HARTLEPOOL Rovers made progress in the Durham Intermediate Cup with an, ultimately, convincing win over Gateshead.
The Friaragemen ran in four tries in their first outing of the new season.
A cup win at this early stage over a team that did the double over Rovers in Durham Northumberland One last season will give the Whites and coaches Graham Puckrin and Carl Robinson a great deal of encouragement.
Tougher contests will be to come when the league programme starts in two weeks’ time and, having gained some momentum, Rovers will rue having a free Saturday this weekend.
This cup competition, in which Rovers lost in last season’s final against Consett, might represent their best chance of silverware.
But if they can take Saturday’s form and reproduce it consistently in what will be a tough division once again then there is no reason why they can’t mount a challenge at the top.
For Rovers, missing 10 or so First XV squad members, Saturday was a chance for the coaches and players to try some different combinations in the backs and forwards.
The wingmen, Adam Smith and Jack Gunn, and centres James Evens and Ian Mulvihill impressed in attack and defence.
In the pack, Andrew Flounders carried on last season’s form and with Kevin Maguire gave the side effectively a five-man back row in the loose.
New captain Andrew Dring led the side well and, with the returning Stewart Grazier and Lee Maddison, formed an excellent breakaway trio. The second row partnership of Andrew Pinchen and Matty Wilson got around the park well in support of their back row men.
Handling conditions at the Friarage were difficult with rain falling before and during the match and Rovers struggled early on to make an impression against opponents that took the game to the hosts from the kick-off.
Gateshead’s full back Scott Cartner went wide with a third minute penalty but gave the Tynesiders the lead on 20 minutes with a 27-metre kick.
Rovers, having struggled to turn passages of play into scoring chances, then took the lead when the pack drove to the try line from the away 22 with Maddison getting the touchdown. Chris Sainty kicked the touchline conversion and a simple 10 metre front-on penalty and Rovers led 10-3.
A number of stoppages led to nine minutes of added time and Rovers used the extra time to storm into a 24-3 interval lead.
A solid scrum 30 metres out saw Grazier put in a 20-metre run, taking the tackle and offloading to Dring, who was unstoppable from 10 metres out.
Then, superb approach play by Maddison and Taz Pelser and a good running line by Gunn set up Wilson. Sainty slotted both conversions.
The Friaragemen ought to have scored from the second half re-start but Dring was halted just short after a rampaging run.
An attacking line-out, however, brought a score when Grazier powered over from close range, Sainty again adding the extra points and hewas on target with his second penalty on 56 minutes to get the scoreboard ticking over again after a quiet spell.
Gateshead pulled a consolation score back after 72 minutes when lock David Shand took advantage of Rovers having Flounders in the sin-bin to run in from a breakdown 15 metres out, Cartner converting.
The coaches were understandably happy with the team’s performance.
“The players have bought into strong team and work ethics and the desire is there to have a good season,” said Puckrin.
“There were a fair number of lads missing and so our next selection meeting in a fortnight’s time will be a hard one.”
“I could tell from the warm-up that we meant business,” added Robinson.
“The attitude and commitment was there and I didn’t worry when we had to absorb that early pressure because I knew once we got on top and took the game to Gateshead we would create chances and take them.”
Rovers: King, Gunn, Mulvihill, Evens, Smith, Sainty, Pelser, Flounders, Maguire, Wise, Pinchen, Wilson, Grazier, Maddison, Dring (capt). Subs used: J Cushlow, Power, Church, Harrison, Charters, Fawcett
Tries: Maddison 27; Dring 40+5; Wilson 40+9; Grazier 43. Cons: Sainty 27, 40+5, 40+9, 43. Pen: Sainty 37, 56
Penalties awarded 11, kicked 2, missed 0; scrums won 12, 1 against the head; line-outs won 12
Gateshead: Cartner, Wilczek, Robinson, Lees, J Burns, Riley, Owens, Thandi, Hill, C Burns, Shand, Rushton, Hooker, Sockett, Charlton (capt). Subs used: Norman, Collins, Moslemi, Cochrane, McGowan
Try: Shand 72. Con: Cartner 72; Pen: Cartner 20
Penalties awarded 14, kicked 1, missed 1; scrums won 10; line-outs won 10
Referee: Adam Morrison (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin: Cochrane 37; Flounders 61