Preston Grasshoppers 66, Sandal 20

Paul Arnold
Paul Arnold

Preston Grasshoppers wrapped up their title-winning season with a 10-try flourish, which preserved their 100 per cent home record in the North Premier League.

Preston Grasshoppers wrapped up their title-winning season with a 10-try flourish, which preserved their 100 per cent home record in the North Premier League.

After this 13th victory out of 13 at Lightfoot Green, head coach Paul Arnold said: “What a fantastic way to finish the season. It’s been an outstanding experience and I’ve developed a lot as a coach. I want to say a massive thank-you to everyone at the club. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

On a glorious spring afternoon designated a “Family Fun Day” by Hoppers, a large crowd saw the hosts hit their stride with a try in the third minute, and they never looked back despite a gutsy performance by Sandal, whose lively back division contributed in no small measure to a game which proved as entertaining as the various funfair counter-attractions off the pitch.

Lock Ally Murray got the scoreboard moving with a try after a line-out drive in which flanker Sam Gale was held on the line. Sandal responded with a penalty by fly-half James Ellar after a fine break by centre Steve Nolson, but a classic build-up involving No 8 Matt Lamprey, departing winger Niall Crosley and Gale ended with fly-half Alex Ward racing over from 25 metres.

Centre Sam Stott converted, but Ellar replied with a second penalty shortly after scrum-half Jake Squirrell had made a try-saving tackle on centre Greg Wood.

Hoppers quickly collected the four-try bonus point with scores by centre Alex Hurst - who intercepted a telegraphed pass for a straight run-in, but tweaked a hamstring in the process – and by Gale from a line-out drive. Stott converted both but Sandal created a fine try of their own for winger Simon Frewin, converted by Ellar.

Preston had the last word of a busy first half when Lamprey took his season’s try tally to 33 from another line-out drive, with Stott again adding the extras. Crosley ran strongly from the kick-off, but Sandal defended well to keep the score to 33-13.

However, Hoppers continued the try blitz after the break as Gale scored his second from smart work by Murray, before flanker Matt Frings, in his final game before emigrating to New Mexico, put full-back Scott Jordan over. A comedy of errors in midfield, with both sides losing control of the ball, saw Sandal get No 8 Nick Carolan over for a converted try, but that was their last score.

Hoppers raced away to victory with Jordan’s 18th try of the season, thanks to a Crosley break, and two more for the galloping Gale to take his tally to a man-of-the-match winning four touchdowns, and 10 for the season.

Stott converted four of the second-half tries as Preston took their total to 897 points and 138 tries in a campaign which brought just two defeats.

After storming to another resounding victory, they now have the chance of a couple of months off before they begin preparing for life in National League Two North.