This weekend sees the London Junior Challenge Cup Final’s take place at Hemel Stag’s Pennine Way ground.
Skolars 17’s have reached the final for the second year in a row and will be looking to make up for 2015’s heart breaking last minute defeat by Brixton Bulls. This year’s opponents are the formidable Croydon Hurricanes who have a host of Broncos Academy players in their ranks and will be a very tough test for the Skolars boys.
However the 17’s will be confident of going one better than last year, as they have made a fantastic start to the 2016 Junior League season. They are unbeaten, winning 7 from 7 fixtures, scoring a remarkable 306 points and conceding just 26. The coaching team pick from a full squad, with only powerful centre Nicky Freeman, barnstorming prop Osman Dimen and second rower Jonathon Kpoku unavailable, however they know they will have to be at their best to contain a powerful and athletic Croydon side.
The U17’s have been in development for a number of years now and this year the quality has been added to by the excellent U16’s that have made the step up. Under the watchful eye of coaches Fred Pentecost and Pete Hamer, with Sean Scott entering the fold this year, they have worked closely with First Team Assistant Matt Cuss to ensure a strong connection between the 1st team squad and the processes involved at the top level of the club. Team Manager Lorraine Pentecost is the glue that keeps all the boys and coaches together and a cup final win will be just rewards for a fantastic off field team, which includes an active group of supportive parents, who do a sterling job, week in week out.
The Skolars have high hopes for many of the players, with a strong core of the group expected to make the step up to Academy level rugby next year in the London Men’s Premier League.
Matt Cuss spoke of the team ‘everyone at the club is looking forward to the Final tomorrow, reaching it is a fantastic achievement and winning it will be all the sweeter after the defeat last year. I know the players have been working hard all season, and have seen each game as a stepping stone to the next. The coaches are very keen to develop players and develop them as young people, this attitude, coupled with the squads on field talents has meant that they are exceeding expectations in all areas during this 2016 season.’
Everyone at the club wishes the boys well and the best of luck for tomorrow’s game.
20 Man Squad
Article Courtesy of the Islington Gazette-
There aren’t too many boys who grow up in north London and go to university in rugby union’s heartland – and then become rugby league internationals.
However, that’s exactly what Islington teenager Aston Stephenson, a second row with London Skolars’ reserve team, is due to accomplish on Thursday when he wins his first cap for Jamaica.
The 19-year-old completed a rugby scholarship at Barnet & Southgate College and played for RFL Midlands academy team in Loughborough, where he first came to the attention of Jamaican scouts.
A call-up to the Caribbean country’s Under-19 team for last summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow soon followed.
Now Stephenson, who is approaching the end of his first year studying rugby coaching and development at Cardiff University, is set to make his senior debut for Jamaica in their two-match Test series against the GB Select Under-23 side.
“The coach contacted me and said they were going to start rebuilding and looking to bring people through for the next World Cup,” said Stephenson.
“He couldn’t guarantee I’d get two full matches but he said I’ll start both of them, which is good. It’ll be quite surreal to be up against some of the players I’ve watched on TV, but I have to stay grounded.
“In rugby league the rules are different from union or football, where you play for one team and that’s it. So in theory I could play for Jamaica, then in a few years get selected for England.
“In some ways, of course it’d be a dream to play for England – but I like the way Jamaica are taking things forwards. The fans out there are unreal and the players have good ability.
“If everyone uses Jamaica to get caps and moves on, they’re never going to actually progress. It might take a few people to stay with them and try to build something good.”
Rugby league has been Stephenson’s main passion ever since he was a youngster at Holloway School, although he combined training at Skolars’ academy with several other sporting interests.
Judo at Sobell Leisure Centre, football at Market Road and even the odd game of rugby union for Hackney Bulls all played a part in Stephenson’s weekly schedule, with mum Elaine ferrying him from one venue to the next.
And the teenager is quick to credit his mother, along with Skolars coach Matt Cuss, for the roles they have played in his sporting success to date.
“They’ve been equally supportive in different ways,” said Stephenson. “My mum does so much – sometimes if I’ve been down because I wasn’t picked for a team, she makes sure I get back up again.
“When I’m back home, the weekly shopping isn’t cheap – there are all the meats I have to get to make sure I eat properly, along with my protein and supplements.
“I can’t even begin to say how much Matt has helped me. He encourages me all the time, he put me in touch with a professional team in Wales and he put in a word for me with the Jamaica scouts.
“I train with the Skolars first team and they’re a good bunch, especially because the head coach, Jermaine Coleman, is a player-coach, so he’s in with the banter and I think it makes the team tighter as a unit.
“Even the reserves are the tightest bunch of boys I’ve ever been in a team with – and in Loughborough we all lived in the same house! But it was still nothing like we have at Skolars.”
Stephenson – who also does some coaching with Skolars’ Under-13 side – still switches code occasionally, making appearances now and then for Hackney Bulls.
But there is no question that he envisages his future being in rugby league – traditionally a sport that is firmly centred on the Pennines rather than north London or south Wales.
“Everyone in Cardiff just goes nuts whenever Wales are playing at home, so it can be hard because there’s only one professional league team out there,” added Stephenson.
“But it was the course that took me there – my education is the main thing. With union it can be really stop-start and, if you play certain positions, you’re not always moving.
“In the league the whole line’s moving every minute and the buzz you get is unreal. There’s nothing like the contact you get in league, taking that first ball and getting smashed.
“If I’m not playing league in 10 years’ time, I’ll be coaching it or maybe doing physiotherapy. I’m 100 per cent certain I’ll be doing something connected with league – I’m not going to just veer off towards union.
“I want to put something back into the game and it’s exciting to be part of something that is on the up. We’re getting more games on TV and good things are happening in the sport.”
The Skolars Minis were on fine form last Saturday at Elmbridge’s Primary RL Festival.
After a long trip down to Claygate, to the home of Elmbridge Eagles, a strong London Skolars contingent arrived full of enthusiasm for their first Festival of the 2016 season.
Fielding teams at U11’s and at U9’s there was a good mix of new and experienced players, the Skolars were hopeful of a positive start and their first game against Medway saw them surge into a lead. There was some great handling and use of space, however the young Skolars lacked some defensive cohesion against what was a big Medway team and let them back into the game in the dying minutes which saw the match end up a draw.
Next up came an encounter with the home-side Elmbridge. Again good handling around the re-starts, and using the 6 tackles effectively meant our littlest Skolars dominated the game and ran out clear winners against an enthusiastic Elmbridge side.
Last up was local rival’s Hemel Stags which produced a typically hard-fought, bruising encounter, it came down to the final few minutes, with the Skolars producing a fantastic final minute play to score a match-winning try.
Overall our youngest Skolars finished the day undefeated and with 2 wins under their belt. Head Coach of the U11’s Dave Roberts and Head Coach of the U9’s Huw Bevan were extremely proud of the teamwork of all of the players and their ability to improve as the day went on. In what was the sides first competitive outing together, they united well against some bigger and more experienced sides and each individual player put a great amount of effort in to ensure that we came away with some fantastic experiences out of the day.
Once again thank you to all the parents and the rest of the coaching team, Manny Qadar, Danny Cadwallader, David Morgan and Ronnie Vidal.
Our Minis are back into training this weekend at New River, before travelling down to Richmond the week after for their next festival and another chance to build on a fantastic start to the season.
Kingstone Press League 1 – 21 May 2016
London Skolars 30 Keighley Cougars 20
Skolars gained revenge for their cup defeat by Keighley three weeks ago and improved their chances of reaching the top 8 play-offs with a dramatic win at New River.
The kick-off was delayed by 30 minutes after an ambulance was called following an injury in the earlier London Men’s League game. When the game got underway Skolars scored early, with new signing Ste Bannister offloading for Erjon Dollapi to score. Keighley counterattacked with Ash Lindsay going close. Alex Anthony went off with a pectoral injury after that move. With no backs on the bench, substitute hooker Billy Driver was put on the wing. He was involved soon afterwards, putting in a try saving tackle to deny Andy Gabriel.
Keighley had chances to score, but couldn’t make them count. When the ball ricocheted off Aaron Small’s leg, Paul Handforth gathered the ball but lost it over the line. A minute later and, after a penalty, Small finished off a move to the left corner for Skolars’ second try.
Skolars went further ahead just before the break when Israel Eliab raced onto a Jy-Mel Coleman kick into the in-goal area, Charlie Lawrence kicking his third conversion. They nearly ended up scoring again, Jy-Mel Coleman’s drop-goal attempt from 45 metres hitting the upright.
The Cougars’ fight-back started when Ross Peltier started a run from 25 metres out, unstoppable to the line with Skolars’ players clinging into him. After earning a penalty when a chaser was pulled back, Cougars narrowed the gap again, Ritchie Hawkyard slipping away from the tacklers to score on the left. With several players taking knocks there were several stoppages with the half taking 55 minutes.
The game looked to be moving inextricably Keighley’s way when Jamie Thackray disputed the referee’s call after an attempted offload and received a yellow card. The numerical advantage showed as Vinny Finigan dived over on the right. Three minutes later they took the lead when James Feather managed to come out of the scrum and then receive the first pass to race to the line, Adam Brook’s conversion going over after hitting the post.
There was more drama to come at the other end. Sam Druce spun in a tackle on the line before managing to stretch to ground the ball, Lawrence’s sole missed kick of the day left Skolars just two points ahead. After Lawrence had gone close, Keighley tried to get the ball away from their line. David Williams and Ben Gray put in a crunching tackle, which dislodged the ball. Williams touched down to the delight of the Skolars’ players and supporters. A penalty kick saw them go further ahead and any faint chance of another twist went when Ritchie Hawkyard was sin-binned after a minor fight.
Head Coach Jermaine Coleman was pleased with “a really good performance. There was a different tackling attitude after last week. We worked hard in adversity following the injury to Alex Anthony after three minutes”.
1 Alex Anthony
2 Sam Nash
3 Aaron Small
4 Israel Eliab
5 Lameck Juma
18 Jy-Mel Coleman
7 Charlie Lawrence
19 Erjon Dollapi
9 Sam Druce
11 Jamie Thackray
12 Ste Bannister
13 Eddie Mbaraga
10 Dave Williams
14 Billy Driver
23 Ben Gray
8 Michael Sykes
15 Mike Worrincy
Tries: Dollapi (3), Small (22), Eliab (37), Druce (67), Williams (73)
Goals: Lawrence 5/6
Sin-bin: Thackray (59) – dissent
22 Ritchie Hawkyard
2 Andy Gabriel
3 Rikki Sheriffe
4 Danny Lawton
26 Vinny Finigan
14 Adam Brook
7 Paul Handforth
8 Scott Law
9 James Feather
15 Neil Cherryholme
25 Darren Hawkyard
23 Charlie Martin
13 Ash Lindsay
Subs (all used)
19 Mathew Bailey
12 Brendon Rawlins
35 Riss Peltier
20 Aaron Ollett
Tries: Peltier (46), R Hawkyard (49), Finigan (62), Feather (65)
Goals: Brook 2/4
Sin-bin: R Hawkyard (78) – fighting
Penalty count: 8-12
Referee: Tom Grant
SCORING SEQUENCE: 6-0, 12-0, 18-0, 18-4, 18-10, 18-14, 18-20, 22-20, 28-20, 30-20