Halifax Vandals had a first away win of a challenging debut season in Yorkshire Two cruelly snatched from their grasp by a spectacular try in the 10th minute of injury time at Old Grovians on Saturday.
They went down 25-22, having edged in front thanks to a well struck Jimmy Crowther penalty in the 78th minute of a pulsating and highly physical encounter.
Their hopes looked to have been immediately dashed when Maeer knocked forward the restart into one of his own players to concede a penalty for offside. However, the kick was put well wide and when the Grovian full back’s drop goal attempt drifted to the left of the posts, Vandals’ supporters started to celebrate.
However, the referee insisted there were nine seconds left and Grovians showed impressive composure to return Jamie Bloem’s deep kick. Their big pack drove for the line, only to be repelled by heroic defence, but after 15 phases the ball was moved wide and an overlap created for the winning score.
The first 20 minutes of the game gave no indication of the drama to unfold as Grovians dominated possession playing into the wind. They moved the ball impressively and demonstrated great creativity and pace to stretch the Vandals defence at will.
The Warley men saw very little of the ball but great cover defence from Mitchell and McAspurn held the Bradford side at bay. Eventually, however, a missed kick to touch proved costly as Grovians counter attacked at pace to score a great try to take a 5-0 lead.
Vandals came alive and Ben Burnside, back after a short sabbatical with Old Brods, tidied line out ball and drove for the try line. He was held just short but Arron Carrington, Jowett and Richardson ripped into the visibly shocked home defence and eventually Burnside drove over from close range. Crowther kicked a brilliant conversion for a 7-5 lead.
Superb driving play from Maeer, Frazer Carrington, Hamer and Jowett, supported by the ubiquitous Sutcliffe, had Grovians on the back foot and their early composure disappeared.
A great break from Jordan Bloem led to a penalty which Crowther hammered over to open up a 10-5 lead with half time approaching. From the re-start a fine driving maul took play deep into Grovians’ territory and Crowther continued his kicking master class to give Vandals a 13-5 lead.
The second half started at a furious pace but Vandals’ recurring weakness - turning ball over through their mistakes - resurfaced. Following a good passage of ball retention they were penalised for not releasing in the ruck and the gap was reduced to 8-13.
Injuries to Frazer Carrington and Jamie Richardson disrupted the balance of the pack and stemmed the flow of line out ball, but there was no let-up in the intensity of play. Hamer intercepted an inside pass inside his own half and rampaged up the field, knocking Grovians asunder. Burnside, Mitchell and Sutcliffe continued the assault and Grovians wilted under the pressure, conceding a penalty which established a 16-8 Vandals lead after 52 minutes.
Grovians turned over line out ball in the Vandals 22 metre area and after several phases of close quarter play they drove over to close the gap to 13-16 with 20 minutes left.
Vandals tried unnecessarily force the game and two uncontrolled off-loads led to an interception and the Grovians centre romped under the sticks for the easiest of tries to establish a one point lead.
True Vandals spirit was then evident as they battered away at the Grovians defence for the next 10 minutes and Crowther finished his perfect kicking day by putting his side 22-20 ahead.
But it all turned sour for the visitors and player/coach Bloem said: “I’m totally gutted for every player and supporter today. The boys gave everything ... and a bit more.”