SUPER LEIGH was splashed across the headlines when the Centurions secured their place in the top-flight.
Now is their chance to prove it.
The Leythers have yearned for this opportunity for years. Finally, three years after they first reigned supreme above their Championship foes, Neil Jukes’ side are set to be given a taste of life at the top table.
But this isn’t a club here just to enjoy the ride. Far from it, in fact. The Super League dream has been realised, but for Derek Beaumont, Neil Jukes and the rest, it’s only the beginning of a much bigger ambition.
Over the course of the last three seasons, Leigh showcased just how good they are. The challenge now is to deal with the rigours and intensity of top-flight action on a weekly basis. That will, perhaps in the immediate future, be the biggest challenge they face.
But Leigh’s squad is blessed with great variety, from their blissfully experienced captain Micky Higham to the exciting young halfback Ben Reynolds.
For every Glenn Stewart there is Super League newbie like Adam Higson. There are hometown boys through and through, like halfback Martyn Ridyard, but then there are the likes of Mitch Brown, who perhaps hadn’t even heard of Leigh before joining the club last year.
As a result, each player had a small but incredibly crucial role to play. All their experiences, on the field and off it, will prove pivotal in this, the club’s most ambitious era.
“We’ve gone through individual goals,” says Jukes.
“Everyone has been set some individual targets. We believe everyone can achieve their targets, and if they do that, it will make the team and the club better going into this year.
“We know where we’re at and we know what we have to do to be in competitive in our league.
“I don’t want to undersell or oversell what we can achieve. We know what we are capable of as a squad and we obviously still want to be in Super League next year, but we have our internal goals that we want to be achieving.
“For us to be in a top eight spot, there’ll have to be some clubs in the bottom four that have been in Super League since it formed. But also, we’re confident with where we are as a group and we’re confident we can do ourselves justice every week in Super League.”
Recruitment only added to the diversity of Leigh’s group, with both homegrown and overseas talent arriving. But that’s exactly how Jukes wanted it.
“It was important that firstly we brought the average age down and brought some youth in here,” he conceded.
“And we did that with Ryan Hampshire and James Clare.
“Secondly, we needed some people that had been in Super League, proved themselves and done it.
“Atelea Vea, Glenn Stewart, James Green, Antoni Maria and Eloi Pelissier are up to nearly 200 Super League games. We need people in the squad that know how it is to play at the intensity and brutality of Super League every week.”
Overall, Leigh’s group is still on the older side in comparison to some of their rivals, but for the seasoned professionals of the group that have been at the club before now, the challenge to rediscover form in the top-flight is a challenge that Jukes can’t wait to see unfold.
“There is the challenge for the guys who have done it before – Micky Higham, Gareth Hock, Harrison Hansen, Danny Tickle and so on. Some of them haven’t done it at the highest level for a few years now, so the challenge for them is to finish their careers playing the best rugby that they can so that they can have success again in Super League.
“It’s all about having that mix for us, and we hope it pays off.”
Jukes’ individual path to becoming a Super League coach is unheard of. Twelve months ago he hadn’t an ounce of experience as a head coach, but now he’ll be taking up that job as a coach with a promotion already under his belt.
“I feel ready for the challenge, without a shadow of a doubt. I don’t think we can be better equipped to attack Super League with the lads,” he reasons.
“With the coaching staff we have, they know every facet of the game, and my coaching team has a lot of experience. With a passionate Chairman in Derek, who supports us in every way possible, we’re all just looking forward to it now.”