Widnes Vikings fell to an agonising defeat at the hands of Toronto Wolfpack on Sunday evening, as they were beaten 24-19 after a late Anthony Mullally try cancelled out Danny Craven’s drop-goal.
The hosts put in a great performance against their well-fancied opponents, who wrapped up the league leaders shield as they picked up a 16th straight victory.
Despite the defeat, the Vikings will take plenty of positives from their display into next week’s semi-final as they played some great rugby and defended their line doggedly.
Kieron Purtill made six changes to his line-up for the visit of the Canadian side, as Ryan Ince returned from injury and Ellis Robson made his debut for the club, while Lloyd Roby became the latest inductee to Club 20. Ted Chapelhow, Joe Lyons and Josh Ganson also came in to a much-changed Widnes side.
It was a hectic start to the fixture, as Toronto threatened in the opening exchanges before a Darcy Lussick knock on was scooped up by Brad Walker, who set the Vikings on the attack.
The Wolfpack posted the first points of the contest after seven minutes though, as Chris Dean shot out of the line to try and shut down an attack only for Joe Mellor to step past him, with the ball eventually being shipped to Nick Rawsthorne who strolled over.
On 24 minutes, Jayden Hatton thought he had replied for the Vikings after Lyons’ kick was knocked into his path by Roby, however the referee pulled play back for a forward pass.
A minute late Widnes hit the front though when Craven’s kick struck a Toronto defender, with he ball picked up by Lyons who kicked in behind the defence and regathered possession. He drew the only Wolfpack defender in his way and released Roby, who raced in for a brilliant score.
The lead was extended on the half hour mark, as Josh McCrone was penalised in possession for dissent, giving Widnes a chance to attack from 40 metres out. After a great team effort, Craven produced an outstanding solo try when he stepped through the defence and sold a dummy to Joe Mellor to go in under the sticks.
With the last play of the half, the Wolpack responded after Hep Cahill had forced an offload and given them a chance to attack from a dangerous position. The visitors took full advantage, as Chase Stanley barged over in the corner, with the missed conversion giving Widnes a four point lead at the break.
A Hatton knock on from a McCrone kick gave the away side an early opportunity to level the scores, and they took full advantage when the impressive Bodene Thompson collected a flat pass to score from close range.
Toronto hit the front following a fortunate try, as a wayward McCrone pass was hacked into the in-goal by Mellor, where Darcy Lussick was on hand to ground the ball.
A sensational breakaway try from the returning Ince dragged the Vikings back to 18-18, as he picked up a loose pass to race the length of the field and score under the crossbar.
Some frantic scramble defence by Jack Owens denied Greg Worthington on the left edge, before a Craven 40/20 put Widnes on the front foot and gave them a chance to attack. It came to nothing though, as Roby’s flick pass evaded Hatton as the Vikings looked to force their way over in the corner.
With eight minutes of the contest remaining, Craven sent a drop-goal over from 30 metres out to give Widnes a one-point lead as the home supporters started to believe a shock was on the cards.
Thompson’s hit on Dan Norman from the kick-off forced an error though, and with the pressure mounting on the Vikings defence Anthony Mullally charged over to deliver a killer blow.
Purtill’s side attempted to produce a moment of magic, as they threw all they could at the Toronto defence in the remaining moments, however the Candian outfit managed the final minutes to pick up the two points.