Leigh Centurions booked their place in the semi finals of the Northern Rail Cup after finally seeing off the dogged resistance of a Whitehaven side determined to create an upset.
In the end it was three tries in a devastating 10 minute spell just after the hour mark that gave Leigh control, but until then they had been locked at 12-12 with the Cumbrian outfit showing some good touches to give the home side plenty of cause for concern.
However Leigh had withstood a ten minute spell after half time when Greg McNally was in the sin bin, and it was his contributions upon his return that did much to give Leigh control. His incisive running helped produce five of Leigh’s six tries, against his former club, three of them going to impressive winger Jonathan Pownall.
Leigh had other strong contributions from Bob Beswick, working at half back with Thomas Coyle on cup debut, whilst Simon Finningan, Tom Spencer and Micheal Ostick all ran well in a tough tackling pack that also had good contributions from Ryan Duffy, Sam Hopkins and Sean Penkywicz.
Leigh made a sensational start when Littler combined with Beswick for him to put McNally away on the left. He then turned the ball back inside and Finningan progressed before his astute kick to the left was gathered by Pownall to race over for a try that McNally then goaled.
But Whitehaven blasted back and on seven minutes Southernwood put Houghton through a huge gap to score under the posts, before adding the extras to level.
Hopkins had an effort ruled out for a double movement, but Whitehaven were the more threatening, forcing more drop outs on the Leigh line.
Leigh finally went back in front when Littler snatched the ball in a one-on-one tackle and after a Ryan Duffy drive, Penkywicz crashed under the posts from dummy half for a McNally goaled try.
Whitehaven roared back when Neil Thorman lofted a pass to Jessie Joe Parker and the big centre had enough room to power in at the corner for an unconverted try.
Both sides were trying to give the ball air and in the final three minutes of the half Steve Maden twice intercepted passes. The first saw him hauled down by Craig Calvert then giving a penalty away, and the second saw Maden again tackled but this time getting the penalty himself when prevented from playing the ball. But the final act was another intercept, this time of a Beswick pass that put former Leigh man Lee Doran away. McNally caught him but then didn’t let him get up quickly enough and was subsequently despatched to the sin bin for 10 minutes. Southernwood slotted over the resultant penalty to tie the scores at 12-12 for the break.
Leigh’s 12 men started strongly in the second half and survived so that once McNally returned from his enforced absence Leigh again started to apply the pressure as the full back made his presence felt.
McNally slipped his markers on 58 minutes and burst down the left before sending Finningan racing under the post for a try McNally goaled to restore Leigh’s six point advantage.
He was bursting through again some four minutes later and this time sending Pownall in for his second try before adding his fourth goal. Leigh suddenly had control and when lively substitute Anthony Nicholson put Hopkins under the posts, McNally again added the extras.
McNally was instrumental in Leigh’s sixth try when putting Pownall in for his hat trick try, but was unable to add the extras.
Whitehaven grabbed a consolation try late on from Scott McAvoy but it was Leigh through and eventually in some style.
Leigh Centurions: McNally, Maden, Littler, Gardner, Pownall, Coyle, Beswick, Ostick, Penkywicz, Spencer, Finnigan, Goulden, Hopkins. Subs all used: Nicholson, Thornley, Bate, Duffy.
Tries: Pownall (1, 62, 78), Penkywicz (24), Finnigan (58), Hopkins (67)
Goals: McNally 5/6
Sin bin: for lying on McNally (39)
Tries: Houghton (7), Parker (30), McAvoy (80)
Goals: Southernwood 3/4
Half Time: 12-12
Referee: Jamie Leahy