DARLINGTON Mowden Park face one of the biggest games in their history tomorrow with a place in National One at stake.
They have to win their final game at home to National Two North leaders Macclesfield, preferably with the four-try bonus point to earn automatic promotion for finishing top.
Even that would be dependent on Stourbridge not overhauling a deficit of 39 on points difference – a gap which Mowden achieved by winning their game in hand 69-5 at Sheffield Tigers on Saturday.
They are level on points and number of wins with Stourbridge, whose final game is at seventh-placed Harrogate.
Macclesfield are four points clear, so they need two points to finish top, which they could achieve from a defeat if it is by seven points or fewer and includes four tries. Mowden will want to deny them on both counts, although they will benefit from a greater number of wins if the sides finish level.
Should Mowden finish second they will have a home play-off against Bedfordshire club Ampthill.
Tomorrow’s match is the centrepiece of an open day at The Northern Echo Arena with the gates open at noon.
Activities include live music from local bands; abseiling from the roof of the Arena; Star Radio live broadcast and roadshow entertainment; fairground rides, face painters and open sessions with Cross- Fit.
Mowden rested Talite Vaioleti at Sheffield, bringing Chris Dodd into the second row for his first appearance following a long-term injury.
They also handed a first senior start to prop Charlie Purkiss-McEndoo, from Richmond, while his pal Tom Hodgson, from Aldbrough St John, was drafted in at fly half and converted seven of the first nine tries.
Changes had to be made in the back row because Jack Allcock and Guy van den Dries were at an England Counties Under 20 weekend at the Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College in Leicestershire.
Mowden were happy to allow them to miss Saturday’s game, with Director of Rugby John Newton saying: “We want them to play representative rugby and it’s a chance for them to do that.”
Winger Chris McTurk and 6ft 8in lock Pierce Phillips were still missing, but it is hoped both will be available to face Macclesfield.
It would be Phillips’ farewell appearance after signing to play for Jersey in the Championship next season.
Ollie Hodgson took advantage of his rare start at No 8 against Sheffield to claim a hat-trick by finishing off forward drives.
There were 11 tries in total, the first coming after three minutes when winger Shaun McCartney beat the home defence on the outside.
Tigers’ only points came from a catch-and-drive, making it 7-5, but Mowden attacked from the restart and centre Chris Peace marked his return to the side by weaving through for a try.
Zylon McGaffin nipped through a gap to touch down and Ollie Hodgson’s first secured the bonus point and made it 24-5 at half-time.
In addition to his second half brace, Mowden’s forward power also earned a penalty try and there were touchdowns for skipper Cameron Mitchell, flanker Will McCauley, full back Henry Robinson and replacement Max Connon.
Mitchell, Allcock and prop Ralph Appleby have agreed terms for next season after they, like Phillips, attracted attention from elsewhere.
Phillips, 21, from Great Ayton, was in the England Counties squad this season and went on as a replacement in the match against Ireland Clubs at The Northern Echo Arena.
Northallerton Seconds played their final game of the season at Darlington Mowden Park knowing a win would give them a good chance of winning the Merit League.
A 29-29 draw left Stockton and Acklam with the chance to overhaul North, who competed well in the first half with 17-year-old Jedd Bainbridge’s excellent kicking relieving immense pressure.
Mowden edged the first half by three tries to two, North’s coming from Chris Macaneany and Jim Duggleby, with Bainbridge adding one conversion.
North put some impressive flowing rugby together, recycling the ball impressively, and added two more converted tries from Tom Hopson and Donald McStone.
The home team also scored two tries to lead by three points with less than ten minutes left. Bainbridge stepped up to land a penalty from close to the halfway line to tie the scores and clinch the man of the match award.
The first team travel to play Goole tomorrow in the semifinal of the Yorkshire Silver Trophy, followed by the players’ presentation dinner back at base.