When Saturday comes, Sheffield Tigers will take another step in their thrilling roller coaster promotion ride.
Fresh from successive wins over second-place Longton and third-place South Leicester, the Dore Moor side still have it all to do as they appear likely to need a maximum 10 point return from their two remaining away games - at Old Northamptonians on Saturday and Scunthorpe on May 7 - if they’re to claim that Play Off spot in Midlands National 3.
The biggest home crowd of the season saw them come through 25-16 against Longton and so complete the double over their promotion rivals, a win that handed the championship and a place in National 2 to Bromsgrove who completed their campaign with a 37-14 victory over Newport (Salop). Fourth-placed Tigers remain five points behind Longton who entertain Luton in their final match of the season on Saturday. If Luton should spring a surprise that would make the Sheffield club’s quest for the runners-up spot and a home Play Off against either Chester or Rossendale on May 14, a little easier.
Wishful thinking but every little helps!
Top of the table: Bromsgrove pld 26, w 21, diff 472, pts 104; Longton 25, 19, 448, 96; South Leicester 26, 18, 237, 92; Sheffield Tigers 24, 19, 350, 91.
Knee injuries to skipper Andy Barnes and Nick Pearson are a worry for the tough trip to Northampton but Director of Rugby Richard Senior and his coaching staff will make sure Tigers are up for the task ahead.
“The boys know what’s expected of them and they’ll be ready for the challenge,” said Senior.
“It’s an exciting time for the club. Promotion to National 2 is still a possibility but it won’t be easy. At the moment we’re concentrating on Saturday’s game and then we’ll see how things stand after that.
“It was a fantastic result against Longton. For the second week running everyone lifted their game. Joe Wright rightly earned the Man of the Match award and our midfield defence was superb with outstanding performances from John Buchanan and Tom Outram.
“The crowd was immense and I want to thank them all for their support as they really do make such a difference. Unfortunately, I felt the referee was disappointing and his interpretation at the breakdown was the worst we have seen.”
Yellow cards were like confetti - Simon Bunting received the first for retaliation after being spat at and the visitors took the resultant three points. Tigers got through with no further loss of points but then player-coach Gregor Hayter found himself sin-binned and the Longton No3 again escaped punishment.
The visitors added another three points but Tigers responded when a catch and drive resulted in Jonny West going over. He added the conversion to give his side the lead which they wouldn’t surrender for the remaining 60 minutes.
It was then Longton’s turn to see yellow after their centre’s cynical challenge but Tigers couldn’t force home any advantage although Hayter was cover tackled just short of the line after a 40 metre burst. Longton were then reduced to 14 men once more on 36 minutes and West put three more points on the board.
Shortly after leading try scorer John Feeley broke clear but he was obstructed which brought the visitors their third yellow card. A penalty try should have been awarded but wasn’t and Tigers had to be content with West’s penalty for a 13-6 half time lead.
It took Tigers just three minutes to widen the gap even further when Wright’s cross-field kick was gathered by Mackenzie and his feed to Outram resulted in a seven-pointer.
Five minutes later another kick for territory by West saw the catch and drive take Longton backwards and over the try line and prop Sam Lockwood touched down.
Unlike South Leicester, Longton came back strongly and home hooker Ali Thomson became the sixth player to be yellow carded. The deficit was reduced to 25-11 after 56 minutes and in the closing minutes the visitors added an unconverted try but Tigers made sure they failed to salvage a losing bonus point.
Team: Lockwood, Thomson, Bunting, Joel, Hayter, Cook, Pearson, Barnes, Drage, West, Mackenzie, Buchanan, Outram, Feeley, Wright. Replacements not used: Cone, Clark, Wragg.