TWO-TRY Alex Sutcliffe helped set up a famous Championship play-offs win for Featherstone Rovers as they clinically ended big-spending Leigh Centurions’ season.
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The young centre, on dual-registration from Leeds Rhinos, crossed twice in the first half as the visitors built up a 14-4 interval lead.
However, it was their defensive prowess that essentially then got them home and set up a qualifying play-off at York City Knights on Saturday.
Leigh - with high-profile recruits such as former England stand-off Kevin Brown in their ranks - had finished fourth in the Championship table, just in front of Ryan Carr’s side who were missing star hooker Cameron King this evening.
But they were no match for the visitors who, with forwards John Davies, Brad Day and James Lockwood leading the way, proved too resilient.
Dual-registration Leeds stand-off Callum McLelland kicked wonderfully well and Ash Golding was a in fine form at full-back as Featherstone out-maneuvered their opponents.
Two tries in three minutes just after the hour proved decisive for Featherstone who had got through a mountain of defensive work when protecting a slender 20-14 lead.
Firstly, Dane Chisholm poked his nose through the line for Josh Walters to charge on and - having seen his team-mates round Ryan Brierley with relative ease earlier in the game - opted to try the same tactic himself.
The former Leeds Rhino managed it as he took the Leigh full-back over the line with him, successfully arcing to the corner, Chisholm slotting a touchline conversion.
In the next set, Featherstone made sure almost straight away when tireless prop Davies chased McLelland’s downfield kick and hit winger Stefan Marsh with a fearsome tackle, dislodging the ball.
McLelland scooped it up and instantly fed Chisholm who sped over in front of the jubilant Rovers fans, converting to suddenly see a 32-14 lead.
Chisholm added a penalty and, though, Toby Adamson managed to claw a try back, it would never be enough.
Featherstone were ruthless in their approach, capitalising more often than not when Leigh erred especially as they built up an early 14-0 lead.
Davies giving away a penalty with a high tackle on the first tackle of the game may have suggested the visitors were too pumped up for what is always a physical test.
But, thereafter, Carr’s well-organised side generally defended with real strength and caused the hosts plenty of issues.
They took the lead after just eight minutes when Josh Woods’ pressured kick was charged down.
Brierley managed to drag down Salford Red Devils-bound Connor Jones but, at the next play, the excellent Golding slipped Sutcliffe over.
Day had been given an early battering by two punishing Junior Sa’u tackles but the Featherstone second-row withstood both and then produced a a crucial tackle of his own to force a mistake from Jordan Thompson as the visitors defend back-to-back sets.
It was a pivotal moment; the visitors added their second try in the next set, rangy back-row James Harrison coming on and scoring with his first touch as he weaved through from 25m and accelerated past Brierley for a fine solo effort.
Chisholm converted for 10-0 and then - after more thunderous defence forced another mistake from Thompson - it was the Featherstone half-back who slipped an angling Day through to set up Sutcliffe for his second.
It was inevitable Leigh would find some form eventually and they did when Day fumbled and Sa’ rumbled through.
They also scored first in the second period when Tom Spencer barged over from close range for Brierley to convert.
As Leigh started to gain the ascendancy, Featherstone rallied well to hold Thompson up over the line.
The value of that was underlined shortly afterwards when, after Sutcliffe ripped Leigh open once more, McLelland was able to find space to dummy his way through.
He sidestepped Brierley for a quality score, Chisholm improving for a 20-10 lead in the 50th minute.
Leigh - knowing their season was on the line - hit back when Stefan Marsh did well to finish in the corner seven minutes later.
But then came that quickfire double blast and Featherstone were deservedly through.
Leigh Centurions: Brierley; Higson, Thornley, Sa’u, Marsh; Brown, Woods; Douglas, Higham, Brooks, T Adamson, Thompson, L Adamson. Substitutes: Hood, Cator, Clark, Spencer.
Featherstone Rovers: Golding; Johnson, Hardcastle, Sutcliffe, Carey; McLelland, Chisholm; Davies, Jones, Makatoa, Day, Walters, Lockwood. Substitutes: Cooper, Harrison, Ender, Albert.
Referee: Gareth Hewer (Workington)