SUNDERLAND put on another thrilling display at Ashbrooke.
They came from behind to beat high-flying Stockton 44-34, scoring six tries in the process to take a maximum five league points.
It looked like it was going to be a tough day for Sunderland when two early Stockton penalties gave them a 6-0 lead.
The home side then came back into the game when, from close range scrum-half Mark Henry sold a dummy and slipped between two defenders to touch down. Greg Littlewood converted from wide out.
Sunderland then took the lead through a superb counter-attack. Returning a Stockton kick, winger Sam Jordan broke between two defenders before brushing aside a third with a big hand off.
Heading towards the Stockton 22, Jordan unselfishly drew the last defender and put in Greg Littlewood to canter under the posts. Littlewood was immaculate with the boot all day and added the extra two points to give Sunderland a 14-6 lead.
At times this season Sunderland have been their own worst enemy and on this occasion poor discipline from the home side allowed Stockton back into the game with two more penalties, both of which were awarded after Sunderland needlesly gave the ball away tring to force a pass in their own half.
Littlewood then added a penalty to give Sunderland a 17-12 lead.
Stockton looked to have drawn level shortly afterwards when a good break by their right wing resulted in him going over in the corner but the referee adjudged that he had been held up by the Sunderland defence, a decision that was debatable at best.
Stockton didn’t have long to wait though as from the resulting scrum they shipped the ball out to the centre, who crashed over under the posts with the conversion giving Stockton a slender lead.
Another great counter attack saw Sunderland regain the lead with Greg Littlewood the architect this time. An elusive run by the full-back saw him through the Stockton defence and with only the full back left, Littlewood fed Sean Bellon, who raced away to score. Littlewood again converted. and Sunderland lead again by 24-19.
With the half-time whistle approaching it looked as though Sunderland would turn round in front but Stockton had other ideas. A strong run and offload from their number eight set away their centre, who scored with the last play of the half to put Stockton 26-24 up at the interval.
The opening stages of the second half were pretty even but two Sunderland tries 15 minutes in turned the game on its head.
Sean Bellon got the first one as he chased a kick over the top and was able to outrun the covering Stockton defence and secure a four-try bonus point. Sunderland’s most popular try of the game came shortly afterwards when they took a shortened lineout and passed the ball out to prop forward Richard Arrowsmith.
Like a raging bull, the man known as Sparrow burst through the Stockton defence and raced 40 metres towards the Stockton line.
Despite support either side, there was only one thing in Arrowsmiths mind when faced with the Stockton full-back as he dipped his shoulder and powered his way over the line. Littlewood’s conversion gave Sunderland a 38-26 lead.
At this point Sunderland looked comfortable, but with Andy Black in the sin bin Stockton took advantage a pegged the lead back to seven points with an unconverted try.
Littlewood added a long-range drop goal and with a penalty from either side Stockton were still out of losing bonus point range with ten minutes to go.
Stockton threw everything at Sunderland with the last 10 minutes of the game spent almost exclusively in the home half and largely inside the Sunderland 22 – but some heroic defence meant a missed penalty with a minute to go was the closest Stockton came to scoring.
The final score meant Sunderland picked up all five points while Stockton left Ashbrooke without even a losing bonus point as consolation.
Sunderland seconds made the long journey to Berwick and put in an impressive display winning 27-14.
Trailing 14-8 at half-time, a second half turnaround saw the seconds come away with the points. Sunderland’s tries came from Nathan, Clive Fish and Danny Hinder. Hinder also kicked seven points.
Sunderland thirds faced old rivals Durham City, who included ex-England lock Gareth Archer in their squad.
A strong City side proved too much for Sunderland, who lost out 46-12. Sunderland’s points came from tries by John Grainger and Stevie Graham, with Grainger adding one conversion.