Leigh Centurions entertained York City Knights as the Betfred Championship play-off semifinals got under way at Leigh Sports Village as clear favourites - to win both the match and next week’s Grand Final for another crack at Super League.
They had led the table throughout the second half of the season and finished three points clear of second placed featherstone; and eight ahead of today’s opponents, who were sixth in the table after the regular season.
York may have arrived with ideas of their own, having won four on the trot - including beating third-placed Halifax with an outstanding performance in the first round of the play-offs last week.
But they did lose by 100 points to Leigh in the regular season just four weeks ago.
Leigh had first use of the ball, receiving the kick-off on their 20m line making good metres in the first set. York, on the other hand, found themselves kicking out from their 30m line after their first six tackles.
It was no surprise when Blake Ferguson scored for the Centurions in the next set, with just two minutes played. Krisnan Inu converted from the touchline for a 6-0 lead with the game barely under way,
They nearly doubled the score barely a minute later, with Lachlan Lam opening up the defence until Knights interception snuffed the move out.
The game settled down for 10 minutes after that, with a couple of inventive kicks by Matty Marsh showing moments of unfilled promise for York. But with 12 minutes gone, Leigh half back Joseph Mellor took engineered some broken play and got the ball to Sam Stone who dotted it down under the posts. Inu’s conversion took the score to 12-0
Two minutes later, Adam Sidlow was held up over the York line. But on the next - and final - play off the set, the ball came out to Nene MacDonald who span out of two tacklers and ran through 15m of clear space to score. Inu slotted the inevitable conversion to take the lead to 18-0, scored at almost a point a minute.
Fullback Caleb Aekins scored the Centurions’ fourth try on 27 minutes: Lachlan Lam span the ball out wide the right, then it came back in where Stone offloaded beautifully out of the tackle to Aekins, who went under the stick. Inu then made it 24-0.
Wight of numbers and fast hands brought the next try down the right flank on 32 minutes, as Leigh players flooded down the short side from within their own half for Chamberlain to finish the move off in the corner. Inu kicked his second goal from the touchline and the score stood at 30-0.
That became 34 when Edwin Ipape stormed across the line on 35 minutes. Inu converted and it was 36-0 to the favourites.
York tried a short kick-off and Ipape was there to catch and race 50m for a second try in two minutes. Unexpectedly, Inu couldn’t add another two points from the touchline. Still, the score stood at 40-0 at half time.
Ipape started the second half much as he’d finished the second, backing himself from dummy-half for a hat-trick. York’s defenders managed a successful touchline tackle, but paid the price of losing hooker Tom Inman to a head-injury assessment.
But on their next attacking play, they loaded the right edge and once more Ferguson opened the half’s scoring when he got onto the end of a sweeping moved to dot down in the corner. Inu’s first goal of the second half took the score to 46-0.
Then Joe Wardle ran down the side, threw a dummy inside then passed out to Madonaald to bring up the 50 on 48 minutes. Inu promptly made it 52 on 49 minutes.
Ferguson scored his third try, and Leigh’s 10th - rounding off a move that startedinside his own half - just a minute later, taking the score to 58-0 with Inu’s conversion and making a repeat of the 100-point scoreline look increasingly likely.
York showed a bit of promise in one attack, but followed that with the classic penalty-penalty-try sequence for Kai O’Donnell to dot down the Centurions’ 11th try. Inu’s goal made it 64-0, still being scored at a point a minute.
But York were the next to take the attack to their opponents line, with Matty Marsh crossing in the left corner, Liam Harris, who had provided the pass to Marsh, couldn’t convert from the side, but York had points on the board at 64-4.
But normal service was resumed when Aekins noticed his opposite number in the defensive line and called for a kick into in-goal from Lam, which he raced through to ground. Inu Converted,. The score stood at 70-4.
But Marcus Stock made it 70-8 when he raced through to score for the Knights. Liam Harris converted for a 70-10 score.
And that’s where it ended as Leigh booked their place in the Million Pound Game. Leigh didn’t get to repeat the 100-point scoreline of last month, or the point-a-minute mark.
But they booked their place with a comprehensive and professional performance and York at least found a bit of sunlight at the end of what must at times have seemed a long tunnel.
Full Time: 70-10.
Half Time: 40-0.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0. 10-0, 12-0, 16-0, 18-0, 22-0, 24-0, 28-0, 30-0, 34-0, 36-0, 40-0. HT. 44-0, 46-0, 50-0, 52-0, 56-0, 58-0, 62-0, 64-0, 64-4, 68-4, 70-4, 70-8, 70-10.
Leigh Centurions: Aekins (T); Inu (10G), Chamberlain (T), Macdonald (2T), Ferguson (3T); Lam, Mellor; Sidlow, Smith, Amone, Wardle, Stone (T). Asiata. Subs: O’Donnell (T), Reynolds, Ipape (2T), Nakubuwai.
York City Knights: Harrison; Brown, Glover, Ogden, Towse; Harris (G), Marsh (T); Teanby, Jubb, Dixon, Clarkson, Antrobus, Thompson. Subs: Inman, Michael, Porter, Stock (T).
Referee: Marcus Griffiths.