London Broncos were far from their fluent best, but they were still too strong for a Rochdale Hornets team which ruined its own chances by conceding far too many penalties, to defeat the visitors 28-8 at Trailfinders.
This was a sloppy, error-strewn affair, constantly bubbling either just below or above the surface with nastiness.
Before the kick-off London suffered a blow as Matt Garside pulled up injured, and it meant skipper Daniel Harrison stepped up off the interchange bench and Sadiq Adebiyi was called in to complete the 17.
The Broncos should have taken the lead in the third minute when Api Pewhairangi tried to lunge for the try-line, but managed to lose the ball.
When Rochdale finally saw some good possession, the wily Jono Smith caused problems with his clever passing and the livewire Lewis Palfrey probed and prompted from the halves.
The opening try in the 12th minute was a very simple affair. Rochdale moved the ball at pace along the line to the left corner. With Miles Greenwood chiming into the attacking line, it gave Hornets a man advantage and Rob Massam touched down in the corner.
The strength of the wind was obvious from Palfrey’s conversion attempt because the ball barely got within five metres of the posts before being blown towards the far touchline.
Gary Middlehurst might have increased the Rochdale advantage when he tried to go over, but he, like Pewhairangi earlier, lost the ball close to the whitewash.
It delayed the inevitable for only a few minutes as, just before the half-hour mark, Massam showed great strength in grounding the ball between a phalanx of tacklers.
The Broncos certainly had two reasons to be disappointed with the try not only because the play before the try saw a pass that went at least two metres forward – neither touch judge made a decision – but also there was some doubt as to whether Massam actually grounded the ball.
More London mistakes led to an increase in frustration and there was a level of desperation that was not needed with only eight points between the teams.
That all changed in the 33rd minute when a massive Will Barthau bomb was muffed by Greenwood and Pewhairangi picked up the loose ball before touching down behind the sticks.
Two minutes before half-time, Elliot Kear and Middlehurst were sin-binned after an altercation following an apparent late hit on the Broncos’ centre.
Electing to run the penalty, the Broncos made a hash of the play-the-ball two metres from the Rochdale line and it meant the two teams went into the sheds with the Hornets hanging on to a two-point advantage.
What should be noted was that a number of Rochdale players looked to be close to exhaustion.
Nonetheless, eight minutes after the resumption, they should have extended their advantage to four points but Palfrey missed a penalty 35 metres out directly in front of the posts – awarded against James Cunningham, who appeared have been grabbed by the arm but was penalised for not releasing.
The arrival of replacement Jarrod Sammut after 57 minutes had a galvanising effect on the Broncos, and there was much greater urgency and direction in London’s attacking moves.
It took until the 62nd minute for the Broncos to take the lead for the time in the match. On a last-tackle play, Barthau broke towards the Rochdale 10-metre line, drew in two tacklers and sent Daniel Harrison over.
Keiran Dixon was unlucky with conversion – the wind got up as he took his conversion from 20 metres out, and he watched his kick blown back 15 metres.
It was not all one-way traffic towards the Hornets line and Rochdale nearly regained the lead when Lewis Galbraith made a break, but a brilliant tackle from Cunningham caused him to knock on with Massam at his shoulder sniffing a hat-trick.
That said, Rochdale’s energy levels were down to almost nil, and their only hopes going forward were from individual breaks.
With 10 minutes remaining, London stretched their lead to eight points, crucially two scores. It was the danger-man Sammut, who danced past Jake Eccleston, wrong-footed Greenwood and trotted behind the posts.
He took over the kicking duties and made no mistake. Rochdale’s restart was perfectly weighted and they took possession inside London’s 30.
Three tacklers later, Eccleston and Chris Riley combined to lose the ball less than 10 metres from the London line. It was the Hornets’ last hurrah.
Rochdale, guilty of a succession of high tackles were made to pay when Jo Taira was sin-binned for another one, with seven minutes to go.
The 12 men were broken twice in the final five minutes as the Broncos pulled away. In the 76th minute, Adrian Purtell caught a clever Sammut chip and touched down despite the attentions of Galbraith.
Then, from the restart, Barthau, Sammut and Kear combined to send Jay Pitts over. Sammut completed his excellent short afternoon’s work with a third conversion and a personal tally of 10 points.
London coach Andrew Henderson said, “We are making really hard work of things and there was a threat of it again today.
“Rochdale put us under severe pressure in the first half, and their defending was very strong throughout.
“But I am very pleased with the way that we finished the game. It was a very big week for us and we have had to confront some major challenges.
“The desperation plays of the first half showed just how fragile our confidence has been. Completing nine of our final ten sets was a great way to end the game and we can really build on it.”
24. Alex Walker, 2. Rhys Williams, 1. Elliot Kear, 4. Adrian Purtell, 5. Kieran Dixon, 19. Api Pewhairangi, 7. Will Barthau, 17. Mark Offerdahl, 9. James Cunningham, 10. Mark Ioane, 11. Daniel Harrison, 13. Jay Pitts, 23. Matt Gee
Replacements: 6. Jarrod Sammut, 16. Junior Roqica, 18. Ben Evans, 28. Sadiq Adebiyi
Tries: Pewhairangi (33), Harrison (62), Sammut (70), Purtell (76), Pitts (78)
Goals: Dixon 1/2, Sammut 3/3
1 Miles Greenwood, 2. Chris Riley, 3. Jake Eccleston, 4. Lewis Galbraith, 5. Rob Massam, 6. Lewis Palfrey, 7. Danny Yates, 16. Matty Hadden, 9. Ben Moores, 10. Gavin Bennion, 11. Jono Smith, 12. Josh Crowley, 13. Gary Middlehurst
Replacements: 8. Samir Tahroui, 14. Ryan Maneely, 15. Jo Taira, 19. Jordan Case
Tries: Massam (12, 29)
Goals: Palfrey 0/3
Written by David Ballheimer