Mick Nanyn kicked a penalty on the hooter as Leigh salvaged a deserved draw against Barrow in an entertaining opener at Leigh Sports Village.
After earlier spurning the opportunity to level the game, Leigh were given a second chance when Tyrone McCarthy‘s grubber kick was blocked and a Barrow player was given offside, 30 metres out. Nanyn kept his nerve to complete Leigh’s comeback, after they had thrown away a 12-6 half time lead to go 20-12 down with under a quarter of an hour left.
For Barrow it was the second time in three weeks that they had squandered a winning position late on, having lost at the death against Widnes in the Northern Rail Cup. They were close to doing the same here after Stuart Donlan‘s try set up a thrilling finale, but return to Cumbria with two points to open up their Championship defence.
The champions started on the front foot but were dealt a blow when forward Andy Bracek was helped off after a big hit by one of Leigh’s dual-registration stars, Lee Mitchell. Key man Jamie Rooney missed a tough penalty in the opening five minutes, but helped himself to a converted try, waltzing through the Leigh line on the last tackle and kicking the subsequent conversion.
But Leigh found their feet and began to see more of the ball. On their first foray in to the Raiders endzone, Tim Hartley‘s kick was knocked dead for a drop-out. Inspired by the masterful Robbie Paul, who combined well with half back partner Hartley and hooker John Duffy, the Centurions then crossed to reduce arrears to two. Hartley’s deep pass found Paul in space and he fed Stuart Donlan who sailed through a big gap in the Raiders defence to touch down.
Barrow’s cause then wasn’t helped by a nasty looking injury to James Nixon, who was taken to hospital with a suspected broken arm.
Leigh took the initiative and after a period of possession, they broke through the Barrow line with some terrific handling play, which resulted in Donlan going close, before Paul spotted the space on the right hand flank to fire a high kick up for Dave Alstead to claim a simple catch and score.
Despite reasonable field position, Leigh failed to add to their 10-6 advantage, although both Dave Armitstead and Mick Nanyn went close for the home side. Barrow were restricted to two half chances, both times managing to breach the right hand Leigh defence, but first Macgruff Leuluai and then Alstead snuffed out the attack.
Leigh were restricted to just another two points, courtesy of a Hartley penalty right on half time, but went in 12-6 to the good at the break.
But Barrow, kicked around the park by the superb Rooney, took control of the game after the break and soon hit the front. Rooney took a quick tap penalty and the Raiders found space down the right flank after Richard Fletcher shrugged off a poor tackle, setting up a quick passing move that saw Andy Ballard touch down in the right hand corner to reduce arrears to 12-10.
Leigh were forced further on to the back foot after Donlan spilled Rooney’s high kick, and from the subsequent set of six, Barrow found room on the left for another four pointer to re-take the lead at 14-12. Almost immediately from the kick off, Harrison stretched his legs with a clean break down the Barrow left, only to be denied by a last ditch tackle from Donlan. But Barrow weren’t to waste the opportunity, taking advantage of an unorganised Leigh line, with Chris Young the unlikely scorer of a try from 35 metres.
Steve McCormack’s side looked to close out the game but the re-introduction of hooker Duffy revitalised Leigh, and they finally started to build some pressure of their own. Matty Blythe was denied by the video referee for a knock-on, before the Centurions dragged themselves back in to the game with a fine try.
Tireless prop Chris Hill stepped through a gap and raced away before showing fine awareness in making a remarkable pass out of the back door to the supporting Donlan who raced away for a try under the sticks to bring Leigh within two.
With the home support behind them, the Centurions had eight minutes to find a score, and a superb tackle by Nanyn gave Leigh head and feed just 10 metres from the Barrow line. They couldn’t find a way through, but were awarded a penalty when Richard Fletcher was pulled up for interference at the play-the-ball. Leigh declined a simple two points and were made to regret the decision when Hartley knocked on.
Barrow appeared to regain their composure to see out the match, but there was one final twist. As Leigh pushed hard for a break, Tyrone McCarthy‘s scuffed grubber kick appeared to signal the end for Leigh, but a Raiders defender collected the ball from an offside position to give Nanyn the opportunity to claim a draw, an opportunity Leigh were not to spurn this time.
Leigh: Donlan, Alstead, Blythe, Nanyn, Maden, Hartley, Paul, Hill, Duffy, Emmitt, Taylor, Mitchell, McCarthy. Subs: Goulden, McConnell, Armitstead, Leuluai
Barrow: Broadbent, Ballard, Halliwell, Harrison, Nixon, Rooney, Coyle, Bracek, Henderson, Roberts, Catic, Fletcher, Luisi. Subs: Young, McDermott, Noone, Mossop
Referee: Gareth Hewer