AFTER narrow victories over Macclesfield and Sandal, North Premier leaders Otley must have expected a tougher examination by second-placed Billingham at Cross Green.

That they weren’t tested as much as anticipated was in part due to Otley’s man of the match Callum Irvine.

He made the first significant break of the match to put winger Alex Beaumont over, scored a wonderful solo try, also in the first half, scored another in the second half, landed a 50-20 and created Otley’s final try.

However, the Otley centre was keen to downplay his part in their 15th win in as many matches for the season, preferring to emphasise team values.

Irvine did confess, however that his influence was “certainly up there from a team perspective” before adding: “When you have teams one and two in the league, it is one that you want to turn up for.

“But I would never say that is easier or harder than expected. It just is what it is.

“You look at teams and you prep for them but I don’t think that it is easier or harder. We just took our chances, whereas last week we didn’t.

“Maybe it looked easier from the touchline, but that is because of the hard work that we have put in.

“As for my involvement it just comes down to opportunity on the back of what we do as a squad on a Tuesday and a Thursday for those holes to be open to us on a Saturday.

“I have options everywhere and I can’t take credit for it. I have seen a hole and I have run through it for our second try but everybody else has done the hard work to allow me to do that.

“It is a quick-moving system but for me the hard work was done by the forwards earning the right for us to score out wide, but there are three or four passes before I get involved.

“We were just more clinical than the previous fortnight but we have different personnel and you just have to do what you think is right on the day, and they are a great set of lads and I would do anything for them.”

Billingham, who had won 12 and drawn one out of 15 matches before kick-off, won the game’s first penalty and it needed an ankle tap on prop Daniel Dixon to snuff out the danger.

But, with a penalty advantage up their sleeve, fly half and skipper Peter Evans landed a drop goal to put the visitors ahead in the fourth minute.

The lead only lasted eight minutes, though, as after Otley scrum half Joe Rowntree missed a shot at goal, Irvine broke and passed outside for left winger Alex Beaumont to score his 33rd league try for the club.

Rowntree nailed the difficult conversion and, after home fly half Ed Crossland had a clearance kick charged down, Irvine scored a superb individual try in the 16th minute.

He broke in centrefield and, when it looked for all the world that he would pass, continued himself to score a 55-metre try, with Rowntree making it 14-3 with the conversion.

Robust home defence and an Evans kick that just eluded right winger Martin Hopley reminded Otley that they were still in a game.

They took heed and won a penalty in the right-hand corner that led to Billingham prop Kieran Clark being sin-binned, Otley winger Elliot Morgan soon going over in the left corner, with Rowntree again being ‘deadeye dick’ with the kick.

The visitors ended the half with concerted pressure but the hosts started the second half in clinical fashion, with Irvine bagging his second two minutes in after quick hands down the line.

The four-try bonus point secure, Rowntree converted for 28-3 and pressure was maintained when Irvine executed a 50-20 kick.

Billingham enjoyed spells of possession but too often moved the ball laterally, with Otley again showing them how to have a cutting edge when Irvine’s break gave full back Ben Magee the chance to put Morgan over in the 61st minute.

Otley’s laxness in ball carrying cost them a late consolation try when Hopley scored in the 77th minute but, with the match becoming feistier, there was still time for both Billingham flanker Michael Walton and Irvine to receive yellow cards from referee Gavin Jones in separate incidents.

The Cross Greeners lead the North Premier table by seven points from Preston Grasshoppers with a game in hand, but as for how many teams will go up from the fifth tier, Irvine admitted: “I have no idea.

“But we are in a massively fortunate position that we have earned and have won 15 out of 15, but the RFU will do what the RFU need to do.

“There is talk of a restructure but I am not sure what is going on, and all that we can do is control the controllable aspects as a team, and if we do that the outcome will take care of itself.

“We have the potential to go through the season unbeaten but we have to go to Preston, to Alnwick, to Blackburn (next week) and we are everybody’s cup final.”