After a see-saw struggle in the Sedgley Park sun, Preston Grasshoppers finally relinquished their hold on the John Burgess Lancashire Cup in the last seven minutes of a penalty-strewn final.
Sedgley’s success was firmly based on a huge forward platform and Hoppers just could not get their hands on enough ball to allow their livelier backs the chance to emulate last year’s 30-10 victory over the same final opponents.
Coach Michael Lough said: “We didn’t get our backs into the game enough.
“But I am very proud of the lads – they gave 100 per cent commitment.
“We had the better of it at the start and were definitely up for it, but Sedgley had more experience and we were not allowed to have any flow in the game.”
Hoppers started in style, with Sean Taylor putting Matt Hughes over wide out for an unconverted try after a line-out and slick passing two minutes into the game.
Unfortunately, they were rarely able to recapture such flowing rugby, not least thanks to referee Andy Rawson’s 33 penalties – 19 of them to the Tigers –which severely disrupted their flow, not to mention two Hoppers sin-binnings.
Remarkably, Preston survived the second yellow card – against hooker Phil Mills – unscathed, but the first, against flanker Killian Wallace, was more costly, with Hoppers forced into desperate defence against a series of scrums, ultimately and almost inevitably giving away a penalty try.
Matt Riley had responded swiftly to the opening score with a successful penalty for Sedgley, but Preston pressed strongly for 10 minutes and were rewarded with a try by lock Gareth Gore, converted by Taylor.
A line-out drive saw hooker Richard Oxley grab an unconverted try for the Tigers, who went ahead for the first time on the half-hour with that penalty try which Riley converted.
In a ding-dong end to the first half, Taylor levelled things with a long-range penalty, Juan Crous went over for another unconverted Sedgley try from a scrum and Taylor made it 18-20 at the break with another penalty from 40 metres.
He put Hoppers ahead again with a much simpler effort in the first minute of the second period.
But there were still more twists to come in a game between two sides who had provided the bulk of the Lancashire side which won so well in Durham just 48 hours earlier.
Steve Collins landed a penalty from in front of the posts for the Tigers, Taylor replied in kind with 10 minutes left and there was final heartbreak for the holders when Sedgley at last trusted their backs with the ball and got Billy Fisher over in the corner.
A disappointing end for Hoppers but, on another day, with another referee, they may have emulated their second team, who beat Caldy 20-16 in the Raging Bull Cup final on Saturday.