A Paul Horsfall hat trick proved in vain as Underbank Rangers were mauled 50-28 at home by Featherstone Lions.
Utility forward Horsfall grabbed the treble in his 49th career Underbank Rangers appearance, but despite that personal achievement both he and the team could not prevent defeat to National Conference I promotion play-off rivals Featherstone.
The Lions were more clinical in their finishing on the day, but Horsfall’s feat was remarkable as he had previously only crossed the line on two occasions in the previous 48 games for the club.
As a consequence of the defeat, and Milford’s win at Normanton, Rangers dropped to seventh on the table and out of the play-off positions for the first time in two months.
Two Lions’ scores just before the break were the killer blows as Rangers had hauled themselves back into the game after falling behind early on.
The visitors took advantage of some poor Underbank defence to score in the 37th and 40th minutes and sealed the win as they led 30-10 at half-time.
Rangers camped in their opponents half of the field for long periods of the second half, but the Lions scored four breakaway tries in the second half.
With numerous players either injured or unavailable – Adam Ryder, Mikey Holmes, Dan Farrand, Jonlee Sanderson, Jordan Higo, Courtney Allette, Kris Harrop – Horsfall, Lewis Peet, fit-again winger Will England, younger brother Tom England and Danny Bravo, were all recalled for the game.
The Lions took advantage of the strong wind to post the first score through Jamie Kitchen and full-back Ian Jackson added the conversion – the first of seven successful kicks on a difficult day for kicking.
Rangers responded as Will England took a Bravo kick, and he beat two defenders to race over in the corner, but half-back Luke Pogson couldn’t convert.
The Lions increased then their lead with two tries in three minutes, two Jackson conversions were added and Underbank were 18-4down.
Rangers posted the next score as Horsfall grabbed his first try from a great pass from hooker Sam Rochford – with Pogson’s conversion the gap was reduced to eight.
Rangers should have closed the gap to two as Rochford made a break, but he lost the ball in the tackle as he tried to pass to one of his supporting runners who would have easily scored.
Featherstone hit back and scored through Gaz Gale in the 37th minute, and then on the final play of the half Hardcastle broke through and handed on to Anthony Yates for a walk-in – Jackson’s two goals gave the visitors a comfortable 20 point cushion at the break.
Underbank immediately went on to the attack in the second half and they narrowed the gap as Mitch Turner raced over from 15 metres.
Bravo added the extras in the absence of Pogson who picked up a shoulder injury in the first half and would play no further part.
Rangers battered the Lions’ goal line for the next ten minutes, but came away empty handed as poor final play execution let them down, and the visitors showed them how to do it as with their first decent field position of the half, Gale grabbed his second blasting his way through some weak tackling.
Then came Horsfall’s second try as he followed a half break from Bravo to scoop up the dropped ball and score on 62 minutes, and Horsfall repeated the act six minutes later as he scored in almost identical fashion after receiving a great offload from the hard working lock forward Craig Williams.
Bravo converted both touch downs. In between times the best player on the field Joe Fox powered his way over for the Lions and then he finally clinched the high scoring encounter on 73 minutes with a similar effort.
All that was left was for Lions winger Yates to complete his brace with a 40 metre dash up the right touchline to round off a worthy Featherstone win and boost their own ambitions. The margin of victory slightly flattered the Lions who were just far more clinical on the day of taking their try scoring chances. The defeat badly dented Underbank’s promotion hopes and leaves them in a tough position with just two rounds remaining of the regular season.
Tough as teak front row forward Dave Valentine picked up the Bengal Spice Man of the Match for Underbank while fellow forwards Craig Williams and Lewis Peet also impressed, while Horsfall was selected as the Rose and Crown Players’ Player by his teammates for his remarkable try scoring contribution.
Underbank Rangers: Tom Eidson; Sam Ansell, Alex Chatterton, Tom Stringer, Will England; Danny Bravo, Luke Pogson; Dave Valentine, Sam Rochford, Jordan Williams, Michael Murphy, Mitch Turner, Craig Williams. Interchange: Stephen Berry, Paul Horsfall, Tom England, Lewis Peet