Otley hoping to start another upward curve

Wharfedale Observer: Otley's Mark Gemmell moves the ball away from the scrum at Bradford & Bingley last Saturday Buy this photo » Otley's Mark Gemmell moves the ball away from the scrum at Bradford & Bingley last Saturday

As Otley go into the new year in 12th place in SSE National League Two North, their season so far has split into two distinct phases.

The first was a run of five victories in the opening seven matches up to and including the 40-16 home win over Sheffield Tigers on October 19, after which Otley were fourth.

However, that was followed by eight defeats in nine contests, ending with the frustrating 25-9 home setback to Harrogate on December 21.

So have the Cross Greeners massively lost form?

That may be partially true but it is equally relevant that in that initial raft of fixtures, Otley did not meet any of the sides who are currently in the top five of the table.

The highest placed were Birmingham & Solihull (sixth), who won on home soil 24-21 on September 28, and Preston Grasshoppers (seventh), who won at Lightfoot Green 37-21 on October 12, thus handing Otley their only two setbacks up to that point.

Since that date in mid-October, Otley met the current top five in a span of seven weeks, when the Cross Greeners’ only success was by 23-17 at Luctonians (now ninth) on November 30.

With six losses in seven outings behind them, what has probably been the most disappointing thing are the derby losses at Hull (10-3 on December 14) and Harrogate.

Former skipper Simon Willet said recently that Otley were not going to go down, and what will help them no end in that cause would be to win on Saturday at basement club Dudley Kingswinford.

The Midlanders have lost all 16 matches so far this season, so the last thing Otley want would be to hand them their first victory of the campaign.

This is an ideal opportunity for Otley to lift themselves into mid-table, especially as they already hold a handy lead over the four clubs below them.

Otley have 31 points, Hull 21, Bromsgrove 18, Sheffield Tigers 17 and Dudley Kingswinford six, all gained from bonus points.

With Otley having dropped those eight places in the table and being on a run of eight defeats in nine matches, some of their supporters are worried about being sucked into a relegation battle.

But director of rugby James Tiffany is not among them, saying: “My focus is on training and then on Saturday’s match. If we perform, then things will look after themselves.”

Lock Willet, flanker Joe Armitage, props Will Rigg and George Burkinshaw, hooker Mark Chivers and backs Arnold Ellison, Chris Gemmell, Jack Mackie and Alex Beaumont all took advantage of last Saturday’s Granville Clark Memorial Trophy match at Bradford & Bingley to get some extra match practice in.

Otley won 56-7 in a contest that was played in good spirit, and Tiffany said: “It gave us a bit of confidence and continuity and gave us a chance to keep our fitness levels up.

“It also gave some of our second-team lads an opportunity, and it is important to keep up the traditions of this memorial fixture.”

Clark, a popular player for both Otley and Bradford & Bingley, died from a brain tumour on October 3, 1993, aged just 37.


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