THE death of former Leigh Centurions chairman Arthur Thomas has rocked the world of rugby league.
Arthur had been a tremendous supporter not only of the Centurions, where he was chairman from 2007 until 2011, but also of amateur clubs Leigh East and Leigh Miners Rangers, both of which he frequently sponsored.
Arthur had supported the Centurions for many years, firstly as a sponsor of the club before a four-and-a-half-year spell as chairman and major shareholder, stepping in to back a rescue package when the Leigh club was in danger of floundering back in 2003.
His business acumen and support were invaluable to the Centurions when current directors Keith Freer and Phil Coffey formed part of the consortium that saved Leigh from administration on the eve of the season.
At that time Arthur’s son Darren joined Leigh’s board and after severing his ties with St Helens, where he was vice-chairman, Arthur joined him at Leigh in 2007.
Arthur will also be remembered at Wigan where he served as a director and chairman, leading them out at Wembley in 1998, before becoming a major investor and director at St Helens during their successful spell in the early 2000s. Then he was instrumental in taking Ian Millward from Hilton Park to Knowsley Road.
He likewise enticed Millward back from Australia to take charge of the Centurions again in 2011 when Arthur was delighted to see his side lift the Northern Rail Cup.
Arthur, who was 69, leaves behind his wife, Sylvia, two sons Darren and Andrew and daughter Emma as well as his grandchildren.
Centurions head coach Paul Rowley expressed the thoughts of many: “We had all known that Arthur had been ill for some time but we all hoped he would come through. He was a rugby league fan in every sense but he was also a very nice person indeed.
“I know that rugby league in Leigh and in general has a lot to thank him for with his involvement, and we will all miss him for that.
“But I and a lot of others, and in particular my dad, will miss him as a very close friend.
“His family will be devastated and like all his friends we will sorely miss him.
“Arthur’s departure from the club left a big void and his influence had been immense over the years.”
l Adam Higson and Thomas Coyle are both set to return to action in this Saturday’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup third round against National Conference League amateurs East Leeds.
The game kicks off at 5.30pm at Leigh Sports Village as part of a double header with Swinton Lions, who entertain French side Toulouse with a 3pm kick off that same day.
Admission to both games is on one ticket only and it represents bumper value for fans of both clubs.
East Leeds are currently going well in the NCL first division, where they are third placed.
“Adam and Thomas have been chomping at the bit to get back into action,” said Rowley. “But I didn’t want to rush them and this gives them an ideal opportunity to ease their way in. Coming just after the Easter weekend also gives me the opportunity to rest some of our players and have a look at some of our younger squad members
“Not that I am taking East Leeds lightly. This will be their cup final and they will be up for it. There have been cup upsets in the past and we do not want a hint of being one of those statistics.
“But we have to be confident of our ability and despite the tough Easter programmer we will be well prepared for this clash. We are all looking forward to this.
“I also want to wish the best of luck to Leigh Miners at Barrow and Leigh East at Sheffield. It is great to see the town’s top two amateur teams participating in this competition.”
Barrow will have Leigh’s hooker Anthony Nicholson on board as he is there on a month’s loan to keep him fit as he awaits his chance behind Bob Beswick and Sean Penkywicz at present.
Last year he made 24 first team appearances, but Penkywicz’s arrival and form has seen Nicholson slip down the pecking order.
However, the former Miners youngster is sure to want to put one over some of his former team-mates.