THE FINAL that is destined to become a quiz question was won by Featherstone Rovers to provide a sparkling end to a tough season.
Rovers’ victory over Leigh Centurions in the Betfred Championship Shield decider was more competitive than the 42-10 scoreline suggests, but maintained Featherstone’s 100 per cent winning run since they missed out on the Qualifiers.
Ten of the 34 players were making their debut after the Rugby Football League granted both teams special dispensation to sign academy youngsters, without Super League experience, on loan.
Rovers, already down on numbers due to injury and missing John Davies and Anthony Thackray who were suspended during the week, included Leeds Rhinos’ Muizz Mustapha, Tyler Dupree and James Barraclough among their substitutes.
Mustapha, Dupree and dual-registered Harry Newman had played for Rhinos in last week’s academy Grand Final.
Four of the Wigan Warriors under-19s who won that game – Sam Grant, James Barran, Liam Byrne and Ben Kilner – featured for Leigh as did Castleford Tigers’ Jacques O’Neill plus Kevin Brown and Chris Follin from St Helens.
Playing in the middle, Dupree and Mustapha both gave a good account of themselves.
Dupree powered over for a well-taken try and Mustapha hurled himself at the opposition, flattening Barran with a thunderous charge just after coming on.
Newman had a superb game, scoring two tries and creating another. He is a class act and Barraclough worked tirelessly in defence so it was a good day for Leeds’ youngsters, other than Dakota Whylie. The winger, who has signed for Rovers for 2019, was a fifth Rhinos player on duty, but his afternoon ended early when he was injured in the first half.
Playing down the slope, Leigh got off to a flier with a fourth minute try from Matty Dawson, who touched down Jamie Acton’s grubber kick.
Jack Owens added the extras, but Rovers levelled on 16 through Keale Carlile, the substitute hooker – playing his final game for Featherstone – burrowing over from acting-half. He went off hurt soon afterwards.
Ian Hardman, who also bowed out after the final, kicked the first of his seven conversions.
Hardman added a penalty after a high tackle by Drew Hutchinson on half-back Matty Wildie and then preserved Rovers’ lead when he stood his ground to drag down Kilner in a try-saving tackle which also forced a knock-on.
There was no more scoring in the first half, but Dupree stormed through for a well-taken touchdown at the start of the second period and then Newman crossed from former Leigh man Martyn Ridyard’s pinpoint pass.
Owens quickly pulled a touchdown back, but Connor Farrell replied almost immediately, then Shaun Robinson crossed twice in seven minutes, the second brilliantly created by Newman who completed the try scoring with a sensational finish for his second.
Leigh finished with 12 men after Acton was sin-binned for a late tackle on Sam Brooks.
Featherstone Rovers: Hardman, Whylie, Taulapapa, Newman, Robinson, Ridyard, Wildie, Cooper, Maskill, Brooks, Farrell, Hardcastle, Lockwood. Subs Carlile, Dupree, Mustapha, Barraclough.
Leigh Centurions: Owens, Brown, Dawson, Grant, F Bailey, Barran, Hutchinson, Acton, O’Neill, Blagbrough, larroyer, Gregson, Byrne. Subs Kilner, Johnson, Follin, Cox.
Referee: John McMullen (Wigan).