Leigh Centurions 32 Sheffield Eagles 24
TOM Armstrong scored with just a minute left on the clock against his old club Sheffield to stretch Leigh’s winning run to 18 games.
Leigh, the current Kingstone Press Championship leaders were almost undone by the Champions Sheffield in a dramatic second half.
Leading 26-6 with half an hour remaining, Leigh appeared to be on course for a relatively straightforward win but Sheffield scored three tries in 13 minutes to cut the deficit to just two points.
The back-to back-Champions looked the more likely winners after their scoring spree but Leigh, as they did against Dewsbury a week earlier, found a way to win.
Armstrong’s try, set up by a run and pass from Sam Barlow, reopened the six point gap and a conversion from Ryan Brierley as the hooter sounded was greeted with relief as well as jubilation from the home fans.
The win took on increased significance when news of Rochdale’s win over second placed Featherstone filtered through, meaning Leigh’s lead at the top is now 12 points - the most it has been all season.
Centurions were missing key players Martyn Ridyard and Oliver Wilkes but their absence was offset by the return of Kurt Haggerty after a two match ban and Martin Aspinwall who recently completed a loan spell with Swinton. Bob Beswick, who signed a new two year deal contract with the club last week, again proved his value by switching from hooker to stand-off.
The changes didn’t appear to have made much difference to Leigh as they scored after just three minutes. Brierley, having recovered the ball from a charge down, gave Leigh an attacking position and a couple of plays later was scoring by the posts. he also added the conversion.
Sheffield were level in the 12th minute. A Leigh pass took a deflection and the loose ball was pounced on by Scott Turner. Dominic Brambani added the conversion.
The visitors continued to make chances but were unable to capitalise and instead Leigh produced their best spell of the game to score four tries in 18 minutes. A short pass from Sean Penkywicz got Beswick over for a try which Brierley converted.
On the half hour, a superb ball from Tommy Goulden split the Eagles defence allowing Chris Hankinson to score in the corner. Penkywicz was involved again for Leigh’s fourth try - his short grubber kick dropped on by Matt Sarsfield. Then just before half-time, Sam Hopkins scooped up the ball from dummy half at pace and charged 10 metres to the try-line. Brierley’s kicking record was three from five at half-time as Leigh looked in total control at 26-6.
Centurions made a solid enough start to the second half but the visitors were soon right back in the game thanks to two tries in six minutes. A Leigh attack fizzled out with a loose pass allowing Turner to take advantage and race 60 metres to score a try which Brambani converted.
Then the lively James Davey showed great awareness to catch Leigh on the backfoot with a dummy run and he scored by the posts. Brambani again goaled and Leigh’s lead looked fragile at 26-18.
Looking uncharacteristically edgy and nervous, Leigh struggled to complete their sets and the mood at the Sports Village turned from concern to panic in the 63rd minute. Brambani’s perfectly placed kick to the corner was brilliantly taken by Turner for his hat-trick try. Brambani’s conversion from touch meant Leigh’s lead had been hacked to just 26-24.
With fans nervously checking their watches, Sheffield looked the more likely to score next but Centurions were not about to surrender their amazing winning streak just yet. Haggerty was held up over the line as Leigh went in search of the killer score before Barlow’s disguised pass in the tackle got Armstrong over for that crucial try.
Leigh: McNally, Pownall, Hankinson, Armstrong, Kay, Beswick, Brierley, Spencer, Penkywicz, Acton, Sarsfield, Goulden, Barlow. Subs: Haggerty, Hopkins, Emmitt, Aspinwall
Tries: Brierley, Beswick, Hankinson, Sarsfield, Hopkins, Armstrong
Goals: Brierley 4 (from six)
Sheffield: Laulu Togage, Turner, Yere, Straughier. Taulapapa, Walker, Brambani, Battye, Henderson, Stringer, Garside, Hope, Knowles. Subs: Davey, Tagaloa, Aspinall, Gonzalez-Trique
Tries: Turner 3, Davey.
Goals: Brambani 4 (from four)
Referee: Warren Turley
Pitch: Very good
Weather: Dry and sunny