The Northern Rail Cup makes a return this weekend, and with that in mind, we’re going to spend the week looking back at five of the best NRC moments of recent years.
Rovers went in to the game as favourites, having won their previous 24 games, and they of course went on to earn promotion to Super League where they remain today.
Hull Kingston Rovers magnificent 24 game winning run hit the buffers with a juddering halt in a superb Northern Rail Cup Final at Bloomfield Road that saw the unfancied Centurions lift the trophy for the second time in its short history.
Despite Leigh sitting just a few points adrift of Rovers, 3rd in the league, the Robins were heavily favoured. They had a free scoring backline including the likes of Ben Cockayne, Byron Ford, Jon Goddard and Damien Couturier, while Scott Murrell and Tommy Gallagher pulled the strings behind an imposing pack, including Makali Aizue, David Tangata-Toa and Iain Morrison.
Qualification had been a breeze for Rovers as they accounted for York (32-2 & 52-14), Featherstone (32-6 & 50-18) and Sheffield (44-22 & 52-12) in the Group Stage, Halifax in the qualifier (88-6), Whitehaven in the Quarter Final (37-10) and Doncaster in the Semi Final (38-6).
In comparison Leigh had defeated Blackpool (36-6 & 42-6), Widnes (27-20 & 25-10) and Swinton at Sedgley Park (30-20) yet faltered at home to them in the group stages (14-18). The Centurions then regained their mojo beating London Skolars (74-0) in the qualifier, Widnes in the Quarter Final (54-12) and Workington (62-12) in the Semi Final.
Odds were stacked against the Centurions from the start and lengthened considerably when a great first 25 minutes saw Rovers lead by a 16-2 scoreline.
The baking hot conditions helped the quick fire start from the Robins but they trailed after nine minutes when Aaron Heremaia pinned Hull KR in their own half and Cockayne conceded a penalty for Mick Govin to convert via a post.
That lead lasted just five minutes as Rovers clinically marched downfield, inspired by former Leigh winger Leroy Rivett who spun away from two tacklers on a brave kick return. Rovers then moved the ball quickly and accurately through several pairs of hands for Jon Goddard to support Byron Ford and race away from a despairing Dean Gaskell. Gareth Morton tagged on the conversion. Rovers then saw a chance frittered away by French centre Damien Couturier but Morton was back in the kicking groove after 21 minutes when Ford was awarded a try by the video referee following an awful pass from Adam Hughes.
Rovers then claimed another try when Ben Fisher, Dwayne Barker and Scott Murrell worked an opening for Cockayne to race through for his 22nd try of the season. Morton missed the kick but even the most optimistic of Leigh fans were questioning whether the Centurions could reply from a 16-2 deficit.
The answer came from the team; an emphatic yes!
With the ante upped in defence, Leigh restricted Rovers to a 30 metre gain on their next set and hurried Murrell into the kick.
What happened next was poetry for Centurions fans in the ground.
Scott Grix took possession and passed to Lee Greenwood before looping for the return. He hen stepped on the inside and raced into the hole. With Paul Rowley on his inside, Grix cleverly drew 3 defenders and sent the captain haring under the posts from 40 metres. Govin converted before an almighty mix-up between Rivett and Cockayne saw Grix chase through his own kick, collect and gleefully dive in at the corner.
With all the pressure on their line, Hull KR wilted and Leigh went close through Hughes and Heremaia before turning over possession. Enthusiastic tackling from Roberts then trapped Iain Morrison in-goal and the Centurions laid the platform for a third try. Tere Glassie was the scorer as he showed good strength to go over despite having 3 defenders clinging to him. Referee Jamie Leahy referred the decision upstairs and after an agonising wait benefit of doubt went with the Cook Island international.
It meant that the teams headed to the break all square, 16-16 with the prospect of another intriguing half ahead.
The second half proved to be a war of attrition in a cauldron atmosphere.
Centurions had the first scoring opportunity of the new half when Glassie got Adam Hughes in a great position and the centre thundered down the wing for the second time in the game. Unfortunately he was injured in the move and had to be replaced.
Rovers then launched a deep kick into the Centurions 20’ and two tackles later Gaskell lost the ball after a brave run in midfield. To compound matters, Leigh then conceded a penalty for offside and the tall Morton slotted his third goal over the bar to give the Rovers an 18-16 lead.
Aggressive running from Danny Halliwell bought the Centurions a penalty and they pushed forward to score a decisive try on the hour. Dana Wilson was the scorer, taking an inside passes from Heremaia at pace before touching down from close range. Govin added his third goal and it was suddenly 22-18.
This lead was tested on several occasions by Hull KR but each time, they fell short.
Seeing their long unbeaten run slipping in front of them, Rovers became increasingly desperate. A 65th minute opportunity went to ground from Goddard when the centre knocked on following Govin’s unsuccessful intercept and the Robins came forward again four minutes later. A lofted kick from Murrell was knocked inside by Ford but Morrison couldn’t collect with the line wide open.
Leigh returned to basics but Rovers made good ground and a threatening attack saw Man-of-the-Match Grix save a try with an all or nothing tackle on Cockayne. Couturier then thought he’d scored an all important try seconds later when Murrell flicked the ball out of a tackle. Again the decision went to video referee Bob Connolly who ruled that the tackle on Murrell had been completed and awarded a hand-over to the Centurions.
This all but ended Rovers challenge as Leigh wound the clock down to claim victory in a compelling final that had every one of the 7,547 crowd on the edge of their seats.
14 Francis Stephenson
15 Andy Ellis
16 Gareth Price
17 Michael Smith
Tries: Goddard (14), Ford (20), Cockayne (25)
Goals: Morton 3/4.
Tries: Rowley (28), Grix (31), Glassie (38), Wilson (60).
Goals: Govin 3/5.
0-2; 6-2; 12-2; 16-2; 16-8; 16-12; 16-16; 18-16; 18-22.
Referee: Jamie Leahy