Neil Jukes has warned his players that Featherstone Rovers will be treating Leigh’s visit to Post Office Road on Saturday “like a Cup Final”.
The Leigh coach hopes his team will get off to a flying start in the first round of the Super 8 qualifiers but knows that Featherstone, now coached by former Leigh favourite John Duffy, will be desperate to upset his old employers.
“John has only been there a short time and will have been trying to tweak a few things and put his stamp on the team,” said Jukes. “It’s a good opportunity for him because Featherstone are a good club with some high-quality players.”
While some Super League teams may be fazed by a trip to Post Office Road, Jukes says Leigh will have no such worries having been regular visitors there in the last few years. Games between the sides have traditionally been extremely competitive but recent history favours the Centurions.
“It’s a tough start for us,” said Jukes. “But we’ve been there in the Championship and they will be treating it like a Cup Final. It’s a traditional ground with passionate fans and we like going there. We have a lot of respect for them.”
Jukes has a near-fully fit squad to pick from and he will be hoping Leigh can show the same sort of form they produced in their last game - a 25-0 win over Salford on July 21.
“It will be a tough team to pick because we’re looking pretty healthy,” said Jukes. “But it’s a nice position to be in. All the teams in the play-offs will be desperate to start with a win because it takes a lot of pressure off.”
The Super 8 qualifiers fixtures were confirmed last week, with Leigh’s first home game coming against Hull KR on Saturday, August 12. Leigh will also play Widnes and Halifax at home with away games against Warrington, London, Catalans as well as Featherstone.
Jukes confirmed that winger James Clare played 40 minutes for Halifax reserves last weekend as he continues his comeback from injury.
The former Bradford winger has not yet played a senior game for Leigh after suffering an injury in preseason. But he has worked hard to get back to full fitness and Jukes had nothing but praise for him.
“To come back inside six months just shows what desire and determination James has,” said Jukes. “He is one of the best professionals I’ve ever come across.”
Jukes said that Clare may even feature in the Super 8 qualifiers. “This week is probably beyond him,” said Jukes. “He needs to get some miles in his legs. But I would never rule him out.”