Featherstone Rovers win in gritty clash with Bradford Bulls

The final game of the week and the game to finish up round five of the Championship was played tonight at the Millennium Stadium with Featherstone Rovers hosting Bradford Bulls.

It was always going to be a brilliant game but the shock win for Bradford over Toulouse has added extra spice as well as expectations from the travelling Bulls fans.

The huge away support could help contribute to a massive crowd at the Millennium Stadium, something that hasn’t happened so far for Rovers with their chairman Mark Campbell being critical of crowds at times.

It seems like that changed tonight with Campbell noting the positive ticket sales pre match and the ground being appearing very loud and full throughout the match.

The home side, coached by Sean Long, named an incredibly strong side with the highlights being young Warrington loanee Riley Dean who has been incredible for Rovers to date.

As for the visiting Bulls they were boosted to victory over Toulouse with a try from Leeds Rhinos’ youngster Liam Tindall and the talented try-scorer features again, the Bulls making use of their dual registration deal.

Both teams are incredibly strong but what could be exciting will be the introduction of their powerhouse Papua New Guinea forwards from the bench.

For the Bulls it’s 24-year-old Keven Appo who has proved vital in victories over Widnes and Toulouse, whereas Rovers have 25-year-old McKenzie Yei who has crossed over for a try three times in his four appearances from the bench.

The match started with the away side having the best of the first few exchanges but a repeat set is all it took for Rovers to take advantage, Riley Dean throwing a clever dummy inside the 10 and crossing over underneath the sticks.

Dean added the extras to his own try making the game 6-0 after 10 minutes but it was the Bulls who responded best, with former Featherstone man Tom Holmes touching down when he was first to latch onto a Kieran Gill grubber kick to the corner.

Dec Patton failed to add the extras but he made up for it two minutes later when his smart kick was fumbled by Luke Briscoe which allowed Kieran Gill to clean up and cross over. Patton got closer with his second kick but ultimately still missed as he hit the post, the Bulls failing to fully punish the Featherstone mistakes.

Briscoe made amends just on the 25 minute marker when he acrobatically crossed over in the corner on his 200th appearance, a prime example of Featherstone making good use of sustained pressure inside the Bulls 22.

With Riley Dean unable to convert from the touchline the score of 10-8 remained and the close nature of the game served to create an intense atmosphere with George Roby being shown yellow for a late hit on Elijah Taylor just after the half hour mark.

Featherstone utilised that man advantage when a brilliant Jonathon Ford pass out wide allowed Gareth Gale a walk-in try for his seventh of the season, but Dean’s failure to convert meant the teams headed into half-time with the score at 14-8.

The second-half started at a rapid rate with Bradford clearly fired up after whatever Mark Dunning had said at half-time, however Featherstone were the side that struck first.

With Bradford applying pressure on the Featherstone 10 metre line the former Huddersfield captain Michael Lawrence threw a looping pass which Joey Leilua intercepted and took deep into Bradford territory. Rovers used that and John Davies powered over through the middle.

The next 10 minutes saw both sides trade sets and errors alike but Bradford capitalised on the hour mark when a smart offload released Joe Arundel who took it 3o metres and scored in the corner.

Unfortunately for Bradford it seemed that Dec Patton hadn’t brought his kicking boots as he missed a third conversion, having earlier missed a penalty, leaving the game at 20-12 as opposed to the potential 20 points a piece if he’d been perfect from the kicking tee.

Heading into the final 15 minutes the injury issues for Bradford started stacking up with Michael Lawrence heading off to receive treatment as well as confirmation Bodene Thompson failed a HIA assessment.

Both sides exchanged hard-hitting sets but to no avail until the 75th minute when Jonathon Ford threw a clever dummy that finished the game off by sneaking in next to the posts, a try that topped off his Player of the Match performance.

That spread the score to 26-12 with just minutes remaining, pushing the game out of Bradford’s reach, with the hooter sounding as Bradford continued to battle.

Despite Rovers selecting Ford as their Player of the Match the official televised pick was Brad Day who performed exceptionally defensively, something that highlighted that this wasn’t a typical Featherstone attacking walkover like their previous four wins.

Despite that it did affirm Featherstone’s spot at the top of the table as they went five unbeaten, but it will be a game that Bradford can take plenty from as they battled hard.

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