Andrew Jackson’s The Story Of Friday Night Lights: Part four

26th May 2022

By ANDREW JACKSON

OVER the 16 years since Friday Night Lights first took place, one of the biggest developments in the Challenge Cup Final has been the success of the French, with Catalan Dragons playing in the first final at the rebuilt Wembley Stadium in 2007, then lifting the cup in 2018.

One French club has provided the opposition at Friday Nights, with Toulouse Olympique playing at New River in 2016. This was
during the era of the Super 8s in the sport with League 1 splitting into two partway through the season with the top eight playing each other for the last seven games of the season, with a similar structure for the sides outside the top eight.

Skolars made eighth place at the cut-off point, but that then meant playing sides above them for the rest of the season. The FNL game saw them take on a side top of the league and looking for promotion.

Skolars scored first, tapping a penalty ten metres out, before Jy-Mel Coleman slipped through the defence from dummy half, Oscar Thomas adding the conversion.

The lead was shortlived and the French side soon dominated, Mark Kheirellah scoring four of his side’s 11 tries in a 10-58 win.

The following day Hull defeated Warrington Wolves 12-10 in a thrilling Challenge Cup final.

Skolars have also played three other Friday Night Lights games against Welsh sides, twice against North Wales Crusaders and once against South Wales Ironmen.
Two thousand and thirteen saw North Wales take on Skolars for the first time after the two sides had played each other in
the final of the Northern Rail Bowl.

Crusaders won a tight game that afternoon and the FNL game was even tighter. Crusaders’ coach Clive Griffiths described this encounter as being “like two bull terriers going at each other”.

The game was good natured, but it was a high intensity game and the largest crowd of the season at New River was treated to an uncompromising and entertaining game on a very humid night.

Crusaders won the game 14-20, going onto win automatic promotion.

Skolars finished fourth in the table, their highest-ever end-of-season position, and were knocked out of the play-offs in the final eliminator.

Rochdale were promoted after finishing the league level on points with Skolars. The Challenge Cup final saw Wigan defeat Hull 16-0.

Crusaders were the first choice for the opposition for Skolars’ first FNL after the laying of the 4G pitch at New River. Aaron Small scored after just two minutes, taking a high ball from a Jermaine Coleman kick, but, helped by two tries for Benjamin Julien, Crusaders were 6-18 ahead late in the game.

A second Small try kept Skolars in contention, but Crusaders held on 16-24.

The FNL game was by far the closest game of the weekend, Leeds beating Hull KR 50-0 in the Challenge Cup final.

Two thousand and seventeen  saw South Wales Ironmen play in the FNL game.

As in 2016, this was in the Super 8s era. This time however, Skolars hadn’t made the top eight and were playing in the League 1 Shield competition.

They had won the last two games of the regular season and were to win their first six Shield games, the eight game run being their longest in the professional era.

The 32-4 scoreline probably flattered Skolars, who had to defend for a large part of the game.

However, they had learnt how to win those sort of games. Jacob Ogden scored two tries for Skolars, but the plaudits were for Smokie Junor on the opposite wing, playing his first game after breaking his femur in the Capital Challenge the year
before.

Skolars winning run came to an end at home to Hunslet in the final round of the group stage of the Shield, meaning they conceded home advantage for the final and Hunslet went onto lift the trophy.

The 2017 Challenge Cup final saw Hull defeat Wigan Warriors 18-4, the Warriors last appearance in the final before this season. Their opponents this weekend are Huddersfield Giants, who last appeared in the final in 2009.


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