What is it they say? “A champion team wins ugly in games it could have lost.”
Well that would be a fitting statement for Friday night at Sheffield. We scraped a narrow victory at the death which kind of says a lot about this side as I believe in the last two years that would have been the performance that saw us lose, as was the case away to Doncaster and London respectively. But this time we got the win against a very spirited and determined Sheffield side. Whilst I always felt we weren’t at the races, and could do enough to win, I found it surprising of that performance that Sheffield are sat where they are, as they also gave a good account of themselves at the LSV when again we had a narrow victory. I think my mate Chris Hamilton of Oldham would have bitten his nails more than me in that game, having a vested interest in Sheffield’s results due to their relative positions. It is really hotting up at both ends of the league and there is a real buzz and lift of anticipation as we enter the eights.
Whilst a lot of people write in criticism of the new structure and the difficulty of achieving promotion via it, you cannot question the anticipation and meaningful games it creates. Whilst there is so much to play for at Oldham and Swinton (two local teams that many would have had sat at the foot before a ball was passed) at the top of the league we have a massive weekend ahead with any two of four teams capable of clinching the last two spots. That has to be great for our game at this level, though it may not be too good for the health of the chairmen involved. I rather prematurely sent Kevin Nichols, the Batley chairman, a text congratulating him not realising that they still needed to win their last game having beaten a very good London side. That will be made tough by Swinton who themselves would almost start to feel safe if they took the two points in that one. But in the end I cannot see John Kear and his troops letting the chance they have created themselves in a fantastic season slip at the final hurdle, so I think Batley will secure themselves the prospect of a fantastic future and I believe that Kevin will steer that to keep them competitive around that four for time to come. He has been about the game a long time and has good connections. By contrast Halifax have gone from having it in their own hands to looking over their shoulders hoping for other results to go their way.
But as I say I can’t see that happening with Batley and with Bradford travelling to Featherstone I feel the writing is on the wall for Halifax who would see their central funding drop by £587k which is a massive change in circumstances. That being said they haven’t over committed or changed what they had much, so I wouldn’t imagine the change would expose them to too much risk and they will surely still be in a good position to mount a challenge again next year. I hope they keep their faith in Richard Marshall who is a quality coach coming through the ranks. So what for the monster bash for the place in the four between our two biggest rivals of the last six years? Well I guess many Leigh fans will sit back and watch knowing that at least one of their rivals will miss out on the four although I suspect many will be supporting Featherstone as they will see Bradford as the bigger threat to us in the middle 8s.
For me I think this game could turn out to be far more important than making the middle 8s. It has been widely reported that Mark Campbell managed to stave off a winding-up petition at the 11th hour which is never a good position for a club and is normally an indicator that the finances may be close to the bone. Guaranteeing a minimum of 450k central funding for the following year would certainly add some protective meat to that bone. On the other hand Bradford have had their own difficulties in previous years although I am not suggesting for one minute they have any current issues. However they have come from the Super League central funding of £1.8m to receiving £787k last year and the same again this year - and the crowds seem to have reduced similarly. For them to miss the middle 8s would be a massive blow and the loss of a further potential of £587k next year - not to mention the gates from the middle 8s and backlash from fans. That could be a seven-figure cost to make up and that takes some serious appetite. There hasn’t been anything coming out of Bradford to say that it won’t affect them as it will be funded so their fans are understandably nervous as to the future.
So who do I think will win what is without doubt the biggest game of the season so far and what could be billed as the half a million pound game? Well Bradford have themselves strengthened and have a new highly regarded coach in Rohan Smith and I have no doubt they will continue to improve and gel as the competition progresses. Also, if players like Gaskell and Purtell return then they would be a real threat. We have faced them three times, claiming two and drawing one, with the first game being the one we had the making off.
The game at the Bash was a real closely-fought game and the result would suggest the same from the game at LSV although I don’t think the performance actually did. Featherstone meanwhile have had the injection of numbers through their partnership with the Rhinos which in itself could take up many column inches but that is a real shot in the arm for their coach John Sharp. Our encounter at LSV with Featherstone was a close-fought game and my opinion is shared by some of the boys and coaches that they were on that performance the best team we have faced. It’s a real close one to call but in the end in a massive game. I think very often the difference between two sides can be home advantage and I think that was the case in last year’s Million Pound Game. To that end I am going to tip Featherstone to take the spoils in what will be a humdinger of a game.
So this week is deadline week and what a week it has started off as.
I tell you what dealing with people on the other side of the world involves me staying up a little later at night than I am used to. And it’s kind of strange getting up in the morning and talking to the same person who still hasn’t been to bed! So far this week we have seen the important retention of Martyn Ridyard as stated in my press release and the final member of the squad that has contract talks ongoing will be secured this week as well. We have also seen the addition of Danny Tickle who comes straight into the mix for this weekend’s game. There will be at least one overseas player added to the squad for the eights this week who will be with us for a further two years and we are also in negotiations to bring a Super League player in this week also.
It is great to see our club linked with the game’s biggest stars. I suppose it is testament to where this club has come since the signing of Fuifui Moimoi – a signing that I will always declare as the one that shaped the club. At the time it was a massive commitment and upward trend and it is one that has paid dividends and put Leigh on the worldwide map. As everyone knows I am ambitious and it is flattering to be linked with world stars but we also have to be realists. We are competing hard out there to take the club to the next level for next year and I will look at anything that is available or possible within our constraints to achieve that as I am committed to the cause. Although I will be out of the country from Wednesday as the deadline passes I am sure I will be extremely busy. And just to make sure I can take advantage of any possibilities that may arise I have put in place with the RFL to take the club’s spend to the finite Super League salary cap. And that my friends is as much as I can possibly do. Will I spend it? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, whilst there is a massive game over the Pennines with much at stake, we have our own special occasion at the LSV where the boys will be presented with the Kingstone Press Championship Shield for the third consecutive year.
We will also see the past players that can attend take the field to show their appreciation for the achievements of the current squad.
There has been a lot of speculation regarding the relationship between the past players association and the club and this is evidence that the relationship is very much in existence and will continue to grow.
It will be a great atmosphere.
Whilst I unfortunately will be tuning in to Dave Parkinson and Joe Wood for commentary, despite it being broadcast on Radio Manchester, as I can’t make it, I hope as many of our fans can get their and show their appreciation not only to the boys but the past players whom have served us so well in years gone by. Enjoy the occasion - it’s a great time to be a Leyther.