THEY MADE hard work of it, but Wakefield Trinity Wildcats have moved another step closer to retaining their top-flight status following a precious 17-16 win at Leigh Centurions.
The Kingstone Press Championship title winners beat Wildcats in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup earlier in the year and threatened a repeat performance when they led 16-6 just before the break, but Wildcats toughed it out in impressive style.
A poor first half was followed by a much better second and the final 12 minutes, after Lee Smith had booted them narrowly in front with a well-taken drop goal, was as good as Wakefield have played all season.
They didn’t do anything spectacular in that spell – though Chris Riley did have a touchdown ruled out by the video referees – but their game management was outstanding and they never allowed Leigh a chance at an equalising one-pointer or a winning try.
Wakefield should have made more of an 8-2 penalty count in their favour before the break and a host of errors by the home side. Leigh were as ill-disciplined as the penalty count suggests and Kurt Haggerty was lucky not to be sent-off for kneeing Lee Smith, but they scrambled enthusiastically in defence and Wildcats didn’t have the tools to break them down.
The visitors did take an early lead when Bill Tupou offloaded to Lee Smith, who also converted. Leigh hit back when Fuifui Moimoi charged on to Micky Higham’s pass, then Jonathan Pownall juggled his way over at the corner from a pass by Martyn Ridyard, who added the extras.
Ridyard was the architect of a classic third try on 35. Jacob Miller knocked on near Leigh’s line to concede a scrum, the stand-off hoofed the ball downfield and Liam Kay – a former Wakefield player – dribbled on twice before touching down.
Ridyard’s goal made it 16-6, but Wakefield scored a vital try just before the break when Miller used his dancing feet to step over from Pita Godinet’s pass after Leigh had coughed up possession in the set from the restart.
It stayed 16-10 until the 59th minute when Miller scored a copycat second try, improved by Lee Smith. Michael Sio was sin-binned soon after that, for an alleged grapple tackle, but Leigh could not take advantage and Lee Smith’s one-pointer proved a deserved winner.
Wildcats have won two of their three First Utility Super-8s fixtures.
At worst, assuming nothing goes disastrously wrong, they should have home advantage in the million pound match to decide the 12th and final place in Super League next year – and if they can snatch a win over Hull KR (a week after Wembley) or Widnes Vikings, they could yet finish in the top three and clinch an automatic spot in the elite competition.
Leigh Centurions: McNally, Pownall, Worthington, Armstrong, Kay, Ridyard, Brierley, Moimoi, Higham, Emmitt, Haggerty, Dixon, Acton. Subs (all used): Beswick, Barlow, Spencer, Aspinwall.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: L Smith, Riley, Tupou, Arundel, Lyne, Miller, T Smith, Scruton, Sio, Anderson, Molloy, Ashurst, Simon. Subs (all used): Lauitiiti, Washbrook, Godinet, Mullally.
Referee: James Child (Batley).