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SKIPPER SWANN INSPIRES SONICS GRAND FINAL TRIUMPH

A virtuoso performance from captain Dom Swann helped Bristol Sonics edge out Leicester Storm 28-20 to claim their first ever Cooperative Rugby League Conference Midlands Premier title. Swann was in the thick of the action all afternoon, scoring two tries and setting up four others to lead his charges to their first Grand Final win since 2007. Bristol’s record points scorer – the most capped player in the club’s history – also kicked two crucial conversions to help ensure a relatively comfortable margin of victory.But it was far from the easy win that many had predicted. From start to finish Leicester proved more than worthy opponents, and had it not been for the brilliance of Bristol’s key playmakers and tireless forwards the result could have been very different. Although the Sonics led from start to finish, there were times when Leicester appeared to be getting on top. But every time Leicester posed a question, the Sonics – and Swann in particular – had an answer.Playing in their second RLC Midlands Premier Grand Final following last year’s agonizing golden point loss to Coventry Bears, Bristol started well and enjoyed first use of the ball thanks to a Leicester error straight from the kick-off. Storm captain Max Oxton-Morris allowed the ball to bounce into touch metres from the Storm line, giving Bristol an opportunity to test Leicester’s line defence. The Sonics almost took advantage, but Tom James’ pass was spilled by winger Andrew Bond with the line begging.Bristol were then rocked by an early injury setback, with influential full-back James Gross forced off with a nasty mouth injury. Gross caught a stray elbow in the face and had to make a trip to Southmead Hospital to get stitches. He returned just in time to join his teammates at the post-match presentations. His place in the backline was taken by substitute Dan Evans, who went on to produce one of his best performances in a Sonics shirt. He was a more than adequate replacement for the man who had scored 12 tries in his previous three appearances.Despite the loss of Gross, Bristol continued to impress and soon crossed the whitewash for the first time. With nine minutes on the clock a break by hardworking second-rower Josh Sampson set up the position for scrum half Tom James to skip through the line and touch down under the posts for his first try since early June. Swann converted to give the home side a deserved 6-0 lead.Although Leicester were defending stoutly, they found it hard to breakdown Bristol’s rugged defence despite an expansive game plan that saw centre Greg Hurst and scrum half Callum Corley in the thick of the action. Bristol settled down and played the percentages, completing sets and waiting for their next opportunity to attack the Leicester line. That chance came on 16 minutes. Skipper Swann produced a piece of magic to unpick Storm’s solid defensive line and waltz his way to the line, touching down wide on the right. He missed the tricky conversion, but the Sonics had a handy 10-0 lead.Leicester were soon handed an opportunity to hit back, though. Following a couple of penalties and strong running from Hurst, player/coach Ty Watson and England Lionhearts prop Demetrius Gonsalves, Storm suddenly found themselves deep in Bristol territory. Hooker Simon Anniss took advantage, as he often does in games against the Sonics, squeezing his way over from close range to reduce the arrears. Gregg Harris’s conversion attempt barely left the floor, but suddenly Storm had a foothold in the game.The visitors began to play with renewed confidence and soon started to get a roll on via quick play-the-balls and rugged tackling. Bristol continued to compete well but found it hard to pierce Leicester’s well organized defence.Eventually the pressure told, with Storm centre Greg Hurst crossing over in the left corner after good hands from Anniss and scrum half Callum Corley. Although Harris again missed the conversion, Bristol held only a slender 10-8 lead with 32 minutes gone.The Sonics quickly hit back with Wes Rodgers, Wayne Cochran and hooker Harry Marson making good ywards. A half break from Dom Swann and a lightening-quick play-the-ball set up the position for Jack Gibson to attack the line wide on the left. While referee David Butler adjudged that Gibson had been halted inches short, Swann scooped up the ball and dived over unopposed to record his second try of the afternoon. A brilliant touchline conversion from the veteran skipper meant Bristol went into the break 16-8 ahead.Bristol took little time in extending their lead when play restarted for the second period. With less than a minute gone, a beautiful pass from Swann released Dan Evans on the right. He weaved his way in and out of the Storm defence, surging away from 40 metres out to record the try of the game. It was a moment of brilliance from Evans, who returned the ball admirably all afternoon.Suddenly, Bristol had found their form and looked like the better of the two sides. A period of pressure deep in Leicester territory followed, with Johan Schoeman, Marcus Brooker and Josh Sampson all going close.On 47 minutes Leicester were reduced to 12 men when second-rower Liam Barnes was sent to the sin-bin for pulling down a Bristol forward during a scrum. The Sonics used their man advantage to batter the Leicester line, but dropped balls and poor passes cost them a chance to cross the whitewash. Wes Rodgers

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