County Championship: Yorkshire 59 Northumberland 3

JOE Graham’s day did not go as he had wished.

The Otley hooker, who was Yorkshire’s captain, woke up on the morning of the match with a sore back.

He said: “It got worse during the warm-up and I had to pull out.”

Graham’s place in the Bill Beaumont County Championship opener at Wagon Lane therefore went to Huddersfield’s Francis Entressengle, with Wharfedale’s Dan Stockdale being promoted to the bench.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the likeable Graham.

He said: “We have a good team of physios here at Yorkshire and I am hopeful of being available on Saturday against Cheshire at Huddersfield YMCA and the Saturday after against Lancashire at Fylde.

“Both of those teams will probably be stronger than Northumberland, but we played really well.”

Bradford & Bingley pushed the boat out for this match, holding a pre-match luncheon that celebrated valued volunteers and award winners from the West District of Yorkshire and a post-match dinner for the county teams, and they also erected a marquee for spectators on the hard-standing between the cricket and rugby pitches.

And Bradford & Bingley’s very own Benji Pickin, who is Yorkshire’s team manager, even hung up the players’ shirts on named pegs in the dressing room.

That may have helped the host team settle, but their backs soon showed the edge that they had over visitors who were chiefly drawn from Tynedale, Alnwick and Blaydon.

Fly-half Jack Blakeney-Edwards (Wharfedale) finished off a slick move in the fifth minute, with centre Lewis Minikin (Hull Ionians) adding the conversion.

Full-back Jake Rogers (Tynedale) missed a penalty for Northumberland two minutes later but it was generally one-way traffic towards the marquee as former Otley back Henry Roberts (Rotherham Titans) scored Yorkshire’s second try in the 11th minute, with Minikin’s conversion making it 14-0.

Rogers got Northumberland on the board with a penalty three minutes later, but Roberts was over a minute later as Yorkshire ran back the kick-off , with Minikin making it a hat-trick of successful conversions.

Minikin joined the try-scorers’ list in the 20th minute, with his extras making it 28-3, but Northumberland were almost in for a try in the changing rooms’ corner just before half-time, only for Yorkshire right winger Jamie Broadley (Sheffield Tigers) to emphatically complete the first-half scoring in the 40th minute with a try.

Leading 33-3 at the interval, there was little let-up at the start of the second half by Yorkshire, who have won the County Championship 15 times since its inception in 1889, including seven times in the opening eight years.

Full-back Callum Irvine (Rotherham Titans) went over four minutes into the second stanza, and Roberts added to the sinking feeling for Northumberland with an interception try in the 49th minute as the visitors moved the ball from left to right in midfield.

Minikin’s goal made it 45-3 but the game ended in scrappy fashion after a brief hailstorm left the ball like the proverbial bar of soap.

There were knock-ons galore from both sides but Yorkshire still had time for two more tries, with Broadley crossing from a Roberts offload in the 72nd minute and former Otley full-back Tom Hodson, who had come on while the hailstorm was as its worst, bagging the final five-pointer seven minutes later.

Minikin’s successful conversions took his tally to seven successes from nine attempts.

Of course, the County Championship, which used to provide a stepping stone to the North of England team and eventually internationals, as it did for former England skipper Mike Harrison, Peter Winterbottom, Bryan Barley, Richard Cardus and Paul Huntsman et al, is not what it was, now denuded of players from the top two tiers.

Cheshire (26-25 winners over Eastern Counties on Saturday), who have won the title three times, and Lancashire (73-7 victors at Durham), who have the record with 25 triumphs, will doubtless prove sterner opposition than Northumberland, but on this evidence you wouldn’t rule out Yorkshire lifting the trophy again at Twickenham on the evening of Sunday, June 2, immediately after the England v Barbarians international.