Phew nearly done! Game 8 of 8 of my rugby league fest and of course 7 of 7 for the Summer Bash! This is probably going to read a bit more like an In The Loose article than my normal blog; but needs must.
The final game should have been the best of the lot, a match between Leigh Centurions and Featherstone Rovers.
I’d been at the Leigh Sports Village last summer when Leigh beat Featherstone to confirm their place as table toppers in the Kingstone Press Championship for 2014.
The score that evening was Leigh 48 Featherstone 18 – Leigh scored 7 tries in what was an entertaining, if at times niggly game. The atmosphere was electric as the loyal Leigh fans saw their team lift the League Leaders trophy.
It was a total pleasure to have been at that game, I was very much looking forward to a rematch.
The teams met again in The Grand Final with Leigh again emerging victorious.
Again I was expecting a good game of rugby with a bit of niggle; Leigh had signed Gareth Hock which I admit was something of a disappointment.
Hock is and has been a hugely talented player, he has a sleight of hand at times that can only be turned on by the top players.
However due to incidents both on and off the field he’s become the sort of player and man you would only want to admire if he was in your team. His reputation isn’t good but has been of his own making.
Both Leigh and Featherstone have reputations for playing a tough brand of rugby, would the spark that is Gareth Hock enhance those reputations and not in a good way?
There had been little if any in the way of handbag exchanges in the 6 matches played over the 2 days in Blackpool, this game would make up for that!
It was good to see some ex Broncos on both team sheets, Will Sharp, Paul Sykes and Ollie Wilkes, with Thomas Minns who appeared for the Broncos last season.
As well as Hock there were several high profile ex Superleague men on show, Gareth Carvell and Paul Wood for Featherstone and a real favourite of mine Mickey Higham in the red of Leigh; now he is a very good signing!
We were only minutes into the game before the teams had a kerfuffle, I must point out that Hock was still on the bench when the fireworks sparked.
Within 10 minutes the teams were both on 6 apiece – Ben Blackmore had scored for Rovers and Greg McNally for Leigh – both tries were converted.
Gareth Hock was introduced to the game on 18 minutes; he really should have seen yellow at the least when he objected to the way he was tackled by Jordan Baldwinson – he threw his hand out at Baldwinson’s head knocking him to the ground.
By anyone’s standards he should have been shown a card – but the referee chose instead to have a few words. That in my opinion as well as a large section of the crowd was the wrong decision and served to see the referee lose control of the game.
As play progressed Bob Bewswick was held up over the line under the posts – no sooner had the players made their feet than a melee broke out again and a red card was shown to Paul Wood and yellow to Beswick.
It seems that Wood had gouged Beswick – looking at the photos I took during the game Wood left the pitch with a mark on his face that wasn’t there at the start of the game which could be an interesting factor. Gouging is clearly a red card and considerable ban – It’s going to be interesting to see what the disciplinary have to say about the incident.
Again going through the many photo I took Wood was in the thick of the action before his sending off – a key player lost as well as a team down to 12 men for the majority of the game. The result wasn’t likely to go the way of Rovers.
Greg McNally added a 2nd try for Leigh on 33 minutes which was converted by Martin Ridyard. With seconds of the half remaining Ryan Brierley kicked a Stevo pleasing drop goal.
The teams went in at half time with the scores on Leigh Centurions 15 Featherstone Rovers 6.
Leigh carried on where they’d left off scoring 3 tries in the space of 11 minutes through Greg Worthington, converted by Ridyard, Mickey Higham Greg McNally with his hat trick try converted by Ridyard.
The only meaningful play we had until the 73rd minute when Ian Hardman scored for Rovers, was yet more coming together aggressively.
Gareth Hock was inevitably sin binned for yet more needless aggro, he was promptly followed by Gareth Moore of Rovers – now down to 11 men! The cards weren’t done with Liam Kay for Leigh got his marching order via a yellow card on 73 minutes.
All in all an unedifying display by both teams – niggle is one thing and often adds to the spice when it comes to rugby league. But this? Totally detracted from the actual game, both set ups need to take a long hard look.
Things got very edgy in the crowd, close to where I was sitting a Rovers fan was on his feet and swearing at the players and officials – in spite of the fact his 10 year old daughter was sat 2 seats away from him.
Other unhappy fans swore and stuck their fingers up at a Leigh trainer – I would suggest that blowing kisses back at people who were – yes out of order, but angry – was inflammatory and completely unprofessional!
Having been at the Challenge Cup semi final last tear when Widnes fans invaded the pitch – the lack of control shown on and off the pitch may well have led to a similar situation.
Trying not to end on a low the whole concept of the Summer Bash was a great one – some great rugby was played, new friendships made and time spent with fellow fans. I went for dinner with some fellow Broncos fans who I see game after game but have never spent proper time with, it was a great opportunity to get to know them better.
A quick mention for Blackpool – yes a place that’s clearly struggling, but I really loved it! On the Monday I had a late lunch at Yorkshire Fisheries in Topping Street – I can highly recommend their fish & chips! Then I went for a ride on a Heritage Tram and had a lovely chat with some Tram enthusiasts, lovely people with a true passion.
All in all a wonderful rugby league fuelled weekend! I couldn’t resist a few Blackpool photos – I’ll certainly be back if the Summer Bash happens again!