Cleckheaton 9 - 7 Huddersfield
As the warm spring sunshine beamed down on a resplendent Moorend, Cleckheaton overpowered a strong Huddersfield side with a great team performance.
Playing the match in perfect conditions, Cleckheaton were soon on the scoreboard as good lineout work from Sam Eastwood and Marcus Abbot enabled George Gillgrass to sidestep through the opposition to score his umpteenth try of the season.
Huddersfield were no pushovers though and only a fine relieving run from the effervescent Jack Wilson prevented the visitors from overpowering on the Cleckheaton line. Morgan Etherington, who went on to have an exemplary game in the centres, made a fine break from the lineout; shortly afterwards, a dominant tackle by Alex Summerscales gave Cleckheaton's resident pickpocket Wilson opportunity to strip the ball and neatly offload to Gillgrass for his second try of the game.
Despite their early dominance, Cleckheaton were quick to show Huddersfield their season's "achiles heel" as they allowed the visitors to walk-through unchallenged from the restart. Playing the game as if it was the Plate Final at the Middlesex Sevens, Cleckheaton's over-extravagance in their in-goal area led to turnover ball and an equalising try for Huddersfield.
The Cleckheaton forwards soon regained their authority as big hits from William Wagstaff and Eugene Rounding put the Cherry and Whites on the front foot. Chieftain Tank Marcus Abbot made a strong run up field and opposition knees must have trembled as a good offload allowed Ayman Khan to make one of his bulldozer runs up the pitch. Great support was by offered by the ever-eager Eastwood as Etherington made yet another fine swerving run and pass. From a lineout, Gillgrass cut through the Huddersfield defence like a knife through butter as he scored another try for a quick-fire hat-trick
Running true to form, a sleepy Cleckheaton defence allowed Huddersfield to score from the restart and just before half time, Cleckheaton coughed-up possession in a dangerous area and allowed the visitors to go into the break with a 5 - 3 lead.
The half time team talk by the Cleckheaton coach must have been inspirational as all players resumed play after the break in a domineering and bullying fashion. Clearing-out at the ruck was infectious as no player shirked their duty and eventually they overcame the vistors' defence with strength and guile. Eastwood was clearing-out the opposition three players at a time, and Khan and Wagtaff were putting big-hits on the Huddersfield players.
Cleckheaton were in the ascendancy and were proving unstoppable. A frenzied triple-tackle by Summerscales led to another Etherington foray up-field as Abbot was quick in support to pass the ball to Summerscales who nearly forced his way over the line; quick as a flash, Eastwood was on-hand to plant the ball over the line and score a try.
Immediately, Abbot and Rounding turned-over the ball in Cleckheaton's favour and Summerscales was on hand to score from 10 yards. 5 - 5, game on.
Inevitably, Huddersfield scored from the restart but a powerful run from Khan led to Gillgrass scoring the equaliser.
Pocket dynamo Eugene Rounding put a big hit on a Huddersfield marauder and great drives by the tenacious Wilson and Wagstaff set up another score for Summerscales. Wagstaff was once again on hand with a powerful run and good support by Rounding led to another Gillgrass score. Huddersfield quickly responded with a try of their own but in the final moments of the game, a penalty to Cleckheaton deep inside the Huddersfield half led to Abbot proving unstoppable from 5 yards as he plonked the ball over the line for a well-deserved try.
If this is summer rugby, bring it on!