Hoppers 2nd XV 19 Sedgley Tigers 2nd XV 24
The second team lost consecutive games for the first time since 2011 in an enthralling encounter at Lightfoot Green on Saturday. In a match high on quality and intensity, a converted try seven minutes from time proved the difference. The Tigers vanquished Hoppers for the first time seven league meetings but Preston’s effort, work rate and desire deserved at least a share of the spoils.
Hoppers have still lost less games this season than any of their rivals but the format of the competition means that they lie in a comparatively lowly fourth place. However some mitigation can be sought from the crippling injury list which currently besets the senior squad. Conversely Young and co can take solace from a two week break and the return of a number of players in the coming weeks.
The Tigers started strongly and in the opening exchanges it seemed like they might overpower and overwhelm Young’s men. The men from Whitefield have benefited from a new found stability following some tough times and on Saturday were able to call upon the likes of Ben Black, Jonny Lamprey, Tom Leader and Curtis Strong, all of who have enjoyed first team action in recent weeks.
However it was their rapier like full-back who stole the show with a high quality first half performance bristling with pace, footwork and counter attacking menace. It was he who opened the scoring after some loose play by Hoppers. The way in which he pounced on a loose ball and skated in from forty metres was a stark illustration as to why he’d graced the JP Morgan 7s earlier this year.
Preston gradually got a foothold in the game and began to make a real fist of the contact and breakdown area. A well executed line out presented quick ball and Hurst exploited the overlap to score in the corner. Farley converted and the scores were 7-7.
Some twelve minutes later Hopper’s nemesis bagged his second. Preston managed to wheel a scrum but the Tigers shifted the ball down the line and the full back scooted over. The visitors were just on top but Preston had a slight edge in the scrum whilst they looked dangerous when they kept the ball for any length of time. Meanwhile the Tigers back three looked menacing.
Hoppers ensured that they turned round level though as a well own turnover saw the returning James Mawdsley break strongly deep into a Tigers territory. Whyte spun the ball wide and Yates spurned a two man overlap to cut back inside. Fortunately for the home side Tom Smith cleaned up the mess to crash over for a converted score.
With the scores tied, the blue and whites began the second half the stronger with some of the bigger Tigers pack starting to tire. They continued to gain momentum and when Lamprey was sin-binned for some silly play at the breakdown, Hoppers had the chance to take the lead for the first time. Unfortunately for Young and co, Farley’s penalty went inches wide.
However some hesitancy in the Preston defence allowed the Tigers to break down field. Hoppers transgressed but Leader was unable to make the home side pay as his penalty fell short. He made no mistake some six minutes later though after another burst by the outstanding full back.
The Tigers led 17-14 but Hoppers launched a spirited assault on their old rivals. First Yates had a chance to send Marshall over but the full-back inexplicably went himself. Then, just minutes later Mawdsley went for the line but the referee was unable to confirm whether the ball had been grounded.
Preston took the lead for the first time some two minutes later as Dave Perry hit a great line against his old club. The lock stayed calm and fed Yates who raced through to score. This time Farley was unable to add the conversion but Hoppers had a slender 19-17 lead with under ten minutes left.
Credit to the Tigers as they kept playing and went chasing a match winning score. Some ill-discipline by Hoppers allowed the Tigers a foothold deep in the home side’s half. From the resultant line-out they managed to get a good drive on and shunted Hoppers over. Leader added the extras and the Tigers led 24-19 although there was plenty of time for Young’s men to win it.
Hoppers tried valiantly to breach the Tigers line, as first Warlock and then Proctor went close. The visitors held out, repelling the Hoppers siege but Young’s men know that on another day they could have taken the spoils. Preston will though get two chances to settle the score as they host the Tigers in the cup come mid-January and will travel to Whitefield later in the season.
The squad can now enjoy a well earned mini break before embarking on the remaining nine Conference A fixtures. Hoppers know they have to finish the season unbeaten and hope for a couple of favours elsewhere if they are to regain the championship. Whilst their unprecedented injury list has come at a crucial time, things can change very quickly and Young knows that good fortune often follows bad.