Leigh Centurions eradicated the memory of last season’s semi-final demise against Batley when they swept aside the Bulldogs challenge with a performance full of dash and daring in this open Northern Rail Cup clash.
Batley had hoped to become the first side to retain this trophy, but an impressive Leigh had far too much power and pace for their hosts to exploit the famed Mount Pleasant slope in the first half and then show a bulldog spirit of their own to tenaciously defend their try line in the second period.
Such was Batley’s frustration that they had substitute forward Paul Mennel red-carded for a high tackle just past the hour mark, and with him went any forlorn hopes the home side of staging a remarkable comeback.
Coach Ian Millward had taken the lessons learned from the three warm up games against Super League opposition and his side looked it, strong and sharp as they set about unsettling the Yorkshiremen from the first. Robbie Hunter-Paul was in terrific form at hooker and half back Mick Govin impressed with his clever ball distribution as eager forward Ricky Bibey, Chris Hill and Tommy Goulden constantly took the ball up. New signing David Mills also had a marvellous debut – creating all sorts of problems for the Batley defence with his powerful running, particularly in the second period.
Perhaps the only concern was the number of penalties given away by the Centurions, who were on the wrong end of an 18-11 count delivered by referee Steve Ganson. Hopefully that is something that the Centurions will address.
In extremely blustery conditions the ball was whipping everywhere, but Leigh showed good control and with their powerful pack going forward, they made the breakthrough in the ninth minute when a spilled ball just inside the Batley half was snatched up by Hunter-Paul, who set the ball in motion for Tommy Goulden to race in for a try that Mick Nanyn could not goal.
But he was on the mark some two minutes later when impressive new duel registered signing from St Helens, Tom Armstrong was able to force his way over and Nanyn goaled from close range.
It was all Leigh and the Bulldogs could not control the rampant pack as James Taylor and Stuart Littler continued to thrive. Bibey and Hill blasted down field and on 16 minutes they linked with Hunter-Paul and Govin for Armstrong to show strength and speed to get in at the corner.
Leigh held a 14-0 lead that they enjoyed to half time, but they had to defend vigorously as Batley’s Danny Maun, Gareth Moore and Alex Bretherton threatened, with Stuart Donlan pulling off a cracking tackle on the latter when a try seemed inevitable. Batley continued to press and with the penalty count mounting, Leigh’s defence was remarkable as they headed to half time.
At the start of the second half Batley piled on the pressure and got the try they craved as wingman Alex Brown went in at the corner off a clever Moore kick.
But Leigh were in no mood to be denied as Mills and Steve Nash gave the pack a lift off the bench.
Then Mennell got his marching orders and within seconds Leigh had put the tie to bed when Donlan linked and went racing in for another ungoaled try.
Leigh then added icing to their cake with a couple of minutes remaining when Hunter-Paul shot through for a Nanyn goaled try to seal the win and give Leigh a flying start to their 2011 trophy hunt.
BATLEY BULLDOGS: Preece, Reittie, Williams, Maun, Brown, Handforth, Moore, Smith Lythe, Martin, Bretherton, Walton, Tooney. Subs (all used): Lindsay, Potter, Mennell.
Tries: Brown (47)
On Report: Martin (20) Illegal Tackle
Dismissal: Mennell (60) High tackle.
LEIGH CENTURIONS: Donaln, Maden, Armnstong, Nanyn, McGilvray, Govin, Ellis, Hunter-Paul, Bibey, Littler, Goulden, Taylor. Subs (all used): Duffy, Ridyard, Nash, Mills.
Tries; Armstrong (11,16), Goulden (9), Donlan (61), Hunter Paul (78)
Goals: Nanyn 2
Referee: Steve Ganson
Half time: 0-14