A third straight victory over neighbours Germany, thanks to a stirring second half performance in the Zwolle rain, saw the Netherlands win the 2020 Griffin Cup, 20-18; in the only rugby league Test Match set to be played in the northern hemisphere this year.
The Dutch now lead the series, and the victory was their fifth consecutive international win.
Rather than the outcome, however, this was a triumph for perseverance and dedication to get the game on, after further government restrictions for the Utrecht region saw it moved from Amersfoort to its third venue at very short notice.
The match was also played in dedication to the memory and development work of Germany RL founder Simon Cooper.
“Firstly, this game was about honouring Simon who was a really big part in developing the game in both countries,” said Nederlandse Rugby League Bond competitions manager, Kane Krlic.
“I’m sure he would have been proud of both sets of players, support staff and administrators for overcoming the odds and getting the game on.”
“We were scrappy in the first half but defended tough, and this was another step in our development by coming from behind and holding our nerve at the end,” Krlic added.
In increasingly heavy rain, Germany started strongly, Basti Peter causing problems with his strong runs and, on the half hour, Connor Hampson crashing over from close in, Brad Billsborough converting for a narrow half time lead. Two tries in five minutes just after the hour swung the contest, Den Haag Knights pair Frank Longhurst with a lovey diagonal run and Thomas Farrell posting tries; Lucas Gout converting both.
Home centre Joran Schoenmaker, who created problems for the visiting defence throughout with his strong runs and swerve, posted a superb solo try from long distance up the middle, Gout goaling. But the visitors hit back immediately, Rhineland Raiders’ Richard Seidler going over and Benedikt Esser converting to narrow the gap to six points with five minutes left to play. Germany were offside at the restart and Gout kicked the resulting penalty which ultimately proved crucial as Hampson crashed over for his second try when the visitors regathered the kick off; Liam Doughton converting, to set up a tense finish.
“We are disappointed to have lost and an injury at half back had a big impact, but considering most of the guys haven’t played since last year, we put in a tremendous effort,” said Germany head coach Bob Doughton.
“We were dominant in the last 10 minutes but ran out of time. The real winner, though, was rugby league and that we could pay tribute to Simon.”
Arie-Tjerk Razoux-Schultz, Jededaih Timisela, Joran Schoenmaker, Thomas Farrell, Ruben Stuifzand, Auke Idzerda, Lucas Gout, Bonne Wilce, Paul Dirkzwager, Romeo Goldman, Frank Longhurst, Daniel de Ruiter, Ben Dommerhuijsen (C)
Subs: Laury Renac, Patrick Funk, Adam Braksator, Edson Neves
Tries: Longhurst (60), Farrell (65), Schoenmaker (71)
Goals: Gout 4/4
Martin Apostel, Jannek Hagenah, Max Kother, Basti Peter, Aarre Heinrichsen, Benedikt Esser, Brad Billsborough, Connor Hampson, Liam Doughton, Karsten Bruning, Matthias Akyel, Henning Brockmann, Phil Wadewitz
Subs: Richard Seidler, Mawuli Amefia, Benjamin Lauer, Niklas Fullgraf
Tries: Hampson (30, 78), Seidler (75)
Goals: Billsborough 1/1, Esser 1/1, Doughton 1/1
Half time 0-6
Referee: Jaroslav Bzoch (Czech Republic)