New boys with one simple objective
Inevitably there have been big changes in personnel at Leigh Centurions over the close-season, as the club reorganised its playing staff to handle the challenge of its promotion into Super League.
The Centurions have lost ten players, mainly to Championship clubs, although Danny Addy is the only player who has left to join another Super League club, which in his case is the Salford Red Devils.
Veteran halfback Martyn Ridyard has left the Leigh Sports Village to join Swinton Lions, where he will be accompanied by Sam Brooks and Liam Forsyth, while Ridyard’s halfback partner Ben Reynolds has headed across the English Channel to join Toulouse Olympique and halfback Josh Woods, who was on loan at Leigh from Wigan Warriors, has headed to the northeast to join newly promoted Newcastle Thunder in the Championship.
Fullback Gregg McNally has also headed north, but in his case to the other side of the country as he will join Whitehaven’s 2021 Championship campaign.
The one player whose Rugby League future looks uncertain is Adam Higson, who played 13 games for Leigh in their previous Super League season in 2017, before joining Toronto Wolfpack, returning to Leigh to play five games last season, but, at the age of 33, it looks as though Higson may have pulled the plug on his Rugby League career.
The arrivals lounge is crammed full at the Leigh Sports Village this year, with almost all the newcomers joining the club on one-year contracts, as the Centurions try to ensure that, in the event of relegation, they are not left holding expensive contracts running over into a new season when the club’s income would be dramatically reduced, as happened after their relegation in 2017.
Most of the players coming into the club have prior experience in Super League or the NRL or both, some of them quite extensive. So far there are 15 new signings, with more likely to be on the way, and they are listed below in order of the number of games played in Super League and/or the NRL.
Ben Flower has played 218 games for the Crusaders and Wigan Warriors;
Tyrone McCarthy has played 145 Super League games for Warrington Wolves, Wakefield Trinity, Hull Kingston Rovers and Salford Red Devils;
Joe Mellor has played 140 Super League games for Harlequins RL (as the Broncos then were), Wigan Warriors, Widnes Vikings and Toronto Wolfpack;
Adam Sidlow has played 126 Super League games for Salford Red Devils, Bradford Bulls and Toronto Wolfpack;
Jamie Ellis has played 125 Super League games for St Helens, Hull FC, Castleford Tigers, Huddersfield Giants and Hull Kingston Rovers;
Matty Russell has played 95 Super League games for Wigan Warriors, Hull FC, Warrington Wolves and Toronto Wolfpack;
Lewis Tierney has played 87 Super League games for Wigan Warriors and Catalans Dragons;
Brendan Elliot has played 66 NRL games for the Roosters, Knights, Titans and Sea Eagles;
Nathaniel Peteru has played 22 NRL games for the Titans and 29 Super League games for Leeds Rhinos and Hull Kingston Rovers);
Matty Gee has played 35 Super League games for Salford Red Devils, London Broncos and Hull Kingston Rovers;
Ryan Brierley has played 30 Super League games for Huddersfield Giants and Hull Kingston Rovers;
Blake Wallace has played six Super League games for Toronto Wolfpack;
Keanan Brand, who arrives on a season-long loan, has played four Super League games for Widnes Vikings and Warrington Wolves;
James Bell played two NRL games for New Zealand Warriors;
Craig Mullen has played two Super League games for Wigan Warriors.
Hooker Liam Hood and halfback Matty Wildie are the only remaining players from Leigh’s 2020 spine, with Gregg McNally, Ben Reynolds, Martyn Ridyard and Josh Woods all having departed.
In fact Hood is the only remaining player from the Centurions’ last season in Super League in 2017, when they were relegated from the elite competition after one season.
Ryan Brierley arrives from Hull Kingston Rovers to take the squad number 1 shirt, although Matty Russell also has plenty of experience at fullback.
Both halfbacks in the starting shirts, Blake Wallace and Joe Mellor, have joined from the defunct Toronto Wolfpack.
Hood has been handed the number 9 squad number, with Wildie and Jamie Ellis also competing for starting slots in the spine, although the Centurions are still in the market for reinforcements and could look to sign at least one more utility player who could step in when injuries begin to take their toll.
Liam Hood, Mark Ioane and Ben Hellewell retain their squad numbers (9, 10 and 11 respectively) in what appears to be Leigh’s starting lineup in 2021, while the other starting positions are occupied by Ben Flower (8), Jordan Thompson, who moves up the rankings from last year’s number 15 shirt and Scottish international loose forward James Bell, who joins from Toulouse Olympique.
The other pack members who stay with the club from the shortened 2020 season are Alex Gerrard, who played 88 Super League games for Widnes between 2012 and 2018, Nathan Mason, who gained Super League experience with Huddersfield Giants and London Broncos, and prop forward Tom Spencer, who first played for Leigh in 2012 and returned to the club in 2019 after two seasons with London Broncos.
Nathaniel Peteru, Matty Gee and Adam Sidlow give the Centurions plenty of solidity up front, while Alex Gerrard, Tyrone McCarthy and Brendan Elliot provide experience and knowhow in the backrow. The Centurions’ squad may have only 25 named members so far, but the club has recruited well in the pack in a short period of time since gaining their promotion in November.
The Centurions’ primary centre partnership from 2020, Iain Thornley and Junior Sa’u, retain their squad numbers from last year, while newcomers Matty Russell and Lewis Tierney take the wing spots.
But the club does seem to be relatively short of back-up players for those positions, with former Wigan centre Craig Mullen, who featured in the League Express list of rookies to watch in 2021, and Warrington loanee Keanan Brand the alternative threequarter options for Leigh coach John Duffy. With those two players only having played six Super League games between them in their careers so far, the Centurions could probably benefit from having at least one more threequarter with more Super League experience to give added strength to their backline.
Leigh don’t have an Academy squad, so like Salford they have a shortage of young players.
The two youngest players in their squad are Craig Mullen and Keanan Brand, who are 23 and 22 respectively.
Brand is on a season-long loan deal from Warrington and it would be surprising if the Centurions didn’t take advantage of more loan deals to attract more fringe players from other clubs to the Leigh Sports Village as the season unfolds.
A REALISTIC AIM FOR 2021
The Centurions’ aim for the 2021 season is quite simple.
They have to aim to stay in Super League beyond the end of the season and carve out a long-term position for themselves as a genuine Super League club.
The size of the gap between the Championship and Super League, and the mountain that the club has to climb, is illustrated by the amount of transfer activity the club has engaged in since receiving confirmation that they would be promoted.
They have been given a torrid pair of opening Super League ‘loop’ fixtures against their near neighbours, Wigan and Warrington, both of which games will test the strength of their squad, but the key thing for the Centurions is to beat the clubs that finished in the bottom half of the table last season.
If they can register a significant number of victories, then they will have a chance of staying up.
Squad numbers: 1 Ryan Brierley, 2 Matty Russell, 3 Iain Thornley, 4 Junior Sa’u, 5 Lewis Tierney, 6 Blake Wallace, 7 Joe Mellor, 8 Ben Flower, 9 Liam Hood, 10 Mark Ioane, 11 Ben Hellewell, 12 Jordan Thompson, 13 James Bell, 14 Matty Wildie, 15 Alex Gerrard, 16 Nathaniel Peteru, 17 Jamie Ellis, 18 Matty Gee, 19 Nathan Mason, 20 Adam Sidlow, 21 Tyrone McCarthy, 22 Craig Mullen, 23 Tom Spencer, 24 Keanan Brand, 25 Brendan Elliot
Ins: James Bell (Toulouse Olympique), Keanan Brand (Warrington Wolves – season-long loan), Ryan Brierley (Hull Kingston Rovers), Brendan Elliot (Manly Sea Eagles), Jamie Ellis (Hull Kingston Rovers), Ben Flower (Wigan Warriors), Matty Gee (Hull Kingston Rovers), Tyrone McCarthy (Warrington Wolves), Joe Mellor (Toronto Wolfpack), Craig Mullen (Wigan Warriors), Nathaniel Peteru (Hull Kingston Rovers), Matty Russell (Toronto Wolfpack), Adam Sidlow (Toronto Wolfpack), Lewis Tierney (Catalans Dragons), Blake Wallace (Toronto Wolfpack),
Outs: Danny Addy (Salford Red Devils), Sam Brooks (Swinton Lions), Callum Field (Featherstone Rovers), Liam Forsyth (Swinton Lions), Adam Higson (Released), Ryan Ince (Oldham), Gregg McNally (Whitehaven), Ben Reynolds (Toulouse Olympique), Martyn Ridyard (Swinton Lions), Josh Woods (Newcastle Thunder)
Head Coach: John Duffy
Assistant Coach: Micky Higham
Assistant Coach: Kurt Haggerty
Assistant Coach: Jason Duffy
Doctor: Ian Wilkinson
Head of Performance: Paul Johnson
Head Physio: Trent Bowden
Head of Soft Tissue: Rob Stewart
Strength and Conditioning: Daniel Makin
Sports Therapist: Danielle Gray
Team Manager & Player Welfare Officer: Ste Maden
Kit Manager: Frank Taylor
Assistant Kit Manager: Sean Fairhurst
Statistician: Cliff Sumner
Owner: Derek Beaumont
Chairman: Michael Latham (Financial)
Director: Aaron Adams (Commercial)
Director: Jason Huyton (Sales & Marketing)
Director: Steve Hill
Head of Rugby: Garreth Carvell
Operations Manager: Neil Jukes
Commercial & Hospitality Sales Manager: Katy Allen
Retail Manager: Gillian Jolley
Digital & Media Manager: Mark Taylor
Media Executive: Adam Scotson
Community Trust Programmes Director: Hannah Forbes
Home shirt: Red and white hoops
Away shirt: Black and gold hoops
Betfred odds to win the Grand Final: 100/1
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