Fax inflict more sudden death drop goal agony on Rovers...
HALIFAX will contest the Northern Rail Cup final at Blackpool next month after Danny Jones’ golden point drop goal won a compelling, and at times brutal, semi final at Post Office Road.
In last September’s Championship Grand Final it was Ben Black who clinched victory over Rovers; this time it was Jones who stepped up from 25 metres out after hooker Sean Penkywicz – who made a miracle recovery from his broken toe to lead the side – and back rower Ryan Clayton had forced a repeat set with a determined kick and chase.
Daryl Powell’s Featherstone, defending a five-from-six win ratio against Fax over the last 18 months, dominated the opening half hour and led 16-4 at one stage.
But Fax, a team transformed from the side that began the year, showed genuine toughness to claw their way back into the game, leading 24-22 early in the second half.
Rovers looked to have won it through two Liam Finn penalties and an Andy Bostock try inside the last 10 minutes, but Jones’ cross kick set up a Dylan Nash try four minutes from the end, Lee Paterson’s conversion taking the game into extra time.
Rovers began with a bang, literally, with Michael Haley producing a thumping tackle on Jim Gannon straight from the kick off.
And they should have scored first moments later, Jon Grayson racing clear after Dylan Nash completely misread the situation in defence but opting to go for the corner himself rather than passing to his support, leaving Miles Greenwood to make the try saving tackle a yard out from the whitewash.
Rovers continued to dominate those brutal opening minutes, with and without the ball, as they rolled down the slope.
It took Fax eight minutes to make an impression going forward, Ben Black’s high kick and a strong chase forcing a drop out from Rovers wingman Bryn Powell, but the chance was ruined by a poor pass on the Rovers’ right that was knocked on by Paul White.
The visitors did not help their cause with a couple of errors, from the usually reliable Neil Cherryholme and Ryan Clayton, and it was from the second of those that Rovers opened the scoring in the 14th-minute, Tommy Saxton diving over in the corner.
Liam Finn missed the conversion to leave the score at 4-0, but Fax were lucky to survive conceding a second almost immediately, Sam Smeaton cutting inside on the right flank, again with support outside.
The reprieve was temporary though, Smeaton scoring on the next set from Finn’s delicate cross kick as Rovers’ sheer weight of possession and position began to tell.
Finn converted for a 10-0 lead after 20 minutes, but Fax hit back in fortuitous fashion immediately, Lee Paterson charging down a kick on half way and dribbling the ball forward before regathering to score in the corner.
Danny Jones skewed the conversion well wide, but at 10-4 Fax at least had a foothold on the scoreboard if not exactly in the game.
Rovers had an Ian Hardman try ruled out by the video referee soon after, and Fax were under more pressure 12 minutes before the break, Ben Black and Greenwood getting in a tangle on their own try line and Rovers forcing the drop out.
This time they made it pay, Andy Kain twisting over from close range wide on the Rovers’ left, Finn finding his range from the sideline to make it 16-4 with 10 minutes to go to half time.
Fax promptly produced their first real attack of the game, a left to right shift enabling them to to drive downfield and Jones producing a kick that White did brilliantly to chase down and ground.
Paterson landed the goal from the sideline to close the gap to 16-10, which was a minor miracle after the battering Fax had withstood.
Against all the odds, they then narrowed the deficit to two, White again finishing brilliantly after Black’s footwork undid the defence.
Paterson missed a conversion attempt that would have levelled the scores, but Fax were back in the game.
There was one final twist though, Fax pushing forward in search of the unlikiest of leads and Jones throwing a pass that ended up in the hands of Jon Hepworth, who raced 60 metres to score, Finn converting for a 22-14 interval advantage.
The second half began the same way as the first, except this time it was Fax dishing it out: Makali Aizue launching himself at Iain Morrison with such ferocity that both players were forced to leave the field.
Fax forced the first opportunity too, Jim Gannon storming through the ruck but he was unable to find Jones on his outside.
And they were over the line moments later, Jones conjuring a brave and brilliant flick pass on his own 10 metre line after Andy Bostock had knocked down Finn’s cross kick, Rob Worrincy doing the rest with a 90 metre sprint to the posts.
Paterson’s conversion made it 22-20 and put Fax bang in the game with 35 minutes to go.
They then hit the front, Black kicking short, regathering and diving over in the corner to make it 24-22, Paterson missing the conversion attempt.
Black then put his side under the cosh, sending a long range touchfinder out on the full to give Rovers a prime attacking position with a little over 20 minutes remaining.
Paterson then conceded a penalty, which Rovers opted to kick, Finn levelling the scores at 24-24.
Rovers then forced a drop out from Kain’s kick, but Fax shovelled Bostock over the whitewash as he drove towards the line.
Featherstone claimed a try after Worrincy was outjumped by Saxton for Finn’s kick, but their claims were waved away by video referee Ian Smith.
Rovers regained the lead on the whistle of Gareth Hewer, who ruled Bob Beswick had stripped Tony Tonks of possession almost 40 metres out and Finn, predictably, added the two points for a 26-24 lead with 11 minutes to go.
And when Bostock scored, after quick hands from Finn and Hardman, the half back crucially missing the conversion, the home side were 30-24 in front.
Fax immediately shifted up a gear – Jacob Fairbank showing all his family heritage with some ferocious defence – and when Jones put the ball on the boot, Dylan Nash soared to collect the ball and touchdown and leave Paterson with a high-pressure kick to level the scores.
The centre was equal to the task, setting up a 30-30 deadlock with four to go.
Both Finn and Paterson fired off almost impossible drop goal attempts, but in the end the game went the same way as September’s Grand Final. Fortunately, the result was the same too.