CLECKHEATON continued their recent run of disappointing performances with this latest defeat in North One East at Moorend which baffled even the most neutral of supporters and apparently wrecked Moorend hopes of a top-two finish.
The Moorenders were seeking to get back on track after two successive away defeats and this seemed a good opportunity against a side in the bottom four.
They scored four tries to two but an indisciplined second half, in which Pontefract were given a flood of penalties and took full advantage to kick 12 points, sent Cleckheaton to a third successive surprise defeat against a struggling team and in the end two bonus points seemed a poor return.
After a slow start, Cleckheaton, despite making changes to the team, soon found their rhythm and clicked into an impressive gear, showing the confidence and form which characterised their storming run in November and December and shot them up the table.
They played good controlled rugby, took some chances in very good style to collect three fine tries and could have had more.
As it was they seemed well in control with a 21-10 lead at half-time and with the stiff breeze behind them in the second half there seemed no danger.
Tries came from the hard-working Richard Piper, his tenth of a productive campaign, and a brace from livewire full-back Ross Hayden, who showed great awareness in combining from the rear, and all three were converted by stand-off Iain Gordon on his return to the side.
Pontefract countered with an Andy Dean penalty and a try from full-back Michael Bateman, converted by Dean, but they had been very much second best in the first 40 minutes and looked out of it.
At half-time the crowd reflected on the clinical execution of the Cleckheaton backs coupled with scrum superiority. It just seemed a matter of time before the home side ran away with their first victory in three matches. The reality was rather different and the change in the pattern of play was a huge shock.
A succession of infringements awarded against Cleckheaton enabled Andy Dean to kick four penalties and convert a second Michael Bateman try to give Pontefract an unlikely 29-21 lead.
Realisation finally set in for the home side as they belatedly moved the ball wider to stretch the visitors’ defence. Ross Hayden sprinted over for his third try, to take his season’s tally to 15, again converted by Gordon, to narrow the gap to a point.
It was the first hat-trick by a Cleckheaton player in the league since Ryan Duckett scored four tries at Orrell in September 2006 but it was too little too late as Cleckheaton were unable to snatch the vital extra points to claim victory and Pontefract, who were perhaps as surprised as anyone to register the win, celebrated the crucial four points in their fight against relegation.
Cleckheaton must re-group quickly as this coming weekend brings the return leg of the keenly-fought derby with Old Brodlians.
The form and brand of play displayed in the first period against Pontefract needs to be sustained into the second period, to ensure the right result.