Harrogate RUFC took a huge step towards securing their National Two North status when they beat Preston Grasshoppers 45-32 on Saturday.
Dave Doherty’s side went into the fixture just a point above the relegation places, but now sit four points clear of the drop zone with two games of the season remaining.
Spring sunshine and a 3G pitch saw two attack-minded sides produce a game of free-flowing rugby in which 77 points were scored, but the men from Rudding Lane did not have things all their own way, going in at half-time well behind.
Harrogate opened with waves of attacks, but their momentum was ended by a forward pass.
Jonny Coser then won a great turnover from a Preston driving maul and the ball was recycled to Keane Naylor whose pace and strength gave the visitors the opening try.
The Hoppers counter-attacked from the re-start and a late tackle was penalised leading to a home attacking line-out.
A more successful driving maul followed and hooker Matt Beaty’s try was converted by Lewis Allen to put the hosts 7-5 ahead.
Minutes later the Cockerels were penalised for coming in from the side and Allen’s penalty made it 10-5.
Harrogate’s defence was being tested, and found wanting during this stage of the game.
A well-constructed home move led to a converted try for flanker Sam Gale, increasing the gap to 17-5 but Harrogate quickly responded with a brilliant individual touchdown from Doherty.
The full-back fielded a Hoppers clearance on halfway and danced through a number of despairing attempted tackles to make it 17-12 after 21 minutes.
Another Allen penalty extended the home lead and more Preston pressure followed.
Flanker Matt Fring’s try put them further ahead, but men from Rudding Lane were undeterred and started to come more into the match.
Winger Luke Edwards’s break split the home defence, but what should have been a scoring pass was butchered and the Hoppers went in 25-12 ahead at the break.
The second half opened with a sustained series of Harrogate attacks.
An Oli Rosillo break was well supported by Ben Dixon, Doherty and Fox, the latter evenatually gliding over for a converted touchdown, trimming the gap to six points.
The away side then set up another attack from good turnover ball, but it was ended with a high tackle which led to Preston’s Alastair Murray being sent to the sin-bin. Crucially Harrogate scored 12 vital points during his absence.
A dynamic burst from Sam Brady set up another Cockerels attack and he was in support of the move to score a converted try to put the Rudding Lane outfit 26-25 ahead.
With their noses in front, Doherty’s men hit the accelerator and Dixon ran strongly from the re-start and his try extended his side’s advantage.
More Harrogate pressure followed and Rosillo’s converted score put them still further ahead at 38-25.
Preston continued to attack but a Harrogate counter from deep fed the flying Edwards who outpaced the defence for a spectacular 50-metre converted effort.
The match was out of sight for the Hoppers by this point, but they refused to give up and a quickly-taken penalty led to Gale’s second try of the day.
The successful conversion was followed by the final whistle as victory edged Harrogate further away from the trap door, but condemned their hosts to demotion.