Leigh fail to hold off Widnes charge

Leigh 18 Widnes 26
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The Independent Online

Widnes showed the resilience of a side that believes that its destiny is to play in Super League, outlasting Leigh to take their place in rugby league's Northern Ford Premiership Grand Final.

Leigh, the pacesetters all season, had dominated the first half of a totally absorbing game at Hilton Park but could not kill off their opponents.

From 12-4 down at the break, Widnes seized the initiative to lead 19-12 as their extra pace out wide brought them two tries from Damien Munro and one from Chris Percival, plus a 30 yard drop goal from Richard Agar.

With seven minutes to play, Leigh hit back through Phil Kendrick to cut the margin to a single point, but an unlikely drop from Simon Knox and a try from Chris McKinney two minutes from time determined that it would be Widnes who face Oldham at Spotland next Saturday with a place in the top flight available for the winners.

"There was no panic at half-time," insisted Neil Kelly, a coach whose extensive play-off experience proved invaluable. "And I knew we'd got a lot of experienced players who'd trod this path before."

It had all looked so different in the first half, as Leigh overcame the handicap of playing without the injured Neil Turley, scorer of 55 tries for them this season. Their forwards battered Widnes from the kick-off and they were eight points ahead before their visitors had even handled the ball.

Simon Svevic's perfectly timed pass to Chris Morley created the game's first try, with Svevic adding the conversion and a penalty after Sean Richardson had gone high on Tim Street, the veteran Leigh prop playing his final game of rugby league.

There was a warning of Widnes's ability when they scored with their first real attack, Percival taking Craig Weston's pass to complete a sweeping, if isolated, move.

Leigh moved further ahead when Liam Bretherton, depu-tising admirably for Turley, latched onto Svevic's kick and slipped the ball for Alan Hadcroft to score.

"We should have been in front by 20 or more by half-time," said the Leigh coach, Paul Terzis. "To their credit they won the second half and won the game."

Leigh never recaptured the intensity they showed before the interval and they are now doomed to at least another season in the NFP, whilst Terzis will be seen as a well-qualified candidate for the new vacancy in Super League with Salford.

Leigh: Bretherton; Hadcroft, Anderson, Fairclough, Watts; Svabic, Swann; Street, Hamilton, Whittle, Baldwin, Morley, Bristow. Substitutes used: Kendrick, Duffy, Bradbury, Leatham.

Widnes: Atcheson; Munro, Weston, Demetriou, Percival; Agar, Crompton; Knox, Cantillon, Holgate, Gee, Richardson, Hodgkinson. Substitutes used: Craig, McKinney, Faimalo, Long.

Referee: I Smith (Oldham).