A place in the Million Pound Game against Toulouse Olympique XIII in the south of France, awaited the winners of the second semi-final between Featherstone Rovers and the Halifax Panthers as the West Yorkshire sides came together with one eye on a place in Super League for 2022.
Featherstone were massive favourites with the bookies, who had given the Panthers a twenty-six point start on the handicap coupon. Rovers took the spoils on both occasions that the two sides met this season, including a 54-22 win at the start of September, and came into the game undefeated in the last seven outings.
After an afternoon of constant rain at the Millennium Stadium the two sides emerged into Autumnal conditions which were likely to count in the Panthers’ favour.
Featherstone went closest in the early encounters but couldn’t get the ball on the ground from close into the Panthers line until the sixth minute when Frankie Halton ran the angle to brush aside three tacklers and dive over the line for the opening score. Craig Hall added the goal from wide to give the home side a 6-0 lead.
Halifax struck back on ten minutes, within seconds of Tom Holmes being sent to the sin bin for a late tackle on Matt Garside, to show Rovers that they weren’t going to have it all their own way as Connor McGrath scored a spectacular diving try in the right corner. The kick from wide was missed but the Panthers were back in the game.
Halifax were penalised for not being square at the play the ball and Hall took the opportunity to double the lead as he slotted the penalty between the uprights.
On twenty minutes Craig Kopczak crashed over the line off a short ball to ground under a pile of Halifax defenders. Hall added a third conversion of the evening for 14-4, the favourites easing ahead.
Adam Tangata was held up over the line after a great Dan Murray charge down saw the Featherstone prop make progress to within ten metres of the line, and on thirty-two minutes Scott Grix won the race to ground a kick through but was ruled offside by the video referee. The second quarter ended scoreless as the home side went in with a 14-4 lead. It was all still to play for.
Eleven minutes after the restart Brett Ferres scored a crucial try as he crashed the line and pushed off a couple of attempted tackles to get the ball over the whitewash. Hall was unable to add the conversion but with three converted tries required it was a long way back for the Panthers.
Three minutes later Josh Hardcastle was in for the fourth Featherstone try as the Rovers supporters started to look at flights for next weekend. A grubber through from ten out was collected low by the centre and dabbed down on the line and when Hall added the conversion it was 24-4.
It was becoming a nightmare for Halifax when Connor Jones made it three tries in six minutes for the home side when ‘Fax failed to deal with a kick through, the hooker collecting the loose ball and going in. Hall added the conversion for 30-4, as ‘Fax crumbled.
On sixty-two Kris Welham grounded a Dane Chisolm high kick which the ‘Fax defence again failed to deal with. Grounding by the touchline he gave Hall a tricky kick in awful conditions but he drilled his conversion between the uprights.
A sixty-sixth minute try from Liam Harris, grounding a Scott Grix across field grubber, gave Connor Robinson a simple conversion to get the Panthers into double figures.
A Jones solo try on seventy edged Featherstone to forty points after a Halton break to half way saw him pass to his supporting hooker to go fifty and score under the sticks. Hall added the conversion for 42-10.
A late tackle from Luke Cooper saw the Featherstone substitute sin-binned on seventy-two but it was of no significance to the result but might give a nervous couple of days while he waits for the disciplinary to meet.
Ben Tibbs was sin-binned on seventy-five for kicking out in the tackle, although ot seemed a little hard on the Panthers player.
Hardcastle had a try ruled out on seventy-eight for a double movement but there were smiles all round as the home sides supporters sang them home to a 42-10 win.
Either tonight’s winners Featherstone Rovers, or Toulouse Olympique XIII, will be playing their rugby in Super League next season. The winner will be decided in the Million Pound Game a week on Sunday as the two sides who have totally dominated this season meet. The final could be anyone’s game, it will be whoever shows up on the night with the determination to grind out the win and seize the prize. The curtain is now down on an impressive Halifax Panthers season but they will be back next year for another tilt at the top flight.
Featherstone Rovers: Walker, Hall (7G), Welham (T), Hardcastle (T), Gale, Holmes (SB on 10), Brown, Kopczak (T), Jones (2T), Lockwood, Halton (T), Ferres (T), Field. Subs: Chisolm, Davies, Bussey, Cooper (SB on 72).
Halifax Panthers: Woodburn-Hall, Saltonstall, Worthington, McComb, McGrath (T), Grix, Harris (T), Tangata, Moore, Murray, Kavanagh, Garside, Fairbank. Subs: Tibbs (SB on 75), Larroyer, Morris, Robinson (G).
Half Time: 14-4.
Referee: Robert Hicks.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, (SB), 6-4, 8-4, 12-4, 14-4 : HT : 18-4, 22-4, 24-4, 28-4, 30-4, 34-4, 36-4, 36-8, 36-10, 40-10, 42-10, (SB), (SB): FT.