Bradford Bulls 36 Leigh Centurions 36
LEIGH all but secured top spot in the Kingstone Press Championship with a thrilling 36-36 draw at their nearest rivals Bradford.
In front of a Championship record crowd of 9,181, both sides had chances to snatch the victory in a dramatic last 10 minutes but it was not to be.
Winger Jonny Pownall scored a hat-trick of tries while Martyn Ridyard kicked six goals from as many attempts.
The result means Leigh can clinch top spot with a win over Dewsbury on Wednesday at the Sports Village.
Ridyard saw a drop goal attempt charged down with minutes left and Leigh also had several chances to line up a one pointer but instead chose to run the ball looking for a try.
Bradford had left 20-12 at the break but the introduction of Micky Higham from the subs’ bench gave Leigh fresh impetus and they scored twice in the first nine minutes of the second half to go 24-20 up.
It set the scene for an end-to-end half which served up great entertainment for the bumper crowd if not the coaches.
Leigh made a disastrous start, with Fuifui Moimoi losing the ball in the first hit up of the game. Bradford took full advantage with a try from the scrum - Jay Pitts scoring from close range. Ryan Shaw added the conversion to make it 6-0 with only a minute played.
The try ignited the big Odsal crowd and Bradford responded on the field with a good few spell of pressure inside the Leigh half but they could not add to their score.
Centurions were level after 12 minutes as Gareth Hock took a short ball at pace from Bob Beswick and crashed over. Ridyard’s conversion leveled the game at 6-6.
The away side continued to feel their way back into the game and they led in the 20th minute when Gregg McNally made a superb break before being ankle tapped 10 metres short of the Bulls tryline. The full-back was able to get his pass away to the supporting Jonathan Pownall who scored. Ridyard added the extras and Leigh led 12-6.
But Leigh could not build on their lead as the Bulls restart took a nasty bounce and they regained possession. With the Leigh defence struggling to regroup, the ball was worked right for Caro who was able to score in the corner. Shaw again goaled.
Caro struck again 11 minutes before half-time. The ball was worked to the right side again and Caro showed great power to beat the first wave of defence and then rounded McNally to score. Shaw goaled and also added a penalty four minutes before half-time.
Leigh were unlucky to have a try disallowed just before half-time when Tom Armstrong grounded a Ryan Brierley grubber kick only for James Child to rule it out for offside.
Sam Hopkins also had a good opportunity but lost the ball close to the Bulls tryline.
Higham came on at half-time and his runs from dummy half shifted the game in Leigh’s favour. It was one of his probing runs in the 44th minute which gave Brierley the space to set up Greg Worthington for a try in the corner. Ridyard added the extras.
Five minutes later and Leigh were ahead. A great break by Barlow split open the Bradford defence and he got his pass away in the tackle to the supporting Brierley who finished off under the posts for a converted try.
With 22 minutes remaining, Danny Addy raced clear and a goal from Shaw saw the Bulls two points ahead again.
Leigh hit back with their fifth try, once again initiated by a dummy half run from Higham. With the Bulls defence struggling to regroup the ball was worked to the wing for Pownall to claim his second. Ridyard kicked the conversion but Bradford were back in front within four minutes. A kick to the corner from Adam O’Brien was spilled ingoal and there was Matty Blythe to pounce on the loose ball. Shaw’s goal made it 32-30.
Bradford looked like adding to their lead as they laid siege to the Leigh line but instead a wayward pass was intercepted by Pownall who raced 90 metres for his hat-trick. Ridyard’s goal gave Leigh the lead again at 36-30.
Inevitably, that wasn’t the end of it and Caro completed his hat-trick five minutes from the end which left Shaw with a touchline conversion which would have edged his side back in front but at 36-36 we were guaranteed a grandstand finish.
Both sides had good field positions and Leigh maybe should have gone for a drop goal when they were 10 metres from the Bulls line with tackles in the bank. But the hooter ended this frantic push for the matchwinner.
Leigh: McNally. Pownall, Worthington, Armstrong, Higson, Ridyard, Moimoi, Beswick, Hock, Dixon, Goulden, Emmitt. Subs: Barlow, Spencer, Hopkins, Higham
Bradford: Shaw, Williams, Blythe, Henry, Caro, Purtell, Addy, Clough, O’Brien, Sidlow, Olbison, Pitts, Walker. Subs: Walshaw, Lauaki, Crossley, Mendeika
Referee: James Child
Weather: Overcast and windy
Pitch: Very good