Centurions captain Wilkes is homeward bound

Oliver Wilkes scores a matchwinning try for Leigh at Wakefield. Photo: Paul McCarthy Photography
Oliver Wilkes scores a matchwinning try for Leigh at Wakefield. Photo: Paul McCarthy Photography

Outgoing Leigh skipper Oliver Wilkes has joined Barrow for 2016

Wilkes led Leigh for the past two seasons, playing his 99th and final game for the Centurions in the Super 8s qualifier against Widnes.

He has also played for Sheffield Eagles, Huddersfield Giants, Keighley Cougars, Whitehaven, Wigan Warriors, Widnes Vikings, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and Harlequins RL and represented Scotland in the 2008 and 2013 World Cups as well as his native Cumbria.

Wilkes, 35, reached the notable milestone of 400 career appearances earlier this season and has scored 75 tries and kicked 7 goals in 421 professional games since making his first-team debut for Sheffield Eagles in 1998. For Leigh he scored 17 tries in 99 games.

His two spells at Leigh have been marked by the club enjoying many of its most successful times in its history. In 2004 he joined Leigh from Keighley and after making his debut against Swinton Lions played a major part in the Centurions reaching Super League after a dramatic extra-time grand final victory over Whitehaven at Widnes. He also played in the Leigh side that defeated Hull KR in the National League Cup Final at Rochdale in 2004 and moved on to Whitehaven after the 2005 Super League campaign.

After returning to the club from Wakefield, he captained Leigh to successive Championship Shield honours in 2014 and 2015 and to victory over Featherstone Rovers in the 2014 Championship Grand Final at Headingley.

He has now returned with his family to his native Ulverston and will combine a part-time playing contract with the Raiders with furthering a full-time career in the Health & Safety profession.

Leigh Centurions head of rugby Derek Beaumont said: “ Oli is as fantastic a rugby player as he is a person. He is a great family man. He is a dedicated professional, truly committed with a great attitude and leadership skills. He has been a fantastic servant to Leigh over the two stints that I was involved in and I am proud to call him my friend.

“He leads by example and is tough and uncompromising. He never takes a backward step. He will be a fantastic asset for Barrow and it is particularly pleasing to see him get the opportunity to finish his career back in his homeland where he can settle his wonderful family.

“Oli has been a great captain and has enjoyed these last two seasons, lifting three trophies and I hope he can take some of that success with him up the road to Barrow. Working with Ollie on a daily basis in my business I got to know him more than you do a lot of rugby players, so it was even more pleasing to see him scoring the try to beat Wakefield in the Challenge Cup. It’s a memory I will never forget along with the one we always talked about when he scored at Batley in the last minute to win the league when he was here last time around in 2004.

Leigh coach Paul Rowley said: “I have had the pleasure of playing alongside Oli on two occasions, first as his career was beginning as a fresh faced youngster at Huddersfield and then again as his career really took off when he was a consistently high performer in Leigh’s Super League season. There are many memorable moments for lots of different reasons.

“The one which tickles me the most is remembering Ollie’s face as we collided in training. He hit the floor and looked up at me with his front tooth missing and as we both looked at each other in fits of laughter I extracted the tooth from the side of my head and gave it him back. He is one very clumsy individual.

“Since joining Leigh in his second stint he will be remembered for his poor attempts at joke-telling and the one knock-on per training session, I think his hands are on back to front sometimes, and the predictable response at the end of my speeches. I always ask the skipper does he have anything to add, to which he replies “No” and then 10 minutes later he shuts up.

“Well done Oliver, you have been a brave, fearless winner and it’s been an absolute pleasure to play alongside you and then to coach you.”