CLECKHEATON suffered a fourth consecutive defeat but there were plenty of positives to take from a narrow 24-18 defeat to the league leaders at Moorend.
The hosts were without two experienced forwards from the previous week’s squad with Andy Piper and Josh Plunkett both succumbing to shoulder injuries.
Joey Carley joined the front row at hooker with Brad Marsden returning at flanker, taking on the No. 7 jersey, whilst skipper Matt Piper played the match in an unfamiliar role at blindside flank.
Cleck started the better, having most of the early possession, and on 10 minutes took the lead after Morpeth were penalised for holding on to the ball on the halfway line. A good lineout drill and good drive by Matt Piper took play deep inside Morpeth’s 22 and when the visitors were penalised for not releasing, Jack Seddon took a quick tap and forced his way over the line under the sticks.
The ball may have come loose as he dived over because the absence of a conversion would indicate the referee awarded a penalty try. Either way, Cleckheaton had opened up a 7-0 lead.
Morpeth had made a slow start to the game and following the restart it was still all Cleckheaton. As the half hit its mid-point, man of the match Mikey Hayward made a terrific break down the left and a long pass from Dale Breakwell found Danny Booth in space, the speedy winger crossed for a fine try which went unconverted.
Morpeth finally got their act together just before the half-hour mark, when the power of their scrum shunted Cleckheaton backwards a number of times inside the home side’s 22.
The scrum collapsed twice during the retreat and the referee lost his patience, sending Cleck’s Paul Turner to the sin.
Speedy adjustments were required as Morpeth opted to scrum again from the ensuing penalty and 18-year-old Henry Iwanejko took up the mantle at prop with Damian Pearson sacrificed for the following 10 minutes.
With Cleck down to 14 men, Morpeth scrum-half Steve Irving picked up at the base of the scrum and crashed over for a try, which Hornby converted.
Almost immediately from the restart Morpeth took the lead, with some poor initial defence from Cleck combined with a finely executed finish by Morpeth.
A great run by flanker Ollie Dynan and some good support work resulted in Johnny Ward going over for a try at the side of the posts. Hornby converted this double whammy to make the score 14-12 to the visitors going into the break.
It was clear that there wasn’t much between the sides despite the difference in league position, but on 57 minutes Morpeth extended the lead with a Hornby penalty.
Three minutes later the men from Northumberland scored a third try after a comedy of errors. Cole burst through some indifferent tackling, but the ball came loose and was deemed to have gone backwards. It was propelled into the in-goal area and Booth took an air shot at it but caught it enough to seemingly put it dead, however the ball suddenly stopped, still the wrong side of the dead-ball line, and Morpeth centre James Phillips got his hand to it. Hornby converted the try to make the score 12-24, with 20 minutes left to play.
Cleck kept probing for an opening and Breakwell kicked a penalty on 64 minutes to reduce the lead to 15-24. Breakwell repeated this again five minutes to bring his team within six points.
When Tony Moody was shown the yellow card for the visitors following a high tackle, Cleckheaton sensed a chance of victory.
They pounded away with commendable determination but couldn’t break through as time ran out, and they had to settle for the losing bonus point.
Although three of their recent defeats have been at the hands of the top three sides in the table, Cleck need to get back to winning ways quickly to prevent a tense end to the season.
There is no game in the North One East Division this weekend, and Cleckheaton’s next opponents will be West Leeds away on February 9.