Cleckheaton pushed North One East leaders all the way and almost snatched victory in an exciting clash at Moorend last Saturday.
Despite outscoring Billingham four tries to two, the visitors returned north with the win but Cleckheaton gained some consolation for their efforts by securing two valuable bonus points.
This was a keenly contested encounter on a heavy pitch as Cleckheaton took the game to their opponents.
Despite early pressure, including a scrum on Billingham’s five-metre line, it was the visitors who scored first when a well-worked counter attack created a gap for full-back, Peter Evans, to race through for a try which he converted.
Cleckheaton regained their territorial advantage from the re-start and won a penalty but Iain Gordon’s shot at goal fell agonisingly short.
Evans extended Billingham’s lead to 10-0 with a penalty before Cleckheaton hit back after 30 minutes.
Good approach work from the forwards and enterprising play by Johnno Marshall created space for Ross Hayden to dive over in the corner for an unconverted try.
Just before half-time, Billingham were awarded another penalty, which Evans goaled to put them 13-5 up.
Cleckheaton came out with intent and in the 46th minute a catch in the lineout by No8, Joe Goiti, was mauled to the line by an organised home pack and Richard Piper was awarded the try.
Gordon converted and Billingham’s lead was cut to just a point.
The game’s intensity was raised but Cleckheaton were then dealt a heavy blow when Richard Piper was yellow carded for an alleged high tackle.
Evans extended Billingham’s lead to 19-12 with two further penalties.
Immediately following his return from the sin-bin, Richard Piper scored his second try of the day, fifth in two games and 16th of the season, when James Wilson and Marshall combined to put the flanker in at the corner.
The chance to level the scores with the conversion again fell just short.
The cause looked lost when visitors player/coach, Chris Hyndman, wriggled over for a converted try after 75 minutes but Cleckheaton were still not finished.
With the intent to get a bonus point try clearly evident, Cleck spurned two kickable penalty awards to run the ball.
Following several phases of play, Peter Murphy put Hayden over for Cleck’s fourth try, which earned them two bonus points – it was just reward for the home side’s enterprise.