Leigh Centurions made a very happy start to the New Year when spoiling Salford City Reds’ new stadium party with a comprehensive pre-season friendly success.
Just like last year it was Leigh coming out on top to give the Reds the blues with an enterprising display in which the Centurions’ creativity was too much for a lacklustre Salford side to counter. In the pack the returning Ricky Bibey and new signing Rob Parker revelled in the role they were given against one of their former clubs, and Parker in particular gave Reds coach Phil Vievers a good reminder of what the Salford side will be missing for their season in Super League.
But no one was getting carried away. After all this was only a friendly. But it will certainly have given the fans plenty of cause for optimism at the LSV and a timely boost for the coming campaign after all the trials and tribulations of last season.
With Martyn Ridyard and John Duffy looking sharp at half back, new signings Matt Gardner and Greg McNally incisive and penetrative, the Leigh back line seemed to have more pace than their hosts.
Even on-loan half back Ryan Brierley got in on the try scoring act with a well taken brace that indicates he will be a good acquisition when available from Castleford.
But it was Leigh’s pack that laid the foundation, and although Bob Beswick was injured early on, Craig Briscoe, Sam Hopkins and Tommy Goulden made a very impressive back three.
Leigh got off to a flying start with the ball being whipped wide to the left for Steve Maden to put in Dean McGilvray for the very first try at the new Salford Stadium. Ridyard couldn’t goal.
Salford looked to have hit back quickly enough when Matty Smith and their best player, Daniel Holdsworth combined to put Jodie Broughton to the corner, but the final pass was adjudged forward and Leigh surged back upfield for Bibey to be held over the Reds try line on his back before Gardner had a try ruled out for offside when taking Duffy’s clever kick. Nevertheless it was encouraging for Leigh and caretaker coach Paul Rowley.
Salford were making inroads though and should have scored when Holdsworth put Vinny Anderson clear and as McNally made the tackle, the Kiwi’s inside pass went to ground.
Yet Salford managed to maintain momentum and after Sean Gleeson was close Danny Williams stepped in for the simplest of tries that Holdsworth goaled from wide out for the lead.
Leigh had Duffy and Ridyard organising in midfield whilst Holdsworth and Smith were doing likewise for the home side, but on 20 minutes it was Ridyard providing the crucial pass for former Red, Gardner to spin in for a second Leigh try and the lead.
Within four minutes, Leigh’s expansive style had the Reds in disarray again as the ball was moved to Gardner via Ridyard and he swept in for his second ungoaled try.
Salford’s Gleeson missed an opportunity to score when failing to take a Holdsworth pass with the line clear, before Leigh really put the cat among the Salford pigeons when McNally linked from fullback and gave Jonathan Pownall just enough room to squeeze in at the corner despite the attentions of two defenders for a fourth Leigh try that Ridyard goaled from the touchline for an 18-6 interval lead.
Both sides made changes for the second half but Leigh settled quickest and on 48 minutes a great break from McNally ended with Brierley reaching back to pull the pass in to his body and race the final 20 metres for a debut try which Ridyard again goaled.
That sparked Salford and after Williams made a half break he was there to take Holdsworth’s return and race in for a second Salford try to narrow the deficit as Holdsworth goaled.
Leigh’s eager defence kept Salford at bay and when the lights failed on 69 minutes Leigh also put the lights out on Salford’s winning dream with a McNally try as he forced his way over from close range for Ridyard to goal.
But the icing on the cake came two minutes from time when Nicholson charged down a clearing kick which ricocheted into Brierley’s hands for his second try and Leigh’s seventh to which Ridyard added his fourth goal to complete a satisfactory afternoon’s work for the Centurions.