A strong second half showing by the Widnes Vikings saw them come from behind to secure victory in this Playoff elimination final, progressing into the next round of the playoffs despite a solid Haven challenge.
Just two weeks ago this same Whitehaven side went down 58-18 to Widnes here at the Stobart Stadium. But there’s something about playoff football that brings the best out of this team. They shrugged off a sluggish outing against Leigh last Sunday to run in three tries and compile an 18-8 half time lead, Widnes grabbing a much needed lifeline with a try on the stroke of half time.
The obstruction rule needs to be looked at, it’s bordering on bringing this game into disrepute, with seemingly every dummy runner guilty of infringement.
The visitors snatched the opening score by capitalising on a handling error by Mark Smith and quickly turning field position into points. Veteran halfback, Leroy Joe, dummying and stepping side some weak tackling to score by the posts from 10-metres out.
Widnes hit back swiftly though, left-winger Shane Grady, forcing his way in at the corner.
Karl Amor (destined for Leeds next season) and Graeme Mattinson paved the way from the next Haven score, creating the space on the left for Rob Jackson to dart over at left centre.
The hard running Amor grabbed one for himself next, crashing through Mark Smith’s tackle to ground the ball between the posts.
Reese Fox then looked to have gifted Eilbeck a score a the right corner with a slick offload from the tackle, but the try was negated by the ridiculous obstruction rule that is threatening to bring League into disrepute, with any dummy-runner seemingly deemed to be infringing.
Tim Hartley gave Widnes renewed hope with a try just before the break, but the winger was again unable to convert from wide out.
The sin binning of hard working second rower, Spencer Miller, on 39 minutes was a crucial blow to Whitehaven’s hopes though, as the referee lost patience with the visitors’ persistent offside tactics.
Only two massive tackles by Joe denied Vikings in their opening attack after the break; he halted first Webster and then, in the next set, Hartley, with both looking set to score. In the end though, Widnes spilled the ball, squandering two sets of possession on the Haven line.
Hartley did grab a second score though. Linking with Smith after a neat run around with Grayshon to cross by the posts. His conversion closed the gap to four points with Haven back to full strength numerically.
With 23 minutes to play in the season for one of these team Webster launched a towering bomb into the skies, which Calvert couldn’t handle under heavy pressure. Gavin Dodd raced onto the loose ball to touch down. But the video referee spotted a knock on from Flynn and Haven were spared; but only momentarily.
An error by Mattinson then led to a scrum on the Haven 20, from which James Webster released Anthony Thackeray down the left for the score. Hartley landed the conversion for a 20-18 lead, their first of the game.
Rudd’s calmly taken penalty then levelled the scores going into the final 10 minutes of the game, setting up a tense finish.
And Rudd was on target again to snap a drop-goal over – after Mattinson was denied by Flynn’s try-saving tackle – to edge Whitehaven back into the lead.
But the Cumbrian’s celebration was short-lived, Widnes swooping on a fumble by Dexter Miller from the restart with Scott Yates sending James Webster scooting over at the left corner for the decisive score. Hartley again converted from the touchline.
It was a heartbreak loss for the visitors who put everything into their performance, but credit the Vikings for having the resilience and will to fight back and snatch the game in a thrilling second half.
Dodd, Flynn, Hartley, Grady, Varkulis, Thackray, Webster, Ostick, Smith, Gannon, Grayshon, Fletcher, Doran
Subs: Gaskell, Kavanagh, Yates, Houghton
T: Grady (6), Hartley (38, 50), Webster (75)
G: Hartley 2/4
1 Benson, Eilbeck, 3 R Jackson, 13 McAvoy, 2 Calvert, 6 Rudd, 7 Joe, 10 Edmondson, 9 Mattinson, 19 Amor, 12 Miller, 15 Gorski, 25 Theoharous
Subs: 28 C Smith, 8 M Jackson, 30 Miller, 43 Fox
T: Joe (3), R Jackson (14), Amor (24)
G: Rudd 4/4
D: Rudd (77)
3 Joe try, Rudd goal 0-6
6 Grady try, Hartley miss (0/1) 4-614 R Jackson try, Rudd goal (2/2) 4-12 24 Amor try, Rudd goal (3/3) 4-1838 Hartley try, Hartley miss (0/2) 8-18
50 Hartley try, Hartley goal (1/3) 14-18
58 Thackeray try, Hartley goal (2/4) 20-18
68 Rudd goal (4/4) 20-20
70 Rudd DG 20-21
72 Webster try, Hartley goal (3/5) 26-21