A second half revival from a ring rusty Rockliff was not enough to salvage a win in a nine-try thriller in their first league outing since before Christmas.
Bishop Auckland came out of the blocks with all guns blazing and the powerful running of Fijian number six Rex Nareki and the guile of Tom Burn at stand-off allied with some weak tackling in midfield saw the visitors open up a 17-0 lead in the first 20 minutes, with an opening try from Will Howe converted by Burn added to by further tries from Chris Liddell and Burn.
Rockcliff slowly got themselves back into contention when after a series of forward drives Ben Butler broke from the edge of the 22 and was tackled just short of the line in the left hand corner. Niall Stokes was on hand to pick up and burrow over from close range to open the scoring for the Red and Golds. Andrew Webster was unlucky with the conversion attempt as the ball drifted just left of the posts.
From the restart Bishop Auckland forced a penalty and from 25 metres out Burn slotted home for 20-5.
With the first half coming to a close Rockcliff mustered a late rally, and, again following some good forward play, they forced Bishop Auckland back into their own 22. From a quick tapped penalty, Webster sniped though to score under the posts and then converted to see the sides change ends with Rockcliff trailing by eight points.
There was an early set back for Rockcliff when Andrew Brabban scored an uncoverted try for the visitors to make it 25-12, but there was a greater urgency about Rockcliff’s play and two tries in succession brought them to within a point.
The first came from another quick tap penalty move which got the visitors’ defence back pedaling and Chris McCabe burst through to touch down. Then Webster capped a fine display to cut through from 15 metres out and then convert for 25-24.
Bishop Auckland responded well and, winning their own restart, they forced Rockcliff back and were awarded a penalty for not releasing at the tackle, which the impressive Burn sent straight between the posts.
Gaining possession in the second half, Webster launched a great kick down into the left hand corner which winger Ryan Yellop followed up. The ball actually crossed the goal line and the Bishop Auckland defender only had to touch it down to ensure a 22-metre drop out, but he got caught in two minds and the pursuing Rockcliff posse forced a fumble and Stokes was on hand to scavenge his second try of the game and put Rockcliff ahead for the first time in the match at 29-28. Webster hit the crossbar with the conversion.
Once again it was Burn who kept Bishop Auckland’s score ticking over, and from open play he dropped a superb goal from 25 metres out to edge his side back in front at 29-31 with ten minutes to go.
Rockcliff then laid siege to the Bishop Auckland line but could not find a way through a stubborn defence.
Then at the death Rockcliff earned a penalty 30 metres out to the right but Webster’s effort faded just short and the game was over.
Despite the late charge the damage was done in the first quarter of the game and Rockcliff can not afford concede 17 points without reply and then expect to go on and win games.
Next week Rockcliff face a tough away trip to third placed Hartlepool.