Workington Finches wrapped up promotion from North 2 West despite going down 13 - 12 at Winnington Park in a tightly fought game that they were grossly unlucky not to win.
The first 25 minutes were evenly balanced only a penalty from the hosts on 18 minutes separating both sides as they delivered plenty of lively - and at times, feisty - action in midfield as well as in the scrums.
Finches captain Charlotte Bowman and Nicole Stewart both went desperately close to scoring only to be held back by a doughty defensive rearguard while Sharon Dunne produced a brilliant challenge to deny Winnington with the whitewash at their mercy.
However, on 26 minutes, Winnington grabbed the opening try after a well drilled scrum saw them catch the Finches off guard as they broke away on the wing before going in the corner for an unconverted score.
Having clearly been stung by this, Workington pressed harder and once again the inspirational Bowman was calling the shots while Elsa Whelan, Leonie Hudson and Sophie Bowness all produced creative surges into Winnington territory. But the hosts rode the storm and went in content at half time with their 8 - 0 firmly intact.
Workington began the second half determined to reduce the arrears and it only took six minutes to do just that when Stewart delivered her trademark solo run from just inside halfway to leave Winnington clutching thin air as she breezed home to touch down. Dunne wasted no time with the conversion.
However, just as Workington were building momentum, they found themselves down to 14 when Claire Pooley saw yellow for retaliation on 53 minutes. Winnington stepped up a gear and within 5 minutes made the extra woman count as they increased their lead when another scrum yielded a breakaway to go into the corner for their 2nd try which again went unconverted.
Pooley's return boosted the Finches and they regained the initiative with more spells of attacking and on 68 minutes thought they had scored only for the referee to bring play back, much to the annoyance of the travelling Workington support. But their anger turned to joy barely a minute later when from the restart, Stewart ploughed her way through to score her 20th try of another magnifcent season for her.
The referee order Dunne's conversion attempt to be retaken after over exuberance from Winnington had put her off. Unfortunately her second attempt fell achingly short
For the final ten minutes it was gripping stuff as Winnington grimly battled away to protect their one point cushion while Workington threw everything at them as they mounted a smash and grab operation.
With seconds remaining the Finches almost snatched victory when a punt from Stewart saw Bowman and a Winnington player both go for the ball on the tryline but the referee deemed that the ball had been grounded and with that the final whistle went, much to the dismay of the Finches who truly gave everything they had.
Despite the bitter loss, the sweet taste of promotion is guaranteed for Workington, which has been in the making ever since their formation in 2013. They have emerged into a tough, competitive side and with emerging new talent allied to the seasoned veterans, they will relish the challenge of North 1 West next season confident that they can hold their own at a higher level.
By John Hastings @ Burrows Hill