It was knock-out football as the Betfred Championship Play-Offs arrived at Leigh Sports Village, where fifth placed Featherstone Rovers met the Leigh Centurions for the priviledge of a semi-final encounter against the York City Knight next weekend.
Both sides were without some key players as they went into a nerve-wracking sudden death battle. The last time that they met was in West Yorkshire when Rovers secured a 24-20 win but when Rovers visited the LSV in February it was the home side who took the win with a 29-20 victory.
Leigh were big favourites with the bookies but this was knockout football, anything could happen.
Leigh had first use of the ball but in falling rain the opening exchanges were scrappy. Tempers were short from the outset and frayed early on.
Rovers were first on the board on seven minutes thanks to Alex Sutcliffe who found a gap wide after a charged down line clearing kick which saw Connor Jones collect the ball and establish great field position. Dane Chisolm missed what looked like an easy kick, much to the home supporters delight.
James Harrison scored Fev’s second try on the quarter game mark when he took a Callum McLelland pass to step out of two attempted tackles to stretch to score under the ‘H’. Chisolm made no mistake with his conversion this time for a 10-0 lead.
Featherstone were running away with it on twenty-five when Sutcliffe got his second after Bradley Day found a gap to break the Leigh line and pass the ball outside to his centre who despite being tackled short, bounced over the line. Chisolm was again unsuccessful with the boot.
Leigh responded within a couple of minutes when Junior Sa’u finally broke down the Featherstone defence as he crashed over the line from ten metres out after a passin move from left to right. Ryan Brierley was unable to convert from close to the right touchline.
It was Featherstone’s first half, hitting Leigh on the break to establish a ten point lead, but it was a narrow lead with so much at stake.
The Centurions set our their second half stall when Tom Spencer took a Liam Hood pass to crash over the line and shake off the tacklers to ground the ball. Brierley added the conversion to getthe home side within four of their visitors.
The pace had picked up tremendously and the atmosphere in the ground reflected it.
McLelland broke Leigh’s hearts again on forty-nine when he stepped through the Centurions defence wrongfooting five tacklers to score from twenty metres out. Chisolm added his second try of the evening for 20-10.
Brierley was stopped just short of the line on fifty-four, but three minutes later Stefan Marsh managed get the ball on the ground over the whitewash for another crucial Leigh try. Brierley pulled his kick wide of the uprights, the margin now six points.
A superb solo try from Josh Walters quietened the home supporters again when he took the ball on the forty metre line and outpaced the defenders until close to the line where he slid over the line for the four pointer. Chisolm kicked brilliantly from the touchline to establish a twelve point lead, Fev now believed that they would be progressing.
Two minutes later and a terrible Leigh mistake saw Chisolm run the angle off a McLelland pass to get the visitors sixth try of the evening as the Leigh players stood and watched. Chisolm smashed his conversion through the uprights for 32-14.
A Leigh ball steal gave Chisolm his fifth goal of the night on seventy-one to put the outcome beyond any doubt as it left the Centurions needing four scores.
Tony Adamson managed to get a Leigh try on seventy-three after a couple of fends and some excellent upper body strength. Brierley was unable to add the extras and Leigh still trailed by 18-34.
As the final hooter sounded the Rovers fans went crazy, proud of their teams efforts to overcome the odds and beat the side which finished the regular season ahead of them.
It was one game too far in 2019 for Leigh, after an impressive season where they have shocked many by their top five finish after a torrid off-season. Featherstone came with a game plan and stuck to it and it paid dividends as their defence held strong and they punished their hosts on the break. Rovers will travel to York next Saturday to play off for a chance to take on the losers of the Toronto v. Toulouse match next Sunday.
Centurions: Brierley (G), Higson, Thornley I, Sa’u (T), Marsh (T), Brown, Woods, Douglas, Higham, Thompson, Adamson T (T), Thompson, Adamson L. Subs: Hood, Cator, Clark, Spencer (T).
Rovers: Golding, Carey, Sutcliffe (2T), Hardcastle, Johnson, Chisolm (T, 5G), McLelland (T) Makota, Jones, Davies, Walters (T), Day, Lockwood. Subs: Render, Cooper, Harrison (T), Albert.
Referee: Gareth Hewer.