JUBLIANT skipper John Wood has hailed patched-up Cleckheaton, who have quite literally hobbled over the line to reclaim their top-flight crown, writes LEON WOBSCHALL.
The Moorenders retained the title with a game to spare after an emphatic 114-run win at Farsley, making amends after their Priestley Cup final loss to Pudsey St Lawrence last weekend.
That said, Cleck went through the pain barrier to secure their second straight championship, with Wood just glad that they have managed to do the job a week early with their side likely to be decimated for this weekend’s final-day clash with Bradford and Bingley.
Wood himself defied an Achilles injury to hit a solid 35, well supported by openers Andy Gorrod (47) and Tim Jackson (34) in Cleck’s opening salvo of 220-5 - Mark Harrison taking 5-78.
Replying, Farsley never recovered after being in early bother at 16-4, with ex-Headingley paceman James Lee taking 3-10 for Cleck, who needed 16 points to lift the big prize.
Star overseas turn Tanzeel Altaf then came to the party with 5-39 to help dismiss the Red Laners for 106, with only Graham Hume (35) showing defiance.
While the following day, Cleck suffered cup dismay in a heavy loss to York in the semi-finals of Black Sheep Trophy, Wood is the first to admit league matters were very much the priority for the club this year.
And with bodies wilting, Wood, struggling with an Achilles problem, is relieved to have clinched another title seven days early with Ian Wood still not at peak fitness after a cartilage operation and Ian Wardlaw unavailable this coming weekend.
Wood said: “In a way, it is a good job we did it on Saturday and did not have to leave it until the last game because we are really struggling at the moment.
“It’s been a long season as we have been involved in the Priestley Cup all the way through and have played a lot of games, which have taken its toll towards the end of the season.
“It’s a bit of a shame as we played poor cricket in the Black Sheep semi-final, but in terms of the league, we are delighted it is over and done with really.
“The league was the priority absolutely. If someone had said before the start of the season that we would win the league, get to the final of the Priestley Cup and go a fair way in the Black Sheep, I’d have snapped your hands off.
“Sunday maybe ended on a sour note as we just didn’t turn up, although if we had got through to the final, we would have been without five bowlers.”
On winning the competition again, Wood, who will be presented with the trophy before this weekend’s game, said: “We are absolutely dleighted to have done it again. It is our 150th anniversary and the title could not have come in a better year.”
Now 44, Wood intends playing on next season, and says the majoirty of last season’s side will line up again for Cleck this year.
He added: “There might be one or two tweaks; we don’t know yet. A lot depends on how my brother comes through with his knee and whether four or five months off can make a difference. We need to see how he goes. A couple of us are also getting older and it is getting harder! I am definitely doing another year and we will see how we go at the end of it.”
Meanwhile, Woodlands (201-9), who are guaranteed to finish second, featured in a tied game at Pudsey St Lawrence (201-7) for whom Pristley Cup final man-of-the-match Adam Waite (89no), excelled along with James Smith (68).
Sam Frankland hit exactly 100 for Woodlands.