Champions Vale of Lune slipped to a final-day defeat as Wilmslow pipped Northwich to the promotion play-off place in North One West.
After such an exhilarating season the Vale ended their campaign by suffering two successive away defeats, with Saturday’s hosts being the first club to inflict a five-point victory over the champions, in addition to rattling in the highest numbers of points against the Vale.
April began to well for the Vale with two large victories at Warrington, 72-24, and at home against Northwich, 57-22, but the momentum lost traction in the final two games.
The Vale travelled to face Wilmslow without skipper Sam Wallbank, the injured Ben Dorrington, and had two debutants on the wing, Tom Rogers and Nathan Manning, in an experimental looking threequarter line.
Playing down the slope Wilmslow threw their cards on the table straight from the kick-off to pin the Vale deep in their own territory.
In the fifth minute the hosts’ eight chugged the Vale back at a scrum to create the perfect platform for number eight Alex Taylor to pick and go for an unconverted try.
Wilmslow had the scent of victory in their nostrils early on and in the 12th minute they went further ahead.
Scrum half Sean Street set off on a sniping run from 25 metres out for a well-balanced, solo try which was converted by stand-off Bob MacCallum.
After absorbing a long period of turbulent Wilmslow pressure Jack Turton spearheaded a Vale counter attack with a superb break in a move that ended with the Vale drawing a penalty which Damon Hall converted in the 17th minute.
Shortly after Jack Sadler was carried off with a leg injury and again it was Wilmslow who seized the initiative to give the Vale a torrid time in the closing 10 minutes.
MacCallum kicked a 30th-minute penalty followed three minutes later with his conversion of a try scored by centre Johnny Kennedy who carved his way through to touch down between the posts.
There followed a catastrophic mix-up in Vale’s defence with winger Will Maslen quickly on the case to nip over for a cheeky try and with it the bonus, to further embarrass the Vale.
Just before half-time Evan Stewart was shown a yellow card but even though the Vale began the second half a man down they took the game to Wilmslow.
Once back to full strength the Vale narrowed the gap in the 55th minute. Turton kicked deep into the corner and at Wilmslow’s line out, lock Harry Fellows towered above everyone to nick the ball to set up a move that ended with Stewart spotting a gap to burrow his way over for a try converted by Damon Hall.
MacCallum missed with a penalty kick prior to the Vale adding to their score in the 65th minute.
In the build-up Hall was just beaten to a touch down when he followed up another accurate kick from Turton but with the Vale briskly going about their business there was a possibility of accruing more points.
A powerful forward surge had Wilmslow’s pack back pedalling which allowed number eight Stewart to drop on the ball for an unconverted try.
Suddenly the game appeared to be drifting ever so slightly away from Wilmslow but in the 71st minute they settled any nerves when a swift ball transfer created space for Maslen to score an unconverted try wide out on the left to complete a rare excursion into Vale’s half of the field.
Referee Robert Sheard awarded the Vale a penalty try in the 76th minute which was followed three minutes later by a MacCallum penalty which completed the scoring.