The current form of Leigh Leopards is one of the real good news stories of Rugby League. The cartel of the sport may disagree with me but it’s refreshing to see a team having there best season for over forty years. Leigh were Champions back in the 1981/82 season with a remarkable twenty four victories from thirty matches. With players like Des Drummond, John Woods, Steve Donlan and Mick Hogan they played a cracking brand of rugby.
This Leigh team of 2023 has lost just once since Salford beat them at Easter. Since that match they’ve put a remarkable run together playing some exceptional Rugby League.
The two sides had met twice already this season and this match was expected to be another cracker between two teams who like to play expansive and free flowing rugby. Salford were perhaps a little low on confidence after four straight defeats and Leigh had a Challenge cup semi final to look forward to next weekend.
The weather had been pretty unpredictable all week. With Europe baking in record breaking temperatures the City of Salford had been mostly dull, grey and wet.
Paul Rowley made changes with Chris Atkin replacing the suspended Oliver Partington at loose forward. Sam Stone returned to the back row but Alex Gerrard was missing.
In a frantic opening Brodie Croft kicked out on the full and Leigh attacked forcing a drop out. Marc Sneyd found touch from the drop out with a wonderful kick that caught Leigh out. This relieved the pressure and after a few fortunate passes Deon Cross put Ken Sio over for the first try.
A lot of attention is put on Leigh half back Lachlan Lam and rightly so but one player that organised and made the Leopards tick was loose forward John Asisata. He created a try for Ed Chamberlain with a neat offload close to the line which levelled the scores. Ben Reynolds booted Leigh in front with the conversion.
At times Salford’s discipline let them down and the penalty count began to stack up against them as it did last week. Leigh made the possession and territory count when centre Ricky Leutele went over for a try which the Salford players and supporters in the south stand contested.
Salford needed a big play and they got one from Sneyd when he floated a brilliant forty twenty kick to put the home side on the front foot. It was that man Sneyd who fed King Vuniyayawa who scored a fine try reaching out superbly to score. Sneyd converted to level the score at 10-10.
The Red Devils seemed to shift through the gears and when Tim Lafai smothered Gareth O’Brien with a crunching tackle the Leigh fullback dropped the ball. Joe Burgess raced away but referee Ben Thaler brought the play back and awarded Salford the scrum feed adjudging that there was two knock on’s.
Andy Ackers put Salford back in front after some clever play at dummy half scooting over just before the break to give the hosts a 16-10 advantage at half time.
Salford struck first in the second half. The elusive Lafai broke through and it looked like Burgess was pulled back. Ben Hellewell pounced on the next play and when Sneyd converted the Red Devils had a commanding twelve point cushion.
Asisata was at the heart of everything Leigh did especially on attack and he had a big influence on the next try. Excellent support play from the Leopards saw Lam race over to reduce the deficit once again. Reynolds converted 22-16.
Chris Atkin was tireless at loose forward playing against a big Leigh pack he put a huge shift in. At times though Salford were there own worst enemy conceding needless penalties which gave the visitors a huge leg up. With fifteen minutes remaining Salford failed to deal with a loose ball which gifted Zak Hardacker a try. Reynolds booted the conversion off the touch line to level the score at 22-22.
It was anybody’s game now and with nine minutes remaining Sneyd went for a drop goal but it wasn’t quite on target. A Leigh penalty followed shortly after and Reynolds lined up a kick at goal from just over the half way line. Straight as an arrow with plenty of welly behind it the ball sailed through the sticks to give Leigh a 22-24 advantage. As the clock counted down Salford didn’t really get an attacking opportunity and for the second week running a penalty goal was the difference between the two teams. Another huge effort with no reward must be increasingly frustrating for Paul Rowley and his side who’s top six aspirations are now very much in the balance.
Leigh ended a forty year wait for a victory in this fixture and next week they go for glory against St.Helens in the Challenge Cup Semi final.
Salford’s next mission is a week on Saturday when they travel to Perpignan for a huge test against Catalans Dragons.
Salford 22 Leigh 24.
Big thanks to Steve McCormick for the photos.