SATURDAY’S game between unbeaten sides Blyth and Winlaton Vulcans at Plessey Road lived up to expectations and provided a good crowd with a contest which remained in the balance until the final whistle.
Winlaton, who fielded a young, fit and physical side, set off at a cracking pace and it took Blyth a good 15 minutes to find their feet, but once they did an enthralling match followed.
Winlaton fly-half David Lowes scored an early try and converted for a 0-7 lead.
Fly-half Gregg Dawson put Blyth on the scoreboard with a penalty at 3-7 but a handling error led to a breakaway try for visiting centre Mark Seddon, which was converted by Lowes to put Winlaton ahead 3-14.
Exchanges were fast and furious with Blyth incurring two blood injuries to second row Craig Turnbull and prop Mick Barber with Wayne Dobson and Stu Browne deputising respectively.
Blyth were now in full flow and intense pressure from the home forwards brought a try for hooker Martin Stephenson, which Dawson converted to make the score 10-14.
With Blyth well on top a further score seemed inevitable, but when it came it caused some dispute.
Exchange referee Nick Boyce, from Leighton Buzzard, awarded Blyth a penalty try for deliberate obstruction with Dawson converting for a half-time score of 17-14 to Blyth.
At the interval Blyth brought Dobson on for Rose at second row and the game, fiercely contested in the first half, became even more so in the second.
Blyth right wing Andy Barker received a head injury but continued and a yellow card was issued to each side.
Blyth made a further change, bringing on Browne for Nick Fraser at prop.
A Dawson penalty stretched Blyth’s lead to 20-14 and a high speed handling move saw back row Dean Langdown put Barker in for a picture try.
Winlaton’s Lowes dropped a good goal and followed it with an unconverted try to cut Blyth’s lead to 25-22.
It was now anybody’s game and some of the confrontations were just within the laws and certainly not for the faint hearted.
A brace of penalties from the immaculate boot of Dawson eased Blyth further ahead at 31-22, but the Vulcans were far from done.
A sustained attack from the visiting forwards saw replacement prop Scott Finlay touch down, but with the kick missed and Winlaton trailed at 31-27 and needed a try for victory which led to an uncomfortable final five minutes for home supporters as Blyth ran down the clock.
Blyth just about deserved their win while Winlaton had the consolation of a bonus point for scoring four tries.
The two sets of forwards were evenly matched and it was a battle royal up front, while one big improvement in Blyth’s game was the tackling, which was crisp and purposeful – and it needed to be.
Neutrals would have gone away well satisfied and some spectators were already anticipating the return match which will take place December 17.
On Saturday Blyth face another stiff test away to Bishop Aukland, kick-off 3pm.