Wigan and Leigh and That

It’s been a busy week, so we thought we’d treat you to a bumper edition, written in two parts, like those dodgy cars that are the back of one car and the front of another shunted together to make a new motor. And, just like those death traps, you wouldn’t want to pay for this shite so you’re getting it for free you jammy bastards.

By the time this goes to press, we’ll have no doubt beaten both teams from the Wigan borough convincingly and everything will be looking rosy again, a couple of points off the top four and a place in the semi-final of the cup secured. Or we’ll have to change this bit of the intro or risk looking a bit silly.

The last time we played Leigh in a competitive fixture, Labour were in government, petrol was below £1 a litre and the amassed ranks of Wire fans that packed into the away end at Hilton park were ironically cheering every tackle the Centurions made as Wire ripped apart a hastily assembled squad that included the likes of Warren Stevens, Mark Leafa and Craig Stapleton.

Now, sadly, the Tories are in power and you could get a week in Llorret de Mar for the cost of filling up a two litre engine. And while Leigh MP Andy Burnham is pushing to be the next Labour leader, their rugby team is making an impressive charge for Super League once more.

Burnham is the bookies’ favourite to become the leader of the opposition and you’d have to be really silly to bet against Leigh being a super league team next season. Paul Rowley’s men have been building steadily for a number of years and would have been in the top flight by now had the licencing/promotion situation been different.

They more than held their own against Leeds at Headingley in the cup last year and had already dumped two super league teams – Salford and Wakefield – out of the cup ahead of this clash. Although they recently conceded their record unbeaten streak to London Broncos, the Leythers made the short journey through Culcheth in confident mood.

They took a slender lead into half-time after tries from Worthington, Brierley and McNally cancelled out Ashton Sim’s opener and Ben Currie’s touch down, but a purple patch just after the break saw Wire run in three tries before Leigh could reply through Brierley (who else?) but Ben Currie crossed to kill the game off.

Such is the rise of the Centurions that there a few players in their squad that are catching the eye of many Super League admirers. None more so than Brierley.

After former Leigh eye-catcher Chris Hill showed his class to slip a neat short ball to put fellow prop Ashton Sims in for the opening try, the boy wonder put in a pinpoint grubber kick for Worthington to level the scores.

Wire regained the lead when Harrison ripped the ball out in the tackle and Ben Currie was first to respond, the ever impressive youngster swooping on the loose ball to race away for a try.

Brierley, never one to be outdone, displayed his own blistering pace to close the gap on the scoreboard when he pounced on the ball after O’Brien fumbled his own high kick and outpaced everyone over 70 metres to score out wide.

Ex-Wire academy player Ridyard missed the kick but Leigh went into the changing rooms ahead after a slick backline spread saw them break down field, before the ball was kicked back inside for Gregg McNally – himself once the next big thing – to touch down.

It was impossible not to imagine Tony Smith giving a Mike Bassett-style team talk during the break. “It’s fucking half-time and we’re fucking two points down to the fucking Leythers!” he shouts, while throwing a water bottle at Richie Myler’s head.

In reality, he most probably told the players – calmly, but sternly – that this level of performance wasn’t good enough and if we want to progress in this competition, we need to do what we do well. And do it well.

Whatever he said, it worked.

Leigh would’ve been discussing how Warrington would be looking for a ‘big 10 minutes’ and how they’d need to contain it to have any chance of holding on to their lead.

They couldn’t.

In what is fast becoming a regular occurrence, Brad Dwyer came off the bench to make a massive impact. His break from dummy half and subsequent offload to Ratchford was the catalyst for Kevin Penny’s try soon after the restart.

Ratchford’s ball to the winger was a beaut and so was the one that set up his next try, his perfect pass the final one of a well-executed backline spread. Penny’s athletic finish in the corner has since gone viral, such was its quality. A genuine contender for best try ever, let alone try of the season.

Wire then had a try disallowed, Ben Westwood being adjudged to have knocked on before getting his offload away to Ben Currie, robbing the spicy one of what would have eventually been a hat-trick.

We did cross for a legitimate try from George King, another youngster putting in big performances during this shocking run of injuries that we’re on, when he touched down Dwyer’s neat stab into the in goal. He really does look dangerous when be goes from dummy half and always injects life into the game when he comes on. To recall a conversation in the pub at Dewsbury train station, he is going to be a star that lad. 

Leigh weren’t prepared to give in, though. Their vociferous army in the West Stand – for what it’s worth, easily the best away support we’ve seen at the HJ for a good old time – roared them on as they continued to promote the ball in the tackle and put it through hands at any given opportunity.

That man Brierley touched down for his second try when he won the race to Ridyard’s pinpoint grubber, but Ben Currie, moved to centre again due to injury, killed off any hopes of a comeback with a well taken try when dummied and strolled over after another fluid attacking play.

Tom Armstrong went in for late consolation try, but Wire had built up a safe enough buffer by then.

It was a brilliant cup tie, a great rugby league occasion all round between two famous clubs of the game, in front of a bumper crowd that contributed to a vibrant atmosphere in glorious sunshine.

We did, however, miss out on a glorious opportunity to get the biggest ever ‘if you all hate Wigan clap your hands’ chant going between both sets of fans and the fact that so few of the South Stand joined in to remind Brian Noble that he should have picked Lee Briers when he was Great Britain coach was a let-down. Ah well.

Which brings us nicely onto the second cup game of the week.

Having progressed to the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup, we then went into the Locker Cup game on Thursday, showing off our brand new badge against our bitter old enemies, Wigan.

Despite the ever growing injury list and Ben Currie being suspended for two matches for groping Phil Bentham during the Leigh game, the mighty Wire put in a performance on par with the two games against Leeds to send Shaun Wane and his team of Gripper Stebsons home with a figurative – and, in some cases, literal – black eye.

Much renowned for their aggressive tactics, Wigan’s pack has had the better of our forwards in recent meetings, but Sims, Westwood, Hill et al were clearly as fired up as the supporters as they tore into their opposite numbers right from the kick off.

Myler, who had his best game since that win at Headingley, opened the scoring with a try of the season contender of his own. The only man from Widnes with a full time job poked a grubber through the sliding defence before chipping it over the head of Fatty Bowen and touching down.

As both sides traded punishing defence, the wire pack began to get on top of Wigan’s and not even after Matty Russell’s brain fart would our goal line defence be penetrated.

As we began to build pressure on the Wigan line without reward, Gareth O’Brien displayed a great bit of game smarts and nudged over a drop goal before superstar-in-the-making Brad Dwyer came off the bench and again grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck.

The diminutive hooker had a busy couple of minutes without any real success before he darted across field from dummy half and put Ryan Atkins – who hit the line on the perfect angle – over with a stunning short ball, leaving the Wigan defence flat footed and the supporters flat right on the stroke of half-time.

Things got heated in the second half and long-term supporters of both clubs would have relished the battles between the two packs, reminiscent of the old battles between the likes of Boyd, Cullen, Platt and Goodway at ‘the Zoo’.

Their prop with the silly hair was bashed about a lot, bless him, while McIllorum, Tomkins and Farrell tried their best to shithouse their team back into the game, without much luck.

The travelling support was furious with Ashton Sims slapping George Williams about a bit, but were quickly put in their place with a reminder of their hero’s welcome for Ben Flower by the South Stand.

Try as they might, by the time they scored, it was very much a case of too little, too late as Gareth O’Brien had further extended Wire’s lead, racing home after a nice show-and-go fooled the tiring visiting defence.

McIllorum, one of the few Wigan players that probably wasn’t twatted by Shaun Wane on the bus home, ran from dummy half and caught the defence off guard for once and on the back of his break, Matty Smith was given time and space to put a kick to the corner for Dom Manfredi to beat Gene Ormbsy to and score.

The Wigan Walk was well underway by then, though, as the jubilant South Stand taunted our friends from up the A49.

Of course, sandwiched in between the two victories against both teams in the WN post code was the unveiling of the club’s new badge as part of the ‘brand refresh’.

No matter what your opinion on the badge, the overall concept of the club being more heavily promoted around the town – and beyond – is long overdue. You shouldn’t be able to move round town and not know there’s a game on or be bombarded with club propaganda and the lack of any real marketing or promotion beyond game day is something that needed addressing. Fair play to Roger Draper. His CV and track record is impressive and already in his short time as CEO, he has been visibly busy and seems to be embarking upon some very exciting and promising changes for the club.

And that’s about all we have to say this week. We hope you liked it, well at least more than some of you liked the new badge.

Now the fucking Wire.

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