league leaders Stourbridge survived their first ever visit to Sheffield Tigers’ Dore Moor headquarters with their unbeaten record intact - but only just.
A spirited Tigers performance saw them come within five minutes of registering a shock win, against a side that had blitzed all the other teams they had faced so far this season.
Tries from scrum-half Alex Drage and Mark Chivers gave Tigers hope, and the ever-dependable kicker Tom Outram was once again in fine form.
But Tigers’ hearts were broken late on, and they narrowly went down 22-20 for only their third defeat of the season.
Tigers, who welcomed back captain Andy Barnes at the expense of injured Nick Pearson, began brightly and good runs by centres Jon Buchanan and Jamie Broadley showed that they were intent on playing open rugby.
This was, however, matched by Stourbridge and it needed an excellent tackle by full-back Peter Swatkins to stop an early Stourbridge attack.
It was eventually the visitors who opened the scoring after nine minutes through their leading scorer, Drew Harper.
Five minutes later, Tigers were back in the game when scrum-half Drage wrong-footed the visitor’s defence with a dummy and cut through to score. Outram converted to give Tigers a two-point lead after fourteen minutes.
Tigers’ cause was not helped when they lost two experienced players in as many minutes - prop Anton O’Donnell forced off with a knee injury shortly after Ross White succumbed to an ankle injury.
Hearn then gave Stourbridge a 10-7 lead with a try, but Outram’s penalty levelled the scores and Tigers finished the half on the front foot.
After a good cover tackle by Frank Wragg, Broadley had a good run but could not be supported quickly enough.
Stourbridge then conceded a free kick compounded by an offence from Harper for which he received a yellow card. That left Outram to kick the penalty to give Tigers a deserved 13-10 half-time advantage.
The home side began the second half in similar fashion, too, as they looked to make the most of their numerical advantage.
After 43 minutes, Chivers’ try was converted by Outram to give Tigers some daylight, but Stourbridge refused to go down without a fight.
After Barnes received a yellow card for an infringement at the ruck, Stourbridge took full advantage and Harper added his second try.
With five minutes to play, or in Tigers case to defend, Stourbridge were awarded a penalty try - and the conversion by Caolan Ryan, right in front of the posts, gave Stourbridge the points - and the victory, which keeps them eight points clear of second-placed Hull Ionians.
Tigers remain in fifth place ahead of next Saturday’s trip to Leicester Lions (2pm kick off).
With nine wins from their 12 games, they are just four points behind Darlington Mowden Park in fourth place.
“It was a tremendous match,” Tigers’ Nigel Dakin said.
“The Tigers team can feel proud of their efforts as they were just five minutes from defeating a very good side.
“The tackling was excellent throughout and all the players stood up to the forward battering from Stourbridge, especially during the last quarter of the match.”
Tigers: Chivers, White (Price 21), O’Donnell (Cone 24), Joel, Hayter, Wragg, Argyle, Barnes, Drage, Outram, Graham, Buchanan, Broadley, Wallace, Swatkins.
Replacements not used: Holmes, Dunn, Duckham.