Percy Park 10 – 14 Cleckheaton
Cleckheaton Go Five from Five
by Geoff Akerman
Cleckheaton made the long journey to North Shields for the final away game of the season at Percy Park. Wet weather and a heavy pitch greeted Cleckheaton for their first visit to Preston Avenue in 5 years. Cleckheaton had 4 changes from the previous game against Malton & Norton, Hayward, Thrower, Queely and Seddon were all unavailable and Craig Blackburn, James Crowther and Brad Marsden came into the starting line-up, whilst Josh Plunkett moved across to the No.8 position.
Percy Park kicked off and there was a problem in the early exchanges as 2 off the home players had to be replaced in the first 5 minutes. This weakened the home team in the forwards and Cleckheaton exerted pressure in the scrums which they would go on to dominate throughout the game.
Cleckheaton took the lead on 11 minutes when a planned move in midfield created a gap for full back James Wilson to run into. He scored to the right of the posts, racking up his 9th try of the season, Mike Swetman added the extras to give the visitors a 7-0 lead. A dour but entertaining struggle developed with a lot of handling errors in the wet conditions. Jack Bickerdike was a constant threat with neat box kicks which kept Percy Park on the back foot and on 2 occasions in the first half, loose ball inside the home side 22 almost led to tries from kicks ahead but were thwarted by the dead ball line and the whistle of the referee.
The score remained at 0-7 until the dying moments of the first half when Cleckheaton conceded a penalty under the posts which was kicked to make the score 3-7 at the interval.
The second half began with Cleckheaton dominating, the ball was moved right to winger Craig Blackburn who was held up inches short of the try line and moments later an overlap was worked down the right by outside half Ronan Evans but Blackburn and replacement Tim Mobbs got in each other's way and the ball was spilled forward. Luke Pearson and Tom Austin were dominating the line out at this stage.
Cleckheaton extended their lead on 52 minutes when captain Matthew Piper romped over from 15 metres for his 10th try of the season, the reliable boot of Swetman added the conversion to give Cleckheaton a 3-14 lead.
The home team came into the game a bit more after this score and put Cleckheaton under some pressure but a magnificent defensive effort by the pack, in particular Brad Marsden at flanker, who topped the tackle count, kept the home side at bay. Cleckheaton conceded several penalties in the closing stages and were fortunate not to concede a penalty try, when Matt Piper was adjudged to have not released in a tackle and was banished to the sin bin with a minute left to go. From the resulting penalty, the home side took advantage of a wide open blind side to crash over for a try which was duly converted, and referee called a halt to the game with the visitors recording a well-deserved 10-14 victory. They have now won 5 games in a row and will face 2 tough encounters at home against Morpeth and Penrith. Kick off is at 3pm for both games.