Barnsley 19, Bradford Salem 26
Former Otley and Keighley Cougars player Sam Gardner is to take over as director of rugby for Bradford Salem next season, replacing the late Craig Busby, with Phil Nilsen remaining as head coach.
The Heaton club finished off their SSE Yorkshire Division Two campaign with a bonus-point victory at Barnsley, although the contrasting performances in the first and second half summed up their season.
In the first half, Salem showed that, on their day, they are possibly the best side in the league, and, despite going 7-0 down after ten minutes, they soon levelled the scores as full back Danny Belcher’s outside swerve created room on the right, allowing 17-year-old winger Alex Wood to squeeze over in the corner, Belcher landing the touchline conversion.
The Bradford side gained the lead when centre Connor Malarkey hit a great angle off a short pass from fly half Andy Robinson to dot down under the posts, Belcher adding the extras to put the visitors 14-7 ahead.
Salem then hit a purple patch and they extended their lead to 14 points when a delicate chip from Robinson was nonchalantly collected by Belcher to score a try he improved himself.
The Heaton outfit were now playing with increasing confidence and they secured a bonus point when, after a period of sustained pressure, second-rower and skipper James Cunliffe was on hand to dive over the line to make it 26-7 at the break.
In his half-time address, Nilsen told his charges that they had another five tries in them, but, unfortunately, Salem were once again unable to turn the screw and, as the game developed more and more into an arm-wrestle, Barnsley forced their way back into things.
Although Salem had scoring opportunities, a catalogue of unforced errors allowed Barnsley to score two tries to reduce the arrears to 26-19 with two minutes remaining.
Thankfully for them, however, Salem managed to hold out to secure the bonus-point win and maintain second place in the league.
Although they still have a mathematical chance of promotion in the highly unlikely event that both Yarnbury and Sheffield slip up in their remaining fixtures, Salem will look back and rue losses against the bottom sides and their general inability to close out games.