Championship leaders Leigh demonstrated their Super League credentials with a 22-18 victory over Salford in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup, although coach Paul Rowley claimed it was a below-par performance from his side.
The Centurions twice came from behind in their fifth-round tie against their top-flight visitors, sealing a 21st consecutive victory with two tries in the last quarter from Ryan Brierley and Jonathan Pownall, adding to first-half scores from Gregg McNally and Tommy Goulden.
Salford had led 6-0 thanks to Theo Fages’ eighth-minute try but they suffered massive disruption when Australian scrum-half Michael Dobson went off after only 14 minutes with a knee injury.
“It was frustrating at times,” Rowley said. “I thought we gifted Salford a lot of their opportunities. They lost a lot of shape when Dobson went off which made them predictable.
“I felt we were off with the ball, we could have been a lot better today, I guess that goes to show how far we’ve come as a group.
“Our execution was a little bit off. I thought we could have made that a little more comfortable. Defensively, we had some warriors out there who were very tough.”
The Red Devils looked to have regained control of the match when Fages created two tries for full-back Niall Evalds either side of half-time but Leigh, who pushed Leeds all the way in the 2014 quarter-finals, finished the stronger team to claim a notable scalp.
“It was an opportunity to test ourselves against a top Super League side and I guess it does show where we’re at,” Rowley added. “Now all of a sudden it makes the middle eight interesting.
“Halifax did a good job for 60 minutes (at Wakefield) last night and just tapered off at the end. We were very much an 80-minute team and actually got stronger towards the end.
“It’s 21 victories in a row and we’ve not lost at home for a year and a half, we were never going to give that up easily. Anyone who takes that away from us will have to earn it.”
The build-up to the tie was dominated by Leigh’s selection of former England forward Gareth Hock despite an agreement not to play against his old club, but he played little part in their downfall.
Hock, one of five ex-Salford players in the home line-up, spent just 25 minutes on the field in two spells and looked well short of match fitness.
“It wasn’t about Gaz Hock,” Rowley added. “It was before but it certainly wasn’t during and it’s not after which is pleasing.”
Salford were without suspended duo Rangi Chase and Weller Hauraki and, in addition to losing Dobson in the opening minutes, they lost centre Junior Sa’u with a wrist injury before half-time while back rower Cory Paterson struggled with a leg injury as he switched to a makeshift stand-off role.
“Obviously it doesn’t help when you lose a half after 10 or 15 minutes,” Salford coach Iestyn Harris said. “Theo is an exceptionally good player but he’s 20 years old and he probably struggled to manage the game on his own.
“We had a front row in the centre and a back row in the halves and we needed to bring Patto off at some stage but we didn’t have the option to do that.
“But they’re all excuses. We were probably a little bit dumb at times but I don’t want to take anything away from Leigh, who deserved their victory.
“We’re obviously bitterly disappointed but we’re not going to disrespect a good day for a club like Leigh.
“We’re going through a sticky patch with injuries - I think we’ve got 14 in total that are unavailable for us - but you have to go through these periods in a season.
“I’ve just spoken to the players in the changing room and told them it’s important we stay tight together.
“When you have bad days like this, you stay strong.”