Toronto Wolfpack produced one of the shocks of the season as they defeated the London Broncos 26-30 to reach the fifth round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.
The final score did not reflect the Pack’s domination as London’s three tries in the last eight minutes made the final score much closer than reality.
The Broncos were guilty of making far too many errors – indeed, against most of the other teams they could have faced at this stage, they might still have done enough to win – and Toronto were clinical in punishing them for their mistakes.
From the opening possession, Jarrod Sammut kicked a 40–20, but London lost the ball on the second tackle deep inside the Wolfpack 10.
Backed by a penalty, the Wolfpack moved downfield, with Jacob Emmett making a big run down the middle. Finishing off down the left side was Craig Hall, who burst through a poor tackle to score.
A Toronto error went unpunished as a wild pass might have been intercepted by Kieran Dixon, who would probably have gone 90 metres the other way.
It was a frustrating evening for Dixon as he dropped the ball four times, but, in his defence, each came from a pass which was no higher than ankle height, and a couple were behind him too.
On a dry day, Dixon would probably have gathered the ball more often than not, but when things aren’t going well, the little bit of luck needed didn’t go his way.
On this occasion, the ball bounced off the winger’s hands and fell to Liam Kay. He needed no second bidding to set off for the line and he touched down in the left corner. Hall failed to add the extras as the wind blew the ball wide.
But Toronto were quick to get the two points back with a penalty from 15 metres after the Broncos had been penalised in a tackle.
What might have been the decisive moment came at the end of Toronto’s next possession. Rhys Jacks drilled a low kick towards the London line.
The ball, too low to be affected by the wind, seemed to go through the in-goal area without being touched, but Elliot Kear got very close to it as he shepherded it to safety in front of Johnny Pownall.
However, between the touch-judge and the referee the decision was that there had been contact with a Broncos player and the award was a goal-line drop-out.
And, at the end of the set, former Bronco Jack Bussey burst over the line and the Wolfpack went into the sheds with a 12-point lead.
That advantage was halved three minutes after the restart as Will Barthau knifed his way through some weak tackling to touch down behind the posts.
However, two more Broncos errors gifted Toronto an insurmountable advantage. Five minutes later, London lost the ball near their own ball and, on the last tackle, Johnny Pownall touched down in the right corner.
In the 58th minute, Blake Wallace threw an errant pass which bounced into no-man’s land between two defenders and a pair of Toronto attackers. Fastest to react was Kay, who attacked the line with pace and as London’s defence dithered, he sent Jacks between the uprights.
With eight minutes remaining, with the rain making the ball very slippery, Toronto lost the ball 20 metres out and Sammut pounced to complete his double. He failed to add the extras.
Api Pewhairangi came close to reducing the arrears further in the 75th minute. He half-broke through the defence and got to within a metre of two of the try-line when he squirted out a low pass to the right wing.
With three tackles left in the set, it was a pass that didn’t need to be made and Dixon couldn’t gather the bouncing ball as it rolled towards the touch-line.
Three minutes from time, London did get another as Kear crossed and went behind the posts to make , Sammut’s conversion automatic.
The clock was stopped as Toronto’s players ambled slowly towards half-way. And, from the restart, London charged back downfield. The last pass was out to Dixon, who finally went over, but could not make the angle much easier for Sammut.
The Broncos might have been better not kicking the conversion, because was barely 70 second on the clock.
After Sammut’s miss, there was another desperately slow return to the half-way line – the clock should have been stopped quickly – and the hooter went before the restart, denying London the chance for one final set to rescue the match.
London coach Andrew Henderson said, “It’s a bitterly disappointing defeat to take tonight. At times we had some good patches of play but there weren’t enough of them.
“After the game last week, I challenged the players for a better performance and we didn’t get it. But we, as coaches, also to look at ourselves and we have been doing that.
“The damage was done in the first half. We made far too many mistakes.
“We are embarrassing ourselves in some situations, and it is a mental thing. Some of the players are a bit soft at the moment because they are not being challenged enough.
“We nearly had James Cunningham back, but he wasn’t quite ready. He and Andy Ackers were missed as were Eddie Battye and Tom Spencer, but we should have overcome that.
“I did think about not taking the kick after the last try, but my watch had about a minute more time than the game-clock.”
1. Elliot Kear, 2. Rhys Williams, 3. Ben Hellewell, 4. Adrian Purtell, 5. Keiran Dixon. 6. Jarrod Sammut, 7. Will Barthau, 17. Mark Offerdahl, 27. Ben Pointer, 10. Mark Ioane, 11. Daniel Harrison, 13. Jay Pitts, 23. Matt Gee
Interchange: 12. Matt Garside, 16. Junior Roqical, 18. Ben Evans, 19. Api Pewhairangi
Tries: Sammut (12, 72), Barthau (43), Kear (77), Dixon (79)
Goals: Sammut 3/5
1. Quentin Laulu Togagae. 2. Jonathan Pownall, 14. Gary Wheeler. 4. Craig Hall, 5. Liam Kay, 6. Blake Wallace, 7. Rhys Jacks, 21. Adam Sidlow, 9. Bob Beswick, 29. Jacob Emmitt 11. Andrew Dixon, 12. James Laithwaite, 13. Jack Bussey
Interchange: 10. Dan Fleming, 17. Richard Whiting, 19. Steve Crossley, 23. Toby Everett
Tries: Hall (3), Kay (8), Bussey (30), Pownall (48), Jacks (58)
Goals: Hall 5/6