WITH the Counties One Yorkshire title safely in the bag, all eyes were on the last kick of the match.

Up stepped Bradford Salem skipper Christian Baines and popped the ball over the bar to bring up their half-century of points, hosts West Leeds managing only 13 in reply.

Some visiting supporters were worried about the significance of the place kicker.

Was this the 35-year-old saying goodbye to rugby in the same way that George Kruis did on the international stage for the Barbarians by landing three conversions against England in June 2022 at Twickenham, the last of which he backheeled over?

“We will see at the end of the season”, admitted the 35-year-old. “We still have a couple more big games and hopefully we will get the treble.”

Ahead of Salem now that they have clinched a place in Regional Two North East next season, which will include matches against Old Brodleians, Morley and Old Crossleyans, are the Papa Johns Community Cup (they face either Wenseydale away or Leodiensian at home in the last 16 on April 20) and the Yorkshire Shield final against Keighley at Doncaster RUFC on May 18.

Salem will hope that the lure of playing in a side with so much attacking potential will persuade Baines, man of the match against West Leeds, to don his boots for yet another campaign, given he was persuaded to do a year ago by the lure of derbies against Keighley and Bradford & Bingley.

He said: “The boys have bought into what the coaches have wanted, and none more so than our south-sea islanders, who are hopefully coming on our end-of-season tour to Scotland.

“They are at training twice a week, we are a close-knit group, we stick together and hopefully we won’t be losing anyone.

“We showed composure, and scoring tries from the full length of the pitch shows how far we have come.”

On a heavy but well-grassed pitch that had passed an inspection, Salem, who were playing against a fierce wind, cast off any nerves that they might have had by scoring in the first minute.

Winger Adrea Vasuitoga gave the scoring pass to full back Josh Charnock, with Andy Robinson’s conversion attempt bouncing off the far post and out.

Vasuitoga was then yellow carded for leading with his elbow, and West Leeds were soon given two advantages by referee Andy Williamson, home fly half Keir Breakwell popping over the subsequent place kick in the ninth minute.

But intense pressure by the visitors three minutes later was rewarded with a Baines try, even if Robinson’s conversion attempt was caught by the increasingly ferocious wind, flying towards the far touchline rather than the posts.

A late tackle by Salem centre Pauli Pauli, which seemed to be in slow motion, then gave Breakwell another penalty chance in the 19th minute and again he obliged to pull the deficit back to four points at 10-6.

The margin didn’t stay that close for long, however, as Salem scrum half Callum Smith shaped to pass, only to snipe over for a try through a nice gap, replacement Logan Simpson adding the conversion to make it 17-6.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Callum Smith is a nightmare for defenders to get a hold of, meaning the scrum half is a prolific try scorer for Salem.Callum Smith is a nightmare for defenders to get a hold of, meaning the scrum half is a prolific try scorer for Salem. (Image: JT Sports Media.)

Rory Wollaston’s kick downfield put Salem under temporary pressure, but the visitors got their fourth try, and the bonus point they needed alongside victory to mathematically secure the title ahead of Wetherby, in the 34th minute.

That came when hooker James Brown, whose line-out throwing was secure in the very difficult conditions, scored.

Pauli then threatened to burst through the middle against a team that were a man light, flanker Tom Langton - son of former Bees player Steve - having been sin-binned.

Leading 22-6 going into the second half, Salem soon added to their tally when lock Dom Bailey took a line-out and, seeing no-one in front of him, went over, with Simpson adding the conversion.

Charnock completed his brace in the 56th minute after good linking with flanker Morgan Mirzaali, Simpson again improving the score, and two minutes later Mirzaali’s neat chip bounced infield for Smith to pick up and go over for his brace.

Simpson’s conversion made it 43-6, but West Leeds, who included 42-year-old former Leeds Rhinos and England rugby league player Mark Calderwood on the wing, were not done yet, replacement Jacob Eaglestone scoring for full back Rian Hoey to convert.

The hosts then lost winger Danny Booth to a nasty head-on-head collision that he thought might require 20 stitches.

Salem saved the best until last with a peach of a try down the right, Vasuitoga passing to winger Aaron Magee, who gave the scoring pass to Mirzaali in a lesson in support play.

Baines then added the coup de gras with the conversion, as Salem hope to have him in the ranks for the 2024/25 campaign, their first in the regional leagues for 25 years.

Keighley just missed out on promotion, but rounded off a strong season in third after beating Hullensians 46-14.

Bradford & Bingley’s relegation had long since been confirmed and they head down into Counties Two Yorkshire on the back of a final-day pounding, which saw them beaten 80-21 at Old Rishworthian.

The Bees will join Baildon in that division next season, with the latter finishing fifth following a final-day 20-15 defeat at third-placed Yarnbury.

Finally, Cleckheaton’s good form in 2024 kept them up in Regional One North East, even though they rounded off the campaign with a disappointing 24-10 defeat at mid-table Scunthorpe.