The last semi-final spot in the Challenge Cup was up for grabs at the LNER Stadium where Championship York Knights hosted high-flying Leigh Leopards.
The last two match-ups between these sides saw Leigh win 70-10 and 100-4 and the bookmakers clearly didn’t fancy the Knights to fare much better as they priced the Leopards at an incredibly short 1/500.
That was in spite of star man Edwin Ipape being rested, with Ricky Leutele also missing out. That allowed for Wigan loanee Umyla Hanley to debut in the Challenge Cup in the centres.
TEAM CONFIRMATION… Let's Go Leopards!🐆 A Challenge Cup debut for Umyla Hanley and a strong selection from Head Coach Adrian to hopefully book our place in the Semi-Finals!#betheroar #leyther pic.twitter.com/pWOk3XJ2yj
— Leigh Leopards (@LeighLeopardsRL) June 18, 2023
As for York they were missing nine of their first team players, as explained by chairman Clint Goodchild in the pre-match coverage, but the return of Ata Hingano was a huge boost for the home side.
📜 𝙇𝙞𝙣𝙚-𝙪𝙥 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙢𝙚𝙙!
➡️ Hingano back after injury
➡️ Jones and Sumner straight into 17
➡️ Ward returns on wing
⬅️ Glover, Dee, Butterworth and Barnard drop out
— York RLFC Knights (@YorkRLFC) June 18, 2023
Early bath for O’Donnell
Just like the earlier game between Wigan and Warrington there was another early red card in this game. Kai O’Donnell got his position all wrong and ended up tip-tackling Josh Daley, with the York man landing crumpled on his neck. Thankfully Daley was fine but the spear tackle itself was a shocker.
Taking advantage of the twelve men was a huge chance for York and they crossed over and scored, only for the video referee to side against them and save Leigh’s blushes early on.
Penalty points give York the lead
John Asiata might have found himself lucky not to walk for ten or even join his teammate O’Donnell for an early bath when he hit the same man, Josh Daley, late and high. It only resulted in a talking to from the referee but allowed York a kick at goal which Myles Harrison duly converted to give York the lead.
Leigh lose their heads again
The Leopards failed to find touch when kicking their penalty and the frustration showed when Zak Hardaker took a leaf out of O’Donnell’s book and performed another spear tackle that was similar to the one Will Pryce copped ten games for last season. Somehow Hardaker was only sent for ten rather than being reduced to eleven for the remaining 65 minutes.
York extend their lead
Straight from the penalty following the Hardaker foul York marched down the field and capitalised by scoring through Joe Brown. The returning Ata Hingano played a clever reverse kick with Brown chased down and claimed high ahead of O’Brien to score.
Lam kicks Leopard back into it
The Leopards earned good territory and when a smart Lachlan Lam grubber kick was spilled by Ata Hingano it was Joe Mellor who was the first to pick it up and he grounded untouched. O’Brien added the extras to leave the game 8-6 to the hosts.
Magic from Towse
York produced one of the best ever Challenge Cup tries when Ata Hingano looked to kick out of bounds when going for the corner but AJ Towse worked his magic. The winger leapt from in the field of play to then tip the ball back to his teammate Myles Harrison, who darted over with Leigh left sleeping.
Penalty points on the half
The last play of the first half saw another late hit from Leigh and granted York a kick at goal from 35 metres with Myles Harrison kicked with ease to give the Knights an eight point lead.
Charnley drops a clanger
Leigh earned themselves a repeat set in Knights territory 15 minutes into the second-half and the ball was spread to the left flank to star winger Josh Charnley. With the try line begging the man who has scored 19 tries this season simply failed to gather the ball and knocked on. Was this a sign it was to be York’s day?
Simple score for Leigh
Leigh needed to simplify their hand and go back to basics given their poor discipline for the first 55 minutes. That was the case when Tom Amone was set up with a small pop pass from two metres out and the big man forced his way over under the sticks to invite the Leopards back in at 14-12.
Third time lucky for Charnley
The tide had begun to turn with fatigue setting in for part-time York and it told, particularly with Leigh’s disposition to go from wing to wing on each play. Charnley was played in and he forced his way over from five metres out to give Leigh the lead for the first time all evening.
Fatigue finishes York off
Despite Leigh being down a man it was actually York who fatigued quicker as they defended constantly in the second-half. Ultimately it added up and Tom Briscoe helped extend the lead in the 67th minute. Hardaker’s conversion put the game beyond one converted try and to 22-14, destroying York’s hopes.
Leigh playing in front against tired Championship opposition was only going to spell one thing and that’s points. Their second-half performance was that of another level to their first-half with the Leopards being particularly impressive after the hour mark. Asiata to Lam to O’Brien and then out wide for the familiar sight of Josh Charnley crossing over uncontested.
Late yellow sours game
It was a physical affair all the way through and that was the case until the 78th minute when Jack Teanby became the third man to walk for a variation of tip tackle. He did his best to hold up the Leigh ball-carrier but it was a clear tip and Jack Smith remained consistent, sending the York forward for ten. Leigh capitalised on that with a try in the corner for Tom Briscoe late on to make it 34-14.
Leopards lack discipline
The tone seemed to be set from the off when O’Donnell saw red just five minutes into the game. From that point on Leigh were frantic and were lucky that John Asiata didn’t see yellow and Hardaker red (instead of yellow). In addition a flurry of handling errors made it look as though the Leopards were the part-time side.
Below-par Lachlan Lam
He might be Super League player of the month but as Mark Wilson pointed out in commentary ‘this is the Challenge Cup’ and it didn’t fully click for the PNG international today. His kick in the first half was spilled and led to Leigh’s opening try but the half-back was way off it given his usual standards.
Leigh lucky to have 12?
Should Leigh have gone down to 11? You’ll find plenty of fans suggest that they probably should have, and it was even suggested by former Super League man Paul Cooke that Hardaker didn’t see red because of the fact O’Donnell had already seen red. Whether that’s true would be speculative but you’ve certainly seen tackles like Hardaker’s be punished by more than just 10 minutes.
Game of two halves
The Leigh that played in the first half and the one that shone in the second were like chalk and cheese. Adrian Lam will have most likely been fuming at half time and rightly so, and that presumed talking to did it’s job. The Leopards were the clear elite side in the final forty and more than worthy winners.
2: Joe Brown – 7
5: AJ Towse – 8
15: Myles Harrison – 8
28: Adam Jones – 6
25: Brad Ward – 6
6: Ata Hingano – 6
19: Josh Daley – 7
21: Ukuma Ta’ai – 7
9: Will Jubb – 7
10: Conor Fitzimmons – 7
32: Oli Field – 6
11: Chris Clarkson – 6
14: James Cunningham – 7
8: Jon Luke Kirby – 6
17: Ronan Michael – 7
20: Jack Teanby – 7
34: Reagan Sumner – 6
17: Gareth O’Brien – 6
2: Tom Briscoe – 7
1: Zak Hardaker – 6
26: Umyla Hanley – 7
5: Josh Charnley – 8
6: Joe Mellor – 8
7: Lachlan Lam – 6
10: Robbie Mulhern – 7
18: Matty Davis – 6
8: Tom Amone – 8
24: Kai O’Donnell – 1 (sent off after five minutes)
22: Tom Nisbet – 6
13: John Asiata – 7
3: Ed Chamberlain – NA
27: Ava Seumanufagai – 7
25: Nathan Wilde – NA
19: Aaron Smith – NA