Cheered on by a vocal crowd of over 300 supporters, the boys in blue overturned an 8-point half time deficit to snatch victory by 23 points to 22 with one of the final kicks of the game, condemning the Hemel Stags to their first defeat of the season.
The visitors undoubtedly started the brighter, registering the game’s first score after just four minutes when prop Aidan Pritchard crashed over from close range.
Oxford responded immediately however, with Jonny Leather’s incisive midfield break presenting Shaun Robinson with an easy finish in the corner. Following an early flurry of scores, both sides seem keen to highlight their defensive credentials, and it took a beautifully weighted inside pass in the Stags midfield to break the deadlock, with Mike Forgham slicing through a flat footed Oxford defence to touch down. Foot firmly on the gas, Hemel extended their lead further, a smart switch on the home side’s 20m line creating the space, with Pritchard again the beneficiary. Yet Oxford refused to lie down, gaining a vital second score five minutes before the break after some lovely interplay on the short side.
As the sides returned to the changing rooms, the Iffley Road scoreboard read Oxford Rugby League 10, Hemel Stags 18.
Despite a cagey opening to the second period, in which both sides really did little more than cancel each other out, it was clear that the next score would be momentuous. And it was Oxford who seized the opportunity, when, having already squandered a full set close to the Stags’ line, a stabbed kick bounced kindly for Danny Halliwell to dab down. The home side then went into the lead for the first time, after a flat miss pass in midfield gave Lucas Onyango space to cross in the corner for a well-deserved score.
The game was far from over however, as Hemel raced back into a 22-20 lead when a scuffed kick fell almost comically between two Oxford defenders, giving the onrushing Jack Briggs the easiest of finishes. It was heart in mouth time for the home supporters, as Leather then tied the game with an ice cool penalty in the 74th minute, before slotting a lengthy drop goal to the delight of the home support.
Leaving the stadium, fans seemed in a jubilant mood, with Joel Haverson, a local student even remarking that ‘this shows why league really is the best code’.