Mark Pease’s injury-time drop goal sent Harrogate to their first defeat at new base Rudding Lane in a nail-biting encounter on Saturday.
After a spirited Sandal start, number eight Sam Whittingham burst through the home defence and, when held up short of the line, Joe Bedford supported to score a try converted by Pease.
Stung by this early reverse, the Harrogate pack exerted some pressure and a Lewis Minikin penalty reduced the arrears after 15 minutes.
Harrogate out-scrummaged Sandal throughout the match although they sometimes failed to satisfy Mr Roberts’s law interpretations.
This led to a further penalty opportunity which narrowly missed.
Good Sandal line-out ball was quickly spread and centre Elliot Munnelly powered through for another converted try.
A powerful Harrogate driving maul then took play over Sandal’s line and winger, Sam Bottomley tucked in at the back to score.
The conversion attempt failed and, in the last move of the half, another Pease penalty made it 8-17 at the break.
For the first 20 minutes of the second half, Harrogate played their best rugby of the match and seemed to have done enough to win.
Minikin and Peace exchanged penalties before a Jake Brady drive set up another driving maul and Willem Enslin’s converted try made it 18-20. Bottomley then burt through the midfield and the ball was recycled for Minikin to score.
His conversion attempt missed so the 23-20 lead proved to be insufficient.
A high tackle led to a yellow card for Cam Leadley and Peace’s kick levelled the scores.
Sandal’s numerical advantage enabled to keep up the pressure and a Pease’s snap drop goal won them the match at the death.
Harrogate: Frost, Bottomley, Minikin, Leadley, Edwards, Matthews, Ward, Nyemba, Boothman, Brady, Boyde, Coser, Heaton, Enslin.
Subs:- Purkiss-McKendoo, Yorke, Wickham
Sandal: Mulhern, Cartwright, Martin, Munnelly, Frewin, Pease, Bedford, Edler, Heron, R Norbury, Stewart, Proctor, Cotterill, Briscoe, Whittingham.
Subs:- A Norbury, L Norbury, Pickersgill, Maguire, Hemingway
Referee: Llyr Ap Geraint Roberts (RFU)