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MATCH REPORT: Catalans comeback downs youthful Rovers

Snapshot: The Robins make 11 changes and trail 8-nil at the break. Tries from Will Oakes, Ben Cockayne and George Lawler help Rovers into a 19-8 lead. Two late scores see the Dragons steal a win.

A fantastic effort by a much-changed Rovers side saw them fall to an agonising late defeat at the hands of Catalans.

Tim Sheens rang the changes for Rovers’ final home game of the 2017 season, with Ben Cockayne returning to the side as skipper for his last outing at KCOM Craven Park. Graeme Horne also made his final appearance on home turf in the back-row, while Zach Dockar-Clay, Rob Mulhern, Mitch Clark, Chris Atkin and Liam Salter were also among the players to return to the side.

After a tight opening eight minutes, the visitors earned the first attacking position of the night through a high kick by Luke Walsh which had to be booted dead by Atkin. Krisnan Inu went close in the resulting set, but with Cockayne caught up at the ruck, Walsh exploited the space with a smart chip for Richie Myler to score.

Walsh added the conversion himself, but the Red and Whites set about creating a swift response after good defence by Horne forced Julian Bousquet to fumble on halfway. A smart grubber from Matty Marsh forced a drop-out to keep the pressure on the Dragons’ defence, and an early kick-through in the next set almost put Will Oakes over. However Lewis Tierney just about managed to beat the young winger to the ball to save the visitors.

The much-changed Rovers side looked comfortable going set-for-set with their Super League opponents, and when a 40-metre penalty goal from Walsh hit the post, Oakes returned it with interest. The winger carried the ball from his try line to just short of halfway, beating a trio of Catalans defenders en-route, to give the Red and Whites an easy path out of danger and set up a spell of attacking pressure.

Consecutive penalties and a drop-out allowed the Robins to keep the Dragons’ defence under the cosh, but when Cockayne spilled a smart inside ball from Atkin, the French side escaped and extended their lead through a Walsh penalty.

Despite their experience and quality, Rovers were keeping Catalans under control, and when the visitors did create an opportunity for points, some outstanding scramble-defence from Oakes, Jordan Abdull and Atkin denied Vincent Duport at the corner. The winger was held up short of the line, and forced into touch, sending the sides into the break separated by just eight points.

Half-Time: Hull Kingston Rovers 0       Catalans Dragons 8

The Red and Whites had given a good account of themselves in the opening 40 minutes, and they began the second period with their tails up and almost opened up the Dragons’ defence five minutes after the restart.

Atkin’s dummy and half-break won a penalty for interference by Justin Horo, setting up the position for Dockar-Clay to go close from dummy-half. The ball was quickly moved wide to the right where Marsh threaded a grubber to the in-goal area, and Horne just failed to get the touchdown before the ball trickled dead.

It appeared that there were points coming for the Robins if they could maintain their composure, and the packed KCOM Craven Park didn’t have to wait long for their side to get their rewards.

Three minutes later a towering bomb from Marsh was palmed back by Cockayne, and Atkin showed great awareness to snap up possession before flicking a lovely cut-out ball behind his back to send Oakes scampering in out wide.

Dockar-Clay converted, and the Red and Whites soon snatched the lead after a beautiful chip early in the tackle count from Atkin caught Tierney out of position and Cockayne raced between two Catalans players to collect the ball and score.

Dockar-Clay again added the extras to give the Robins a well-deserved lead, but the Dragons were soon pressing for a response themselves. Walsh’s bomb was allowed to bounce over the sideline ten metres from Rovers’ line though, and from the scrum, the Red and Whites went straight back onto the attack.

A smart short-side play from the scrum base saw Dockar-Clay carve through the French side’s defence, making 65 metres down the left flank before an Atkin bomb forced Iain Thornley to knock-on on his own line. The Robins continued to press for points, and were rewarded when the outstanding George Lawler burrowed over from dummy-half.

Atkin converted to increase Rovers’ lead to ten points, but a Cockayne error from the restart handed the Dragons a chance to hit back immediately. The Robins had other ideas though, and good defence from Salter saw Brayden Williame sling a wild offload over the sideline, before Inu fumbled with the line begging after Jordan Abdull had lost a Walsh bomb.

Having soaked up that spell of Catalans pressure, the Red and Whites wasted little time in landing a sucker punch as Chris Clarkson’s break laid the platform for Atkin to calmly slot over a drop-goal and increase his side’s advantage heading into the final ten minutes.

With their Super League lives on the line, the Dragons needed a big finish from their experienced players, and although a posse of Rovers defenders unceremoniously dumped Thornley over the touchline soon after, the ex-Robin was on-hand to cross nine minutes from the end to keep the visitors alive.

Walsh guided over a key touchline conversion to bring Catalans back within striking distance of the Robins, and four minutes from the end, as the Red and Whites tired, Williame sneaked over from close range.

Walsh made no mistake with the conversion, but even with time running out and nothing riding on the game, Rovers refused to give up.

A perfectly-executed short restart allowed James Greenwood to recover possession, and after the back-rower’s quick play-the-ball was disrupted by a tackler laid in the ruck, Atkin lined up a 30-metre penalty goal from wide out. The young half-back hit the ball well, but it faded agonisingly wide of the mark.

That looked to be Rovers’ last chance gone begging but from the 20-metre drop-out, they quickly set up the position for a long-range drop-goal attempt. Once again the ball sailed despairingly the wrong side of the upright though, and the Red and Whites finished valiant runners-up.

Full-Time: Hull Kingston Rovers 19       Catalans Dragons 20

Hull KR: 2. Ben Cockayne; 32. Kieren Moss, 4. Liam Salter, 16. Jordan Abdull, 27. Will Oakes; 20. Matty Marsh, 38. Chris Atkin; 33. Ben Kavanagh, 19. George Lawler, 21. Rob Mulhern; 14. Graeme Horne, 12. James Greenwood, 10. Chris Clarkson.

Replacements: 30. Joe Cator, 26. Kieran Moran, 17. Mitch Clark, 18. Zach Dockar-Clay.

Catalans: 33. Lewis Tierney; 18. Vincent Duport, 3. Krisnan Inu, 4. Brayden Williame, 21. Iain Thornley; 6. Luke Walsh, 7. Richie Myler; 8. Sam Moa, 9. Paul Aiton, 14. Julian Bousquet; 11. Louis Anderson, 12. Justin Horo, 15. Benjamin Garcia.

Replacements: 17. Jason Baitieri, 22. Lucas Albert, 25. Thibaut Margalet, 32. Romain Navarrete.

Referee: Robert Hicks            Attendance: 7,405

Photo: MATCH REPORT: Catalans comeback downs youthful Rovers