Cleckheaton travelled to Amethyst Park for the first ever time on Saturday to face already relegated Consett. The home side played with the wind at their backs in the first half, whilst Cleckheaton played with very little wind in their sails at all. Onlookers could be forgiven for confusing which side was already down and which side was fighting for survival, as the Spen Valley men trailed 7-0 within five minutes and 14-0 after less than ten.
Cleckheaton eventually got a foothold inside the opposition 22 as the front row trio powered forward, with props Andy Piper and Paul Turner making good ground before Ben Thrower forced his way over the line for Cleckheaton’s first try. The conversion was narrowly missed. Consett’s Nick Cook extended his team’s lead to 17-5 with the first of what would be 5 successful penalty kicks as a Cleckheaton player tried to disrupt play from an offside position. Mid way through the half a neat kick from Dale Breakwell found Danny Booth who offloaded to Mike Swetman for a score in the corner. Cleck were briefly within 7 points of Consett before a kick through from the home side found Henry Race quickest to react and he went in for his 2nd try of the game. Cook, who came off the field with a 100% record with the boot, improved Consett’s lead to 24-10. The final act of the half was another gift of points curtesy of needless foul play from Cleckheaton and Consett accepted them gratefully to leave Cleckheaton trailing 27-10 at the break.
Cleckheaton’s half time team talk seemed to have effect and a penalty more or less at the kick off, allowed Breakwell to kick the ball to the corner. The line-out drill was solid, as was Ryan Piercy’s marshalling of the ball at the back of the maul, which allowed him to crash over a minute later. The conversion was good and Cleck had a life line at 27-17. A no-arm tackle from Jack Seddon reversed the Moorenders fortune, gifting Cook another 3 points but then Booth latched onto a Breakwell kick for his 12th try of the season. Breakwell’s conversion narrowed the scores to 30-24. Moments later, quick hands down the right flank by Ollie Depledge put Mikey Hayward across in the corner for his 12th try of the campaign and when Breakwell added a towering kick from the touchline, Cleck had worked their way back into a slender lead. Consett were not done and were once again assisted by Cleckheaton’s indiscipline, which leaked another 3 points to put Consett back ahead at 33-31. Cleckheaton’s day looked to be done when the home team went in again to extend their lead to 40-31 with 7 minutes to go. Coach Thiu Barnard moved Mike Swetman to outside centre and it paid off when the big man had too much momentum to be stopped from crashing over the line by his opposite number. Breakwell added the conversion to put Cleckheaton within just two points of Consett and within minutes, when the penalty came, he kept his composure to hammer over a long-range goal. Cleckheaton had got into the lead 41-40 and the referee on being asked, said there were just 90 seconds on the clock. All that remained was for Cleckheaton to secure the restart and run in 3 or 4 drives before putting the ball out of play and victory would be secured. It was not to be as the pack did not organise themselves in time for a short kick off and Consett tapped the ball back. Ben Thrower tried to wrestle a ball from a Consett player but ended up with his arms around the player’s head and the referee had little choice but to give Consett a penalty. The kick sailed over from 40m out and Cleckheaton had thrown away 3 league points which could be decisive at the end of the season.
Cleckheaton need to refocus and put everything into the remaining three games, starting with Morley at home on Saturday. Games against local rivals are always a litmus test and none more so than this. Penalties, short cuts and a blame culture will not produce results but hard work and togetherness often does. Cleckheaton are capable of this and need to put it on the line at this crucial time.