Chester Gladiators hopes of ending the season with some silverware came to a premature end following a 38-36 defeat to Wigan Riversiders in a pulsating encounter at Hare Lane on Sunday. The Gladiators had already beaten the Riversiders twice this season but were unable to claim a hat trick of victories in front of a large crowd, meaning that Wigan will now take on Huyton Bulldogs in the RL Merit League sponsored by Kukri Sports final.
The visitors started strongly and took the lead after 10 minutes with a try from Wayne Bullough but the Gladiators hit back through Rich Hopkins. The winger showed great pace and power to shrug off three would-be defenders before touching down for his sixth try of the campaign. Chester moved into the lead with a try from powerful centre Gareth Coy before Wigan levelled matters with a try from close range.
Adam Pierpoint, who was later named Man of the Match, restored the Gladiators lead with a well worked try but a lapse in concentration allowed the Riversiders to squeeze home at the corner to level the scores at 18-18 on the stroke of half-time.
The Gladiators have made a habit of starting the second half strongly this season but this time they were on the receiving end as Wigan took advantage of some sloppy defence to regain the lead through Josh Wincott. However, Chester hit back with three tries in quick succession to take control of the match. Rich Hopkins rounded off a fantastic flowing move with a flying finish for his second try of the game before Gareth Coy showed great strength to power his way over the line despite the attention of several Wigan defenders.
The Gladiators moved further in front when Adam Pierpoint exploited some weak defence to claim his sixth try of the season but the visitors refused to give in. The Riversiders regrouped and poured forward in search of a way back into the game. Chester found themselves on the receiving end of some questionable decisions by the referee and Wigan took full advantage as they ran in two converted tries to regain the lead once more.
With time running out Chester threw everything at the Wigan try line but were twice denied by some feverish defence from the visitors. Pierpoint and Coy both thought they had grounded the ball over the line but the referee ruled that they had been held up. Chesterâ€™s final attack saw scrum half Danny Harvey put a short kick into the in-goal area but the ball ran dead to signal the end of the match and of the Gladiators campaign.
â€œWeâ€™re obviously disappointed at failing to reach the Grand Final but weâ€™ve made fantastic progress this year and to reach the play-offs in our second season is a fantastic achievement,â€ said Chairman Jim Green.
â€œThe players should all be very proud of their performance against Wigan. We played some very attractive rugby and the boys are a credit to the club. We are eligible to apply for promotion to the Rugby League Conference which is an extremely highly regarded competition and we will be giving serious consideration to that possibility in the coming weeks. Next year we will be looking to build on our progress, particularly at junior level where we hope to launch teams at further age groups.â€
The Gladiators website, which can be found at www.chestergladiators.com, will be updated regularly during the close season with details of the clubs plans for next year.
Chester Gladiators: Simon Quinn, David Beddows, Gareth Coy, Alexis Wilkie, Rich Hopkins, Adam Pierpoint, Danny Harvey, Rich Owen, Sam Edgar, Steve Sandbach, Mike Davies, Dave Doneo, Martin Cormack (Substitutes: Alec Read, Jim Green, Daniel Doneo, Chris Young, Tom Hayden, Pete Last, Paul Foster)
Tries: Rich Hopkins (16 & 48), Gareth Coy (22 & 51) & Adam Pierpoint (34 & 55)
Conversions: Danny Harvey (6/6)
Chester 3-2-1: Adam Pierpoint, Rich Hopkins & Gareth Coy