LEIGH CENTURIONS’ Grand Final aspirations were put on hold as Featherstone Rovers gave them a lesson in finishing with a blistering start in this Qualifying Semi-Final.
The winners went through to the Grand Final showdown at the Halliwell Jones Stadium on October 2, while Leigh must face the side that ended their play-off dreams last season, Sheffield Eagles at the Leigh Sports Village this Thursday evening.
Beaten in last year’s showpiece, Featherstone looked very much a side on a mission as they started like a house on fire and never relented to have the game well and truly won, long before a couple of late tries made the Centurions’ scoreline more respectable.
They had a hat trick of tries from powerful winger Tommy Saxton, at half back Liam Finn a real torment behind a strong running pack, ably led by Jon Grayshon and Tony Tonks to inflict Leigh with only their second defeat of the season and their first in 12 games.
Leigh were looking to reach their first Grand Final since 2004, and win their first play-off game since their return to the Championship from Super League, but the campaign started disastrously as Finn and his half back partner Andy Kain split the Leigh defence as early as the third minute to send winger Ben Cockayne in for a Finn goaled try.
Featherstone doubled their lead six minutes later when Finn finished a superb 85-yard move with a try of his own as Leigh’s defence were split wide open.
It had been a whirlwind start, but it looked like Leigh may be settling to their business when they opened their account when Jamie Ellis and Martyn Ridyard created enough room to put in Steve Maden at the corner for a try that was confirmed by the video referee as Mick Nanyn added the goal points.
But that only served to fire Featherstone to a greater effort and after Finn missed an easy penalty kick when Nanyn was penalised for holding down Andy Bostock, the home side struck a crucial blow shortly before half-time when Greg Worthington sent in Saxton for his first try and Finn’s third goal made it 18-4 to Rovers at the break.
Leigh needed a good start to the second half and with James Taylor, John Duffy, Steve Nash and Chris Hill going forward they tried to break the solid Rovers defence.
But it was the home side going further in front seven minutes into the second-half as Jon Hepworth and Ian Hardman created the opening for Saxton to round the cover for his second try.
Nanyn had an effort ruled out by the video referee before more scintillating play between Finn and Hepworth put Saxton in for his hat trick try that was soon followed by a Finn drop goal.
Mills gave Leigh some hope with a try on the hour, but Rovers sealed victory when Finn’s high kick set up a touchdown for Bostock, and although Ridyard and Nanyn grabbed late tries for Leigh it was nothing more than a consolation, as they now look to see off the considerable challenge of Sheffield.
Featherstone Rovers: Hardman, Cockayne, Smeaton, Worthington, Saxton, Kain, Finn, Tonks, Kaye, Grayshon, Spears, Hepworth. Subs all used: Divorty, Dale, Bostock, Williams, Netherton.
Tries: Cockayne (3), Finn (8), Saxton (38, 47, 55), Bostock (66).
Goals: Finn 5/7
Field Goal: Finn
Leigh Centurions: Donlan, Maden, Littler, Nanyn, McGilvray, Ridyard, Ellis, Hill, Duffy, Mills, Thornley, Goulden, Taylor. Subs all used: Higson, Hunter-Paul, Hopkins,Nash.
Tries: Maden (22), Mills (58), Ridyard (74), Nanyn (78).
Goals: Nanyn 2/4
Sin Bin: Tom Saxton (70) – trying to slow down play
Half time: 18-4
Referee: Tim Roby