West Hartlepool tightened their grip on third place in North One East with an impressive 29-19 victory over challengers Alnwick at Brinkburn.
The hosts scored five tries, despite tricky conditions, and limited their visitors to only three meaning the Northumbrians headed back up the A1 without anything to show for their efforts.
Bizarrely they opted for a difficult shot at goal with the last kick of the game.
It might not have ended that way with them finishing the game the stronger of the two sides and hunting down a fourth try that would not have only given them the four-try bonus point but also the losing point for being within seven.
Bizarrely they opted for a difficult shot at goal with the last kick of the game that would have brought a single point but instead sailed past the right post.
The game was an entertaining one, with the expected battle of Alnwick’s backs versus West’s forwards proving to be the case.
However, in the first half, with West’s forwards well in the ascendency, their kicking game was well judged to limit the opportunity for Alnwick’s dangerous runners to counter-attack.
Only as things opened up in the second half did we see the threat they could pose with several jinking runs from full-back and wings.
Zac Southern had the first chance to score with a shot at goal from 40 metres which drifted wide but West’s dominance of the opening quarter was rewarded with a try from John Bunter – the second row emerging from the bottom of a strong rolling maul to give the hosts a 5-0 lead.
If anyone needed reminding of the threat Alnwick posed, we got a glimpse of the visiting backs’ pace as they levelled the score with 24 minutes played.
The ball was moved along the line to left wing Peter Moralee and he found himself in some space with the covering defence drifting across.
He turned on the speed and nobody could get a finger on him as he scored in the corner.
The work-rate of West’s forwards was giving them the upper hand and Sam Miller capped off a real forward’s try with five minutes left in the half.
After several surges for the line the number eight popped up on the short side and simply powered through a tackle to score and reward his pack for a sterling effort. Southern’s conversion just missed to leave the half-time score 10-5.
Alnwick outside-half Callum Burn saw yellow early in the second half after a late shoulder charge on opposite number Southern and while he was off the field West extended their lead even further.
Once again it was the outstanding Miller with another powerful bust from short range, touching down by the left corner flag.
The pick of West’s tries was the bonus-point clinching fourth with Miller again starting the move with a terrific run inside his own half.
His offload to Joe Willis kept the move going and Ryan Painter was in support to take an inside pass from Willis and race to the line, Southern converting.
Alnwick kept their hopes alive with a super try from Andrew Shell on 65 minutes.
He fielded a kick and found his way through a crowd of bodies before rounding replacement full-back Connor Fewster to score under the posts.
At 22-12 the game was back in the balance with Alnwick looking increasingly dangerous and their pack was held up over the line before another sweeping move saw the ball juggled and dropped yards short of the waiting try-line.
It would prove crucial as moments later a long clearance was chased down by Willis and when the covering defender failed to collect he gratefully hacked on and won the race to the line.
With time running out, Frank Hutchinson finished off another good move with a try for Alnwick, Bird again converting, giving the visitors hope for a final flourish and that double bonus point, but it wasn’t to be.
Head Coach Iain Dixon said: “This was a tremendous performance. The tackling was superb throughout with the forwards dominating the set-pieces and that gave us the platform to score our tries, and limit the possession for their dangerous backs.
“Sam Miller was outstanding and fully deserved his two tries and others weren’t far behind.
“We were misssing four or five regular players, but the lads who came in showed what strength we have.
“The challenge now is to go to league leaders Doncaster Phoenix next week and produce another big performance.”
West: Luke Mallinson, Scott Butcher, Greg Edwards, Peter Youll, Joe Willis, Zac Southern, Ryan Painter, Michael Hogan, Andrew Rollins, Adam Coates, Owen Bennett, John Bunter, Chris Atkins, Dan Boatman (captain), Sam Miller.
Changes: Jack Angus, Liam Bailey, Connor Fewster.
Tries: Bunter, Miller 2, Painter, Willis
Cons: Southern 2
Alnwick: James Bird, Andrew Shell, Will Smith, Frank Hutchinson, Peter Moralee, Callum Burn, Ian Gray, Peter Brown, Duncan Smith, Richard Elliot, Josh Burgess, Matty Grey, Gordon Smith, James Hamilton, Richard Ellis.
Tries: Moralee, Shell, Hutchinson
Cons: Bird 2