Preston Grasshoppers 22 Sedgley Park 33
It was a case of what might have been for Hoppers and they bounced back from the shock of conceding three ties in 11 minutes to have Sedgley Park rocking unsteadily in the final quarter.
The Tigers clung on for victory, but Preston came close to grabbing at least two bonus points in the unfamiliar National League Two North surroundings of their tree-lined second-team pitch.
“In the first half-hour, we made three mistakes – and they scored from all of them,” said Preston head coach Garth Dew.
“We tried to remain pragmatic when we were 21-0 down at half-time, pointing out that we kept running directly into their big units and getting held up by them, instead of picking the gaps.
“Sedgley were a bit more clinical than us and scored three tries from driving mauls, but in the last 20 minutes we played like we have been training all summer and we have to focus on that.”
The first quarter was scoreless, with Hoppers having the advantage territorially without being able to find a way through.
Then the floodgates opened, with poor defending gifting the visitors two tries in two minutes. Centre Matt Riley burst clean through after a line-out.
Then brother Andrew set up winger Sam Lowthion for the second.
Steve Collins converted both and did the same when his side was awarded a penalty try after a line-out drive.
Hoppers flanker Ron Bramhall also collected a yellow card for his illegal efforts to stop the drive.
But the hosts held out until the break, by which time Tigers centre Tom Bedlow had also been sin-binned after three penalties against the visitors in quick time.
Fly-half Lewis Allen got Hoppers on the board with a penalty two minutes into the second half, then there was an anxious 10-minute stoppage for treatment to home hooker Phil Mills before he was stretchered off after being knocked out.
As soon as play got going again, Park bagged their four-try bonus point, with Andrew Riley going over and Collins again converting, and Preston looked dead and buried when another line-out drive ended with hooker Jonny Matthews going over for an unconverted try.
By now, Hoppers were ringing the changes from the bench and, with the penalty count mounting against Park and flanker Alex Powell sin-binned, the hosts suddenly seemed to realise that all was not lost.
Prompted by replacement No.8 Luke Proctor, they took the fight to the Tigers and were rewarded with three excellent tries in 16 minutes.
Back-rower Sam Gale claimed two of them – the first from a vintage break by full-back Ollie Viney.
And the other fell to Allen, who rounded off a spectacular passage of handling and passing. Allen converted all three and suddenly Hoppers needed just one more try to take both bonus points.
It was not to be and they were left ruing that sloppy defensive period in the first half and the fact that they took too long to wake up to Park’s vulnerability.
Dew praised flanker Will Lees’ “outstanding effort”.