Northern 20 - 17 Cleckheaton
Cleckheaton Don't Take Their Chances and Northern Edge It
Cleckheaton's 3rd trip in a month to the North of Newcastle returned with another loss. The first two games where against opponents at the top of the league table, whilst last Saturday's fixture was against bottom club Northern. Despite the lowly league position, Northern played sufficiently well to take their chances and register two consecutive league victories, leaving Cleckheaton to mull over a long trip back down the A1 with a solitary bonus point.
Cleckheaton were suffering an availability crisis with Barnard, Pearson, Piercy, Queeley and Wilson all unavailable, whilst Foulstone and Cherryholme have joined their rugby league teams for the start of the summer conference. This gave an opportunity for Cain Crotty and Matt Wood to join the starting line-up and Craig Blackburn to earn another cap, whilst Rob Lowe made his 1st XV league debut.
Cleckheaton started brightly and took the game to Northern for the first 10 minutes, playing up the slight incline at McCracken Park. The visitors couldn't convert the pressure to points and it was Northern who went ahead with a penalty goal. Cleckheaton then kicked into gear and a good solid platform from the forwards created the opportunity for a backs move that put Ronan Evans through a large gap for Cleckheaton's first try.
As the clock hit the 30 minute mark, a couple of penalties in quick succession gave Northern field position and when the third one followed a quick tap from the home side, Cleck's Grant Fitzsimmons was shown a yellow card that would keep him off the field until half time. Northern immediately used their numeric advantage, splitting Cleck's defence for a walk-in try from 20m out. With the score board reading 10-5 there was still everything to play for and the 14 men of Cleckheaton hit back with a try for Matt Piper. The conversion from Mike Swetman gave the West Yorkshiremen a 2 point lead. As the first period entered its final minute, Northern's winger tip-toed down the touchline for a try which would give his side a 17-12 advantage at the break.
The second half was one of missed opportunity for Cleckheaton. Mike Swetman turned back the clock with several galloping breaks and Mikey Hayward also produced a number of incursions into opposition territory despite nursing a pulled-hamstring. The frustrating part was that none of these were finished off and either a loose off-load, knock on or concession of a penalty would let Northern off the hook. Northern extended their lead with a penalty goal before Cleckheaton gave themselves real hope when a line out close to Northern's line was driven over by the pack. Andy Piper getting the touchdown to close the deficit to 3 points. Cleckheaton spent eleven or twelve of the last fifteen minutes in or just outside Northern's 22 and despite recycling the ball for many phases, could not squeeze that extra 1% to turn pressure into points. A final overtime infringement from Cleck, deep in Northern's territory, allowed the home side to tap the ball and kick it backwards off the field to earn themselves a much needed league victory. Meanwhile, Cleckheaton had to face the long drive back knowing they'd outscored their opposition three tries to two and contemplating what might have been.
This weekend Cleckheaton have a must-win home game against local rivals Bradford and Bingley, 2.15pm kick off.