THE Malvern-based Mercian Development Academy under 16s fell just short against their Leigh Centurions counterparts with a 24-20 defeat.

At the Leigh Miners ground in Lancashire, the academy bossed the early stages but then went 24-0 behind with four tries.

But they hit back with a fast-flowing move as Isiah Martin scored down the wing.

With 20 minutes left man of the match Fin Dalby crossed the line and Jamie Harris converted.

Another Martin try was followed by stand-off Dalby going over again with Harris converting.

Academy director Stuart Hood said: "For a non-heartlands rugby league team to come up here and take the match to a well-organised Leigh Centurions team should not be underestimated.

"To put this into context it is normal for non-heartland teams to be thoroughly put to the sword by heartland sides.

"We were on the cusp of winning the match. This does not go unnoticed and we are gaining a lot of respect for what we are achieving.

"They never gave up, showing grit and determination with some powerful fast-flowing rugby. This was a great performance from the lads.

"This was only their third competitive match and against an academy side of a professional club founded in 1878.

"The improvements are marked and show the improving standard of rugby league in our region, especially in Worcestershire."

The academy's next match is on February 18 against Hull FC at Bishop Burton College near Beverley (2pm).

They will also play Ireland and Scotland in the summer home and away in Belfast and Edinburgh respectively.