FEATHERSTONE Rovers maintained their 100 per cent record in the Northern Rail Cup group stages with Sunday’s excellent 28-22 win against Barrow Raiders at Craven Park.
Already depleted by injuries, Rovers suffered further setbacks when Ian Hardman (pictured) limped off after just five minutes and Mick Haley was stretchered off shortly before half-time but they battled superbly to inflict Barrow’s first defeat this season.
As usual, Liam Finn was a key figure. His kicking game was superb and he had a hand in three tries as Rovers repeated last season’s win at Craven Park.
Tony Tonks and Andrew Bostock ran powerfully, lively hooker Ben Kaye kept Rovers ticking with his slick distribution and substitute Andy Kain was also an important contributor when he came on.
Centre Liam Welham, who was recalled to the starting line-up, scored a well-taken try and defended excellently.
Zak Hardaker chipped in with two vital tries to take his tally to 26 touchdowns in 17 first-team appearances for Rovers and young Mufaro Mvududu slotted in well on his first-team debut.
Barrow looked the sharper side in the early stages.
Joe Wardle went close before the Raiders took an eighth minute lead. Featherstone’s defence was sliced wide open as Jamie Rooney, Joe Wardle, Gary Broadbent, Ned Catic and Andy Ballard handled in a 70-yard move to send in James Nixon for a try that Rooney goaled.
Barrow threatened again when Catic raced clear from a chip ahead but Featherstone’s cover got back to halt the move.
Rovers came far more into the game as the half progressed and they levelled in the 23rd minute when substitute forward Tony Tonks forced his way over only four minutes after going on.
Five minutes later, Rovers went ahead with Welham’s try when he leapt between two defenders to snatch the ball as Barrow’s Andy Ballard was about to gather and raced over in great style.
Barrow’s Matt James then broke from inside his own half and fed Catic whose kick was too strong for the chasing James Nixon.
Featherstone struck a vital blow a minute before half-time when Kain’s clever delayed pass sent in Hardaker for his first try and Finn added his third goal to make it 18-6.
Barrow hit back three minutes into the second-half when Greg McNally’s second 40-20 of the game led to Zeb Luisi sending in Rooney who converted.
Matty Dale rescued Rovers with a fine tackle on Mark Gleeson after the Barrow player burst clear near half way.
Jamie Thackray and Wardle then went close as Rovers did well to survive further Barrow pressure.
Rovers captain Stuart Dickens was placed on report for an incident in a tackle on Richard Fletcher after 58 minutes.
Shortly afterwards, the Cumbrians cut the deficit to two points when McNally put in Fletcher from close range.
Featherstone showed their character by quickly replying when Finn and Bostock cleverly set up a try for Tommy Saxton and Finn tagged on the extras.
Four minutes later, the gap was back down to two points when Rooney’s high kick to the corner saw Liam Harrison grab a try that Rooney goaled.
The game could have gone either way but it was Featherstone who got the decisive score ten minutes from time when Hardaker dummied his way over for his second touchdown. Finn’s converson struck a post, his only miss from five kicks.
Rovers retained their six-point advantage by weatherering a late Barrow onslaught, with Saxton denying them at the death by safely gathering Luisi’s high kick.
Scorers - Barrow: tries Nixon, Fletcher, Rooney, Harrison; goals Rooney (3). Featherstone: tries Hardaker (2), Welham, Tonks, Saxton; goals Finn (4).
Barrow Raiders: Broadbent; Ballard, Wardle, Harrison, Nixon; Rooney, McNally; Thaxckray, Mossop, Walker, Ostler, Knowles, Catic. Subs: Luisi, James, Gleeson, Catic.
Featherstone Rovers: Hardman; Powell, Smeaton, Welham, Hardaker; Worthington, Finn; Haley, Kaye, Dickens, Blostock, Spears, Dale. Subs: Tonk, Kain, Mvududu, Saxton.
Half-time: 6-18. Referee: Ronnie Laughton.