Hoppers collect the title trophy in style

Preston Grasshoppers captain Paul Millea lifts the title
Preston Grasshoppers captain Paul Millea lifts the title

Preston Grasshoppers recovered from a sluggish start to rack up 57 unanswered points and put a resounding gloss on collecting the North Premier League championship trophy at the end of their 22nd victory of this impressive season.

Visitors Morley, doomed to relegation by this result, scored first after Hoppers had crossed the halfway line just once in the first 12 minutes.

But that penalty by Mark Chester was their only real sniff of a score as the hosts proceeded to run in nine tries for their second-highest winning margin of the campaign.

Following Morley’s early lead, prop Pete Altham set the Preston ball rolling by turning up on the left wing to touch down after Hoppers had gone close under the posts.

Winger Niall Crossley’s scintillating 40-metre break set up some patient recycling before Crosley himself rounded it off with his 12th try of the season.

Scything breaks by fly-half Alex Ward and centre James Fitzpatrick ended with flanker Sam Gale surging over for a try converted by Ward for a 17-3 halftime lead, which could have been closer but for some fine defensive work by winger Tyler Spence when Morley spotted acres of space behind the home backs.

At the start of the second half, Spence was narrowly thwarted after good work by centre Alex Hurst – but not for long. Soon after, Morley spilled the ball in attack and, with Ward and Hurst leading the way, Preston turned defence into attack for Spence to claim the bonus-point fourth try, converted by Sam Stott, who had replaced the injured Jake Squirrell, with Scott Jordan moving to scrum-half.

Tries then came at regular intervals as Morley’s spells of defiance became rarer and rarer. A strong run by replacement front-row Dan Madden ended with Jordan scoring his 15th try of the season. Quickly back on the attack, the only question about Hoppers’ next touchdown was whether Hurst or lock Chris Roddy would win the race to a loose ball as it was hacked over the line. The honours went to the centre – just – before Arnold made an immediate contribution as a replacement, stretching out to score after Ally Murray and Olly Trippier had taken play to the visitors’ line again.

Roddy was having an immense afternoon and just missed out on the scoresheet after a solo, charge, kick and chase. Fitzpatrick, too, was having a devastating effect in midfield and set up a score for Trippier, before Hurst rounded off a hugely satisfactory last hour with the ninth try thanks to an interception 60 metres from his own line.

Stott added the last four conversions, skipper Paul Millea led his troops up into the stand to collect the trophy and the celebrations could begin for another job well done.