CHRIS JOHNSON’S cultured boot kept Huddersfield’s unbeaten start to the North Division I season intact with a late drop goal sealing the points against neighbouring Cleckheaton.
There was little to choose between the two sides in the first half, as both teams struggled to play open rugby, although Huddersfield did have territorial advantage, and the match was deadlocked at 3-3 at the interval following an exchange of penalties from Huddersfield fly-half Johnson (13mins) and Cleckheaton’s Johnny West (17mins).
And it was much of the same after the break, as play was kept very much among the forwards, and Johnson and West were again on the mark from the spot after further infringements.
Cleckheaton had both second rowers Danny Pilkington and John Dudley sin-binned – the first for going over the top and the second for knocking the ball out of Damian Clayton’s hands – one in either half, and Johnson put Huddersfield 9-6 ahead with his third successful penalty and then stretched the lead to six when he knocked over a 56th minute drop goal.
Although Huddersfield were still enjoying the bulk of possession and territorial advantage, both defences were still well on top (Tom Ainsworth having a cracking game for the visitors at full-back) while Manchester referee Callum Frazer’s whistle frequently stopped any open play developing.
West reduced the arrears with his third penalty, and Johnson was then crucially sin-binned in the 67th minute after being judged to have his hands in the ruck.
It looked as though the home side might have salvaged a draw when West levelled with his fourth spot kick with six minutes remaining, but they hadn’t taken into consideration Johnson’s ability to land a killer blow, which the No10 did to great effect from Cleckheaton’s 10-metre line in time added on for stoppages.
It was no less than Huddersfield deserved as they were the better side throughout the 80 minutes, spending plenty of time inside Cleck’s 22 without managing to pierce through, and only West’s penalty count keeping the home side in the contest.
From Huddersfield’s point of view, it was the second game this season that Johnson has sealed victory at the death with a drop goal (the last was against Birkenhead Park), which keeps Mark Sowerby’s side at the top of the table, which they share jointly with Kendal, although the unbeaten Cumbrians do have a better points difference.
Huddersfield: Ainsworth; Paxman (B), Paxman (L), Mortimore, Shaw; Johnson, Clayton; Howard, Gough, Stringwell, Pratt, Rhodes, Hinchliff, Whitehead, Sowerby. Subs: McPhail, Harris, Scrimshaw.
Other divisional results: Birkenhead Park 28 Westoe 8, Darlington 18 Liverpool-St Helens 17, Middlesbrough 3 Kendal 28, Penrith 9 Hull 21, Sheffield Tigers 27 Altrincham Kersal 21.