A James Evens’ hat-trick led the way as Hartlepool Rovers secured their Durham Northumberland One status with a 53-19 win over Medicals.
In warm Spring sunshine at the Friarage, Callum Whitehead added a brace as Rovers ran in nine tries to record their best victory of a disappointing season.
The Whites raced into a 15-0 lead to get to within touching distance of the try-scoring bonus point thought to be enough to prevent the drop and which duly came courtesy of a Liam Wood try on 47 minutes.
In between, three yellow cards meant that, for a long period, Rovers had to play with 14 men and, for a while, 13 players.
After being pegged back to an interval 15-12 lead, however, Rovers, once back up to full strength, scored six tries in an, almost, unblemished exhibition of strong defence, aggressive attack and the creation and taking of try-scoring chances to run out clear winners.
Head coach Jon Benson had named himself at stand off for the clash and the former West Hartlepool, Leeds and Rotherham back rolled back the years with a tremendous play-maker performance.
The 41 year-old’s passing was sharp and accurate to get his backs away and his on-pitch chat added a controlling influence that Rovers have lacked but is expected to revert to the technical area at Middlesbrough.
Benson nearly got Rovers off to a dream start when he charged down a Tom Rickards’ kick but he then set his backline in motion and Evens cut inside and then shrugged off Jack Haire to cross.
The lead doubled to 10-0 on six minutes when Chrissy Harrison brilliantly read a pass from Fergus Robertson to Marcus Brookes and sprinted away from his own ten metre line.
Rovers could do nothing wrong and after 10 minutes it was 15-0 when Steven Barnfield,
Alex Rochester and Adam Smith headed into the away 22 where Whitehead was taken over the line in the Railway Corner.
The visitors pulled five points back on 18 minutes when sure hands put Tom Witter in despite a despairing Rochester tackle.
Rovers were rocked six minutes later by a penalty try awarded by referee Paul Musgrave for a high tackle by Harrison, the diminutive winger having brought down Robertson three metres out. Rickard’s simple conversion made the lead 15-12.
Adam Smith then had to be alert to come off his wing to halt Rickards and Andrew Flounders pulled off a turnover on his own line.
Back up to 15 men, the Friaragemen secured the try bonus point when a chase by Harrison and a surging run by Whitehead saw the ball spread and Wood touch down in the left hand clubhouse corner for a 20-12 lead.
Whitehead’s ball-carrying set up the next try too after 54 minutes with Benson releasing Evens who burst through the cover and didn’t need the supporting Rochester but who took over the kicking duties to register Rovers’ first conversion of the afternoon.
Now 27-12 to the good, the shackles were off and the hosts ran in two tries in two minutes to lead 39-12.
It was no surprise that it was Whitehead, again, who made ground and when Adam Smith was closed down by three defenders he offloaded to Evens who squeezed in by the left hand corner flag.
Evens then turned provider with an inch-perfect cross-kick finding Harrison who kicked on for Barnfield to pick up the ball and cross, Rochester again adding the extra points.
Medicals sucked Rovers in after 72 minutes for Paul Anderson to score in the Steetley Corner and a superb touchline conversion by Rickards made it 39-19.
Adam Smith picked off a pass that was just behind him on 76 minutes and, after Rochester had taken play on, sub David Grand ran home, Rochester’s conversion making it 46-19.
In added time, the 50 points barrier was breached when a poor clearance kick saw Ian Pinchen show a dummy and hand on to Whitehead who stormed from the 22 to the line.
Whitehead’s drop-kick conversion looked to have missed and brought the full time whistle, however, afterwards Mr Musgrave ruled Whitehead’s conversion had been good and the final score 53-19.
“We started well,” said Benson, “and being 15-0 up after ten minutes took Medicals out of the game.
“The (yellow) cards were tough to take and could have let them back into the match.
“We defended well when we had to and showed how strong our defence can be.
“As soon as we were back to fifteen we got back on top and once we had our fourth try we didn’t look back.
“It’s now about maintaining this standard at Middlesbrough and working towards next season.”
Rovers: Rochester, Harrison, S Barnfield, Evens, A Smith, Benson, Stevenson, A Flounders, J Cushlow, Pinchen (c), Langley, Ryan, Hanley, Wood, Whitehead. Subs used: Grand, Lloyd, D Smith
Tries: Evens 2, 54, 62; Whitehead 10, 80+2; Harrison 6; Wood 47; Barnfield 64; Grand 76; conversions: Rochester 54, 64, 76; Whitehead 80+2
Medicals: Haire, Witter, Brookes, Robertson, Anderson, Rickards, Baines (c), Clegg, Bath, Jones, Hawe, Hayter, Lacey, Southworth, Gibson. Subs used: Barclay, Bravell. Sub (not used) Horrocks
Tries: Witter 18; penalty try 24; Anderson 72; conversions: Rickards 24, 72
Referee: Paul Musgrave (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin: Barnfield 16; Harrison 24; Whitehead 34
Other results: Horden and Peterlee 10 Consett 37; Middlesbrough 18 South Shields Westoe 22; Northern 71 Hartlepool 21; Novocastrians 15 Gosforth 47; Ryton 5 Gateshead 42; Stockton 20 Barnard Castle 15.