A place in Super League 2023 was the prize as massive favourites Leigh Centurions took on massive underdogs Batley Bulldogs at the Leigh Sports Village in the final game of the domestic calendar.
Batley sprang an enormous surprise last weekend when they eliminated the Featherstone Rovers to take their place in the Million Pound Game, but if they were a long shot last week, this week the target was beyond the vision of mortal men. In the regular season, Batley had scored just one try against Leigh in the league, while conceding a massive one hundred and sixteen points to them.
The bookies gave the Bulldogs a forty point start on the coupon and many pundits were predicting that it might could be considerably worse for them in what promised to be the most one-sided Championship Grand Final of all time.
The opening minutes were a comedy of errors from both sides. Leigh knocked on from the kick off as Ed Chamberlain failed to take a swirling ball but on the first play from the scrum Batley dropped the ball, the early game nerves on display from both sides. Two more lost balls in promising positions added to the anxiety.
Neither side could complete a set with the ball and the first thirteen minutes elapsed without troubling the scorers and nothing to choose between the two sides, Batley weren´t going to just roll over.
Then disaster struck for the Bulldogs when Luke Hooley threw a wayward pass and the ball went to ground, only to be picked up by Lachlan Lam who scored from twenty metres out without a defensive hand placed on him. Krisnan Inu converted brilliantly from close to the touchline to give the favourites a 6-0 lead.
On nineteen Ed Chamberlain went over on his back but was held up by a tremendous Bulldogs defence. Six minutes later it was Edwin Ipape´s turn to be held up over the line and on the next play Inu was unable to ground a grubber, bouncing the ball dead in goal.
On thirty-two the Centurions finally broke down the dogged Batley defence with a great dummy from Lam before a pass to Joe Wardle to put in the final pass to Inu on the overlap who went over in the left-hand corner. Inu added the conversion for 12-0, Leigh grinding out the points.
After a Herculean effort, Batley were starting to tire, and five minutes before the interval Lam was again provider, this time for Wardle to carry a couple of tacklers over the line. Inu was again on target with the boot, Leigh 18-0 up and with one foot already in Super League.
There was just one second half minute on the clock when Aekins took a kick through and pinned back his ears to run seventy metres down the left wing to score in the corner. Inu was again accurate with the boot, the Bulldogs heads dropping towards their chests.
On the kick off return the Centurions demolished the Batley defence with a three on one attack ending with Joe Mellor scoring under the sticks. Inu added a fifth goal of the night to bring up thirty points. It was starting to look a bit ugly for Batley.
On fifty-four Leigh registered their sixth try of the game Wardle and Aekins combined to feed Nene MacDonald in space to go over in the corner. Inu was off target for the first time in the match but at 34-0 it mattered for nothing.
Batley registered a try on fifty-eight after a good period of pressure when Dale Morton gambled on a Tom Gilmore cross-field kick and took the ball on the Leigh line before dropping to the ground to score. Gilmore added the conversion.
But it was brief respite. On the hour mark Lam found Inu on a big overlap for a walk-in try down the left wing. The Leigh winger added another touchline conversion for 40-6.
On sixty-nine Lam created another try, this one with a short pass to Kai O´Donnell to score from ten metres out. Inu´s goal took the score to 44-6 with ten minutes remaining on the clock. Ben Reynolds took over the kicking duties but was unable to land the conversion.
Batley did make it to double figures on seventy-four when Adam Gledhill managed to carry four leigh defenders over the line with him and ground under the nose of referee Kendall. Gilmore added the extras for 44-12.
All credit to Batley for their performance in the opening half hour, but once Leigh wore the Bulldogs down and stepped up a gear, there was no stopping them in their charge to Super League. It was a thoroughly professional performance to end a thoroughly professional season, that has earned the Centurions the right to show what the are made of against the rest of the top flight in 2023.
Leigh Centurions: Aekins (T), Inu (2T, 6G), Chamberlain, MacDonald (T), Ferguson, Lam (T), Mellor (T), Sidlow, Smith, Amone, Wardle (T), Stone, Asiata. Subs: O´Donnell (T), Ipape, Reynolds, Nakubuwai
Batley Bulldogs: Hooley, Morton (T), Hodson, Buchanan, Campbell, White, Gilmore (2G), Gledhill (T), Blake, Brown, Manning, Walshaw, Reilly. Subs: Meadows, Leak, Ward, Flynn.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, 16-0, 18-0 : HT : 22-0, 24-0, 28-0, 30-0, 34-0, 34-4, 34-6, 38-6, 40-6, 44-6, 44-10, 44-12: FT.
Lead Exchanges: Leigh.
Referee: Chris Kendall.