The second round of the Qualifying Eights brought the much anticipated matchup between Super League’s Leigh Centurions and the Hull KR side that they replaced for the 2017 season. This would be a clear indication of which of these two sides might be playing their rugby in the elite competition in 2018 and it was a game that neither side could lose.
Just two places separated these two sides at the split with the Centurions finishing Super League in eleventh while KR were the runaway leaders in the Championship with just one loss.
Both sides sat in the top three after wins last week, Leigh after a 38-12 victory over Featherstone while KR had a fright in their 26-22 win against Halifax.
The Centurions drew first blood after eleven minutes. The try was created out of nowhere when Josh Drinkwater put Harrison Hansen through a gap who then found Daniel Mortimer to go in under the uprights. Drinkwater added the conversion.
As the half wore on the early Leigh dominance gave way to a more even game. On twenty-five KR’s Justin Carney stumbled with a path to the line clear ahead of him and found himself pushed into touch.
Just before the half-hour mark Shaun Lunt used his strength to push past three Leigh tacklers to ground on the line with a dart from dummy half. Jamie Ellis slid his conversion over the crossbar for to level the scores at 6-6.
It was clear to see that both sides knew what was at stake as they arm-wrestled themselves to half-time. With a minute left KR were penalized for holding down in the tackle and Drinkwater kicked the penalty from ten out to give Leigh an 8-6 interval lead.
On fifty-one Drinkwater kicked his third goal of the afternoon after interference at the play the ball.
The Robins drew level on fifty-seven when a Jamie Ellis kick was caught by Ryan Shaw and grounded one handed, a split second before being dragged into touch by the Leigh defence. Jamie Ellis kicked the touchline conversion to edge his side into a 12-10 lead with twenty minutes remaining.
On sixty-four Lachlan Burr pushed Kieron Moss aside as he chased a high kick and from the resulting penalty Ellis accepted the chance to double the KR lead to four points.
Three minutes later and the Centurions were level when Atelea Vea took a short pass and crashed over from five metres, swatting the attempted tackles out of the way. Drinkwater converted in off the near upright for a 16-14 lead.
With five minutes remaining Shaun Lunt rode four tacklers, went over on his back and grounded the ball to give KR an 18-16 lead. Ellis added the extras and again it was the Robins with a four point lead.
Leigh took the risks in the dying second but couldn’t breach the KR line as the visitors held on for a famous victory.
This was a terrific game between two sides who wanted to play and who were both desperate for the points. There was very little to choose between them as the lead changed hands and the supporters of both sides were kept on the edges of their seats. KR edged it and were good value for the win but Leigh were left ruing missed opportunities.
This was a monster win for KR and a massive setback for the Centurions. The Robins join Warrington at the top of the Qualifiers table with two wins from two outings. The sides in the bottom four places on the table all have a chance of finishing the weekend inside the top four when they play tomorrow afternoon.
Over at the Halliwell-Jones, Warrington Wolves moved to the top of the table with a big win over fellow Super League club the Catalans Dragons. Ratchford, Russell and Patton had put the home side 18-0 ahead before Casty pulled one back for the Dragons. An Atkins try on twenty-eight, and a second for Ratchford on thirty-five gave the Wolves a 30-6 interval lead. Inu narrowed the deficit just after the break but Atkins added his second for 36-12. A Tierney try made it 36-18 but tries from Lineham and Hiku put the game beyond the French side at 48-18. Inu got his second of the afternoon but the last score of the game went to Lineham as the Wolves won 52-24.