Featherstone Rocked by Halifax in Cup Final
Halifax 21-12 Featherstone Rovers
Halifax produced a dominant display against Championship title rivals, Featherstone Rovers, to win 21-12 in the Northern Rail Cup Final at Bloomfield Road on Sunday afternoon. LS Sport’s Andrew Belt reports from Blackpool…
With Featherstone and Halifax occupying first and second place in the league, respectively, the game was set to be a close affair and the action didn’t disappoint as the 2011 Northern Rail Cup runners-up avenged last year’s defeat to bring the trophy back to the Minster town for the first time, and earn West Yorkshire bragging rights in the process.
Blackpool, in the midst of holiday season and, like the rest of the country, turning its attention to events in London, appeared to be oblivious to the presence of the showpiece cup final competed by rugby league teams in the Championship and Championship 1. The local newspaper made no mention of it, the town’s inhabitants confessed ignorance of the fixture and there were no adverts for the game around the town centre.
The only sign of the impending game in Blackpool came from the Featherstone and Halifax fans themselves, happily milling around the various amusement arcades and attractions hours before the final in their team’s colours. If anything, this air of mystery surrounding the occasion served to add to the excitement of sharing the experience of watching two talented teams going toe-to-toe for a prize neither had claimed prior to Sunday.
Featherstone came into the game on the back of a 10 match unbeaten run
6, 691 supporters arrived in good voice, with the Featherstone end shading the advantage over their rivals from Halifax, in both numbers and volume. Featherstone came into the game on the back of a 10 match unbeaten run and the chant of “Championes!” rang out before kick-off in acknowledgement of Rovers’ 2011 success in the Championship, but it was Halifax that started the brighter on the pitch as they notched the first try of the game after only three minutes.
From kick-off, Halifax had piled on the pressure, deep in Featherstone’s defensive quarters, and their efforts were rewarded when Paul Handforth played a perfectly-measured grubber kick for Anthony Thackeray to easily touch down before Lee Paterson kicked the extras. Halifax didn’t put a foot wrong in the opening quarter of the match and responded well to Featherstone’s offensive tests as Rovers pushed hard for a reply to the conceded try.
Despite controlling the game, Halifax were unable to add any more points to their tally from their excellent 20 minute spell and were left to rue the inaccuracy of Paterson’s penalty attempt from nearly 40 yards out, when Liam Finn registered Featherstone’s first try of the tie in the 26th minute. Finn, holder of the world record for most consecutive kicks converted without missing, made no mistake with the conversion and seemed to be on a one-man mission to fuel life into Rovers’ attacks for much of the first half.
Halifax refused to let Featherstone overwhelm them and once again took the game to the Cup Final debutants
With the scores at 6-6, the game became evenly-contested and the robust defences of both sides came to the fore as half-time approached. A Sam Barlow solo effort for Halifax and a second goal for Paterson minutes before the end of the first half restored their earlier advantage and moments later, Dane Manning tackled to prevent a swift Featherstone counter-attack; two excellent Halifax contributions to lift the spirit of their fans as they pounced late in the half.
Featherstone came out of the blocks quicker than their opponents at the start of the second half and Sam Smeaton bundled over the line for a try in the 44th minute which Finn, this time, couldn’t convert and left the scores tantalisingly close with Halifax 12-10 to the good. Halifax refused to let Featherstone overwhelm them and once again took the game to the Cup Final debutants, with Makali Aizue particularly noticeable in driving Karl Harrison’s team forward.
Matt Dale then came close for Rovers as they looked to go in front but Halifax’s defensive line held firm and the team in the ascendancy nearly scored a ludicrous try following a sharp passing move involving Sean Penkywicz, Dane Manning, Handforth and Wayne Reittie orchestrated in the tightly-packed left-hand side of the Featherstone rear-guard. A high tackle from Halifax’s Craig Ashall then gifted Featherstone a 63rd minute penalty comfortably dispatched by Finn only for Steve Tyrer to kick a penalty between the posts minutes later to restore Fax’s two-point advantage.
Rob Worrincy led a Halifax counter-attack that ended with Ashall scoring a drop goal with eight minutes to play which, crucially, ensured that Featherstone would have to score a try if they retained any realistic hope of completing a comeback from three points behind. Jon Grayshon knocked on with Rovers attacking high up the pitch and Halifax’s outstanding defensive performance was further rewarded when Thackeray kicked for Tyrer to stoop for the winning try.
Jubilant scenes were witnessed as a cluster of the stadium was transformed into the blue and white colours of Halifax
A triumphant cheer resounded from the Halifax end of Bloomfield Road while the last major contribution to the game proved too much for some Featherstone followers as they left the stadium in their droves. Paterson increased the score-line with a well-taken conversion and the final few seconds of the game went by in a blur as Halifax celebrated their cup success at the sound of the closing hooter. Jubilant scenes were witnessed as a cluster of the stadium was transformed into the blue and white colours of Halifax.
Halifax coach, Harrison, secured a personal milestone of having been in charge of a hat-trick of Northern Rail Cup winners and the final proved so satisfying for those who had seen Fax lose at the same stage to Leigh Centurions last year. The 21-12 win was fully deserved and to have not let Featherstone take the lead at any stage of the game was a fantastic achievement for all involved with the club.
And you can be sure that the Fax fans did like to be beside the seaside on that sunny day.
Words: Andrew Belt
Images: Ailsa Barrow