Opinion: Centurions face uphill battle to make play-off

Leigh found it hard going at Halifax on Sunday. Photo: Paul McCarthy Photography
Leigh found it hard going at Halifax on Sunday. Photo: Paul McCarthy Photography

Leigh Reporter columnist Dave Parkinson fears Leigh’s Super League hopes are over for this year

I reckon Leigh face an uphill struggle to make the Million pound game now following a fourth loss in the Qualifiers.

Following the Centurions defeat at Halifax on Sunday he told the assembled press, well yours truly, Mark Taylor and Dave Hadfield (much of the Yorkshire press didn’t seem too interested), that he was disappointed with Leigh’s skill level and thought Halifax outplayed his side. He acknowledged that whether the Centurions make the Million pound game is now out of their hands but Leigh would continue to strive to be better.

The first half was particularly disappointing. Leigh created chances but were either thwarted by excellent defence, poor handling under pressure or a general anxiety that took hold and seemed to affect everyone in Leigh’s starting ranks other than the excellent Jake Emmitt. I know there are a fair share of spectacular players in that Centurions backline but Emmitt has shown a remarkable level of consistency in both defence and ball in hand. He would certainly get my nod for his consistent work.

Over the weekend I was also in attendance at Wakefield, more on this in a minute, but being a lover of my stats there was a section dedicated to the Qualifiers and you may be surprised or not to learn the Leigh players that made the pages after four rounds. Liam Kay features highly in kick return metres and tackle busts, Jake Emmitt and Andrew Dixon feature highly in defence. Top scooter in the competition is Micky Higham with metres out of dummy half. Top metre-maker overall was James Saltonstall and having seen how keen and eager he is to carry the ball on Sunday, I can’t say I’m surprised. He might be a winger but he has a big heart and actually finished his try very well. Three other players I was particularly impressed with from a Halifax perspective were Steve Tyrer or as I referred to him on Leigh Centurions TV footage “the new Mick Nanyn”, Ben Kaye and Dane Manning. Manning and Tyrer also chipped in with tries alongside Scott Murrell and Ross Divorty while Tyrer also landed seven goals.

Over recent seasons Manning has had his moments against Leigh but with Fax well and truly on their game he was outstanding. There were a couple of times when he completely dominated Fuifui Moimoi in the tackle and I haven’t seen that all season. Moimoi to his credit enjoyed a big second half and claimed a try, although Leigh did lose Adam Higson after he scored his try.

Results on Saturday had buoyed the Centurions chances before the Halifax game . First Hull KR made sure of Super League rugby again with a 48-4 defeat of Bradford Bulls. Kieran Dixon might have had a Wembley final to regret in a lot of ways but his response has been brilliant and after two tries last week he was back this time out to ground four tries - a brilliant performance.

Josh Mantellato chipped in with two tries and some wayward kicking that only saw him hoist three goals while Dane Chisholm, Ken Sio, long serving Kris Welham and Graeme Horne also chipped in with Dixon also adding a goal. Bradford’s only response came courtesy of former Leigh dual contract player James Mendeika who punctuated a somewhat mediocre personal game to claim a try.

That set up what on paper, looked an interesting game between Wakefield and Widnes and on my third visit to Belle Vue this season there wasn’t enough room in our hospital radio broadcast position to sit down and we didn’t have a desk. Other than that it was business as usual for this feature writer and his commentary.

Widnes were unchanged from their beating of Bradford Bulls and Wakefield named a strong looking team. Early exchanges suggested this could be a Saturday night cracker but it became apparent after 10 minutes that the Wildcats had run out of ideas and their brittle confidence sapped away after Lloyd White completed a breakaway opening try. Rhys Hanbury was the star for Widnes and the Australian fullback scored four excellent tries. Former Centurion Aaron Heremaia got in on the try-scoring act with Kevin Brown also over the whitewash. The Vikings looked set for 50 points when Paddy Flynn somehow twisted and outpaced four men in the middle of the park from 25 metres, but with Denis Betts protecting prime asset Brown, the game petered out in the final 15 minutes meaning a functional win for Widnes that could have been even worse for their hosts. Lee Smith scored their only try but in fairness the only players that looked anything near useful on a poor night were Huddersfield loanee Anthony Mullally (who is on his way to Leeds), hooker Michael Sio and dangerous centre Bill Tupou.

The other Qualifier on Sunday brought a late kick off for Salford against Sheffield Eagles and the Eagles rallied with a spirited performance. Salford were able to farewell Adrian Morley to their fans after the 20 year veteran told a press conference earlier in the week that he was retiring come the end of the season, Ultimately the Red Devils got the points thanks to a scoring burst towards the end of the game.

Weller Hauraki, Harrison Hansen, Liam Hood, Lama Tasi, Niall Evalds, Iain Thornley, Josh Griffin (2) and brother George Griffin scored tries for the hosts with Michael Dobson hitting eight goals and a drop goal. Cory Aston, Menzie Yere, Quentin Laulu-Togagae and Rob Worrincy scored tries for Sheffield in a high scoring first half and there were also second half tries from Duane Straugheir and Scott Turnerwith Pat Walker completing a five goal haul before Salford’s late, late show.

Commiserations also to Leigh Reserves who lost an entertaining Grand Final with a last minute try. Twelve months earlier Josh Swift was the Leigh hero, this year he watched from the bench as Dewsbury scored with seconds remaining. Despite the loss, the Leigh youngsters have acquitted themselves well all season and I hope and can certainly see a professional future ahead for some of them. The entire league structure needs looking at however. Only six teams began and only five finished meaning that Leigh actually went into this final without a game in nearly three weeks.

I hope that with Super League putting Reserves high on the agenda, these five from the Championship are asked to join the competition next year. This would really aid the development of the Championship young players while also hopefully bringing an end to some of the dual contract farce we have seen whilst also giving meaningful, testing games for returning first team players to come back into following injury.

Leigh Miners stretched their lead at the top of the NCL to four points following an entertaining 30-20 defeat of West Hull while Siddal leapt above Rochdale Mayfield after the clash between 2 and three produced a 48-12 victory for the Halifax side. Talking about Miners connections and one of their former stars Martyn Ridyard is within reach of third spot in the all time Leigh point scoring list. His two goals against Halifax moved him to 1,501 points, only the fourth to pass 1500 in club history and he stands 18 points behind Neil Turley.

I’ll have more from the Leigh Miners camp soon, but in the meantime I hope to see as many of you as possible at the LSV this Saturday for this big game against Bradford who celebrated the Kingstone Press Championship award night with stand-off Lee Gaskell winning the player-of-the-year award ahead of Ryan Brierley. Halifax too had further cause for celebration with their boss Ricard Marshall winning the coach-of-the-year. Whilst I do think Richard has done an excellent job and he is someone that I do hold a lot of respect for, just what has Rowley got to do to get his hands on his gong? That’s now two years where his Leigh sides have dominated the Championship (just two losses in the league in that time remember) and Paul has been nowhere near that prize. I find it bizarre. What do you reckon?