This weekend was always set to be home to the historic rivalry between Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors but also played host to a new rivalry between Leigh Leopards and St Helens.
Leigh’s two wins over the Saints in 2023 but especially their win over the Saints in the Challenge Cup semi-final have formed a backbone of bad blood to their meeting on Friday night.
This stemmed especially from John Asiata’s tackles in that semi-final but this time it was Leigh Leopards players who were furious with treatment in tackles.
Gareth O’Brien took exception to what he felt was a high tackle from Mark Percival early in the game that went unpunished.
Meanwhile, Zak Hardaker was furious after some niggling in a tackle also early in the game.
It was a physical affair from minute one given the angst between the two clubs going into the game tonight and that created some of the best and most ferocious tackles you will see all season.
Saints heaped the pressure on the Leopards early but after earning a penalty the Leopards went down field and created a superb try with a lovely set pattern move.
They might not have had John Asiata to organise their attack, their spine still linked brilliantly with ben Reynolds popping up on the left edge to feed a sweeping move that was completed by Oliver Gildart, his first of the season. That gave Leigh a 6-0 lead but that was soon wiped out.
The Champions struck from deep with Tommy Makinson freed up down the wing and then the ball was kept alive until it was returned to the winger to score and make it 6-all.
The Saints perhaps should have notched another try before the halftime hooter with the pressure they built but that was repelled brilliantly by Leigh.
Then it was Saints making errors at the start of the second half and Leigh had some chances with Zak Hardaker coming close but being denied by some superb cover defence.
However, Leigh would lament those missed chances when a high kick was dropped by Gareth O’Brien and James Roby pounced scooping up the ball and feeding Makinson for a second.
The Saints would back that up when a nice set play allowed Jonny Lomax just enough space to ease through and make it 16-6.
That looked like it would settle matters but Leigh fired a warning shot with a break down the left before a break from Edwin Ipape and an offload let to a try from Rob Mulhern to make it 16-12.
In the dying stages we saw the teams trade no tries with the Saints denied a penalty try before a Tom Briscoe try was denied for a knock on.
But eventually Joe Batchelor was on hand to win the game.
It was a game that showed that James Roby is still the man for St Helens. He made the difference and showed that it could have been a different story in the semi-final had he played.
It was also a game that was really fiery and showed that these two are becoming fierce rivals.