WILMSLOW Wolves have a platform to build their season upon after opening their new league campaign with a 34-18 home win against Carlisle.

Concern was raised by the performance in the final warm-up game, a 50-17 loss at higher-level Sandbach, but coach Rick Jones is a happier man heading into Saturday’s trip to Altrincham Kersal in what is the first in a series of derby matches.

“It was a massive step up from the previous week,” said Jones.

“There was some really good attacking play with crisp passing and intelligent running off the ball and not just from the backs.

“Up front, the set pieces were much better and when they had to defend, they made things as difficult as they could.”

Jones was delighted with the showing of George Witham on the right wing, making some good runs and only once getting caught out by his opponent, Carlisle’s experienced Ben Purdham.

He feels that Connor Loomans nailed down the number seven spot with a ‘proper’ open-side performance, and in the front row Robert Taylor’s workrate on a steaming hot afternoon was outstanding.

If Jones had a criticism then it would be that the side needed to become a bit more ‘street wise’ and at times to be more patient.

“Against a decent and much improved Carlisle side though, it had been good work in progress,” he said.

Wilmslow scored five tries to two but they were given a thoroughly good examination by a much revitalised and decent Carlisle side which could justifiably claim that the final margin flattered Wolves.

As the game entered its final 15 minutes, it was 19-18.

Carlisle had dominated the first 25 minutes of the second half, allowing Wolves virtually no sight of the ball and had clawed their way back from a 19-6 half-time deficit.

They must have had more than just a faint whiff of victory in their nostrils.

But not for long as Burglar Bill, alias Wilmslow scrum half Sean Street, latched on to a pass from Ethan Harding to race away for a seven pointer.

Carlisle heads visibly drooped as they seemed to run out of puff in the heat and moments later winger James Coulthurst applied the coup de grâce with his second try.

Bob MacCallum’s last-minute penalty was merely the icing on the cake.

There was a much more convincing look about the side Jones had at his disposal for this opening match in North One West.

In the backs, Ben Day had moved to full back, which is probably his best position; Elliot Brierley was back at centre after several seasons of National One rugby at Macclesfield; Ethan Harding had swapped the cricket pitch for rugby, always a difficult decision to make when summer and winter sports overlap; James Coulthurst was restored to the left wing after injury from last season.

Up front, the burly Tom Bull partnered Adam Hewitt in the second row and there was a debut for Charlie Gardiner at number six.

Carlisle were first off the mark when their number 10 Max Connon, who caused Wolves no end of trouble all afternoon, slipped a tackle to set up a period of Carlisle ascendancy which ended with him knocking over a penalty after 10 minutes.

Even at that early stage it was noticeable how solid Carlisle were in the set piece and how they were able to retain possession without making unforced errors.

If there was one characteristic to their play all afternoon which stood out, it was patience.

Wolves still had to dig in to defend their lines until a Bob MacCallum penalty put them into catch-and-drive territory on around 20 minutes.

It didn’t look the most convincing drive you will have ever seen but, no matter, hooker Josh Whiteley managed to touch the ball down and MacCallum converted from the far touchline.

Three minutes later Whiteley was on the scoresheet again as he got across to finish a backs move in which Brierley’s ability to put a bit of pace on to things was apparent.

It wasn’t difficult to see the extra dimension that his quality was able to bring to the side.

Connon then slotted his second penalty for Carlisle but Brierley again was instrumental in setting up a score for Coulthurst as half time approached.

MacCallum’s conversion was miss-hit but the ball staggered on like a drunkard and flopped over off the crossbar.

At that stage nobody knew how significant the extra two points would be later on.

Carlisle were clearly no beaten side and they dominated the first 25 minutes of the second period, during which centre substitute Andy Glendinning and fly half Connon both touched down.

There was a constant trek of Wilmslow players to the touchline for technical yellow card offences during this period, a sure sign of how much pressure they were having to absorb and they were fortunate to concede only 12 points.

Carlisle would have fancied their chances but Wolves were able to force the visitors into making late errors and to grab a bit of possession which allowed Harding to release Street for the critical score and then for a concerted effort from backs and forwards alike to get the ball to Coulthurst, who had just enough time and space to finish it off.

He had a lot to do when he got the ball but determined, hard and sensible running enabled him to get probably the best try of the match.