Legends salute Leigh’s class of 2014

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Leigh legends Tony Cooke and Tony Cottrell have paid tribute to Paul Rowley’s record-breaking Centurions, who set a new all-time Club record with their 15th successive victory at Sheffield Eagles last Sunday.

The winning run, which includes 12 Kingstone Press Championship games and three Tetley’s Challenge Cup ties, also represents Leigh’s best ever start to a season.

Cooke was a member of the Leigh championship-winning side which set the previous record of 14 straight wins in the 1981-82 season, under the coaching team of Alex Murphy and Colin Clarke. The sequence included 12 league games and two Challenge Cup-ties between November 1981 and February 1982 and laid the platform for Leigh’s first title for 76 years.

“That was a fantastic season and was really part of something special,” said Cooke. “We had a great team with fantastic players like John Woods and Des Drummond, but most of all we were a team in the truest sense and never knew when we were beaten. We won a lot of games by narrow margins and it was down to us all pulling together.

“I can see similarities with the current Leigh side. Paul Rowley has done a tremendous job building the side up from nothing three years ago and I have really enjoyed watching them play this season.”

Cottrell was a key member of the Leigh side that romped to the second division title in 1985-86 when Tommy Dickens took over the coaching reins from Alex Murphy early in the season. Leigh ended the campaign with 14 straight league wins after losing at Hull KR in the quarter-final of the Challenge Cup.

“It was an incredible season,” Cottrell recalled. “We won 33 out of 34 league games and ran in a lot of big scores. We scored over one thousand points in the league and nearly 1,500 overall. Steve Halliwell obviously got a lot of the headlines, scoring 49 tries but it was a great team effort and we had great backs like John Henderson, Phil Fox, Chris Johnson and Des Drummond.

“It’s really exciting seeing what is happening at Leigh at the moment. They are playing some great rugby and they are a club definitely on the up. It’s a great achievement to set a new record in the way they have.”

Centurions head coach Paul Rowley, who was born a few hundred yards away from the old Hilton Park ground and who first stood on the terraces as a toddler is proud of his role in re-writing the record books.

“Leigh were founder members of the Rugby League in 1895 and have a long and proud history,” Rowley says. “They’ve had some great players and teams over the years so to be part of a team that sets a new record is something that we can celebrate.

“We’re a close club at Leigh and we’re a happy club. We aren’t getting carried away and we know that we will suffer some adversity somewhere down the line. But we have so many good people around us and that makes us strong.”

Rowley also paid tribute to the Leigh fans who again turned out in their numbers at Sheffield. “You get the feeling that we’re a big club, and we’re moving forward,” he said. “Everybody is going forward together and that includes the fans- they have a massive role to play.

“To walk off the field to such rapturous applause from supporters who have all made a long journey pulls on your heartstrings. It’s quite emotional, especially as I know many of them personally. We’ve a team of predominately local players, so it’s a humbling experience and we really appreciate all the support we get.

“I’ve been proud of my team since day one of preseason. I’m proud to be part of history as well. Our achievement is not to be underestimated. It’s fantastic. We should be celebrating it from the rooftops, have road signs going into the town celebrating our record, use it as a way of galvanising support for the Club in the town. The town of Leigh is all about Leigh Rugby- it’s massive. Something we can all celebrate together.”