AS a fresh faced young forward, he was one of the stand-out players as Leigh won promotion to the Super League in 2004.
Fast forward 10 years and Oliver Wilkes is back at the Centurions as joint club captain, older, wiser but still remarkably fresh faced.
As a cornerstone of the Leigh pack, Wilkes has made an impressive start to his second stint at the club.
Centurions currently sit top of the Kingstone Press Championship after three wins in which they’ve scored 52 points. On the opening day of the season they beat Batley 52-12, a week later they won 52-8 at Barrow then last Sunday they saw off Whitehaven 52-0.
“It has been a fantastic start,” said Wilkes. “I thought we were going to break 52 against Whitehaven when we led 52-0 after an hour but we got a bit sloppy and our discipline was uncharacteristically off.
“I am really enjoying being back at Leigh. I have got a bit of responsibility as a co-captain and that is something I’m pleased about. I like to have some input into what we are doing.
“We are working hard as a team and in training and at the moment it’s paying off for us on the field.”
His career has seen him enjoy stints with Widnes, Wigan, Harlequins, Sheffield, Huddersfield and most recently Wakefield. Although born in Ulverston, Wilkes has represented Scotland and was a key member of the team which performed so well in last year’s World Cup.
Wilkes says the transition from being a full-time player with Wakefield in Super League to a part-time career has been demanding but he accepts the challenge.
“We do train a lot,” he said. “And as I still live in Wakefield there is a lot of travel involved. But if we want to achieve our goals, these are the things we accept. We want to be at the top of the league competing and next year when the new structure comes in we want to be well placed. This is a season where we can lay the foundation for the next few years.”
Wilkes had fond memories of his time at Leigh while playing elsewhere so coming back wasn’t a difficult choice to make.
“The set up here at the Sports Village is first class,” said Wilkes. “It’s a long way from the facilities at Hilton Park - I’ll never forget the disgusting toilets”
“This stadium is one of the best in the country and not many clubs can boast the kind of training facilities we have access to. It’s an exciting place to be at the moment and a lot of people with great ambition want to make Leigh a top club.
On Sunday, Wilkes will be back at Keighley, the club for whom he played 68 times between 2001 and 2003.
“My wife is from Keighley,” said Wilkes. “There will be a lot of my family turning up to watch and I’m really looking forward to it. I can’t remember the last time I played at Cougar Park – it may have been with Leigh actually back in 2004.”