Hornets 15 - Newcastle 16
The scoreline doesn't always tell the story - and this is the story of how a battered, broken Hornets battled to the death against an aggressive, brutalist, pig-ugly Newcastle side who bludgeoned their way to a last minute win against a Hornets that ran out of time and fit bodies.
With Tony Suffolk, Dean MIgnacca, Lewis Charnock and Mike Ratu all taken injured from the field, Hornets strove manfully with only one fit substitute for much of the second half, while Newcastle basically punched repeatedly at their weak spots until they cracked.
We've said here that decent sides find a way to win and, bereft of any real footballing craft, Newcastle's physical wrecking-ball approach did enough quite literal damage to sneak them home.
The opening exchanges were tight and scrappy: Newcastle hoofing the kick-off into the Pearl Street end; Hornets fumbling passes and catches alike under some close physical attention.
But when Hornets managed to shake off the shackles they created the first half's two real moments of quality. On eight minutes Danny Bridge broke a tackle, slipping the ball to Dale Bloomfield who skinned his opposite number; Danny Yates sniffing the chance, taking the inside ball to skate in for a great try. Crooky the two, 6-nil.
On 25 minutes It was Danny Yate's chip wide that caused twitches in Thunder-pants: Dale Bloomfield's deft tap back inside to Mike Ratu, Ratu finding Danny Bridge with space to score. 10-nil and only one side playing any football (it took 16 minutes for Newcastle to carry the ball over the half-way line).
The rest of the half was a restricted arm-wrestle. Hornets chivvying and probing as Newcastle left bodies in pretty much every tackle. Messy.
Out of nothing, the visitors did scrape up sufficient passes to send Mapals in for a try wide out on 33 minutes. But they immediately reverted to type - lunging through a ruck right on the hooter. Gaz Langley teasingly wide with the penalty. Half-time 10-4.
The second half started cagily - both teams pushing the other back with deep kicks, fishing for errors.
On 47 minutes the industrious Dean Mignacca prised a gap in the Newcastle defence; Wayne English carried the ball on, launching Lee Paterson up the right channel; Pogo drew the cover and a sweetly timed pass sent Gaz Langey in by the flag. 14-4, Hornets looking the better of the two sides.
But errors began to creep in. First Hornets made a total hash of a harmless hit & hope kick to concede a drop-out; then the defence stood off as Thunder worked the ball across the park where Meads made the extra man to score. 14-8.
With every tackle now a mauling, spoiling scrap it was inevitable that tempers would fray, but when Meads got involved in a bit of handbags with two Hornets tacklers just short of the hour, he took a soccer style dive to catch the referee's eye. Cheap, really.
Reduced to one fit sub with a quarter of the game to go, Hornets began to misfire. Forced passes, clumsy knock-ons: the harder they tried the worse it got.
It needed a steadying influence and, when Crooky slammed home a drop-goal on 67 minutes to stretch Hornets' lead to a two-score 15-8, it gave the home side and their noisy fans a scrap of wreckage to cling to.
But Hornets were busted, knackered: rocking on the ropes, desperately seeking that one chance of a knockout punch. First a short ball bounced off Anthony Walker's chest with the line begging; then Dale Bloomfield unable to reel-in a fingertip pass with the whitewash at his mercy. Out on their feet, but still playing the ony football on offer.
But the ask was too great: Brown diving through a tangle of tired bodies to touch down on 71 minutes (15-12) and Craig lunging onto a short-ball through exhausted defence on 78 minutes. 15-16 - brutally cruel.
Still Hornets pushed to the death - a pitch-long kick from the back of the scrum saw the chasing Lee Paterson and Dale Bloomfield come agonisingly close to regathering the ball. But as Hornets packed for their scrum the hooter sounded. Gutting.
We always knew that Newcastle would be a tough proposition - but, Jesus, they're a pig-ugly steet-fighting outfit - sprawling and spoiling in every play. In Mark Mexico they have a battering ram of a player who - released from the close attentions of Tony Suffolk finished strongly and who was probably the difference.
When both teams were at full complement, there was only one side at the party. But once the reinforcements were removed, the advantage favoured the bulldozer approach.
In the end it felt like a mugging - and it's going to be a busy week in the treatment room as Tol tries to put his beaten-up side back together for next week's trip to Coventry.