The prize on offer for Featherstone Rovers was to go back to two points clear of the opposition as they welcomed the Bradford Bulls, who did the Flat Cappers a massive favour last time out by beating fellow favourites for promotion, Toulouse Olympique XIII.
A win for the Bulls would lift them into a group of four sides on eight points, but after making the short trip to Post Office Road they knew that they would need to pull out a top-drawer performance to beat Sean Long´s side and take the points.
The West Yorkshire derby, on a cold March Monday evening, had the potential to be a classic so long as both sides brought their A-game.
There was very little to choose between the two sides in the early exchanges but on eight minutes Riley Dean took a pass from Matty Wildie ten from the line, dropped his shoulder and came inside to avoid two tackles to score. Dean added the conversion, the home side underway.
On seventeen the Bulls opened their account as Tom Holmes chased down a Kieran Gill grubber kick to the corner to win the race and get his hand on the ball to ground. The conversion attempt fell short of the posts, the Bulls two points behind.
Three minutes later and the Bulls were in charge when Gill picked up a loose ball, a kick not dealt with by the Featherstone defence, ten from the line and rounded the Rovers defence to score in the left corner. Dec Patton hit the post with his conversion attempt.
On twenty-five the flat cappers struck back thanks to a long looping ball from Dean to Luke Briscoe, the centre making his 200th career appearance diving over in the corner. Dean was wide of the target with his kick, it was turning into the nail-biter which had been promised prior to kick-off.
On the half hour mark Elijah Taylor was hit late after passing the ball by George Roby, resulting in both sets of players running in to join the fracas. Roby had only been on the field for a few minutes and was now taking a ten-minute break after being yellow carded.
The extra man counted on thirty-five with John Ford putting in a long flat pass to Gareth Gale to walk in on the overlap down the left side for a simple try. Dean was again off target, Rovers with a 14-6 lead.
On the stroke of half time Patton attempted to kick a penalty goal for the Bulls from twenty metres out but again skewed his kick wide of the uprights.
Featherstone turned defence into attack on forty-seven thanks to a stunning intercept and break from Joey Leilua. Two tackles later John Davies took the pass ten metres out and pushed two defenders out of the way to go in. Dean added the goal, and the margin was now twelve points, an increasingly long way back for Bradford.
A great passage of play from the Bulls saw them in for their third try of the game thanks to Joe Arundel who found space down the right wing after Jordan Lilley had picked up a wayward pass and broken downfield. Patton was again wide with the kick leaving his side still eight adrift.
It was all over on seventy-five as Ford double-dummied before dropping the shoulder and spinning out of a last-ditch tackle to score from ten metres out. Dean was on target with the boot for a final score of 26-12.
This was no walk in the park for Featherstone in front of a crowd of four thousand as the Bulls gave them a good game and a run for their money. In the end it was poor discipline from Bradford which cost them the game, Rovers happy to take their chances when they came to secure the points and go two points clear at the top of the table.
Featherstone Rovers: Pickersgill, Briscoe (T), Leilua, Hardcastle, Gale (T), Ford (T), Dean (T, 3G), Lockwood, Wildie, Cozza, Day, Bussey, Taylor. Subs: Jones, Kopczak, Yei, Davies (T). 18th Man: .
Bradford Bulls: Holmes (T), Blackmore, Arundel (T), Gill (T), Tindall, Lilley, Patton, Rogers, Flanagan Snr, Baldwinson, Wallace, Thompson, Lawrence. Subs: Appo, Roby (SB on 30), Foster, Johnson. 18th Man: Lawford.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 6-4, 6-8, 10-8, (SB), 14-8 : HT : 18-8, 20-8, 20-12, 24-12, 26-12 : FT.
Lead Exchanges: Featherstone - Bradford – Featherstone.
Referee: James Vella.