Doncaster RLFC suffer play-off final heartache for second successive season
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Richard Horne’s men, who were in contention until Swinton’s third try in injury-time, put up a much better showing than against Workington Town at Derwent Park in last season’s final.
But that will prove scant consolation as they face up to the prospect of an eighth successive season in the third tier of the British game where no ambitious club wants to find themselves at a time of great change within the sport.
Not only will the defeat rob the club of some crowd-pulling derby games next season but it is also likely to see the departure of several fans’ favourites in the coming weeks and thwart plans put in place to strengthen the squad had they been promoted.
Unlike last season, the Dons went into the final with a healthy squad and were entitled to believe they could upset the odds given how well they played in the semi-final.
But some of the fans who travelled over to Heywood Road will no doubt feel that the Dons got their tactics wrong and played too much route one rugby at times and didn’t capitalise enough on the threat posed by their outside backs.
But the Doncaster supporters can have no complaints about the side’s defensive qualities or work-rate with skipper Sam Smeaton setting a fine lead.
It took the Dons until the second half, by which time they were trailing 22-0, to open their account when the two sides met earlier in the play-offs last month, but they needed just a couple of minutes in the final.
The ball was moved to the left in the Swinton 20 metre zone when centre Jason Tali moved closer to Mark Roache’s club record career total when he powered his way over in the corner as the Dons were rewarded for kicking for position from a penalty as against kicking for goal.
It took the Lions, who finished two places above the Dons in the regular season, some time to find their rhythm, but they hit the front when second-rower Jordan Case touched down near enough for full-back Dan Abram to convert on 28 minutes.
There were chances at both ends but the only addition to the first half scoring was a penalty by scrum-half Connor Robinson which levelled the interval scores at 6-6.
With Watson Boas making his presence felt after coming off the bench, the Dons shaded the third quarter and regained the lead when winger Tom Halliday dived over from a clever back pass close to the line.
Playing a more expansive game, the Lions regained the lead on 69 minutes – though it needed a try-saving tackle by Abram to nail Halliday after he had got clear in the Swinton half four minutes later.
Stand-off Nick Gregson, who had a try disallowed for obstruction a few minutes earlier, broke the line to send Mitch Cox over for a converted try to give the home side a 12-10 lead.
That’s how it stayed until Jack Hansen stole the ball off Tali in the tackle and while everyone stopped thinking it was a two-man tackle and therefore a penalty to the Dons, Hansen played to the whistle and held off the cover on a 35m run to score in the corner.
Dons: Taulapapa, Halliday, Storey, Tali, Corion, Johnston, Robinson, Holdstock, Burns, Wilkinson, Smeaton, Ruan, McConnell. Subs: Boas, Fella, Foster, Petersen.