LEIGH Centurions may not have won a play-off game since 2004, but they are still being tipped among the favourites to reach the Championship Grand final in 2013.
Reigning champions Sheffield Eagles, last season’s Grand Finalists Featherstone Rovers and Halifax will almost certainly be Leigh’s big rivals but the rest of the pack certainly have plenty of respect for the Centurions and their durability that has grown under the coaching stewardship of Paul Rowley.
“A Grand Final appearance is certainly long overdue,” admitted Rowley. “But given our disappointing play-off record in recent seasons, that hurdle has to be overcome first – and only then after we have managed to make the play-offs at the end of the season.
“Speculation about how next season will pan out is all very well, and I suppose it is what the media and the fans love to do. But the reality is all about what happens on the field and that has to be addressed on a game by game basis. Generally those who look too far ahead never get where they are going, they slip up long before their goal is in sight.
“I’m more down to earth and pragmatic in my approach. If we keep doing what we should do well, and get the results then the play-off will look after itself. And then we will address those.
“But one thing for certain is that 2013 is going to be as tough as ever. We have 26 league games plus the Northern Rail and Challenge Cups and after all that you will be looking to have aside fit to charge through the play-offs.
“It’s been hard each season, but this is certainly going to be the toughest for a good long time.”
Playing wise, Paul refuses to accept that Sheffield, Featherstone, Halifax and Leigh will be the only ones to watch.
“We have seen what Batley can do under John Kear and I think Swinton will have a big year in 2013 too,” he added. “Plus with so many games that all count towards the end of the season, you can guarantee there will be some big shocks along the way.
“Our aim is to make sure we are not among them and to prepare well in our close season, and then prepare ourselves to start the season with a bang.
“Our warm up games are just what I wanted with Salford on December 30, Wigan on January 6 and then Swinton on the Friday, January 25, just one week before we head to Featherstone.
“That opening game is going to be as tough as they come, but we will have been working hard in those pre-season games to hone us for that match and then those that follow.
“Of course we haven’t forgotten that it is a season when the Super League licences will be reviewed too, and if we are going well in the League it can only serve to enhance our claim.
“The club has very real ambition to be back in the top flight and every game won is going to be another bonus mark for that goal.
“2013 is a massive year for the club and the players are back in full training and working hard to be ready.”