Excellent first season for North Walsham coach Brooks

Jono Lawson has returned to his native New Zealand after impressiing for North Walsham. Picture: Hyw

Jono Lawson has returned to his native New Zealand after impressiing for North Walsham. Picture: Hywel Jones - Credit: Archant

Encouraging, pleasing, enjoyable are the three words that immediately come into James Brooks' mind when reflecting on the Vikings' season, his first as head of rugby at North Walsham.

James Brooks has enjoyed a pleasing first season as head coach at North Walsham RFC. Picture: Abigai

James Brooks has enjoyed a pleasing first season as head coach at North Walsham RFC. Picture: Abigail Polley - Credit: Archant

'My job is to challenge the players and provide the support for them to improve, and they have responded well, individually and collectively,' he said.

'They want to learn and are willing to put in the necessary hard work. I couldn't have asked for more from them.'

Improvements on the field came in the form of five more wins than the 2015 -16 season and a rise of two places to fourth in London One North. Supporters saw a more resilient side, defensively stronger, better at taking their scoring chances and closing games out.

Scoring 40 per cent more points they earned 16 try scoring bonus points, a 60 per cent improvement and conceded four or more tries only four times.

Brooks was particularly encouraged by the way his side performed against the top three teams.

'Only Chingford (early season) beat us convincingly and the players' reaction was appropriate - that was not going to happen again, and it didn't,' he said,

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The Vikings got their revenge with an outstanding home win against Chingford, and had close games against Brentwood and champions Tring.

'When we went to Tring in January their coaches regarded us as the best team they'd played, a real force.'

There were a string of other memorable performances too: the home win versus Thurrock, a first ever success at Letchworth and mid winter victories on dank days at Fullerians and Ruislip after mornings on the coach.

The team clearly improved as the season went on. In stark contrast to 2015-16 when they won just five of the last 14, this time they won 12.

'As the season progressed we were able to transfer into matches the patterns of play we'd been working on during training,' said Brooks. 'We want to play expansive rugby when conditions permit.'

Brooks is looking for the team's progression to continue next season. A larger pool of players is a priority both to improve competition for places and guard against injuries which were comparatively low last year.

Currently the only players known to be leaving are New Zealanders Jono Lawson and Ethan Benney, both returning home.

'Jono was our Player of the Year and leaves a big gap in the second row whilst Ethan was always a positive influence,' said Brooks.

The club are committed to developing local talent so whilst he is casting his net wide he is particularly keen to hear from local players looking to see if they can play at a higher level. 'Jordan Mustard, who moved up three leagues when he joined us from Swaffham, is proof that, with a willingness to learn and put in the effort it can be done, so I would encourage such players to give it a try. As I've found, North Walsham is a very welcoming club and they would be joining a great bunch of players.'

Although the close season is less than a month old the fixtures for London One North have already been released.

The Vikings play their opener against Colchester, who were relegated after just a single season in National League Three London & South East.

The first of the local derbies against newly promoted Diss will be at Scottow on October 28 with the return at Mackenders on February 17.

The only new opponents for the Vikings will be South Woodham Ferrers, promoted via the play-off route, while Old Haberdashers have bounced back following relegation after the 2013-14 season. Also back on the roster are Amersham & Chiltern who like Colchester found the step up to the National League too hot to handle.