Captain Shaun Lunt came off the bench to inspire the Robins to a massive victory in the qualifying 8s over Leigh Centurions and take a giant step towards the SuperLeague.
This game was targeted by coach Tim Sheens as a winnable one against a Leigh side they had already knocked out of the Challenge Cup back in April and confidence was high within the camp after last week’s last gasp win over Halifax. Leigh came into the game on the back of a comprehensive win over fellow Championship side Featherstone Rovers last week, so one teams 100% record had to go to the wall today.
Sheens stuck with his half back pairing from last week with Matty Marsh and Jamie Ellis starting the game, undoubtedly with his words from last week ringing in their ears, when he challenged them to take more control of the game. Tough Aussie Maurice Blair was surprisingly named in the centres and youngster George Lawler started the game at hooker, with captain & talisman Lunt on the interchange bench with James Greenwood, Chris Atkin and the giant Mose Masoe.
After a cagey start with both sets of forwards trading yards and Ellis and Leigh’s Josh Drinkwater following suit in the kicking stakes. Leigh were pressurising the Robins line and forced a goal line drop out after 7 minutes but the defence stood firm until Harrison Hansen broke upfield on 11 minutes and he found the supporting Daniel Mortimer who scooted under the sticks, to opening the scoring leaving Drinkwater with an easy conversion.
The game settled down into tit for tat sets, the Robins half back pairing were finding attacking options hard to come by, but Ellis’ kicks were turning the big Leigh pack round time and again, making them earn their yards. Drinkwater saw an attempted 40/20 bounce just outside the Robins 20 metre line. Minutes later Lunt and Masoe combined with the rampaging prop making a strong burst through Leigh’s middle, but stayed down after the tackle when he was stopped just short. In the same set the play switched out to the left but Justin Carney slipped as he attempted to go for the line and ended up in touch.
With 31 minutes gone Lunt opened the Robins scoring when he barrelled his way over from dummy half after he spotted an opening in the over eager defence and spun in the tackle to plant the ball down. Ellis levelled the game with the kick. Minutes late Ellis produced a brilliant 40/20 from an acute angle but it came to nothing as Jack Smith called a forward pass on the 3rd tackle of the set.
Leigh attacked the Robins line with minutes to go to the half time but they held firm, in the 38th minute the held on a little too long and Drinkwater converted the resulting penalty give the home side a 2 point lead at the break.
The second half started much in the same vein as the first, with both sides trading sets and penalties. Lee Jewitt was the villain for the Robins on 51 minutes were he was pinged for interference in front of his own sticks and Drinkwater converted to make it 10-6.
On 58 minutes came the try of the game, when a pinpoint Jamie Ellis kick was plucked out of the air by the flying Ryan Shaw who managed to spin in the air, land with his feet just millimetres from the whitewash and plant the ball down, much to the delirium of the travelling Robins faithful, who went berserk when Ellis landed a monster from the touch line to give the Robins the lead.
Ellis then stretched the lead to 4 with a penalty as Kieran Moss was held back chasing a kick. This wasn’t to last long though as minutes later Atelea Vea powered his way over from 10 metres out taking Marsh and Moss with him. Drinkwater’s conversion went over with the aid of the upright.
The Leythers led with ten to go and nearly increased the lead when only a last gasp Justin Carney tackle stopped Vea grabbing his second. After another Ryan Shaw break was thwarted up stepped Lunt to grab the match winner as he went over again from dummy half and the intervention of the video ref who confirmed the score. It has to be said it came from a very dubious play the ball but it stood and Ellis maintained his 100% record with the boot to make it 16-20.
As Leigh pressed for the try to get back in the game, the Robins pushed referee Smith’s patience to the limits with a number of penalties and put the Robins on a team warning, but they held on for a massive massive victory.