John Kear's charges suffered their second successive Thursday night body-blow as they exited this season's Northern Rail Cup in disappointing fashion with a comprehensive 23-6 defeat at the hands of an impressive Leigh Centurions at the LSV.
LEIGH CENTURIONS 23-6 BATLEY BULLDOGS
by Mark Ward
Northern Rail Cup Semi-Final, Leigh Sports Village, 27 June 2013
It seemed a bit like groundhog day this evening at the Leigh Sports Village as, in a similar performance to that of last week against Sheffield, the Bulldogs laboured to a disappointing defeat which sent them spinning out of the Northern Rail Cup. Just as last week, the visitors struggled to complete their sets and looked pedestrian in attack as the Centurions dominated proceedings and fully deserved their place in next month's final in Halifax.
Leigh's half-back partnership was outstanding this evening - Martin Ridyard and Ryan Brierley bossed the game, with the latter scoring an impressive hat-trick behind a dominant pack. Their opponents on the other hand were lacklustre and, in truth, a bit out of luck as some of their set-piece attacks deserved better outcomes, but ultimately the Bulldogs were outclassed by a much more impressive unit on the night.
The Centurions only took 4 minutes to open the scoring - Ridyard's deft angled chip caught the visitors' defence flat-footed and Brierley reacted quickest with a cushioned kick towards the in-goal area which he then touched down ahead of the covering Miles Greenwood. Ridyard slotted over the conversion from in front of the sticks and the hosts were up and running. The visitors continued to struggle to establish a foothold in the game although Jason Walton was unlucky not to gather up Ben Black's kick to the corner on 16 minutes. Sadly for the Bulldogs, just a minute later the Centurions were in again - this time Ridyard and Tommy Goulden combined well allowing Brierley to scamper in for his second try of the evening, again ably converted by Ridyard.
The game became frustrating for the visitors as the half wore on; trailing on the scoreboard, and seemingly devoid of attacking options an unlikely lifeline arrived on 28 minutes when Alex Rowe dragged three markers over the line and collapsed in a heap. Referee Jamie Leahy referred the decision to the video referee, who decided that the burly Bulldogs forward had got the ball down, awarding a try, converted by Gareth Moore. The score seemed to energise Batley - George Flanagan was held up over the line, and when Ash Lindsay was impeded on 35 minutes the instruction went out to take the two on offer ... but Moore failed to land the penalty. Three minutes later, with the interval looming, Ridyard showed Moore how to do it, when he landed an unpressurised field-goal to edge Leigh two scores ahead.
HALF-TIME: LEIGH CENTURIONS 13-6 BATLEY BULLDOGS
The Bulldogs started the second-half in a brighter fashion, but they failed to capitalise on a brief spell of dominance which ultimately cost them any chance of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Greg Johnson broke clear on 52 minutes from Greenwood's pass and looked set to score in the corner until Greg McNally's last ditch tackle prevented the flying winger from grounding the ball. Two minutes later, an acrobatic leap by Johnny Campbell looked to have converted Moore's angled kick, but the video referee decided that Campbell had failed to get downward pressure on the ball, and when Keegan Hirst was held up on 57 minutes, one began to realise that it probably wasn't destined to be the visitors' night.
When Campbell scooped up the ball on 61 minutes to break up a home attack, the platform looked set for another Bulldogs attack, but the winger was wound up by Gregg McNally, lashing out at the Leigh full-back and conceding what proved to be a costly penalty. From the resultant set, Brierley escaped the defensive line and Johnson to scoot over for his hat-trick try, but Ridyard's failure to convert meant the Centurions still only led by two scores at 17-6.
In truth, by this point, the game was all but up, with the visitors looking unlikely to register one try, let alone two. As the game clock ticked down, the Bulldogs became increasingly desperate, and the hammer blow was delivered on 75 minutes as the Centurions wrapped up victory with a sparkling try. Black's forced pass was intercepted by that man Ridyard, who hared clear, and with support from Jon Pownall, Matt Gardner was on hand to clinch a berth in the final with a dazzling end-to-end effort, converted by Ridyard at 23-6. The same kicker had the opportunity to complete the scoring on 78 minutes, but he dragged his effort wide. The home support cared not, however, as the Centurions held on to book a final date with Doncaster or Sheffield on July 20.
The Bulldogs will now lick their wounds after a second successive damaging defeat and will regroup for their next clash ... it doesn't get easier with another of those seemingly unwinnable top five clashes with Featherstone Rovers lying in wait.
LEIGH CENTURIONS: 1 McNally, 2 Maden, 3 Littler, 4 Gardner, 5 Pownall, 6 Ridyard, 7 Brierley, 19 Ostick, 9 Beswick, 37 Bate, 12 Goulden, 11 Finnigan, 8 Hopkins. Interchange: 14 Penkywicz, 15 Thornley, 21 Duffy, 34 Spencer.
T: Brierley 3, Gardner
G: Ridyard 3
BATLEY BULLDOGS: 1 Greenwood, 5 Campbell, 3 Walton, 20 Faal, 21 Johnson, 6 Black, 7 Moore, 8 Smith, 9 Mennell, 26 Fleming, 16 Davies, 17 Walmsley, 13 Lindsay. Interchange: 11 Bretherton, 14 Flanagan, 15 Hirst, 19 Rowe.
SCORING SEQUENCE: 6-0, 12-0, 12-6, 13-6, HT, 17-6, 23-6
REFEREE: Jamie Leahy (RFL)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Ryan Brierley (Leigh Centurions) - both home half-backs were excellent, but Brierley's hat-trick edged it.