Hoppers 2nd XV 15 Sedgley Tigers 2nd XV 28
Cup holders Hoppers fell at the first hurdle after another frustrating performance at a sunny but soggy Lightfoot Green. Saturday’s performance was a world away from the glorious day in May when a battling Hoppers performance brought the trophy back to Preston.
The visitors started the stronger with ex-Fylde man Curtis Strong looking dangerous but Young’s men dominated possession and territory in the opening forty minutes. The Tigers opened the scoring after Preston got themselves into trouble and allowed their stand-off to dart his way through for a converted score.
Preston managed to get a foothold into the game and the pack started to dominate. The Tigers strayed offside and Farley added the penalty. Hoppers upped the tempo and they began to force the errors from an increasingly embattled Sedgley pack. Their scrum began to creak and quick hands from Smith allowed Marshall to score on the right. Farley’s conversion was wide but Hoppers were 8-7 to the good.
The Hoppers driving maul was also starting to bear fruit and the visiting pack were treading a fine line at the breakdown. Preston made them pay as Murray stepped through a tackle before delivering a gorgeous offload to Farley who scored. The centre converted his try and given the conditions it looked as though Hoppers’ 15-7 lead was a healthy one.
Credit to the Tigers as they came roaring back and Strong continued to menace. Preston repelled the danger and Marshall counter attacked with purpose before a forward pass stymied the momentum.
The second half kicked off with the holders on top and Hoppers were given further cause for optimism as the Tigers lock was sin binned for a reckless spear tackle. Young’s men could not press home their advantage and the unflappable Tom Leader reduced the arrears with a penalty after Madden was penalised.
The outstanding Jack Walker was then penalised for side entry, but the Tigers were unable to capitalise as the penalty drifted wide. The visitors were on top now and were building pressure, underpinned by patient ball retention and an impressive kicking performance from Leader. Hoppers were unable to build any pressure or momentum of their own as the Tiger’s centre pegged Hoppers back with some accurate kicking from hand.
The Tigers were taking few risks but their patience paid off as some sloppy tackling allowed the stand off to poach his second. At 15-17 Young’s men had a chance to take the lead but Farley’s penalty was off target and Hoppers were still chasing the game.
When Murray was sent to the bin for a reckless tackle Leader punished the home side once more and a the visitors were 20-15 to the good. Hoppers tried to force the pace but were unable to sustain any pressure and when Walker was harshly penalised another three points probably represented the death knell of Preston’s cup defence.
Young’s men tried to go down with a flourish and had no choice but to try and run the ball. Unfortunately they were turned over deep in their own red zone and the Tigers scored a third try. The conversion drifted wide but the Tigers were good value for their win. Whilst the score probably flattered the visitors a little they played the conditions extremely well and kept their second half error count to a minimum. Since taking over, Coach Livesey has a made a real difference to the Tigers and his stewardship has coincided with an upturn in fortunes. The Tigers will prove formidable opponents in the next round and have to be one of the favourites to lift the trophy come Spring time.
Hoppers meanwhile will lick their wounds and prepare for a huge league game against Sale FC next Saturday. Their second half performance was extremely disappointing but the squad are intent on challenging for the league title and regaining their early season form.