THEY MET as equals last week, but three years ago there was a division separating the teams when Leeds Rhinos took on Leigh Centurions in a Challenge Cup quarter-final at Headingley.
Rhinos went into the tie – on June 6 – as overwhelming favourites, but were given a huge scare by the Championship leaders.
Leigh had won all their previous 16 games that season and pre-match discussions centred around how they would cope with the step up to Super League class.
Rhinos might have expected coach Paul Rowley’s side to be blown away, but instead the visitors matched Leeds for all but the final few minutes and home coach Brian McDermott admitted he was a relieved man after his team’s 25-12 success.
He said: “It was a fantastic Challenge Cup game. It’s what the cup is about, games like that. Leigh mixed it with us and they would mix it with any Super League team.
“They had a level of intensity and determination that was Super League standard.”
Leeds trailed in the first half to tries by Tom Spencer and Tom Armstrong – in a stunning four-minute spell – and two Martyn Ridyard goals, after Ryan Hall had opened the scoring for the home team.
Stevie Ward crossed and Kevin Sinfield booted a second conversion to make it 12-12 at the break.
The second half was tense and there was no more scoring until seven minutes from time when – with the defence expecting Leeds to set for a drop goal – hooker Robbie Ward dummied through to break Leigh’s hearts.
Sinfield converted and then landed a one-pointer to calm Rhinos’ nerves before Zak Hardaker crossed for a late try and Sinfield added the extras.
Leigh had chances in the second half of a fiery tie and Leeds’ Jamie Peacock and Centurions’ Matt Sarsfield were both sin-binned following a second half punch-up.
Leeds’ side included seven players named in the initial 19-man squad for last Friday’s Super League meeting, while full-back Gregg McNally was the only Leigh man to feature in both games.
Leeds Rhinos 25 (Tries: Hall, S Ward, R Ward, Hardaker. Goals: Sinfield 4. Drop goal: Sinfield)
Leigh Centurions 12 (Tries: Spencer, Armstrong. Goals: Ridyard 2)
June 6, 2014. Challenge Cup quarter-final.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, Sutcliffe, Leuluai, R Ward, Peacock, S Ward, Delaney, Bailey. Subs: Singleton, Clarkson, Kirke, Walters.
Leigh Centurions: McNally, Pownall, Higson, Armstrong, Kay, Ridyard, Brierley, Spencer, Penkywicz, Wilkes, Sarsfield, Haggerty, Barlow. Subs: Beswick, Emmitt, Goulden, Duffy.
Referee: Ben Thaler.