Halifax 18 Leigh 32
RARELY can a team that began a game so promisingly have ended it so disappointingly.
Karl Harrison’s unbeaten Co-operative Championship leaders looked on course to stretch their winning run in the league to five matches when they utterly dominated the first half hour of this contest.
But they finished the evening well beaten after Leigh, coached by Harrison’s former front row teammate Paul Rowley, stole the points with a performance that spoke volumes for both their physical and mental strength.
As expected, Harrison made half a dozen changes to the team that breezed past South Wales Scorpions in the fourth round of the Carnegie Challenge Cup last weekend.
Full back Ryan Fieldhouse, winger Wayne Rettie, half back Anthony Thackeray and forwards Jim Gannon, Luke Ambler and Adam Robinson all returned, with Sean Hesketh snagging the final place on a hotly contested bench.
And his side made an ideal start, forcing an error from Rob Parker on the very first tackle of the game, with Thackeray being up held on the line five tackles later.
Paul Handforth then put boot to ball to force a drop out, before repeating the feat a minute later to leave Leigh firmly on the back foot.
And when Penkywicz rolled the ball behind the line, Leigh had no choice but to concede a fourth repeat set.
When the visitors finally, inevitably, cracked it was again from a kick, Penkywicz again the instigator and Craig Ashall pouncing under the posts.
The home side almost scored again when Handforth and Dane Manning sparked a move down the right that ended with Leigh conceding their fourth drop out in less than 10 minutes as Reittie kicked and chased.
Four became five as Handforth kicked for White on the other flank, but Leigh finally got some breathing space when Fax conceded a penalty for obstruction.
Leigh were under the cosh again when full back Gregg McNally dropped a Handforth bomb, but a fumble from Luke Ambler let them off the hook.
At that stage, Fax had completed 10 sets compared to Leigh’s two, but when the chance came to double their lead, the home side butchered it; Sean Penkywicz skipping clear but him and Thackeray getting in each other’s way and the ball ending up on the floor.
Nevertheless, Handforth forced a staggering sixth repeat set, only for Thackeray to produce an equally staggering error, cold hands fumbling the ball from the drop out.
There were 25 minutes on the clock when Leigh finally seized an attacking lifeline, Martin Ridyard’s kick forcing Fieldhouse to knock the ball dead.
They almost made it count, winger Steve Maden crossing in the right corner, only for the score to be ruled out for obstruction.
The Centurions finally scored just past the half hour, still very much against the run of play, when McNally slipped past Tyrer to touchdown, Ridyard’s goalkick drifting wide to leave Fax leading 6-4.
And things got a lot worse three minutes later when Duffy, such a clever player, forced his way over to the left of the posts and Ridyard kicked Leigh 10-6 ahead.
That score introduced an element of desperation to Fax’s play, but despite going up a couple of gears – and forcing a seventh drop out – they could not crack the defence before the break.
That set up a fascinating second half, with the big question just how much energy Leigh’s defensive workload had taken out of them.
The second half began with Tyrer running into touch on the short side, and that simple error led to a third try for the visitors, replacement half back Ryan Brierley pouncing on a misdirected kick from Ridyard to touch down.
Ridyard landed the conversion to give his side a 10-point lead at 16-6 and things very nearly got a lot worse when the back rower Tommy Goulden crashed over on the left, desperate defence stopping him from grounding the ball.
The respite was brief, McNally scoring his second try of the night after a terrible error from Reittie.
Ridyard’s conversion left Leigh leading 22-6, with Fax almost unrecognisable from the well-drilled side that had started the game as their composure began to crumble.
They looked to have scored when Fieldhouse pounced on Handforth’s grubber kick, but the score was chalked off by the video referee.
Leigh back rower James Laithwaite then had his claims for a try waved away, as Fax clung on to hopes of a comeback, before centre Mat Gardner forced the ball down to end the match as a contest.
There was some late consolation, Reittie powering in on the right and then setting up another score for Ben Heaton, but neither Harrison nor his players will have gleaned much joy from their revival.