NCL DIVSION ONE MATCH REPORT - UNDERBANK RANGERS 16 FEATHERSTONE LIONS 37
Rangers surprisingly lose to lowly Lions
Relegation threatened Featherstone Lions, who had to win at high flying and already promoted Underbank, and for other results to go their way to have any chance of beating the drop, defied all of the odds with a disciplined and entertaining performance to grab a vital two points in their quest to retain their place in the NCL Division One in 2018. The Lions played with a freedom knowing that their final destiny is ultimately in the hands of other sides, but no matter how well the Lions played Underbank did not cover themselves in glory with a typical end of season performance from a side with nothing to play for. The visitors scored six tries in total, three in each half, as they made a mockery of the clubs’ differing league table positions while inflicting Rangers’ heaviest home defeat of the campaign.
Rangers lined-up with Kris Harrop returning at full back after his recent nuptials, Owen Restall moving from full back to right centre in place of Tom Eidson, who dropped to the bench, Danny Hirst starting at five eighth after a one game suspension, Jack Thompson being promoted from the bench to the back row in the absence of Joey Eichner who was on international duty with the USA Hawks in Toronto, and Mikey Holmes returned to the squad on the replacements bench after being unavailable the previous week.
On a dry pitch, the Cross Grounds bathed in early autumn sunshine, but with a keen biting wind blowing down the valley, the opening Underbank kick off set the tone for the afternoon as it sailed out of play and resulted in a Featherstone penalty. However, the Lions couldn’t convert the opportunity as they lost possession, but they did so after eight minutes when they opened the scoring. After Rangers knocked-on on the last tackle in their own quarter, the Lions had good field position and five eighth Tommy Wandless sold an outrageous dummy to two Rangers’ defenders and raced through the gaping defensive hole for an easy score. Ian Jackson converted the try, the first of six successful kicks on the day for the full back, and the Lions had an early 6-0 lead. However, Underbank hit back on 15 minutes as the ball was moved swiftly to the left for bustling wing Courtney Allette to barge his way over in a four man tackle for a tremendous finish. Restall converted and the scores were tied at six apiece. Again Underbank lost possession from the kick off in their own quarter and were made as right centre Davi Garahan received a great offload in the tackle from back rower Danny Glassell and Garahan had the easiest of tasks to race over. Jackson missed the conversion attempt. Rangers once more hit back as half back Alex Chatterton stabbed through a speculative kick, Lions wing Jack Ratcliffe misread the bounce of the ball and Restall pounced for the four pointer. The centre then added the extras to his own try to give Rangers a slender two point advantage after thirty minutes. However, Underbank could not capitalise on this lead as they made numerous unforced errors, and the visitors were to regain the lead after 35 minutes through a strong surge from Scott Wilson. Jackson added the straightforward conversion and the Lions went into the break with a 16-12 lead, a valuable lead that they were determined not to relinquish in the second half.
Despite receiving an interval verbal roasting from the coaching staff, and with the slope and wind in their favour in the second half, Rangers put in an even worse performance in the second half, their only bright spot in an otherwise below-par effort a second try for Allette in the 64th minute after Dave Valentine had been held–up over the goal line. Otherwise the half was dominated by a resurgent Lions outfit, who must have feared the worst at the start of play. Glassell was to complete a second half brace of tries in the 45th and 70th minutes, Jackson added a penalty goal after 67 minutes for a ball steal in the tackle to stretch the lead to 8 points, and after Underbank’s miserable afternoon was compounded with Restall’s sinbinning for dissent on 72 minutes, the Lions’ superb victory was confirmed with a barnstorming try from the powerful Joe Fox, and a Jackson field goal on 78 minutes. Throw in three Jackson try conversions in the second half and a deserved victory was achieved by a determined and resolute Featherstone outfit.
A poor home side performance was highlighted by the usual dogged and committed personal performance from front row forward Dave Valentine who was duly awarded both the Bengal Spice, Man of the Match and the Rose & Crown, Thurstonland Players’ Player of the Match for his tireless effort that included 53 tackles in 80 minutes of toil for his well-beaten side.
Underbank return to action at promotion seeking Lock Lane in a fortnight’s time hoping to finish the campaign on a high by returning to winning ways.