A DRAMATIC comeback to force a 24-all draw with Novocastrians could not mask more disappointment for Sunderland in their first Ashbrooke outing of the season.
Sunderland were again slow to get going and Novos opened the scoring with a move which started deep in their own half. A mixture of good handling and ineffective Sunderland tackling saw them score under the posts and take an early 7-0 lead.
Sunderland responded almost immediately when Matt Francis spun a pass wide to Peter Carter on the blindside, who crossed the line untouched. However, the missed conversion was to prove costly in the final shake-up.
Sunderland looked to be getting the upper hand, dominating possession and territory and pushing for a second score.
But as the ball was spun out wide to the left, the Novos’ centre shot out of the line to intercept the pass and and race 70 metres to score under the posts. The conversion made the score 14-5 at half time.
Sunderland would have hoped for a better start to the second half than they did to the first, but more sloppy play let Novos in for another early score.
Trying to force the offload on the halfway line, the ball was spilled, gifting Novos possession and allowing their winger to race away to add to their lead.
The conversion made the score 21-5 and Sunderland were in real danger of slipping to their fourth straight defeat.
Andy Black brought Sunderland back into the game when he powered over from close range following a well-driven lineout, but another missed kick meant Sunderland still trailed 21-10, needing two converted scores to win.
Their cause was not helped when Novos added a penalty to make the score 24-10.
Sunderland then put together the move of the game when Greg Littlewood caught a Novos kick five metres out from his own line.
Seeing space in front of him Littlewood took off, showing a great turn of pace and nimble footwork as he broke toward the halfway line before feeding Dan Abraham.
Abraham took the ball over halfway and passed back inside to Littlewood as the covering full back chased him down.
Littlewood then fed Sean Bellon, who touched down under the posts. Bellon took over the kicking duties and duly added the extra points.
Bellon then got Sunderland on level terms when he was on the end of another Sunderland move in the backs and crossed for a second try. The conversion levelled the score at 24-24 and gave Sunderland a try- scoring bonus point.
Sunderland seconds were disappointed with their performance against Novos’ seconds as they lost out 31-7. Chris Geehan, forced to play as a makeshift fly-half, scored Sunderland’s try.
Sunderland thirds also played Novos opposition and were comfortable 60-41 winners.
Tries from Swann (3), Wright (2), Wallace, Simpson, Watt and Grainger gave them victory, Grainger adding four conversions.