NCL Div 1 Match Report - Featherstone Lions 26 Underbank Rangers 34
Rangers not at their best, but still too strong for the Lions
Despite not being at their best in probably their worst performance of the season, Underbank were still too good for their opponents who sit at the foot of the NCL Division One league table with no points from the opening six games of the campaign. Rangers remained top of the league table with the win their sixth success on the spin. The win was once again built on a big performance from the forward pack, but the team conceded far too penalties and missed far too many tackles, especially in the second half, and will not be so fortunate to get away with such errors against the other promotion contenders. However, it’s always a sign of a decent side that can win when not on top of their game.
Hard working hooker Sam Rochford scored three tries, all individual efforts from acting half on the back of quick play the balls, and for many observers he was the difference between the sides and was selected by his peers as Players’ Player on the day. However, back rower Billy Rogers was the unanimous man of the match selected by the match sponsors for a supreme defensive effort, and he was ably supported by the leading ball carrier Craig Williams. Half back Luke Pogson successfully kicked five conversions from six attempts, his miss after the second try from Joey Eichner being his first of the season as his successive kick run ended at 34.
Rangers had Owen Restall on debut on the left wing in place of the unavailable Will England. Jonlee Sanderson returned to the bench instead of Lewis Peet. Andy Boothroyd was still missing with a broken hand and Courtney Allette, Dave Dyson and Luke Roberts all missed out on the seventeen, but other than that the squad remained unchanged as Underbank aimed to take advantage of the near perfect conditions on a sunny and warm spring afternoon.
Underbank started the game brightly and well on top, and after a couple of decent chances went begging it was no surprise when they opened the scoring on eight minutes as Rochford spotted a gap at the play the ball, showed great pace and raced 30 metres for a superb try. Pogson added the extras and Underbank led 6-0. However, against the run of play and following the concession of a needless penalty, Rangers conceded a soft try on minutes when front row forward George Nuttall shrugged of the challenge of Underbank’s Casey Clark to score an easy try. Full back levelled up the scores with a straightforward conversion through full back Ian Jackson from in front of the goalposts. Neither team could gain control as a result of making far too many errors whilst in possession. However, Rangers suddenly took a grip on the game just before the half hour mark with two tries in three minutes. Firstly the ball was moved quickly to the left for American centre Joey Eichner to get on the outside of his opposite number to bulldoze his way over the stripe in a two man tackle, and the lock forward Craig Williams forced his way across the try line after receiving a smart sixth tackle pass from Rochford following a very quick play the ball. Pogson converted the second effort and Rangers seemed comfortable at 16-6 at the break.
Rather than take control of the game in the second half Underbank if anything made more errors than in the first, but always had enough in reserve to keep the Lions at bay. However, Featherstone were first on the board after 45 minutes with centre Gaz Gale brushing off several feeble attempts to prevent him scoring. Jackson converted and suddenly the home side were only six behind. Two tries in six minutes on the hour mark essentially sealed the game as first Rochford darted over and then right wing Sam Ansell finished off a sparkling crossfield handling move. Pogson converted both and Rangers were cruising with a 28-10 lead. Or so we thought, until a succession of penalties invited the Lions into the danger zone and another two soft tries were conceded through back rower Josh Field and replacement wing Davi Garahan. Jackson kicked the extras to the first score and the lead was reduced to eight with 12 minutes remaining on the clock. But then Rochford calmed the nerves of his team mates by completing his hat trick of tries in identical fashion to the previous two with a speedy scoot from acting half. Pogson again added the extra two and the game was won, but there was still time for back rower, and the Lions best player on the field, Gaz Williamson to score a consolation try in the final few minutes.
Underbank now have a week off due to the Bank Holiday weekend to rest up and recharge the batteries before they entertain second placed Normanton Knights on Saturday May 6th with a 2-30pm kick off time. Rangers know that the Knights will be a different proposition to the Lions, and they also realise that a much improved performance will be required if Underbank are to maintain their position at the top of the league.