After years of hope, hard work and disappointments, Leigh Centurions were finally back in Super League to pit their skills against the best sides in the land. Their opening fixture of the 2017 competition saw the new boys, and their fans, travel over a wintery Pennines to take on the Castleford Tigers, a side that they had not beaten since 1987.
It has been twelve years in the making for Leigh and they were looking to make the most of their opening fixture against a much fancied Tigers side who are tipped for a strong competition under the continued coaching of Daryl Powell.
The whole of Super League were keen to see what the Centurions would bring to this seasons competition.
The opening exchanges were feisty with plenty of big hits and an early scuffle sparked through a lifting tackle by Paul McShane on Gareth Hock. Early indications were that referee Rob Hicks would have his hands full.
The opening quarter was one of strong defence but littered with early season penalties.
After Hock conceded an eighteenth minute penalty for interference, the Tigers used five tackles to work the line before Luke Gale found a gap to run the angle and score from five metres out. Gale added the conversion himself and the deadlock was broken.
Within five minute Cas extended their lead as gaps started to emerge in the Centurions defence. Switching the attack from right to left, Grant Millington fended to offload to Jesse Sene-Lefoa who scampered over. Gale added the conversion for 12-0.
Just before the half-hour and the Tigers found a massive gap wide right for Greg Minikin to cross in an acre of space off a Zak Hardaker pass. Gale added the extras from wide and the home side were visibly growing in confidence.
On thirty-six the Tigers were gifted a penalty for interference and from dead centre, under the sticks, the boot of Gale extended the lead to 20-0.
Two minutes before the interval and the Tigers were making it look easy as they kept the ball alive through a broken Leigh defence with Minikin being at the end of the move to score his second of the half. Gale again converted from wide to send his side in with twenty-six points and an unbroken line.
Ninety seconds into the second half and the Tigers took up where they had left off at the end of the first half. Having been gifted a penalty on the Leigh twenty it was Paul McShane who put Junior Moors through a gap to crash over by the sticks. Gale added the conversion.
Leigh finally got their season underway on forty-six when Ryan Hampshire took a Drinkwater short pass to crash through a gap and score from five metres. Martyn Ridyard hit the upright with the conversion attempt but Leigh now had avoided the nilling and set a platform.
On fifty-seven a high kick from Gale hit Hampshires chest and was dribbled to the line by Greg Eden and Gale with Gale dropping on the ball to score his second of the night. Gale added the extra two forma 38-4 lead.
Just after the hour mark Leigh lost the ball in the tackle on their own twenty. Castleford took full advantage with Michael Shenton passing to Greg Eden to dive over in the corner. Gale kept his faultless kicking record on the night with another touchline conversion.
With ten minutes remaining Matty Dawson found his way over by the left corner flag after taking a long ball from Josh Drinkwater. Ridyard added a touchline conversion for double figures for Leigh at 44-10.
Three minutes later and Danny Tickle scored his hundredth career try and he crashed over through a broken Castleford defensive line. Ridyard hit the extras and improved the look of the scoreline.
It was a Super League baptism of fire for the Centurions. They had a decent enough opening twenty minutes but once the Tigers broke the deadlock they never looked back, as they put the visitors to the sword with a confident and comprehensive display, despite a late Leigh flourish. Luke Gale was man of the match as he bagged himself twenty-four points in the 44-16 win.
Hardaker, Minikin (2T), Webster, Shenton, Eden (T), Chase, Gale (2T, 8G), Lynch, McShane, Springer, McMeeken, Sene-Lefoa (T), Massey. Subs: Roberts, Moors (T), Millington, Cook.
Hampshire (T), Higson, Crooks, Brown, Dawson (T), Ridyard (2G), Drinkwater, Tickle (T), Hood, Hock, Paterson, Stewart, Hanson. Subs: Pelissier, Vea, Green, Weston.