WITH just three points dividing the top five teams, the Championship title race could not be closer.
Last season’s Division One champions Azaad are the new leaders. They are just one point ahead of Hopton Mills and Northowram Fields, with Oulton and Liversedge a further two points adrift.
Hanif Mahboob (43) and Syed Shah Bukhari (4-48) gave Wakefield-based Azaad the edge at Oulton who started the day as joint pacesetters with Liversedge.
Chasing Liversedge’s 242-9, Northowram looked to be heading for defeat when Simon Kay (5-54) reduced them to 159-8 but they were rescued by Dewsbury Rams RL head coach Glenn Morrison and Zafar Khan who both hit unbeaten half-centuries in an unbroken match-winning ninth wicket stand of 86.
Hopton Mills eased to a six-wicket victory against strugglers Caribbean who were routed for 67 by Richard Myers (5-16).
Veteran David Battye helped East Ardsley end their losing run. He bagged 7-37 to send Wakefield St Michael’s collapsing from 40-3 to 89 all out, replying to Ardsley’s 149 that included 55 by Julian Smith and a last wicket partnership of 39 between Adam Pearson (30no) and Battye (18).
All-rounder Jack Hughes was outstanding as Premiership title-chasers Townville continued their unbeaten start to the season.
Hughes snapped up 7-23 and contributed 46 to a 111-run stand with Chris Holliday (71no) as the Castleford side beat Buttershaw St Paul’s.
Townville are just four points behind leaders Methley who scraped a one-wicket win against Hunslet Nelson after all-rounder Warren Ekstraal (57 and 5-39) had given them a huge scare.
Ekstraal’s fellow South African Darryl Hendricks hammered an unbeaten 163 – the top-flight’s highest individual score this season – as third-placed Wrenthorpe raced to 370-2 in 44 overs at Altofts.
Hendricks put on 127 with Neil Bourke (76) and shared an unbroken 200-run stand with Greg Wood (107no) but Wrenthorpe were denied maximum points when Altofts held out at 217-8 with half centuries by Brent Law and Jonathon Donnelly.
Captain Tim Orrell’s 73 was in vain for Mirfield Parish Cavaliers in an eight-wicket defeat at Wakefield Thornes. David Toft and James Wolfenden struck half-centuries as Thornes comfortably overhauled Parish’s 172.
Ossett’s slide continued when they narrowly lost a low-scoring game at Batley.
Charles Orme (4-43) toppled Batley for 102 but Ossett’s reply collapsed from 91-6 to 99 all out, with Tariq Hussain and Huzaifa Patel each claiming three wickets.
Craig Wood (68), Eric Austin (42) and Nick Kaye (42) led Birstall to a five-wicket victory at Carlton, for whom Ismail Patel hit 76.
East Leeds and Great Preston are level on points at the top of Division One.
Shamoon Mushtaq smashed fives sixes in a sparkling 122 off 132 balls as East Leeds beat bottom team Crossbank Methodists.