Battling Wanderers beat Braves to secure second successive league title

Lewis Ludlam scored the Wanderers' first try (pictures: Dave Ikin)
Lewis Ludlam scored the Wanderers' first try (pictures: Dave Ikin)

The Wanderers claimed their second successive Prem Rugby A League with a valiant 31-21 win against Exeter Braves at Franklin's Gardens on Monday night.

The champions continued to battle every time Exeter got into the ascendancy and the men in black, green and gold were worthy winners.

Nafi Tuitavake was on the wing

Nafi Tuitavake was on the wing

A try from Lewis Ludlam and nine points from the boot of James Grayson kept the scores level at the break and even though Exeter scored first in the second period, the Wanderers refused to be beaten.

Tries from Jamal Ford-Robinson and Paddy Ryan, plus continued assured kicking from fly-half Grayson, ensured Exeter would taste defeat in front of more than 3,000 fans at the Gardens.

The Wanderers, who had beaten Gloucester in last year's Gardens final, took an early lead after Grayson expertly landed a penalty that was won at the breakdown.

Exeter threatened to issue an immediate riposte, but after being held up and winning successive scrum penalties, they were penalised and the Wanderers cleared their lines.

Ben Nutley did some good work to set up Lewis Ludlam's try

Ben Nutley did some good work to set up Lewis Ludlam's try

But still Exeter came and after some relentless pressure, prop Moray Low muscled his way over the line.

Sam Morley converted, but the Wanderers then produced a response of their own as Ken Pisi made a huge hit after chasing a high ball.

Possession was worked wide to Nafi Tuitavake, but Exeter just managed to get cover in place to stop the Tongan scoring in the corner.

At the other end, Exeter were looking ominous with ball in hand, relentlessly making metres and forcing the Wanderers to hold them up over the line once again.

Ben Nutley was in the back row

Ben Nutley was in the back row

And after winning a scrum penalty close to their own line, the Wanderers pushed upfield, with Ben Nutley showing great composure to offload for Ludlam to score in the corner.

Grayson missed the conversion and Exeter were soon back in front as No.8 Tom Lawday tip-toed his way through some despairing defending to score.

Morley slotted the easy conversion and the Wanderers again reacted well, with a well-struck penalty from Grayson reducing the deficit to three points.

And Grayson levelled the scores with the final kick of an ebb and flow half.

Tom Collins started at full-back

Tom Collins started at full-back

But the Braves were back in front after the restart as they put some patient pressure on through the forwards and flanker Matt Kvesic got the ball down.

Morley converted to make it 21-14, but once again there was a stirring Wanderers response.

Ford-Robinson charged down the left to take the home team within range and the prop then used his power to force his way over the line.

Grayson converted to level the scores and the atmosphere was building nicely in the well populated Tetley's Stand.

And the cheers were even louder when flanker Ryan forced his way over, with Grayson's conversion putting the Wanderers 28-21 up.

The game then became frantic with Exeter desperately trying to force their way through the Wanderers defence.

But the home side were standing tall, with every player doing their share of the work, and hopes were high of a hard-earned victory going into the final 10 minutes.

Grayson added a penalty to extend the advantage to 10 points and cries of 'Wanderers, Wanderers, Wanderers' rang out as the home fans did their best to help their team resist a late Exeter charge.

And it worked, as one last defensive effort saw a penalty awarded to the Wanderers, prompting scenes of celebration on the pitch and in the Tetley's Stand.

Wanderers: Collins; Tuitavake, Dingwall, Stephenson (c), Pisi; Grayson, Mitchell; van Wyk (Beesley 72), Clare (Fish 60), Ford-Robinson (Painter 54); D Onojaife, Moon; Ludlam, Ryan, Nutley (Allman 70).

Exeter Braves: Bodilly; O'Flaherty, Campagnaro, Hendrickson (Strong 75), Short; Morley (Skinner 58), Chudley; Keast (Kenny 71), Malton (Innard 54), Low; Salmon (Caulfield 75), Lonsdale (van der Sluys 71); Freeman (c), Kvesic, Lawday.

Referee: Jack Makepeace

Attendance: 3,390