FEATHERSTONE ROVERS are still looking for their first win in the Qualifiers, but their opening performance against Leigh Centurions suggested the duck will be broken sooner rather than later.
Rovers, who lost all seven middle-eights fixtures last year, were beaten 38-12 by the Betfred Super League visitors, but gave a better account of themselves than the scoreline indicates.
Much of the damage was done in the first six minutes when Rovers conceded two tries, to Daniel Mortimer and Gregg McNally.
Rovers trailed 12-0 before they knew what had hit them and it looked like it might be a long afternoon for the home team.
But they showed good character to claw their way back into the game.
Playing down the slope they scored next, after 18 minutes, when Darrell Griffin went over from close range and Ian Hardman converted.
A try to Mitch Brown made it 16-6, but Rovers would have gone in at the break only one score down had Luke Briscoe been able to ground the ball over the Leigh line on 34 minutes.
Referee James Child thought he had, but video assistant Phil Bentham spotted a knock-on.
Rovers had one more chance to get back in the game, at the start of the second half, but Andy Bostock’s pass which sent Frankie Mariano through was forward.
Liam Hood’s try from acting-half gave Leigh control and they added back-to-back touchdowns by Matty Dawson and Josh Drinkwater, who also landed five conversions, around the hour mark.
Misi Taulapapa was Rovers’ most lively attacking threat and he scored a fine touchdown which Hardman improved, but Richard Moore was sin-binned for a foul on McNally, who then ran in Leigh’s seventh and final try.
In the end it was a straightforward win for Leigh, but Rovers, who finished fourth in the Kingstone Press Championship, could be encouraged by the way they played, in the first half especially.
After their poor start they matched Leigh for most of it and went close to scoring on several occasions.
Coach John Duffy was told, when he replaced the sacked Jon Sharp last month, to provide a more entertaining brand of rugby and Rovers off-loaded and moved the ball wide at every opportunity, but it was part-time players against full-time professionals and that showed.
When Leigh stepped up the intensity Featherstone struggled to cope and they were harried into a series of costly errors.
Their defence was exposed at times, but Connor Farrell – signed from Wigan Warriors – made an impressive debut and Mariano and Bostock were both strong off the bench, while John Davies also showed some good touches.
Featherstone Rovers: Hardman, Turner, Taulapapa, Hardcastle, Briscoe, Briggs, Thackeray, Moore, Carlile, Griffin, Davies, Farrell, Lockwood. Subs Wildie, Bostock, Mariano, Brooks.
Leigh Centurions: McNally, Dawson, Fleming, Langi, Brown, Mortimer, Drinkwater, Hansen, Higham, Maria, Paterson, Vea, Burr. Subs Hood, Richards, Tickle, Stewart.
Referee: James Child (Batley).