On the second day of the official meteorological spring, there was no “Beast from the East” forecast but Harrogate whipped up an 11-try mini cyclone against a Vale squad which only contained six of the players who had faced Lymm on February 16.
So for the second time within a month, Vale ventured into White Rose territory without a number of their regular shield and spear carriers and they again paid a heavy price.
Pre-match there was a general air of foreboding, the heavy defeat at Hull was seared in the memory, as to how the draftees would perform in a combat zone that was at a much higher level than they were used to operating in.
It was severe test for all concerned, none more so than those making their debut, Dom Griffiths, Lee Starkey, Alfie Bolton and Harry Vause – but they rose to the challenge and gave their all against a well organised, fleet-footed Harrogate side.
The hosts never looked in danger and could perhaps be forgiven for taking their foot off the pedal in the second half after turning round with a convincing 43-7 lead.
However, credit must be given to Vale for their second half performance, not only taking the game to Harrogate but making their opponents work hard for further points.
If Vale’s makeshift side thought they would be given time to ease themselves into the game then they were to be wrong as Harrogate racked-up a host of points in the opening 15 minutes.
They scored 33 points in a five-try blitz, four being converted, as the wheels were knocked off Vale’s axles.
After one minute, winger Andy Lawson sped over, followed quickly by a second from centre Nathan Wyman, who converted both tries.
Next in on the act in the fifth minute was right winger Harry Barnard for an unconverted try. Vale hardly had time to draw breath as did the score board operator.
Scrum half Danny Mathews invested in a slice of the action with a timely dart, his try being converted by Wyman in the 12th minute.
Flanker Martin Dodds secured the bonus point in the 14th minute with a solo try converted by Wyman.
Three minutes later, Vale temporally stopped the rot when centre Ben Dorrington crisply finished off a well constructed attack from a line out, stand-off Alex Briggs added the conversion.
There was no time for self congratulation because ‘Gate were soon back shoving the furniture around.
Barnard shot over on the short side for an unconverted try and in the 34th minute, he completed a clinical hat-trick when he bounced away from a quickly-taken tap penalty for another unconverted try which completed the first-half scoring.
Despite the severe first half mauling, Vale began with a spring in their step and a bounce to their as they trapped Harrogate in their own half with some determined forward surges and intelligent use of the ball.
Lock Luke Ford came more into the game, Andy Powers at scrum half linked everything together as the whole team gained in confidence. Harrogate absorbed the pressure and in the 63rd minute centre Luke Russell touched down for an unconverted try.
This was just the trigger Harrogate needed to boost their ambitions.
A try from Sam Fox in the 66th minute was converted by Wyman.
Suddenly the tide was flowing in only one direction and in the 70th minute Luke Riddell waded over, his try being converted by Wyman.
Under severe pressure, Vale then struggled to halt Lawson’s run as the winger neatly topped and tailed the game with a try with Wyman adding the extras.
Vale’s man of the match Sam Wallbank completed an energetic performance with a lone gallop for a late try converted by Alex Briggs.
In the closing minutes there was enough time remaining for Lee Starkey to stretch his legs in a game where the result makes Vale’s tenure in North Premier appears like a mission impossible, while Harrogate continue to snap at the heels of two clubs above them in their battle for a play-off slot.
A study of the squad sheet contains a number of names which are perhaps unfamiliar to first team devotees but it must be emphasised they did not let the club down. The pints they supped later in the evening were well earned.