Leeds Rhinos 25, Leigh Centurions 12
Young hooker Robbie Ward was the hero for Leeds as they survived an almighty scare to beat Championship side Leigh and book their place in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-finals.
Leigh went into the contest on the back of a 16-match winning run but were not expected to truly threaten a Rhinos outfit sitting second in Super League.
Leeds took an early lead through Ryan Hall but that did nothing to dampen Leigh’s enthusiasm and they found themselves in front half an hour in courtesy of tries from Tom Spencer and Tom Armstrong.
A converted Stevie Ward try ensured the Rhinos went into the break level at 12-12 – and things heated up after the restart when Jamie Peacock and Matt Sarsfield were involved in an altercation.
Leigh defied their part-time status to take the match into the final ten minutes but were denied a famous win by Robbie Ward’s close-range try and a last-gasp effort from Zak Hardaker.
Leeds had already seen a try ruled out for a forward pass when Hall went over in the corner on six minutes on the back of Stevie Ward’s break and good work by Joel Moon.
The Centurions responded positively and hit back when Spencer took a flat ball from Ryan Brierley and outmuscled Hardaker to touch down.
Kevin Sinfield kicked the restart out on the full and Leigh took full advantage as Kurt Haggerty’s cross-field kick was gathered and offloaded by Liam Kay for Armstrong to finish in the corner.
The scoreline would have looked even worse for Leeds had Moon not hauled Brierley down just short of the line 16 minutes from the break.
That appeared to spark Leeds into life and, moments after another disallowed try, they crossed through Stevie Ward after Liam Sutcliffe, starting in place of the injured Danny McGuire, fortuitously collected his own grubber kick.
Brierley sent a drop-goal attempt wide on the stroke of half-time and the two teams were reduced to 12 men in the early stages of the second period when Peacock and Sarsfield were sent to the sin-bin after a meaty scrap.
Leigh did not take a backwards step and went agonisingly close to going back in front when Oliver Wilkes dropped the ball with the line at his mercy.
The visitors continued to go toe-to-toe with the 11-time cup winners and were just inches away from a potential game-breaking try, Tommy Goulden’s kick just out of the reach of Jonny Pownall.
Leeds were next to threaten after a barnstorming run by Peacock but Leigh got back in numbers to snuff out the danger close to their own line.
The Rhinos finally broke Leigh’s resistance when Robbie Ward shaped to pass to Sinfield for a drop goal and dummied to go under the sticks.
Sinfield landed a one-pointer and Hardaker finished off a break by Peacock to seal a nervy victory for Leeds on a night when all the plaudits went to the Centurions.