Opinion: Higham the driving force for Centurions

Leigh's unsung hero Tommy Goulden. Photo: Paul McCarthy Photography
Leigh's unsung hero Tommy Goulden. Photo: Paul McCarthy Photography

Leigh Reporter columnist Dave Parkinson casts his eye over the latest round of games in the Super 8 qualifiers which included a big win for Leigh over Sheffield

And they’re off! Finally the Centurions have got under way and are up and running in the Qualifiers. It has taken a few weeks but Sunday showed again just how quickly this team can pile on the points and move through the gears.

I can’t tell you how pleased I am that Leigh have moved from the nervous nought that was blighting their name in the Super Eights Qualifying table. I will also admit to being a little nervous in the build up to the game, something I haven’t really felt ahead of any game in two years.

After a close opening the class of Micky Higham shone through. Warrington’s loss is certainly Leigh’s game and Higham was at his most influential throughout, guiding the team like an expert with steady hands on the wheel. He scored the first try and had a hand in two others yet I also thought he received some good support from the pack. Jake Emmitt continued his wonderful form, Jamie Acton was aggressive and direct while the unsung Tommy Goulden and Andrew Dixon provided the perfect foil for an explosive ball carrying performance from Fuifui Moimoi.

It would be remiss of me to go through the performance without mentioning another hat-trick from Ryan Brierley. That takes him to 130 club tries, overtaking Joe Walsh into 6th spot on the all-time list and now just two tries behind the equally prolific Neil Turley. While there was some confusion in a couple of media outlets about the status of Liam Kay’s 36th try of the season. This sees him draw level with Billy Kindon for the most tries in a season by a Leigh winger but is still some short of Turley’s brilliant 2001 that saw him go in for a whopping 55 tries, even Brierley’s 37 this term sees him with some to go to even get near, although perhaps his 43 of last season is within touching distance with three games to go (and maybe a fourth if all other results go in the Centurions favour). Gregg McNally also had his moments where he carved up the Eagles line, while I felt their most impressive player was Duane Straughier who has really come on a bundle since his early steps in a first team at York.

I know that Sheffield boss Mark Aston was less than impressed by match official James Child and this was something echoed by my fellow Leigh Centurions TV and mixlr.com/leighcenturions commentary team of Joe Wood, Kieran Makin and Chris Stott.

Aston was particularly incensed by two tries that were awarded to Leigh. Andrew Dixon scoring from what appeared from at least two angles to be a knock on by Tom Armstrong and Tommy Goulden paving the way for a Brierley try after the ball zipped loose from Johnny Pownall.

It was interesting to note Sheffield’s slowing and at times niggling tactics. After seeing very little by the way of that sort of play in the Centurions last three games against Super League opposition, I sincerely hope it’s something I can avoid having to mention over the games against Halifax and Bradford.

Just a quick note for your diaries, that Bradford home game will now take place on Saturday, September 19 with Sky Sports choosing to show Leigh again. This extra exposure is great for the club but I also feel it has stopped there being two 5,000 plus gates so far against Hull KR and Wakefield and will undoubtedly hit the gate again. This is why there has to be a rethink ahead of next season to compensate clubs who appear on television.

Other games in the Qualifiers provided talking points with a hat-trick of hat-tricks pulling Salford clear of a spirited Halifax who also scored five tries. Halifax lad Niall Evalds again showed his uncanny knack for the try line while other trebles were claimed by former Leeds winger Ben Jones Bishop and one time Batley flyer Greg Johnson. Griffin (5) and Dobson (2) shared the goals, while Fax had scorers in Dane Manning, birthday boy Scott Murrell, James Saltonstall, Jacob Fairbank and Adam Tangata with Steve Tyrer kicking four goals.

Goal-kicking let Wakefield down as Hull KR overcame their Wembley blushes with a hard fought 20-18 win. Kieran Dixon scored two tries for the hosts with Josh Mantellato and Shaun Lunt scoring the others with Dixon (1) and Mantellato (1) sharing goals. Kevin Locke returned for Wakefield and the New Zealand international scored two tries along with team-mate Lee Smith but between Smith and Jordan Tansey, only one goal came from Smith.

It was a second half to forget against Widnes for Bradford Bulls. The Bulls were well in the contest when they trailed 14-12 at half-time. Adrian Purtell and Omari Caro scored tries for the hosts with Danny Addy booting two goals to respond to Joe Mellor’s brace and a first from Patrick Ah Van. Both Mellor and Ah Van went on to claim hat-tricks in a second half that was one-way traffic. Charly Runciman scored the first try of the second half before Widnes ran in five tries during the last seventeen minutes. Hep Cahill, Rhys Hanbury, Kevin Brown also touched down with Lloyd White (2) and Danny Tickle (6) kicking goals as the Vikings amassed a 56-12 win.

In light of the Centurions Sunday showing, I think they took some inspiration from near neighbours Leigh Miners Rangers who played out a real late summer hum-dinger of a game on Saturday at Wigan St Pat’s. Miners built a 16-6 half-time advantage with two tries from Brad Hargreaves, who is like the NCL version of Mick Nanyn with a bit more pace. He has scored tries throughout the season and following a brace that could well have been five in the second half. He has now scored 18 tries this term. Andrew Groves scored Miners other try in a dominant first half. All that threatened to come to nothing as Pats fought back with Simon Atherton scoring two tries while former Leigh halfback Dean Hatton took his goal tally to three after another former Centurion, Tyler Spence claimed a thrilling try. The visitors wrestled their way back with Scott O’Brien going in from close range before prop forward duo Darryl Kay and Chris Bower scored late tries to ensure a 32-22 success that keeps Miners Rangers top of the competition.

Look out for more from the Miners camp in the very near future.

Before I sign off, I want to wish Paul Anderson and his Reserves all the best for their Grand Final, being held at the LSV this Friday night, 11th September (8pm kick-off). It would be fitting for Ando’s lads to win this competition again. Leigh have shown some good consistency and with the likes of Jack Hansen coming through amongst others, there could be a few stars of the future on show. Admission for the game is £5 per ticket.