Leigh Centurions 28 - 34 Swinton Lions
By Dave Parkinson
Swinton coach Les Holliday was not impressed as his lacklustre Lions scraped a victory in the local derby with struggling Leigh Centurions.
Leigh made an unusually solid start as Andy Pucill, Tim Street and Paul Norman took the game to their opponents. Despite this early pressure Leigh had to wait until the twelth minute for the first points.
Jason Donohue, celebrating his loan extension took advantage of slack marking, skipping past two defenders, before racing through from 30 metres.
Swinton replied when full back Evans joined the line and slipped out of Phil Kendricks's tackle for a converted score. Three minutes later, a clever kick from Ian Watson found Price-Jones unmarked in the corner. When substitute Coley dragged two defenders over the line on 26 minutes, Leigh looked to be heading for another heavy defeat.
Radney Bowker, Leigh's 19 year-old prospect, dragged the Centurions back into contention with a superb try. Supporting a Kendrick break, Bowker took the ball before turning both full back and winger inside-out and sprinting clear from 25 metres.
In the final minutes of the first half, tempers frayed and Ian Blease was penalised for use of a forearm.
Former Leigh player Jimmy Veikoso sparked the game into action on the second play of the new half with a midfield break. Gartland and Watson exchanged passes before Andy Craig cut inside to finish after just ninety seconds.
On 45 minutes, Anthony Murray was impeded when supporting a Kendrick break. Veteran forward Paul Hulme was despatched to the sinbin for a professional foul.
Leigh ignored the kick for goal and decided to push for a try. From the tap, drives from Andy Grundy and John Costello set the position for Tim Street to offload to Andy Pucill. The former Swinton prop stepped out of two tackles before drawing the fullback and putting Murray over for his 11th try of the season.
Donohue was the architect, and scorer of the next Leigh try. The Centurion halfback hoisted a swirling kick that was fumbled by Jimmy Evans. Murray swooped on the ball and three plays later Donohue forced his way over from dummy half. Unfortunately, Wingfield struck the post with his conversion and Leigh held a slender 22-20 lead.
Inspired, the Centurions tried, and won a short kick off. Costello caught the ball on the full and drove to the Lions 20 metre line. A quick play-the-ball should have created the time for Murray to exploit a shocked Swinton defence, but he dropped the ball and the impetus was lost.
Paul Barrow regained the lead for Swinton on 56 minutes after a seven pass movement on the last tackle. Gartland converted and added a penalty five minutes later. It was then the turn of impressive scrum half Ian Watson and he capped a good performance with the next Lions try.
Despite being twelve points in arrears, Leigh refused to give in. This persistence finally paid off when Bowker's brilliant pass put Kendrick over. Wingfield converted superbly from the touchline.
The final ten minutes brought drama to the 1,050 diehards in the crowd. Leigh had a great opportunity on 75 minutes when Kendrick split the defence from halfway only to be hauled back short. Sensing he had support, he tried to lay the ball back, rugby union style but a relieved Jimmy Evans dropped on the ball.
Leigh were awarded a succession of late penalties that kept the pressure on Swinton, but a combination of poor execution and excellent defence kept the Centurions at bay.
As the hooter sounded Leigh were still in posession and slid a dangerous grubber kick into the in-goal area, Stuart Donlan and David Hill made valiant dives but Lions sub Tommy Hodgkinson got there first and forced the ball out of play.
Although Swinton were worthy winners in the end, Leigh contributed fully to a superb advert for Rugby League. Tim Street was again outstanding for Leigh, while Jason Donohue enjoyed his best game since rejoining the club.