Photo: Gerald Christian
CLECKHEATON strengthened their grip on second place by completing the double over a battling Driffield last Saturday, despite being outscored by three tries to two in the game.
They were coming up against their closest challengers for the play-off place heading into the game but Dale Breakwell’s 13 points helped Cleck over the line for a vital win (23-17).
Cleckheaton were at full strength with an unchanged team from the defeat at Durham two weeks earlier. Ben Dearing, Archie Rika-Rayne and Chris Piper warmed the bench after their day out with the Kestrels the week before.
The Moorend pitch was in reasonable condition despite the recent heavy rain and the game started in bright and breezy conditions, with the home team making most of the early going.
However, Cleckheaton were forced into early changes when flanker Joey Carley hobbled off and Rika-Rayne replaced him, going into the hooking spot while Ben Thrower filled in at second-row and Brad Marsden at flanker.
Breakwell put the first points on the board with a 40-metre penalty for an offence at the ruck after eight minutes.
The scoreboard barely had time to register the score before Olly Depledge and James Wilson exchanged passes down the blindside with the full-back surging away for his seventh try of the season.
Breakwell added the goal and then slotted another penalty over to extend their lead to 13-0 after 17 minutes.
Driffield had hardly threatened in the first quarter but, after going through several phases, the second-row Alex Cullen got across the line for their opening score.
The visitors were getting a foothold in difficult conditions but solid defence by the Cleckheaton pack kept the Woldsmen from adding to their score. Breakwell found a different way of applying pressure by putting up a series of towering kicks which had the Driffield defence in disarray.
Three minutes before half-time, right wing Jack Marshall showed considerable skill which parted the Driffield defence and he romped away to score his 11th try of the season. Breakwell added the extras and Cleckheaton led 20-5 at the break.
Early in the second half, with Driffield attacking down the right, Jack Seddon intercepted and raced away down the touchline, but he was pulled down on the 22 and the defence cleared the danger.
Driffield were monopolising the possession at this stage and when left wing Ben Blacker got into space, his opposite number Marshall cut him down with a magnificent tackle and also created a turnover to clear the Cleckheaton line. On the hour mark, Blacker scooted over from 10 metres as the defence got pulled into the middle of the field, with Watts adding an easy goal from under the posts to bring the away side back into the contest at 20-12.
Driffield kept piling on the pressure and the home faithful were getting concerned, but solid defence was the order of the day as wave after wave of attacks were repelled.
On 77 minutes, after a mistake from the visitors gave Cleckheaton a rare scrum inside the opposition 22, the referee penalised Driffield for offside and Breakwell kicked his third penalty to take the lead out to 23-12.
The game still had more drama to come though as a sweeping move up the right put winger Rueben Kelly over for the visitors’ third try.
Cleckheaton needed to make sure they gave their opponents no more chances in a six-point game and, when Breakwell drilled a low restart towards the left touchline, Driffield couldn’t recover it and the game ended 23-17.
The Moorenders go into tomorrow’s (Saturday, kick-off 3pm) local derby away at fifth-placed Morley with Moortown now the side on their shoulder, trailing by two points, while leaders York are 11 points clear.
Cleck will be looking to avenge a narrow defeat in early November, with Morley the only team to have beaten them on their own ground all season.