Leigh Centurions moved to within 80 minutes of Wembley after a nerve-wracking AB Sundecks 1895 Cup quarter-final win at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
Martyn Ridyard was Leigh’s hero, keeping his cool amidst the tension to hit the decisive drop-goal three minutes from time.
Even then the drama was not over as Barrow regained possession in the closing minute and their star man Ryan Johnston was off target with a long range drop-goal attempt as the seconds slipped away.
Leigh now join Batley, Sheffield and Widnes in Thursday’s semi-final draw and head coach John Duffy was relieved to be in the hat.
“That game, and the others tonight show just what a great competition this is,” Duffy said. “Everyone wants to get to Wembley and every team is in it to win it.
“We nearly got burnt tonight as Barrow played very tough and nearly turned us over. You can’t take anything away from Barrow, they were outstanding.
“Ridy’s here to win games for us and that’s what he did. We can be a lot better than we were tonight but we had the mentaility to stick in there and get the result we wanted. It was a real test of character and we had a lot of lads playing out of position but they showed their strong mentaility and the toughness of the group.”
Leigh went in 10-6 ahead after a tough and physical first half with defences well on top. Barrow had plenty of defending to do but demonstrated exactly why they’d pulled off some stunning recent wins over Halifax and Featherstone as they looked hard to break down.
Gregg McNally cut over down the left after Martyn Ridyard’s well-timed pass for an early try before leaving the field injured midway through the first half. Without him, Leigh had to reshuffle and they certainly missed their in-form fullback as Johnston’s fine kicking game caused them no end of problems. Joe Cator then dodged his way through the close-range defence after a sustained spell of pressure, Ridyard converting for a 10-0 lead.
But Barrow fought back when ex-Leigh forward Jordan Walne crashed over on the left after Iain Thornley had conceded a penalty for moving off the mark playing the ball over a grounded player. Johnston converted to close the gap to only four points and though Cator was denied a second try when held over the line on his back Leigh couldn’t take advantage of their dominance of possession in the closing stages of the half.
Barrow turned the game on its head with two early second half tries, fullback Luke Cresswell scything through on an angled 30-metre run for a converted score before Johnston followed up his own high kick to capitalise on Leigh’s uncertainty under the aerial bombardment.
But Johnston failed to convert, leaving Leigh a glimmer of hope, capitalised on by Jordan Thompson who burst over on the left with 16 minutes remaining for Ridyard’s conversion to tie the scores at 16-16.
The intensity of the game never slackened in the closing stages and Johnston restored Barrow’s lead with a penalty three minutes later. Ridyard then failed with a 40-metre penalty attempt with ten minutes left before levelling the scores in the 75th minute with a penalty for an off-the-ball offence.
Alex Murphy’s Leigh team got to Wembley in 1971 on the back of their drop-goal prowess and Ridyard’s killer one-pointer will hopefully be a lucky omen ahead of the semi-final at the end of July.
Thanks to St Helens for accommodating Leigh Centurions so well after the enforced ground switch due to pitch renovation work at LSV.
Leigh Centurions: Gregg McNally; Mitch Cox, Josh Simm, Iain Thornley, Stefan Marsh; Martyn Ridyard, Josh Woods; Luke Douglas, Josh Eaves, Luke Adamson, Toby Adamson, Joe Batchelor, Joe Cator.
Interchange: Liam Hood, Jake Emmitt, Jordan Thompson, Cory Paterson.
Tries: McNally (11), Cator (24), Thompson (64)
Goals: Ridyard 3/ 5
Drop-goal: Ridyard (77)
Barrow Raiders: Luke Cresswell; Brett Carter, Stargroth Amean, Jake Spedding, Deon Cross; Ryan Johnston, Wartovo Puara; Josh Johnson, Jono Smith, Alec Susino, Jordan Walne, Liam Paisley, Dan Toal.
Interchange: Glenn Riley, Tom Walker, Tom Loxam, Theerapol Ritson.
Tries: Walne (30), Cresswell (46), Johnston (49)
Goals: Johnston 3/ 4
Referee: Gareth Hewer
Penalty count: 9-7
Main Match Sponsor: The Leigh Arms
Match Ball Sponsor: Struktura Engineering Services
Digital Programme Sponsor: Caton Lloyd Audio Visual Solutions
Leigh Centurions Man of the Match: Cory Paterson