Featherstone reached their third consecutive Championship Grand Final with a 32-14 win over Leigh.
The reigning champions trailed at half-time but fought back to book their place at the Halliwell Jones Stadium on September 30th.
Two disallowed Leigh tries and two barnstorming runs from Featherstone prop Dominic Maloney turned the second half, which saw Leigh’s chances diminish as they continually conceded penalties to gift momentum to the home side.
The Centurions started strongly and led through Tommy Goulden‘s early try, and they stretched their lead to 10-0 when Jonathan Pownall snuck in behind Matt Gardner‘s jump to claim Martin Ridyard‘s pinpoint kick and touch down.
Featherstone worked their way back in to the game, and the excellent Maloney crashed over from short range on the last tackle to move them within four.
As the clock ticked towards half-time, the home side looked the most likely scorers, until Pownall gathered a kick inside his own 10 metres, and set off on a clever run to outpace Andy Kain and the other Featherstone chasers to touch down on the hooter.
Daryl Powell’s men came out fired up in the second half and claimed the first score when Stuart Dickens took advantage of a loose carry from Gardner, scooping up the ball and touching down to make it 14-12 to Leigh.
Then came the game’s main talking point. On the last tackle, Ridyard dummied to kick and danced through a gap in the Featherstone defence, before finding Gregg McNally on his inside shoulder to touch down in front of the elated travelling support, only for video referee Ian Smith to chalk off the four points for obstruction. Replays showed that prop Michael Ostick took a small step to his right to block Ben Kaye‘s defensive efforts, and much to the bemusement of the Leigh players, the try wasn’t given.
Featherstone, who enjoyed a run of seven consecutive penalties in the middle section of the match, hit the front at 16-14 when Liam Finn‘s tagged over two simple goals.
Leigh’s frustration mounted when Ridyard’s fine long pass was plucked out the air by Gardner who touched down, only to be pulled back by referee George Stokes for a forward pass.
After that let off, the home side didn’t look back. Maloney surged on to a fine pass from Finn to charge down the hill and touch down, and then after Finn had added another penalty, another Maloney break set the platform for Ian Hardman to race away and score under the sticks.
The night went from bad to worse for Leigh when they had back-rower Kevin Henderson sent off late on for a high shot on Kyle Briggs, as the former Bradford man raced away, and when the subsequent fisty-cuffs had died down, Finn tagged on his eighth goal of the night to seal the 32-14 win.
Leigh must now face the winner of Halifax and Sheffield’s match on Sunday to determine who plays Featherstone in the Grand Final on September 30th.