Miners Rangers booked a third Conference Trophy finals appearance in four seasons but they were pushed all the way by an excellent Thornhill side. Whilst league standings can’t be taken at face value in cup competition, especially given that Thornhill graced the top flight of the NCL six years ago before resigning and then rejoining the league, this game was delicately poised with the Division Three side looking arguably the more likely to claim the win having battled back from 18-6 down at the break to level the scores with five minutes remaining. But a desperate late effort by Miners averted extra-time and the cup upset to secure an October date with Wath Brow Hornets at Widnes.
Miners welcomed captain Scott O’Brien and Shaun Dowie back from their respective holidays whilst Thornhill had experienced heads Scott Dyson and Anthony Broadhead playing but star fullback Joel Gibson unavailable with family commitments. With the Leigh – Hull KR game impacting on the regular home support, the coachload of Thornhill supporters turned a sweltering Twist Lane into a veritable Overthorpe Park, and they had plenty to shout about in the opening stages as the Trojans bossed play, Dyson, Luke Haigh and Liam Morley throwing the ball about superbly and a strong pack led by Jake Wilson consistently making hard yards. Miners were on the back foot, turning over possession cheaply when they got the ball, but they defended resolutely and the first try didn’t arrive until past the first quarter, Thornhill driving to the line and Haigh with quick thinking at acting half to dart over, Danny Ratcliffe goaling.
Miners tried to respond but big centres Brad Hargreaves and Connor Partington were both held short, or over the whitewash, before the levelling score came when O’Brien shaped to kick on the last but instead dummied and scurried through to put Dowie over at the posts, Jonny Youds goaling. That score saw the home side kick on and seemingly seize full control of the game with two more tries before the break, first when Jimmy Muir whipped the ball left where Hargreaves used the overlap to good effect, dummying his way over. Then O’Brien set Martin Gray charging through from ten metres out and put the home side well on top.
Thornhill regrouped after the break and soon had a way back into the game when a cut-out pass put winger Mindaugas Bendikas over at the flag, and although Miners had half-chances with Ellis Grimes and O’Brien breaks coming to naught, the game was right back in the balance after the hour as some tremendous passing put Wilson over by the posts, Ratcliffe with the goal. Sensing their moment Thornhill kicked on, and had Scott Green gathered a spilled bomb with the line gaping they would have regained the lead. Miners were living dangerously but with Darryl Kay, Tommy Parkinson and Dowie leading the scrambling defence they were just about hanging in until five minutes from time when Ratcliffe landed a penalty under the sticks to level matters. With extra time looming Dyson chanced his arm with a drop-goal attempt from inside his half but Miners marched downfield from the resultant set and although Youds saw his attempted one-pointer charged down the ball was regathered for Miners to enjoy another set of six on the Trojans’ line which ended when Partington scattered the defence to score the winning six-pointer.
Miners – Jonny Youds, Gareth Pain, Brad Hargreaves, Connor Partington, Andrew Groves, Jimmy Muir, Scott O’Brien, Chris Bower, Danny Jones, Darryl Kay, Tommy Parkinson, Mick O’Boyle, Ellis Grimes Subs – Shaun Dowie, Connor Ratcliffe, Martin Gray, Mark Nicholson
Tries – Dowie (29), Hargreaves (33), Gray (38), Partington (79)
Goals – Youds 4
MoM – Darryl Kay
Thornhill – Danny Ratcliffe, Mindaugas Bendikas, Ryan J Fenton, Tom Ripley, Adam Bird, Scott Dyson, Liam Morley, Lee Smith, Luke Haigh, Jake Wilson, Rob Kelly, Scott Green, Jake Ratcliffe Subs – Josh Clough, Anthony Harris, Ben Kendall, Anthony Broadhead
Tries – Haigh (25), Bendikas (45), Wilson (62)
Goals – D Ratcliffe 3
MoM – Jake Wilson
Referee – Steve Race