CLECKHEATON RUFC came incredibly close to pulling off a sizeable upset against second-placed Rossendale in National League Three North, but the visitors snatched a try late on and with it a 19-17 victory.
Cleckheaton can be buoyed by the fact that they matched their high-flying opponents try for try, but lost out on successful conversions.
A last-gasp penalty could have still taken the spoils for the home side but unfortunately for them it wasn’t to be.
The first half was a tightly contested affair with Cleckheaton’s forwards, led by the rampaging Richard Piper and Ryan Piercy, making plenty of headway against Rossendale’s defence.
Tactical kicking from Matt Piper, as had been evident on his return against Ilkley two weeks ago, also helped Cleckheaton play in the right areas of the field.
Rossendale were lucky to keep all their players on the pitch midway through the first half after Niall Jackson took a high shot in the middle of the park. It was a decision which left the hosts feeling aggrieved.
Cleckheaton were on the attack following the incident and before the away side could completely clear their lines, good work from the forwards committed Rossendale’s defence to Cleckheaton’s left flank and Jack Bickerdike and Neil Chivers quickly sent the ball to the right, where Josh Hall crossed for the first try of the match. But the difficult conversion drifted wide.
In a close, hard-fought encounter the scoreboard wasn’t troubled much in the first half. But, on the stroke of half-time, Cleckheaton were unlucky not to edge further in front when Hall’s 40m penalty kick hit the crossbar.
Unfortunately for the hosts Rossendale regrouped for the second half and began to show that they are worthy of their league position.
Cleckheaton’s lead was looking vulnerable and their cause wasn’t helped by the fact that Lee Queeley received a yellow card for an illegal tackle.
The away side continued to exert the pressure and Jack Ward forced his way over from close range. James Bramhall added the extras for the visitors to give them a 7-5 lead.
But Cleckheaton responded in tremendous fashion and battled their way downfield.
They won a lineout on the visitors’ 22m line and a perfect throw from Ben Thrower was caught and set by the pack before fast hands across the entire back line put Ollie Depledge in at the corner, with an acrobatic dive that saw the winger just get the ball to ground a split-second before his body went into touch. But crucially the conversion was missed.
The Moorenders’ joy at re-taking the lead was short lived as Curtis Strong gathered for Rossendale and, using his two very handy assets of power and pace, pushed over one Cleckheaton tackler before racing around the other for a well-taken try. The conversion gave Rossendale a 14-10 advantage.
But Cleckheaton were not done yet and Richard Piper, who had led from the front all game, powered his way over with a number of defenders hanging from him to hand the lead back to the hosts.
Ronan Evans, on the field from the subs’ bench, added the conversion to give Cleck a 17-14 lead with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Rossendale slowly worked their way up field and, in desperation to stop the forwards getting quick ruck ball, Paul Turner handled the pill on the floor.
The referee had no choice but to sin-bin the Cleckheaton prop and Rossendale opted for a scrum from which they duly scored.
The conversion was missed giving Rossendale a two-point lead.
But Rossendale were not over the line. They had to watch nervously as a crucial Cleckheaton penalty evaded the posts.
It was a good performance all round from Cleckheaton and they need to take the same game to Sandal, whom they travel to meet tomorrow (2.15pm).