Leigh boss Paul Rowley says his side gave everything but still didn’t have quite enough to beat Wakefield in their latest Super 8 qualifier.
A Lee Smith drop goal gave the Wildcats the narrowest of wins - 16-17 - leaving Leigh to reflect on a third straight defeat.
The best Centurions can hope for now looks to be the million-pound clash between the fourth and fifth-placed teams in the Qualifiers.
“There are mixed emotions,” Rowley said. “The players are on the floor at the minute which is a good side because I thought we emptied the tank today. They couldn’t have given any more and they should hold their heads up high.
“We looked like a good Super League side - I thought we were the best side - but they had a better kicking game and their management of the game was better. That’s the difference, the last plays.
“We made more than enough chances but I thought we very harshly treated in a lot of decisions.
“We can’t take the million-pound match for granted, we’ve got to battle hard for that fifth spot, but we’ll continue to play and have fun.”
Veteran Australian coach Brian Smith admits keeping Wakefield in Super League would rank among the most satisfying achievements of his distinguished career.
The former Parramatta, Sydney Roosters and St George Illawarra coach, who changed the fortunes of Hull and Bradford the last time he worked in England, was brought in by Wildcats chairman Michael Carter in May with a brief to keep the strugglers in the top flight. Back-to-back wins over leading Championship clubs Bradford and Leigh have put him on course to do just that.
There was little to choose from in the game against Leigh, with full-back Lee Smith’s 69th-minute drop goal separating the teams, but a 17-16 victory boosts the chances of Smith’s men securing a top-four finish in the Super 8s Qualifiers.
“From a satisfaction point of view, I think it will probably be right up there, it will be for everybody in our club if we can manage that because I don’t think we could get much lower than Wakey was during that long run of losses,” said Smith, who managed to halt a run of 16 straight Super League defeats in July.
“The spirit and desire was still there to do something about it and we saw that again today.”
In a game full of feeling, Wakefield had hooker Michael Sio sin-binned for a “crusher” tackle on Gregg McNally but Smith was proud of the way his players maintained their discipline.
“There was some crazy stuff out there and we contributed to some of it,” he said. “We were all pretty disappointed with how things went in the first half but I thought under pressure and with one guy in the sin bin we did well to see it out.
“In this almost sudden-death type of footy, we’ve got ourselves in a good spot now, but we definitely need to improve on the way we played today.”