North One East: Bradford & Bingley 12 Cleckheaton 18

CLECKHEATON coach Thiu Barnard had a warning for Bradford & Bingley and the rest of North One East after a fifth successive win over their derby rivals.

He admitted: "If someone had told me that at the start of the season we would be fifth just before Christmas, I would have been over the moon.

"The belief in each other is better on and off the pitch and they believe in everything that we try and do, but we haven't played our best rugby this season - that will only happen next season because there is a process and a bigger picture, but we are getting there."

Two of Cleckheaton's three tries (for centre Ollie Depledge and right winger Jack Marshall) came from cross-field kicks by fly half Dale Breakwell, and they added another when left winger Mikey Hayward beat his opposite number Jack Malthouse in a one-on-one.

Dale Breakwell, who was given Cleckheaton's man-of-the-match award for those killer kicks out of hand, also added a penalty but missed all three conversions, a penalty and a drop-goal attempt.

The Bees, who have dropped a place to eighth, replied via a try by left winger Adam Sutcliffe, converted by Lance Taylor, that gave them a 7-5 half-time lead, and a late try by combative hooker Alex Keeton that rescued a losing bonus point.

Barnard added: "We won because of our determination and because we wanted it more.

"Our defence was very good and if we hadn't given away 16 penalties (they won only eight) we would have pulled away a lot more.

"Our defence and our teamwork won it for us - last season we would have lost that game, which shows how far we have come and there is still more to come. I am really happy.

"All three of our tries were very good. We play what is in front of us and we play with a lot of freedom - if it doesn't come off we are not bothered and we try again."

Bradford & Bingley's man of the match was strong-running and tackling centre Jamie Martin, while Gus Milburn was the other player in the end-of-match drink-off after playing his first game in the forwards for Cleckheaton.

Barnard explained: "We put Gus at six or seven and he is normally a 12 and he played really well."

Bees skipper Tom Booth, returning after a hamstring injury, said: "I don't think that we did massive amounts wrong - two cross-field kicks led to tries but our defence was good and there was no way through the middle.

"We wasted a couple of opportunities, and we have done that in a lot of games that we have lost by narrow margins, so we just have to go back and start backing ourselves, knowing that we need to make better decisions and knowing what those decisions need to be."

However, Booth added: "It was a loss but it wasn't a heavy defeat - we were in the game for most of it but these games are now stacking up and three or four times we have been sat in the changing rooms afterwards saying 'We could have won that, we should have won that'.

"There are little things that we need to iron out and make sure that we are winning these games. It was just silly errors and decision making that we need to improve on."

What puzzled Booth, however, was the speed that his team operated at.

He said: "We played with a lot of pace in the last 10 minutes and you wonder why we were not doing that for the last 30 minutes, rather than the last eight minutes when we were chasing six points."

In front of a sparse crowd at Wagon Lane, the hosts played towards Dowley Gap first and were behind after eight minutes when Dale Breakwell's kick to the right wing was caught by Marshall and he found supporting full back James Wilson, who put Depledge over for a clinical try.

Few opportunities came the visitors' way in the next 25 minutes, however, as fly half Lance Taylor missed with a shot at goal and Sutcliffe went over in the left-hand corner in the 31st minute after fast hands.

Taylor's fine conversion put Bradford & Bingley ahead but, aside from a break by Cleckheaton centre Matty Piper that gave Hayward a sniff on the left before he was shoved into touch, the Bees could have increased their lead when full back Cameron Bainbridge broke away down the left, only for Marshall to pull off an excellent cover tackle before the home player could find the supporting Sutcliffe.

Ali Macdonald came on at half-time for the hosts, replacing Heimulu Taufa in the back row, but they could have been further behind inside two minutes when a weaving run by Cleckheaton No 8 Jack Seddon came to nought deep inside the Bees' 22.

Two minutes after that, though, the visitors did have their second try when Dale Breakwell's pin-point kick towards 'the hill' was caught on the full by Marshall, who went over on the right.

Bradford & Bingley continued to put pressure on themselves when Bainbridge knocked on a ball that had almost stopped rolling and when Macdonald was offside.

Dale Breakwell's profligacy from the tee let them off the hook, however, so they relied on a try by Hayward in the 52nd minute as he found enough space to dart past Malthouse for try number three.

A powerful run by Bees No 8 Tom Cummins was carried on by the ever-willing Martin but Dale Breakwell's 65th-minute penalty then put Cleckheaton 18-7 ahead.

Cummins ended a significant spell of home pressure with an awful pass that went into touch on the right but they got their reward of a losing bonus point when Keeton, who ended the game powerfully, scored on the left in front of the terracing.

The game ended with the Bees pressing for a converted try that would have won it for them but, not for the first time, they were shoved into touch.