Leigh Centurions’ magnificent season was recognised at a glittering gala dinner when Paul Rowley was named as the Championship Coach of the Year.
It was a fitting accolade for a man who has led the club on the field from the depths of near liquidation to a second place in the Championship table with a team that has been forged through steel, spirit, courage and comradeship.
With the rest of his coaching team, Rowley and his players have reached the semi finals of the Championship play-offs, only to lose a thrilling clash against Sheffield Eagles, last weekend, the semi finals of the Northern Rail Cup and the heady heights of the quarterfinals of the Challenge Cup.
“A coach is only as good as his players, and I have a fantastic bunch at Leigh,” said a delighted Rowley. “They have worked hard all season and our second place finish was a reward for all that effort.
“On a personal note I am honoured to be in such exalted company, and to get the nod is fantastic when you consider the achievements of those I was up against. We didn’t get the silverware we were after, so I will take this for the lads.”
Along the way there have been plenty of memorable highs, as well as the odd low, but there is no argument that Rowley’s accolade is especially deserving, and his selection ahead of the other nominees Karl Harrison of Halifax, John Kear of Batley and Featherstone Rovers Daryl Powell, all of whom have Super League experience to call upon, is impressive.
There was disappointment for Young Player of the Year nominee, Ryan Brierley who missed out to Batley’s St Helens bound forward Alex Walmesley, and Bob Beswick who was pipped by Featherstone Rovers Liam Finn as the Championship Player of the Year. Featherstone Rovers were the Club of the Year.
Meanwhile, Rowley was left to reflect on the disappointment of Leigh’s semi-final exit to Sheffield Eagles in a thrilling clash at the LSV. “We were just not strong enough up front,” he admitted. “We were wounded, and every player gave their all, but in the end we lost the battle in the mid field and it cost us in the end.
“Having said that , we had our opportunities to win, and just didn’t take our chances. Whether we were nervous or not is difficult to tell, but we certainly have been more patient in previous games and taken opportunities when they came our way. This time we hurried our passes and the chances went begging. But take nothing away from Sheffield, they are a good side and deserved their win.
“We battled through and everyone gave their all. That is typical of the team all season. To pull back a big deficit like we did shows the character in the side, and that is something we will build on for next season. But we were desperate to make the Grand Final and sadly that was not to be.”
Already the business of recruiting for next season continues, and the signing of Martin Aspinwall from Hull FC has been confirmed, whilst Tommy Gallagher and Dean McGilvray will not be having their contracts renewed for next season.