Leigh Centurions’ season ended at the first hurdle in the Betfred Championship Play-Offs on a rainy evening at Leigh Sports Village in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
Featherstone Rovers will now go to visit York City Knights at Bootham Crescent next Saturday (3pm)
Micky Higham led out Leigh at LSV for one final time on an emotional night and his team gave their all. But Rovers’ clinical finishing saw them score three tries in each half and eventually take the game away from the home side after Stefan Marsh’s try had clawed Leigh back to 14-20 just before the hour-mark of a fast and intense encounter.
Leigh Centurions head coach John Duffy emerged from an emotional home dressing room after the Centurions farewelled Higham and Luke Douglas, the outstanding Australian prop on loan from Saints all season long.
Duffy said: “We were beaten by the better team tonight. I thought it was a great first half and really end-to-end stuff. Both teams completed really high but we lacked that clinical end to our sets and our shapes let us down a bit. A few brain explosions coming out of our line cost us.
“But taken overall the season’s been absolutely fantastic. It’s been an absolute honour for me to coach this group of players and to be coach of this club as well. It’s been a roller coaster but one that I’ll never forget.
“I’ve got a group of players in the dressing room that are devastated but they’ve got to hold their heads high for what they’ve achieved. We started the preseason with nine players and had nothing and to finish in a play-off spot was fantastic.
“I’d like to thanks all the players, staff, board, volunteers and the fans who’ve been sensational all season. We’re devastated we can’t make that trip over to York next week but I’d like to wish Featherstone every success for the rest of the year.
“It was emotional in the changing room. Micky Higham and Luke Douglas have both left a legacy in the game – they’re fantastic people and have had great careers.
“Micky has achieved so much and he started and ended his career with his hometown club. Luke came here to play for us when he didn’t need to do and put his body on the line. He’s left a legacy over here and in the NRL as well. They’ll both be sadly missed in the game and I hope they both stay involved in some capacity. The game needs people like them. They’re both absolute gentlemen and put their bodies on the line each week.
“The bond we got with each other and the fans was the real highlight for me of this season. We got the passion back in the jersey, which I thought was something that’d been lost at this club. That togetherness we created was fantastic. We’ve had some big results and we let ourselves down a few times but I’ve got to credit the playing group for sticking at it and Derek and the board for all the work they’ve done behind the scenes. It’s been a massive team effort.”
Rovers built a 14-0 lead with two tries by Alex Sutcliffe and another to James Harrison under the posts before Junior Sa’u blasted over on the right to reduce the arrears.
Liam Hood send Tom Spencer surging over within two minutes of the re-start and Ryan Brierley’s conversion saw Leigh only 10-14 behind. Callum McLelland cut through for Rovers’ fourth try but Marsh fought his way over in the corner to leave Leigh just six points behind.
With the game in the balance Dane Chisholm’s break set up Josh Walters for a superb finish and Chisholm then put the tie beyond doubt from McLelland’s assist. Chisholm tagged on a penalty for his fifth goal of the evening but Toby Adamson had the final say with a determined finish on the left for Leigh.
Many Leigh fans stayed behind to applaud the players for their efforts and Douglas and Higham were afforded a guard of honour by their team-mates as they left the field for one last time.
An impeccably observed minute’s silence in memory of Leigh all-time great Stan Owen, who passed away earlier in the week at the age of 90 was undertaken before kick-off.
Leigh Centurions: Ryan Brierley; Adam Higson, Junior Sa’u, Iain Thornley, Stefan Marsh; Kevin Brown, Josh Woods; Luke Douglas, Micky Higham (capt), Sam Brooks, Toby Adamson, Jordan Thompson, Luke Adamson.
Interchange: Liam Hood, Joe Cator, Mitch Clark, Tom Spencer.
Tries: Sa’u (30), Spencer (42), Marsh (59), T Adamson (77)
Goals: Brierley 1/ 4
Featherstone Rovers: Ashton Golding; Jack Johnson, Josh Hardcastle, Alex Sutcliffe, Conor Carey; Callum McLelland, Dane Chisholm; John Davies, Connor Jones, Makahesi Makatoa, Brad Day, Josh Walters, James Lockwood.
Interchange: Luke Cooper, James Harrison, Jack Render, Wellington Albert.
Tries: Sutcliffe (9, 26), Harrison (22), McLelland (52), Walters (64), Chisholm (66)
Goals: Chisholm 5/ 7
Referee: Gareth Hewer
Penalty Count: 5-4
Main Match Sponsor: Havwoods International
Match Ball Sponsor: The Leigh Arms
Digital Programme Sponsor: mac Dynamic Construction People
Match Day Mascots: Harley Emery and Eve Emery
Leigh Centurions Man of the Match: Junior Sa’u