Cleckheaton travelled to Teeside to face league leaders Billingham and at the end of the day, were beaten by a better side who are likely to be in the promotion hunt at the end of the season.
Cleckheaton started brightly with a good challenge to the homeside's kick reception by Joe Goiti
and gained an early scrum in opposition territory. From the resulting possession and a Billingham infringement, Iain Gordon put Cleck into the lead with a penalty goal. Cleckheaton applied further pressure to their opposition and came very close to scoring a try but were held up inches short, giving Billingham the put-in at the scrum and the chance to clear their lines.
Billingham opened their account with an opportunist try from their outside centre, when a chip and chase bounced perfectly into hand and resulted in a try under the sticks. Iain Gordon then narrowed the lead to 7-6 with a further penalty goal. An excellent kicking game from Billingham's fullback, Paul Evans, mounted pressure on the Cleck defence and Grant Turton
was caught with hands in the ruck close to the line, resulting in a yellow card. Billingham opted for the scrum and went blind, scoring a try in the corner, which was unconverted. Cleckheaton would have been happy enough to turn around at half time just 6 points adrift at 12-6, with a man to return from the sin bin. However, Billingham increased their advantage in the dying seconds when a training ground move was perfectly executed, sending a runner back inside on a blind pass, which flat footed the Cleck defence and led to a score of 17-6 at the interval
Billingham scored their bonus point try early in the 2nd half when a mildly threatening cross field kick was knocked on by Cleckheaton giving the home side a scrum 10m out. Billingham scored on the back of this territorial gain and then increased their lead further when the race to collect a long range grubber kick was won by Billingham's winger. Neither of the 2 tries were converted but the scoreboard had moved on to 27-6.
restored a bit of pride for Cleckheaton when he marshalled a ball from the back of the line out over the Billingham line but it was the home team that had the last word when winger, Shepperd, tip toed down the touch line for his hat-trick try and a final score of 32-11.
Man for man Billingham were not more skilled or stronger than the Cleckheaton team but they worked hard in the forwards, defending solidly and had pace right across the backs. The biggest difference was perhaps the sense of urgency with which they played the game, often pushing Cleckheaton on to the back foot and at times, looking much a fitter side. If Cleckheaton can up the tempo of their game and do this consistently across the park, then they have the talent in their ranks to challenge any team in this league.
As well as being very competent on the field, Billingham also proved to be excellent hosts off it, welcoming the team to stay at the club to watch the Super League Grand Final and treating their visitors to several rounds of traditional rugby songs, which was a delight for all concerned. Several years ago we formed a relationship with another Teeside team, Horden, which saw both clubs stopping off at the other's clubhouse whenever in the area . Billingham are a club that we cold easily form a similar relationship with and we look forward to returning their hospitality when they come to Moorend at the end of January.