Leigh Leopards Beat Favourites St Helens To Reach Betfred Challenge Cup Final

All the action from Leigh Sports Village in the Betfred Challenge Cup
16:23, 22 Jul 2023

Leigh Leopards are going to Wembley for the first time in over half a century. A dramatic, tight and tense 12-10 win over overwhelming favourites St Helens concluded with Jonny Makinson’s missed conversion to send the Leopards to the final of the Betfred Challenge Cup.

Saints expectedly dominated the first half, even if the 6-0 scoreline they ended it with didn't quite reflect the balance of play. Joey Lussick, in for the absent James Roby, scored a forceful, close-range try to give his side the lead. He sold Edwin Ipape and Josh Charnley the dummy before powering over. Tommy Makinson added the two and after a first quarter of an hour of Leopards absorbing the pressure, St Helens were off the mark.

A huge 40/20 kick from Lussick carved Leigh open. The technique was superb and the bravery to take it on three tackles into the Saints set was magical. The resulting attack saw Alex Walmsley go close, with only Ipape and Gareth O’Brien managing to keep the ball from touching the ground.

Despite the relentless pressure, the Leopards managed to keep the scoreline down. They displayed fine defensive work when Lewis Dodd found Agnatius Paasi with a pass. The Tongan span out and looked like scoring before his efforts were snuffed out. A dominant first half for the World Champions but one in which Leigh had managed to stay within touching distance all the same.

The home side would take advantage of the meagre scoreline moments into the second half. Lachlan Lam’s offload to Oliver Holmes allowed the latter to exploit a gap in the Saints defence. He took his chance with aplomb before Ben Reynolds converted to draw Leigh level.

Zak Hardaker put Leigh into the lead, racing in unopposed to score the Leopards’ second try of the day. They could not add the two this time but you wouldn’t have known it from the rambunctious noise inside Leigh Sports Village.


Leigh would belatedly get their goal though. A penalty was given after Sione Mata'utia went high on Reynolds. The player was sent to the sin bin for ten of the remaining twenty minutes while Reynolds scored from his kick. Suddenly, Saints were starting to look up against it.

They looked like possible getting back on terms as Konrad Hurrell shrugged off challenges from three opposition players to cross over. The pile of bodies made the video review difficult and ultimately the referee was forced to conclude there was no try. Hurrell had done his bit, putting his arm up to celebrate the potential score. But in the end the score remained 12-6 against his Saints side.

Hardaker already had a significant claim to be the hero of this game. But his thundering tackle as Jonny Lomax was on the cusp of a try definitely secured his iconic status. Everyone in the ground expected Lomax to score but Hardaker appeared as if from nowhere to prevent the attack. Breathtaking.

They couldn’t stop Lomax for long though. With just two minutes left in the game, the Saints number six crossed over in the wide-right position. Welsby found Lomax with a neat short ball and the 32-year-old did the rest. Makinson stepped up for the most high pressure kick he has probably ever had to take. He fluffed his lines, sending it too far right of the post. Leigh Sports Village went into raptures. From the despair of Lomax’s try to the joy of Makinson’s miss. What a rollercoaster.

A rollercoaster could probably sum up Leigh’s journey since their last Wembley final in 1971. The name and the shirts are different now, a rebrand that has drawn mixed reviews. But the performance Leigh Leopards put up today deserves unanimous praise. A wonderful victory nearly cruelly taken from them before no little luck and a lot of determination got them over the line. They’ll be good value at Wembley, there’s not doubt about that.

Pictures courtesy of SWpix.com

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