Leigh became the first Championship side to beat a team from Super League in this year’s Super 8 qualifiers as they saw off Salford 32-26 in a thrilling game at the Sport Village.
The win gives Centurions’ hopes a huge boost and they’ve already doubled the points total they managed in last season’s race for Super League. More than that, they’ve helped to breathe life into a concept which appeared to be in trouble.
This was a heroic performance from Leigh who backed up tenacious defence with enterprising attack. They were indebted to winger Adam Higson who as well as scoring a fantastic try denied Salford on several occasions with brave defence.
Centurions produced a great first half effort before being pegged back after the break then finishing with a flourish. There was still time for Salford to give Leigh a fright with two tries in the last three minutes but the hooter came to the rescue.
The match-winning try came seven minutes from the end when Willie Tonga produced a stunning inside flick pass to Matty Dawson and he scored in the corner. With Martyn Ridyard adding the goal, Leigh were 32-16 up with seven minutes to play.
“We spoke all week about attacking the game from the start,” said Leigh coach Neil Jukes. “We completed well despite falling off in the second half but there were some big efforts. We are in high spirits but nobody is getting carried away and we all know we had a big job to do.”
Leigh scored twice inside the first 10 minutes to stun the Super League side. Reni Maitua went over after some quick passing to the left edge before Martyn Ridyard’s well-timed pass send Cory Paterson in for a try against his former club. Ridyard converted both to give Leigh a 12-0 lead.
There didn’t look much danger when a kick was launched downfield on the last tackle but Salford broke dangerously from inside their own half and created space for the exciting winger Mason Caton-Brown who tore through the middle of the Leigh defence to score from half way. Gareth O’Brien added the conversion.
Salford started to enjoy more of the play but they were undone in the 23rd minute when Leigh half-back Josh Drinkwater kicked over and the ball hit a Salford player before bouncing back to him and he had Gregg McNally racing up in support to score under the posts. Ridyard again kicked the extras.
But back came Salford and some long passing to the right exposed Leigh’s lack of numbers and winger Niall Evalds was able to score in the corner. O’Brien was unable to add the goal.
At the end of the half, Leigh enjoyed some quality possession and almost got over when a kick to the corner for Mitch Brown was just too big. However Centurions ended the half on a high when Ridyard kicked a penalty for holding down to make it 20-10 at the break.
Inevitably, Salford came roaring back after the restart and a break through the middle from Junior Sau opened the door for Robert Lui to score under the posts after 53 minutes. O’Brien’s conversion made it 20-16.
Salford continued to create chances and several ‘tries’ went to the video ref before being disallowed and the game felt like it could have gone either way.
A Ridyard penalty with 12 minutes remaining re-opened a six point gap before some good approach play on the right side gave Higson an opportunity and he produced a sensational finish with a one handed reach for the tryline. Ridyard wasn’t able to goal but Leigh led 26-16.
Tonga’s miracle pass for Dawson got what looked to be the match-winning try before late scores from Masil and Caton-Brown gave Leigh a late fright.
McNally, Higson, Brown, Tonga, Dawson, Ridyard, Drinkwater, Hopkins, Higham, Weston, Maitua, Paterson, Hock. Subs: Hood, Tickle, Acton, Hansen
O’Brien, Evalds, Sau, Griffin, Caton-Brown, Lui, Dobson, Kopczak, Tomkins, Griffin, Murdoch-Masila, Mateo, Flanagan. Subs: Hauraki, Burgess, Krasniqi, Kenny
Referee: Chris Campbell
Weather: Overcast but dry