Leigh Leopards: Is 2023 Finally the Year Yo-Yo Club Crack Super League?

Leigh celebrates defeating the Batley Bulldogs in last season's play-off final
Leigh secured her spot back in the Super League by beating Batley Bulldogs in last season’s Championship play-off final

Leigh are back in the Super League with a new name and a revamped squad, but can they finally break the top flight and stay in the division?

Gone is the Centurions nickname as the club takes on the title of Leopards, had a name change in October.

Having previously played three times in the Super League, the club fell back to the second division each time.

Can they break the curse and earn a place among the best?

Hello and goodbye to the LSV

Zak Hardaker is one of 11 Leigh Leopards signings this season
England international defender Zak Hardaker is one of 11 Leigh Leopards signings ahead of the 2023 season

Leigh’s three appearances in the past Super League – in 2005, 2017 and 2021 – all resulted in relegation after a season in the top flight.

Their preparations for 2023 began shortly after the conclusion of the 2022 campaign.

On the same day the club changed their branding, they also signed a whopping 10 players including Leeds Rhinos duo Zak Hardaker and Tom Briscoe.

For boss Adrian Lam, who spearheaded an immediate return to the Super League after leaving the Wigan Warriors at the end of the 2021 season, it was bittersweet to see most of his promotion team left.

“2022 has been a fantastic season for us in the league and probably my most enjoyable as a coach. We worked really hard to get through this,” he told BBC Radio Manchester.

“The reality is that we sadly had to let about 15 players out of that group and that is always overtaken by emotion because they are all great men.

“As a group, (owner) Derek Beaumont, (operations manager) Neil Jukes, (rugby manager) Chris Chester and I have worked really hard and done a really good job of getting the squad to where it is.”

Can the Leopards beat their Super League rivals?

Leigh Leopards fans in costume at a game
Spot the difference? Leigh Leopards fans have certainly embraced the new branding throughout preseason

To round off their return to the Super League and as they unveil their new name and branding, indie pop band Scouting for Girls are set to play the Salford Red Devils at halftime during their season opener on Friday.

Despite her polarizing kit redesign – which features a leopard on her chest – Lam is a fan of her new branding and says the city is already well behind it.

“We had a name and logo change and the city is buzzing with it, everyone is now wearing leopard print to games,” he continued.

“To be honest, I absolutely love it. I think it was the biggest thing for the club and I think if we continue the fans will come out and support us in the first round.

“Entertainment is the order of the day for this game and it will just serve as a reminder that we are back in the Super League where we deserve it.”

Building for the future, not just for 2023

Leigh’s last appearance in rugby’s top flight was when they were place in the league after Toronto Wolfpack’s withdrawal.

However, their inclusion in the country’s elite did not last long as the club won just two games out of 22 to be relegated back to the Championship.

It was a similar story to the previous two Super League games. So what makes 2023 different?

“For us, it’s not about a 12-month process, it’s about a three- to five-year plan of where we want to be. The last three times Leigh got promoted to the Super League they were automatically relegated and I understand how that can happen,” added Lam.

“Even so, I feel like we have a squad strong enough to compete and do well week in week out and it’s going to come down to the 80 minutes every week.

“We’ve recruited some really experienced players. Over the next three to five years we’ll add to that and you’ll see the team change and grow while keeping the bigger picture in mind.”

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