Preston Grasshoppers 21, Rotherham Titans 16: Stunning start sets Hoppers on their way to victory

Preston Grasshoppers’ best result so far in National League Two North handsomely fulfilled the back room staff’s recent promises that better times were just around the corner.
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“It’s been coming for a few weeks,” said assistant coach Dan Orwin. “I’m buzzing for them.”

After a chilly trip across the Pennines, former premiership club Rotherham Titans were caught cold by a stunning start from Hoppers, who were 15-0 up inside 10 minutes.

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They had to battle hard to keep their noses in front of a powerful Titans side – who came to Preston in fifth place – but held on for their first win in seven games.

Match action from Hoppers win over Rotherham Titans (photo: Mike Craig)Match action from Hoppers win over Rotherham Titans (photo: Mike Craig)
Match action from Hoppers win over Rotherham Titans (photo: Mike Craig)

“We talked in the week about imposing ourselves on them,” said Orwin, “and we got off to an absolute flyer. Rotherham didn’t know what hit them, thanks to our intensity.”

Chief architects of that early lead were fly-half Will Hunt and winger Tyler Spence, who was making his 100th appearance. Hunt controlled the game with aplomb, frequently driving the Titans back with well-placed kicks.

“With his ability to put the ball in the corners, he’s an exceptional player,” said Orwin, who was also delighted to see Hunt deliver on another part of the game plan by dropping a crucial goal – something not seen very often at Lightfoot Green in recent years!

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“We talked about prioritising putting points on the board when in good positions,” said Orwin.

“The drop goal can be demoralising for the opposition.”

In fact, it was with a third-minute penalty that Hunt opened the scoring, before Spence set about securing himself the man-of-the-match award, with two brilliantly-taken tries in as many minutes – one from a pinpoint cross-kick, the other rounding off incisive runs by Hunt and Jacob Browne.

Hunt converted the second to bring up that remarkable 15-point lead, before fly-half Harry Dunne got Rotherham on the board with a penalty. Hunt countered with his surprise drop-goal for an 18-3 half-time lead.

The Titans restarted strongly, with Dunne landing a second penalty before flanker Marcus Payne was driven over from a line-out for an unconverted try.

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With Hunt taken off to protect a niggling injury, Ed Keohane landed a mid-range penalty for the hosts, but Rotherham ensured an edgy last 20 minutes with another unconverted line-out try, by flanker Callum Bustin.

Despite their scrum coming under unusual pressure, Hoppers’ tenacious defence clung on to their five-point lead for a famous victory, while most of their rivals’ games fell foul of the weather.

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