Harrogate RUFC team manager Graham Siswick has resigned himself to fighting for a play-off place after his men fell to their first defeat in 12.
‘Gate slipped off the National League Three North perch last Saturday after plunging to a 19-8 loss at home to Sanday (full report page 91. )
The lack of a losing bonus-point left the Claro Road club one point behind long-time title rivals Chester, who thrashed Penrith 41-6.
But Siswick expects nothing less than a Chester bonus-point victory against mid-table Rossendale on Saturday to earn them the league.
‘Gate travel to Middlesbrough-based Billingham for their final league match this weekend knowing a win would secure a second-place finish.
Siswick said: “The feelings are a mixture of disappointment and determination that we are still in there.
“We are crazy keen to go up but we are going to have to do it the hard way.
“This is not the way we planned but it’s what we are going to have to do.
“It’s a big test of character.”
Siswick reckons eighth-placed Billingham will provide a difficult nut to crack next weekend.
He said: “They have some excellent backs that will enjoy playing on the dry grounds we have now.
“It’ll be another contest.
“We can beat them and that will secure us second place.”
Should ‘Gate win, they are likely to face Sutton Coldfield away on April 27 to play-off for a place in National Two.
Defeat against Sandal ended ‘Gate’s club record winning streak but Siswick said that haul was secondary to their promotion ambitions.
Callum Irvine’s knocked over a solitary penalty in the first half before Sam Bottomley struck a club leading 16th try of the season to reduced the deficit.
But handling errors and a high penalty county proved costly and a forwards try, followed by a drop-goal from opposing captain Greg Wood, saw Sandal home.
Afterwards, Siswick praised the strength of the away side’s pack and said his side struggled to grip hold of the game.
“The Sandal defence was excellent,” he said.
“We had opportunities to score tries but their defence was a key factor. It was first class. They got back in numbers and sniffed out the half breaks that we made.
“We had some good ball at times but we didn’t manage to execute. The accuracy of the execution wasn’t as good as it should be or as it has been.”