Lost the battle but not the war

Leigh's Johnny Pownall in action against Rovers
Leigh's Johnny Pownall in action against Rovers
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Leigh Centurions 16 Featherstone Rovers 22

Leigh Centurions lost their first game in nine league outings as reigning Champions Featherstone Rovers recorded a Championship ‘double’ over their rivals.

But with these two clubs set to meet in Featherstone on Thursday July 5 in the semi-final of the Northern Rail Cup, this clash only served to whet the appetite of both sets of players and fans for what should be another gripping game, hopefully in better weather conditions.

The Rovers arrived determined to knock Leigh out of their stride and with half backs Liam Finn and Andy Kain ever lively behind their big pack, they pushed Leigh hard and had a try disallowed for obstruction.

The pitch was in good condition despite the torrential rain and after Leigh charged upfield, they took the lead in the 13th minute when Martin Ridyard’s kick on the sixth tackle was deflected to be taken by Tommy Goulden who scored close enough to the posts for Ridyard to add an easy conversion.

The Rovers defence was looking solid and a good run from Sam Smeaton saw him brought back for a forward pass before a series of power plays from the visitors’ forwards set up the position for Finn’s kick to enable Kain to gather and touch down, and with Finn goaling it was all square after 20 minutes.

Both teams were fully applying themselves with James Laithwaite, the impressive Goulden, Sam Hopkins and Rob Parker having gone well for the home side as they put good pressure on the opposition line.

But just when it looked like the scores would still be level at the break, Featherstone created ‘back to back’ sets with another good Finn kick , and they maximised the additional ball as Smeaton put Nathan Chappell in at the corner. Finn couldn’t goal but Leigh were behind 10-6 at the break.

Leigh came out with all guns blazing at the start of the second half, but couldn’t break down the visitors defence even though they forced a drop out. But Featherstone were always a threat and after a disappointing last kick, Ian Hardman returned the ball with interest to set up the position from which Stuart Dickens sent Andy Ellis over the line for Finn to goal on 55 minutes.

Leigh had it all to do, but they dug deep again and after Greg McNally made a good break through the middle of the park he sent Ryan Brierley in for a try that surprisingly was not goaled by Ridyard with the ball rebounding off the upright. Never-the-less with 10 minutes left it was all to play for.

The visitors opened up what was to prove a winning lead when Leigh tried to move the ball from within their own 10 metre line only for the ball to go to ground as Steve Maden tried to spark a counter attack and Kevin Henderson failed to take the pass. Smeaton snapped it up and put Chappel in for his second try in the corner with Finn adding to Leigh’s misery with the conversion six minutes from time.

Even so, Leigh blasted back and when Maden took a kick in the corner to score and Ridyard goaled it was all on for the last five minutes.

Leigh had the chances to win this, but the Rovers defence was superb and as hard as Leigh tried, they could not break down that Featherstone defence and it was the Rovers with the psychological win ahead of the Northern Rail Cup rematch.

Leigh Centurions: McNally; Maden, Littler, Gardner, Pownall; Ridyard, Briscoe; Ostick, Beswick, Parker, Laithwaite, Goulden, Hopkins; subs (all used) - Brierley, Henderson, Spencer, Nash.

Tries: Goulden (13), Brierley (70), Maden (77)

Goals Ridyard 2/3

Featherstone Rovers

Tries: Kain (20), Chappell (40, 74), Ellis (52)

Goals Finn 3/4

Half Time: 6-10

Referee: Mr G Hewer

Attendance: 1837