Widnes Vikings produced a battling performance at the Leigh Sports Village on Sunday afternoon, as a much-changed line-up pushed Leigh Centurions all the way in a 34-22 defeat.
After disappointing performances against Sheffield Eagles and Toulouse Olympique, the Vikings came up with a positive response ahead of their 1895 Cup Final at Wembley next weekend.
Widnes returned to the scene of their last victory, and despite their best efforts they were unable to come up with a repeat of their semi-final heroics three weeks earlier.
Kieron Purtill made six changes to the side that were beaten by Toulouse Olympique last weekend, as Olly Ashall-Bott, Lloyd Roby, Joe Lyons, Josh Ganson, Brad Walker and Owen Farnworth all came in.
Leigh took the lead on seven minutes, as a penalty for holding down advanced them into their opponent’s half, where the ball was put through hands to send Adam Higson over in the corner.
Widnes responded immediately though, as they drew an error from the kick-off set and clever work from Harrison Hansen and Keanan Brand made space for Jayden Hatton to cross on the left edge.
The Vikings had a chance to take the lead soon after, as Olly Ashall-Bott broke through the middle and reached halfway, before Tom Gilmore found a gap in the defensive line a couple of tackles later. The halfback then looked to dummy the fullback, however Ryan Brierley read it well to stop a certain try.
Leigh made their opponents pay for not taking that opportunity, as back-to-back penalties saw the Widnes defence places under pressure and eventually Andy Thornley showed his strength from close range to put the hosts back in front.
Another Centurions penalty was turned into points on the half hour mark, as the hosts worked their way towards the try line before Higson beat Hatton in the air to a Ben Reynolds kick. The winger offloaded to Junior Sa’u, and although he was held up over the line he managed to free an arm and present Thornley with a gift for his second of the afternoon.
With two minutes of the half remaining Ryan Ince fumbled a Reynolds kick inside his own 10, and from the resulting scrum the ball was shipped out to Stefan Marsh who had enough room to score on the left.
Widnes pulled themselves back into the contest on 47 minutes, as Gilmore’s towering bomb was spilled by Higson, and from the resulting set Hansen broke a tackle an put Brand in at the flag.
Some heroic defence from the Vikings saw them repel a number of sets on their own line, before Liam Hood jumped from dummy half and exposed some poor play at marker, before rounding the fullback to score.
The Vikings refused to lie down and came up with a response four minutes later, as a Cory Paterson knock on led to Ashall-Bott racing over after collecting an inside pass from Gilmore.
Leigh restored a 16-point advantage on 67 minutes, as a penalty for holding down gave them a repeat set 30 metres from the try line, with the ball shipped out to Marsh who collected his second of the afternoon.
A short kick-off almost led to a Vikings try, as Hatton did well to pluck the ball out of the air and went within a metre of scoring, before Roby knocked on as he looked to find the try line on the next play.
With five minutes left on the clock Widnes kept fighting, and a clever kick in behind by Lyons saw Hatton come up with another brilliant play, outmuscling Marsh before he offloaded to the support Brand for his second try.
There was faint hope of a miraculous comeback when the restart went out on the full, as Ted Chapelhow charged to within 10 metres of the try line, however a knock on ended their hopes of back-to-back scores on the next play.
Leigh did enough to see out the remainder of the contest as they ran the clock down, and although it was a defeat for the Vikings they will take plenty of positives into next week’s trip to Wembley.