Player-coach Ryan Hammond was in no mood to revise his ambitions after Old Crossleyans were beaten 38-17 at home by Pontefract in Yorkshire One yesterday.
They were second best in the battle of early leaders Yarnbury’s closest pursuers in Yorkshire Two, but a depleted back line gave them an excuse.
The visitors effectively won the contest with three tries in the last 10 minutes of the first half, before the already wet and windy weather took a turn for the worse.
Crocs then dominated possession playing against the elements, but lacked the visitors’ cutting edge against a resilient defence.
Hammond returned to the Broomfield club in the summer after spells playing in Australia and Spain.
Crocs were fortunate to avoid a third relegation in quick succession last season, meaning stopping the rot might seem a realistic aim this time.
That is not enough for the 32-year-old Hammond, who filled in at centre yesterday with his brothers Jack and Billy, Gareth Sweeney and Scott Caley among the absent players.
“We’re disappointed to lose but promotion is still the aim,” said Hammond, who added that his men were “light years ahead” of where they were last season.
Both sides had won five of their first six league games and their enthusiasm was apparent in a feisty contest with plenty of high tackles and a couple of flash points to keep referee John Tomlinson on his toes.
Scrum half Craig Heppenstall gave Crocs a 3-0 lead by landing the more difficult of his two early penalties.
Ponte were already moving the ball menacingly and the sin-binning of Crocs’ debutant centre Jack Fairbank, for not retiring 10 metres at a tap penalty, enabled winger Rich Hossack to cross for the first of his three tries on 12 minutes.
When Joe Gallagher sent the restart out on the full, the visitors were quick to capitalise. A clever kick into space was seized upon by centre Craig Fawcett, who broke two ineffective tackles. Stand off Glenn Boyd’s kick made it 3-12.
Crocs hit back when hooker Cameron Brannan intercepted on half-way and flanker Rob Oliver took his inside pass to score. Gallagher, taking over the goal kicking duties following a second Heppenstall penalty miss a couple of minutes earlier, added the extras.
Hammond’s men needed a lead to take into the second half but instead the slick visitors put the game out of their reach.
Fawcett grabbed his second try following winger Tom Metcalfe’s hesitancy in dealing with a kick; Hossack finished off some fine support play from half-way; and the same player weaved his way through the middle to complete his hat-trick.
Boyd added two of the conversions and Ponte were sitting pretty with a 31-10 lead and Crocs’ Dwaine West in the bin for most of the opening 10 minutes of the second half.
Hammond coaxed a gallant effort from his men. He and No 8 Olly Coyne led the way with some powerful running throughout and Brannan, having been ruled held up over the try line shortly before, was awarded a score under a pile of bodies on 57 minutes.
Pontefract almost replied in the corner but then lost flanker Chris Sant to the sin-bin and Crocs might have moved to within losing bonus point territory had a penalty try been awarded when their advancing scrum was halted illegally near the visitors’ line.
Instead, all their possession failed to yield another score and the visitors scrambled a sixth try of the afternoon through replacement Dave Finlay with four minutes left, converted by Boyd.
Crocs’ Lewis Sharpe and Ponte’s Jack Beddis were yellow carded in the closing seconds and Heppenstall was dragged down by Pontefract’s last line of defence in front of the posts.