On a bright sunny day, a large following came to Widnes for what promised to be a cracking game, Widnes runners up in the ADM league versus Dale runners up in the National league 7. Dale welcomed back Josh Schofield from injury and brought in Tom Mills and Eddie Shanks in the 2nd row with an experienced bench Dale looked to have a strong line up.
A good start saw Chris Hodgkinson take the kick off and supported by Jake Castree move into the Widnes 22, a grubber kick from Danny Joesbury found touch 10 metres out and with the Widnes line out disrupted by Eddie Shanks, the ball came back to Keelan Bradley whose high cross field kick for winger Blair ‘Bomber’ Henry was fumbled on the line.
Dale were soon back on the attack with slick passing and pace that Widnes could not match and so with only 5 minutes on the clock it was Ollie Coldman who broke the line and ended a nice passing move with a try by the posts Bradley converted 7-0. Even when Widnes won a line out on half way the Dale jumpers Hodgkinson and young Tom Mills having a great start won the ball and the Dale surge continued Widnes response was always high deep kicks which the Dale defence dealt with one such punt was taken deep in his own half by Josh Schofield coming back after a 2 month lay off ,his jinking run was stopped on the 22 but a free kick for a high tackle saw the first of the days yellow cards against the home sides winger. The kick went in the corner but at this stage Dale hooker Kyle Parry was forced to withdraw with a damaged Hamstring on came Ross Hartley in an unusual role for him, he was soon in the action with a strong break through the midfield and nice inside pass to Eddie Shanks who broke two tackles until the ball went forward in the ruck.
A sliced clearance by the Widnes full back saw Dale with a scrum on the 5 metre line with their new Hooker in place Dale won the scrum and Danny Joesbury took the ball from the base to crash over for a fine try converted by Bradley 14-0. Dale had some defending to do and yet another penalty took Widnes into the visitors 22 again the line was won by Mills and a deep kick was again returned but well taken by winger Ieuan Bissell who ran out of pitch as he neared the Widnes 22 the same high clearance kick was taken by Schofield who beat two men and launched his own kick towards the home sides line the full back being forced to touch down behind his own line with Schofield bearing down on him. The ball was taken by Hodgkinson who made good yards down the left wing before being upended on the Widnes 10 metre line a break in play as a possible head injury to the Dale no 8 was dealt with on resumption a good passing move with Brad Fox being the last receiver was stopped illegally by the home defence and a penalty right in front of the posts presented no problem for Bradley 17-0 with 30 minutes gone Dale were coasting despite losing their Hooker the speed and aggressiveness at the breakdowns had Widnes reeling. Penalties were the order of the day and despite being on the worst end of most of the ref’s decisions Dale handled all Widnes best efforts and when the ball found a recovered Chris Hodgkinson on the wing after a fine passing move he crashed over in the corner for a rare try the conversion went wide 22-0. Half time.
The next 40 minutes went from bad to worse as a scrum on the Dale 22 saw stand-in hooker Hartley yellow carded for some reason best known to the Ref … minutes later Widnes got their 1st try which was converted 22-7.
Minutes later it was the ever battling 2nd row Shanks seeing yellow for not retiring Dale were down to 13 men. Despite every thing Dale kept on attacking and splitting the home defence with runs by Coldman, Bissell and Gillan and from their own 22 a great inter passing move saw Scofield and Bissell out pace their opposite numbers ending with a wonderful chip across from Schofield which found his winger Henry racing in to take the catch under the posts for the try of the game Bradley converted 29-7. Surely this would be enough to see Dale through to the final but in a crazy last 20 minutes the cards and some good attacking play by Widnes saw the tables turned .With Dale restored to 14 men Widnes won a scrum on half way and got the ball wide to expose the visitors defence and see their winger go in for a nice try the kick was missed 29-12. Dale got a rare free kick on half way and were unlucky to see a clever kick by Pat Gillan just fail to reach Schofield closing in on the Widnes full back.
Manager Danny Collins now rang the changes Andy Redfern and Harry Hayes replacing Jake Castree and Chris Hodgkinson who had both had great games. Within minutes the home side were gifted a try when a loose pass in the midfield was taken by their centre who cruised in for a try under the posts 29-19. It still seemed unlikely that Dale could throw away the match at this late stage but with 10 minutes left a third yellow card this time for Harry Hayes who had been on for all of 5 minutes led to a penalty on the Dale 5 metre line and just as before the 14 men were exposed this time on the right wing for another winger to score the difficult kick from the touch of course sailed over 29-26 with 5 minutes to go. A deep kick was taken well by replacement winger Matt Buckley but he was bundled into touch on half way, the line out was virtually unopposed with the Dale jumpers off the pitch, the Widnes forwards were now for the first time taking charge and a scrum on the Dale 22 Captain for the day Harry Hill was yellow carded for obstruction down to 13 again Dale failed to see a blind side play form the resulting scrum and Widnes ran in their 5th try which was converted to see the final score 33-29.
The second half penalty count according to some onlookers was 19-5 to the home side with 5 yellow cards against Dale players, however well done to Widnes who looked out of it at half time. Good luck to them in the final against Preston Grasshoppers. After such a great season Dale can be proud of this performance and look forward to another campaign next year.