Drew Darbyshire looks forward to the 2017 season
The journey has only just begun for the Centurions.
Getting promoted from the Championship to Super League was a massive achievement in itself for the club and a big ask considering the Middle 8s structure of a Championship side gaining promotion as well as the notable difference in the salary cap between the first and second tiers.
However, the club and supporters need to enjoy the ride in 2017.
There is no doubt that Leigh have the capabilities to stay in the division but on paper, they have the squad to go one better.
A lot of pundits and fans are automatically assuming that Leigh are just going to be a bottom four club.
Leigh can go against all odds here… If you compare Leigh’s squad with one of last year’s bottom six, then you would probably fancy Leigh winning (apart from Leeds Rhinos maybe).
Jukes’ men are a tight knit bunch and there is a fantastic comradery between the staff, players and fans so it won’t be surprising if the Centurions are not even in the bottom four come the end of the season.
Also, the money in Super League is massive compared to the Championship which will not only help Leigh progress as a club, but as a brand as well.
More international players:
Owner and Director of Rugby Derek Beaumont and his recruitment staff have been working tirelessly in the transfer market once again.
In the off-season, Leigh have brought in eight players and four of them are international stars. Glenn Stewart has made five appearances for Australia while Eloi Pelissier and Antoni Maria have been capped 13 and nine times by France respectively.
Atelea Vea represents his native Tonga as well. Twenty one-year- old duo Ryan Hampshire and David Thompson have also both played for England Academy.
Ben Crooks and James Green have yet to play at international level.
The playing standard in Leigh’s team is second to none and even the players who haven’t made international appearances are still worthy of a Super League contract.
Jukes has a total of 12 international players at his disposal which is quite remarkable for a club who has only just gained promotion to England’s top division of rugby league.
The team has more flair than ever before and some of the forwards have ball handling skills like an half-back such as Dayne Weston, Gareth Hock, Cory Paterson and Glenn Stewart to name a few.
Leigh’s 27-man squad this year is very impressive.
It has reliability, quality and a nice blend of youth with experience from number one to 27. Jukes has three highly rated fullbacks to choose from in Mitch Brown, Gregg McNally and Lee Smith.
Local lad Adam Higson has retained his number two shirt and joining him on the wings are Matty Dawson, David Thompson, Hampshire and Smith.
There are plenty of options at centre with Willie Tonga, Crooks, Brown and Smith all being able to play there.
Youngsters Ben Reynolds and Hampshire will also be looking to push number six Martyn Ridyard and number seven Josh Drinkwater for a starting spot in the side.
Leigh have a wide range of front-rowers this term which is always useful. Hock and Weston seem to be the starting pair but the club have Danny Tickle, Sam Hopkins, Jamie Acton, Maria and Green to mix things up off the interchange bench.
Hooker will probably be the most competitive position this year. Captain Micky Higham will more than likely start with Pelissier on the bench. Scotland international Liam Hood and young gun Lewis Foster will also be looking to make their mark in Super League.
Forwards usually pick up more injuries than backs hence why there is more cover in the pack. Cory Paterson and Stewart have been awarded the number 11 and 12 jerseys respectively but Harrison Hansen, Vea and Hock can also play there.
Hansen has been given the free-roam position at loose forward this season but Hopkins, Paterson, Stewart and Hock can all provide cover or could we see Higham go to 13 with Pelissier starting at dummy-half and Hood on the bench? There are so many options!
If injuries do take their toll, then there is plenty of cover in every position and credit must go to Jukes and Beaumont for their detailed thoughts in recruitment.
With the Centurions now being in Super League, it actually means having derbies. They were non-existent in the Championship. The closest away trips were to Swinton Lions and Oldham Roughyeds but the club’s main rivalry was Bradford Bulls, as publicly known.
However, the local fixtures in Super League are great for the club because they will have their old rivalries reformed but it will also be fantastic for the club in terms of fan enjoyment and ticket sales.
Games against Wigan Warriors are expected to attract bumper crowds both at the Leigh Sports Village and DW Stadium while fixtures against Salford Red Devils, Warrington Wolves, St Helens and Widnes Vikings are all going to be huge games for the supporters who want bragging rights for the Monday following the matches.
The Battle of the Borough ‘friendly’ in pre-season is normally a thriller so it will be one hell of a clash when in a competitive competition. Who will come out on top between the Lobbies and the Pies?
However, there is one stadium further away than any of the Championship grounds, which is the Stade Gilbert Brutus, home of Catalans Dragons in the South of France.
This should be a quality experience for everyone involved and hopefully a sell-out away end.
Pelessier and Maria will return to Perpignan for the first time since they joined Leigh, which should make for a tasty game and atmosphere.
Speaking of tastiness, Pelessier actually owns a restaurant near the stadium and he has done his best to recommend it to everyone!
No disrespect to the Championship sides here but Super League clubs have far more advanced and professional facilities.
Playing in better accommodated places may be an advantage to the Centurions because they are playing somewhere that is similar to the LSV, in regards to the pitch. Making the journeys to Cumbria, Bradford and Batley were not ideal because the surfaces of the pitches were not always in a fabulous condition like the one at the Sports Village.
Also, better and different facilities mean a change of scenery like Ridyard has also mentioned.
Instead of going to same places like the Big Fellas Stadium, the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium or the Tetley’s Stadium, Leigh will get to go to the DW Stadium, KCOM Stadium and the Totally Wicked Stadium.
It is the one per cent advantages that can make a difference.