Preston Grasshoppers hang on in another lively finale
Hoppers 38 Sheffield Tigers 33Preston Grasshoppers emerged victorious from an 11-try thriller after once again putting their supporters through an agonising finale.
Twelve points ahead after a rousing first-half performance, they saw Sheffield Tigers claw their way back into this National League Two North clash and, reduced to 14 men for 20 nerve-racking minutes, found themselves two points behind with eight minutes left.
Thoughts of a fifth narrow defeat were tormenting the home fans until winger Connor Trueman sprinted over for his second try, converted by Tom Davidson, to leave the hosts hanging on for a victory which lifted them to 10th in the table.
Head coach Paul Arnold, who had an impressive first half before returning from the bench to steady the ship late on, said: “For this group, that win was really needed.
“We were in a dominant position at half-time but lost our way a little. It was good to come back and win a game like that, getting the monkey of late defeats off our back.”
Arnold said he had always intended to replace himself at some stage with Rouban Birch, who had played a few minutes for Sale on Friday night.
He did so early in the second half but said: “I was quite enjoying myself out there, rolling back some years. And I thought a bit of experience was need in the last 10 minutes.”
Hoppers made a good start, with skipper Paul Millea getting an early try after a burst by Arnold.
Davidson converted, but the hosts handed Sheffield the ball on a plate at the restart and full-back Pete Swatkins swept over for an unconverted try.
Crisp Preston passing after a lineout put Alex Hurst in for an unconverted try, but the Tigers levelled the scores through winger Henri Packard, converted by Joe Duffy.
Hoppers pulled away in the second quarter, with tries by Sam Stott, after good work by Davidson and Trueman, and James Fitzpatrick, following a tap penalty.
Davidson converted the second, but, even though Hoppers had much the better of the next few minutes, errors and some strong try-line defence kept the score to 24-12 at the break.
The mistakes continued after the restart and, although Sheffield also wasted one glorious opportunity, they got prop Ed Simmons over from a lineout, with Duffy adding the conversion.
It all looked to be going wrong for Preston when Ally Murray was sin-binned, Matt Lamprey messed up a quick tap penalty and Packard raced in for his second touchdown, Duffy again converting for a 26-24 lead.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Hoppers responded with Trueman’s first try, set up by Lamprey and Hurst and converted by Davidson.
But, with Murray on the brink of ending his spell in the sin-bin, replacement lock Adam Howard was also yellow-carded for a tackle which looked forceful rather than dangerous.
And the Tigers again made the extra man count when classy centre Jamie Broadley raced clear for a long-range try converted by Duffy.
Davidson missed a penalty that would have regained the lead, but Arnold returned to the fray and, when prop Pete Altham found a bit of space, Trueman was able to capitalise with what proved to be the clinching score.
Davidson’s conversion meant that Sheffield needed at least a try to win and – much to the home fans’ relief – Hoppers managed to avoid another dose of déjà vu to hang on for back-to-back home wins.