(National II North)
IF Huddersfield can reproduce in the second half of the season what they displayed in the second half of this absorbing contest, then there is every chance they will still be playing National II rugby next season.
For 63 minutes, the 14 men of Huddersfield (they lost Gaz Lewis to a straight red card) produced a monumental effort to rock high-flying Otley.
And in the last seconds of the game they almost snatched a dramatic score, which would at least have seen them earn a well-deserved draw.
As it was they came away with a token bonus point, but they definitely deserved more, and the relief on the faces of the Otley side – led by former Huddersfield prop Adam Blades – suggested the visitors knew they were fortunate to hold on for the win.
Trailing by just five points going into stoppage time, Lee Paxman was only denied a dramatic winning try by a tackle from Otley’s Harry Hudson.
And with the ball recycled, Ben Hoyle charged to the line, only to have the ball slapped out of his grasp as he dived for the whitewash.
On another day, the official could have chosen to award a penalty try – but not on this occasion, nor by referee Andrew Vertigan, who had upset the balance of the contest as early as the 17th minute when he handed Lewis a straight red, for what was allegedly illegal use of the boot on Blades.
At that point Huddersfield were already 7-0 down following a mauling try from Otley flanker Jonathan Mattews, converted by Ben Cooper.
The sending off, however, only served to inspire Huddersfield, and barely two minutes after Lewis had left the park, prop Tony Stringwell got the touchdown after the home forwards had tenaciously forced Otley backwards onto their own line.
But having got themselves back into the contest, Huddersfield were undone by some aimless kicking which resulted in Otley centre Mike Coady breaking clear with an overlap which he used after drawing full-back Tom Owen to put scrum-half Steve Depledge on a clear run to the posts.
Cooper again added the conversion, and a 29th-minute penalty as Otley took a 17-5 lead into the interval, with the job seemingly done.
Coach Dan Hyde’s plucky 14 had other ideas however, and within two minutes of the re-start had cut the deficit once again with a truly brilliant try from Owen, who took a defence-splitting pass from Hoyle and sprinted more than 40 yards over the soggy surface, skinning the Otley full-back on his way to a memorable score.
Booth converted to reduce the deficit to 17-12 and the battle really had been joined.
George Hinchliff and Lawrence Sanderson replaced Tony Stringwell and Gavin Rhodes in the front and second row before Field were handed a reprieve when Otley crossed the line, only to be denied by a forward pass.
Cooper took Field out of bonus point range with a 51st-minute penalty, after which Chris Duffy replaced Joel Hinchliffe at scrum half.
With 15 minutes remaining Booth added a penalty as Otley began to buckle under the weight of pressure from Huddersfield, who threw everything they could at the visitors in pursuit of a winning score.
Several times Huddersfield’s gallant pack threatened to maul Otley back over their own line, but sadly it was not to be, and in the end they had to settle for that solitary point.
But every man jack of them could hold their heads high after what was a super effort against a very good side.
Huddersfield: Owen; Moon, Clark, Paxman, Booth; Coles, Hinchliffe; Battye, Murphy, Stringwell, N Rhodes, G Rhodes, Lewis, Hoyle, Sharpe. Subs used: Sanderson, Hinchliff, Duffy.
Referee: Andrew Vertigan (Wetherby).