In the opening round of what many consider the most exciting end-of-season competition, the qualifying eights saw the visit of Leigh Centurions to Featherstone Rovers. After last nights win for the Warrington Wolves over the Widnes Vikings, both of these sides were looking for the best possible start to their campaign.
All sides have had their points re-set to zero with the prize, in seven games time, being progress into Super League for 2018. The teams finishing fourth and fifth will play off in a crucial final game for the last Super League place, with the disappointed four playing in the Championship next year.
The Centurions were the favourites with the bookies and the pundits, but with home advantage Rovers were looking to spring a surprise and make the perfect start to their promotion push.
Leigh were without a handful of first teamers and missing the services of Hock, Crooks, and Acton. Rovers were looking for a better campaign that last year’s qualifying eights where they failed to win a single game.
The first try of the day took just 150 seconds when Daniel Mortimer was on hand to take an Atelea Vea pass after the second rower had done all the work in a thirty metre break. Mortimer took the pass and went twenty metres to cross under the sticks giving Josh Drinkwater a simple conversion for 6-0.
On six minutes it was 12-0 when Featherstone failed to deal with a Mortimer grubber which was collected and grounded by Greg McNally after it confused the defenders and sat up nicely for the full back. Drinkwater was again accurate with the boot.
Rather than go to pieces, Rovers dug deep. After good build up, Darrell Griffin found his way to the line on seventeen and although Leigh made their best efforts to hold him up over the line the Fev’ prop managed to get the ball on the ground. Ian Hardman added the extras to half the arrears.
On twenty-two Mitch Brown had space wide left when he took a McNally miss-out pass to dive in and ground by the corner flag. Drinkwater failed to add the touchline conversion.
Luke Briscoe went close for the home side on thirty-three but dropped the ball in the act of scoring but as the sides went into the break at 16-6. A great Featherstone had shown that they were far from the whipping boys that they’d seemed in the opening few minutes.
The Centurions extended their lead with the second half six minutes old when Liam Hood went from acting half-back to burrow under the tacklers and ground by the right upright. Drinkwater added the extras for 22-6 and it now looked an uphill task for Rovers.
It was 28-6 on fifty-six after a delicate Mortimer grubber kick bounced through a couple of pairs of hands before Matty Dawson got a hand on it to score. Drinkwater pushed his conversion over off the upright.
Two minutes later and Drinkwater chased and caught his own kick through to go twenty metres, throw the dummy, and dive over. He failed to convert his own try but at 32-6 his try was the guarantee that the visitors would take the two crucial league points.
Misi Taulapapa grabbed a sixty-sixth minute try to get Fev’ into double figures when he weaved through the Leigh defence from twenty-five metres to score under the sticks. Hardman added the conversion for 12-32.
A late hit on McNally from Richard Moore saw the Rovers prop sin-binned and Featherstone had to finish the game with twelve men. Within two minutes Mick Higham broke downfield and drew the last tackler before a neat inside ball to McNally to go over under the sticks. Drinkwater added the extra two for a final score of 38-12.
It wasn’t plain sailing for Neil Jukes’s Leigh Centurions but they dug deep and ground out a win. Featherstone suffered and awful start but acquitted themselves well for the rest of the first half. Super League fitness carried Leigh through the second half and a few silly mistakes cost the flat cappers. A great start for Leigh but disappointment for John Duffy and his Featherstone side who would have picked this as a key game to win in their quest for Super League.
Rovers: Hardman (2G), Turner, Taulapapa (T), Hardcastle, Briscoe, Briggs, Thackeray, Moore (SB), Carlile, Griffin (T), Davies, Farrell, Lockwood. Subs: Wildie, Bostock, Mariano, Brooks.
Centurions: McNally (2T), Dawson (T), Fleming, Langi, Brown (T), Mortimer (T), Drinkwater (T, 5G), Hanson, Higham, Maria, Paterson, Vea, Burr. Subs: Hood (T), Richards, Tickle, Stewart.
Referee: James Child.