Best season for many years for North Walsham Rugby Club
- Credit: Archant
'A tremendous season, our best for over 10 years' is North Walsham Rugby Club chairman Keith Jarvis' view of 2018-19.
It's an assessment few associated with the club would disagree with.
The Vikings rose from sixth to third in London One North, winning eight more games (22) than in 2017-18, which would have meant promotion in some seasons. Losing only to the teams above them they were six points behind second placed Colchester but a massive 29 ahead of fourth placed Haberdashers.
Their points scored/conceded difference of 757 was bettered only by the champions, semi professional Rochford, who they lost to by a single point in a memorable game at Scottow.
Behind those statistics there was a togetherness, confidence and style that made them a joy to watch. A team of ball handlers with flair and speed meant lots of thrilling tries from deep, but equally they were organised and patient defensively.
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They kept improving as the season progressed, showing remarkable resilience. In September new head of rugby Johnny Marsters was out ill for a month: James Knight and Ryan Oakes seamlessly picked up the reins, aided by other senior players. They lost inspirational skipper Will Hodgson to long term injury in January but the victories kept coming.
Bitterly disappointed to lose at Colchester in what was billed as the play-off place decider, off they went a week later to West London, with a much changed team, and ground out a victory over Priorians. The March defeat by Rochford ended any promotion hopes but in their next game back they came from 17-0 down to beat Haberdashers 43-17 away.
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Ultimately the season's success revolved around the Vikings' ability to win at places like Ruislip, Amersham, Chiswick, Eton Manor, Southend and Watford after long journeys on dank days. As Ryan Oakes commented following the 49-0 win in the final game versus Fullerians, "We've a lot of pride, the nil in the scoreline means a lot to us. We've come a long way, a few years ago we couldn't win away."
"The coaching group, who have worked tirelessly, quickly created a strong bond and the players bought into what we wanted to achieve," said Marsters. "From the start we talked about being as fit as possible, as skilful as possible and as ruthless as possible. I cannot praise the players enough. Their ethos of team before individual, hard work and continuous improvement is what you want as a coach and the senior players showed true leadership of what is still a young side."
He paid tribute to the management and supporters too: often at away games Vikings' supporters outnumbered home ones.
"The unity we have throughout the club and peoples' willingness to contribute helped the progression of all our teams hugely," he added.
Pre-season planning is already well under way with training starting on July 2 and Marsters looking to add more depth to the squad. He is pleased local players Dan Bird, Joe Milligan, Frank Scott and George Youngs have established themselves and hopes their success will encourage others to test themselves at a higher level.
With the Raiders also doing well - beating Holt to win the Norfolk Intermediate Cup was one of many highlights - and the Under 16s and 14s both winning their Norfolk Cups the club is in good health. Numbers in the minis, youth and girls teams are well up and links with local schools strengthening.
"We can't rest on our laurels though" commented Keith Jarvis. "Although an amateur club finance is key and we live in a challenging financial environment."