Gateshead Thunder 20
Sheffield Eagles 32
Sheffield Eagles coach Mark Aston admitted his side were ring rusty after they opened the season with an unconvincing 32-20 win at Gateshead Thunder.
A combination of a heavy and waterlogged pitch and no pre-season friendlies saw Eagles make hard work of beating last seasons Championship whipping boys Gateshead.
Aston’s side would have expected to have wrapped up the opening tie long before the 76th minute. A plucky Thunder trailed by only six points at that stage but Menzie Yere’s hat-trick try finally put the game to bed.
Sheffield raced into a 16-0 lead after 16 minutes, but Gateshead refused to buckle and came back hard after the break. Peter Green set up the opener for Tim Bergin and then playmaker Simon Brown intercepted a pass midway inside the home half to put Yere in. When winger Danny Mills squeezed over in the corner and Brown tagged on the difficult extras from out wide it was plain sailing for Eagles.
But as the pitch deteriorated further it became a war of attrition, one-out football the order of the day. Gateshead had rarely threatened enabling Sheffield to keep a clean sheet in the opening 40 minutes, but it was a different story after the break.
The concession of two penalties near their own line saw Thunder sub David Norman hit a gap from close in to claim a debut try.
Ryan Clarke then set up a first Gateshead try for centre Wayne Green and suddenly it was game on. Dane McDonald’s ball out to Yere saw the powerful back give Sheffield some breathing space but they could not finish the game.
Micky Ward powered over near the line and Clarke’s conversion cut the gap to four points - Thunder sensing a shock opening day result.
Corey Hanson converted former Gateshead hooker Andrew Henderson’s grubber but again the North Easterner’s bounced back through Robin Peers’ try in the corner.
The tie remained in the balance until Yere showed good strength down the left to complete his hat-trick and ensure Eagles’ winning start.
Sheffield Eagles: Cottle, Mills, Yere, Hanson, Bergin, McDonald, Brown, Howieson, Henderson, Rowe, Szostak, Green, Hirst . Subs: (all used) Smith, Higgins, Stringer, Watson
Referee: Ronnie Laughton (Barnsley) . Att: 444