The Ladbroke’s Challenge Cup quarter finals were just eighty minutes of rugby league away for either Feathersone Rovers or Halifax RLFC. Halifax saw off Whitehaven in round five when they went on the road and won by 36-12 which Featherstone were at home and put Oldham Roughyeds to the sword by 30-4.
Just two points separate the sides in the Championship with Featherstone in second place and Halifax biting at their heels two points back in fifth. The bookies had made the home side the favourites with Halifax getting a ten point start on the coupon but this was the cup and form and league position was out of the window.
The two sides met in the opening fixture of the Championship season when Fev’ visited ‘Fax and won by 32-26. But this was a cup battle of nerve between Jon Sharp’s Rovers and Richard Marshall’s Halifax.
It was clear from the early exchanges that this was going to be an old school, hard fought cup tie between two sides determined not to lose. So when Featherstone got a penalty, thirty-eight from the Hallifax line on twelve minutes and Cory Aston pushed the kick wide of the upright, it indicated that both sides would try to take whatever was on offer.
On seventeen Halifax turned early defence into attack and after forcing a drop out Ben Heaton took short ball from Scott Murrell and stepped twice to cross from ten metres out. Steve Tyrer added the extra two and possibly a little against the run of play the visitors had a 6-0 lead.
On twenty-one Featherstone were back level when John Davies took a crash ball just two metres from the line and went over the top of the Halifax defender to drop over the line. Aston added the goal for 6-6.
Featherstone hit the front of twenty-one when Scott Turner stooped to take a looping ball from Cory Aston and go over in left corner just seconds after Chris Ulugia had been helped from the field with a nasty looking thigh injury.
An Anthony Thackeray attempted drop goal on thirty-six hit the upright and bounced into the hands of Halifax who had seemed certain to concede another try after their line was laid siege to by Rovers. Bang on the half-time hooter Thackeray was accurate with his second drop goal effort and gave his side a 13-6 lead at the interval, but the game was still anyone’s.
At the start of the second half Featherstone were camped on the Halifax line, being held up on two occasions before Scott Turner somehow managed to get the ball on the ground before being tackled dead in goal. Referee Campbell had referred the decision to the video referee as ‘NO TRY’ but was over-ruled. Aston failed to add the extra two and the margin was now eleven points. Halifax weren’t out of it, but they needed to score next.
Shane Grady was sin-binned on fifty-five for a professional foul and made Halifax’s task much harder.
Just after the hour mark the twelve man Halifax were back in it when Ben Johnston stepped twice and cut through the Halifax defence to score a last tackle try by the right upright. Tyrer added the extras for 17-12.
On sixty-seven Thackeray kicked his second drop goal of the night to edge his side six points clear of Halifax at 18-12.
Thackeray hit the upright with a seventy-two metre drop goal attempt but within a minute Josh Hardcastle used his strength to push over, again off a Cory Aston pass, to ground by the corner flag and seal the victory for the home side. Aston added the goal for 24-12.
Featherstone were the better side on the night and deserved to be the ones making progress in the Cup but Halifax must be admired for their never say die attitude and for giving it one hundred percent until the final hooter. A few too many mistakes, and too much time spent defending their own line cost them the game as Rovers make it into the hat for the quarter finals.