The champagne of victory at Winnington Park last week gave way to the flat prosecco of defeat as Workington Finches went down 24 - 12 to Sandal Warriors in a rare home setback at The Ellis.
With several key players absent through a combination of injuries and work commitments, the Finches had to reshuffle the squad, which included captain Charlotte Cammack making her first appearance of the season as well as returns for Kirby Neesham following a two year break and Sarah Harrington, who missed last season due to maternity leave.
Despite a near three hour journey from West Yorkshire, the Warriors were up for action right from kick off as they virtually camped into Finches territory and this dominance produced the opening try on 12 minutes they hit their hosts on the break when Ellie Greenaway sprinted home into the corner for an unconverted try.
Clearly stung by this, Workington tried to hit back, but just couldn't find any cohesion or momentum and three minutes later found themselves further behind as Greenaway again cut their defence to ribbons with another powerful run to go into the corner again, this time Jessica Matthews made no mistake with her conversion.
Finally, the Finches began to play and proceeded to test Sandal's resolve - especially with Steph Ratcliffe, Leonie Hudson and Lauren Coulson producing dangerous inroads into Sandal's half. It was only a matter of time before they pulled a try back and that was duly accomplished on 32 minutes when a string of scrums culminated in Coulson thundering over to score her fourth try in two games and the conversion smoothly executed by Neesham.
With the score now at 7 - 12, the match was finely balanced as both sides produced excellent driving play whilst nullifying each other's attacking surges in equal measure. But it was Sandal who struck a crucial blow three minutes from half time when another driving play coupled with lightning speed caught Workington on the hop and Maz Zafar stole her way under the posts to tee up an easy conversion for Matthews.
History was made at the start of the second half when Amy Cammack came on to make her Finches debut and by joining wife Charlotte on the pitch made them the first married couple ever to play together for Workington - a fitting moment for a club with a proud track record of diversity and inclusion.
Just as Sandal dominated the opening of the first half, so Workington were determined to take control of second half as they proceeded to dominate their opponents' half and after several swift surges and feisty scrummaging, they got their reward on 46 minutes when Harrington won a line out and offloaded the ball to the ensuing scrum who, after one last charge, got to the whitewash and it was Charlotte Cammack who thrust herself down to take the final touch. Neesham was very unlucky to see her conversion fall just short.
With the score at 12 - 17, Workington scented the chance of building on their momentum but Sandal blew that scent out of their after 55 minutes when the seemingly tireless Greenaway produced a blistering run down the flank that left her challengers grasping thin air and after a neat one-two, she finished off in the corner to complete a fine hat trick, though the try was unconverted.
Not many visiting players have scored three tries at The Ellis, so credit where it's due to Greenway on joining a very select club.
Workington stepped up a level for the closing 20 minutes, but despite creating several chances they were continuosly thwarted by Sandal's trenchant resilience and the visitors were able to close out the game with victory secured.
Despite the result, there were a few positives to take for the Finches - young Beth Adams played like a veteran in the forwards while Leonie Hudson was once again "Mrs Flexible" as she began the match at centre and also filled in as flanker. Sarah Harrington was always in the thick of the action - indeed, it was like she had never been away and Amy Cammack made an efficient debut and will deliver more valuable contributions as and when required throughout the season.
After two games, Workington sit joint second in North 2 West alongside Littleborough with Sandal pacing the pack 4 points clear and the Finches will hope to return to the road of victory next week when they travel to Stockport Scarlets.
By John Hastings @ The ESG