LEIGH LEOPARDS coach Adrian Lam believes he has a Super League gem on his hands in Edwin Ipape, but he says talk of the exciting Papua New Guinea hooker being Man of Steel in 2023 is over the top.
The 24-year-old took the Championship by storm last year, scoring 23 tries in 27 games in all competitions as Leigh lifted the 1985 Cup (he won the Ray French Trophy as man of the match as Featherstone were overpowered in the final) then finished top of the table before beating York in the play-off semis and Batley in the Grand Final to win promotion.
Ipape, who signed a contract extension to 2025 before being named Championship Player of the Year, then featured in all four of the Kumuls’ World Cup ties, including the quarter-final defeat by England, and made the official team of the tournament, having previously scored a spectacular long-range try in his country’s 28-10 win over Great Britain at Port Moresby back in 2019.
Now Super League title sponsors Betfred have him alongside St Helens ace Jack Welsby as 11/1 joint-favourite to be Man of Steel, above the likes of Wigan’s Bevan French (14/1) and Salford’s Brodie Croft, who is 16/1 to retain the accolade.
Lam recruited Lae Tigers product Ipape after he played for PNG Hunters in the Queensland Cup (he previously had a spell at Manly Sea Eagles, figuring in the 2020 NRL Nines in Perth before turning out for their feeder team Blacktown Workers).
And he reckons he has what it takes to shine in the top flight – given time.
“Edwin was outstanding for us last year,” said the former Wigan team chief as he prepares for Friday’s season opener at home to Salford in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
“He dominated that competition and was player of the year, which he deserved.
“Edwin was sitting in his lounge in the Highlands in Papua New Guinea when he got my call to join Leigh, and I was keen to get him.
“I have tracked him for a long time and I knew what he was capable of. I think he can carry on and excel in Super League.
“But I’m not quite with the bookmakers over the Man of Steel odds. I’m harsher than them and think they are going over the top and putting needless pressure on a bloke who hasn’t yet played a game in Super League.
“Edwin has a bit of work to do, and let’s give him a few seasons to do it. I think he has the quality to get there – but perhaps not this year.”
Lam is sweating over Australian prop Tom Amone, who along with Warrington forward Josh McGuire, faces a possible six-match ban for using “unacceptable language” during that game.