The competition was held once again in Birkenhead Park, Liverpool pitting the strongest squads from clubs right across the North of England over 12 legs, four long ones of 8km and eight short ones of 4km.
Held in the near perfect conditions, the race was perhaps unsurprisingly won by the strongest club in the North of England, Leeds City AC with a combined time of 3:04:41 – indeed, such is the strength of Leeds at the present time that their B team also finished eighth and a further C team 28th. The North West’s challenge came from Salford Harriers and AC, who were runners up in 3:05:49.
Morpeth’s challenge was headed by Sam Hancox on the 1st long leg, who finished in fourth place with a time of 23:19.
Ponteland High School sixth former Joe Anderson rose to the challenge of selection for his first ever Senior Relay team, clocking 12:07 next for the first short leg to come home in eighth place.
George Lowry moved the club up two places to sixthth on the third long leg with 23:43, with Ali Douglas maintaining the position on the fourth leg (11:44), but it was George Rudman on the next long leg who made a medal a realistic prospect with a fine 23:57 to take Morpeth into fourth.
In his first ever outing in a blue and white vest, new recruit Kiearn Reay hung onto the position with an 11:50 clocking as the second half of the race now unfolded, and an in-form Matthew Briggs completed the last long leg in 24:20, handing on to Loughborough University student Dan Melling whose 12:04 kept the team in sight of third.
It was Phil Winkler who finally got the club into that medal position, overhauling Blackburn Harriers on the ninth leg with a time of 11:38 with Leeds City and Salford Harriers still in first and second.
Tom Innes on leg 10 (12:08) and Connor Marshall on leg 11 (11:50) were able to hold off both Hallamshire Harriers and Blackburn Harriers for third, but with the margins now down to a handful of seconds, it was always going to be a battle royal to hang on to a medal, and with big hitters for both Yorkshire and Lancashire outfits on last leg, Morpeth veteran Andy Lawrence (12:19) found himself run down over the final couple of kilometres, despite all his best efforts.
A final overall time of 3:10:59 put Morpeth in a final position of fifth out of the 43 teams taking part, frustratingly only 18 seconds off Blackburn Harriers and AC in fourth and only 36 seconds off Hallamshire Harriers who took the keenly contested bronze medal.
The club will take comfort, however, from the best 12 stage performance for a number of years watched over by Harriers’ President Jim Alder, MBE who also made the journey.
With the National 12 stage due to take place in two weeks time at Sutton Park, Birmingham the club will be hoping to at least equal, if not better, the achievement there.