Preston Grasshoppers 24 Hull 18
Preston Grasshoppers survived an enforced pre-kick-off reshuffle and a late surge by second-placed Hull to grab a bonus-point victory which extends their lead at the top of the North Premier.
Centre Alex Hurst injured a hamstring in the warm-up, meaning Sam Stott switching to centre and Tyler Spence starting on the wing.
But head coach Paul Arnold was full of praise for the way the two youngsters adapted to the last-minute change – and particularly the way Spence pulled off a potentially match-saving cover tackle in the last play of the game.
But this was by no means a comfortable ride for a Hoppers side which might have been well in the clear by half-time.
“The lads have to be mentally switched on all game and we weren’t at the last scrum – giving Hull a chance to snatch a win,” said Arnold.
“Hull are not a bad side, but when it’s backs to the wall, our lads dig in and it’s good to keep knocking off these wins each week.”
Hoppers are unbeaten in 15 games all season and gained gratifying revenge for the only blemish – a draw at Hull.
Hoppers dominated much of the first half territorially, but were let down at times by their composure when chances beckoned. With Hull forward Tom Rice in the sin-bin, No.8 Matt Lamprey did eventually get over for his 17th try.
But Hull hit back with a try by Joe Martin, after a devastating break by Joe Stafford, and a conversion and penalty from Stephen Johnson. That shocked Hoppers back to business and a line-out steal set up the position for winger Niall Crosley to go close, before quick hands put lock Chris Roddy over. Scrum-half Jake Squirrell converted to make it 12-10 at the break. Hoppers missed more chances, in particular when Hull stole the ball after a dazzling run by Spence had won Preston a five-metre scrum.
But there was no mistake at the next, when Hull were shunted off their ball and skipper Paul Millea crashed over for Squirrell to convert.
Johnson brought his side within six points with a penalty 10 minutes from time, but full-back Scott Jordan appeared to have put the issue beyond doubt when he rounded off an attack initiated when Oga Mabaya stripped the ball in a tackle, with the rampaging Ally Murray opening up the defence for the unconverted score.
Still Hull would not admit defeat and a needless double penalty allowed them to get Lee Birch over in the corner. Johnson could not convert but Birch looked like repeating his feat until Spence made the crucial cover tackle to end a dramatic afternoon.