Sunderland claimed their first league win of the season in front of a large Ashbrooke crowd on Saturday.
Darlington started the day six points above Sunderland, but the home side roared to a 32-12 success in Durham/Northumberland Division Two.
The day was dedicated to former team-mates John Drummond and Tommy Harrison, who passed away last season, with fund-raising proceeds donated to The John Drummond Trust.
Sunderland produced positive, flowing rugby from the first kick and scored early on. Pete Harrison’s line-out throw was coolly taken by Andy Wordsworth to set up the driving maul. As the ball was recycled, Brad Fish took it on and beat a couple of defenders to score just wide of the uprights. Leon Ryan converted for a 7-0 lead.
Sunderland soon extended their advantage with another converted try.
Good line-out ball was fielded by Wordsworth and handed to Luke Robinson and, from the resultant maul, Chris Geehan crashed the ball down for the second try, with Ryan converting on nine minutes.
Sunderland retained the upper hand in the set piece throughout, with the front row of Geehan, Harrison and Ryan Buckley helping the pack to take many of Darlington’s scrums against the head, spurred on by player-coach Martin Watt, who was out of position as lock.
Jack Hope and Dom Younger continued in the centre pairing and provided stout defence against Darlington’s strike runners, with Watt and Robinson drawing penalties at the breakdown as Darlington held onto the ball.
Ryan extended the lead to 20-0 converting two penalties for such offences.
Sunderland added a third try on 28 minutes. Fish popped the ball to Dom Younger, who crashed through to score, making it 25-0.
Watt was held up over try line, well tackled by two Darlington players and required lengthy treatment for a knee injury before continuing, then Grant Edmundson lost a possession a metre from the try line.
Darlington put together a more structured second-half performance, scoring two fine converted tries.
But great tackling typified the whole Sunderland side’s commitment.
With time running down and a minute to play, Michael Heffernan kicked a penalty to touch.
Harrison’s accurate throw-in was taken and the maul rolled forward again the ball being well recycled, for Watt to be the final recipient and try scorer.
The conversion, from wide left, was struck truly from the boot of Ryan to complete the scoring at 32-12.