HARROGATE were thumped 47-18 at home to Sean Long’s Preston Grasshoppers on Saturday, as the visitors ran in seven tries through their dazzling backs.
The defeat leaves Harrogate in a precarious place near the foot of National Two North.
In football meanwhile,HARROGATE TOWN earned a 1-0 win at rock bottom Eastwood Town in Blue Square North. Johnny Allan snatched the win with a goal in the 91st minute.
But there was a 3-2 defeat for HARROGATE RAILWAY away at Bamber Bridge in the EvoStik First Division North.
In the NCEL Premier, TADCASTER ALBION were pegged 1-1 at Maltby Main.
Liam Shepherd gave Taddy the lead but Maltby snatched a late goal to share the spoils.
Back at the rugby club, the impressive sight of former Great Britain rugby league star Sean Long warming up was an omen of things to come one.
Preston’s thoroughbred side were efficiently directed by the ex-St Helens scrum half all afternoon, and the visitors quickly made their mark.
They inflicted an early blow when after an energetic break by Long, powerful number eight Dominic Moon scythed through Harrogate’s back line for a try in the second minute, converted by scrum half Nathan Fowles.
But Harrogate waited for an opportunity to run the ball, and they found it in the 11th minute.
A pass from number eight Ryan Peacey saw Aspinall’s lateral run split Preston’s defence.
The ball was worked down the backs until Preston concended a penalty at the breakdown, and full back Ed Smithies dived over for the try after a pass from centre Jack Latus.
Aspinall’s conversion was just wide.
Another Pearcey and Aspinall link-up released pacy winger Arnie Ellison but he was pulled back, wrongly, for a forward pass handing Preston the scrum.
And it was too easy for the visitors, as Fowles released winger Phil Baines, and quick hands through the Preston backs handed full back Sean Taylor a straightforward touchdown.
Fowles’ conversion was a formality and Preston were 14-5 in front.
Harrogate were attempting to run the ball again but were making precious little ground as Preston’s defence held firm.
An Aspinall penalty for Preston’s straying offside reduced the deficit to 8-14 and another Preston offside made it 11-14 at the break.
Things looked promising for Harrogate but the first half had been deceiving, as Preston returned to the pitch to run in five more tries in the second stanza.
A break just outside Harrogate’s 22 by wing Matt Gargett found its way to centre Jack Ward, and more quick ball through the backs saw it taken across the line by Moon, who shrugged off tacklers as he touched down.
Fowles’ conversion maintained his perfect record of three from three, and after an evil Long crossfield kick took a wicked bounce which outfoxed Smithies, it landed perfectly for Gargett to charge across the line, Fowles again tagging the extras.
Lock Tom Harvey and prop Jack Bergamanas were replaced by Sam Brady and Andy Fraser on 55 minutes, but Preston were in again after dazzling handling across the back line put Gargett through over, Fowles adding the extras.
Ryan Peacey made way for Nick Beaumont on 60 minutes, but the tries kept coming for Preston, who were giving a masterclass in how to offload, as wing Baines intercepted a high ball to race 50 metres for the line for a converted try, Preston now leading 42-11.
They could have had another but for a knock-on by replacement Josh Purnell.
Nothing seemed to be working for Harrogate in this half, passes deemed forward, kicks too short or too long.
And the agony continued, Long releasing a perfectly weighted cross-field kick to find Baines who raced over.
Vowles had been subbed and Long missed the conversion but it hardly mattered.
In a final burst of defiance, and after a very cheeky dummy, Harrogate scrum half Phil Wickham pinched a late try converted by Aspinall in the final minute but it was cold comfort for Harrogate.
Preston’s handling and recycling had been so superiour, they barely looked under any pressure in the second half.
Harrogate: Ed Smithies, Arnie Ellison, Jack Latus, Kyle Dench, Chris Gemmell, Mike Aspinall, Phil Wickham; Jack Bergmanas, Steve Maycock, Jimmy Browne, Tom Harvey, Jake Brady, Tim Heaton, James Tyson, Ryan Peacey; Subs Toby Quarendon; Aarin Yorke, Sam Brady, Nick Beaumont, Andy Fraser.
Preston Grasshoppers: Sean Taylor, Matt Gargett, Karl Fitzpatrick, Jack Ward, Phil Baines, Sean Long, Nathan Fowler, Chris Gale, Alan Holmes, Rich Morton, Jon Wells, Wayne Steel, Will Keenan, Matt Charters, Dominic Moon; Phil Mills, Mark Irving, Killian Wallace, Josh Purnell, Anthony Elliott.