Leigh Leopards and Hull KR’s remarkable Challenge Cup record after being paired again

Ben Olawumi
Lachlan Lam kicks winning drop goal

Lachlan Lam kicks the winning drop goal for Leigh Leopards in the 2023 Challenge Cup final against Hull KR at Wembley

“Ball number four, Hull KR, will play… ball number five, Leigh Leopards”. Again.

Fans of those two clubs almost knew what was coming last night in the Challenge Cup quarter-final draw, it was inevitable.

And no, we’re not talking about – or buying into – the ‘rigged’ draw talk whatsoever, but the Robins and the Leopards have forged something of a rivalry in the Challenge Cup of late, with 2024’s last-eight tie now set to be the sixth time in the last eight years that the two clubs have met in the competition!

The most notable of those, of course, was last year’s final under the Wembley arch. In their first year branded as Leopards, and first back in Super League, Leigh remarkably lifted the Challenge Cup for the first time in 52 years.

But even that final aside, hosted at a ‘neutral venue’, the statistic remains that only one of the five ties over the last seven years between the pair has been played at the Leigh Sports Village.

Following last night’s draw, that will extend out to one of six come mid-April when this year’s quarter-finals are played out!

When that does come around, having had KR away as a loop fixture in Super League last year and then ended up there in the play-offs, Leigh will have travelled to Craven Park four times in the space of just 13 months.

They won just one of the three clashes in East Hull in 2023, and we’re sure the Robins will be keen to get their revenge in the cup in a few weeks time, too.

Below, we take a brief look at the five Challenge Cup clashes between the pair from 2017-2023 in chronological order.

READ NEXT: 2024 Challenge Cup quarter-final draw made as Hull KR and Leigh pitted against one another in re-run of last year’s final

2017: Leigh Centurions 10-23 Hull KR (Round 5 – April 22)

Tim Sheens, Hull KR
Tim Sheens was the man in charge of Hull KR during the 2017 season which saw them promoted up from the Championship

The only one of these games hosted by Leigh saw the then-Super League hosts beaten by a KR side vying for promotion in the Championship.

Having swapped places between the divisions at the end of 2016, they would again at the end of 2017 with the Centurions relegated and the Robins going on to regain their top flight spot.

In this Round 5 cup clash, Ryan Shaw grabbed a brace for the visitors, with tries from James Greenwood & George Lawler seeing them over the line along with a Jamie Ellis drop goal. Tim Sheens’ side were knocked out by Salford Red Devils in the next round.

READ NEXT: The latest Love Rugby League Power Rankings – Hull KR rise as Wigan Warriors retain top spot & Huddersfield Giants enter the fray 

2019: Hull KR 14-10 Leigh Centurions (Round 5 – April 11)

Joe Cator, Leigh Centurions
Joe Cator was one of Leigh Centurions’ try-scorers in their 2019 Challenge Cup tie against Hull KR

The roles were reversed two years later, and Leigh came mightily close to pulling off an upset at Craven Park, going two scores ahead after first-half tries from Jonny Pownall & Joe Cator.

Jimmy Keinhorst got the hosts back into it before the break however, with Shaw – who would later be sin-binned – scoring late on and Craig Hall going over for what would prove the decisive try with just six minutes left on the clock. Sheens would depart KR at the beginning of June following a quarter-final defeat in the Challenge Cup at home to Warrington Wolves.

Tony Smith succeeded him and led the Robins to Super League survival, escaping the drop on points difference. Leigh meanwhile, amidst financial issues, finishes 4th in the Championship and were then thumped in the play-offs by Featherstone Rovers.

READ NEXT: Trio of Leigh Leopards stars make cut in Love Rugby League‘s Challenge Cup Team of the Week along with quarter of Hull KR aces

2020: Hull KR 22-19 Leigh Centurions (Round 5 – March 15)

Kane Linnett
2020: Kane Linnett scores a try against Leigh Centurions in the Challenge Cup

11 months later, the two sides were paired against one another at Craven Park in the Fifth Round of the Challenge Cup again, and they would serve up an absolute thriller.

Leigh raced into a 12-0 lead after tries from Adam Higson & Ben Hellewell, but three tries in eight first-half minutes from Kane Linnett, Shaun Kenny-Dowall & Will Dagger had the hosts back in front come the break.

Liam Hood‘s try got the game back level at 18-18 and Josh Woods‘ drop goal had the Centurions back in front, leading 19-18 when the final hooter sounded, but Nick Rawsthorne would dramatically go in at the corner to win it for KR!

Just 2,620 were in attendance, with the Coronavirus Pandemic having already shut down most professional sport, and many fans opting not to risk going to the game. This would be the last match played in front of fans in 2020 for both clubs, with lockdown coming into force the following week.

As a non-professional league, the Championship was curtailed and Leigh would eventually be promoted up to Super League for 2021, the chosen ’12th team’ with a successful application following Toronto Wolfpack’s demise.

KR meanwhile were able to resume behind closed doors in August 2020. They would be knocked out of the cup by Leeds Rhinos in the quarter-finals, finishing bottom of Super League but spared relegation due to Toronto’s withdrawal.

READ NEXT: Leigh Leopards boss confirms injury blow to ex-Love Island star on long-awaited return

2022: Hull KR 24-18 Leigh Centurions (Round 6 – March 26)

Frankie Halton
2022: Hull KR’s Frankie Halton goes over for a try against Leigh in the Challenge Cup

With Adrian Lam at the helm, en-route to promotion up from the Championship, Leigh returned to Craven Park two years later and left having been knocked out of the cup once again.

It wasn’t for the want of trying though. The visitors dominated for large spells, but couldn’t make it count, and had only a Ben Reynolds (now at KR) penalty to their name before the hosts showed a clinical Super League standard to run in four tries, current Leopard Frankie Halton amongst the scorers.

When Matty Storton powered his way over 53 minutes in, Dagger tagged on the extras to make it 24-2, and the Centurions looked done for. But 11 minutes later, Keanan Brand got over at the other end, and in the closing stages, Lam’s side went over twice in the space of three minutes.

There were 90 seconds left on the clock when Krisnan Inu converted Joe Mellor‘s full-length try to take them to within a score, but Leigh came up just short. KR would reach the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup that year, thumped 25-4 by Huddersfield Giants at Elland Road. Boss Smith left at the beginning of July, with Danny McGuire in interim charge until the end of the season.

READ NEXT: One off-contract player every Super League club should prioritise re-signing

2023: Leigh Leopards 17-16 Hull KR (Final)

Leigh Leopards lift the Challenge Cup - 2023
Josh Charnley and his Leigh Leopards team-mates lift the Challenge Cup at Wembley in August 2023

And that leads us onto the only one of these cup ties won by Leigh, but – undoubtedly – the most important of them all.

A remarkable story unfolded for newly-promoted Leigh, who had changed their name and received plenty of backlash for doing so, to even get to Wembley. To win it in the way they did was absolutely unbelievable, the first-ever Challenge Cup final to go to golden point.

Lance Todd Trophy winner Lachlan Lam had scored the Leopards’ first try in the capital after Jez Litten‘s opener for KR, and when Tom Briscoe powered over for Leigh in the second half, it looked likely to be the winner.

Two minutes from time however, Matt Parcell got the ball down, confirmed by a lengthy video referee check, and when Brad Schneider tagged on the extras to level it up at 16-16, into golden point we went.

Both teams missed drop goal attempts before Lam’s match-winning moment, one of the best cup finals we’ve seen in recent memory.

That would be Leigh’s peak in 2023, winning only two of their six remaining Super League games and somewhat stumbling into the play-offs. KR meanwhile rallied and won their last five to pip the Leopards to 4th spot, earning home advantage against them in the play-offs and making it count with a 20-6 win. The Robins would be beaten in the semi-finals by Wigan Warriors.

READ NEXT: Exclusive – Leigh Leopards star details ‘burning desire’ for Wembley return after missing 2023 Challenge Cup triumph