York City Knights came close to Wembley glory today, but it was Featherstone who took the glory.
Winger Jacob Doyle scored two tries on only his second appearance for Featherstone to help them to a 41-34 victory over the Knights in a hard-fought 1895 Cup final at the national stadium.
The match was only given the go-ahead three hours before the noon kick-off after Covid-19 scares in both camps but it provided a wonderful appetiser for the Challenge Cup final between Castleford and St Helens which followed.
Doyle received a late call-up due to a host of positive Covid cases and made the most of his opportunity with a try in each half as Rovers justified their pre-match favouritism, running in seven tries to become the second winners of the knockout competition for non-Super League teams.
The Covid infection meant Rovers coach James Webster was among the absentees as his assistant Paul March, a former York player, led the team onto the pitch in blazing sunshine, complete with the traditional flat cap.
Featherstone were indebted to the experience of full-back Craig Hall, who was named man of the match after scoring a try and six goals, and scrum-half Dane Chisholm, whose influence was obvious from the opening moments.
His third-minute 40-20 gave his side the momentum and another clever kick almost brought a try to Doyle before he dummied his way over for the opening score after six minutes.
Half-back Mikey Lewis, who re-joined York on loan from Hull KR in the week, was equally influential for the Knights and it was from his lofted kick that former Leeds winger Ben Jones-Bishop scored their first try.
When York winger Perry Whiteley was blinded by the sun attempting to take another Chisholm kick, Rovers punished the handling error as prop Craig Kopczak spun out of the tackle of his ex-Wakefield team-mate Danny Kirmond to score their second try.
York substitute Marcus Stock bulldozed his way over for a solo try in the 26th minute but Featherstone struck twice in the last seven minutes of the first half, makeshift centre John Davies putting Doyle and Fa’amanu Brown over for tries that saw them lead 22-10 at the break.
Rovers fans might have sensed a runaway win at that stage but York had other ideas as they hit back with two tries in four minutes to draw level.
Replacement hooker Kriss Brining looked to have lost control of the ball as he forced his way to the line but referee Robert Hicks, without access to a video referee, awarded the try while centre Jason Bass pounced on a fumble by Hall to grab an opportunist score.
Kieran Dixon’s goals levelled it at 22-22 but Hall restored his side’s lead with a penalty and converted quickfire tries from Doyle and second rower James Harrison to make it 36-22.
Hall then sliced through for a classic try but the Knights produced a late rally that earned them tries through Lewis and Whiteley, with Dixon taking his goal tally to four on the 200th appearance of his career.