Super League’s new boys, the Leigh Centurions, had a baptism of fire as they took on the Wigan Warriors in their opening fixture as the second part of the 2021 opening night double header. It was the league’s youngest coach in charge of a hastily assembled side after gaining promotion in 2020 to replace the now defunct Toronto Wolfpack.
Leigh had a twelve-point start on the coupon with Wigan massive favourites for the win but there would have some pre-game concern amongst Adrian Lam’s side that they were facing the unknown in their opening fixture. Leigh had nine debuts in their seventeen against a Warriors side without a handful of regular first teamers who miss the season start but they were buoyed by the return of John Bateman who’d spent the last two seasons plying his trade down under.
A great early run from Ian Thornley showed the Leigh intent and after Wigan knocked-on defending the next play the Centurions did well to use the ball with Liam Hood stretching for the line for a sensational start to their Super League season. Ryan Brierley added the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
Jai Field hobbled off the field on eighteen, one of Lam’s new recruits picking up an early injury, later diagnosed as a hamstring pull.
The second Leigh try came on twenty-three after a John Bateman knock-on. Leigh moved the ball from right to left with Thornley on hand to take the short ball and go through a gap to ground. Brierley added a touchline conversion for 12-0.
Two minutes later and the Centurions were in again with Ben Hellewell picking up a Hood kick through to roll over in-goal and ground the ball. Brierley was again accurate with the boot for an 18-0 lead. Wigan were stunned.
With four minutes of the half remaining Jake Bibby grabbed a Wigan lifeline as he took a Bateman pass and stooped to score in the right corner. Hardaker grazed the post with his conversion attempt, Wigan still 18-4 behind.
It was back-to-back tries for Wigan with Bibby the provider as he broke down the wing and found Zak Hardaker in support to score a typical goal-hangers’ try. He again failed to convert, Wigan 18-8 behind at the break after a sensational first half Leigh performance.
Leigh had the upper hand in the early exchanges of the second half looking dangerous in attack and strong in defence. As the hour mark passed the second half was scoreless.
But on sixty-two Joe Bullock got Wigans third try of the night taking an offload fifteen metres out and stepping past two tacklers to score by the left upright. Hardaker kicked his first conversion of the night for 14-18.
As conditions worsened, the rain now driving down, Leigh were looking to hang on for the win. On sixty-five a great sixty metre break from Hardaker saw the Wigan full-back to the Leigh twenty where he offloaded to Bibby to go the remaining ten metres and dive over. Hardaker’s goal gave Wigan the lead for the first time.
Wigan finished the game on the front foot against a Leigh side who were out on their feet to record the narrowest of wins by 20-18.
Leigh just couldn’t hold on for the win after their sensational first half as Wigan mustered some strength from somewhere to steal the win in their opening game. For Leigh it’s a case of the whole being much more than the constituent parts, and if they can play like that for the whole season then there will be no danger of relegation. Wigan, on the other hand, were well below their normal best and they will be hoping that his was just a case of early season rustiness.
Wigan Warriors: Hardaker (T, 2G), Hanley, Bibby (2T), Isa, Field, Smith, Leuluai, Singleton, Powell, Bullock (T), Farrell, Bateman, Partington. Subs: Havard, Byrne, Shorrocks, Smithies.
Leigh Centurions: Brierley (3G), Russell, Thornley (T), Brand, Tierney, Wallace, Mellor, Ioane, Hood (T), Sidlow, Hellewell (T), Gee, Thompson. Subs: Peteru, Eaves, Mason, Foster.
Referee: Ben Thaler.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, 16-0, 18-0, 18-4, 18-8 : HT : 18-12, 18-14, 18-18, 18-20 : FT.