DESPERATE Hull KR held off a valiant late fightback from part-timers Featherstone Rovers to keep alive their hopes of securing Super League survival next week.
James Webster’s top-flight side were made to work hard by their impressive Championship hosts who looked anything like a side that is still yet to pick up a point in the Qualifiers.
Featherstone, who saw captain Tim Spears make his 200th club appearance, were 32-12 behind on the hour but two quickfire tries from Misi Taulapapa in the 64th and 66th minute saw them back in it.
KR’s discipline then disappeared as they conceded a raft of penalties in front of a crowd of 4,041 but Jon Sharp’s side – who had led 12-4 just before the break – just could not find the finish they desired.
It all means if Hull KR avoid defeat against Huddersfield Giants at KC Lightstream Stadium on Saturday – the biggest game in their recent history – they will secure third place and maintain their Super League place for 2017.
If they are beaten, the stakes get higher; the East Yorkshire club will face a battle in the Million Pound Game to avoid relegation.
Meanwhile Huddersfield, who ended Leeds Rhinos’ 100 per cent record with a surprise 22-14 win, know they will be consigned to that sudden-death contest unless they prevail against KR.
Error-ridden KR, however, must improve drastically after this display; Featherstone were 12-4 behind going into the final stages of the first half and easily the better side playing with far more control in possession and defending strongly, too.
Prop Jordan Baldwinson set a great lead up front, Kyle Briggs kicked well and, with ex-Sheffield Eagles centre Taulapapa and Josh Walters offering powerful outlets, they were in good shape.
The visitors, meanwhile, were shambolic at times; Thomas Minns, the centre who scored a hat-trick at London Broncos a week earlier, managed another treble here but it was three first-half handling errors.
However, for all of Featherstone’s assured play, they fell to pieces for a two-minute spell which cost them so badly.
First, KR hooker Shaun Lunt took a penalty tap 10m from Featherstone’s line, passed to Maurice Blair who instantly returned straight back to see Lunt glide over through a gaping gap after the home defence had momentarily dropped off.
Josh Mantellato converted and then scored himself in the next set following an horrendous gaffe.
Terry Campese sent up a steepling kick from around halfway which Featherstone full-back Danny Craven and winger James Duckworth both raced towards.
With no communication, however, they ran into each other on the 20m line, Duckworth spilled and Mantellato picked up to sprint to the corner with just 68 seconds remaining on the clock.
The Italian international converted and all Featherstone’s hard work was undone.
They had taken the lead inside just eight minutes following a strong surge from Walters, the young second-row on loan from Leeds Rhinos where he scored the match-winning try in last year’s Grand Final.
Kyle Briggs slotted the first of his kicks but the Robins responded quickly, albeit fortuitously as a slipping Craven struggled to get hold of Cockayne’s dinked grubber and Iain Thornley crossed.
Mantellato struck an upright with the conversion attempt but when Minns made the first of his errors in the next set – Cockayne’s simple pass going through the centre’s hands into touch – Sharp’s side made them pay.
They scored via a lovely handling movement to the right that ended with Jon Davies and Ian Hardman combining for Duckworth to finish off in the 15th minute.
Hull KR, coughing up ball and even getting penalised for dissent, struggled to gain any real momentum while Cockayne twice had to scramble to deny a Briggs 40/20 attempt and then another hacked on effort from Duckworth.
Briggs just struck a post with a drop-kick and Cockayne – who won the 2011 Championship Grand Final with Featherstone – then fumbled trying to regather.
Briggs slotted a penalty in the 35th minute to make it 12-4 as the visitors messed around again at the play-the-ball but then, crucially, came that double blast.
They extended their lead to 22-12 in the 46th minute when another high Campese kick caused trouble and Minns scored although it seemed Ken Sio had fumbled forward when challenging.
Mantellato converted but missed a simple effort after Minns stepped his way through to score again six minutes later.
James Greenwood powered over for their fifth try soon after when Adam Walker found an offload 20m out but the hosts were rewarded for their persistence and enterprise with a fine try from Taulapapa in the 65th minute, Briggs improving.
When KR infringed in the next set, he was over again after Anthony Thackeray had attracted in defenders and the big Samoan international powered in.
Craven kicked but, as hard as they tried, they could not break Rovers down again despite plenty of pressure.
Featherstone Rovers: Craven; Duckworth, Hardman, Taulapapa, Briscoe; Briggs, Thackeray; Griffin, Ellis, Baldwinson, Walters, Davies, Tagg. Substitutes: Day, Spears, Snitch, Cooper.
Hull KR: Cockayne; Sio, Minns, Thornley, Mantellato; Campese, Marsh; Tilse, Lunt, Allgood, Greenwood, Blair, Donaldson. Substitutes: Peacock, Walker, Jubb, Horne.
Referee: G Hewer (Whitehaven).