Our News

Leaping Leopards: The rise and rise of Leigh

12 Aug 23, 8:32AM 0 Comments

Written by John Davidson

Adrian Lam has described the progression of Leigh from Championship club to Challenge Cup finalists and semi-final bound Super League side in less than a year is “mad”, and says it is the stuff of Hollywood.

The rise of Leigh, rebranded from the Centurions to the Leopards, has certainly been remarkable. In 2022 they dominated the second tier, winning the 1895 Cup and promotion back into Super League.

Leigh previously had never survived in the top flight before and many tipped for them for the trapdoor.

Coach Lam had to again revamp his squad, building a roster that could not only avoid promotion, but push for finals contention.

But Lam, and former Wakefield coach Chris Chester, now the club’s director of rugby, have done just that. Leigh have impressed in Super League and sit in third on the table, just two places below league leaders Catalans.

Amazingly they beat St Helens to reach the Challenge Cup final, the club’s first since 1971. Breaking a 52-year-old draught takes some feat.

“To think 12 months ago we were preparing for the curtain raiser game, then we sat there and watched the Challenge Cup final,” Lam told Everything Rugby League on Monday.

“It’s mad. Now it’s the other way around, it’s incredible. We’re just grateful.”

The 52-year-old is an emotional character at the best of times and wears his heart on his sleeve. Central to the Leopards’ success has been his son, halfback Lachlan, who was enticed to join from the Roosters.

Others were signed, many rejects or discards from other clubs. John Asiata was kicked out of the NRL for refusing the Covid vaccine. Luke Briscoe and Zad Hardaker were unwanted at Leeds. Josh Charnley, Jack Hughes, Matt Davis, Olly Holmes and Rob Mulhearn were surplus to requirements at Warrington.

The list goes on and on.

Lam and Chester have been able to mold this motley crew into a tight group willing to work hard for each other, who have built a strong bond and who are eager to prove people wrong.

Also key to Leigh’s rise has been the form and class of hooker Edwin Ipape. Plucked from the QLD Cup, the Papua New Guinean has been a godsend in greater Manchester.

“I got goosebumps thinking about it,” Lam said.

“I remember making the call to Edwin and knowing, because I had watched him in the QLF Cup and watched him come through at Lae Tigers. I just thought if I could get my hands on him he’d kill it.

“Then when we were recruiting players and we had no limit on internationals in the Championship. It’s a movie, it’s incredible really.

“People didn’t know about Kai O’Donnell… Even Zak, Leeds didn’t make a bid for him, which was fucking dumb.

“Cas didn’t want Gaz O’Brien… the key is their respect for each other. That’s really important. It’s such a good bunch of boys.”

The Leigh club has been around since 1878 but has only ever won two Challenge Cups in its 145-year history – in 1921 and 1971. Leigh has only ever won two top flight titles, in 1906 and 1982, and won just eight in the second division.

Silverware has been rare and struggle common for this side just outside Wigan, located in a town of under 42,000 souls and best known for cotton and coal.

But regardless of what happens at Wembley this weekend, Lam and his Leopards are putting Leigh on the map.

Be the first to comment on this article

Make a comment...

Our Valued Partners

European Championship logo X-league rugby league logo Cleveland Rugby League Brasil Rugby League Latin Heat Rugby League Logo Ghana Rugby League Serbia Rugby League Canada Rugby League Norway Rugby League Russian Rugby League Cameroon Rugby League Malta Rugby League Nigeria Rugby League Logo