UNDERBANK RANGERS failed in their bid to celebrate their 125th anniversary as they suffered Conference National Grand Final heartache at the hands of Bramley Buffaloes at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Although there had been so little to separate the sides throughout the regular season, minor champions Bramley totally dominated the most important game of the campaign.
Underbank did give it their very best shot in the opening quarter and were just 12-10 behind seven minutes before the break.
But Rangers hardly ever got themselves into the position to really challenge their opponents, and probably couldn’t deny that on the day they were beaten by the better team
Underbank’s cause wasn’t helped from the start as they failed in their bid to get a later flight for inspirational captain Darren Hawkyard, who was about to start a holiday in Las Vegas.
In his absence, his teammates did try hard, but such has been Hawkyard’s influence this season that he was always going to be a major loss.
And Rangers certainly started the contest looking a little lost without him by their side.
It was no surprise, therefore, when Bramley took the lead after four minutes when Matthew Booth plunged over in the corner.
Paul Drake failed to convert, but 11 minutes later he opened his account with a simple penalty.
But straight from the re-start, Bramley knocked-on and from the scrum 10m from the line, Chris Thorley collected and dummied over to touch down under the posts.
Neil Barrett converted with ease and Rangers were right back in it at 6-6.
Unfortunately, the lead was shortlived as a ‘bomb’ to the corner from the increasingly-influential Drake was initially missed by both sides before Matt Mullholland collected and raced over for the simplest of scores.
Drake goaled and it was 12-10.
However, Rangers was again came back strongly and solid approach play eventually provided the opening for Thorley to barge over in the corner for his second.
Barrett failed with the touchline conversion as Rangers attempted to draw level for a second time, and by half-time the Buffaloes had opened up a 22-10 lead.
In the 33rd minute, Jon Nicholas took full advantage after Lee St Hilaire fumbled another Drake high kick and five minutes later Booth grabbed his second, once again from a Drake kick.
And matters didn’t get any better for Bank early in the second half as Bramley tightened their grip.
Within four minutes of the restart they added their fifth try when a sweeping move resulted in Shaun Flynn scoring in the corner.
Drake again converted, and eight minutes later another exquisite Drake kick in open play helped Booth complete his hat trick.
At 32-10 after 52 minutes, the game had well and truly slipped out of Rangers’ grasp.
But the spirit among the squad still shone through as they finished the contest on a positive note as they created several good chances.
Their golden patch came with 15 minutes remaining.
Great Thorley play carved open the usually water-tight Buffaloes defence, and only a last-gasp Bramley intervention prevented Tom Senior from finding a try-scoring pass to Richard Aka.
From the scrum, Ritchie Hawkyard was held up on the line before the ball was worked to the left for Senior and Shaun Mitchell to combine and feed Aka to squeeze in at the corner for Barrett to land a superb touchline conversion.
Further Underbank chances just failed to gain a fitting reward, and their Leeds opponents made them pay as John Elliker plunged over for his side’s seventh try, which man-of-the-match Drake goaled to make it five for the day.
But Underbank had the final say when solid approach work paved the way for St Hilaire to stroll over with ease for his side’s third converted score, ensuring the Holmfirth-based side finished a great year on a very positive note.