Leigh Centurions 14 Batley Bulldogs 15
Leigh Centurions’ dreams of Kingstone Press Championship Grand Final glory ended when an 87th minute golden point drop goal pushed Batley Bulldogs through to the elimination semi final.
The Bulldogs are now just 80 minutes away from the Grand Final and travel to Featherstone Rovers next weekend.
But Leigh will be smarting at the way they exited this year’s series after scoring three tries to Batley’s one and then losing out after seven minutes of pulsating and punishing extra time.
Sadly Leigh were on the wrong end of a 10-5 penalty count and that was ultimately their undoing as Batley’s marksman Gareth Moore was on hand to bang over three first half penalties as well as adding a conversion to the solitary visitors’ try, before stand off Ben Black booted over the winning one-pointer after eight previous failed attempts from both sides.
Leigh did have their own high drama opportunity to snatch victory on the final hooter after Adam Higson had been felled on the half way by Batley wingman Jonny Campbell. But Martyn Ridyard’s 50 metre effort hardly got off the ground in the treacherous footing conditions.
Yet Leigh should have won this game. They made a few wrong calls on attack that saw opportunities go begging, and apart from giving away penalties, also suffered some disappointing handling even allowing for the monsoon conditions that prevailed for all but the extra time period.
Never-the-less it was a huge effort with the Leigh defence only being breached once and players such as Bob Beswick, Ridyard, Simon Finnigan, Tom Spencer and Stuart Littler were the pick of a great team effort.
In the end it was Leigh’s poor play-off record that was to continue and end the season on a flat note after everything seemed on target for a Grand Final appearance.
The atrocious weather conditions were not conducive to good handling but it was Leigh under early pressure where great defence kept out Batley’s Johnny Campbell when he lost Black’s pass while at the other end Leigh had Simon Finnigan going close.
But an indication of Batley’s tactic to take every scoring opportunity was evident when Moore stepped up to slot over his first penalty goal in the eighth minute when Steve Maden was adjudged guilty of striking in the tackle.
Yet the first score was to come from Leigh when pressure saw Ridyard’s clever kick pounced upon by Adam Higson on the left hand side. Ridyard goaled for the lead.
But it was Batley who were soon making the most of Leigh’s indiscipline as Moore slotted over his second penalty when Littler had ripped the ball out of Anthony Mulalley’s grasp.
Batley were winning the arm wrestle and the penalty count and after Gregg McNally spilled a high Black kick, the visitors kept the pressure on and a Black kick to the corner was palmed down by winger Greg Johnson for Alex Bretherton to squeeze in with a high quality try that was confirmed by the video referee.
Moore booted over the touchline conversion and then added a penalty on the half hour mark when Higson was adjudged to have hit out at Batley substitute George Flanagan.
Moore attempted a field goal, but it was wide of the mark and Leigh were relieved to only be 12-6 adrift at the half way stage.
No sooner were Leigh out of the dressing rooms than they were being punished for a high tackle by Higson with Moore landing the penalty to open up an eight point lead.
But as the rain teemed down, Leigh dug deep and on 52 minutes substitute Sean Penkywicz darted from dummy half and although the pass looked forward, Finnigan was able to force his way over for a try that Ridyard couldn’t goal.
Batley’s response was to force Leigh back down field and it took tremendous defence from Higson and Finnigan to keep Jacob Fairbank out as the hour approached, and then deny Miles Greenwood under the Leigh posts.
The apprehension in both camps was tangible, but it was Ridyard’s marvellous kicking skills that got Leigh level on 66 minutes when his kick behind the Batley defensive line enabled Pownall to slide in at the corner and grab the equalising try. Unfortunately Ridyard couldn’t kick the goal. Leigh should have gone ahead when they worked the ball left but Higson’s pass was atrocious to Pownall and the chance was missed .
The last 10 minutes saw each side try to snatch victory with drop goal attempts, most of which were way off target and then Pownall put Higson away only for him to be felled by Campbell who should have been red carded. Instead the incident was put on report. Ridyard missed the penalty and extra time ensued with more drop goal misses, one from Ridyard shaving a post.
And seven minutes into extra time Black slotted over his winning field goal to end Leigh’s season in heart breaking fashion.