Joe Gallagher, a player who exchanged the blue and white of Halifax Vandals for the navy and yellow of Old Crossleyans in the summer, had the decisive say in yesterday’s first ever league derby between the clubs.
The stand-off’s 61st minute kick, which gave the Crocs a 10-8 home win in Yorkshire Two, wasn’t the most difficult penalty you will ever see but was greeted with ironic cheers from home supporters who had earlier witnessed bad misses from his teammate Gareth Sweeney.
After a 30-year wait for a clash between the clubs, the fare on show was modest but Crocs’ failure to exploit their openings against their determined and resilient visitors at least kept rival supporters on tenterhooks until the finish.
Crocs, third in the table, are in the early stages of a renaissance under player-coach Ryan Hammond but this was more Jackson Pollack than Michelangelo.
They had plenty of possession but simple passing and handling errors by their backs made them increasingly reliant on powerful trio Hammond, lock Kolade Bobo and replacement forward Navneet Sembi to punch holes down the middle.
No 8 Hammond was satisfied at the outcome, after a home defeat by Old Grovians seven days earlier, and relieved to have a fortnight to work on his side’s so obvious failings before a trip to another of the strugglers, Wetherby.
Vandals’ 46-year-old player-coach Jamie Bloem, pressed back into action at No 10 for the Warley men following Gallagher’s departure reputedly in search of a more expansive style of rugby, felt his side got a raw deal from referee Neville Bracken and that similar wholehearted efforts from his players would enable them to climb from next to bottom.
In near-perfect conditions, Crocs monopolised possession against the heavily-penalised Warley men in the opening 40 minutes but turned round with only a 7-5 advantage.
Sweeney’s straight 35 metre penalty in the fourth minute hit the outside of an upright and home fullback Scott Caley then dropped the ball with the try line beckoning wide on the left.
Vandals mauled the ball from half way almost to the try line prior to taking the lead on 17 minutes.
Initially held up in the top corner, Bloem’s delayed pass sent centre Jacob Duffy in at the side of the posts but play was strangely brought back for a Vandals penalty.
However, lively scrum half Luke Sutcliffe darted over the try line and although Jimmy Crowther was unable to convert, the visitors led 5-0 after 17 minutes.
Crocs struck back eight minutes later, hooker Cameron Brannan rewarding intense pressure over several phases of play by crossing at the side of the posts from Gallagher’s pass.
Sweeney converted but then struck a post from a penalty straight in front and then sent another easy chance well wide. Crowther fell short with a far more ambitious effort at the end of the half.
The visiting marksman nudged Vandals 8-7 up six minutes after the break, mistakes from Lewis Sharpe, Jack Fairbank and Caley undermined the hosts’ efforts to exploit openings out wide.
Vandals, who had lost prop Ben Burnside through injury early on, were unable to get their maul going and the sin-binning of prop and captain Paul Jowett for a deliberate knock-on to halt a Crocs attack opened the door for Gallagher to stroke over the crucial penalty.
The visitors had a decent spell of possession and territory but an inaccurate lineout throw eventually allowed Crocs to move back down field, Caley and Sweeney combining in a break which appropriately resulted in the ball going to ground.