CHRIS JONES reviews the 2021 season of Leigh Centurions
In our preview of Leigh’s 2021 season in March this year we said that the club’s aim for the 2021 season was quite simple – 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.
Sadly, despite a massive recruitment campaign, they were unable to achieve that aim and will now drop back down to the Championship in 2022.
Here we begin a series that will feature every Super League club week by week as we look back on Leigh’s 2021 season.
Five things we learned from Leigh’s season
1 With the best will in the world, it’s almost impossible to build a team that will compete in Super League if you are not told until 14 December the previous year that you have earned a spot in the elite competition.
2 Pre-season results are no guide to what will happen in the regular season. Prior to the start of the season Leigh travelled to St Helens for Tommy Makinson’s testimonial game and defeated a strong St Helens side 25-24 with the help of a late Ryan Brierley field-goal. Unfortunately when the regular season arrived they couldn’t repeat the form that served them so well on that day.
3 Leigh’s home attendances may not have been spectacular, but their supporters stuck with them throughout a difficult season, showing great attachment to their favourites and celebrating their two victories as though the team had won two Grand Finals.
4 When you gain promotion to Super League it’s wise to give out one-year contracts, so as not to land yourself with contracts that are unsustainable if you are relegated. Leigh did that the last time they played in Super League, in 2017, but by 2021 the club had learned its lesson, and the vast majority of its contracts were for one year, although that then made it even harder to recruit players of a standard that would have enabled the club to stay up.
5 Coaches are on a hiding to nothing. John Duffy was the man in place when Leigh were selected as the team that would replace Toronto Wolfpack in Super League, but he was always facing an impossible challenge and duly paid the price when he departed the club at the beginning of June after Leigh had lost their first nine matches in Super League. If the club had still been in the Championship he might still have been in the job.
The Centurions finished in twelfth position in Super League, with just two wins from 22 matches, giving them a 9.09% winning percentage, scoring 356 points and conceding 870 points.
In a season of disappointing results, the biggest highlight for Leigh supporters was their first victory, which came with a 32-22 victory over Salford Red Devils at the Leigh Sports Village on 22nd August in front of 3,304 spectators, most of whose reaction was loud and ecstatic.
On the first day of August Leigh travelled to their near neighbours Wigan and were hammered 50-6 after a spiritless performance that many observers thought was unbecoming of a Leigh-Wigan game.
Ryan Brierley was excellent at fullback or halfback for most of the season, while Liam Hood, James Bell and Joe Mellor performed admirably too, but the ever-present Ben Hellewell stood out for his unstinting contribution in a difficult season.
Best young player
Keanan Brand came on a season-long loan from Warrington and his performances grew in stature as the year progressed. He started in the threequarters and finished at fullback, not just filling in but also looking the part.
Best overseas player
James Bell was a superb for Leigh and was consistently excellent at loose forward, to the extent that he earned a contract with the St Helens for his eye-catching skills in a losing team.
Try of the year
Ben Reynolds’ stunning length of field effort against Catalans Dragons at home on 12 June. To quote from our match report: “Leigh opened the scoring after just two minutes with a try from absolutely nothing. It looked like the Dragons were going to score as they camped on Leigh’s line, but a wayward pass from Maloney fell into the hands of Reynolds, who raced 95 metres to score, although he looked like he was treading water over the final 20 metres he managed to touch down in the corner.” Sadly for Leigh, the Dragons eventually ran out 30-36 winners.
Quote of the year
“I was disgusted, appalled and insulted by the way the group gave in and got rolled 34-nil in the second half by a team that was far from its best. It was a complete collapse, a surrender of belief, desire and will to give pride to the situation and I felt hurt by it and still do. I care not for the response of the group, as I don’t see how anything I can say will make them care, when they don’t care for each other, or this club.” That was Leigh owner Derek Beaumont after the Magic Weekend 44-6 defeat by Hull KR.
Image of the year
The return of fans to the Leigh Sports Village for the Wigan derby on Monday 17th May (see above)
Losing 34-8 at Salford on Good Friday after a disappointing fade-out late in the game was a portent of things to come.