CHAMPIONS Underbank Rangers retained their lead at the top of the National Conference League, Division III as they edged a thrilling encounter at Kippax Knights 14-12.
It took a second half Neil Barrett penalty to separate the two title-challengers and make it three wins on the bounce for the visiting side.
Kippax were looking to gain revenge after losing last season’s Grand Final to Rangers, and the rivalry was hot.
With two stern defences, chances were few and far between as the brace of the scoring came in a ten minute period before the break.
Kris Harrop and Jay Senior went over for Rangers, with Will Milner and Chris Redfearn levelling each time.
Despite coming away as narrow victors, Underbank player-coach Richard Knight was unimpressed with his team’s enthusiasm.
He said: “Maybe not the better team, but the more enthusiastic team lost.
“I think a few of the boys came here a bit complacent and they were much better than us in the first half and when we got back into the arm wrestle, it took some winning.”
Knight was quick to highlight Dave Valentine as a positive from the game, and assured that his squad would be going into all future fixtures prepared for a tough contest.
“Dave Valentine made over 50 tackles and played 80 minutes at prop so that speaks for itself really,” said Knight.
“We have to remember that when we are travelling down to Coventry next week that we are Grand Final winners, everyone wants to beat the Grand Final winners and everyone is going to save their best game to when they play us.
“So we need to remember that wherever we go and wherever we play that it is going to be a tough fight from the first minute until the 80th.”
Both sides struggled to get off on the front foot as chances were rare in the opening quarter.
Yet it was the hosts who had the champions worried as good ball movement saw Kippax press Bank’s line, with only an untimely knock on relieving the pressure.
This acted as the perfect wake up call as the men from Holmfirth profited from Nick Briggs’ positive break which allowed him to get in behind the Kippax defence and release Knight who in turn fed supporting Harrop to race under the sticks and Barrett added the goal.
The home side were not behind for long as a quick scrum from Courtney Allette’s knock-on allowed them to exploit the hole on the right side and Milner raced in to finish clinically in the corner and Gavin Adkin levelled the score.
Four minutes later, Kippax thought they had the lead but their try was disallowed due players being offside at the kick.
The momentum pendulum swung again and Knight’s defence had no answer for Senior’s lightning pace as he raced 60 meters to notch his 12th try of the season.
Two minutes later, the score was level again as faultless effort from Redfearn saw him charge down Barrett’s clearing kick and collect the loose ball to tie the game at the break.
The second half began in similar fashion from the first as both teams struggled to create.
The defining moment came on the hour as Barrett’s 35-metre penalty goal gave Rangers the two point gap that proved enough for the win.
The victory didn’t come before some tense periods of play, and Kippax were left frustrated once again as they were disallowed another try for offside ten minutes before the end.
Yet it was Underbank’s failure to get in position that presented the opportunity for the home side to seal a draw when an offside saw them gain a penalty 20 yards out but Adkin failed to hold his nerve and sent the kick just wide in the final minute as Underbank were not to be denied.
Underbank Rangers: Briggs; Midgley, Lang, Knight, Allette; Barrett, Dyson; Valentine, Berry, C Williams, St Hilaire, Joyce, Harrop. Interchange: Senior, Housley, J Williams, Horsfall