Promotion prize for winners
IT all boils down to just 80 minutes – or perhaps a little longer – this Sunday when Barrow Raiders host Whitehaven in the League One play-off final at Craven Park (3pm).
While Barrow were cruising to a 60-0 semi-final win over Newcastle Thunder last week, it was a different story at Whitehaven, who snatched a 21-20 victory over York City Knights in the 25th minute of extra time thanks to a Steve Roper drop goal.
Victory for Barrow this weekend would be the icing on the cake for coach Paul Crarey and his talented squad after a thrilling season which has seen them lift the League One Cup and reach the Challenge Cup Sixth Round where they took on Super League Leeds Rhinos.
But this is the big one with the prize of Championship rugby next season for the winners.
Barrow know it is a clash where questions will be asked all over the park from an equally ambitious side led by player/coach Carl Forster, whose team includes danger men, skipper and pack star Scott McEvoy along with record try-scorer Craig Calvert, both of whom announced their retirement after this game.
At the moment it is one-one in League One matches played – both of which have been at the Recreation Ground.
This time Barrow have home advantage, and they will want it to pay.
Crarey is set to bring experienced trio, hooker Nathan Mossop and fellow forwards Martin Aspinwall along with Bradd Crellin back into the side after they missed out last week against Thunder.
That game was dominated by Raiders half backs Lewis Charnock and Jamie Dallimore, with the latter helping himself to two tries, eight conversions and a penalty.
Preparing his side for Whitehaven, Crarey said: “We know how hard it is going to be, a massive crowd, a cauldron of pressure for everybody.
“We have just got to concentrate on ourselves. We have trained very well this week, we have got a fit, healthy squad and we are ready to go.
“I know how hard it is going to be for them and for us, but whoever handles it the most will win.
“It is a one off game. Nobody wants to be sent off, nobody wants to make an error that will cause defeat for their side, so there is a little bit of pressure for everyone.
“Carl is lucky he can influence his side on the field, I can’t do that, I have got to do that by coaching.
“He has scored 16 or 17 tries for his side. We are well aware of that threat, but again they will be under immense pressure if we put him under pressure, so that’s what we aim to do.”
Crarey it will be normal service for his side who will have their usual Saturday morning run out.
“We have kept everything the same,” said Crarey. “We will have the same team run on Saturday. We have been low key earlier in the week because of bruised bodies, but the medical people here and our doctor have done a tremendous job.”
Looking ahead to the highly anticipated game, Crarey added: “We are at home and ready for the challenge.
“I think it will be brutal and I hope the referee is strong enough to handle it.
“We are ready to go, I think it will be a great game of rugby for Cumbrian rugby league and the prize is massive for both of us. It is a chance to play and coach in the Championship.
“We are ready for it as I am sure they will be. As coaches we know how hard it is going to be to get a result.
“There is quality in both sides, we are very evenly matched. Only points difference has separated us all year. They beat us once and we’ve beat them once in a competitive game, but we’ve gone up there to do it. They have got to come into our backyard now.”
Around 1,000 Barrow supporters travelled to Blackpool earlier this season to watch their side claim victory over North Wales Crusaders in the League One Cup Final, and Crarey is calling on the Barrow faithful to turn up in their droves and get behind his team.
He said: “We have got great, great fans who will sing from minute one. It will be a fantastic atmosphere.
“Whoever wins will deserve it because each have had a tremendous year.”
See you on match day.
Catch the views of Barrow Raiders coach Paul Crarey along with players Oliver Wilkes and Joe Bullock ahead of the big game. They are all on the Barrow Raiders Facebook page.