THORNHILL TROJANS coach Danny Ratcliffe expressed his pride in the effort of his players after a last-gasp try denied them the famous scalp of semi-professional side Doncaster in the third round of the Challenge Cup last weekend (20-24).
A phenomenal performance, including fantastic tries from Declan Kaye, George Stott and Nick Mitchell and Liam Morley’s majestic controlling of the game, had them 20-18 ahead with just a minute of the game left to play and the opposition hemmed in their own half.
However, a tragic Stott slip allowed Papua New Guinea international Watson Boas to break through the line and break their hearts.
Ratcliffe said: “I’m absolutely proud of what they’ve done. They’ve not just matched them, they were better than them throughout the whole game.
“We’ve been working hard on our fitness and our team spirit and that team spirit really showed out there. When it got a bit nitty gritty we dug deep.
“They dug in for each other and it showed at half-time when they came in. I just said to them when you go back out there we don’t switch off and we do exactly the same.
“They (Dons) came out quick in the second half and probably took us by surprise a little bit, but once we got that try that we needed we switched back on. Just unfortunately it didn’t go our way in the last minute.”
Ratcliffe added: “Liam Morley has been about for a while, he’s been amateur, semi-professional, represented his country and come back here. That’s one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play. He should be really proud of himself.”
Thornhill made their ambitions clear from the outset. On the first set a brilliant Morley kick put Doncaster on the back foot and Jack Logan then knocked-on to put them in attack. The ball was shifted wide with Will Gledhill’s pass finding Kaye to convert an overload into the first points of the game after just two minutes, with Casey Johnson adding the extras.
The Dons responded with their own first attack of the match though as Boas kicked deftly in behind the defence and Aaron Ollett touched down, with Logan’s conversion levelling.
Thornhill had to see out a period of pressure as their opponents looked to set the tempo, but instead they got the next score themselves. Sam Smeaton’s late shot on George Woodcock gave them position and Stott gathered Johnson’s short pass and managed to defy strong pressure to carry it over the line.
Johnson again converted and, as Doncaster struggled to bring the ball away from their line through mistakes and forced errors, he knocked over a penalty six minutes before half-time to make it 14-6.
By that point the League One side were also down to 12 men, as Ross Peltier showed his frustration in an appeal to the referee which saw him sin-binned.
Only with a full complement back on the field into the second half did they begin to make some headway against the Trojans. Logan made a break down the wing and Kieran Cross then cleverly weaved his way through from dummy-half to reduce the gap to two points.
Jason Tali failed to find Tom Halliday for a certain try but Doncaster were on the board again soon after as Smeaton found Sam Doherty to finish a well-worked try in the corner and put them ahead for the first time.
Lesser amateur sides would have wilted at this point, but not Thornhill. Instead, just five minutes later, they scored a great try of their own, started and finished by Mitchell. His powerful carry earned them a penalty and, after a Harry Woollard offload found Jamie Searby, Mitchell was found on the right to finish and put his side back in front at 20-18.
The final 20 minutes would be all about defence, and the Trojans rose magnificently to the challenge with Woodcock preventing Ben Howe from burrowing over and several men committing to keep Russ Spiers from grounding.
Penalties gave Doncaster more chances to attack and Doherty was held up in the corner on the last tackle of one set. With a minute to go the resistance was broken by Boas in the cruellest of circumstances, but every Trojan could hold their heads high after a monumental effort.