Photo: Gerald Christian
A RAMPANT Cleckheaton put in one of their best team performances of the season to see off the league leaders York at Moorend.
Thiu Barnard’s side had suffered a big setback in their chase at the top of the table with a last-gasp defeat to struggling West Hartlepool the week before, but they produced a brilliant performance to bring down York and close that gap to six points last weekend.
Brad Marsden picked up the man of the match award after scoring two tries while Mikey Hayward scored a brilliant try in a dominant first half, before Cleck managed to hold out through their opponents’ late resurgence to claim maximum points.
Marsden returned to the team in the second row for the game while Damian Pearson dropped to the bench with Archie Rika-Rayne and Gus Milborne.
York kicked off with the wind at their backs and looked dangerous with ball in hand in the early going. The first score came with five minutes gone when the winger George Davies was worked into space to cross in the right corner.
Minutes later, Tom Lillycrop was penalised at the breakdown and Hessay kicked the goal to give York an 8-0 advantage.
This seemed to fire up the home team and, on 16 minutes, following a penalty 10 metres from the York line, Marsden secured good lineout possession and the maul rumbled forward with Joey Carley on the spot for his first try of the season. Dale Breakwell added the goal to narrow the gap to a single point.
York seemed to be getting dragged into midfield and were making some handling errors in the face of powerful tackling by the so-called ‘soft’ Cleckheaton forwards.
On 27 minutes, quick thinking by Breakwell saw a cross-kick land in the hands of wing Hayward on his own 10-metre line, and a mazy run left a trail of green and black shirts in his wake as he recorded his 17th try of the campaign and a spectacular one at that.
Breakwell added the goal again and Cleckheaton had the last for the first time at 14-8.
Just five minutes later, some classy play between Ollie Depledge and Jack Marshall sent Marsden galloping along the right-hand touchline before touching down under the posts for a first try of the season, which was again converted.
York were guilty of coughing up possession and, as half-time approached, Cleck took control of a rolling maul which went 20 metres before a jubilant Marsden touched down for the bonus-point try.
Breakwell kept up his 100 per cent record for a superb 28-8 lead at half-time.
Game management would be important in the second half and Breakwell slotted a 30-metre drop goal to extend the lead by another three points.
The next 10 minutes saw both sides probing for openings but defences were on top. York had the territorial advantage but the immaculate Breakwell cleared the ball downfield away from danger.
Andy Piper was shown the yellow card for an offence at the ruck and when Rika-Rayne came into the front row, replacement Milborne was sacrificed for 10 minutes. All this allowed York their best spell and they scored three quick tries.
Firstly, Hodgson and then Maud scored after driving mauls, before a long pass saw the left wing Hodges cross in the corner for their bonus-point try. Fortunately for Cleckheaton, Hessay couldn’t convert any of the tries and it was an edgy game at 31-23 with 12 minutes to go.
Into the last 10 minutes, the cool head of Breakwell slotted two penalty goals to settle the game down and, while York applied pressure as the clock ran down, the home side ran out winners.
As well as cutting the gap at the top, Driffield’s defeat at Malton and Norton means Cleck are now six points clear of third place as their promotion push steps up.
Tomorrow (Saturday, kick-off 2.15pm), Cleckheaton travel to Durham, who are third from bottom in the table but have won seven of their nine home matches this season.