Featherstone Rovers 41 Bradford Bulls 16 - James Harrison grabs Challenge Cup double as impressive Rovers book second round meeting with Batley Bulldogs
Former Leeds Rhinos loan player James Harrison capped a strong performance with a brace of tries as Featherstone Rovers booked a home tie against Batley Bulldogs in next week’s Betfred Challenge Cup second round.
Rovers were very impressive in a 41-16 home win over Bradford Bulls yesterday, which was both sides’ first competitive game for more than a year.
These are exciting times for Rovers, who will secure a semi-final place in the 1895 Cup - one win away from Wembley - if they get past Batley.
The league is their priority and York City Knights and Toulouse Olympique will have a big say in the promotion race, but on this very early evidence, Rovers will take some stopping - particularly at home.
Featherstone took a firm hold on the game with back to back tries just before the break, but Bulls - coached by John Kear, in a Challenge Cup tie - were never going to throw in the towel.
When they scored the first two tries of the second half it was game on, but Rovers regained control through Harrison’s second touchdown and the result was not in doubt after that, though it was a tougher game than the scoreline suggests.
Bulls made the better start, with Danny Brough looking dangerous behind a fired-up pack, but the loss of Sam Hallas, who suffered a suspected fractured jaw inside the opening quarter, was a massive blow.
Brough created and converted Reece Hamlett’s opening try for the visitors after 11 minutes, but Rovers levelled eight later when Connor Jones dummied over from acting-half after Craig Kopczak - a teammate of Brough at Wakefield Trinity last year - had been pulled down just short.
The influential Craig Hall landed the first of his six conversions, but Bulls missed a chance moments later and almost immediately found themselves behind.
Brandon Pickersgill couldn’t ground Brough’s grubber behind the Rovers’ line and in the next set the hosts surged upfield and Nu Brown produced the money ball to send Thomas Minns in at the corner.
Much is expected of Brown, a high profile signing from the NRL and once he gets up to speed - after a long layoff due to injury and Covid - he could prove an outstanding acquisition.
Six minutes before the interval Brown was again the creator with a long pass to Ben Blackmore and in the next set Harrison, a substitute, surged through after some terrific offloading from Rovers in the middle of the field, sending them in 24-6 ahead.
Hamlett stretched over for his second try seven minutes into the second half after Pickersgill, Joe Brown and Rhys Evans - signed from Leeds - had handled across the line; then Ebon Scurr went over and Brough’s second goal gave Rovers something to think about at 24-16.
Their response, though, was classy and immediate, Harrison muscling his way over before, in the next set, Dean Parata galloped clear from Dale Ferguson’s offload and Hall scored a brilliant long-range solo try to complete a match-winning burst of 16 points in 12 minutes.
Rovers finished with 12 men after Gareth Gale was sin-binned for a professional foul four minutes from time, but Hall rounded off the scoring with a drop goal in the final moments.
Featherstone Rovers: Hall, Blackmore, Minns, Hardcastle, Gale, F Brown, Chisholm, Kopczak, Jones, Lockwood, Day, Halton, Bussey. Subs Parata, Harrison, Cooper, Ferguson.
Bradford Bulls: J Brown, Hamlett, Evans, Oakes, Sanderson, Pickersgill, Brough, Fleming, Doyle, Crossley, Rooks, Gallagher, Hallas. Subs Flanagan, Scurr, England, Walker.
Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield).