He is undoubtedly Mr Leigh Centurions: and you only have to mention the start of the new Championship season to bring a wry smile to the face of Micky Higham – and rightly so.
After all, it’s been a rollercoaster 18 months for one of Leigh’s favourite sons, and he can now see some light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of 2017, Higham announced he was calling time on his playing career; hardly a surprise, given how he was 37. Yet just a few months later, the legendary hooker reversed that decision, answering Leigh’s call to dust off the boots once again for the 2018 season.
That campaign, however, ended in disappointment – with the club missing out on a place in the Qualifiers and the financial rewards that come with it. A turbulent off-season for the Centurions left the club’s future in real doubt – but with Leigh now through the other side of that, and with a squad made up almost entirely of local players, it’s perhaps no surprise to see Higham, now at the age of 38, going round for at least one more season once again – and excited about doing so.
He explains to TotalRL: “It’s a funny old sport – especially at Leigh, with it always being a real rollercoaster. You get told you’re no longer part of the plans, and it was a shock and a disappointment. I wasn’t ready to retire and I make no qualms about it.
“I felt I still had something to offer, but Purts immediately decided he wanted to bring me back so he had that respect for me – and I jumped at the chance. The first couple of games we played, we hit rock-bottom. It took some harsh words and stern looks, and some home truths. We’re still playing catch-up as a club but it’s great to be back.”
Higham’s future as an employee, let alone a player, was in doubt during the off-season, after it became apparent Leigh would have to drastically cut costs to even survive the winter and make the starting line for the 2019 Championship season. They’ve now done that – albeit via returning to part-time in the process – and Higham admits he still has a spring in his step despite being well into his late-30s.
“To be told the club you support might not make it through was heartbreaking,” Higham explains.
“I still want to help this club rebuild and it was a very worrying time personally, because I had to plan for life away from rugby. But when Duffs (John Duffy) came in, he asked me to be part of the staff as well as playing – and it took me about five seconds to decide I was going around again! I’ll probably never retire as long as it means playing for Leigh – someone is going to have to tell me to retire!
“I’m just staying out of the long running stuff; it’s my 20th season as a player – I debuted for Leigh 20 years ago on February 14th, and it’s gone so quick it’s frightening. I look back with fond memories, but I’m not done yet.
“It’s been a tough pre-season and we are behind, because teams have got a few weeks on us. But the coaching staff have done a great job to get a competitive team together – if they play like they train, we’re halfway there.”
Higham is also encouraged that, as the Centurions gear up to start their Championship campaign at home to Toulouse on Sunday, the entire Leigh squad is now at the club for the right reasons.
“We’ve gone back to part-time and there’s not a lot of money there, so nobody is coming for money – everyone is here because they want to play for Leigh,” Higham says.
“Duffs is big on people opening up about what it means to play for Leigh, and it puts a lump in your throat. Josh Woods is going to be a superstar for Wigan, but the stuff he’s said about growing up watching Leigh is very nice to hear. We haven’t got a player who lives more than 15 miles away, so there’s blokes fulfilling their lifelong dream playing for this club.
“They know what Leigh is like, and what the Championship is like. It’s massive to get those two guys back on board, and they add to what I think is a decent blend of youth and experience in this squad. The first month will be a stern test but there’s no reason why we can’t do something. Look, we’ll have to take it one game at a time for sure, but we’ve got great facilities and people who care deeply about this club – let’s see how far that takes us.”
With the enthusiasm and affection Higham reserves for his hometown club, you suspect the Centurions may well be capable of surprising a few people this season.