Marcus Brooker grabbed four tries as Bristol Sonics ground out a 32-0 win against Conference League South strugglers St Albans Centurions at Landseer Avenue.
The win cements the Sonics’ place at the top of the Conference League South table, one point ahead of next week’s visitors, Sheffield-Hallam Eagles, who romped to a 62-20 win over third-placed Nottingham Outlaws.
The Sonics began the game strongly, forcing an error from Centurions’ full back Gareth Waters following a high kick from Daniel Brooker. Following the scrum, the ball was worked left to Marcus Brooker, who slipped an offload inside to supporting runner Dan Evans, who dived over to open the scoring after just two minutes. Daniel Brooker, who would later go off with a painful hip injury, slotted over the conversion in a swirling wind.
Bristol failed to build on their positive opening and were soon on the back foot. St Albans ran hard, cleverly picking out perceived weaknesses in the home side’s defence. For their part, Bristol struggled to retain possession, gave away some needless penalties and spent most of the first 30 minutes defending in their own half. Thankfully, the Sonics held firm, forcing errors from their opponents in good positions.
In attack, Bristol were wasteful, and their lack of completion was a constant frustration for players and supporters alike. Despite a great all-round performance from hooker Rory Sharratt, who was rightly named man-of-the-match, the Sonics struggled to get any fluidity with ball in hand, and too often resorted to trundling it down the middle. On the rare occasions they did get the ball wide quickly, St Albans struggled to cope.
On 28 minutes, a series of relieving penalties allowed Bristol a rare chance to attack the Centurions’ line. They gleefully took the opportunity, Marcus Brooker powering his way over from close range. Brother Daniel again converted, curling the ball between the uprights to make the score 12-0.
Less than two minutes later, the Sonics extended their lead further. After working their way down field, Marcus Brooker again powered over from close range, this time taking several tacklers with him as he crossed the whitewash. This time, Daniel couldn’t convert, but at 16-0 things were looking pretty rosy, despite the patchy performance.
To their credit, St Albans didn’t let their heads’ drop, and roared back in the latter stages of the first half. They lay siege to the Sonics’ line for the last five minutes of the half, but simply couldn’t find a way through Bristol’s watertight defence. Having done the hard work setting up great field position, they lacked composure and didn’t quite have enough to cross the whitewash.
The arm-wrestle continued early in the second period, with St Albans making good yards down the middle and Bristol defending stoutly, despite sluggish line speed. The Sonics, for their part, continued to struggle to complete sets and still lacked some spark in attack. With scrum half Johan Schoeman off injured, responsibility fell to first team debutant Alex Potts, who earned his chance through some eye-catching performances for the second team. He seemed to warm to the play-making role as the match went on.
Eventually, Bristol began to enjoy more possession and field position. On 60 minutes, a rare chance to attack in St Albans’ territory ended, predictably, with another close range score for man-of-the-moment Marcus Brooker. The powerful centre again forced his way over from five metres out, just to the left of the posts, to complete his third hat-trick of the season. With Daniel Brooker off injured, Rory Sharratt stepped up to slot over an easy conversion.
Ten minutes later, it got better for Brooker and Bristol. When St Albans’ centre David Coyle made a hash of a poor pass from Sam Norris 10 metres from the Sonics’ line, the ball was hacked forward by Johan Schoeman. Dan Evans won the race to the ball, and somehow managed to snaffle it up before Centurions’ full back Gareth Waters. From the resultant play-the-ball, Rory Sharratt and Alex Potts combined to release Marcus Brooker on the left, 40 metres out. He swerved his way past two covering defenders before jogging away to touch down for his fourth try of the afternoon, and second four-try haul of the season.
With St Albans wilting, the Sonics began to find more space and make more ground with ball in hand. It took less than two minutes for Bristol to score again, Sharratt and Potts releasing Dan Evans on the right, who cut through St Albans’ defence like a hot knife through butter and cantered 35 metres to touch down. Alex Potts slotted over the conversion to make it 32-0 and complete the scoring.
After the game, Sonics’ coach Aran Simm was full of praise for his side’s defensive display. He said: “We struggled at times today in attack, but the lads put in a massive defensive shift and that’s what made the difference. St Albans played with a lot of heart and the half time scoreline of 16-0 to us was a bit flattering, if I’m honest. We improved as the game wore on, and deserved the win, but it wasn’t perhaps the dominant performance I’d have liked.
“All the lads who played today put in a massive shift. It’s rare in Rugby League that you ‘nil’ a team, and I’m told that the Sonics have only ever managed it once before. That’s something we should take from this game. Our linespeed could be a lot quicker, and we’ll need to work on that in training, but there weren’t many missed tackles and for the most part we controlled the play the ball. We’ll need to improve next week, but this is a step in the right direction.”
Meanwhile, an under strength Bristol Sonics ‘A’ side showed great heart in a 74-18 loss to Gloucestershire Warriors at Old Centralians, Gloucester. The Sonics second-string, which features a number of promising youngsters and committed veterans, will be hoping for a better result when they take on Somerset Vikings at home next Saturday, in a curtain raiser for the first team clash with Sheffield-Hallam Eagles.
BRISTOL SONICS (v ST ALBANS CENTURIONS, 29/6/13)
Dan Evans (2 Tries), James Raymond, Mike Gaston, Marcus Brooker (4 Tries), Will Tobin; Alex Potts (1 Goal), Johan Schoeman; Daniel Brooker (2 goals), Rory Sharratt (1 goal), Jack Spooner, Neil Evans, Tom Verber, Rob Verber (captain.
Interchange (all used): Curtis Asante, Joe Singleton, Gary Carpenter, Jack Gibson.