KEIGHLEY Cougars season came to a devastating end as they were defeated at the death by Doncaster in the preliminary final.

Just a week removed from an agonising golden point defeat to Workington, a Liam Johnson try and Jake Sweeting conversion after the sound of the final hooter saw the visitors break Keighley hearts and seal a place in the promotion final.

The Cougars started the game brightly and nearly opened the scoring through Con Mika, but the back rower was held-up.

The home side would find the first points on the afternoon though as on the last tackle, Scott Murrell put a well weighted grubber kick in behind the line and Jack Miller raced through to pounce before adding the extras himself.

Continuing on the front foot throughout the game’s early stages, they extended their lead through Phoenix Laulu-Togaga’e as the League One Young Player of the Year weaved his way through the Doncaster defence to get himself over.

The Dons though grew into the game and came right back into the arm wrestle with two quickfire tries to level the scoreboard.

Alex Holdstock would register the visitors first points after he buried over beneath the crossbar on the back of consecutive penalties.

The Cougars then nearly restored their two-score advantage almost immediately as Alix Stephenson nearly turned his way over to touch down in the corner, but Sam Smeaton made a last-ditch tackle to force a turnover.

Doncaster then went the length of the field from the play the ball and Matty Beharrell managed to fight his way over before converting to bring the sides back to equal terms.

Keighley though would take the lead into the half-time interval through the boot of Miller.

After Mika made a massive tackle to deny Ross Whitmore a certain four pointer, the home side broke the line with Josh Lynam receiving a swinging arm for his troubles, the Cougars bench did not hesitate to send the tee out and allow the conversion.

As the second half began, you could feel the nerves and tension reverberate around the ground.

Some of those nerves though were quickly eased when after the touch judge ruled a Doncaster man had spilt the ball, Keighley pressured the line and forced their way over through Murrell.

The visitors though kept coming at their hosts and Sweeting was held up over the line after skipping through to nearly touch down.

Charlie Graham then created breathing space between the two sides as he intercepted a loose pass over the top and avoided the interests of Tom Halliday to race 80 metres and send the home faithful into raptures.

Doncaster got back into the game once more, a Misi Taulapapa grubber bounced around and eventually fell into the arms of Johnson who walked through the open space to dive over under the sticks.

The visitors had two opportunities to close the gap to two points, but Halliday dropped the ball under pressure from Graham before Ben Johnston saw his try disallowed for double movement after he evaded the interest of James Feather.

And the grandstand finish was well and truly on as Jason Tali went through the gaps left in a scrambling defensive line after Sweeting broke 60 metres on the back of his own kick.

Then on the back of the penalty, the hooter sounded, and Doncaster kept the ball alive allowing Johnson to score in the corner to secure the win before the boot of Sweeting won the game.

The scenes of the visitor’s jubilation was countered with the scenes of heartbreak amongst the home players and supporters.

Match Report by Joshua Chapman
Match Photography by Jonny Tomes-Green

By Joshua Chapman