It is to be hoped the good people of Leigh aren’t too easily offended.
Because some of the criticism which has come their way since the announcement of the twelfth team in Super League next year has been over the top and unjustified.
So I’d like to say congratulations to the Centurions and welcome back to a club that has a rich Rugby League heritage and has taken steps to move with the times.
Of course, with six in the mix, the panel were never going to please everyone with the decision on Toronto’s replacement in the top-flight.
While I made my feelings known on Bradford’s application, I think Featherstone, London, Toulouse and York put pretty solid cases for moving up.
But, to pinch a phrase from another controversial area and taking all the factors into account, I believe Leigh were the most oven-ready club, and, given that the decision was unanimous, the seven people on the panel appear to have agreed with me.
Looking at areas like support, ownership, financial strength, stadium (which let’s not forget is a great facility which will host World Cup matches), squad, coach, recent previous experience of Super League and the existing community and amateur Rugby League structure in the area, a sensible decision has been taken.
Now the Centurions’ challenge is not to get burned.
Success next season would be not finishing bottom, and therefore avoiding immediate relegation, and hopefully owner Derek Beaumont, coach John Duffy, the club’s staff, the players and those loyal and passionate supporters can pull together and provide a response to the people who have been slagging them off ever since the announcement.
There’s a tough task ahead, not least because the club’s central distribution is only two-thirds of the figure the others get, which seems very unfair.
In the race for survival, Leigh are the last out of the blocks.
But Derek is a canny operator and his long association with his club and Rugby League will stand him in good stead.
I’m sure he will have learned from the Centurions’ last Super League campaign in 2017.
People praised London’s valiant battle to avoid the drop in 2019 – rightly so – and argued that was one of the reasons that they deserved another crack at the competition.
The Broncos’ got ten wins out of 29, but looking back, Leigh got six out of 23 before the split into the eights, as happened then, and four out of seven before losing to Catalans in the Million Pound Game.
In other words, they came as close as London to staying up.
I’m delighted for their coach John Duffy that he will now get the opportunity to test himself in Super League.
He’s served his time in the Championship with Swinton, Featherstone and Leigh, and I like the way his teams play.
With Ian Watson at Huddersfield and Richard Marshall at Salford, it will be great to see another up-and-coming British coach at work.
John faces a real test because he’ll have to perform that magic trick of getting more out of his squad than the sum of its parts.
The Centurions have recruited some good, experienced players in the shape of Ryan Brierley, Jamie Ellis and Nathaniel Peteru from Hull KR and Ben Flower from Wigan, among others.
In the Championship, it would be a strong, promotion-challenging group, but to compete in Super League, there will need to be some further additions, and at this late stage, the pool of players to dip into obviously isn’t as big as it once was.
But the main thing for Leigh is that they are at the top table in what is going to be a big year for the sport as the new TV deal is completed and, hopefully, a future path for the game is mapped out.
Meanwhile the five who missed out will now regroup and try to win a Super League berth for 2022 by topping the Championship next season.
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