The outcome of Saturday afternoon’s game between last weekend´s Challenge Cup winners and the side currently sat at the top of the Super League table, may well come down to how long the Leigh Leopards spent celebrating their first major trophy for over fifty years, and whether they have returned to earth in any state to take on the Champions elect.
If the Leopards were languishing in mid-table, with an outside chance of making the Grand Final in October then you could forgive them for burning the candle at both ends over the previous week, but as they are perfectly poised for an attack on the Super League crown and the double, Adrian Lam is likely to have been cracking the whip all week to ensure his side give a good account of themselves.
The Dragons were slight favourites with the bookies, but it promised to be another cracking game at the Leigh Sports Village for the Cup Winners homecoming.
Jack Smith took the first decisive action of the game when he sin-binned Mike McMeeken for a late tackle on John Asiata after the ball had been passed. Ben Reynolds pointed at the sticks and sailed his kick between the uprights for a 2-0 lead.
The first four-pointer came on eighteen, Tom Amone ripping through a broken Dragons defence to score just outside the right upright and give Reynolds a simple conversion to extend the lead to 8-0.
On twenty-four the Dragons were right back in the game as they opened their account, Mitchell Pearce chasing his own kick and grounding it one-handed under the sticks. Adam Keighran added the conversion for 6-8.
Within four minutes the Dragons hit the front, Leigh shell-shocked as Paul Seguier took a great pass from Pearce to go in from five metres out. Keighran was again on target and with half an hour on the clock it was the visitors who had a 12-8 lead.
Michael McIlorum was sin-binned on thirty-seven, again after a late tackle on Asiata. Another penalty came in quick succession and Ben Nakubuwai went over next to the left upright to level the scores at 12-12, Reynolds adding the conversion to send his side into the interval with a two-point lead after a very even first half contest, the Dragons suffering when their indiscipline let them down.
A massive let off for Leigh with less than two second half minutes on the clock as the video referee determined that Keighran had not grounded the ball in goal.
The opening minutes of the second half were all Dragons as Leigh couldn’t get their hands on the ball.
On forty-eight Tom Davies grounded a Tyrone May grubber to the corner as he beat a retreating Leigh defence. Keighran was on target from wide for 18-14 in a see-saw game.
Tyrone May grabbed his own try on fifty-five, the Dragons extending their lead and establishing a more comfortable margin as the Dragons half back shrugged off the tackle of Reynolds and went in under the sticks. Keighran was on target again for 24-14, the Dragons looking likely to re-establish their four-point lead at the top of the table.
Poor Leigh defence allowed Manu Ma’u to pounce on another Pearce grubber kick into goal and wrap up the ball to score with the Leopards defence at sixes and sevens. Keighran hit the mark again, for the fifth time in the game.
Far from it being a cup wobble for Leigh, it was a tremendous Catalans Dragons performance which sealed them the points. The in-play kicking of May and Pearce was devastating and the Leopards defence couldn’t handle it. Leigh were in the game during the periods when the visitors were down to twelve due to indiscipline, but with equal numbers the Dragons were a much sharper outfit.
Leigh Leopards: O’Brien, Charnley, Gildart, Hardaker, Briscoe, Reynolds (3G), Lam, Amone (T), Mellor, Mulhern, Hughes, O’Donnell, Wardle. Subs: Nakubuwai (T), Asiata, Ipape, Davis. 18th Man: Chamberlain.
Catalans Dragons: Tomkins, Davies (T), Keighran (5G), Romano, Johnstone, May (T), Pearce (T), McMeeken (SB on 15), McIlorum (SB on 37), Navarrete, Whitley, Seguir (T), Garcia. Subs: Bousquet, Goudemand, Mourgue, Ma’u (T). 18th Man: Chan.
Score Progression: (SB), 2-0, 6-0, 8-0, 8-4, 8-6, 8-10, 8-12, 12-12, 14-12 : HT: 14-16, 14-18, 14-22, 14-24, 14-28, 14-30 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Leigh – Catalans – Square – Leigh – Catalans.
Referee: Jack Smith.