After dominating the league season, it was Featherstone Rovers who were the massive favourites to make progress in the second play-off semi-final as they looked to end the aspirations of the London Broncos and make progress to take on Toulouse Olympique XIII next weekend in the Million Pound game.
Few gave the Broncos any hope as they made their way up the M1 to Post Office Road, many neutrals believing that it was almost pre-destined that it would be Rovers making the move into Super League this season after missing out in the final in 2019 and 2021.
The bookies thought that it was a foregone conclusion, but the Broncos have timed themselves to peak at the right time of the season and came into the game full of optimism about their chances.
It was a million miles an hour opening, just what you would expect from a game of this importance.
Under five minutes had passed when London took the lead when Alex Walker took an inside pass from 17 to go through a hole in the Featherstone defence and score a try which was given away far too easily by the home side. Corey Norman added the conversion for the best start for the Broncos.
Featherstone went straight on the offensive; James Lockwood being held up over the line on eight minutes.
A Keystone Cops try on seventeen saw London extend their lead. A kick into goal by Iliess Macani took a cruel bounce in goal and was missed by the Fev’ defenders, the loose ball being pounced upon by a chasing Dean Whare for a four-pointer. Norman added the conversion for 12-0, not what the scriptwriters had promised.
Featherstone were back in it on twenty-six when Chris Hankinson chased a Mark Kheirallah grubber to the corner and grounded under a crowd of London players. Kheirallah added the extras to reduce the arrears to six points.
Brad Day was held up over the line on thirty-one as Rovers started to dominate against a tiring London defence.
four and a half minutes from the interval and Joey Leilua blasted through the London line and used his strength to go in for the second Fev’ try of the night. Kheirallah added the conversion, and the sides were level.
In the dying second of the half Fev’ let their attention slip as Dean Parata was in instrumental in finding Walker who spun out of the tackle to go in from ten metres. Norman added the conversion and London took a six-point lead into the sheds, but the home side would have the downhill advantage in the second half.
Atkinson was held up over the line on forty-four minutes as London were pinned inside their own twenty until a lift tackle from Brad Day saw the Featherstone may yellow carded on forty-nine.
Brilliant hands from London on fifty-two saw Macani with acres of space down the left-hand side for a walk-in try from ten metres. Norman drilled his conversion between the uprights from close to the touchline, the Broncos with a twelve-point lead.
Four minutes later and the lead was extended again with fast hands exploiting the extra man with Dalton Grant the man in possession of space down the right-hand side to score in the corner, a mirror of Macani’s try minutes earlier. Norman hit the mark again for a 30-12 lead.
The Broncos dream continued on sixty-two when a kick from Norman was palmed back by Macari before being collected by Henry Raiwalui and passed back to the supporting Norman to dive over for the sixth London try. Norman added his sixth goal of the night for 36-12, Rovers looking shattered.
Seemingly a consolation try for Featherstone on sixty-five when Hankinson ran the angle to get his second of the night. Kheirallah hit the post with his conversion attempt, Fev’ still needing four tries for the win.
On seventy, Hankinson was the provider as he made the space for Luke Briscoe to cross in the right corner. This time Kheirallah was on target, the margin down to fourteen points with eight minutes remaining.
On seventy-five Featherstone were in again, this time it was a great solo effort from Leilua who fended off three attempted tackles to ground in the corner. Kheirallah was wide with the conversion, the difference was ten points with four minutes remaining.
Caleb Aekins spilled the ball on the halfway line as Featherstone looked to press for another try, the London players breathed a collective sigh of relief.
This was nothing short of a sensational performance from the London Broncos who came into the game as rank underdogs but they demolished the firm favourites Featherstone to progress into the championship and promotion decider against Toulouse next Sunday afternoon. Featherstone have dominated the league all season but couldn’t find the performance when it really mattered, always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Featherstone Rovers: Kheirallah (3G), Briscoe (T), Leilua (2T), Hankinson (2T), Gale, Aekins, Ford, Cozza, Wildie, Lockwood, Day (SB on 49), Taylor, Smith. Subs: Jones, Davies, Bussey, Moors. 18th Man: Kopczak.
London Broncos: Walker (2T), Grant (T), Bassett, Whare (T), Macani (T), Raiwalui, Norman (T, 6G), Butler, Davis, Bienek, Lovell, Natoli, Parata. Subs: Leyland B, Williams, Stock, Waine. 18th Man: Leyland O.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 0-10, 0-12, 4-12, 6-12, 10-12, 12-12, 12-16, 12-18 : HT: 12-22, 12-24, 12-28, 12-30, 12-34, 12-36, 16-36, 20-36, 22-36, 26-36 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: London – Square - London.
Referee: Tom Grant.