Rockcliff maintained their unbeaten start to the season and pole position in Durham and Northumberland Division 2 but left it late in exciting game in the Tees Valley against Barnard Castle.
On a poor day weather-wise, both teams put bodies on the line in a hard fought match played in the right spirit.
Both were affected by enforced changes. Rockcliff coach Jack Lambert having lost both his skipper and vice-captain, a second row, and his regular No. 8, so they started with Matthew Bradley, Steven Common, and Thomas Dawson in the front row, Gary Lewis and Niall Stokes in the second row, with Kai Downey-Stevenson, Chris Keen, and the versatile Josh Donnelly at eight making up the back row.
Lewis Partis slotted in at nine and Ricki Hasnip at ten. Try machine Steven Scott, Bryan Stewart Jonathan Earnshaw, Andrew Telford, and Jordan Anderson completed the team, with Neil Mather, Karl Briggs, and Chris Waddell starting from the bench.
Rockcliff started down the hill and promised much in the first ten minutes, so the resulting try was no surprise to the large crowd who watched a flowing move pull the home defence apart and the ball was moved across the line to new find Stokes who went over under the posts. Anderson converted in his new role as kicker for 7-0.
Castle are made of stern stuff and they came back and what followed was a tough game with crunching tackles from both sides and not a vexed word said by either team.
Rockcliff were not helped by acting stand-off Hasnip injuring a hamstring and having to kick with his wrong foot. So Stewart moved into that position and Hasnip moved outside to centre where he was able to marshall his line with some outstanding defence.
In an even match Barnard Castle came back to score and convert a try of their own and at half-time it was 7-7.
The second half saw the home team coming down the hill, smashing into Rockcliff.
Downey-Stevenson and Donnelly were in their element, playing together in a competitive match for the first time since junior rugby at Percy Park; both carrying ball, producing crunching tackles, and both players turned over ball three times each.
The hard fought game meant that injuries were being incurred and substitutes were introduced; Briggs coming on for Kean, Mather for Common, and Waddell for Telford.
With seven minutes left the home side were awarded a penalty that was coolly taken by their kicking prop, who had a good game, and things look bleak for the league leaders at 10-7 down.
In the next ruck tough Irishman Lewis popped his shoulder, it went back in, but he refused to come off until the pain was too much, and was finally replaced by Common.
Rockcliff surged up the hill, and in the resulting move the ball came out to Downey-Stevenson who drew his man and released Scott who dived over in the corner to put the Red and Golds ahead at 12-10.
Stewart missed the conversion but was encouraged by the crowd to take his allocated two minutes which he duly did.
From the re-start there was still time for a Barnard Castle attack, but again good defence by the whole Rockcliff team saw the ball hoofed into touch by Stewart.
Being league leaders has its setbacks as teams want to be the first to beat you, and Barnard Castle made this clear and played well, and can consider themselves unlucky, but this Rockcliff team is made of stern stuff and the lads play for each other.
Anderson was man of the match for a great display at full-back, great defence and joining the line at crucial times.
The Rockcliff supporters voted the home scrum-half as their best player.
A great game to watch, and although conditions hindered both teams but it was enjoyable for the crowd.
This weekend Rockcliff are at home to Seaton Carew.
Whitley Bay Rockcliff 2nds 13
Westoe 3rds 29
With key Vikings players called up into first team action, Rockcliff 2nds pack was light and Westoe’s more powerful forwards proved to be the difference in this Northumberland River Aln league match.
Rockcliff’s scores came from Dom Casey and James Rogerson with a try apiece, and a penalty from Chris Forster.
Hooker Andrew Moore and outside centre Matty Dunbar were the Vikings’ stand out players, with Moore taking three against the head, and some excellent tackling from Dunbar.
Andy Partis tackled himself into the ground and just failed to get his nose in front to score a first half try.
The Vikings are in league action again this weekend, away at Medicals.