Featherstone Lions missed out on a third successive promotion after losing 25-18 to Skirlaugh Bulls in a thrilling National Conference Division One play-off final.
The Lions were left kicking themselves as a ruled out try and dropped ball with the Bulls’ line wide open in the first half could have seen them go three scores up, but it was the Humberside outfit that went in with a four-point lead.
James Kitchen, Dean Gamble, Danny Glassell and Joe Fox worked hard for Featherstone while backs Gaz Gale and Josh hardcastle worked non-stop. But missed tackles, silly penalties and basic mistakes led to the Bulls taking the spot in the Premier League next season.
After Gale went close early, a pinpoint Gamble ball saw George Nuttall race over for a try converted by Ian Jackson.
Fox had a good run before Liam Kay made a timely pick up from a Bulls chip through. Lions then missed a penalty goal attempt and Fox made a fine hit.
But Skirlaugh spun the ball wide and their speedy wingman did the rest, outpacing the Lions cover for a try wide out.
Back came Featherstone as Gale chipped over from a free play and the ball was hacked dead inches from the line. Scott Glassell then chipped the Bulls defence, picked up and raced away only for his pass to go to ground as a try looked certain.
Lions had a ‘try’ disallowed for offside and after quick hands had led to Davi Garahan going over, the referee ruled his effort out for a forward pass.
Hardcastle and Fox again went close, but Lions were unable to turn their pressure into points and on the stroke of half-time a mistake from a chip to the corner gifted Bulls a try that made it 10-6 at the break.
Featherstone made the worst possible start to the second half as poor marking led to another Bulls try, which was converted.
They hit back, though, as a superb Danny Glassell solo run led to him passing to Kitchen who barged his way over the line for a try goaled by Jackson.
Lions were now looking the better side as Fox and Hardcastle were causing Bulls problems on the flanks. Three sets of six saw them hammer at the Skirlaugh line with Gale and Kitchen going close after Gamble was held on the line and Scott Glassell finally finding a way over from acting half. With Jackson adding the extras Featherstone were now in front at 18-16, but Bulls lifted their game and levelled with a penalty.
Although Sam Wilson did well to take a high bomb, Lions could not hold out in the closing stages as missed tackles led to a Bulls try. Lions were then pulled back for a forward pass with a try looking on and they threw everything at their opponents with Scott and Danny Glassell inches from scoring. But it was Skirlaugh who sealed the win with a drop goal.
Lions were left to reflect on being minutes away from promotion, but coach Jamie Rooney thanked his staff for their efforts this season with Darren Roberts getting special praise alongside team manager Keith Bell. Physio Paul Crane deserves big credit for working non-stop last week to get three players fit for the final. Back room staff Keka Ward, Jack Brown and Leo Brown got praise from the players for all their hard work and the players again gave massive wraps to their travelling fans for their support all year.