Featherstone Rovers’ Super League dreams crushed by brilliant London Broncos
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Heavy favourites Fev were beaten 36-26 on a dramatic evening which saw the league leaders respond from an early 12-0 deficit but four consecutive tries either side of half time from the visitors gave them too much to do, consigning them to another season in the Championship.
You could sense the weight of expectations around the ground before kick off, with Featherstone two games away from finally reaching rugby league’s top table. As for London, there was no pressure on their shoulders whatsoever, with their season extended by last weekend’s play-off eliminator thrashing of Sheffield Eagles.
This was a much tougher assignment. The aggregate score between the sides from their two regular Championship fixtures suggested as such, with Fev scoring 90 points to London’s measly 16.
But, incredibly, the Broncos scored 18 points to Rovers’ 12 in a topsy-turvy first half, with the visitors scoring two converted tries which were cancelled out by Chris Hankinson and Joey Leilua before Alex Walker, with his second of the evening, putting London back in front.
However, three London tries at the start of the second half gave Fev too much to do despite three late tries.
Featherstone romped to the league leaders shield, scoring a total of 1079 points and tasting defeat only twice, against Halifax Panthers and Toulouse, who now await London in the play-off grand final next weekend after their 38-20 triumph over Bradford Bulls last night.
But Fev were dealt an early blow as Walker easily danced over in the fifth minute after great work by Sam Davis and Henry Raiwalui.
Rovers looked for an instant response after a Dalton Grant knock-on but Lockwood and Day couldn’t force themselves over the line.
But after a Luke Briscoe error gifted possession and territory back to London, the opposition took full advantage with Iliess Macani breaking at speed down the left hand side before chipping a kick towards the sticks. Walker couldn’t ground the loose ball but Dean Whare could to silence the Millennium Stadium.
0-12 after only 20 minutes. This was certainly not in the script for James Ford, his Featherstone players and the expectant crowd who must have been fearing that history was repeating itself after having their hearts crushed at the same stage - and same venue - last season by Batley Bulldogs.
Evidently shocked and jolted, Fev, slowly but surely, started to gain some much-needed momentum and got on the scoreboard courtesy of former London loanee Hankinson, touching down following a Mark Kheirallah grubber.
Not a bad way to mark your 200th career appearance.
A sustained spell of home pressure followed, as Rovers constantly knocked on the London door looking to level the scores and they did exactly through Leilua’s converted try.
London appeared tired and desperate to hear the sound of the half time hooter. Fev, in the ascendancy, did not want it.
But, contrary to the assumption, the Broncos, under the cosh, stole in right before the interval with Walker, putting them back in front in style by spinning away from Brad Day after great work by the exceptional Dean Parata and Raiwalui.
It was a cruel blow for the home side as, at that point, there was only one team who seemed likely to score.
And Featherstone’s night was not assisted nine minutes into second half when Day was sin-binned for dangerous play.
The Broncos took full advantage with Macani finishing a flowing move from right to left involving Parata, Corey Norman and Whare. Norman converted the difficult kick.
The visiting fans were cheering again soon after when the Broncos moved the ball left to right, Parata to Raiwalui to Walker to Dalton Grant, with the centre finishing well.
Fev were shell-shocked and fell further behind when a Norman kick was pushed back by Macani to Norman again, who found the supporting Raiwalui. Norman converted his sixth kick to maintain his 100 per cent record and give the visitors a 24-point advantage.
The question was posed: Was it an unassailable 24-point advantage? Surely the mountain was too big, even for the runaway league leaders?
Hankinson’s second try of the evening with 15 minutes remaining gave Fev hope, but Kheirallah struck the post with his kick.
The 20-point deficit was then reduced to 16 when Hankinson found Briscoe to go over in the corner.
Leilua grabbed his second of the night with five minutes left but it wasn’t enough as London held on for an epic 36-26 victory to ensure a grand final appearance at Toulouse.
Featherstone’s wait for Super League continues.
Featherstone: Kheirallah, Briscoe, Leilua, Hankinson, Gale, Aekins, Ford, Cozza, Wildie, Lockwood, Day, Taylor, Smith
Interchanges: Jones, Davies, Moors, Bussey
Tries: Hankinson (2), Leilua (2), Briscoe
Conversions: Kheirallah (3)
London: Walker, Grant, Bassett, Whare, Macani, Raiwalui, Norman, Butler, Davis, Bienek, Lovell, Natoli, Parata
Interchanges: Leyland, Williams, Stock, Waine
Tries: Walker (2), Whare, Macani, Grant, Raiwalui
Conversions: Norman (6)