After a days long ‘will they, won’t they’ the AB Sundecks 1895 cup final was given the go ahead as two Covid depleted sides, and their fans, made their way to Wembley Stadium for the Challenge Cup curtain raiser and a chance to lift the first trophy of the season.
Featherstone came into the game on the back of twelve straight wins in the 2021 Championship season, their only loss of the season coming to Superleague opposition in Hull FC in the Challenge Cup. The experienced City Knights have had a disappointing season with just four wins in thirteen league outings and having lost their last four as well as going down by 16-12 when they faced Rovers earlier in the season.
The bookies and pundits couldn’t see past a Featherstone win, with many also fancying them to go on and secure promotion to Superleague at the end of the season.
The opening minutes were all Featherstone as York scrambled in defence to keep them at bay. The dam broke on seven minutes with Dane Chisolm busting through the City Knights line on the last tackle and grounding by the right upright in a crowd of tacklers. Craig Hall added the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
York managed an immediate response on ten when Ben Jones-Bishop rose above the Rovers defence to take a pinpoint Mikey Lewis kick to the corner. Kieron Dixon pushed his touchline kick wide of the far post, but it was a heartening passage of play, scoring on their first real foray into the Featherstone half.
Tyme Dow-Nikau went close for York on seventeen, but the ball beat the chasing player to dead in goal and a minute later a fantastic Gareth Gale tackle put Ben Jones-Bishop into touch with the try line begging.
It was Featherstone’s James Lockwood who was next to score as he took a Jake Sweeting pass to spin away from the defender and drop over the line for a four pointer. Hall was again accurate with the boot, Rovers now eight points ahead.
Marcus Stock took full advantage from a Featherstone error when he took the ball five metres from the line and stepped twice off his right foot before cutting back inside and lunging for the line to score under the uprights. Dixon added the conversion for 10-12 after twenty-eight minutes.
Josh Hardcastle was held up over the line as Rovers sought their third try on thirty-three, a small scuffle breaking out with referee Hicks reading the riot act. On the next play Featherstone moved the ball wide left with Jacob Doyle diving over by the corner flag. Hall couldn’t add the touchline conversion, Rovers 16-10 ahead.
Rovers were in again two minutes later with Davies breaking down the wing before finding Nu Brown inside him to run under the sticks for the fourth try. Hall added the conversion for 22-10, Rovers turning the screw.
A scruffy try from Chris Brinning, lunging for the line to eventually get the ball down, grabbed a lifeline for York as they got their third of the afternoon. Video replays suggested that he might have been lucky to have been give the try and when Dixon added the conversion it was 16-22.
In a sensational start to the second half the City Knights were back on level terms on forty-eight when Hall was unable to take the kick-off, knocking the ball into the hands of Jason Bass who sprinted to the line unopposed and scored under the sticks. Dixon added the conversion to tie things up at 22-22. It was a terrific encounter between two sides playing great rugby.
Hall made amends with a penalty goal on fifty to edge his side ahead again.
The quality of the game was top drawer and Doyle got his second on fifty-four as he took a long pass from Brown to score in the corner. Hall added the conversion for 30-22.
On fifty-seven Rovers celebrated like they’d got the win with James Harrison taking a Brown pass to step through the line and go ten to score. Hall added the conversion as the game drifted further away from York at 36-22.
On the hour it was turning into a procession as Craig Hall bust through a tired City Knights defence to evade Kieran Dixon’s last-ditch attempt at a tackle for a four pointer. Hall couldn’t add the extras to his own try, Featherstone now cruising at 40-22 ahead.
Mikey Lewis regained some York pride on seventy-one as he did brilliantly to spin out of two tackles and drop over the line after evading five tacklers. Dixon added the conversion to reduce the arrears to twelve with eight minutes remaining.
A Chisolm drop goal on seventy-six put the outcome beyond any doubt and sealed the trophy for the flat cappers.
York had the last laugh, or at least grin, with an intercept consolation try from Perry Whiteley who ran ninety metres to score after picking Hall's pocker, with Dixon adding the extras with just over a minute to go.
It was a sensational eighty minutes in the baking sunshine with Featherstone Rovers lifting the trophy thanks to a seven point victory over a York City Knights side who put up a massive fight as underdogs and gave the favourites more than the occasional scare. Craig Hall was deservedly named as man of the match as the flat cappers celebrated their win.
Featherstone Rovers: Hall (T, 6G), Gale, Hardcastle, Davies, Doyle (2T), Brown (T), Chisolm (T, DG), Kopczak, Sweeting, Lockwood (T), Ferres, Harrison (T), McDonnell. Subs: Spence, Cooper, Field, Summers.
York City Knights: Dixon K (5G), Jones-Bishop (T), Dow-Nikau, Bass (T), Whiteley (T), Lewis (T), Washbrook, Dixon R, Jubb, Teanby, Clarkson, Kirmond, Spears. Subs: Brinning (T), Stock (T), Cuthbertson, Scott.
Referee: Rob Hicks.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 6-4, 10-4, 12-4, 12-8, 12-10, 16-10, 20-10, 22-10 : HT : 22-14, 22-16, 22-20, 22-22, 24-22, 28-22, 30-22, 34-22, 36-22, 40-22, 40-26, 40-28, 41-28, 41-32, 41-34 : FT.