Halifax RLFC 16-20 Leigh Centurions
Last-gasp Leigh secure cup win
Leigh scored a last-minute try to snatch victory in the Northern Rail Cup final in front of a crowd of 8,822 at Blackpool's Bloomfield Road and boost their hopes of securing a place in Super League from 2015.
St Helens centre Tom Armstrong, playing for the Centurions on a dual-registration, grabbed the match-winner with just 42 seconds left on the clock to help his side lift the Championship clubs' knockout trophy for the third time in eight years.
As well as lifting the first silverware of the season, Leigh's victory enables them to tick a box for their next Super League licence application after failing to meet the criteria this time.
The victory was a triumph for Ian Millward over his old adversary Brian Noble, who had helped Halifax to six wins from eight matches since joining them as consultant two months ago.
And Halifax looked odds-on to become the seventh different winners of the competition when they led 10-0 at half-time after taking advantage of the swirling wind and closing down dangermen Martin Ridyard and his half-back partner Jamie Ellis.
But Ellis, the former St Helens scrum-half who is to join Hull next season, had the last laugh, masterminding a second-half fightback with earned him the man-of-the-match award.
The swirling wind caused endless trouble for both teams and there was an early illustration of its value when Ben Black's high kick rebounded off Ellis' head into the grateful hands of second rower Paul Smith, who sent Rob Worrincy over at the corner, but video referee Phil Bentham disallowed the try for offside.
Bentham also ruled out a Leigh score by Ridyard moments later for an obstruction in the build-up, but he ruled in favour of Halifax full-back Miles Greenwood on 17 minutes when he took Black's pass to slice through a sliding Centurions defence for the game's first try.
Danny Jones's conversion attempt was taken wide by the wind but he was on target with a penalty on 21 minutes to extend his side's lead to 6-0.
And the Yorkshire side went further ahead seven minutes later when forward Sam Barlow offloaded from the tackle to fellow substitute Sean Penkywicz and he sent Stephen Bannister through a gap for a second try.
A 10-0 interval lead was scant reward for Halifax's first-half domination and it was quickly cut to six points when Leigh struck back through Ellis six minutes into the second half.
And it was all square on 54 minutes when the impressive Hill proved unstoppable from 10 metres out and Mick Nanyn added the conversion.
It was Nanyn who set up the second scoring position with a mammoth wind-assisted goal-line drop-out that went a full 80 metres to provide further evidence that the tide was changing.
But Worrincy set up a rare foray into the Leigh half with a break down the middle and moments later he was on the end of a sweet passing move to score his side's third try.
Jones landed the touchline conversion to make it 16-10 but there was no end to the drama.
The Centurions looked to have scored again 10 minutes from the end when Armstrong collected Ellis' high kick on the Halifax tryline, but Jon Goddard managed to get his body in position to prevent him grounding the ball.
But there was no stopping Ellis five minutes later when he won the chase to Ridyard's kick to score a third try and Nanyn's second goal locked up the scores for a second time.
Ridyard had a drop-goal attempt blocked but he had the final say in the last minute when, feigning to kick for goal, he opted to run the ball on the last tackle and combined with centre Stuart Littler to get Armstrong over at the corner.