Is this the real Northwich?

The signs are there.

Blacks have beaten two of the leading teams in North One West during a three-match winning sequence that started with a 34-15 victory against Carlisle.

If a heavy defeat at Stockport last month wasn’t quite the point of no return, it’s certainly prompted exactly the response that Martin Poste, Northwich’s director or rugby, will have wanted.

His side sits eighth in the table, although crucially a gap to Douglas in second position has narrowed to five points.

And after gathering momentum again, there will be some frustration that they now don’t play next until November 17.

Rebuilding fortress Moss Farm

During an interview with the Guardian this week, Martin Poste remarked home form would be important if his side wanted to mount another promotion challenge.

Back-to-back victories on home turf, against Carlisle and now Waterloo, will have reinforced belief.

Those successes followed a pulsating 32-32 draw with Blackburn, and a listless performance against Warrington in September is starting to feel a long time ago.

The men from Blundellsands had lost two of their three away games before arriving in Cheshire, and it was important Northwich exploited that apparent vulnerability.

Their record against Waterloo remains unblemished too after three successive wins.

In praise of Nick Baldwin

Blacks’ stand-off is back to his best while kicking.

His record was flawless on Saturday when a hat-trick of penalties, including two in quick succession when Northwich trailed 10-13, proved important in the final reckoning.

And having a player whose boot you can rely on can make the difference in contests between evenly-matched teams.

Indeed, a failed conversion attempt by Manchester seven days earlier cost them a victory against Blacks.

Between such small margins are games won and lost in North One West this season.

Northwich Guardian:

Nick Baldwin, pictured earlier this season, scored 13 points with his right boot during a 23-20 victory for Northwich against Firwood Waterloo at Moss Farm on Saturday. Picture: Ken Houghton

Lasting the distance

Northwich, with the guidance and encouragement of fitness coach Mike Donnan, made fitness and conditioning a huge part of their pre-season preparations.

And it is during contests like this one that the benefit of that work really shows.

The intensity was unrelenting, and for long spells during both halves Blacks had to withstand a sustained onslaught from their guests.

Their tackling held up, and for the large part remained disciplined.

Those reserves of stamina came in handy late on as well when they had an opportunity to apply pressure to the Waterloo defence.

Trailing 16-20, a frenzied spell when they camped five metres from the visitors’ line earned a dividend when Richard Dale dived over from the game’s final play.

Forwards finding their feet

A run of five matches without a victory, including four defeats, put the spotlight on Northwich up front.

The low point was perhaps that 50-26 hammering at Stockport which ended with two injured props watching from the side-lines after taking a pummelling at the scrum.

To their credit, Blacks have improved significantly since.

Poste has restored Chris Dale to number eight, and a recall for Kyle Lindsay has been an inspired move.

Chris Heywood was unavailable that afternoon at Stockport, and injury ruled out Chris James, and any Northwich team they play in is a better one.

A front row of Joe Maddocks, Michael Gough and Ben Ridgway may not have been one that started the campaign but that trio forms it now on merit.