Doug Thomson looks ahead to a gloriously uncertain opening round of the new Super League season.
LEIGH CENTURIONS v WIGAN WARRIORS
Friday 26 March, 8.15pm, Emerald Headingley
Sky Sports Main Event and Arena
Victory over Wigan, 50-34 at Leigh Sports Village, was probably the stand-out success of the Centurions’ last season in the top flight in 2017.
Neil Jukes’ charges went down via the Million Pound Game, in which they were beaten 26-10 by visitors Catalans Dragons.
But Leigh didn’t finish bottom of the table, and if John Duffy’s side can repeat that feat this time, safety will be secured.
It’s always a big ask for a promoted team to avoid an immediate return to the second tier – just look at Toronto’s record before their withdrawal from the competition last year.
And not knowing of their elevation to replace the Wolfpack until mid-December has made the survival fight even tougher.
The bookies give them little chance of avoiding the drop, and defying the odds would outdo that famous Challenge Cup final win over Leeds 50 years ago.
As you’d expect, Duffy insists it’s not mission impossible, and beating last year’s beaten Grand Finalists in round one would be a huge boost.
Wigan’s injury list, which particularly affects the backs, might give Leigh some encouragement.
Liam Marshall is out until May at best because of a knee problem, and fellow winger Dom Manfredi is currently sidelined by a damaged hand.
Centre Oliver Gildart also misses out with a groin injury, but new Australian halfback Jai Field is named in the squad after being an initial doubt due to a back issue.
It will be interesting to see whether Adrian Lam plays both Bevan French and Jackson Hastings, given that they only recently returned from close-season breaks in Australia.
Match day 21-man squads
Leigh: 1 Ryan Brierley, 2 Matty Russell, 3 Iain Thornley, 5 Lewis Tierney, 6 Blake Wallace, 7 Joe Mellor, 9 Liam Hood, 10 Mark Ioane, 11 Ben Hellewell, 12 Jordan Thompson, 14 Matty Wildie, 15 Alex Gerrard, 16 Nathaniel Peteru, 18 Matty Gee, 19 Nathan Mason, 20 Adam Sidlow, 21 Tyrone McCarthy, 24 Keanan Brand, 35 Josh Eaves
Wigan: 3 Zak Hardaker, 6 Jai Field, 7 Tommy Leuluai, 8 Brad Singleton, 9 Sam Powell, 10 Joe Bullock, 11 Willie Isa, 12 Liam Farrell, 13 John Bateman, 14 Ollie Partington, 15 Morgan Smithies, 17 Tony Clubb, 19 Liam Byrne, 20 Harry Smith, 21 Ethan Havard, 22 Jake Bibby, 23 Mitch Clark, 25 Joe Shorrocks, 28 Sam Halsall, 29 James McDonnell, 30 Umyla Hanley
Key to victory: On paper Leigh would look to have little chance of upsetting the odds, but the same would have been said in 2017. Can Leigh’s 2020 vintage revive the spirit of three years ago, or are Wigan nailed on for victory?