A young Sunderland side missed out on a place in the Durham Intermediate Cup final after a 39-5 defeat against Hartlepool Rovers at Hillview on Saturday.
Both sides looked to make a good start in front of a bumper crowd, although a rain shower just after kick off made handling conditions difficult in the opening 20 minutes.
Sunderland were dominant at the scrum, regularly driving Rovers’ pack back towards their own line, but it was the visitors who grabbed the first points.
After Sunderland fly-half Lewis Sopp was penalised for being offside, Rovers stand-off Ryan Foreman slotted home from 30 metres to give the visitors a 3-0 lead.
Rovers then received a bigger boost when Sunderland were reduced to 14 men after 18 minutes, centre Dominic Younger penalised as he tried to pinch the ball from a ruck and sent to the sin bin for a deliberate infringement in the red zone.
Rovers took full advantage as a quick-tap penalty five metres out sent flanker Liam Wood crashing through for the opening try. Foreman converted for a 10-0 lead.
Try-saving tackles from Marc Edmundson and Harry Price denied Adam Smith and Stephen Flounders respectively to keep the hosts in the match.
However another quick tap penalty created space for Smith to pick his gap to score, with Foreman again converting for a 17-0 interval advantage.
Sunderland knew the opening score of the second period would be crucial. However it was Rovers who picked up from where they left off in the first half, twice running close to a third try.
Firstly, Flounders grasped at thin air as he looked to hold onto a final pass in the right corner, before replacement James Evens spilt the ball with the try line metres away.
But they were not to be denied as, following sustained pressure and Sunderland losing Sopp to a nasty-looking mouth injury, with a flailing boot seeming to catch the fly half after he had made a tackle, Rovers crashed over from yet another quickly tapped penalty from five metres and Jack Gunn burst through to give Rovers a 22-0 lead.
Rovers made life tough for themselves when replacement Callum Whitehead threw a punch at Jonny Boatman in a ruck, prompting a mass brawl between the two sides.
After the young referee separated the two sides, Boatman was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes, while Whitehead was sent off, leaving Rovers down to 14 men for the rest of the game. Adding salt to Rovers’ wounds, Sunderland rallied as Edmundson crossed over from close range to reduce the deficit to 17 points.
The gap could have been 10, but Andrew Pears knocked on just as he looked to collect his chip over the top to score.
That let-off seemed to wake Rovers up and, after Evens had crossed with eight minutes left, Flounders took advantage of a huge gap next to the ruck and good offload play to complete the scoring.
Sunderland head coach Martin Watt said: “Overall, it all came down to fitness. They ran in all but one of their tries from 40 or 50 metres with a break and good support play.
“It was a good test for our young squad. I did not think there was any difference in the skill levels between the two sides, and we were missing a lot of players today.
“But to bring these young players in shows the squad we have, and it definitely bodes well for next season and the future.”