The latter stages of the 2011 Northern Rail Cup had not only one dramatic finish, but two, as Halifax’s semi-final and final went down to the wire.
Unfortunately for Halifax, they were only able to triumph in one of those games, winning a pulsating semi-final 31-30 against Featherstone, in a match which was decided by golden point extra time and the boot of Danny Jones.
In the final, the Yorkshiremen faced Leigh, and for the second year running, the final went down to the last minute.
Dave Parkinson reports on Leigh Centurions 20, Halifax 16.
A pulsating Northern Rail Cup Final went down to the last minute for the second year running as Leigh Centurions climed off the canvas to make history and become the first club to win this trophy three times.
Leigh had made the final thanks to wins over Batley (24-4), Swinton (42-22), Sheffield (68-6) and Workington (42-12) in the group stages, before accounting for Widnes (50-18) in the quarter finals and Dewsbury (44-10) in the semi-final.
Halifax had an eventful qualification, narrowly beating Swinton (28-22), then running in big wins against Oldham (50-10) and Whitehaven (60-6) either side of a loss to Batley (25-26). An away quarter final pitched them against Toulouse when they overcame some rusty form in the league (36-26) before a thrill a minute semi-final that went to golden point extra time at Featherstone (31-30).
Leigh were flying high in the league at the time but the game came just six weeks after news broke in the public domain that chairman and benefactor Arthur Thomas had stepped down from his role on the board and withdrawn funding. On a wet summer day, Halifax were quicker out of the blocks and when the Centurions trailed 10-0 at half-time to a well drilled and disciplined Halifax, even the most optimistic Leigh fan in the 8,522 crowd would have been forgiven for thinking that their team would be up against it. To be fair, Halifax bossed the first half and fashioned four great scoring chances that they turned into two tries.
The first came after six minutes when Danny Jones kick was caught, then spilled by Rob Worrincy. The rapid winger thought he had opened the score after ten minutes when a high kick was allowed to bounce in no-man’s land by Stuart Donlan and Dean McGilvray before it came off the head of Jamie Ellis,went through the hands of Jim Gannon and Paul Smith before Worrincy dived into the corner. The decision was referred upstairs and after several minutes deliberation, the try was over-ruled.
Leigh launched an immediate attack and less than a minute later, saw a decision of their own handed to the video referee after Martyn Ridyard shot over and grounded. Like Worrincy’s that effort did not stand and it was Halifax who looked more likely to open scoring.
It was only a matter of time before Fax did make their advantage count when Ben Black teased an opening in the defence and former Leigh player Miles Greenwood skipped past Ridyard and into the corner. This time the try stood and although Danny Jones missed the difficult conversion, he was given a further opportunity to increase the Yorkshire sides lead after 22 minutes.
Halifax had looked dangerous as James Haley broke only for a flying Tommy Goulden ankle tap to fell him, then, when White was held down by Steve Nash, Jones placed the ball just outside the twenty metre line and booted the penalty to open a 6-0 advantage.
Fax continued to play an uptempo game, improved by the introduction of Sean Penkywicz. During his first spell on the field, Penkywicz was a different class as he sniped and moved his team around with the help of Black. A second try wasn’t long in coming and the Leigh defence was breached again when Sam Barlow offloaded and Penkywicz fed Bannister with a super pass for the second row to run the short distance to the line. Although the try was scored quite far out, it was kickable but on a blustery and wet day Jones saw his effort flash across the face of the posts and Halifax had to be content with a 10-0 lead.
Leigh back in it
Heeding the words of coach Ian Millward, Leigh upped their game early in the second half as John Duffy linked with Donlan to sweep Leigh to the Fax thirty metre line. Ellis kick at the end of the set was too long but Leigh upped their defensive intensity and Worrincy fumbled after 45 minutes. From the possession, Stuart Littler hurled himself at the line before Penkywicz clattered Robbie Hunter-Paul. David Mills was then held up before the try line and Hunter-Paul shipped the ball right for Ellis to dummy and surge over for his 24th try of the season.
It proved too far out for Mick Nanyn to convert and although Goulden knocked on from the restart, Leigh held their defence and nerve to head downfield. Chris Hill trapped Jon Goddard and Fax conceded a drop out. McGilvray came close to a second try, within an inch as his foot brushed the touchline in the act of scoring after he latched onto an excellent Ridyard cross kick.
The Centurions had the bit between their teeth and restricted Halifax momentum before a long kick was fumbled by Donlan and the experienced fullback was forced behind his own line. From a position of being on the front foot, Halifax were soon in their own half again thanks to a monster drop out from Mick Nanyn that flew 65 metres and then bounced all the way inside their own twenty.
With pressure building on Halifax, Greenwood lost possession and Leigh made it count when Super League bound prop Chris Hill blasted through for a try that had everything – speed, footwork and strength. He left three players trailing in his wake and Nanyn booted the Centurions level in a complete turnaround to the first half.
Ellis kept the Centurions in ascendancy, forcing a further two drop outs before Leigh conceded a penalty and Halifax swept downfield. The Yorkshire side retook the lead with a smartly taken try in the corner by Worrincy. It came when the impressive Jacob Fairbank and Bob Beswick were hauled down and then Black and Haley sent quick ball down the right. The try was converted superbly by Jones. Leigh again reached the line when Ellis kick was taken by Tom Armstrong but the Halifax defence claimed him.
Tenaciously Leigh drew level once more when Ridyard’s well weighted grubber kick bobbled between the posts and Ellis pounced for a second try after 75 minutes. Nanyn added his second goal and there was further drama when Ridyard scuffed a drop goal attempt wide.
The game looked set for extra time when Donlan collected a long kick on his own twenty metre line. A veering clearance run was halted by a high tackle from Dylan Nash and then Leigh launched a final attack, driving within drop goal range before heroics from Ridyard, who shaped to kick and went down the right for Littler to draw the defence and put the ball out for Armstrong to touch down in the corner for a dramatic clincher with only twenty seconds left on the clock.
Whatever Armstrong goes on to achieve in his career, there is no doubt he has written his own piece of history for Leigh, which sent the fans into raptures and commenced lengthy celebrations that continued into the night at the LSV.
Subs (All Used)
Tries: Ellis (46, 75) Hill (56), Armstrong (79)
Goals: Nanyn 2/4.
Subs (All Used)
Tries: Greenwood (19), Bannister (30), Worrincy (68)
Goals: Jones 2/4.
Referee: Matt Thomason.