Hartlepool Rovers got their Durham Northumberland One campaign off to a flying start with this win over hot title favourites Guisborough on Saturday.
The Priorymen arrived at the Friarage as the division’s team to fear and with two successive league runners-up spots behind them.
The visitors had, each time, gone on to lose their promotion play-off games but had been installed as favourites to go one better this time around.
Championships and relegations are not settled in week one of a 26 game season but the result of what was the division’s match of the day was critically important as both clubs looked to lay down a marker.
The outcome of the game was, arguably, more important to the Whites who are notorious slow starters and had been handed three home fixtures out of the first four.
Rovers’ players, coaches and fans can be rightly proud of the bonus point win, one which could and should have been more emphatic, several chances were not taken because of wrong options or spilled passes. Guisborough played their part in a thrilling match but were aided by some good fortune as well as a disputed penalty try.
Rovers fielded the same backline that had taken the field against Boys Brigade in last week’s 70-10 Durham Intermediate Cup win. Liam Austwicke regularly hit the line as Rovers looked to run the ball and centres Ian Coulson and Jack Gunn continued to develop their partnership.
Wingmen David Grand and Adam Smith will see more ball in other games but were solid in defence whilst half backs Daz Fawcett and Steven Barnfield got their line moving well.
Greatly outweighed by the big away eight, the pack stuck to their task well and won and moved the ball quickly to keep their opposite numbers on the move. The front row of Michael Tucker, Jonny Cushlow and Glen Wise were solid in the scrum and featured heavily at the breakdown whilst behind them the second row of Danny Baxter and Andrew Pinchen got through a good shift.
As expected, the very mobile back row of Kevin Maguire, Lee Maddison and Matty Wilson caused problems for Guisborough throughout the 80 minutes.
The timings of the substitutions was also a factor and Danny Charters, James Evens and Andrew Flounders slotted straight into place when their times came.
After a bout of Rovers’ possession and some counter-kicking, Guisborough used the catch and drive to take the lead when Owen Edwards brushed off a couple of tackles to score.
Rovers were nearly over from their first real attack but Jack Robinson beat Austwicke to Gunn’s grubber kick.
The White Shirts were onto the attack again on 13 minutes and a lineout take by Maddison saw the pack powerfully drive to and over the line in the Steetley corner, Pinchen getting the touchdown.
A superb break out of defence by Wilson brought a penalty 30 metres out and Fawcett put his side into an 8-5 lead.
Rovers were well on top now but a dropped ball on halfway after 32 minutes gave a try out of nothing to Guisborough with George Wren hacking on to the tryline and running round behind the posts for James Clark to slot the easy conversion.
Guisborough’s spirits were lifted and they soared even higher four minutes later when they were awarded a controversial penalty try by referee Paul Musgrave.
A tap penalty move saw Wren receive 5 metres out and although Tucker’s tackle looked good, the Durham Society official ruled that it had been high enough to impede the winger and ran to the posts to award a penalty try which Clark converted for a 19-8 lead.
The score remained the same at the break although it required some great defence by Rovers with Guisborough camped inside the home 22.
Rovers attacked from the start of the second half and reduced the deficit by five points on 43 minutes when Maddison crossed after Wise, Tucker and Cushlow had been halted just short of the line by some excellent defensive work.
Last season’s club and supporters’ player of the season then stole a Guisborough lineout to relieve some danger at the opposite end of the pitch.
The Friaragemen then swarmed all over the away line and Maddison, helped over the line by his pack, scored his second try after 55 minutes.
The hosts’ pressure started to tell on Guisborough who started to concede penalty after penalty and sub Evens slotted a three-pointer on 63 minutes to give Rovers a slender 21-19 lead.
The match-winning score came through Charters who was quick to react when scrum half Ross Edwards spilled the ball under pressure from Barnfield and Rovers then played out the last five minutes, ending the game in possession.
Coaches Graham Puckrin and Carl Robinson were happy figures after the match, “We have known for some time now what we are capable of doing and today we showed what we can do,” said Robinson.
“The lads when they came off said that they had left some tries and points on the pitch which if you want to be super-critical they did. But everyone would have settled for that result and a bonus point at kick-off.
“I thought the penalty try was harsh but that’s gone now and we’ll move on.”
“We are learning now,” added Puckrin, “when to slow down play, take the ball in and then start again and move it on.
“The lads worked hard and, yes, there’s still some work to do but it’s been a great start.
“The substitutions were key and the changes worked well and helped us to raise our game further.”
Rovers: Austwicke, Grand, Gunn, Coulson (c), Smith, Fawcett, S Barnfield, Tucker, J Cushlow, Wise, Baxter, Pinchen, Maguire, Maddison, Wilson. Subs used: Flounders, Evens, Charters
Penalties awarded 8, kicked 2, missed 0; scrums won 11; lineouts won 16
Tries: Maddison 43, 55; Pinchen 13; Charters 75; penalties: Fawcett 16; Evens 63
Guisborough: Robinson, Brewster, McCluskey, Clark, Wren, Muir, R Edwards, Berriman, E Lodge, Malik, Leggott, Henderson, Corcoran, Towers (c), O Edwards. Subs used: Newton, G Lodge, Pallister
Penalties awarded 6, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 5; lineouts won 7
Tries: O Edwards 5; Wren 32; penalty try 36; conversions: Clark 32, 36
Referee: Paul Musgrave (Durham). Sent off: none; sin bin: Leggott 55; O Edwards 70