Hartlepool Rovers maintained their good early season form with a well-deserved win on the road at Novocastrians.
The Whites’ record at Sutherland Park over the years has been mixed but Saturday’s trip to Longbenton saw Rovers take their second top two scalp in a week.
Rovers now head into a period of matches against lower-ranked teams.
Last time out, Rovers had lowered the colours of then league-leaders Northern 26-22 at the Friarage and Saturday’s win came at second-placed Novos.
It is still early days but Durham Northumberland One is shaping up to be ultra-competitive based on the results so far this season.
For the second week running, Rovers would have hoped that a try-scoring bonus point win would have moved them up more than one space in the table.
The results of the teams immediately above them, however, in the main went against them and so a one-place improvement it is.
There seems to have been a momentum shift on West View Road in a three key areas.
The loss of a couple of key players in the Summer has, if anything, led to a new inner-steel; players are rejoining the club to form a squad who want to play for Rovers and the side’s fitness is at a high level.
Having got a tough opening five weeks’ fixtures behind them, Rovers now head into a period of matches against lower-ranked teams but, as mentioned above, there are no obvious banker-wins and there can be no room for complacency.
In ideal conditions, the hosts took a 10th minute lead with a 20-metre penalty by Shaun Stewart but he then missed with an 18-metre effort on 19 minutes.
Rovers had had early chances of their own but Darren Smith went for a chip and chase when a direct run might have brought a score and Daz Fawcett missed with a 21-metre penalty.
Stewart put Novos 6-0 up with a three-pointer after 25 minutes as Rovers struggled to impose themselves on the game, tending to panic in both attack and defence.
A superb break by Joe Little and Liam Austwicke saw Adam Smith released 18 metres out and the left wing finished it off in the left hand corner to cut the deficit to 5-6 with 29 minutes played.
A moment of disorganisation in the away 22 cost Rovers when Novos were quickest to react to a loose ball, James Bass having it too easy to cross and Stewart’s touchline conversion rubbed salt into the wound and Novos led 13-5 after 35 minutes.
Two minutes later, the Friaragemen pulled back to 13-12 when, after Andrew Dring had rescued a struggling scrum, a tap and go by Taz Pelser saw him take advantage of Novos letting him run the ten metres to then swerve inside and outside two tacklers to touchdown by the posts, Fawcett adding the extra points.
Stewart missed an ambitious 48-metre wind-assisted penalty on half time but Novos started the second period with a quick score.
The away scrum was creaking badly and sub Nick Arbuckle peeled away to charge to the line for an 18-12 lead.
In the loose, however, it was a different story and the pack fronted up inside the home 22 on 49 minutes, Dylan Langley barging over after runs by Chrissy Harrison and Callum Whitehead and there was now a point in it again 18-17.
The lead switched to Rovers 22-18 after 54 minutes when more good open play by the away eight and a semi-charged down clearance saw Fawcett field the ball and hand on to Harrison who used the left touchline to steal in from 15 metres.
A penalty try four minutes later for a body-check on Adam Smith, after some slick handling sent the wingman away, saw Sam Rowntree sin-binned and Fawcett’s conversion made it 29-18.
Fawcett then saw a 15 metre penalty strike the left upright and bounce to safety.
A missed tackle two minutes into added time saw Peter Sowter break and just stretch for the line when brought down by Alex Rochester. Rory Duncan’s extreme conversion made it 25-29 and an uneasy final four minutes for the White Shirts.
“We’ve come away from home and although we’ve not played our best we have pulled off a great away win,” said coach Carl Robinson afterwards.
“We can’t perform perfectly every week but we’re not going to complain about this win.
“Our fitness is good. They had a decent team out but we were still putting the big tackles in and attacking as well at the end as earlier in the game and that will earn us wins when the heavier grounds come along”
Novocastrians: Wollerton, Bass, Nash, Rowntree, Busby, Dodd, Sowter, Stacey, Twentyman, Goodman, Stewart, Igoe, Dodds, Merritt, Littlefair (c). Subs used:Barr, Arbuckle, Duncan
Tries: Bass 35; Arbuckle 41; Sowter 80+2; conversions: Stewart 35; Duncan 80+2; penalties: Stewart 10, 25
Penalties awarded 16, kicked 2, missed 2; scrums won 10, 1 against the head; lineouts won 12
Rovers: Harrison, Coulson, Austwicke, Grand, A Smith, Fawcett, Pelser, Wise, Cushlow, Pinchen (c), Langley, Whitehead, J Little, O’Callaghan, Dring. Subs used: D Smith, Maguire, Rochester
Tries: A Smith 29; Pelser 37; Langley 49; Harrison 54; penalty try 58; conversions: Fawcett 37, 58
Penalties awarded 4, kicked 0, missed 2; scrums won 10; lineouts won 6
Sent off: none; sin bin Rowntree 58
Referee: Michael Harriott (Northumberland)
Other results: Barnard Castle 18 Consett 8; Gateshead 27 Hartlepool 29; Northern 52 Horden and Peterlee 17; Ryton 14 14 Middlesbrough 17; South Shields Westoe 30 Gosforth 19; Stockton 6 Medicals 13