By Alan Domville (images by Bob Brough)
With Warrington needing another win to virtually secure their presence in Super League 2018 and Leigh desperate to do likewise and avoid contesting the Million Pound game this was always going to be an end-to-end derby thriller – and so it proved.
And given the results of the day and the fixtures that still remain Wire have achieved their goal.
Leigh led twice in an action-packed first half but Wire went into the dressing room two points in front and in a frantic second period held on to win by that margin.
All this after the visitors had looked set to cause an upset when they went ahead 18-10.
And it fell to Warrington skipper Chris Hill to score the decisive last try of the game that would condemn Leigh to defeat, Livett’s conversion levelling the scores and his late penalty clinching Wire’s fifth win in five in the qualifiers.
It was also their second two-point win in succession and they did score six tries to Leigh’s five.
Ryan Atkins was unavailable for Wire having undergone a hernia operation. Back after recovering from injuries were Mike Cooper, Harvey Livett and Joe Westerman.
Leigh were without former Wire star Micky Higham.
Stefan Ratchford; Matty Russell, Peta Hiku, Harvey Livett, Tom Lineham; Declan Patton, Kevin Brown; Chris Hill, Kurt Gidley, Ashton Sims, Benjamin Jullien, Jack Hughes, Ben Westwood
Subs: Brad Dwyer, Andre Savelio, Joe Westerman, Mike Cooper
Tries: Russell, Westwood, Gidley, Brown, Hiku, Hill
Goals: Patton (2), Livett (2)
Gregg McNally; James Clare, Mitch Brown, Samisoni Langi, Matty Dawson; Cory Patterson, Josh Drinkwater; Antonio Maria, Liam Hood, Danny Tickle, Atelea Vea, Lachlan Burr, Glenn Stewart
Subs Sam Hopkins Greg Richards, Eloi Pelissier, Harrison Hansen
Tries: Clare, Hood, Maria, Vea, Burr
Goals: Drinkwater (5)
“We weren’t going to expect an easy run from someone who needed to win today to give themselves a real shot of escaping their situation. It wasn’t pretty by any means but we got there; we had enough determination. We scored six tries to five but it could have been a bit more if we’d have kicked a few more goals which would have made it easier on ourselves, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Leigh are a type of team who can make a real fight of it. I thought it had a lot of intensity and both teams tried hard. Both teams took some opportunties but missed some too. We are just pleased to get the two points because of the other result it means we are secure. That’s one part of our mission to finish the season strong, we’ve now got two more games to continue to finish strong. Securing our place back in Super League was our priority so to get in done as quickly as we did was pleasing…We were going to get it done. There was determination and we weren’t going to let anything stop us even if we weren’t playing the best rugby we have enough grit and graft about us to get there. I never had a doubt that we would secure our place. I’m grateful for the boys’ efforts. They’ve worked hard enough to get back into that position.”
Stefan Ratchford kicked off towards the West Stand and contained Leigh to the 30-metres mark after the fifth tackle.
Warrington’s first raid ended with a knock-on but they came again; unfortunately Liam Hood was able to pinch the ball from Ratchford.
He raced 70 metres upfield and the move ended with winger James Clare touching down in the corner. Josh Drinkwater landed the first of his five goals in the game from the touchline.
Leigh were penalised 30 metres from their own line and Wire made them pay with Matty Russell being given an unopposed run over the whitewash.
Peta Hiku, who will be leaving Wire after a short stay at the end of the season because of family reasons, then made a powerful break and an over-eager tackle on him signalled another penalty for Warrington. Referee Phil Bentham awarded them another after Russell was hauled down on the Leigh line.
From it, Kurt Gidley was able to serve Ben Westwood who went over close to the sticks; an ideal way for Super Bennie to celebrate his contract extension.
Leigh hit back immediately thanks to a terrific break by Cory Patterson; he didn’t make the line but the subsequent passage of play saw Hood burrow his way over between two defenders. Drinkwater added the extras and the Leythers were back in front.
A high tackle on Glenn Stewart gave Leigh vital territory and a Drinkwater bomb was collected by Antonio Maria who touched down. Another easy shot at goal for Drinkwater put his side 18-10 ahead.
Chris Hill made a fine run in midfield to put Warrington back on the attack but ended with Ratchford kicking directly into touch.
Leigh carried the ball back upfield and while a handling error caused it to roll into touch it was touched by a Warrington hand and Leigh fed the scrum 10 metres from the home line.
The defence held firm with Kevin Brown collecting a grubber and making his way back into play.
Via another penalty award, Brown ended the move at the other end of the field with a kick to the corner but it could not be collected.
Soon afterwards, Brown was causing problems again with a huge up-and-under kick and aided by another penalty, Kurt Gidley was able to dummy and back himself for a fine four-pointer beneath the crossbar.
Patton’s goal reduced the deficit to two.
Samisoni Langi was making his presence felt and he made a dangerous looking break that looked set to breach the home defence; in the event a speculative pass by Stewart went harmlessly into touch.
Another Patton kick to the corner was collected by Matty Dawson but another home score was imminent.
Hiku supplied the final pass for Brown to dive over the line close to touch and while Patton could not add the extras Wire had nosed their way in front just ahead of the break.
Heavy rain overnight had caused the pitch to be greasy and heavy rain at the start of the second period didn’t improve matters as both sides would have to take chances to break the near deadlock.
Both sides lost possession in the opening minutes, the second by Warrington proving costly. Stewart dummied and sent Atelea Vea over in the left channel, Drinkwater again being on target with his conversion.
Once again excellent Wire defence confined Leigh to within 30 metres of their line but suffered a blow when Tom Lineham sustained a head injury while fielding a kick.
After treatment on the field he had to go off; happily he was able to return later.
Leigh came close to scoring again but Stewart couldn’t hold on to a pass as he crossed the whitewash and Andre Savelio was able to take the ball upfield.
Powerful drives by Ratchford and Russell put Wire back on the attack and Hiku was able to turn the move into points. No goal again but now the scores were level at 24 apiece as the three-quarter time approached.
Leigh weren’t done and took the lead again when Lachlan Burr crossed close to the posts, Drinkwater’s kick making it 30-24 to the visitors and sending their highly vocal support into raptures.
Two more typically defence-busting drives by Russell were inspirational for the home side and they were level again after Brad Dwyer, having just entered the action, put Hill over.
Harvey Livett took over the goal-kicking role and his conversion meant the scores were equal yet again.
Then came a magnificent 40:20 kick from Brown to pin Leigh back and when the official awarded a penalty to Wire for a ball steal Livett’s kick put them back into a lead they wouldn’t lose.
Leigh fought bravely but two raids ended with Dawson being unable to rake in passes that were both difficult to take and when the same player set off on another dangerous looking run Lineham was able to stop him in his tracks with a fine tackle.
And as Hill took the last pass of the game the home crowd erupted with cries of “We are staying up!”