Whitehaven's Jessie Joe Parker looks for a way through
Whitehaven 32 Barrow Raiders 6: Whitehaven produced an outstanding performance to blitz county rivals Barrow and finish second in the League One table.
It means they will host Barrow again in the Eights which start in a fortnight, and stayed on course for a quick return to the Championship.
Player-coach Carl Forster made a big call to use Dion Aiye at stand-off, partnering Paul Crook, with Steve Roper starting on the bench.
It proved a master stroke as Aiye was a key figure throughout and scored the crucial try in the second half which extended Haven’s lead to 20-6.
But there were heroes all around the pitch for Haven with skipper Scott McAvoy outstanding and, not far behind was Glenn Riley, bursting back into the team after an injury lay-off.
Barrow almost made a sensational start with a great break from Oliver Wilkes in the first minute but the ball went to ground on the Haven 20.
Whitehaven responded immediately and after a surge from Riley, it was fellow prop Marc Shackley who broke through but was stopped illegally. From 20 metres, Paul Crook put the penalty between the sticks.
Two forward passes in quick succession held back the home side but they came back, eventually, as Elliott Miller burst down the middle and found Dion Aiye in support.
He was tackled in the shadow of the posts but the referee had spotted Wilkes taking out Forster earlier in the move and the Barrow forward was sent to the bin.
From that tap penalty, Haven scored their first try. The ball went right and then eventually left on last tackle and they had the over lap for Dave Thompson to dive over in the corner. Crook’s kick was just wide.
With Wilkes still off the field, Whitehaven scored again on 14 minutes. Jessie Joe Parker was brought down just short but Crook put the impressive Riley in for the try which Crook converted.
Barrow had a spell of pressure just before Wilkes returned but Jamie Dallimore’s final kick was too long and went dead.
Forster took a well-earned breather on 22 minutes and, with their leader off the field, Whitehaven were presented with a test as Barrow pressed strongly and were rewarded with their opening try. Tom Walker was able to force his way over from close range, taking three defenders with him. Lewis Charnock converted.
Forster immediately came back on but Haven had already lost Shackley with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury. He took no further part, watching from the sidelines with a crutch for assistance.
Another fine break by Miller almost got Whitehaven moving again but he was stopped just short and the home side couldn’t capitalise.
It was a hard, tense and exciting contest and with it likely to be close in the end, Crook tried a drop goal but from close range put it wide.
Barrow were back on the attack as the half came to a close but some outstanding defence by Haven, with Aiye and Scott McAvoy to the fore, meant there was no way through.
Barrow went close to opening the scoring in the second half but the ball was knocked on just short of the home line.
There was another chance for Barrow to make progress after 50 minutes when James Newton was sent to the bin after an altercation with Brett Carter. They should have scored right away but Daniel Morrow dropped the ball when he looked to be going in for a try.
Barrow were shocked, however, after 54 minutes when Whitehaven were awarded a penalty and Crook put it over from 40 metres.
Barrow thought they had scored two minutes later when a long ball from Dallimore put Shane Toal in but the referee ruled it forward.
Newton’s return was a lift to Haven who had maintained their advantage but Barrow suffered a blow when Dan Toal was carried off with a leg injury.
There was an even bigger boost to the hosts when Aiye scored a crucial third try on 61 minutes. He completely deceived the Barrow defence, going across it and then straightening-up to race through unopposed. Crook converted
Eight minutes later, with Barrow visibly wilting, Haven scored again and it was a beauty from Steve Roper. On last tackle he put in a little kick, chased it feverishly and got there first to touchdown. Crook converted.
There was more to come. On 72 minutes McAvoy capped another superb performance by slicing through a dispirited Barrow defence to touchdown for Crook to land another easy conversion.
An outstanding game of rugby was rather soured three minutes from time after a brawl which ended with yellow cards for Morrow and Chris Taylor.
A minute later, Dallimore was shown yellow for a high tackle on Forster and the game finished 12 against 11.