Featherstone Rovers gave an excellent account of themselves in Sunday’s 30-18 home defeat against Leigh Centurions in the Super 8s Qualifiers.
After losing heavily to Super League clubs Leeds Rhinos and Huddersfield Giants in the first two Qualifiers, Rovers gave Championship table-toppers Leigh a huge fright.
The Centurions scraped their third straight win but were pushed all the way by battling Rovers who recovered superbly from a dreadful start.
Eight points in the final four minutes flattered Leigh who look to be heading for Super League next year.
The visitors looked set for an easy win when they raced into a 12-0 lead after just seven minutes through tries from ex-Rovers forward Reni Maitua and centre Mitch Brown, both converted by Martyn Ridyard.
At that stage, Rovers seemed in danger of another hammering after conceding 62 points in each of their last two matches.
However, they dug in and were just four points adrift by the break.
Kyle Briggs landed a 40-20 kick and then provided a superb pass to send on-loan Leeds Rhinos forward Josh Walters over on 13 minutes.
Briggs added the extras and Anthony Thackeray had a touchdown ruled out for offside before Briggs booted a penalty nine minutes before the break to make it 12-8.
Rovers muscled up superbly in defence and winger Adam Higson was twice kept out when he looked certain to score.
Leigh finally extended their lead 10 minutes into the second half when Matty Dawson crossed wide out, from a long pass by Ridyard.
Cory Paterson had got over moments earlier, but Ridyard’s pass was ruled forward.
Impressive substitute Bradley Tagg twice went close to scoring from kicks by Briggs, but Leigh made the game safe a minute into the final quarter when Micky Higham punished an error by James Duckworth and Ridyard’s conversion made it 22-8.
The relief among Leigh’s staff and directors reflected the effort Rovers had put in, but John sharp’s men weren’t finished.
Some penalties started to go their way and they took advantage when Luke Briscoe crossed at the corner from Jordan Baldwinson’s pass.
That looked like a consolation, but in the next set Jack Ormondroyd charged over and Briggs’ conversion cut the gap to four points with 10 minutes left. Ridyard steadied Leigh’s nerves with a penalty four minutes from time and there was a cruel sting in the tail for Rovers when Gareth Hock crashed over in the final minute and Ridyard added the extras. That came after Josh Drinkwater’s attempted drop goal fell short, but was spilled by a home player.