Out-muscled Crocs face an uphill task

Cleckheaton 36

Old Crossleyans 24

ANOTHER opportunity missed and another point further behind; Crocs truly have a mountain to climb to reach safety in North One East.

The Broomfield men made the short trip to Moorend boosted by a comprehensive home win over Sheffield. They were desperate to maintain the momentum and eat into the 10-point gap between themselves and fourth-from-bottom Old Brodleians with three teams likely to go down.

However, they never looked like winning against a Cleck side who overpowered them in all areas of the game apart from the scrum, where there was parity.

The hosts hit them with a two-try blast in the early stages of each half and then scored an interception try late in the game - just as they had in the win at Brods seven days earlier - to head off Crocs’ bid for a losing bonus point.

The visitors certainly didn’t play like a team resigned to the drop, fighting back determinedly in the second half. Their backs handled well in the main against a strong defence and they also showed invention in the lineout, winning ball with varied throws to the front in windy conditions.

However, they could have done without Rob Oliver and Ed Cockroft being yellow carded for dissent, and didn’t have the pace to finish off a couple of openings.

The strength of the wind blowing down the ground immediately became clear when home stand off Iain Gordon kicked the ball dead from well inside his own half.

However, centre Pete Murphy soon got the angle right to find touch deep in Crocs’ half and Cleckheaton set up a driving maul which the visitors were powerless to defend. Hooker Steve Worsley got the touch down and Gordon converted after six minutes.

Cleckheaton broke from just outside their 22 following a pass blown yards forward. Referee Jonathon Hill didn’t spot it but cut short a dangerous home move to bring back play and sin bin back rower Oliver. From fullback Johnno Marshall’s penalty to touch on the 22, Cleckheaton again rumbled forward through their pack and back rower Richard Piper’s unconverted try made it 12-0 after 10 minutes.

Crocs were pinned in their own half for the next 20 minutes but defended bravely, aided by Cleckheaton errors in possession.

A Neil Richardson kick looked to have eased the pressure but Cleckheaton attacked from deep through their backs and added another seven points on 30 minutes. When centre Jack Hammond was less than decisive in the tackle, Cleck created room wide on the right for arch poacher Ross Hayden, across from the other flank, to touch down. Gordon thumped over the goal.

An excellent counter-thrust featuring Gareth Ott, Oliver, Manny Riaz and Cockroft heralded a strong finish to the half from Crocs. Skipper James Wainwright burst through but was collared and the visitors had to settle for an easy three points from Cockroft immediately before the half time whistle.

Crocs’ hopes of bridging the gap further with the wind behind them were dashed as Cleckheaton flexed their muscles again.

Ott matched Gordon’s earlier mistake in kicking dead and Cleckheaton predictably kept the ball in the forwards, Richard Piper plunging over in the corner on 45 minutes.

It was all too easy as Murphy sent fullback Marshall in wide out for another unconverted try to make it 29-3 just three minutes later.

Crocs were not about to throw in the towel and although Murphy got back to pull down Joe Baker, they eventually created space for lock Chris Wood to stroll in 20 metres to the right of the posts on 56 minutes. Cockroft converted.

Ott was ruled to have knocked on over the try line by the well-placed Mr Hill but Crocs continued their good spell and Wainwright scooted in between the posts on 74 minutes, Cockroft’s kick making it 29-17 and setting one or two alarm bells ringing in the home ranks.

Crocs had to keep the ball alive but Hammond tried to force one pass too many and Murphy picked it off to run 30 metres and score, the conversion being added.

Cockroft was yellow yarded but Crocs still had the last word, Leigh Thomas taking Chris Seymour’s defence-breaking pass at speed and hastily drop kicking the conversion, only for the final whistle to blow.

Wainwright said: “We got off to a poor start and made too many errors but we’ll keep fighting.”