SEDGLEY Park are back in the hunt for at least a third-place finish after their roller-coaster start to 2017 continued with a battling 39-28 win at home to Sheffield Tigers on Saturday, writes Rachael Warham.
Coach Geoff Roberts challenged his players to bounce back after the previous weekend's loss – a third since the turn of the year – against Luctonians all but ended their hopes of promotion from National Two North.
And despite fielding a weakened side, with five regular starters missing, the Park Lane outfit were spurred on by a captain's display from Juan Crous as they moved back up to fourth in the table.
"We're aiming to target Leicester Lions now, who are in third place and only one point ahead," said Roberts, whose side host Leicester Lions on March 4, their next match after this weekend's tricky trip to Stourbridge.
"We're up there, but I always say every year you need a bit of luck, even if it's just with the bounce of the ball.
"We should see a few of our players returning for Saturday and if we do get that bit of luck I see no reason why we can't catch Leicester."
Sedgley moved above Saturday's opponents Stourbridge in the table following their win against Sheffield and the Midlanders' shock 37-0 defeat at Wharfedale.
Leicester Lions, meanwhile, will be eager to bounce back from a 21-0 defeat at second-placed Sale when they entertain Wharfedale at the weekend.
Roberts knows that if they can plot a course through the next few weeks' fixtures and come out as the best of the rest in National Two North, then they could still put pressure on Sale.
The Cheshire side have an 18-point lead over Sedgley but still have to visit Park Lane (March 25) and runaway leaders Caldy (April 8) before the end of the season.
It looks to be too big a gap to rein in with only eight games of the season remaining.
But judging by Crous's display on Saturday, the captain will not let his players give up the ghost just yet.
The South African number eight ran in two tries on the day, the first of which opened the scoring on 19 minutes as he finished off a well-worked move in midfield.
Matt Riley, who assumed kicking duties in place of the absent Steve Collins, converted the try and went on to make four out of five conversion attempts.
The home side dominated the opening half with Sam Lowthian adding another try on 25 minutes before Richard Lepori ran in a brace, either side of one from the visitors' James Broadley, to give Sedgley a 26-7 lead at half time.
Lepori's second was a particularly sweet move, with the winger collecting a lovely inside pass to run clear of the visiting defence and net the bonus point for Sedgley.
Aiden Leeming touched down for Sheffield after a line-out at the start of the second half, and the visitors scored two more tries – through Broadley and Peter Swatkins – before the final whistle.
But with Crous adding his second try on 54 minutes and Riley keeping Sheffield at bay with two penalties, Roberts said he was never worried about a potential comeback.
"Whenever they came forward and scored, we would always come back with something," said the coach.
"Sheffield never managed to get within 10 points of us."