CLECKHEATON fell to a third consecutive defeat in a full-blooded encounter with Huddersfield YMCA at Laund Hill.
Despite the 26-13 loss Cleck did retain the John Bower Trophy, which is decided on the aggregate of the two games. Having won the home rubber 27-13 earlier in the season, Cleck took the spoils by just a single point.
For the trip to Huddersfield, new signing Damian Pearson made his debut after joining the club recently and Mike Swetman returned at outside centre after missing last week’s defeat to Bridlington.
Dale Breakwell had two attempts at penalty goals in the opening five minutes when YMCA were caught offside, but the normally reliable outside half was wide of the mark.
Gavin Stead put YMCA on the board with a penalty after 10 minutes and then doubled their lead to 6-0 five minutes later, after the referee deemed a Cleckheaton player had failed to clear the ruck.
It was then third time lucky for Breakwell, who added a penalty from 30m, to cut the lead to 6-3.
The game wasn’t able to flow as the whistle-happy referee kept blowing for some dubious decisions, much to the annoyance of both sets of supporters. On the half-hour mark James Wilson was sent to the sin bin for an alleged high tackle but YMCA were unable to take advantage of the situation.
As the interval approached, Cleckheaton got the first try of the game. A sweeping move to the left saw right wing Mikey Hayward come into the centre and give a scoring pass to Danny Booth, who crossed for his eighth try for the season. Breakwell sent the conversion over the posts from the touchline to give Cleck a 10-6 lead at half-time.
At the start of the second half, Andy Piper and Pearson were replaced by Henry Iwanejko and Ben Etchells.
YMCA were dominating possession and on 46 minutes Sam Hodge, standing off the back of a five-metre scrum, crashed over for an unconverted try, putting YM into a narrow lead.
Josh Plunkett was sent to the sin bin on 50 minutes, and although he was deemed offside at the ruck the yellow card seemed severe as it took place in Cleck’s half of the field. YMCA increased the tempo in his absence and attempted several powerful thrusts down the middle of the field but Cleck’s line held firm.
When YM’s forward’s had given it their all put failed to break through, the ball was spread to their man of the match, Stead, who capitalised on a tackling mix up between Wilson and Swetman to score under the posts.
Stead converted his own try and the lead was extended to 18-10.
Breakwell reduced the arrears on 62 minutes with his second penalty of the game before Stead replied to restore the eight-point advantage, and with just over 10 minutes to go the scoreboard read 21-13 in the home side’s favour.
Cleckheaton gave away possession too many times in the second half, largely from kicks rather than from errors. Huddersfield YMCA, like Bridlington and Scarborough in previous weeks, were quite happy to keep possession and work their way up the field with plenty of patience.
Cleckheaton, on the other hand, opted to kick when this was going to achieve little real outcome. This included at least two kicks that bounced into touch only for the ensuing line-outs to be uncontested and the ball quickly propelled from whence it came.
Cleckheaton did have some chances as the game neared its end. Breakwell found Booth with space to run with a great cross-field kick, but it was thwarted by the whistle and a very contentious offside call.
Cleckheaton were destroying the YMCA scrum at this stage with their man of the match, Paul Turner, showing his power, but the referee continued to intervene in their efforts and with two minutes left to play, YMCA put the game out of reach with a third try in the right corner by Hill which was unconverted for a final score of 26-13.
This was an improved performance from Cleck after last week’s lacklustre display, full of commitment, but the concession of 21 penalties and the handing over of possession too often, ultimately cost them points against promotion-chasing YMCA.
Nevertheless, there should be some positives for the team to take into tomorrow’s testing clash with table-topping Morpeth at Moorend (kick-off Saturday, 2.15pm).