SUNDERLAND came off second best in the derby with Horden, going down 19-7 in the Durham Northumberland Division One opener at Hill View.
Already missing a number of players in the backs, Sunderland’s chances weren’t helped by the late withdrawal of Matt Goforth so a reshuffle was required in the backline that saw Dom Watson come onto the wing and Tom Atkinson move into the centres.
A deluge of rain just before kick-off didn’t help either side so it was no surprise that the opening phases of the game were dominated by the forwards. Sunderland looked to have the edge at the set-piece and some early pick and drives saw them dominate the territory and possession in the opening minutes.
Horden, though, were the first team on the scoresheet with a try midway through the first half.
They took advantage of the strong wind to kick a penalty deep into the Sunderland half. Recovering possession from a scrappy line-out, they were able to throw the ball wide and expose Sunderland’s inexperienced backline with an overlap down the left flank. The ball was moved smartly through the backs to David Mason, who rounded his opposite number to score. Andrew Turner converted.
Shortly afterwards, Mason broke from inside his own half but failed to find the supporting Michael Turner, who would surely have scored.
But midway through the first period, the colliery side extended their lead.
A good drive by the forwards provided quick ball and Darren Witte broke the line and fed the supporting Andrew Turner who barged over from short distance for a unconverted try.
To Sunderland’s credit, they didn’t let their heads drop and again dominated a lot of possession and territory but their lack of any real cutting edge in the backline meant that they rarely threatened the Horden line.
When they did get close, spirited Horden defence saw all of Sunderland’s efforts rebuffed with a missed kick at goal being the closest they came to recording a first-half score.
The second half continued in much the same fashion as the first with Sunderland dominating territory. Horden looked dangerous with ball in hand making a number of breaks but as most of their moves started from deep inside their own half they never really came close to scoring.
The Sunderland pack were finally rewarded for their efforts midway through the second half when Andy Wordsworth took a shortened line-out 15 metres out and was driven to within a couple of metres of the line before John Drummond broke from the back of the maul and crashed over the line with the support of Ryan Buckley.
Michael Walton’s conversion brought Sunderland to within five points at 12-7.
Horden had a player sin-binned for repeatedly slowing down the ball but any thoughts of a Sunderland comeback were extinguished with ten minutes to go when Horden scored the final points of the day.
From a series of forward drives and multiple phases, the ball was worked out to Scott Holloway on the wing who went over in the corner. Andrew Turner converted.
Despite the loss, Sunderland coach Fraser Kennedy was positive about his sides performance.
“Our forwards played really well and dominated most of the game,” he said. “With the players still to come back over the coming weeks, we are confident that we will be much more potent in attack and be able to capitalise on the platform created by our forwards.”
Sunderland thirds were disrupted by a number of cry-offs for their long journey to Kielder and came up second best, losing 12-3 against Border Park.