The second Saturday in September promised to be a defining one in the season of our sides fighting for places and promotion in the Qualifying eights. While Warrington were hosting Leigh with a change to practically guarantee Super League rugby in 2018, Hull KR and the Widnes Vikings were meeting at the KCOM Craven Park with each looking to get the upper hand in their struggle for a top three place.
A win for Hull KR would maintain their unbeaten run and depending on the outcome at the Halliwell-Jones could guarantee promotion to Super League but a win for the visitors would lift them above KR into second spot in the table and leave both clubs needing more points.
Both sides were without a number of key first teamers and the stakes couldnít have been higher as careers and club futures were on the line.
After a chess-like opening eleven minutes, with neither side willing to be expansive enough to make a critical error, KR were given a penalty for a high tackle and Jamie Elllis kicked the penalty goal for the opening score of the afternoon.
The sides exchanged several penalties before Hep Cahill grabbed the Vikings first points of the afternoon on twenty-one when a kick through was passed back to Chris Houston who found the loose forward in support on his shoulder to go in from three metres. Lloyd White added the extras for a 6-2 lead.
Sean Lunt went close on thirty-seven but spilled the ball under the pressure of the tackle a few centimetres from the try line. Two minutes later Thomas Minns took a sensational Mose Masoe offload to take two steps over the line and improve the angle for Ellis to kick the conversion and give the home side a two point advantage going into the interval.
The low scoring first half emphasised the importance of the game to both sides, the second was likely to be as nail bitingly nervy.
KRís Ellis missed a very kickable penalty kick from thirty metres on fifty-five minutes as the teams continued their near stalemate.
Ten minutes from time Ryan Shaw picked up a wayward pass on his own twenty metre line and went eighty for a superb solo try to crush Widnes dreams. Ellis again missed the conversion leaving his side with a 12-6 lead and nine minutes to hold on to it.
Widnes applied all of the pressure in the closing minutes but the KR defence held strong to take the crucial two points and confirm their return to Super League in 2018. Widnes looked shell-shocked on the final hooter and will now have to pick themselves up for games against London Broncos and the Catalans Dragons to try and secure that last automatic promotion place.
KR: Quinlan, Shaw (T), Minns (T), Heffernan, Moss, Abdull, Ellis (2G), Scruton, Lawler, Jewitt, Addy, Clarkson, Kavanagh. Subs: Lunt, Greenwood, Blair, Masoe.
Vikings: Thompson, Marsh, Dean, Runciman, Ince, Mellor, Craven, Buchanan, White (G), Dudson, Houston, Whitley, Cahill (T). Subs: Gerrard, Manuokafoa, Olbison, Walker.
Referee: Gareth Hewer.
Over at the Halliwell-Jones Stadium it was a highly competitive first half which Warrington took by just two points. Clare had given Leigh an early lead but Russell and Greenwood both grabbed four pointers for the Wolves to put them 10-6 ahead. Hood and Maria both scored tries in a four minute period leading up to the twentieth minute to put the Centurions back ahead by 18-10 before a Gidley converted try narrowed the margin to two points. Brown scored on the stroke of half-time to send his side into the interval just ahead.
Vea grabbed a converted try on forty-six but Warrington struck back and drew level on fifty-seven when the departing Hiku went over for a try for 24-24. It was see-saw rugby and Leigh were back in the lead on fifty-nine with a Burr converted try. The lead lasted six minutes before Hill got a converted try for the Wolves to level the scores and two minutes later a Livett penalty goal edged the home side into a two point lead which they managed to hold until the final hooter to guarantee their return to Super League rugby in 2018.