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SUPER SONICS OUT-GUN OUTLAWS

Bristol Sonics produced a dazzling first half performance to set up a 40-6 win over Nottingham Outlaws that puts them clear at the top of Conference League South.

A blitz of three tries midway through the first half helped the home side notch up a 20-0 half-time lead and put a fourth straight win within touching distance.

Nottingham produced an improved performance in the early stages of the second half, only to see their comeback thwarted by the sending off of second-rower George Strachan for dissent towards the match officials.

Bristol started brightly and thought they’d taken the lead on four minutes when winger Mike Norman touched down following a dazzling 60-metre move, but the dual-registered Gloucestershire All Golds flier had put a foot in touch on his way to the line.

Two minutes later Bristol opened the scoring when Marcus Brooker powered over following a scrum deep in Nottingham territory. Skipper Dom Swann slotted over the conversion from wide on the left.

The Sonics dominated proceedings in the opening 15 minutes, and only some desperate defence from Nottingham kept them at bay. Eventually, the weight of possession and territory was just too much for the Outlaws to take, and outstanding prop forward Jake Robertson charged through some weak tackles to score from 20 metres out.

Within 10 minutes the Sonics had extended their lead to 20 points. First, Marcus Brooker grabbed his second try of the game from close range, before debutant Nico Flanaghan broke clear on the half way line and rounded Outlaws full back Will Thomas to touch down to the right of the posts. Swann slotted over the conversion.

Nottingham enjoyed more possession in the closing stages of the first half and came close to hitting back, only to be denied by some excellent goal line defence from the Sonics.

The Outlaws did finally get on the score sheet early in the second period following another period of pressure, second-rower George Strachan slipping out of some tired tackling to dive over. Matt Rowland added the extras.

With Bristol again guilty of giving away silly penalties, it looked like the Outlaws might stage a dramatic comeback. However, Joe McClean’s try on 55 minutes settled the home supporters’ nerves and restored Bristol’s lead. McClean showed great strength to make it over the line, given that he had three players trying to stop him. Sadly, his game ended soon after when a stray forearm from an Outlaws forward resulted in a broken collarbone.

Any thoughts of a Nottingham comeback were finally extinguished on 60 minutes thanks to a moment of madness from Outlaws second-rower George Strachan. Having been sin-binned by referee Darren Hayes for a nasty “chicken wing” tackle, Strachan thought it wise to talk back to the Widnes whistler. Hayes had no option but to show him a red card for dissent.

The Sonics took full advantage of their man advantage in the closing stages of the contest, scoring three excellent tries. First hooker Rory Sharrat burrowed over from close range on 62 minutes, Swann converting, before Mike Gaston surged through a gap created by a perfect pass from stand-off Swann. Jake Robertson completed the rout with a remarkable solo effort on 76 minutes. Set free by Nico Flanaghan, the prop forward showed remarkable speed to out-sprint the Outlaws’ back line on a touchline-hugging 60-metre run to the try line.

Bristol Sonics Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley was largely pleased with his side’s performance. He said: “I thought we were superb in the first half. We played some brilliant stuff and that was easily the best we’ve played this season. We made life difficult for ourselves in the second half by giving away a lot of silly penalties, but we always had enough to go on and secure the win.”

The Sonics next face a trip to St Albans Centurions on Saturday 11 May.

MATCH FACTS
BRISTOL SONICS 40
T: Marcus Brooker 2, Jake Robertson 2, Nico Flanaghan, Rory Sharrat, Joe McLean, Mike Gaston
G: Dom Swann 4 (from 8)
NOTTINGHAM OUTLAWS 6
T: George Strachan
G: Matt Rowland 1 (from 1)
Sent off: George Strachan (dissent)
Man of the Match: Jake Robertson (Bristol Sonics)
Referee: Darren Hayes
Half-Time: 20-0
Bristol Sonics (v Nottingham Outlaws, 27/4/13): Dan Evans, MIke Norman, Marcus Brooker, Mike Gaston, James Raymond, Dom Swann, James Gross, Wes Rodgers, Rory Sharrat, Jake Robertson, Nico Flanaghan, Joe McClean, Rob Verber. Subs (all used): Curtis Asante, Lewis Beer, Johan Schoeman, Darren van Hoof
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SWANN CALLS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Bristol Sonics captain Dom Swann has warned his side that they must improve dramatically to have any chance of maintaining their unbeaten start to the season.

The Sonics face Nottingham Outlaws, holders of Conference League South’s only other 100 per cent record, at Clifton RFC on Saturday (kick-off 2.30pm). With the teams currently tied on points at the top of the table, the winners have a chance to go clear of their rivals, and a chasing pack led by pre-season title favourites Sheffield-Hallam Eagles.

Last weekend, the Sonics needed a last minute try from veteran fullback James Gross to keep their winning start to the season in tact. The previous week, they were fairly unimpressive against Conference League South new boys Northampton Demons but ground out a result in terrible conditions.

Skipper Swann knows that the Sonics must improve considerably if they are to maintain their winning start to the season, especially against an in-form Nottingham side that provided stiff competition to Bristol last season.

Swann said: “So far this season the results have been good, but the performances less so. We’ve somehow found enough to win, even when we’ve played badly, but we can’t keep playing poorly and expect to get the results, especially against good sides like Nottingham. This week I’ll be looking for a big improvement.”

In all three matches this season, the Sonics have made life difficult for themselves. Although they’ve often started and ended games well, they’ve yet to put in an ’80 minute performance’.

Stand-off Swann, who is now into his 11th season with the Sonics, is all to aware of the problems that need rectifying. He said: “It’s true that we’ve been making a lot of silly errors and letting our discipline lapse. This has allowed teams to get back into matches we should have been winning comfortably. I think there’s still some rustiness there. We know we’re not in great form, but the response in training has been excellent, and I’m expecting an improved performance on Saturday.”

Swann also praised the support his side has received so far this season. He said: “Despite the foul weather, there was a decent crowd at our first home game against Northampton. It really lifts the team when we have a big crowd cheering us on, so I’d encourage people to get up to Clifton on Saturday and show their support for one of Bristol’s most successful sports teams of recent years.”

Bristol Sonics face Nottingham Outlaws on Saturday, April 27 at Clifton RFC. Entrance to the top-of-the-table clash with Nottingham Outlaws is £3, including complimentary matchday programme. Entry for under-16s is free.

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SONICS TRAINING & OFF-FIELD KIT AVAILABLE TO BUY

The new season’s training and off-field kit designs are in and available to order. The first order will be submitted at midday on Wednesday 1st May so email kit@bristolsonics.com before then if you would like to order anything.

Payment is needed on or before Sat 11th May (both teams have games on that day). Cash, cheque, or online transfer will be accepted with full details given in the confirmation email.

Available kit in sizes XS to 5XL: Polo Shirts (£17), Performance T-Shirts (£23), Hoodies (£29), Tracksuit Bottoms (£21).

Sonics Stash 2013a

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LAST-GASP GROSS SAVES SONICS

Bristol Sonics needed a dramatic last-gasp try from veteran fullback James Gross to overcome Conference League South newcomers Leicester Storm and retain their unbeaten start to the season.

The Sonics were trailing 18-16 with seconds remaining when Gross somehow found a way to unlock Leicester’s dogged defence with the last play of the game. Although skipper Dom Swann missed the conversion attempt, it was enough to guarantee Bristol a narrow 20-18 victory.

Earlier the Sonics had built up a 10-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes, only to see it wiped out before half time. A beautiful pass from centre Mike Gaston set up on-loan University of Gloucestershire All Golds’ forward Sam Blaney for the opening try of the game, before hooker Matt Williams extended the lead after charging down a kick.

On the back of a number of penalties for Bristol indiscipline, Leicester hit back, crossing the whitewash three times to hold a 14-10 half time lead.

The Sonics piled on the pressure early in the second half, but Leicester’s determined defence held firm. Bristol continued to give away penalties, allowing Storm to relieve the pressure.

Eventually the Sonics regained the lead when on-loan All Golds hooker Rory Sharratt scooting over from dummy half with just over 10 minutes remaining. Skipper Swann’s conversion put Bristol two points ahead at 16-14.

Leicester attempted to level the scores with a penalty kick at goal, but the attempt bounced back off the post. 30 seconds later they squeezed over the try line out wide to give themselves a great chance of grabbing their first win of the season.

Sadly for the home supporters they couldn’t hold out under extreme pressure from the Sonics. As he’s done many times before, Gross produced a moment of magic to save Bristol’s bacon.

The result means the Sonics stay second in Conference League South, tied on points with Nottingham Outlaws. The two sides will lock horns next Saturday at Clifton RFC, kick-off 2.30pm.

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OLD FOES LIE IN WAIT FOR UNBEATEN BRISTOL

Bristol Sonics’ Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley has called on his players to “remain focused” against old rivals Leicester Storm on Saturday (20 April).

The Sonics travel to New College, Leicester, keen to extend their winning start to the season to three games. They face a Leicester Storm side who have yet to record a victory after stepping up to Conference League South at the beginning of the season.

The two sides have clashed many times over the years, with the Sonics pipping the Storm to the RLC Midlands Premier title in 2011. Contests between the clubs have sometimes been tense, angry affairs, and Fearnley has warned his side to remain disciplined at all times.

Fearnley said: “First and foremost, I want the lads to remain focused at all times on Saturday. We’re there to get a job done – to win the match and get the points. The best way to achieve that outcome is to stick to our game plan, keep our discipline and let our rugby do the talking. Leicester hasn’t made the best start to the season, but they’re a real threat – they are very strong defensively and usually good in the forwards. We’ll have to look after the ball better than we did last week, but if we do that I’m expecting a good performance.”

Fearnley is able to field a number of players from the University of Gloucestershire All Golds, including forwards Sam Blainey and Ollie Yeats, and star centre Marcus Brooker. Loose forward Rob Verber and winger Max Davies are set to return to the starting line-up after missing last week’s hard-fought win over Northampton Demons.

Fans unable to get to the game at New College, Leicester, can follow live score updates and commentary on the Sonics’ Twitter account at http://twitter.com/BristolSonicsRL

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SONICS MAKE HEAVY WEATHER OF DEMONS WIN

Bristol Sonics continued their unbeaten start to the 2013 Southern Conference League season, grinding out a 24-10 win over Northampton Demons at Clifton RFC.

 

The Sonics were always the stronger of the two sides, but made heavy weather of overcoming a determined Demons side who arguably mastered the difficult conditions better.

 

With torrential rain and strong winds sweeping across the chilly “shelf” pitch at Station Lane, it was always going to be an old-fashioned kind of match. With mud-soaked players struggling to hold off a slippery ball and defenses on top, it looked more like a traditional winter amateur game than a free-flowing summer match.

 

Despite the scoreline, Bristol could – and probably should – have won by more points. They built up an 18-0 lead within half an hour, before being pegged back by a Northampton team helped by the home side’s lack of discipline and inability to complete enough sets of six tackles. While the Sonics were never exactly hanging on, they needed Wes Rodgers’ second-half try to settle the nerves of their agitated spectators and give them a bit of breathing space.

 

Things had begun so well. Dom Swann’s kick off was allowed to bounce into touch by Northampton, and from the resultant scrum the Sonics put pressure on the home side’s try line. With just 90 seconds on the clock, dual-registered All Golds star Sam Blaney surged through the visitors’ weak defense and crossed for the first try of the game. Swann’s attempted conversion drifted well wide.

 

The Demons were struggling not only to stop Bristol’s forward momentum – props Ollie Yates and Liam Walker impressing up front – but also to keep hold of the ball when they had it. With so much ball with which to attack the Demons’ defense, it was no surprise that tries came at regular intervals.

 

On 15 minutes, quick hands from hooker Matt Williams and scrum-half Dave Tomlinson allowed skipper Dom Swann to find right winger Tom Davies with a long, hanging pass. Davies showed a great turn of pace to beat the cover tackler and dive in at the corner. Swann’s attempted conversion hit the post, but referee Ian Curzon ordered him to retake it. Amazingly, the veteran stand-off hit the same post with his second attempt.

 

Bristol didn’t have it all their own way in the early exchanges. Referee Curzon took exception to a number of high tackles and Bristol’s aggressive tackling, and Northampton were awarded a string of penalties. On 21 minutes Curzon lost patience with scrum-half Dave Tomlinson, and sent him to the sin-bin for persistent offending.

 

Strangely, Bristol barely struggled while Tomlinson was off the pitch and actually extended their lead further. First, Jake Robertson continued his fine try-scoring form with a typical close-range effort, before prop forward Ollie Yates marked a fine debut by powering his way over close to the posts. This time, Swann was able to convert, putting the Sonics 18-0 up with 30 minutes played.

 

Bristol’s discipline continued to waver, much to the frustration of the crowd, and more cheap penalties gifted Northampton a way back into a match they looked destined to lose by a cricket score.

 

With 33 minutes on the clock Demons winger Reese Rance reacted first to a beautiful crossfield kick from impressive stand-off Ollie Furness. The ball looked to be heading out, but somehow Rance touched it down just milimetres from the dead ball line.

 

Then, on the stroke of half time, Bristol again gifted Northampton a chance to attack on the back of another penalty, this time for a ripping the ball out of the attacker’s hands. Scrum-half Daniel Watts took advantage, turning an angled run to the line into a try-scoring opportunity. The Sonics weren’t impressed, though, as it appeared that the ball had been knocked on at the play-the-ball in the build-up. Either way, the score stood, Furness converted and the Demons were back within eight points.

 

This unlikely comeback seemed to spur the visitors on. They were arguably the better team in the second half. While they hardly threatened the Sonics line, their simple game plan and excellent kicking game made it difficult for the home side. Bristol didn’t help themselves much, either, with plenty of dropped balls and few completed sets of six tackles. Fortunately, their defense was too strong for the Demons, who struggled to penetrate or make decent ground.

 

The Sonics believed they had the game wrapped up on 55 minutes, when Marcus Brooker broke through the line and slid in to score. Referee Curzon thought otherwise, and spotted a knock-on from Brooker as he was crossing the line. Northampton were naturally delirious.

 

Bristol did finally get a score to settle the nerves and secure the win, and it came from the best piece of play of the whole match. Swann found centre Mike Gaston with a beautifully weighted pass and he sprinted through the line at pace, 30 metres out. He drew the fullback and passed back inside to supporting loose forward Wes Rodgers. Despite juggling with the ball, he rounded the last defender and crashed over between the posts. Swann converted to put Bristol 14 points up with less than 15 minutes remaining.

 

Northampton tried their best to get back into it, but Bristol’s defense was just too strong.

 

After the game, Sonics’ Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley had mixed feelings about the win. He said: “We weren’t at our best today and made far too many poor choices with the ball. We got 18-0 up by playing a simple game that worked in the terrible conditions. We then seemed to lose our heads. I always felt like we had too much for them, but we didn’t make it easy for ourselves. Credit should also go to Northampton who played the conditions very well in the second half and didn’t take a backward step. There’s plenty to work on in training this week.”

 

Next week, Bristol travel to face Leicester Storm at New College, Leicester (kick-off 2.30pm), looking to make it three wins on the bounce. Today, Leicester lost 16-38 to Sheffield-Hallam Eagles.

BRISTOL SONICS (v Northampton Demons, 13/4/13): James Gross, James Raymond, Mike Gaston, Marcus Brooker, Tom Davies; Dom Swann, Dave Tomlinson; Ollie Yates. Matt Williams, Liam Walker, Jake Robertson, Sam Blaney, Wes Rodgers. Subs (all used): Curtis Asante, Darren van Hoof, Jack Spooner, Joe Singleton

 

MATCH FACTS

 

BRISTOL SONICS 24
Sam Blaney, Tom Davies, Jake Robertson, Ollie Yates, Wes Rodgers
Dom Swann 2 (from 5)
Sin-bin: Dave Tomlinson (20 mins) – persistent offending
 
NORTHAMPTON DEMONS 10
Reece Rance, Daniel Watts
Ollie Furness 1 (from 2)
 
Half-time: 18-10
Referee: Ian Curzon
 
MOTM AWARDS
Bristol: Matt Williams (hooker)
Northampton: Ollie Furness (stand-off)

 

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SONICS KICK-OFF WORLD CUP COUNTDOWN

With 200 days to go until the Rugby League World Cup comes to Bristol’s Memorial Stadium, live Rugby League returns to the city tomorrow (Saturday 13th April) for the first time in 2013.

 

With Bristol’s Memorial Stadium hosting the Cook Islands against USA on Wednesday, October 30, tomorrow’s game between Bristol Sonics and Northampton Demons at Clifton RFC (2.3pm kick-off) marks the start of a big year for the sport in the city.

 

The Sonics, who play in the Rugby Football League’s Conference League South competition for leading community clubs outside the game’s Northern ‘heartlands’, go into their first home game of the season on the back of a morale-boosting opening day victory over Sheffield-Hallam Eagles at Don Valley Stadium.

 

The Sonics twice battled back from a 10-point deficit to secure a thrilling, last-gasp 42-40 win over the combined talents of Sheffield Eagles’ Academy and Sheffield Hallam University’s student side.

 

Bristol Sonics Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley will be looking for a similar result, if not scoreline, against Conference League South newcomers Northampton Demons tomorrow.

 

Fearnley said: “Last week’s result and performance was solid, but there’s plenty to work on if we’re serious about winning the league this year. As this is our first home game of the year, we’ll be looking to show both old and new fans just what we’re capable of against a decent Northampton side.”

 

Fearnley looks set to field dual-registered University of All Golds professional players Sam Blaney and Marcus Brooker, who impressed last week with four well taken tries. Last week’s man-of-the-match Jake Robertson has recovered from a knee injury, while Sonics legend James Gross returns to the starting line-up at full back.

 

The Sonics are keen to encourage would-be Rugby League fans, especially those new to the sport, to attend its home matches this season, to give them a taste of the sport in the lead-up to the World Cup. Entrance to all Sonics Conference League South matches will be free to under 16s, with adult entrance £3 (including complimentary matchday programme).

 

Bristol Sonics captain Dom Swann said: “Rugby League is an exciting, all-action sport full of big hits, top handling and exciting tries. If you’ve yet to attend a game, you should come down to Clifton and cheer on the Sonics. We’ve been building something good now for over 10 years, and there’s a feeling that we could mark Rugby League World Cup year with something very special. You’re guaranteed a warm welcome from our players, volunteers and supporters.”

 

One confirmed supporter who will be attending tomorrow’s game is Bristol RLWC ambassador and ‘superfan’ Ian ‘Muddy’ Waters. He’s been appointed as one of the match officials for the game, in his role as a fully qualified referee.

 

Bristol Sonics take on Northampton Demons at Clifton RFC on Saturday 13th April, kick-off 2.30pm. Entrance is £3 for adults (including programme), under 16s free.

 

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SONICS LATE-SHOW STUNS SHEFFIELD

 

Bristol Sonics twice battled back from a 10-point deficit to grab a last-gasp 42-40 win over Sheffield-Hallam Eagles at Don Valley Stadium.

 

Prop forward Liam Walker barged his way over the Sheffield line four minutes from time to level the scores, before skipper Dom Swann coolly slotted over the conversion to earn Bristol a nail-biting victory over the highly-fancied home team.

 

Dual-registered University of Gloucestershire All Golds centre Marcus Brooker, returning to the Bristol side he has served so well for the past three seasons, scored four tries, while man-of-the-match Jake Robertson helped himself to a brace.

 

Yet the Sonics could quite easily have lost the game. Sheffield-Hallam Eagles, a new club set up by 2012 Championship winners Sheffield Eagles and Sheffield Hallam University, led for much of the game and twice built up 10-point leads in the second half.

 

Bristol were arguably the better of the two sides from the start, but a combination of errors, slack defense and opportunistic plays kept the home side in the driving seat.

 

The Sonics started well, and twice crossed the whitewash in the early stages only to see the tries ruled out for dropping the ball in the act of scoring. After seeing a third try ruled out on 18 minutes, Bristol fell behind when Bradley Tatersall finished off a fine Sheffield-Hallam break. Tom Holt’s conversion made it 6-0 with 20 minutes gone.

 

Bristol were soon back in the game when Marcus Brooker powered down the left to narrow the arrears to two points. After seeing another try ruled out for a knock-on, Sheffield once again broke away to extend their lead. This time, it was centre Tom Ashton who crossed following a long run from Holt. The latter’s conversion made it 12-4.

 

Jake Robertson burrowed his way over from close range shortly after, Dom Swann converting, before a horrendous error from the otherwise faultless Brooker gifted a try to the home side. 30 metres out from his own line, he threw a loose offload. Sheffield-Hallam speedster Donald Rodangarina snaffled up the ball and sprinted down the touchline to score. Holt again converted to give the home side an 18-10 advantage with less than a minute to go until the break.

 

The drama wasn’t over yet, though. After Sheffield-Hallam made a mess of Swann’s kick-off, Brooker jumped to collect a high bouncing ball, 10 metres out, and trot over unopposed. Swann couldn’t add the extras, meaning the Sonics trailed 18-14 at the break.

 

Bristol finally got their noses in front four minutes into the second half, when Brooker somehow managed to wriggle his way over underneath the posts. Swann’s conversion made it 18-20 and the Sonics were flying.

 

On the back of two penalties the home side set up the position for Anthony Seeto to dive over in the corner, with Holt’s touchline-hugging conversion making it 24-20. Minutes later, prop Sam Williamson caught a poor chip from Swann and raced 60 metres to score. Holt again added the extras to make it 30-20, and it looked as if the Sonics’ resistance would melt away.

 

But Bristol are made of sterner stuff these days, and soon they were back in the game following another short-range effort from the excellent Robertson. Swann converted, and minutes later Bristiol were level when Brooker forced his way in the corner following a sweeping right-to-left move.

 

Just when it looked as if the momentum had shifted back to the Sonics, Sheffield-Hallam restored their 10 point advantage. First, the impeccable Lee Sanders got his name on the scoresheet, Holt converting, before a break from former Sheffield Eagles first-teamer Corey Hanson created the space for Tom Ashton to grab his second. Crucially, Holt’s attempted conversion drifted wide, but at ten points up with less than 10 remaining, the home side were sitting pretty.

 

Again, back came the Sonics. With 8 minutes remaining hooker Matt Williams ducked under some weak tackles to force his way over close to the posts, Swann converting.

 

From the resulting kick-off Sheffield Hallam were able to put Bristol under pressure. Somehow, skipper Swann landed a beautiful 40-20 kick to win a vital scrum deep in Sheffield territory. With the clock ticking down, prop Liam Walker collected a short pass and stormed over to level the scores. Swann’s conversion gave Bristol the lead with little over four minutes remaining.

 

Sheffield-Hallam threw everything at the visitors for the remainder of the contest, but Bristol’s defence stood firm to record a memorable opening-day victory.

 

MATCH FACTS

Sheffield-Hallam Eagles            40

T: Bradley Tattersall, Tom Ashton 2, Donald Rodangarina, Anthony Seeto, Sam Williamson, Lee Sanders G: Tom Holt 6 (from 7)

Bristol Sonics                                    42

T: Marcus Brooker 4, Jake Robertson 2, Matt Williams, Liam Walker. G: Dom Swann 5 (from 8)

MOTM AWARDS

Sheffield-Hallam: Lee Sanders (prop forward)

Bristol: Jake Robertson (second row)

Bristol Sonics (v Sheffield-Hallam Eagles, 6/4/13): Max Davies, James Raymond, Mike Gaston, Marcus Brooker, Tom Verber, Dom Swann, Alex Potts, Wes Rodgers, Matt Williams,  Liam Walker, Jake Robertson, Joe McLean, Rob Verber. Subs (all used): Jack Spooner, Darren van Hoof, Curtis Asante, Joe Singleton.

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SONICS SET FOR SHEFFIELD SHOWDOWN

Bristol Sonics will be looking to make a flying start when they kick off their Conference League South campaign at Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium on Saturday.

 

The Sonics, who have not played since tumbling out of the prestigious Challenge Cup competition at the hands of National Conference side Eccles in October, face a tough task against Sheffield Hallam Eagles, a new club set up by Sheffield Hallam University and 2012 Cooperative Championship winners Sheffield Eagles.

 

Both sides will be looking to make a winning start in Conference League South, the Rugby Football League’s new ‘tier 3’ division for leading amateur clubs based outside the club’s traditional Northern ‘heartlands’. The new league replaces Conference League Three, the division that the Sonics competed in last season.

 

On Saturday, both sides could field a number of players with semi-professional experience thanks to new rules that allow ‘dual registration’ of players between Championship, Championship One and Conference League South clubs.

 

The Sonics have taken advantage of this rule by joining forces with Cheltenham-based Championship One side University of Gloucestershire All Golds. Many of the latter’s playing squad have been ‘dual registered’ with the Sonics, allowing them to appear in Conference League South.

 

Sheffield Hallam Eagles are in a similar position thanks to their close ties to former Challenge Cup winners Sheffield Eagles. Many of the latter’s fringe players, a number of which study at Sheffield Hallam University, are in line to feature on Saturday. While most have little or no first team experience, they will provide a stern test for the Sonics.

 

Sonics Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley has announced a strong squad for the trip to the home of Sheffield Eagles and Olympic heptathlon star Jessica Ennis. He’s able to field Sonics’ All Golds signees Marcus Brooker and Mike Norman, and could hand debuts to Max Davies, Liam Walker, Jack Spooner and Darren van Hoof.

 

Fearnley isn’t too worried by his side’s lack of match practice. He said: “While there’s a chance that we’ll be pretty rusty and rough round the edges, the lads have been training really well and the addition of All Golds squad players will strengthen us,” he said. “I don’t expect us to hit top form straight away, but if we can do the basics well and build on the success we enjoyed in the second half of the 2012 season, we should be able to put in a decent performance.”

 

The Sonics struggled in the early part of 2012, and it took them nearly three months to adjust to the intensity of Tier 3 amateur Rugby League.  They finished the season in style, though, winning five of their last six games, including a famous victory over Champions elect – and now Championship One side – Hemel Stags.

 

Sonics captain Dom Swann believes that this experience will stand them in good stead this season: “It was a tough season last year, but by the end we really looked the part and were unlucky not to make the play-offs. We now know what it takes to compete at that level, and hopefully we’ll be on the ball from the word go. We think that Conference League South will be really tight this year, with all six teams being capable of taking points off one another. If we want to do well, we need to hit the ground running.”

 

Their opponents on Saturday, Sheffield Hallam Eagles, will be playing their first match together. However, with the majority of their players coming from the university’s first team and a smattering of future professional stars, they should be as strong a side as the Sonics will face this year.

 

Sheffield Hallam Eagles Head Coach Andrew Henderson – Scotland international and Sheffield Eagles’ first team hooker – is confident that the team can perform well this season. He said: “We see this team as an integral part of Sheffield Eagles’ player performance pathway. Competing in Conference League South will enable our performance players and Sheffield Hallam students to continue their Rugby League education in a closely fought competition. The club has come together very quickly so we’ll have to hit the ground running straight away. If we do that, I’m confident that we can have a tilt at winning the League.”

 

Sonics captain Dom Swann, who begins his 11th season with the club on Saturday, is wary of making similar predictions. “Of course every club in the League privately thinks that they have a chance of winning the title, because on paper all the teams look evenly matched,” he says. “Very few will come out and say ‘yes, we’re going to win this’, because that would be a foolish thing to do. There are six teams in the League, and six teams that could potentially win it – it’s going to be that tight. We’re confident that we’ll do quite well, but only if we play to our potential every week. There will be no ‘easy wins’ this season.”

 

Bristol Sonics face Sheffield Hallam Eagles at Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield, on Saturday 6th April, kick-off 2.30pm. Entrance is £3 for adults, £2 for OAPS and £1 for under 16s and students (with a valid NUS card).