Alstead gives Leigh edge in perennial final quest

Leigh 30 - Whitehaven 16
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The Independent Online

Leigh are in the fourth Grand Final of their perennial quest to get into Super League after lasting the pace of a passionate encounter better than the Cumbrians with whom they have been engaged in an arm-wrestle all season.

Beaten in three previous efforts to win the divisional title, Leigh made sure this time. They play at Widnes on 10 October. Whitehaven and Featherstone will contest the other place on Sunday.

Despite beating Whitehaven for the third time in four meetings this season, Leigh did not have it all their own way.

They took an early 10-point lead with tries from Rob Smythe and Danny Halliwell, both made possible by the skilful handling of John Duffy and the strong running of Oliver Wilkes.

But then it all threatened to go wrong as Whitehaven stormed back to take the lead, capitalising on the power of their bigger, heavier pack.

Ryan Tandy barged his way over, Mick Nanyn kicked two goals and then the 18-year-old Craig Calvert showed his exceptional pace by racing through to catch Craig Walsh's kick and score the try that put them in front.

But Leigh replied with an important try before half-time. Halliwell was stopped in one corner, but his team-mates produced the best handling of the afternoon to work the ball across field for Dave Alstead to score from Willie Swann's kick.

Neil Turley's drop goal put Leigh ahead early in the second half, with Nanyn missing an easy penalty that would have edged Haven in front once more.

Another wonderful pass from Duffy sent Dave Larder over and, when Turley kicked a penalty, Leigh had a seven-point lead. That looked very shaky when they were reduced to 12 men on the hour, though.

Sam Obst broke through the Leigh defence and although Larder got back to make a wonderful tackle, he was sent to the sin bin for holding on too long. Nanyn kicked the penalty to reduce the lead, but Leigh held on for the rest of Larder's absence, and got a bonus with Turley's second drop-goal.

Whitehaven could still have drawn level if Carl Sice had picked up Obst's kick. His fumble effectively ended his side's hopes of going direct to the Grand Final, although late tries from Alstead and Larder made it look more straightforward than it had been for Leigh.

"There's been nothing between the two sides this season," said the Leigh coach, Darren Abram. "They came back at us and we had to tough it out. I think it's a really big job now for Whitehaven to get their players up again for next week after losing this one."

Steve McCormack, the Whitehaven coach, begged to differ. "The best side won today but we had our chances," he said. "It will be no problem getting them in the mood for Featherstone."

Leigh: Turley; Smythe, Halliwell, Cooper, Alstead; Weston, Duffy; Knox, Rowley, Sturm, Larder, Wilkes, Knott. Substitutes used: McConnell, Marshall, Swann, Cruckshank.

Whitehaven: Broadbent; Wilson, Seeds, Nanyn, Calvert; Joe, Obst; Tandy, Lester, Fatialofa, Davidson, Hill, Walsh. Substitutes used: Millar, Sice, McKinney, Jackson.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).

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