Jarrod Sammut’s late drop goal gave London Broncos a dramatic 21-20 victory at Widnes Vikings in the opening game of the Qualifiers.
After a low-scoring first half, the second period saw the game swing from side-to-side as the Broncos turned a ten-point deficit into a six-point lead, but they were pegged back and needed a one-pointer in the final moments to seal the win.
London started well enough but struggled to really test the Widnes line, and the hardest the home defence had to work was when four men were required to hold up Alex Walker over the line.
The Vikings might have been in when Matt Whitley found Charly Runciman and the winger looked to dive spectacularly into the corner, but the video referee ruled out the try for an obstruction before getting to the grounding.
Both sides were struggling to put themselves in good position, but eventually Widnes started to turn the screw. They forced a drop out when Rhys Williams kicked Patrick Ah Van grubber behind, but Liam Finn was held out before an obstruction let London off.
A couple of minutes later they won another repeat set as Chris Dean forced Kieran Dixon into his in goal after Joe Mellor’s kick, and this time they took advantage. Despite taking more than half an hour the breakthrough was quite simple in the end, as Aaron Heremaia’s short ball sent Olly Ashall-Bott through a gap for the try, converted by Krisnan Inu for a 6-0 half-time lead.
London will have wanted a quick response in the second half and that’s exactly what they got. Rhys Williams ran the ball left, passing to Mark Ioane who knocked away one tackle and forced his way to the line. What should have been a simple conversion for Jarrod Sammut crashed off the near post though, keeping the Broncos behind.
They got nothing more from that promising spell and Widnes got the next points, as a penalty was given away for not releasing 10m from the line and Inu kicked for goal to extend the lead to four points.
It didn’t take long for that to then become ten, and it came just as softly as the Vikings’ first score as Mellor played a short ball into Dean running a good line to stride straight through the defence. Inu’s conversion put the lead at ten but London didn’t give up.
The comeback began with Daniel Harrison’s try, which came from Eddie Battye’s smart pass allowing Api Pewhairangi to slip the second rower through.
Three minutes later the scores were level, and it came from a high kick which caused chaos. Widnes knocked on to restart the tackle count, and London moved the ball quickly to the right side to send Dixon diving into the corner.
Momentum was with the Broncos but the try that put them ahead came from a Widnes attack. Finn attempted an ambitious pass across the line and Dixon intercepted, running the full 70m to the try line for his second score in five minutes.
They almost let it slip with five minutes to go, as Widnes levelled as Krisnan Inu managed to just about ground the ball on the line despite the best attempts of Elliot Kear to keep him out.
That set the stage for Sammut to be the match winner, as he made up for his earlier howler from the tee with a brilliant drop goal from 30m out.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
Sammut gives Broncos quality
London showed that they could compete toe-to-toe with a Super League side in the early stages, but they lacked the quality to finish their sets well and create try-scoring chances until influential half-back Jarrod Sammut came on towards the end of the first half.
He brought a more dangerous dimension to the Broncos’ attack and with ball in hand he gave Widnes far more to think about close to their line.
His howler from the tee could have cost them the win, but he managed to slot over the drop goal, after the first choice Pewhairangi had to abort his effort under pressure, to give his side the two points that put them in a great position to challenge in this competition.
Widnes on the brink
It’s still early in the Qualifiers but defeat at home to the Championship’s second-placed side suggests that making the top five, never mind the top three, will be a tall order now for the Vikings.
Their forwards were outplayed for much of the game and although the defence stood up strong in the first half, they looked more tired in the second half and had little answer when London built some momentum.
Of course there were only fractions between victory and defeat, but there was little to be positive about for them and having lost 17 league games in a row, a lot will have to change very, very quickly to have any chance of keeping hold of their Super League status.
Man of the Match – Eddie Battye (London Broncos)
The London prop was a massive ball carrier all night and gave the Widnes forwards all sorts of problems, running quickly and directly to keep the hosts under pressure.
Widnes Vikings 20
Tries: Ashall-Bott, Dean, Inu
Goals: Inu (4)
Drop Goals: n/a
London Broncos 21
Tries: Ioane, Harrison, Dixon (2)
Goals: Sammut (2)
Drop Goals: Sammut
Widnes: Ashall-Bott; Ah Van, Inu, Whitley, Runciman; Mellor, Finn; Houston, Heremaia, Dudson; Dean, Hansen, Hauraki.
Interchanges: Olbison, Leuluai, D Walker, Gubb.
London: Walker; Dixon, Hellewell, Kear, Williams; Pewhairangi, Cunningham; Battye, Pelissier, Evans; Pitts, Hindmarsh, Davis.
Interchanges: Sammut, Spencer, Ioane, Harrison.
Referee: Liam Moore