FEATHERSTONE ROVERS were led on to the field by “The Baby-Faced Assassin” today and, fittingly, secured their Qualifiers place with a perfectly-executed performance that also ended wretched Bradford Bulls’ hopes of promotion for another season.
Once back in the stands, Brendon Tuuta, the rugged Kiwi loose forward renowned for rocking Post Office Road with his big hits after moving to Featherstone in 1990, will have given an appreciative smile as Jon Sharp’s side utterly buried their West Yorkshire rivals.
Beforehand, the Rovers head coach had deemed it a Grand Final - whoever won this last regular fixture of the Championship season was guaranteed fourth place with Super League opposition waiting in the Middle Eights - and his fired-up squad duly gave it the respect it deserved.
Three-times World Club champions Bradford, on the other hand, were completely shambolic, Rohan Smith’s side lacking any sort of leadership or constructive intent - which made the decision to drop hooker Adam O’Brien all the more baffling - while some of their skill level was truly abject.
They missed out on a return to the elite last year at the final hurdle in the Million Pound Game at Wakefield.
After this embarrassing showing, though, they must now contemplate tackling the likes of Swinton Lions, Workington and Whitehaven for the Championship Shield, a disastrous return on their significant investment but warranted on this evidence.
Inspired by the brilliance of scrum-half Anthony Thackeray, who scored one of their three tries and created another, semi-professional Featherstone made a mockery of their woeful opponents’ full-time status and can now look forward to hosting Leeds Rhinos, among others, here in the weeks ahead.
They were 18-0 up by half-time and, in all fairness, such was their control of the game they would have felt it could have been more.
With such a physical, committed pack, half-backs Thackeray and Kyle Briggs were able to dictate and they did just that.
How Bradford could have done with someone of Thackeray’s guile and organisational quality, the former Halifax, Widnes and Dewsbury scrum-half producing a series of kicks and stellar passes that caused confusion and carnage in equal amounts.
That said, it has been the Bulls’ problem all season; they have no general of such sorts since day one.
To rub salt into the wounds, Featherstone had two creative talents on top of their game.
Briggs, now in his third spell at Post Office Road, marked his 100th match for Rovers with the sort of performance that was far too sporadic when he was with Bradford in Super League.
Here, though, the 28-year-old continually tormented his erstwhile employers, particularly their young winger Ethan Ryan, who was forced to concede one of three first-half goalline drop-outs.
The first came when Kieran Moss allowed the kick-off to bounce from his grasp - perhaps a sign of the incoherence to come from the visitors - and the last came when the Bradford full-back was cornered behind his own line following another intelligent Thackeray kick.
From the latter possession, it was Thackeray’s lovely short ball that put Steve Snitch, the veteran second-row, through a gap for Featherstone’s third try in the 37th minute.
Briggs converted and then added a penalty in injury-time when Stuart Howarth inexplicably performed a high tackle on Brad Tagg, an example of the ill-discipline that proved so costly for Smith’s men.
They had conceded as early as the seventh minute when Ryan spilled near his own line and John Davies - the doughty Rovers second-row who went on to make a raft of timely tackles in a great defensive performance - fed hooker Andy Ellis for a simple try that Briggs goaled.
Jack Ormondroyd, their dynamic young loose forward, departed with an back injury early on but it did not dull their sense of purpose or belief.
They had one lucky escape when Kris Welham, the former Hull KR centre who was the only Bradford player to show any true threat, broke downfield but then forced an unnecessary pass.
He was also held up over the Featherstone line soon after but the hosts continually energetic and well-organised defence soon forced Omari Caro into a panicked kick and the danger passed.
Twice during the afternoon a Bradford player was penalised for passing off the ground - Dane Chisholm first and then the plagued Ryan - highlighting the kind of basic error that thwarted any hope of Smith’s side resurrecting.
Anthony Mullally - one of four Leeds Rhinos players bolstering Featherstone on dual-registration - made an immediate impression from the bench midway through the first period.
Two surges from him set up position for Thackeray to go over himself in the 23rd minute with a silky ‘show and go’ that left Bradford’s defence staring at each other.
Sharp’s side never let up in the second period.
The physicality of their defence increased rather than waned, Steve Snitch particularly inspired, and Bradford had no answer.
Once Briggs slotted a penalty in the 62nd minute, the Bulls were done. To be honest, they were finished long before.
Kurt Haggerty was yellow-carded for hitting out late on. Featherstone - in front of a fine crowd of 5,454 - just kept hitting harder and harder. But legally.
Featherstone Rovers: Hardman; Golding, Channing, Taulapapa, Briscoe; Briggs, Thackeray; Bostock, Ellis, Baldwinson, Snitch, Davies, Ormondroyd. Substitutes: Griffin, Tagg, Spears, Mullally.
Bradford Bulls: Moss; Caro, Blythe, Welham, Ryan; Charnock, Chisholm, Sidlow, Addy, Kavanagh, Haggerty, Mellor, Ferguson. Substitutes: Olbison, Pitts, Philbin, Howarth.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield)