Leigh U20s 24 - Hornets 28
Ian Talbot and the Hornets supporters in the crowd of around 450 at Leigh East would have been much happier than they were at 4.40 last Sunday.
Casting off the rust and sluggishness that beset a constantly changing side at Keighley, Hornets took on a big, skilful Leigh XIII at a discernibly higher tempo and greater intensity.
|Teamsheet from the Leigh Game|
With Steve Roper and Paul Crook looking sharper, Hornets went on the front-foot from the off. Indeed, The former ran off the latter after just five minutes only to see the try struck-off for a forward pass.
Hornets fans didn't have long to wait, though. On 12 minutes winger Kyle Buckley-Mayall intercepted on his own 20 metre line, showing great pace to out-sprint the chasing cover and score. Crooky with the extras for 6-nil.
From the kick-off possession, Paul Crook launched a massive 40-20 and, from the scrum, Wayne English made the extra man on a looping run to put Ryan King in by the flag. Crooky just wide with the conversion atempt: 10-nil.
With Hornets happy to play the game in Leigh's half, strong defence on 24 minutes drove the home side back into the in-goal and, from the drop-out, Steve Roper's jinking, dummying run had defenders backing off all the way to the goal line for a well made solo try. Crooky added the two and at 16-nil it had the look of a parade.
Wholesale changes to the Hornets' line-up in the second quarter gave Leigh the opportunity to capitalise.
On the half hour a spiralling cross-field kick descended from the darkness for Spence to touch-down unopposed. Leigh's stand-out player, half-back Ward added the two and, at 16-6, the Centurions had the momentum. Indeed, a neat interchange of passes up the right channel had Hornets scrambling. We couldn't see the try-scorer in the gloom, but Ward banged over the two. Half time 16-12 to Hornets.
Hornets began the second half as they had the first. A period of concerted pressure, followed by a repeat set. But Leigh held firm and on 55 minutes launched a counter attack off the back of two penalties to grab a converted try and take the lead at 18-16.
Hornets were quick to respond. On the hour good approach work from the impressive BARLA international Ste Marsh created a hole just big enough for Ryan King to duck in and score. Crook with the two, Hornets back in front at 22-18.
On the next foray into Leigh's half, a lofted kick from Steve Roper had Leigh's winger in all sorts of trouble, the onrushing Matt Crow touching down. The referee consulted the touch judge 60 metres away who determined that Crow had been offside at the kick. No Try.
Let off the hook, Leigh marched straight back downfield where some direct running resulted in a try by the posts. Ward hit the target and Leigh edged back in front 24-22 with 10 mins remaining.
Fittingly, it was a Roper and Crook combination that unzipped the Leigh defence and good hands up the right found Matty Crow on the end of a sweeping move to score. Crooky slid the conversion through from the touchline. Hornets back in front , and holding out to win 28-24.
At the death, a seemingly innoucuous scuffle at a tackle was deemed serious enough for the referee to dismiss a Leigh player, but it was an anomaly in a game played in a good, competitve spirit.
Whilst this wasn't a perfect performance (constant changes don't help momentum), it was more cohesive and dynamic. When Hornets clicked, they looked fluid with the ball in hand. Elsewhere, Warren Thompson, Ste Marsh and Chris Baines were the pick of the forwards, none of the new faces looked out of place and, hopefully, by the time we get to Owlerton, Ian Talbot will have a few selection headaches.
Finally, credit to Leigh's U20s - they're a big, handy, well-drilled unit who gave a great account of themselves. But the next time we come back to Leigh Sports Village, it'll be a different proposition altogether. Can't wait.