Martyn Sadler: Leigh Centurions deserve promotion, but where was Ryan Brierley?

To commemorate Leigh’s promotion to Super League, here is a look at Martyn Sadler’s take on a historic afternoon for the Centurions.

You could have got very long odds at the start of the year if you had wanted to bet on Leigh and Huddersfield meeting in the Qualifiers this season.

The Giants were a top-four Super League side in 2015, so the idea that they would be in the bottom four after 23 rounds would have seemed far-fetched. And the idea that they would be at the bottom of Super League at that time would have been dismissed as pure fantasy.

But of course if you had wanted a bet that Leigh would be in the Qualifiers, you would have been offered very short odds indeed. In fact I suspect you wouldn’t have been able to find a bookmaker who would have accepted your bet.

But you would have been able to get astronomical odds if you had predicted that the two clubs would meet in the Qualifiers and that Leigh would be winning by 32 points at half-time.

Nobody would have believed that such a thing was possible.

And even though Leigh had already demonstrated their ability with wins over Hull Kingston Rovers and Salford Red Devils, I suspect that their supporters were pinching themselves with disbelief as the first half unfolded on Saturday afternoon.

What an extraordinary performance it was!

And what an experience for the Leigh fans, and for their number one fan, the club owner Derek Beaumont, whose financial backing of the club has made it all possible.

Apart from him, the two people who deserve the most credit are the coach Neil Jukes and his assistant Paul Cooke, who seem to absorb the correct lessons from every game they play.

For example, the previous week at Hull Kingston Rovers had seen the Centurions get off to a slow start, mainly because they conceded an excessive number of penalties in the first half and they went down to an early 12-0 deficit before recovering and securing a victory.

On Saturday the Centurions had cured the habit and it was the Giants who made all the early mistakes, allowing the Centurions to blitz them with 18 points in the first 13 minutes of the game.

It was amazing to see a Super League side making so many basic errors so early in a game. The Giants’ coach Rick Stone can hardly have believed what he was watching.

Martyn Ridyard’s kick-off bounced over the dead-ball line and forced an immediate goal-line drop-out. In less than a minute Greg Worthington was going over for the first try in the left corner.

But then Jake Connor put the restart out on the full, giving the opening penalty of the game to Leigh.

Almost immediately Dayne Weston was held up over the line and Josh Drinkwater’s kick secured a second goal-line drop-out.

Micky Higham was then held up on the line and 30 seconds later Aaron Murphy lost the ball just ten metres from his own line.

A minute after that Matty Dawson was streaking in for his first try, after the Centurions moved the ball to the left again, and he scored his second try not long after Drinkwater had forced another goal-line drop-out.

It was an extraordinary start to the game, although we probably thought the Giants were going to come back into it when Leigh conceded a couple of penalties and that led to Michael Lawrence’s opening try for the Giants, with Aaron Murphy’s try bringing the score back to 18-10 after 24 minutes.

But it wasn’t to be.

When Martyn Ridyard intercepted Danny Brough’s pass near his own line and ran the length of the field, stepping smartly inside Leroy Cudjoe to touch down, the skids were again under the Giants.

When Jamie Ellis dropped what should have been a scoring pass from Jermaine McGillvary I just got the feeling that this was going to be Leigh’s day.

And in the final ten minutes of the first half they scored three more tries to take a stranglehold on the game.

Nobody could imagine that the Giants would be able to overturn a 32-point deficit in the second half, and although they gave it a good shot, they ultimately came up eight points short and the Centurions’ celebrations began.

The Giants had been hit by a hurricane, and it was great to see the Leigh team and their fans celebrating at the end.

One thing had surprised me about the Giants though.

Their coach Rick Stone had obviously anticipated a forward battle, and he had four forwards on the bench. But the Centurions threw the ball around and beat the Giants with ball handling and pace.

Last week I criticised Hull KR coach James Webster for not picking Kieran Dixon in his team against Leigh, and on Saturday Stone left Ryan Brierley out of his squad.

I thought that was also a bad error.

How the Giants could have used Brierley’s pace and his eye for a gap against the Centurions!

I believe he doesn’t make the squad because of doubts about his defence.

And yet without him the Giants conceded 48 points!

Could it have been any worse with Brierley in the team?

Brierley’s motivation to do well on his old home ground would have been outstanding.

But he was left kicking his heels and Leigh are laughing all the way to Super League.