A place in the Championship for 2023 was up for grabs as Doncaster travelled to Heywood Road insouth Manchester to take on a Swinton Lions side who were looking to bounce back at the first time of asking and join the Keighley Cougars in next season’s second tier.
Swinton won comfortably in the play off semi-finals a fortnight ago when they ran out as 32-12 winners with both sides having won a game each in the regular season games, Doncaster by 26-12 at Swinton and Swinton by 64-22 in a high scoring round three encounter at the Eco-Power Stadium.
The Lions were big favourites for the win and promotion, but Doncaster came into the game on the back of a big win against the Rochdale Hornets last weekend and full of hope that they would be the ones celebrating at the end of eighty minutes.
Benefitting from an early penalty for a ball steal, Doncaster elected to run the ball and as fast hands moved it to the left Jason Tali dipped his shoulder and forced the ball to the ground by the corner flag. Connor Robinson was short of the sticks with his conversion attempt.
With the momentum shifting, Swinton struck back on twenty minutes Jordan Case taking a short pass from Nick Gregson to go in under the crossbar after good Swinton pressure. Dan Abram added a simple conversion to take the home side into a 6-4 lead.
A high tackle from Swinton on thirty-five gave Robinson the chance to level the scores and he obliged from ten metres out and fifteen to the right of the uprights. Doncaster had absorbed the pressure and thanks to some ill-discipline from the Lions, had fought back to all square at the interval.
Matty Wilkinson went close within the opening couple of minutes of the second half, held out by strong Doncaster defence. Swinton´s frustration again manifested itself as ill-discipline, gifting field position to Doncaster.
On fifty-one Doncaster were back in the lead when winger Tom Halliday somehow managed to take a low bounce pass one handed and dive over the line in the corner. It looked far from a clear cut try but the referee pointed at the spot. Robinson was unable to convert from wide, the visitors 10-6 ahead.
With the clock showing sixty-six, Nick Gregson threw the dummy and went through the Doncaster line before finding Mitch Cox on his shoulder to go in by the uprights. Abram added the conversion and Swinton were back in the box seat with just over twelve minutes remaining.
On the final hooter Jack Hansen stripped the ball in a one man tackle and as the Doncaster players protested the steal the Swinton scrum half weaved his way through the defence to score from thirty metres. Abram was unable to convert and the final whistle sounded.
This was a highly competitive game between two sides who clearly desired the remaining promotion spot. It was impossible to pick a winner until the final try, and despite being underdogs, Doncaster gave a great account of themselves and will count themselves as unfortunate to have lost the game. It´s Swinton who make it back into the Championship at the first time of asking and they will now need to recruit and stabilise to maintain their status in the second flight.
Swinton Lions: Abram (2G), Butt, Roberts, Hatton J, Lepori, Gregson, Hansen (T), Brogan, Wilkinson, Case (T). Lloyd, Cox (T), Charnock. Subs: Holroyd, Hope, Spencer, Hatton L.
Doncaster: Tualapapa, Halliday (T), Storey, Tali (T), Corion, Johnston, Robinson (G), Holdstock, Burns, Wilkinson, Smeaton, Ruan, McConnell. Subs: Boas, Fella, Foster, Petersen.
Score Progression: 0-4, 4-4, 6-4, 6-6 : HT : 6-10, 10-01, 12-10, 16-10: FT.
Lead Exchanges: Doncaster – Swinton – Square - Doncaster – Square - Swinton.
Referee: James Vella.