TO be a Leigh Leopard in 2023 will have been a whirlwind experience.
For Joe Wardle, who had battled with injury throughout the year, he made just 11 appearances during the 2023 season – but one of those came in the Challenge Cup Final.
To add salt into the 32-year-old’s wounds, he was taken off with concussion but he was still present to witness Leigh lift the prestigious trophy for the first time in 52 years.
Now, Wardle has reflected on an incredible year.
“2023 was brilliant,” Wardle told League Express.
“To reach and then win a Challenge Cup Final on the back of our return to Super League was fantastic for the town and club.
“There is a real buzz about the place and that just rubs off on you as players which helped us feel like we could achieve anything as a team.
“At start of the year we set out our goals and with the team the club had recruited we knew it was all about gelling together and then the rugby would speak for itself.
“So it was credit to Lammy (head coach Adrian Lam) and rest of coaches for making that happen.”
That being said, Wardle will now be an Oldham player in 2024 after exiting the Leopards at the end of 2023 – but that was an exit which he didn’t think would happen.
“Leaving Leigh was something that I didn’t think was going happen to be honest,” Wardle continued.
“I was thinking that, with my age, Leigh might have been my last club and I was enjoying my time there.
“But because I was out of contract at the end of season and the fact that I didn’t really have a great year personally after having my pec surgery, I just had to have good think about what my future was looking like.”
It was then that Oldham’s managing director Mike Ford spoke with Wardle about joining the League One’s crusade.
“I heard what Oldham were looking to do and then when I met up with Mike Ford he just spoke openly about the journey that the club was trying to make and how I could help with all that.
“It really impressed me from the off and then finding out they had recruited a coach in Longy (Sean Long) to also learn from and help me personally with my journey of hopefully being a coach one day, it just all fit together.
“The opportunity was one that I couldn’t turn down to be honest.”
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