Featherstone Rovers’ long quest to reach Super League remains ongoing after ruthless Toulouse Olympique deservedly earned the right to join the elite for the first time in 2022.
Sylvain Houles’ Championship leaders, always favourites to win tonight’s Million Pound Game given their full-time status and home advantage, delivered to make their own history but how they had to work for it.
They will become the second French team in Super League, joining Catalans Dragons who lost their maiden Grand Final barely 24 hours previously at Old Trafford.
The prospect of them doing battle with each other next term is certainly an exciting one and not only a massive fillip for French rugby league but the sport as a whole.
However, for dejected Featherstone, having also lost the Million Pound Game against Toronto Wolfpack two years ago, this was another agonising defeat in the promotion decider.
They will rue their start to the game when they fell 16-0 behind after just 24 minutes.
They gained some composure at last leading into the break and, in the second period, ironically it was the part-time club who seemed to be getting stronger as the game wore on, particularly after Brett Ferres’ 53rd minute try.
When the ex-England second-row scrambled over soon after following Dane Chisholm’s 40/20 kick, Toulouse looked ready to crumble.
However, Ferres’ effort was rightly ruled out after Craig Hall - who had also been held up by Jy Hitchcox’s crucial try-saving tackle - was deemed to have stripped the ball forward from Mark Kheirallah.
It proved a turning point; relieved Toulouse earned a much-needed penalty and from their former Catalans duo Remi Casty - in the prop’s last game before retiring - and Eloi Pellisier combined to set up impressive centre Mathieu Jussaume for his second try.
Even then, Jon Davies immediately hit back for Featherstone as he barrelled over from close range, Hall slotting his second conversion.
But Kheirallah’s fourth penalty eased home nerves once more before a try for veteran ex-Wigan Warriors second-row Harrison Hansen confirmed victory.
Toulouse hooker Lloyd White was sin-binned late on for kicking out at an opponent but Jonathon Ford still managed to round things off with a solo try against the tired defence.
The damage was done early; such was Toulouse’s authority early on, the visitors had still yet to get any ball in French territory by the half-hour mark.
Their opponents did not do anything flash; they were simply meticulous in everything they did, kicking well, forcing pressure and defending stoutly.
Moreover, Featherstone’s discipline was poor with Kheirallah slotting three penalties including one from a Connor Jones ball steal and another after a Ferres’ high shot on Ford that could have seen the ex-England forward also receive a yellow card.
Nu Brown sailed a restart out on the full to invite more pressure while Rovers full-back Alex Walker was particularly nervy, spilling two kicks as Toulouse continued to dominate.
The home side had crossed after just six minutes when Jussaume showed wonderful footwork to slalom over after some brilliant set-up work by Dom Peyroux.
Their second try came after that Brown error, Tony Gigot kicking early in the tackle count for Latrell Schaumkel to score although, much like with Jussaume’s effort, there were questions about the grounding.
Kherllah improved the first try and it was not until the final ten minutes of the half that Featherstone stirred.
It would be too late but, for the hundreds of their fans who travelled across to Stade Ernest Wallon, they certainly made sure there was a contest in that absorbing second period.