FEATHERSTONE Rovers head coach Andy Hay claimed his player Paul Wood was gouged before being sent off in a typically fiery encounter with Championship leaders Leigh Centurions.
There were four yellow cards, too, as both sides took the meaning of Summer Bash quite literally at times during yesterday’s game at Blackpool.
The re-match of last season’s Grand Final was always going to be a heated encounter and, in the end, it was Featherstone who allowed their lack of discipline to get the better of them.
It meant Leigh – who have beaten Super League sides Salford Red Devils and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in the Challenge Cup this season – stretched their winning run to a staggering 26 games with an eventually comfortable success.
However, the game was level 6-6 when ex-Great Britain prop Wood was sent off in the 26th minute for punching Bob Beswick after preventing his opponent from burrowing over between the posts.
The Leigh hooker claimed his rival had gouged him while on the ground underneath the Featherstone player prompting him to strike out, but Wood himself countered he thought the same offence had happened to him.
Beswick was sin-binned and exchanged words with the former Warrington Wolves player as he left the pitch.
However, Rovers were furious as, just three minutes earlier, Leigh replacement Gareth Hock had blatantly swung out and hit Jordan Baldwinson, flooring the young prop, to be reprimanded only with a penalty.
Hock – the former England second-row who has a notorious disciplinary record – was involved in another flare-up just moments later as he reacted to team-mate Gregg McNally being checked when chasing a grubber ahead.
But, on the red card, Hay said: “He’s not like that Woody normally, is he? He’s a pretty good front-rower – very tough, plays the game tough – but he’s complained of an eye gouge and I’m sure that’s why he reacted how he did.
“We’ll see how that goes and what the disciplinary comes up with. We got penalised quite a bit and there was stuff going on off the ball.
“That happens both ways ,but I thought it all started with the Gaz Hock incident on Jordan Baldwinson. I’m not sure whether it was open hand or closed hand, but I think from then it sort of went downhill and the referee didn’t control the game as he should have done.
“The sending-off started, then the sin-binnings and everything.
“We have to have a look at these games and maybe have a stronger referee or a referee who starts as he means to go on. But it was scrappy and we fell into the trap again of discipline. We didn’t hold ours and it didn’t really help us. Leigh are a good side and you have to be better than that.”
There were numerous flashpoints in a game that always threatened to boil over and referee Chris Leatherbarrow did need to take firmer action sooner than he did.
There was two further yellow cards in the space of 60 seconds around the 65th minute, Hock finally being marched for more needless niggle and Gareth Moore, the Rovers scrum-half, for throwing a punch at McNally after being blocked by the Leigh full-back when chipping over.
It mattered little then, though, given the champions were 31-6 ahead.
The fourth yellow card of the evening arrived eight minutes from time when Leigh winger Tom Kay denied Thomas Minns a try-scoring opportunity, pulling back the Rovers centre as he chased a loose ball.
With sides now evened up with just 11 players each, Featherstone did actually score via Ian Hardman but they, more than anybody, took no comfort from that; this was an opportunity missed whoever – the official, Leigh or themselves – was to blame.
They had made a brilliant start scoring after just 96 seconds having forced Kay into touch (seeing the first melee ensue) and then Paul Sykes finding winger Ben Blackmore with a lovely pass wide.
Sykes converted but Leigh hit back with the first of McNally’s hat-trick after some brilliance from the ever-lively scrum-half Ryan Brierley, Martin Ridyard kicking the first of his five goals, the second being the penalty after Wood’s dismissal.
McNally added his second after some slack marking in the 33rd minute, Brierley dropping a goal with the final play of the half. Leigh took a firm grip early in the second period with tries from Greg Worthington and Mickey Higham, the hooker signed last week from Warrington for £50,000 to rejoin the hometown club where he started his career.
McNally completed his treble in the 51st minute and Featherstone – who almost stunned Super League Catalans Dragons in Perpignan the week before –knew any hopes of ending Leigh’s remarkable run had long gone.
Meanwhile, in total 15,381 fans attended the two days of action during the inaugural Summer Bash – the Championship’s version of Magic Weekend.
Leigh Centurions: McNally; Pownall, Platt, Worthington, Kay; Ridyard, Brierley; Moimoi, Beswick, Emmitt, Dixon, Goulden, Barlow. Substitutes: Higham, Wilkes, Hopkins, Hock.
Featherstone Rovers: Hitchcox; Blackmore, Hardman, Minns, Sharp; Sykes, Moore; Baldwinson, Ellis, Wood, Maitua, Cording, James. Substitutes: Teasdale, Bostock, Carvell, Verlinden.
Referee: C Leatherbarrow (St Helens).