A SPIRITED second half effort from Featherstone Rovers wasn’t good enough as they suffered yet more big-game disappointment last night.
The 36-12 loss to Leigh Centurions in the Kingstone Press Championship Grand Final was Rovers’ third defeat in four Grand Finals at that level since 2010.
The previous defeats came after Rovers topped the table and had been the best team over the course of the season, but Leigh deserved their success at Headingley Carnegie.
They finished 15 points clear on the league ladder and lost only two games all season, a Championship fixture at Doncaster and Challenge Cup quarter-final away to Leeds Rhinos.
They are fast, tough and creative, with excellent half-backs in man of the match Martyn Ridyard and ex-Castleford Tigers man Ryan Brierley.
Six tries to two tells its own story, though Rovers did get to within eight points in the second half and had a touchdown ruled out after that.
Rovers have had to get used to no longer being top dogs this year, but it has still been a more than respectable season, particularly considering some of the adversity they’ve had to deal with: John Bastian’s departure after just 10 games as coach, the withdrawal of major backer Feisal Nahaboo’s investment, the resignation of chief executive Craig Poskitt and long-term injuries to key players.
By finishing second in the table Featherstone received £250,000 more in prize money than they would for coming third, so the main objective of the season was achieved before yesterday’s match. Featherstone really tested Leigh for a spell in the second half, but could not recover from a disastrous start as Leigh applied a stranglehold to the game in the opening 22 minutes, running in three tries, all converted by Ridyard.
On five minutes Matt Sarsfield crossed after Tom Armstrong and Adam Higson had handled; nine later Sean Penkywicz, Ridyard and Brierley linked to create a try for Gregg McNally and then a blindside move from a scrum 20 metres out led to Armstrong going over.
Rovers only threatened once in the opening quarter, when James Lockwood and Andy Ellis carved out an opening for Gareth Moore, but he lost the ball in Brierley’s try-saving tackle.
But they did get on the scoreboard after 28 minutes, with a fine try. Will Sharp was Rovers’ best player and he leaped to take and then touchdown from Andy Kain’s last-tackle cross-kick.
Eight minutes before the break Jamie Cording made a desperate tackle to keep Oliver Wilkes out and on the next play Penkywicz grubbered through and Martin Aspinwall claimed a touchdown.
Referee Matt Thomason handed the decision on and video official Ben Thaler decided one of the Leigh man’s knees had touched the dead-ball line just before he got downward pressure.
Five minutes later Ian Hardman was penalised for holding down Wilkes and Ridyard took the two to send Rovers in 14 points down.
Rovers gave it a real go in the second period. Sharp’s pass might have resulted in a try for Sean Pick if he hadn’t fumbled, but there was an escape when Brierley raced over, only for Thomason to spot a knock-on by Michael Platt.
From the scrum the ball was worked right, Hardman’s pass found Sharp and he did brilliantly – again – to touch down one-handed at the corner. Moore’s excellent touchline conversion cut the gap to eight points
On the hour Rovers looked to be right back in it when Luke Teasdale went over from acting-half, but Thaler ruled no try, spotting an obstruction byLockwood, who had played the ball. That was the game-breaker. The penalty took play to the other end, Rovers were penalised in possession in front of their posts – when Ben Blackmore ran behind Lockwood – and from that Brierley’s long pass produced an excellent finish by Higson at the corner. There was no goal, but with 11 minutes left Rovers’ Jason Crookes was lucky to escape with only a yellow card for a nasty challenge on Armstrong.
Penkywicz was also sin-binned, for retaliation, but the penalty went to Leigh and in the resulting set Sam Barlow swooped over to put the game out of Rovers’ reach.
Ridyard landed his fifth goal and added a sixth with a penalty three minutes from time before Brierley crossed on the final play, off Higson’s pass after he had been put clear by Platt.
Rovers coach Andy Hay said: “We were disappointed with our first half. We gave them a big start and you can’t afford to do that against a team like Leigh.
“We regrouped at half-time and in the second half we got on a roll and had momentum behind us but the disallowed try knocked us.”
Leigh Centurions: McNally, Higson, Platt, Armstrong, Kay, Ridyard, Brierley, Emmitt, Penkywicz, Wilkes, Sarsfield, Haggerty, Barlow. Subs (all used): Beswick, Walker, Acton, Aspinwall
Featherstone Rovers: Sharp, Crookes, Hardman, Cording, Ben Blackmore, Kain, Moore, Crossley, Ellis, James, Pick, Lockwood, Spears. Subs (all used) Teasdale, Annakin, Hirst, Bussey.
Referee: Matt Thomason (Warrington).