Photo: Gerald Christian
By Steve Gates
CLECKHEATON suffered a setback in their challenge at the top of the table as a last-minute try condemned them to a shock 20-19 defeat at struggling West Hartlepool.
They were the favourites ahead of the trip north as they looked to extend a six-match winning streak against a side which had won only three games all season.
Cleck led 19-12 with 12 minutes to go and should have held on for the win, but two home tries saw them leave with nothing but a bonus point.
They made the journey to the North East without Niall Jackson and Tom Austin while Brad Marsden was unavailable. Damian Pearson, who re-signed from Bradford Salem, went into the second-row with Tom Lillycrop and Gus Milborne at flanker, and Chris Piper was in at prop alongside Ben Thrower and Andy Piper.
West played with the wind in the first half and made a mess of the kick-off, the ball rolling into touch in goal and from the scrum on halfway, Cleckheaton applied some pressure early.
Thrower made some strong runs up the middle of the field along with his front-row partners and, in the opening 20 minutes, Cleckheaton were in the ascendancy without troubling the scoreboard.
Lillycrop, Josh Plunkett and Milborne all carried well and the ball was getting out to the backs to make more ground. Ollie Depledge made some terrific outside breaks and Matt Piper took the ball forward with his usual style.
The first score came on 35 minutes when Jack Seddon got on the end of Depledge’s pass to race some 30 metres to score in the corner, and Breakwell added the extras from the difficult angle.
A minute before the break, Lillycrop was sin-binned and from the resultant penalty Zac Southern kicked a 25-metre goal to reduce the half-time difference to 7-3.
Andy Piper was struggling with a rib injury and had to be replaced by Archie Rika-Rayne, while Joey Carley came on for Pearson. Whilst still down to 14 men, Mikey Hayward squeezed over the line for his 15th try of the season.
But on 49 minutes, after a period of pressure near the Cleckheaton line, second-row James Borthwick crossed for a West Hartlepool try, converted by Southern, to reduce the arrears to 10-12.
After the forwards had set the platform 10 minutes later, Hayward popped up in midfield to score under the posts and Breakwell’s goal put them nine points ahead.
On 68 minutes, Lillycrop was lucky to remain on the field after a no-arms tackle on Hilditch; the referee played advantage and replacement Alex Barker crossed for a try to make it 19-15.
Cleckheaton should have scored a fourth try to make sure of the win four minutes later but the ball was knocked forward with the try line in sight.
Instead, Wests never gave up and, with time running out, flanker Adam Brown crossed for a fine try to give them the lead for the first time in the match.
There was time for a restart and Cleckheaton appealed for a game-winning penalty after a home player failed to release the ball and, despite the protests, the ball crossed the touchline to end the game.
Cleckheaton need to regroup quickly after this setback as it doesn’t get any easier, with table-topping York visiting Moorend tomorrow (Saturday, kick off 2.15pm).