Leigh Miners Rangers 12 Hunslet Warriors 10
MINERS Rangers booked their place in the second round of the Tetley's Challenge Cup courtesy of a hard-fought win in bitter conditions against a hotly-fancied Hunslet Warriors team.
Newly arrived in the NCL top flight, Warriors have recruited well in the close season and are many people's tips to claim the title this year but for the majority of this game they were nullified by a tremendous Miners effort.
The Leigh side led 12-0 at the break with two well-worked tries either side of the 20-minute mark and then defended manfully until the closing minutes when a frantic period of meltdown saw the visitors go in for two tries of their own before the referee's whistle saw them safely through to the next round.
That chaotic last few minutes notwithstanding, this was a hugely-impressive win for the Miners played out in dismal conditions with a strong wind, heavy rain and bitterly cold temperatures.
Both sides opened brightly, with Miners' newcomers Matty Meaden and Kieron Eccleston impressing and Australian Shaun Dowie getting stuck in to the defensive work when he came off the bench.
Miners had the breakthrough just before the 20-minute mark when Eccleston produced a fine pass to put Lee Gittins over for the try by the left of the posts, Jonny Youds adding the conversion.
Only a few minutes later and the lead was doubled with a fine score, Youds with the break to half way continued by a searing burst down the right by Adam Thomason and concluded with the scoring pass inside for Scott O'Brien to touch down between the posts, with Youds goaling.
Warriors were temporarily subdued but as the half came to a close they mounted a rally which was a foretaste of things to come, and in the 20 minutes after half time they laid siege to the Miners' line, the Leigh side not helping themselves as they repeatedly turned possession back over inside their own half.
But the defensive efforts of the home side could not be denied as they absorbed everything the Leeds team threw at them.
Indeed the closest Warriors came to scoring was from a rare Miners' foray, Danny Rowse intercepting from O'Brien on halfway and sprinting away, Thomason with a fine chase back to stop the Warriors international half back 20 metres short but earning a sin-binning as he delayed the quick play-the-ball.
Down to 12 men this appeared a pivotal moment in the game but Miners held firm and indeed had chances to extend their lead during this period as they twice put drop-goal attempts wide.
With the game entering its final stages the match appeared settled but two tries in as many minutes had nerves stretched to breaking, first when Rowse followed up his own kick to touch down behind the posts, Gary McClelland goaling, then when Miners had kicked the restart out on the full to give the Warriors possession from the penalty, Nathan Kitson found the gap to score wide to the right.
The testing conversion fell short and wide but Miners handed their visitors another opportunity as a second restart went dead on the full, but the Leigh side managed to regroup and hold out to the final whistle.
The under 18s travel to Shaw Cross Sharks in the BARLA National Cup round one on Sunday.