Whitehaven rewarded with first ever final

Whitehaven 30 Featherstone 2
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The Independent Online

The prospect of Super League returning to West Cumbria moved a step closer as Whitehaven qualified for a final for the first time in the club's history yesterday.

The prospect of Super League returning to West Cumbria moved a step closer as Whitehaven qualified for a final for the first time in the club's history yesterday.

The National League 1 Grand Final at Widnes next Sunday will decide whether they or Leigh replace Castleford in the top flight - always assuming that they meet the competition's criteria on such matters as ground standards.

Like the Recreation Ground, the team will require some attention before Haven can step up with any confidence. There was, however, no denying their mastery yesterday over a Featherstone side that started well but became increasingly accident-prone.

"We had a point to prove after losing at Leigh last week, and the commitment and desire today, especially in defence, was fantastic," said Steve McCormack, Whitehaven's coach.

"They wanted to be the first Whitehaven side ever to get to a final, and they could look at each other and know that they have achieved something."

The club's chairman, Barry Richardson, was looking further ahead than that. "We're only 80 minutes of football away from Super League,'' he said. "We haven't heard yet from the League about whether we meet the criteria; but they gave us a list of things to do, and we've done every one."

Featherstone started the brighter of the two sides with their French scrum-half, Maxime Greseque, looking dangerous every time he touched the ball.

They took the lead through Stuart Dickens' penalty, after Ryan Tandy was penalised for dissent, but then fell apart badly in the second quarter.

Paul Davidson, one of Whitehaven's few players with Super League experience, now back in his home town after years spent frightening the populace of Lancashire and Yorkshire, began their collapse. He ran on to Leroy Joe's pass and got over the line despite Richard Newlove's crunching tackle.

Six minutes later, Aaron Lester switched play to the blind-side and Craig Walsh stormed through.

Rovers made a bad spell worse when their other Frenchman, Freddie Zitter, knocked on. From the scrum, Sam Obst went through some weak tackling, and with two conversions from Mick Nanyn, Haven were 14 points ahead.

The second half began just as badly with Howard Hill heading for the try-line after pouncing on Adam Hayes' knock-on. Although Hill was ankle-tapped by Dean Ripley, Whitehaven moved the ball to the other wing for Wesley Wilson to touchdown. Just past the hour, the impressive Walsh scored his second try from Gary Broadbent's pass and Whitehaven were on their way to the Halton Stadium.

Not since Workington had their one season in the top flight has a Cumbrian team been as close to Super League and Nanyn rounded off an afternoon full of hope and optimism with a try to go with his three penalty goals.

Whitehaven Broadbent, Wilson, Seeds, Nanyn, Calvert, Joe, Obst, Tandy, Lester, Fatialofa, Davidson, Hill, Walsh. Substitutes used Sice, Miller, McKinney, Jackson.

Featherstone McNally, Ford, Zitter, Newlove, Wray, Ripley, Greseque, Tonks, Darley, Dickens, Haughey, Lowe, Blakeway. Substitutes used Stokes, Carlton, Dooler, Hayes.

Referee K Kirkpatrick (Warrington).

*In the National League 2 play-offs final eliminator, York were too strong for Workington, winning 70-10, thanks in part to a club-record five tries for Mark Cain.