Championship play-off final: Bedford 9-18 Newcastle
Bedford (3) 9
- Dorrian 2, Sharp
Newcastle (12) 18
- Gopperth 6
Newcastle took a big stride towards an immediate return to the Premiership with victory at Bedford in the first leg of the Championship play-off final.
Fly-half Jimmy Gopperth kicked all of Newcastle's points in his penultimate game before joining Leinster.
Myles Dorrian converted two penalties and Jake Sharp a third for the resilient but outclassed Blues.
Bedford are ineligible for promotion so will be playing for pride in the return leg at Kingston Park on Wednesday.
The Blues' Goldington Road ground does not meet the standards required for Premiership stadiums, but they could still stall Newcastle's promotion bid by winning away against the division's dominant side by more than nine points in the second leg.
But with a healthy lead from the first leg, table-topping Newcastle, beaten just once in the regular season, look set to make amends for their relegation last year by switching places with London Welsh - provided the wheels do not come off at Kingston Park.
Bedford were pinned back by the visitors as the Falcons' pack took control, but despite their territorial dominance Newcastle struggled to create try scoring opportunities, going closest in the first half when Warren Fury's kick through eluded Ryan Shortland just short of the line.
Home full-back Ben Ransom briefly raised the noise at Goldington Road with a break from his own half into the Newcastle 22, but the visitors finally managed to snuff out the danger, and the scoring was dominated by penalties.
Dorrian put Bedford into an early lead before Gopperth replied with four of his own to secure a 12-3 half-time advantage for the visitors.
The New Zealand-born fly-half almost touched down Noah Cato's grubber kick in the second half, and although that came to nothing Gopperth added two more penalties to put Newcastle firmly in control.
But Bedford finished with a flurry and, after James Stephenson was narrowly denied as he chased Ransom's kick ahead, penalties from Dorrian and his replacement Sharp cut the gap to nine points.
Bedford ended the game on the attack but their decision to go for goal from wide out from an injury-time penalty ended in a disappointment as Sharp pulled his kick and left Newcastle strong favourites to return to the Premiership at the first time of asking.
Bedford: Ransom; Stephenson, Burke, Atkinson, Short; Dorrian, Baldwin; Reeves, Cochrane, Boulton; Howard, Tupai, Gillanders, Fox, Fenton-Wells.
Replacements: Spurling, Seal, Gulliver, Barrell, Veenrndaal, Sharp, Dodge.
Newcastle: Tait; Cato, Hufanga, Powell, Shortland; Gopperth, Fury; Shiells, Vickers, Tomaszczyk; Del Fava, MacLeod, Wilson, Welch, Hogg.
Replacements: Mayhew, Golding, Wilson, Hudson, Tu'ifua, Lawson, Luveniyali.
Ref: Luke Pearce