Featherstone Rovers 26 London Broncos 36: Runaway leaders suffer familiar collapse as Super League hopes go up in smoke

Featherstone Rovers' long quest to reach Super League goes on following a familiar collapse in a shock 36-26 home defeat by London Broncos in the play-off semi-finals.
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The League Leaders' Shield winners finished the regular season 12 points clear at the top of the Championship after winning 25 of their 27 fixtures.

Featherstone were widely expected to book a home Grand Final against Toulouse Olympique for the chance to replace Wakefield Trinity in Super League but history weighed heavy on their shoulders as they missed a golden opportunity to pull up a seat at the top table.

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After being stunned by Batley Bulldogs at the same stage in 2022 and losing the previous two Million Pound Games with expensively assembled squads, there is a sense that Featherstone's last chance has gone.

London planted seeds of doubt early after storming into a 12-0 lead inside 20 minutes and held a slender advantage at the break thanks to Alex Walker's second try.

The Broncos blew the shell-shocked hosts away after half-time to set up a promotion showdown with Toulouse in the south of France next Sunday.

Featherstone hammered London 90-16 on aggregate over the two regular season games but the Broncos had won 11 of their 13 Championship matches since the previous meeting between the sides in June, including last week's 42-0 rout of Sheffield Eagles in the first round of the play-offs.

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London picked up where they left off in the Steel City in a confident start that brought the opening try on five minutes, former Wakefield full-back Walker taking Henry Raiwalui's inside ball to race over after the visitors ran it on the last.

Featherstone's Super League hopes are over after a shock defeat. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)Featherstone's Super League hopes are over after a shock defeat. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
Featherstone's Super League hopes are over after a shock defeat. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

The tension inside the ground was palpable as Featherstone set about issuing a response following an error by Dalton Grant.

Instead, Rovers fell further behind when Iliess Macani kicked back inside and Dean Whare benefited from a mistake by Gareth Gale to touch down.

Featherstone head coach James Ford reacted by sending on Junior Moors, Jack Bussey and Connor Jones and the triple substitution had the desired effect.

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Chris Hankinson finished Mark Kheirallah's grubber kick to ease the anxiety in the home ranks and was only denied a quickfire double by a desperate last-ditch tackle.

Featherstone continued to turn the screw and were level when Joey Leilua stormed over out wide and Kheirallah added his second goal.

Just as Rovers appeared to be taking control, London hit them with a sucker punch that the hosts failed to recover from as Walker stepped back inside to score under the posts.

Featherstone simply collapsed at the start of the second half as their discipline deserted them.

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Brad Day's yellow card for a tip tackle proved to be the pivotal moment with London scoring two tries in the forward's absence.

Macani raced over in the corner from Corey Norman's sublime long pass before Grant cruised in untouched thanks to fast hands from Walker.

Day returned to find Featherstone's season over at 30-12 – and it soon got worse when Raiwalui crashed over from Norman's pass.

Rovers rallied late on to score tries through Hankinson, Luke Briscoe and Leilua but the club face an uncertain future after another failed promotion bid with a star-studded side.

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Featherstone Rovers: Kheirallah, Briscoe, Leilua, Hankinson, Gale, Aekins, Ford, Cozza, Wildie, Lockwood, Day, Taylor, Smith. Substitutes: Jones, Davies, Moors, Bussey.

London Broncos: Walker, Grant, Bassett, Whare, Macani, Raiwalui, Norman, Butler, Davis, Bienek, Lovell, Natoli, Parata. Substitutes: Leyland, Williams, Stock, Waine.

Referee: Tom Grant.