A place in the elite group of the Women’s Super League awaited the winners of a play-off encounter between Barrow Raiders and Leigh Leopards as the teams that finished second and third after the regular season looked to replace the Huddersfield Giants at the top table.
The sides were only separated by a point at the end of the regular season with honours shared so far in the 2023 season, Barrow winning the game at Leigh in early September by 14-12, and Leigh being victorious in the first encounter of the season back at the start of May by 30-22.
There was plenty at stake for both sides after terrific seasons as they looked to make the next step as all eyes focussed on the LNER Community Stadium in York for the first of this afternoon’s double header of women’s rugby league.
Both sides benefitted from a penalty within the opening couple of minutes with nerves clearly on show in the most important game of the season.
Michelle Larkin knocked on from a simple looking clearing kick on her own thirty to give the Leopards a great opportunity to open the scoring on sixteen minutes, but a resolute Barrow defence managed to keep them at bay.
As the sides started to tire around the half hour mark both sides had a gilt-edged opportunity to open the scoring, but both attacks ended with a loss of the ball close to the line, and the game headed for thirty pointless minutes.
But on the half hour mark Barrow were given a penalty twenty from the Leigh sticks with Jodie Litherland finding the target to give the Cumbrians a two-point advantage which they carried until the interval.
Although Barrow led on the scoreboard it was Leigh who had the best of possession and position in the opening forty minutes.
On forty-eight the game saw it’s opening try with Leigh passing the ball through the hands and Hatice Dogus avoiding her tackler to ground by the left corner flag. Emma Knowles attempted the conversion, but the ball fell short of the uprights.
Just before the hour mark Leigh extended their lead to 8-2 as a cruel bounce evaded the Barrow defence and bounced into goal to be grounded by the chasing Dogus for her second of the half. Knowles hit the left upright with the conversion attempt, the difference between the two sides now just six points.
A fumble from Isla Aspden on her own line, while trying to kick up a low bouncing kick, gave Barrow a perfect opportunity to get their first try of the game. On the second play the ball Barrow went from acting half back with Beth Lindsay burrowing under the Leigh defenders to ground. Litherland added the conversion and with fourteen minutes of the game left to play the sides were tied up at 8-8.
Another Leigh dropped ball on sixty-nine, this one fifteen from their own line, put Barrow in the box seat. Litherland and Hutchinson both went close and after the multiple offloads on the last tackle Jodie Morley crashed the Leigh line and grounded to take back the lead. Litherland was on target again, and now it was Barrow had a six-point lead.
Barrow managed to run the clock down to take the win, the final hooter triggering massive celebrations from the team in blue and devastation for the red and whites.
Two terrible defensive mistakes gifted the win, and promotion, to Barrow Raiders who will now look forward to a 2024 season in the topflight of Women’s’ rugby league alongside the likes of York, Leigh, Wigan and St Helens. Leigh will have to reset and go again next year as the second tier continues to strengthen and they will be up against strong sides including Huddersfield and Featherstone. It wasn´t the best of games with plenty of nerves on show and a shame that it was mistakes that determined the outcome rather than individual brilliance.
Barrow Raiders: Larkin, Hutchinson E, Clough, Hutchinson C, Norman, Fisher, Litherland (3G), Dobson, Lindsay (T), Morley (T), Temple, Stirzaker, Cottier. Subs: Sherlock, Friend, Smith, Todhunter. 18th Man: .
Leigh Leopards: Aspden, Blackwood, Burke, Taylor, Gater, Stott, Knowles, Quinn, Howard, McCosh, Morris, Melvin, Derbyshire. Subs: Collins, Owens, Hill, Dogus (2T). 18th Man: .
Score Progression: 2-0 : HT: 2-4, 2-8, 6-8, 8-8, 12-8, 14-8 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Barrow – Leigh – Square - Barrow.
Referee: Elliot Burrow.