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Prior to tip-off, rookie forward Duke Shelton had insisted ‘every game is a rivalry’ as he refused to discriminate between those teams stacking up to knock Newcastle Eagles off their perch this season.

But when it comes to the biggest rivalries in British basketball few are more keenly fought than this historic northern heavyweight contest.

Watch highlights of Eagles vs Sheffield Sharks


And sure enough, Shelton, who bagged another big double double, knew all about Sheffield Sharks as the final buzzer sounded on another bruising battle between two fully committed and fiercely proud foes.

The stat sheet will record a worrying second defeat on the bounce for Newcastle ahead of what looks like a must-win tie in Manchester tomorrow.

But the Eagles recovered from a wholly unconvincing first half to show the fight and determination supporters demand from the storied men in black.

And more of the same against Dan Clark’s Giants will go some way towards rescuing an atypically slow start to the season.

Newcastle and Sheffield locked horns seven times last season as two famous opponents added to a sparkling legacy of high-octane BBL clashes.

And the Sharks came within a score of dumping the Eagles out of the 2021 playoffs at the quarter-final stage before Ian MacLeod’s men went on to emerge victorious at the post-season party.

That narrow two-legged loss was all the motivation Atiba Lyons’ men needed as they headed to the Vertu Motors Arena for the first time this season.

And confidence will have been coursing through the veins of the fired-up visitors after they defeated the same Glasgow Rocks side that had inflicted an opening night loss on Newcastle seven days earlier.

Shelton had muscled his way into the Eagles’ starting five following an explosive debut off the bench the previous week.

But Sheffield boast some serious power in the paint after adding former Bristol Flyer Marcus Delpeche to a strongarm roster including Bennett Koch, Mike Tuck and in-form Kipper Nichols.

And Darius Defoe joined Shelton on two early fouls as the hosts were out-muscled and out-scored during a largely frustrating first quarter.

A lack of cohesion had cost MacLeod’s men a cup win against Glasgow and for 25 minutes the on-court chemistry was missing again as new-look Newcastle struggled to find their range and failed to hit their stride.

Of course Kyle Williams, the only Eagle to reach double figures by half-time, is always likely to inject some much-needed pace and passion and the returning guard levelled the score at 25-25 with an arcing triple.

But too many defensive lapses allowed Sheffield to take control again and the visitors stretched out to a 39-28 lead with alarming ease.

Newcastle clearly needed more from main man Rahmon Fletcher, the BBL’s most decorated player Defoe and returning guard Louis Sayers.

But the backbone of last season’s double-winning team required consistent support from the imports drafted in to maintain the Eagles’ traditionally high standards.

And an anxious crowd awaited a potentially pivotal second half wondering who — if anyone — would step up to save Newcastle from a second successive homecourt defeat.

A stunning burst from that man Fletcher clawed back the deficit to four points midway through the third quarter as the two-time BBL MVP converted a trademark and-one play.

And at the other end Williams brought the crowd — and his team-mates — to their feet with an eye-catching defensive stop in the face of an onrushing Koch.

Suddenly the hosts were back in it and Shelton had the chance to tie the game in the last second of a thrilling third period only to rim out with the second of two free throws.

Sayers fired the Eagles in front within 30 seconds of the restart and Lyons was quick to call a time out with a seesaw fixture finally swinging in Newcastle’s favour.

Yet again, that famous rivalry was delivering the very best in BBL basketball.

And a full-throttle fixture couldn’t have been more finely poised as a point separated two fully committed teams heading into the final three minutes of a ding-dong affair.

But it was Sheffield who avenged that playoff exit as Aaron Anderson stayed cool from the line to seal a famous win on Tyneside.