Billingham made them fight all the way in a game punctuated by 31 penalties - almost evenly split between the two sides - and Hoppers head coach Paul Arnold almost took the most delight from the attitude of his players at the end of the game.
“When they went into the huddle at the final whistle, you’d have thought from their reaction that they’d lost,” he said. “We should have been out of sight, so they were a little bit done about that.
“We got caught up in some little niggles at times. We kept losing our heads and our indiscipline let them get their scores.
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But we left the niggles alone in the second half and there was a lot of good stuff in parts - we were sending them back in the scrums and we smashed them back when they drove their line-outs.
“A lot of players put in good shifts and we’ve got to be happy with another five points.”
Hoppers got off to a flying start, with Tyler Spence snapping up a loose ball in midfield and racing clear for the first of six tries, converted by Ben Pearson. But Billingham hit back with a touchdown by winger Alfie Lawson from a kick through.
Flanker Sam Gale had been caught up in some of the niggly stuff and was yellow carded after 25 minutes, with the visitors capitalising immediately via centre Luke Wilson’s try. With Pete
Evans converting both and adding a penalty, Hoppers found themselves 17-7 down approaching half-time.
But Billington dropped the restart kick and Jordan Dorrington raced over, with Pearson adding the extras.
Arnold then made what he jokingly called “the best substitution I’ve ever made”, as Craig Procter immediately bagged two tries in as many minutes either side of the break to secure the bonus point. Pearson converted the first.
Jake Squirrell, Ally Murray and Oga Mabaya launched an attack which produced a penalty try as Hoppers went for a pushover and the ever-excellent Sam Stott looked to have made the game safe with a try from turnover ball.
Pearson’s conversion made it 40-17, but Billingham battled on as the hosts lost two more men to the sinbin - Chris Taylor and Olly Tripper - and claimed their own bonus point with unconverted tries from flanker Nathan Myers and winger Martin Hopley.
“Billingham are a decent side and are going to be up there at the end of the season,” conceded Arnold. But there was no disguising his pride in his side’s “must do better”response to a hard-fought result which keeps them in second place.
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