Hartlepool Rovers suffered a desperate second half at Northern on Saturday, leaking six tries after the break, to be heavily beaten 48-8.
Rovers, on the back of last week’s 57-15 thrashing of Horden and Peterlee in the Durham Intermediate Cup, had been looking to put a marker down for their Durham Northumberland One campaign.
Instead, it was the hosts who did that in their bid to bounce straight back up to North One East after last season’s relegation leaving the Whites suffering from a ‘return to normal service’ afternoon.
All the pre-match hype had been about how Rovers were expected to deliver but the wheels well and truly came off at McCracken Park. Whilst not as bad as their last visit two seasons ago when they were crushed 59-3, it was bad enough.
There was no indication of what was to come when Rovers trailed 10-8 at half time and a kinder bounce of the ball for Liam Wood would have seen Rovers edge the first 40 minutes.
Instead, two tries in three minutes at the start of the second period killed the visitors off.
There was no one to spark an attempted comeback and no urgency or inspiration. Even when the game had gone there was no attempt to at least try to rescue a try-scoring bonus point.
After a let-off when a try was chalked off for a forward pass, Rovers took the lead after eight minutes with a Ryan Foreman three-pointer from 42 metres.
Rovers were caught napping from a quickly-taken lineout on the home 22 and Harrison Clark and Cory Whitworth inter-passed at the end of an 80 metre move for the stand-off to touchdown.
The lead became 10-3 on 31 minutes when, despite being a man down with home skipper Tom White in the sin-bin, Tom Burt scored from a five metre scrum.
Rovers were quick to respond from the restart and Wood raced away to the right hand corner despite being hemmed in by the touchline to cut the deficit to 10-8 at half time.
It felt like the next score could, potentially, be the critical one and it went the way of the Tynesiders with only a minute of the second half gone and they followed it up with another try on 44 minutes to leave Rovers rocking.
Some good approach play by Northern saw hooker Liam Mullick cross, Ali Gray converting and some disastrous kick-off defending by the Friaragemen allowed Gray to easily slice through some poor cover and tackling and, all of a sudden, the lead had increased to 22-8.
Rovers were getting their eyes opened by a much stronger opposition than of late and were unable to hold their line together and leaked after another marauding attack by Northern and prop Sam Wilson was next to benefit from some weak defence after 50 minutes.
The complexion of the match had completely changed and Rovers now trailed 27-8 and, six minutes later, it became 34-8. In complete disarray, and looking likely to concede every time Northern had the ball, Clark chipped and gathered to go under the posts, Gray adding the extra points.
The White Shirts briefly threatened through Joe Little and Liam Austwicke on 58 minutes but a knock-on halted a promising move and the hosts took full advantage on the hour, Gray running in as a scuffle broke out on the 22 and the number nine slotted the conversion for a 41-8 lead.
There was an element of crossing for Northern’s last try two minutes from time but Nathan Whitworth’s score counted and made up for him dropping the ball over the line moments earlier, Gray’s conversion making the final score 48-8.
“The first half was anyone’s,” said player-coach Steve Smith afterwards. “Our structure was in place but the two tries just after half time changed everything.
“After that performance and scoreline there have to be changes for next week and I’m expecting a reaction against Medicals on Saturday.”
Northern: Matthews, C Whitworth, N Whitworth, Ellis, Tait, Clark, Gray, Wilson, Mullick, Hirst, Kell, White (c), Annis, Taylor, Burt. Subs used: Smallwood, Ure, Nyamega
Tries: Clark 15, 56; Gray 44, 60; Burt 31; Mullick 41; Wilson 50; N Whitworth 78; conversions: Gray 41, 56, 60, 78
Penalties awarded9, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 7, 1 against the head; lineouts won 9, 2 stolen
Rovers: Foreman, Rochester, Gunn, Burnside, Harrison, Evens, Barnfield, S Smith, N Stead, Pinchen, Langley, Little, O’Callaghan, Wood, Dring (c). Subs used: Flounders, Austwicke, Charters
Try: Wood 33; penalty: Foreman 8
Penalties awarded 9, kicked 1, missed 0; scrums won 9; lineouts won 4
Referee: Ricky Handa (Northumberland)
Sin bin: White 25; Clark 62; Austwicke 62
Other results: Horden & Peterlee 8 Barnard Castle 23; Medicals 12 S Shields Westoe 48; Ponteland 17 Durham C 29; Stockton 32 Gateshead 7; West Hartlepool 51 Novocastrians 22; Whitby 14 Acklam 76