youngsters involved in the Bristol Junior Rugby League competition will now go on to play for the Bristol Sonics Under 14 Academy side, which begins training next week.The Bristol Junior Rugby League Competition is organized and run by trained volunteers from Bristol Sonics Rugby League, the city’s community club. The competition was made possible thanks to funding grants from Wesport, Access Sport and the Rugby League Foundation, as well as sponsorship from MDP and IP Performance.