The Monday evening televised Premier Sports game between the top two in the Championship saw Featherstone Rovers travel to Leigh Centurions for an encounter which had more of a game of the season feel to it, than just a boring old game of the round.
The Centurions only league loss of the season was the round two defeat away at Featherstone, while it was the Centurions who emerged with the Trophy when the two sides met in the 1895 Cup Final a couple of short weeks ago. Honours shared so far in 2022 but this game would determine who sat at the top of the league at the end of round fifteen, and who was in pole position to top the table come the end of the season.
The home side were big favourites with the bookies, but despite several injuries it would be a fool that would write off Brian McDermott’s flat cappers from taking home the points.
The opening exchanges lived up to expectations with both sides showing aggression in attack and defence.
On four minutes Mark Kheirallah knocked on a high kick from Ata Hingano and on the fourth tackle from the restart the ball was moved fast to the left with Keenan Brand passing to Krisnan Inu for the Frenchman to stoop to score in the corner, the video replay showing that he was lucky to be given the try by referee Hicks. Inu was unable to add the conversion from the touchline.
On nine minutes Leigh were in again as John Asiata found his way through the smallest hole in the defensive line with a magical step to score by the left upright. This time Inu made no mistake with the conversion for a 10-0 lead, Leigh averaging a point a minute.
On fifteen Rovers got their first points after a Ryley Jacks pinpoint kick was chased and grounded by Kheirallah. The full-back added the conversion to his own try and the margin was back down to four points.
Twenty minutes were on the clock when Blake Ferguson leapt to tip on an Ata Hingano kick to the corner before collecting the ball and dropping to the floor to score. Again, Inu missed the conversion attempt, this one from tight to the touchline.
Featherstone were penalised for a shot clock breach when dropping out on thirty-four and Inu smashed his kick between the uprights for 16-6. Two minutes later and Kheirallah kicked within time but this time he didn’t make ten metres. Inu again took the penalty kick for an 18-6 half time lead.
It had been a breathless first half with some tremendous hits from both sides, the crowd was getting value for money.
Two and a half minutes after the restart Connor Jones took a Kheirallah tip on to go in on the overlap. Kheirallah added the conversion and again the margin was back down to six points.
Just before the hour, Ferguson went in for his second of the night after he took a looping pass from Hingano to go outside the Featherstone winger and dive in at the corner. Inu brushed the far post with his conversion attempt.
A Johnathan Ford off the ball push in the back gifted Inu another two-point penalty to extend the lead to two converted tries.
Ipape ensured that it would be Leigh who moved to the top of the league as he crashed over the line after spinning out of two tackles and using his tremendous strength to get over the line. Inu added the conversion for 30-12 with eight minutes of the game remaining.
Matty Wildie was sin-binned on seventy-four for a crusher tackle, Featherstone down to twelve for the rest of the game.
Krisnan Inu was red carded for a high tackle on Luke Briscoe with just under two minutes of the game remaining, a potentially costly mistake for a moment of carelessness depending on how the disciplinary see the incident. On the final hooter Sam Eseh was also shown a red card for a shoulder charge on Mark Ioane. Ben Reynolds kicked the resulting penalty to seal a 32-12 win.
Despite the fractious end, with two moments of madness seeing referee Hicks brandishing his cards and keeping the disciplinary committee busy, it had been a tremendous match.
Leigh were muscular, direct, relentless and persistent and it won them the points and the bragging rights over their closest rivals for promotion. These two will do it all again at the Summer Bash at the end of July, another mouth-watering prospect. With neither side looking like losing to anyone else in the competition, it will be that game at Headingley which will likely determine who will finish the season on top of the Championship.
Leigh Centurions: Aekins, Ferguson (2T), Inu (T, 4G, SO on 78), Brand, Chamberlain, Reynolds, Hingano, Sidlow, Smith, Amone, Stone, Wardle, Asiata (T). Subs: O-Donnell, Ioane, Jones, Ipape (T).
Featherstone Rovers: Kheirallah (T, 2G), Briscoe, Leilua, Jones (T), Gale, Smith, Jacks, Kopczak, Wildie (SB on 74), Cooper, Davies, Hellewell, Moors. Subs: Ford, Ferres, Hepi, Eseh (SO on 80).
Score Progression: 4-0, 8-0, 10-0, 10-4, 10-6, 14-6, 16-6, 18-6 : HT : 18-10, 18-12, 22-12, 24-12, 28-12, 30-12, (SB), (SO), (SO), 32-12 : FT.
Lead Exchanges: Leigh.
Referee: Robert Hicks.