Leigh Centurions will meet Featherstone in the final of the 1895 Cup Final at the Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium in less than three weeks’ time.
They defeated a brilliant Sheffield Eagles side who used their experience from their 2019 cup final triumph alongside a fast start to put the Centurions to give themselves a real shot at a cup upset. Nonetheless, Leigh’s relentless pressure eventually eroded their resistance leading to victory and a huge 1895 Cup Final between the Championship’s two best teams at present.
They say never let a rugby ball bounce but that’s what Leigh did early in the contest and it gave Sheffield an almighty boost as Anthony Thackery’s huge kick took a wicked bounce allowing Kris Welham to open the scoring.
Simplicity at its best
The two tries Leigh scored to turn an 8-0 deficit into a 12-10 lead were so simple but showed the merit of engaging a defensive line. Sam Stone scored their first after John Asiata created a gap for him before Kai O’Donnell powered over once Joe Mellor had caused disarray in the Sheffield defence.
Sheffield turn to the boot
It was Thackery’s boot which led to Sheffield’s try whilst Izaac Farrell’s consistency with the tee when given a shot at goal which allowed the Eagles to keep the scoreboard ticking and well and truly in the game.
The first try in a game like this is always important. A knockout fixture between one overwhelming favourite and a plucky underdog, if the favourites get the early score they can stamp out hope in the opposition as Featherstone did earlier today in the other semi-final against Barrow.
However, at Leigh the first score went the way of the underdogs as the experienced Kris Welham scored the opening try. The score came courtesy of a Anthony Thackery kick which took a wicked bounce down the right edge.
Izaac Farrell nailed the conversion and extended the Eagles’ lead with a penalty from 40 metres out. That rounded off the perfect opening first 13 minutes from the Sheffield Eagles as they gave themselves a foothold in the match.
It was never going to be plain sailing for the underdogs and eventually Leigh eroded the Eagles’ resistance with a try of their own. The try came from Same Stone. The 24-year-old crashed over from short range after a lovely short ball from loose-forward John Asiata. Krisnan Inu nailed the conversion cutting the gap down to two.
Leigh then squandered a few good spells in possession before a high tackle from Edwin Ipape saw him sin binned on the stroke of halftime and gave Farrell a chance to take Sheffield’s lead out to four points. He obliged making it 10-6 at the break.
Then que an avalanche of pressure from the Centurions at the start of the second half as they looked to overwhelm the Eagles early in the second period and it eventually led to a try for Kai O’Donnell. Joe Mellor had been stopped short the tackle before and O’Donnell then powered over from dummyhalf. Inu’s goal gave Leigh the lead for the first time at 12-10.
However, Leigh couldn’t press on with their advantage and another penalty gave Farrell a shot at his fourth goal of the match – his third penalty – and gave the Eagles a shot at levelling the game up. He made no mistake tying the game up at 12-12.
Leigh had to step up another gear and did when Ipape made a break only to denied by great cover defence. However, shortly after Leigh would force a repeat set and their relentless pressure would yield another try from the in demand Nene MacDonald. He leapt highest to claim Mellor’s kick to give Leigh a six-point lead.
The pressure continued from the Centurions with star man Caleb Aekins powering over in the corner for a decisive try. The goal from Inu followed making it 24-12. If that didn’t book Leigh’s tickets to Spurs, then Ed Chamberlain’s 60 metre effort was as his try and Inu’s goal made it 30-12 sending the Centurions to London for a huge final against Featherstone despite a herculean effort from the Eagles today.