DCSIMG

Featherstone Rovers 22 Halifax 23 Halifax's golden finish just too much for Rovers

IT NEEDS something spectacular to crown a game which has seemingly already seen everything, including a near hour-long break due to a fire in the toilets.

Halifax managed it as they brilliantly bounced back from a 22-4 deficit to somehow level against the side that has dominated the Championship this season.

That was impressive enough given the excellence of Featherstone's performance but then, just 90 seconds into extra-time which nobody wanted, they found one last gargantuan effort to enable Ben Black to slot the first Grand Final golden point winner.

The livewire Australian half-back saw one attempt charged down but Halifax won the ball back and he did not miss second time around.

"We'd not practised that this week because we train at The Shay and they (Halifax Town) don't put the posts up for us," mused coach Matt Calland, as Halifax celebrated their first major success since the 1987 Challenge Cup final, co-incidentally won by another famous one-pointer courtesy of John Pendlebury.

"There's never a dull moment at the club but we showed character and committment in abundance.

"We've had so many troubles this year – on and off the pitch – so the players really deserve that.

"Even when we were down 22-4 we believed we could win; we'd instilled belief all week and it showed out there."

Rarely has there been a game of such varied drama although it seemed it might not be completed when 2,000 Halifax supporters poured onto the playing surface in the 32nd minute.

It was an enforced evacuation from the West Stand where smoke had started billowing after a cigarette caused a small fire and triggered the alarms.

Halifax were probably happy of the delay – although perhaps not the full 50 minutes it took for the stand to be made safe and play to re-start – given they were trailing 12-4 at the time and struggling to contain the league leaders, who had defeated them on each of the three occasions they had met this season and were overwhelming favourites.

Once Halifax supporters had been shifted back in, and then switched to the East Stand, the players returned but there was no respite for the Shaymen.

Calland's side still came under immense pressure as Liam Finn's shallow kick sent Matt Dale over for Rovers' third try and then Zak Hardaker, the Championship's joint young player of the year, looked to have sealed it with his second touchdown on 54 minutes.

Buoyant Featherstone, with powerful winger Tom Saxton unstoppable every time he touched the ball, seemed set for their first major success since the 1993 Divisional Premiership final and deserved reward for a glittering campaign in which they had lost just twice.

However, although only 54 minutes had passed, it seemed more like the game was entering the final stages given that lengthy break and, possibly, Daryl Powell's side thought they were closer to home than they really were.

Back-to back tries just before the hour altered the whole make-up of the contest.

Black burrowed over from dummy half after Ian Hardaker had performed a heroic last-ditch tackle on the breakaway Shad Royston.

Hardman then spilled a towering kick from Graham Holroyd – the 34-year-old enjoying a dream final career appearance alongside fellow retiring Halifax team-mate David Wrench – and Black's astute pass put Luke Branighan crashing over.

Lee Paterson converted both to bring Halifax to within six points of their West Yorkshire rivals and their momentum surged.

Rovers refused the chance to attempt a drop-goal and the decision backfired in the breathtaking final quarter as Halifax – beaten finalists at the hands of Barrow last season – found the crucial score they required.

The probing Sean Penkywicz invited replacement Stephen Bannister to hit a gap on the inside of a rooted Kyle Briggs and Paterson leveled with five minutes remaining.

Former Leeds star Holroyd saw his drop-goal attempt just inches wide with only 15 seconds on the clock so the final entered extra time.

Featherstone won the toss and, perhaps unusually, opted to kick to their opponents who subsequently had the first chance to score, which they duly did and collected some much-needed 100,000 winning prize money.

Halifax had gone ahead with a stunning 100-metre individual try from winger Rob Worrincy, weaving his way clear from behind his own goal-line, but Rovers hit back with tries from Briggs and then teenager Hardaker's first.

To lose from such a commanding position was hard to bear but Powell insisted it paled into insignificance having learned about the sudden death of his former Leeds team-mate Terry Newton earlier in the day.

"I'm absolutely devastated by that and it puts everything into perspective," he said, following the 31-year-old's apparent suicide.

"It's a real shame. I'm gutted and that means more than any game of rugby league."

Powell insists his demoralised side will bounce back in 2011 adding: "It was a key learning experience for all us and as a result next year we'll be better,

"We've been tough this year but we'll be exceptionally tough next season.

"We put ourselves in a winning position but we ended up with a set of circumstancers you couldn't invent.

"We handled that (the break) well but huge credit to Halifax for coming back the way they did.

"They were fantastic."

Bizarrely, Halifax, who saw David Larder depart with a suspected broken thumb, had already witnessed what such a hold-up can be like given their fire alarm was sounded during a game against Batley at The Shay earlier this season.

Featherstone Rovers: I Hardman, Hardaker, Smeaton, Welham, Saxton, Briggs, Finn, Tonks, Kaye, Dickens, Spears, Field, Dale. Substitutes: Divorty, Manning, Grayshon, A Kain.

Halifax: Royston, Paterson, Branighan, Nash, Worrincy, Holroyd, Black, Cherryholme, Beswick, Aizue, Larder, Wrench, Barlow. Substitutes: Penkywicz, Watene, Maloney, Bannister.

Referee: Robert Hicks.

 
 
 

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