Super League entered the knock-out stages with a play-off encounter between two sides who have had sensational seasons and exceeded all expectations as Hull KR played hosts to the cup winning Leigh Leopards at Craven Park with the winners going through to a game against one of the top two next weekend.
It was KR who finished the regular season in fourth spot, and they were handicapped by six points on the coupon against the side who felt hard done by when they narrowly lost to the Wigan Warriors last weekend to drop from fourth a swap places with their hosts on points difference.
The season would end for one of these two after what promised to be an intense eighty minutes as the two sides played out a re-run the Challenge Cup final.
The first points of the game came from the boot of Ben Reynolds with a thirty-metre penalty goal in the seventh minute, the visitors taking the points as they became available.
A high tackle by Joe Wardle on his own twenty metres gifted Grant Schneider a simple penalty goal to level the scores on twenty-one. There was as little to choose between the two sides, as the scoreline suggested.
The first four pointer came on thirty-two with Jack Walker taking the inside pass and crashing over next to the right upright, picking up an injury in the act of scoring. Schneider added the conversion for a six-point lead.
On thirty-seven Parcell darted for the line but was held down short but a fast play the ball was caried by Ryan Hall who span out of a tackle to drop to the ground on the line for a second try in a five-minute purple spell for the home side. Schneiders conversion extended the half time lead to twelve points.
Two minutes after the restart the Robins dealt a hammer blow with Sam Luckley hitting the line and speed and crossing from ten metres out, the worst possible start for Leigh, the best for KR. Schneider was wide with the conversion.
Leigh seemed to have grabbed a lifeline on fifty-one when Joe Mellor went from dummy half but after sending the try up as a try, the video referee over-ruled for an obstruction.
The respite did come on fifty-six when Josh Charnley found himself on a big overlap after making an initial break. The score was in the corner and Reynolds was unable to add the extras and Leigh still needed three scores.
A late hit from Edwin Ipape on Mikey Lewis could have seen the Leigh man yellow carded but a severe telling off from referee Smith sufficed.
Ryan Hall stole the ball on seventy-four an sprinted for the line before being hauled down twenty metres out. A fast play the ball saw Lewis carry forwards before being hit high. Schneider pointed to the sticks and his penalty goal extended the lead to fourteen points, the Leigh spirit broken.
Hull KR breezed into the semi-finals next weekend and a trip to either Wigan or the Catalans Dragons for a shot at making the Grand Final. They turned on a terrific performance when it mattered and easily ended the season of the side which had deprived them at Wembley a couple of months ago. Leigh have had a great season, by anyone’s measure, but it is the Robins who live to fight another week in the 2023 competition.
Hull KR: Walker (T), Senior, Opacic, Kenny-Dowall, Hall (T), Lewis, Schneider (4G), Sue, Parcell, King, Batchelor, Linnett, Minchella. Subs: Abdull, Litten, Storton, Luckley (T). 18th Man: Kennedy.
Leigh Leopards: O’Brien, Briscoe, Gildart, Chamberlain, Charnley (T), Reynolds (G), Lam, Amone, Ipape, Mulhern, Hughes, O’Donnell, Wardle. Subs: Mellor, Davis, Nakubuwai, Holmes. 18th Man: Seumanufagai.
Score Progression: 0-2, 2-2, 6-2, 8-2, 12-2, 14-2: HT: 18-2, 18-6, 20-6 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Leigh – Square – Hull KR.
Referee: Jack Smith.