Whitby Maroons welcomed league leaders, Whitley Bay Rockcliff, to the Showfield on a cold Saturday afternoon.
The visitors have dominated Durham and Northumberland division two with only one defeat all season, and with Whitby still searching for their first win, this was always going to be a very tough encounter for the home side.
The task was not made any easier with Whitby losing both centres just a few hours before kick-off. Whitby welcomed back James Gildroy and Matt Russell to bolster the pack after a disappointing showing last time out at Wallsend.
A slow start saw Whitby go 12 points down before they started to play.
The Rockcliff backs were showing why they had become favourites for promotion with some silky running and precise passing.
Whitby’s cause was further hampered by losing flanker Andy Grady after becoming concussed.
It became clear early on in the game that the Whitby pack had the beating of their counterparts at the scrum which they made the most of with their first scrum in the Rockcliff 22.
A huge push saw scrum half John Hamilton send centre Nick Beaumont crashing through the defence line to register the first points of the afternoon for the home side.
That hard work was undone soon after with Rockcliff’s pacey winger going over the line soon afterwards.
More misfortune was to follow with prop Matt Russell been shown the yellow card for a confrontation with an opposing player.
Rockcliff used their man advantage in the ensuing 10 minutes by scoring two more tries in the sin bin period.
Whitby did gain another score before half-time when Phil Coverdale powered through to get another score for his team. With Rockcliff going over on the stroke of half-time this made the score 12-41.
The second half started in the same fashion as the first with the Rockcliff number 10 dancing through the Whitby defence to go over the tryline.
The next 15 minutes witnessed the best period of the game for the home side with two tries in quick succession.
The first was again down to the Whitby dominance in the scrum.
After turning over a Rockcliff put in at the scrum, the Whitby pack pushed the Rockcliff pack back a full 10m, before the number eight James Newton, touched the ball down. The second came from Phil Coverdale, who went bravely through the Rockcliff line to claim his second and Whitby’s fourth try of the day, which was enough to secure the Maroons a well-deserved bonus point.
The Rockcliff backs were soon putting pressure back on the Whitby defence and got through twice more soon after the latest Whitby score.
The Whitby trio of Hatton, Craig and Beaumont were working hard and tackling with some real endeavour and aggression.
This then helped the Whitby backs to stretch their legs and show the potential that they hold.
Experienced full back Oliver Roberts showed he still has it, when a mazy run through the Rockcliff defence saw a cool offload to Neil Waterfield who secured another Whitby score.
Just a minute later, young winger Scott Armstrong used a good spurt of pace to go over just under the posts to give Whitby some well-earned credibility to the score line.
Rockcliff went over in the last few seconds to snatch the last points of the afternoon to win 63-34.
This was a spirited effort by a Whitby team who were up against well-drilled opponents with quick pace and experience. The Whitby forwards put on their best display of the season with domination at both the scrum and the break down.
There were a number of contenders for man of the match including Phil Coverdale with his two tries from second row, along with mentions for Gildroy, Newton and Beaumont.
However, the man of the match award went to Dan Cairns, the loose head prop showed great technique in the scrum and clever work around the breakdown with some big tackles.
Coach Darryl Grason said: “This was a 100% improvement from our last match, we fronted up against top of the league team, gave it a go and our heads never went down.
“Some of our work at set pieces and the breakdown was outstanding.”
Whitby Maroons 34 Whitley Bay Rockcliff 63