The Cumbrian derby, tenth placed Whitehaven against a relegation threatened Barrow Raiders who were languishing in thirteenth spot in the table but who had their eyes on eleventh spot should they wrestle a crucial two points from their neighbours in this round twenty-two match.
It had been honours shared so far this season with Whitehaven winning the game in Barrow in April by 16-14 while Barrow took the points at the summer bash by 32-16.
There was plenty at stake for both sides, and indeed for Cumbrian rugby league.
The Raiders started like a house on fire, Jarrad Stack bulldozing his way over for a try with just two minutes on the clock. Ryan Shaw added the conversion for a tremendous 6-0 lead. The early signs were good for the visitors.
‘Haven were back in the game on nine minutes when Oscar Doran found space wide left to take the pass and walk in with a Barrow tackler attached to his ankle. The kick from Josh Rourke was wide of the mark, the home side back within two.
Fabulous fast hands from the Raiders found Andrew Bulman in space to take a miss-out pass from Luke Broadbent to go on at the corner. Shaw hit the far upright from the touchline, Barrow six points in the lead. The game was simmering, local rivalries stoking niggles across the park.
Whitehaven crashed the Barrow line on thirty-four when Conor Holliday took a Jake Carter pass to swap away one attempted tackle and drag a second tackler with him. Rourke missed the conversion again, the Marras back within two points.
A sensational run and pass from Jamie Doran throwing four dummies before a reverse flick pass into the hands of Jake Carter for the centre to go in behind the posts and give Rourke a simple kick to put his side into a 14-10 lead at the interval.
Whitehaven put their kick-off out on the full for a poor start to the second half. Barrow kicked the penalty to twenty and when Luke Cresswell lunged for the line it looked like the Raiders would regain the lead, but he dropped the ball over the line.
Six minutes after the restart and the sides were level, Tom Wilkinson spinning out of a tackle and crashing to the ground to squeeze the ball down on the line. Shaw was on target with the boot to take his side back into the lead.
A fifty-fourth minute Rourke penalty goal levelled the scores again, this time at 16-16, it was still too close to call.
Barrow weren’t going to give up the points easily. Good work from the forwards saw the Raiders close before Ben Evans spun over the line to score under the sticks. Shaw was on target with the conversion, Barrow with a six-point lead to build on with twenty minutes remaining.
The see-saw game continued as Whitehaven struck back once again on sixty-four, Ryan King spinning out of the tackle and grounding on the line with sheer determination. Shaw was on target for 22-22.
Ryan Johnston had a go at a drop goal with just over five minutes on the clock but despite him claiming it from the referee the official signalled that it had gone wide. The clock was ticking down towards full time.
Adam Jackson attempted a drop goal on seventy-nine but again the ball went just wide of the sticks and seconds before the final hooter Johnstone found space on the pocket to kick a drop goal from thirty metres out for 23-22 and a stunning and crucial win for the Raiders.
It was a massive two points for Barrow Raiders to lift them above the Keighley Cougars and Swinton Lions into eleventh place on points difference. A terrific win in the Cumbrian derby and nothing sweeter than taking the two points which gives them a massive foot up towards safety. Whitehaven had their chances to take the win but didn’t grasp them, all credit to Barrow.
Whitehaven: Rourke (3G), Eccleston, Taylor, Teare, Doran O. (T), Carter (T), Goran J., Castle, Newton, Ainley, Holliday (T), King (T), Graham. Subs: Aiye, Singleton, Hill, Spencer-Tonks. 18th Man: Holroyd.
Barrow Raiders: Broadbent, Shaw (3G), Carter, Toal, Bulman (T), Jackson, Johnston (DG), Burke, Wood, Worthington, Emslie, Stack (T), Wilkinson (T). Subs: Cresswell, Corkill, Evans (T), Billington. 18th Man: Saunders.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 4-6, 4-10, 8-10, 12-10, 14-10 : HT: 14-14, 14-16, 16-16, 16-20, 16-22, 20-22, 22-22, 22-23 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Barrow – Whitehaven – Square – Barrow – Square – Barrow – Square - Barrow.
Referee: Matt Rossleigh.