Andy Barnes’ return to the fray for Sheffield Tigers could not have been more timely.
The experience and know-how Barnes brings is vital to the team’s overall success and his importance has been further outlined with the enforced absence of player-coach Gregor Hayter who will be out of action for up to six weeks with a cartilage tear.
There were doubts about whether the Tigers skipper would be able to resume his playing duties after suffering an injury to his left shoulder. The cartilage has ‘pulled away from the bone,’ as happened to his other shoulder two years ago, but rest has been beneficial and he’s hopeful of completing the campaign after which keyhole surgery beckons.
“I’m still waiting to see the specialist and I’ll have a further scan but at the moment I’m pain free,” said Barnes. “Fingers-crossed that will be how it stays for the remainder of the season.”
His influence paid dividends in Tigers’ opening National 2 North fixture of the year as they grabbed a 20-7 victory over Harrogate to consolidate 10th place, with six teams below them and a gap of at least seven points.
“It was a good win against a side who like to play a bit. We scored some really good backs tries and it’s just a pity we couldn’t add a bonus point,” he added.
“We’ve opened up a little gap from the teams below us and that’s a real bonus. If we continue to play to our strengths I’m confident we will consolidate and finish in a comfortable mid-table position or better. Then we can hopefully kick on next season.”
They face a tough task at fifth-placed Luctonians on Saturday, a side who Tigers edged out 24-19 at Dore Moor back in September.
On thing’s for certain, with Jon Feeley also back in the frame - he had a 20 minute run-out against Harrogate - Tigers have a number of quality options in the backs.
Winger Peter Swatkins is certainly showing try-scoring form, as he demonstrated after just three minutes of the Harrogate clash. Jonny West added an excellent conversion but the visitors responded within four minutes with a converted try of their own.
Tigers restored their lead in the 16 minute when Jon Buchanan broke through and his offload to full back Jimmy Pearson saw him score from 30 metres. West’s wide out conversion attempt hit the post but he did add a penalty just before the break to extend the advantage to 15-7.
The lone second half try came just after the hour mark when West fed Buchanan and Swatkins entered the line at pace from his blind side wing position to scoot outside a centre and through the gap to score from 20 metres.
Team: Chivers, Thomson, Ross (Cone), Cook (Price), Joel, MacKenzie (Smyth), Pearson N, Barnes(C), Drage, West, Broadley, Buchanan, Outram (Feeley), Swatkins, Pearson J.
Man of the Match: Alex Drage – hard work around the ruck and tackling like an extra back row forward.
Table (all played 18) Loughborough Students pts 74; Huddersfield 62, Westoe 62, Caldy 58, Luctonians 55, Preston Grasshoppers 53, Bromsgrove 47, Stockport 46, Hull 45, Sheffield Tigers 41, Nuneaton 34, Leicester Lions 30, Harrogate 28, Kendal 28, Otley 27, Hull Ionians 21.