Featherstone Rovers 40
Sheffield Eagles 4
THE dream turned into a nightmare for the Sheffield Eagles as they were crushed by Featherstone Rovers in their first ever Championship Grand Final.
The Eagles were hit for seven tries by a Rovers team that dominated possession and exploited poor defending by the Eagles.
The organisation that has carried the Eagles through the play-offs rounds to their first Final disappeared as Rovers stepped up the pressure in the second half at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington.
It wasn’t a classic. It was untidy, bad-tempered at times, with frustration leading to a mass punch up between the teams.
The game was lost by tries either side of half-time – just as it seemed the Eagles had found a way of holding Rovers’ charge. After that Featherstone dominated the action with man-of the-match Liam Finn a constant irritation.
It was the biggest losing margin by any team in the eight years of the play-offs. For Featherstone it made up for losing in the Final last season.
Norfolk Park teenager Corey Hanson replaced the suspended Menzie Yere in the Eagles starting line-up with Jonny Woodcock coming into the substitutes.
Eagles faced a mountain to climb after only six minutes as they were hit by two tries.
On each occasion, the cover on the Eagles left was exposed by individual breaks from stand-off Andy Kain with back row forward Tim Spears and scrum-half Finn claiming the touch downs. Finn added both goals.
Eagles clawed their way back with some big blasting breaks by Mitch Stringer and good field position following a penalty.
Misi Taulapapa, playing his last game for the Eagles, was held on the line but from dummy half and Dane McDonald squeezed through a gap for the try confirmed by the video referee – it was to be the Eagles only points.
At the other end, sloppy Featherstone handling came to the Eagles’ aid as they were penned back in their 10-metre zone. Quentin Lalulu-Togagae was covering well at the back and Joe Hirst put in a big series of tackles but the Eagles were struggling for meaningful ball.
With a minute to go until half-time Rovers again opened up the Eagles left flank with Ben Cockayne’s break sending in Finn for a second try under the posts. The scrum-half added the goal and Rovers led 18-4 at the break.
Problems mounted for the Eagles as they conceded a soft try two minutes after the restart when following a break by Jon Hepworth, full back Ian Hardman was allowed a clear run through for the try with Finn adding an easy conversion.
A break back score was desperately needed with Hirst coming close and then Szostak was held up over the try line.
Woodcock came off the bench with Laulu-Togagae switching to half-back in a bid to give the Eagles an attacking edge.
Both teams were making handling errors and the frustration caused by a period of scrappy play erupted on 53 minutes in a brawl which took the officials a couple of minutes to sort out.
Eagles’ Hirst and Kirk Netherton from Rovers were sin binned for 10 minutes for fighting.
Eagles slipped further behind soon after the game resumed with Ben Cockayne going in at the corner and to chants of ‘Easy, Easy’ by Rovers fans behind the Eagles posts, Finn added the two points.
Rovers were starting to show how they had gone through the league season losing only one game as they piled on the pressure on an increasingly dispirited looking Eagles.
Tommy Saxton cruised through a gap and cut inside before sending Jon Hepworth skipping through a tackle for the try. Finn added the goal.
The surge was halted as the Eagles battled their way back into the Rovers’ half in a desperate bid for consolation points but handling mistakes and poor final passes frustrated their efforts.
With two minutes to go Tommy Saxton took a bouncing ball from a scrum, beat Tim Bergin and ran 90 metres for a try that emphasised Rovers superiority.
Featherstone: Hardman; Cockayne, Smeaton, Worthington, Saxton; Kain, Finn; Tonks, Kaye, Dickens, Grayshon, Spears, Hepworth, Subs: Divorty, Dale’
Tries: Spears, 4, Finn, 6, 39, Hardman, 42, Cockayne, 56, Hepworth, 59, Saxton, 78.
Goals: Finn 6/7
Sheffield: Laulu-Togagae; Bergin, Hanson, Taulapapa, Finigand; McDonald, Brown; Howieson, Henderson, Stringer, Szostak, Green, Hirst. Subs: Woodcock, Smith, Scott, Hepworth.
Tries: McDonald, 12.
Referee: Matt Thomason.
Penalties: Rovers 7, Eagles 11.