MIRFIELD STAGS held on right to the final hooter to win a brutal Yorkshire Cup final (12-16) in which both sides gave everything in pursuit of the trophy.
In front of a raucous crowd in Featherstone, Drighlington launched a second-half fightback after an impressive first half from the Stags saw them lead 12-0 and then 16-6.
Having pulled the difference back to four points, Drig attacked in the final seconds and thought they had scored a potentially cup-winning try when Joe Bownass crashed over, only for the referee to rule that he had been held up as Mirfield’s determined defensive effort saw them hold on.
The Stags started as the brighter of the two sides and scored the first try after nine minutes.
Drig knocked on 10 metres from their own line and a Brad Mason high tackle then provided another fresh set. From that, half-back Brad Delaney found centre Ryan Fenton with space in front of him to cross, and Connor Squires added the conversion.
The Pennine League leaders doubled their advantage with a great try. Ben Kendall made a barnstorming charge, bashing a defender onto his backside to break the line. He almost beat the full-back too, but managed to offload in time for Casey Canterbury to cross for the score, again improved by Squires.
Drighlington responded strongly though, with Matthew Goodwill causing havoc off the bench and being held up over the line. Mikey Otty knocked-on a tricky Kieron Bolton kick on the last tackle, and on the first play from the scrum Macauley Bucci squeezed between two defenders to cross between the posts.
Michael Sanderson added the simple goal to make it 12-6, and the wind certainly appeared to be with Drig when Wayne Jowett was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle.
However, poor defence allowed Canterbury to slip through the line and put Mirfield in a good position. Bucci tackled but the ball was then shipped left through Craig Miles and Dom Flanagan for Otty to score in the corner.
Squires couldn’t aim the conversion from the touchline but they went into half-time 16-6 ahead.
The second half was slowed by a number of injuries to players on both sides, as the magnificent effort from all combatants took its toll. It was particularly punishing for Mirfield, who threw their bodies at everything to hold out against a rising Drighlington tide.
Their first good chance of the second period came when Mason intercepted an Otty pass to break, but the ball was lost close to the line.
Drig did get back into the game in the 53rd minute as Ryan Wilks received an Ethan Hallas offload and crashed over from little more than a yard, with Sanderson’s subsequent conversion closing the difference to four points.
Incredibly there were no further points in the match, but it was certainly through no lack of trying from Drighlington. When a high bomb was not claimed by Squires – who was injured in the process – Wilks went close to a second try and Tom Pickles was then an inch from touching down from a grubber kick.
But their cause was not helped when Josh Collins was sent to the sin bin for the second of back-to-back penalties.
There were more battered bodies to be taken off the field but few try-scoring chances until the final three minutes. The Stags knocked on 15m from their own line and Delaney then spoke out of turn to the referee and was shown a red card.
Despite being down a man they managed to keep Fenton Walls out of the corner and Micky Hoyle then intercepted a pass. The ball was then dropped again though, leaving Drig to throw everything at their line in the final seconds.
Sanderson’s short pass saw Bownass crash over on the final play of the game but, with the fans going wild in the stands and the coaches jubilantly sprinting onto the pitch, referee Liam Staveley ruled that he had been held up, and the cup belonged to Mirfield.