The signing of Willie Tonga this week was yet another huge piece of business by Leigh Centurions, and now they really look like a team ready to invade Super League.
For most teams in this country, the loss of a player as talented as Ryan Brierley would be disastrous. For Leigh, they have the luxury of bringing in either Martyn Ridyard or Rangi Chase, both of whom are of Super League standard.
Everybody knows about their signings this close-season, and on paper they have as good as, if not a stronger team than those Super League sides they will face in the Qualifiers.
Yet, any Leigh supporter that thinks 2016 is going to be plain sailing shouldn’t get carried away too quick.
Quality alone does not guarantee success, and with such a star-studded squad at the Centurions they now have other challenges to contend with.
Yes, they have strengthened and a third successive League Leaders trophy should be attainable, but the rest of their Championship counterparts are in far better positions to trouble them this year with their improved squads.
The slog of the regular Championship season is going to be much more difficult, and whilst Leigh will almost certainly make the Qualifiers, the chances of them going through the season with just one defeat as they did last season is unlikely.
That shouldn’t be too much of an issue for Leigh, because last year proved that winning the league means nothing and qualification to the Middle 8s is the main priority, whilst the added intensity over the first six months of the season will battle-harden Leigh come the games that matter at the end of the season.
Once they make the Qualifiers is when the real hard work begins and will be the true test of the 2016 troop of Centurions.
Arguably the challenge ahead of Paul Rowley this year is the greatest in his Rugby League career. Expectation has somehow increased and Rowley’s team must deal with that pressure all whilst trying to integrate a number of new players into the side.
Additionally, the other challenge Rowley faces is managing his players, which now boasts some bigger egos given how much success some of them have achieved.
With such a strong squad of players, there will be a lot of stars not prepared to miss out on a substantial amount of games. Trying to appease those demands whilst keeping continuity on the field isn’t easy, but it’s a challenge Rowley has to get right.
And of course, whilst their squad has greatly improved, so have the teams they will compete against in the Qualifiers, so even with a vastly improved squad, Leigh are still not certainties for promotion.
Yet, if Rowley can once again prove why he is so highly rated as a coach and can manage his squad well, Leigh are going to be in a great position to break into Super League.
They were disappointing in last season’s Qualifiers, there’s no question about that, and a big factor was that so few of Leigh’s stars had a rest throughout the season. They went all out to win the Championship, and by the time the business end came about, the Centurions had peaked and were on a downwards slope.
But with his bolstered squad, Rowley has the luxury of giving some of his key players a week off, which will inevitably benefit them come the Middle 8s. Rotation may mean we don’t see Leigh at their best as early on in the season, but it means we’re more likely to see them at their devastating best when it counts.
And for all the egos in Leigh’s squad, they have as many with great reputations. FuiFui MoiMoi and Dayne Weston are held in very high regard for their conduct, and their influence will prove massive.
Whichever way you look at it, Leigh are now a massive threat to their Super League opponents, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them get promoted.
In my honest opinion, I believe 2016 will be the year Leigh achieve their dream of making Super League.