Doncaster RLFC suffer narrow defeat at Widnes Vikings

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Doncaster RLFC tasted defeat for the second time this season against Widnes Vikings at the DCBL Stadium.

But they ran the in-form Vikings much closer in an entertaining Betfred Championship clash than they had done when going down to a 50-16 third round Challenge Cup defeat in February and in doing so provided further evidence of the progress they are making.

The Vikings, who have made their best start to a league campaign since being relegated from the Super League in 2018, hung on for a hard-earned 16-14 win over the Dons. But the result could easily have gone the other way.

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Especially had the Dons not lost in-form second-rower Pauli Pauli, who came off with a head injury in the first quarter.

Picture via @Doncaster_RLFCPicture via @Doncaster_RLFC
Picture via @Doncaster_RLFC

The Dons edged a competitive first quarter and took a deserved lead on 19 minutes when skipper Sam Smeaton, who had replaced Pauli, crashed over from close range. The Dons had moved the ball well after prop Suaia Matagi, who produced another hard-working display, had been held just short on the left.

Full-back Craig Hall, who had played his part in the try, added the extras.

Play continued to swing from end to end but with the Dons producing arguably their best defensive display of the season, the Vikings couldn’t find a way over the line.

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Winger Luke Briscoe, who fielded several high kicks well under pressure, touched down for the Dons out wide on 24 minutes but the referee had spotted a forward pass in the build-up.

Hall, whose towering kicks were a feature of the first half, extended Doncaster’s lead with a 36th minute penalty following a spear tackle.

Widnes continued to test the Doncaster defence but the visitors held out until winger Mike Butt squeezed over in the corner for an unconverted try following some snappy handling.

Just when it looked as though the Dons would go in ahead, Briscoe fumbled a high kick close to his line and scrum-half Tom Gilmore latched on to the loose ball to touch down for a try he also converted to earn his side a 10-8 interval lead.

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The Dons were their own worse enemies in the opening stages of the second half and paid the price when Widnes extended their lead on 46 minutes - second-rower Sam Wilde crashing over from close range for a converted try to open up a16-8 lead.

If the Widnes fans expected their side to pull clear, as they had done in the cup tie, they were in for a rude awakening and Butt saved a certain try when beating Misi Taulalapa to a pin-point kick to the corner by Connor Robinson, who had replaced Ben Johnston.

Briscoe made amends for losing the ball a few minutes earlier when pulling off a try-saving tackle on his opposite number five metres out in the corner.

Just when it was beginning to look as though their defensive efforts were starting to blunt their attack, the Dons found a second wind.

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Impressive second-rower Brett Ferres was held just short following neat build-up. The ball was quickly moved along the line where Hall raced though a gap from five metres out.

Robinson added the extras to close the gap to just two points to set up a grandstand finish during which the Dons might have won the game in the last minute had Jason Tali, who lacked the support, not elected a blind pass on the first tackle of a set a couple of metres out.

Dons: Hall, Briscoe, Hey, Tali, Taulapapa, Johnston, Boas, Knowles, Burns, Matagi, Pauli, Ferres, McConnell, McConnell. Subs: Robinson, Smeaton, Lovodua, Hepi. 18th: Holdstock,

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