Rangers regain Halifax Cup

Brighouse Rangers Captain Scott Bradley lifts the Fee Cup
Brighouse Rangers Captain Scott Bradley lifts the Fee Cup

Revenge was sweet - and almost instant - as Brighouse Rangers won the Joseph Fee Memorial Halifax Challenge Cup for the second time in three years on Saturday.

Rangers ran out 26-22 victors over Illingworth at Old Brodleians, having lost 6-4 to the same opponents in the Pennine League’s Championship One title decider a week earlier.

The game confirmed that there is precious little between the sides and in a dramatic finale only the width of Illingworth full back Luke Sutcliffe’s boot prevented him from levelling the scores.

Brighouse looked home and dry when they led by 10 points playing down the Woodhead slope with six minutes left but Sutcliffe launched a one-man rescue mission which might well have forced extra time or even helped earn a victory for his side.

First he conjured up a try from nothing, which Kieran Nicholson converted, and then crossed again wide on the right but had put his foot on the side-line.

On the balance of play, Brighouse just deserved it. Teenage hooker Andrew Esmond had a storming game, ex-professional half-back Stuart Proctor fired some telling passes and their forwards edged the battle up front.

In near-perfect conditions, points looked as if they might be in short supply between the pair again.

It was 27 minutes before the scoreboard operator leapt into action but both sides might have had a try apiece by then.

Illingworth centre Scott Allen was hauled down by winger Karl Frankland just a couple of yards short after seven minutes and at the other end second row Chris Burns was held up over the line on 14 minutes.

When points did arrive, they went to Illingworth courtesy of a long-range raid. Andrew McElroy stripped the ball from an opponent 30 yards from his own posts and looked certain to make it to the other end until veteran full back Mark Horne intervened with a stunning last-ditch tackle. However, Kevin Smith bulldozed his way over from the play-the-ball and winger Kieron Nicholson added an excellent conversion.

Brighouse took only three minutes to draw level, stretching the Illingworth defence enough for skipper Scott Bradley to surge over from 10 yards out, Gary Proctor slotting the easy goal.

Luke Brown went close after Illingworth had regained possession from the kick off and although Nicholson knocked on near the corner flag, Illingworth soon bagged their second try.

It was a fine individual effort from centre Jack Bradbury, who weaved his way past a couple of defenders in a 25-yard run to score wide out.

Nicholson was unable to convert and Brighouse gained a crucial score in the closing seconds of the half, Esmond leaving three Illingworth tacklers on the turf as he went under the posts.

Gary Proctor converted and added another two points four minutes after the break when Stuart Proctor’s flat pass sent Scott Allen through, the centre breaking out of a tackle to plant the ball over the line.

Illingworth, now trailing 18-10, looked to have plenty on their plates but four sets of possession in a row led to a prolonged spell of pressure and centre Graham Dobson, after a good deal of deliberation, was ruled to have scored close to the posts. Nicholson’s kick reduced the gap to two points.

Brighouse again came up with an instant response. Stuart Proctor’s long pass enabled Bradley to feed Horne with an inside pass and the fullback did the rest.

The kick was missed and when stand off Jamie Barraclough was wide with a drop goal attempt for Brighouse the gap remained at six points.

Stuart Proctor’s vision and early pass to the flank paved the way for Gary Proctor to seemingly put the game to bed on 70 minutes.

Illingworth, in spite of a mounting penalty count in their favour, were making little headway until Sutcliffe chipped over the defence on half way, regathered and just made it to the try line with tacklers on his back.

The kick was added and Sutcliffe so nearly tied the scores, only for the touch judge’s flag to come to Brighouse’s rescue.

Brighouse: M.Horne, G.Proctor, S.Mead, R.Spurr, K.Frankland, J.Barraclough, S.Proctor, L.Robson, A.Esmond, A.Bottomley, S.Bradley, C.Burns, W.Jowett. Reps: A.Collins, R.Casanove, G.Pettifor, M.Dawson.

Illingworth: L.Sutcliffe, K.Nicholson, S.Allen, J.Bradbury, L.Manning, B.Harris, A.McElroy, R.Jepson, G.Dobson, L.Donlan, A.Ainley, K.Smith, B.Steele. Reps: L.Brown, A.Millns, T.McAdam, J.Crossland.

Referee: J.Whalley