Sheffield Eagles fell short of a fourth consecutive Championship Grand Final appearance after suffering a 21-12 defeat at Featherstone Rovers.
A sluggish start cost Mark Aston’s side dear, as they headed into the changing rooms at half time 21-0 behind. It was a valiant effort in the second period, but the Eagles boss admitted they left themselves too much to do.
He said: “We weren’t great in the first half. When you’re playing in big games you need to bring your A game and there were a lot of players who didn’t have their best match.
“We left ourselves a lot to do at half time but we had a dig and I’m immensely proud of how we performed in the second half. We got 12 points and I thought it was on and we were going to get there, but it wasn’t to be.”
Featherstone hit the front after nine minutes, when Sheffield were caught inside their own 20 metre line on the last tackle. The ball was thrown wide to Ben Blackmore who barged over in the corner. Gareth Moore converted.
Moore added two to the score six minutes later with a penalty, before Matt Garside was held up for the Eagles.
Rovers scored two tries in as many minutes as the game hit the quarter mark to put themselves firmly in the ascendancy.
James Lockwood firstly found a way over on the left, then, straight from the kick off, Blackmore broke away and fed Moore who sprinted over in the corner. Moore added a goal.
A further penalty goal and a field goal from Moore gave Sheffield an uphill struggle to get back in the game after the break.
However, they crossed for two tries in the opening seven minutes and the comeback seemed to be on.
Ex-Featherstone halfback Kyle Briggs slid a grubber kick through for Peter Green to score his first of the season by the posts, before, similarly to Featherstone, the Eagles broke away in the next set.
Briggs again put a kick along the floor on the left, which Scott Turner gathered and offloaded to Quentin Laulu-Togagae who crossed for his 124th try in 123 Sheffield games. Dominic Brambani kicked both goals.
The Eagles pressed for the vast majority of the second half, forcing several goal-line drop outs in a sustained period of attack.
Mitchell Stringer was amongst those to force his way over the line without grounding the ball, but a stern Featherstone rearguard saw them book their place in next week’s showpiece at Headingley.
Featherstone Rovers: Hardman; Sharp, Pick, Blackmore, Crookes; Kain, Moore; Crossley, Ellis, James; Cording, Spears; Lockwood. Subs: Teasdale, Bussey, Annakin, Hirst.
Tries: Blackmore (9), Lockwood (20), Moore (22)
Goals: Moore 4/5
Sheffield Eagles: Laulu-Togagae; Turner, Yere, Garside, Taulapapa; Briggs, Brambani; Battye, Henderson, Stringer; Knowles, Straugheir; Walker. Subs: Aston, Green, Blagbrough, Lillycrop.
Tries: Green (45), Laulu-Togagae (47)
Goals: Brambani 2/2
Referee: Joe Cobb. Att: 1730