Northwhich 34, Birkenhead Park 40

BIRKENHEAD Park had the perfect start to the year as they took maximum points with a bonus-point victory at Moss Farm against Northwich.

The match proved to be a gripping contest with both teams clearly up for the fight and showing considerable resolve.

Park gave early notice of their intentions with a try from Ollie Mabbott following a long-range driving maul after Josh Smith had secured line out possession outside the Northwich 22.

The home side hit back with a try from centre James Underhill and then two Nick Baldwin penalties the latter from near the half way line.

Northwich moved further ahead when winger Hayden Skinkis went over following a long range move.

Stuart Brown grabbed Park's second try following another driving maul with Dave Hall converting.

Baldwin had the final say of the first half with his third penalty to put the hosts into a 21-12 lead.

Park came out with all guns firing in the second half and colt scrum half debutant Jacob Ainscough took a quick tap penalty on the Northwich 22 and raced through for a great individual try.

Park began to dominate and their physical approach brought further tries from prop Liam Sharples and centre Gaz Coy making his first appearance of the season.

Dave Hall converted all three tries with Northwich's only response in this period another Baldwin penalty.

Park had opened up a nine point lead but a second try from Skinkis improved by the immaculate Baldwin set up a tense finale.

Park lost Ainscough through injury and then an incident saw Park skipper Jack Ashcroft and Skinkis sent to the sin bin with nine minutes remaining.

Ashcroft was penalised for retaliation and Baldwin made no mistake with the tricky penalty to recapture the home lead.

Park came storming back and with Dave Hall moving to stand off he pulled off a great winning try as he stepped through the home defence and went in under the posts adding the conversion for good measure.

For Park Ainscough showed great promise on his first appearance and the return of Adam Wellington and Gaz Coy brought strength to the back division with the Titherington brothers thriving as a result.

Up-front Josh Smith dominated in the line out and was forceful in the loose along with Sean Mooney but, as, director of rugby Martin O'Keefe said: "this was a real team effort with all eighteen players contributing.

"We outscored Northwich by six tries to three and would have been tough to take if we had lost this one.

"This is the level and intensity we need to reach every week."

This Saturday Park welcome basement club De La Salle to the Upper Park but will not be taking the opposition lightly in view of their inconsistency prior to Christmas.