NORTHWICH suffered a catastrophic collapse on Saturday but the scoreline tells only half the tale.
Believe it or not, they were well in the game until just before half-time, when a couple of soft defensive errors gave Rochdale an undeserved 20-0 lead.
With five minutes of the first period remaining, the visitors were fighting hard to come back from an Alan Bard-enhorst try and a Chris Johnson penalty.
Northwich then dropped the ball in their own 22 and Chris Johnson picked up, scored and duly converted to make it 15-0.
Giant number eight South African Bardenhorst then scored from the base of a scrum to put the game beyond a sadly depleted Northwich team.
Despite being without Chris Dale, Jan Cartman (flu), Kolo Fifita, Andy Allen and Chas Wood (injured), and with stalwart forward Jonathan Simpson called into work, Northwich were giving a good account of themselves. The completely revamped back line did well to cope in the first half but, from the start of the second, it rapidly became one-way traffic.
The six-foot-five, 18-stone Bardenhorst completely bossed the game and ripped the heart out of a gallant North-wich outfit.
He scored another three tries and was instrumental in feeding the ball to the other Rochdale star, Erin Howarth, who also ran in a hat-trick. This nine-try rout was made worse by the confident boot of Chris Johnson, who converted six tries.
Rochdale are pushing for promotion and it was never a game that in all probability Northwich were going to win. But a full team would have helped, although credit goes to those who wore the Northwich shirt who never gave in and battled to the end.
The 2nds and 3rds had a better time of things and both came away with league wins.
The 2nds beat Bury at Moss Farm 33-5. A hat-trick from Joe Ellis and further tries from Jamie Brunlees and Chris Steel, together with two penalties and a conversion from Andy Chubb, put paid to Bury.
The 3rds beat Holmes Chapel away 19-7. It was an impressive debut for back-row Jonathan Green, who was home from university and is the son of ex-junior coach Dave Green. Jonathan scored two tries and Ian Mason added a third. Keith Jones converted twice.
Northwich now have a break before they take on Leigh at Moss Farm on January 8. Leigh put 60 on Northwich in early November and an improved performance is expected from the Moss Farm outfit to kick-off 2005.