The AB Sundecks 1895 Final between Featherstone Rovers and Leigh Centurions was so much more than a curtain raiser for the Betfred Challenge Cup Final which would take place later in the afternoon at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it was a battle between the top two sides in the Championship and the result would reverberate much further than this one sunny Saturday afternoon out in the big smoke.
It was a battle of two experienced coaches with neither Adrian Lam nor Brian McDermott strangers to major finals, McDermott with the upper hand and a record of six major finals wins as a player, and seven as a coach.
This was the first time in its three-year history that Leigh have made it to the final, but they were facing a Featherstone side who were defending the Trophy which they picked up last season thanks to their 41-34 win over the York City Knights.
Craig Hall grabbed the first points of the game as he slotted a forty-metre penalty between the uprights, after an error from Adam Sidlow, to calm the nerves of the flat cappers.
It was the Centurions who got the first four pointer, Krisnan Inu pushing through his tackler after soaring high above the Rovers defence to take a Ben Reynolds high kick to the corner. The conversion mark was five metres in from the touchline, but a confident Inu put it straight between the uprights for a 6-4 lead. It was already looking like the game would be a belter.
On twelve minutes Rovers struck back with Mark Kheirallah dropping the shoulder and breaking the line before finding Hall on the wing to run in from ten metres to score in the corner. Hall was also accurate from the touchline for 8-6 to Featherstone.
Another Hall penalty on twenty-two doubled Featherstone´s lead, Rovers opting to take the points whenever they were available.
The Centurions were back on level terms on twenty-nine, Reynolds taking the ball as second receiver and exploiting the smallest of gaps to go in twenty metres left of the uprights. Inu added the conversion as the lead swapped hands again.
With five minutes of the half remaining referee Moore called Leigh offside and Hall accepted the invitation to level the scores from eighteen metres, there was nothing between the sides in half which had been a terrific forty minutes. It was a brave man who would pick a winner at the halfway stage.
Ed Chamberlain lost the ball in the act of scoring on forty-five thanks to some great Rovers defence and on their next attack there was a high tackle from Brett Ferres which allowed Inu to kick the penalty goal for a two-point advantage. Leigh having the best of the early second half exchanges.
A superb Leigh try regained the lead with Caleb Aekins throwing a miss-out pass to Blake Ferguson on the wing with just enough space for him to slide down the touchline and stoop to score in the corner. Inu pulled his conversion wide of the uprights, Leigh with a six-point advantage.
A stunning solo try from Edwin Ipape, stepping past the Featherstone defence to dart through a gap and cross to score by the posts with a tremendous turn of pace. Inu added the extras and there was daylight between the sides.
As the sides tired the mistakes started to creep in. On seventy minutes some fast hands from right to left saw Hall in again off an over-the-top pass from Joey Leilua, the winger going in for his second of the afternoon. Hall was unable to add the conversion, Rovers still two scores adrift.
The game was won on seventy-seven as Kheirallah tried to shepherd the ball over the dead ball line, but Sam Stone chased down the bouncing ball and managed to ground it before going dead in goal. Inu added the conversion for a famous 30-16 win after a dominant second half display.
Leigh emerged victorious from a fantastic game between the best two sides in the Championship. The slight underdogs on the afternoon took the spoils and travel home with the trophy as Adrian Lam´s side celebrated, Brian McDermott will use this as the fuel to fire the Featherstone charge to the Super League, however, the outcome of todays game will put some doubt in the Rovers minds for their likely meeting in the Million Pound Game at the end of the season.
Featherstone Rovers: Kheirallah, Briscoe, Leilua, Hellewell, Hall (2T, 4G), Smith, Jacks, Kopczak, Wildie, Lockwood, Bussey, Sene-Lefao, Moors. Subs: Ford, Davies, Ferres, Cooper.
Leigh Centurions: Aekins, Ferguson (T), Chamberlain, MacDonald, Inu (T, 5G), Reynolds (T), Mellor, Sidlow, Smith, Amone, Stone (T), Wardle, Asiata. Subs: O´Donnell, Nakubuwai, Ioane, Ipape (T).
Score Progression: 2-0, 2-4, 2-6, 6-6, 8-6, 10-6, 10-10, 10-12, 12-12: HT : 12-14, 12-18, 12-22, 12-24, 16-24, 16-28, 16-30 : FT.
Lead Exchange: Featherstone – Leigh – Square - Featherstone – Square – Leigh – Square - Leigh
Referee: Liam Moore.