Drew Darbyshire from Leigh Centurions TV looks ahead to the new Kingstone Press Championship season and predicts another exciting year for Leigh fans.
More marquee signings
While there haven’t been any games within the off-season, Leigh Head of Rugby Derek Beaumont and the rest of the board have been working overtime in the recruitment department.
The Centurions have brought in a number of key names with Super League and National Rugby League experience as Harrison Hansen, Cory Paterson, Reni Maitua, Willie Tonga and Dayne Weston have joined – along with Rangi Chase, who is profiled further on. The initial perception of these players by Leigh fans has been surprising and thrilling, though there is a small minority who think the signings may be coming towards the end of their career.
However, even though the average squad age may be getting a little older, the quality hasn’t dropped so it is looking to be an entertaining Championship season.
One of the club’s main aims this season will be to gain promotion to England’s top flight of rugby league after just missing out last campaign.
With all the ‘big name’ signings that have been made within the last two years, many pundits are tipping them to be in Super League in the not too distant future. The Centurions did very well last season as they went unbeaten in the regular Championship season at home while only losing one away game but they just missed out on a promotion place in the Middle 8s which saw all four Super League outfits (Hull KR, Widnes Vikings, Salford Red Devils and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats) avoid the drop.
It looks to be an enthralling calendar year for the Leythers, as Paul Rowley’s side look to go one better than last season by being in the top four of the Middle 8s table so they can be in Super League in 2017.
Leigh Centurions coach Paul Rowley has said previously that he wants to win every piece of silverware that is on offer so they will be aiming for a fascinating run in the Challenge Cup – if not – winning the competition.
The Centurions have won the Challenge Cup twice previously, but at times only some of us will remember. The first time was during the 1920-21 campaign while the latest honour came in the course of the 1970-71 season.
Leigh reached the quarter finals last season while beating two Super League sides in the process. It will be interesting to see how the Super League side ‘on paper’ get on against tougher opposition than what they will be facing in the Championship this term.
As mentioned earlier, the star signing every rugby league fan is looking forward to seeing this season is Rangi Chase.
The England international reached an agreement with Super League side Salford Red Devils to be released at the end of last campaign and there were a whole range of sides across the globe who wanted his signature and Beaumont worked tirelessly to get this deal over the line.
The favourites to sign the half-back changed every other week but Rowley always knew he had his main transfer target.
Chase chose Leigh over New Zealand Warriors, Castleford Tigers, Hull FC and various other clubs who were rumoured to sign the New Zealand-born star.
The former Man of Steel’s character matches his gameplay, enthusiastic and determined. He was voted Super League’s Player of the Year in 2011 so a lot of people think he is far too good for the Championship but he hasn’t just arrived at the Sports Village for a wage, he wants to get them back where they belong.
If Chase can pull off a few of the incredible passes that he did while playing for Salford against Hull FC then we are in for a very entertaining year.
Even though Leigh have made a lot of marquee signings this pre-season, numerous teams in the Championship have done the same so the competition for the League Leaders’ Shield looks to be a tightly contested affair this time around.
Sheffield Eagles weren’t really in the mix for top spot last season but they look to be a force this year as they have gone full-time.
Last campaign, some of their squad had other jobs at the side so they can concentrate fully on their performance and fitness this term.
Bradford Bulls also look strong. They have signed a few familiar faces in Jonathan Walker and Kurt Haggerty from Leigh, while Kris Welham and Ben Kavanagh have joined from Hull Kingston Rovers and Widnes Vikings respectively.
Halifax have also made a marquee signing in Simon Grix from Super League outfit Warrington wolves so the competition this year in the Championship looks to be feisty as well as there being some real talent on show.