If Sheffield needed a boost before their showdown at leaders Billingham it duly came in their nine-try romp over Durham City.
On paper it was a serious challenge, with fourth-placed Sheffield just three points ahead of Durham but having played a game more and being edged out in the early season away clash.
The end result was anything but as the Abbeydale team romped to a 60-3 victory to add further power to their impressive North 1 East campaign.
It will be a totally different affair at Billingham on Saturday as they look to close the 13 point gap between themselves and the top of the table side and blow the title race wide open in the process.
In contrast to Sheffield’s demolition job, the North East side suffered a 25-19 defeat at Malton and Norton while Middlesbrough crashed to a shock 21-19 home loss to Northern which allowed Wheatley Hills - 22-15 winners at Cleckheaton - to leapfrog over them into second place.
Whether Sheffield will be party to a Billingham backlash is anyone’s guess but skipper Andy Kelly and his men are primed for the challenge.
“They are definitely the best team we’ve played this season,” said Kelly. “I’ve no doubt they’ll be looking to get the Malton result out of their system but we’re playing with confidence and you never know what might happen on the day.
“The really pleasing thing in the Durham match was our relentless pursuit of points. We made a good start and kept the momentum going. We were very clinical and it was a very satisfactory performance; a great start to the New Year,” he added.
The game marked the 50th first team appearance for hooker Carl Mortimer - memo to Carl, forget attempting to kick to touch! - while prop Andy Gravil and flanker Tuni Masi made their senior debuts from the bench. Sheffield were seven points to the good after just four minutes courtesy of a try from centre Simon Tillyear and Donal Collins’ conversion. John Dudley set up winger Alex Hill for a second converted try after 17 minutes and four minutes later James Montgomery put another five points in the bag as he sped down the wing to score wide out on the right. Both teams then exchanged penalties as Sheffield took a 22-3 lead into the half-time break.
The home side should have added two more tries within the opening five minutes of the second half but another addition to their try tally wasn’t long in coming as Joe Cribley scythed his way through and Collins bagged the extras.
Six minutes later second row Soloman Prestage stripped the ball on half way and went on to run all the way to the line and under the posts for a seven pointer. Shortly after replacement prop Gravil touched after some powerful driving from the pack and Collins again did the business to put Sheffield out of sight at 43-3 after 64 minutes.
Three minutes later Cribley added his second try of the day after Kelly had stolen Durham’s ball at a line-out and Montgomery did likewise in the closing minutes.
Neither was converted but Collins did add the finishing touch to replacement wing Ali Womack’s try which finally brought the fest to an end.
Team: Ewan Reed, James Montgomery, Joe Cribley, Simon Tillyer, Alex Hill (Alistair Womack, 58), Donal Collins, Matt Poste, Tommy Marples, Carl Mortimer, Ramzey Adamo (Andy Gravil, 52 mins), John Dudley, Soloman Prestage, Laurence Thomas (Tuni Masi, 58), Martin Balshaw, Andy Kelly (capt).
Top of North 1 East: Billingham pld 16, pts 63; Wheatley Hills 16, 57; Middlesbrough 16, 54; Sheffield 16, 50; Percy Park 15, 49; Durham City 15, 42; Malton and Norton 15, 42.