Hoppers 10 Sheffield Tigers 9
Sheffield Tigers did their best to ruin Preston Grasshoppers’ party on the exact 150th anniversary of the club’s foundation.
But, watched by former players, the hosts fought off both the elements and the opposition to claim their second victory of the National League Two North season and climb to fifth in the table.
Head coach Paul Arnold said: “The better side lost – it was a good job that Mark Ireland (Tigers’ prolific points-scorer) left his kicking boots at home. Everyone knows we got out of jail.
“They made us work hard and for a time we weren’t at the races. I had to tell them a few home truths at half-time, but we still made some daft decisions – particularly trying to run the ball out of our 22. However, I said to them afterwards that we would have lost a game like that last year, so we are making progress.”
Preston had to withstand fearsome pressure on their own line for most of the first half, when they rarely ventured beyond halfway, to emerge only 6-0 down.
Hoppers started well and who knows how differently the game might have panned out if a forward pass hadn’t prevented Sam Stott scoring in only the second minute after a searing break by Alex Hurst and good running by prop Noah Miller.
But that was about the end of Hoppers’ attacking chances in the first 40 minutes as Sheffield pinned them back in their own 22. Despite conceding nine penalties in the half, the hosts kept the Tigers to just two penalties out of four by Ireland, helped by a 10-minute spell in the sinbin for the visitors’ lock Alan Symcox for dangerous use of the boot at a ruck.
It had been a frantic opening half but, as it was coming to an end, the heavens opened and put a completely different complexion on the next 40 minutes.
The ball became harder to handle, the penalty count switched more in Hoppers’ favour and they were able to gain more possession, with Ryan Carlson doing some mighty work among the forwards to compensate for the early loss of Ally Murray with a suspected broken hand.
Hoppers quickly took the lead, having seemed to have missed their chance with a lost line-out. But Tigers, too, spilled the ball and replacement prop Tyler Sloane was driven over, with Joe Prior adding the conversion.
Ireland soon put his side back in front with a scrum penalty and Preston looked in trouble when Tyler Spence was sin-binned for an off-the-ball tackle. But Ireland and Hurst both missed penalties before up stepped scrum-half Ben Dorrington to take over the kicking duties and coolly land a 35-metre penalty with less than 15 minutes left and Hoppers hung on.