FEATHERSTONE ROVERS eventually got over the top of arch-rivals Halifax, but they had to work mighty hard for a place in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-finals.
Rovers were good value for their 24-12 sixth round victory, but Halifax fully contributed to a cracking tie which was a great advert for the Kingstone Press Championship.
There were only five points in it inside the final quarter and Rovers could not breathe easily until Josh Hardcastle scored their fourth try with seven minutes left.
Playing up the slope, Halifax, who were on an seven-game winning run, led early on and were only 13-6 adrift at the break, thanks to a magnificent defensive effort under huge pressure.
Halifax went ahead after 16 minutes through Ben Heaton, who ran a great line on to Scott Murrell’s defence-splitting pass.
Steve Tyrer kicked the goal, but Rovers were back on terms within six minutes. Keal Carlile twisted out of dummy-half and John Davies, who had an outstanding game, stretched over from his pass.
Cory Aston, who had earlier been off-target with a penalty attempt, booted the extras. The on-loan Leeds Rhinos half-back then landed a superb touchline conversion from a try by Scott Turner.
The winger dived over at the corner off a long, looping pass by Thackeray and Rovers were denied a third try by a stunning tackle from Will Sharp, who prevented Ian Hardman grounding the ball over the line.
Thackeray hit a post with a drop goal attempt late in the half, but did find the target with a one-pointer as the hooter sounded.
That came moments after Halifax’s Rob Worrincy had touched down, only for referee Chris Campbell and then video official Ben Thaler to rule he had put a foot on the whitewash first.
Rovers second-rower Michael Knowles was held up over the line twice in as many minutes at the start of the second half, but Rovers extended their lead on 47 minutes when Turner got over at the corner from Thackeray’s pass, the try being awarded by video ref Thaler.
Halifax were reduced to 12 men on 57 minutes, Shane Grady being sin-binned for tripping Misi Taulapapa, but they got back into the game moments later.
Rovers’ defence had looked solid, but they failed to lay a hand on Ben Johnston when he stepped over and Tyrer’s conversion cut the lead to just five points.
Thackeray landed a drop goal with 13 minutes left and the stand-off, who was a key man for Rovers, hit a post going for another one-pointer, but seconds later Hardcastle squeezed over by the flag and Aston’s towering conversion completed the scoring.
Rovers’ victory came at a price.
They lost centre Chris Ulugia with an ankle injury in the first half and winger Luke Briscoe, who was back following a five-game ban, hobbled off after the break.
Featherstone Rovers: Hardman, Turner, Ulugia, Taulapapa, Briscoe, Thackeray, Aston, Moore, Carlile, Cooper, Knowles, Davies, Lockwood. Subs: Wildie, Griffin, Tagg, Hardcastle.
Halifax: Sharp, Saltonstall, Woodburn-Hall, Tyrer, Worrincy, Murrell, Robinson, Tangata, B Moore, Cahalane, Grady, Heaton, Fairbank. Subs: Morris, Boyle, Barber, Johnston.
Referee: Chris Campbell (Widnes).