Leigh Leopards: Is 2023 finally the year of the Super League crack yo-yo club?

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

Leigh is back in Super League, with a new name and renewed squad, but can they finally make it to the top flight and stay in the division?

Gone is the Centurions nickname, as the club adopts the Leopards title, having had a rebrand in October.

Having won the Super League three times before, the club has fallen back to Division Two on each occasion.

Can they break the curse and establish their place among the best?

Greetings and Farewells at LSV

Zak Hardaker is one of 11 new signings made by Leigh Leopards this season
England international full-back Zak Hardaker is one of 11 new signings made by Leigh Leopards ahead of the 2023 season

Leigh’s three Super League appearances in the past – in 2005, 2017 and 2021 – have all resulted in relegation after one season in Division One.

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

On the same day the club rebranded, they also signed 10 players, including Leeds Rhinos duo Zak Hardaker and Tom Briscoe.

For boss Adrian Lam, who spearheaded an immediate return to Super League after leaving Wigan Warriors at the end of the 2021 season, it was a bittersweet feeling to see most of his promotion-winning side depart.

“2022 has been an amazing season for us in the Championship and probably our most enjoyable as a manager. We’ve worked hard to get past that,” he told BBC Radio Manchester.

“The reality is that out of that group we had to let go of around 15 players unfortunately and there is always emotion because they are all great men.

“As a group, (owner) Derek Beaumont, (Operations Manager) Neil Jukes, (Rugby Head) Chris Chester and I have worked really hard and done a really good job of getting the team to where it is.”

Can Leopards eliminate Super League rivals?

Leigh Leopards fans in fancy dress at a match
Spot the difference? Leigh Leopards fans have certainly embraced the new branding during pre-season

To cap off their return to Super League and as they unveil their new name and brand, indie pop band Scouting for Girls will play half-time during their season opener against Salford Red Devils on Friday.

Despite the shirt’s polarizing redesign – which features a leopard print across the chest – Lam is a fan of her new branding and says the city is already well behind her.

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

“To be honest, I absolutely love it. I think it’s been the best thing for the club and I think going forward, the fans are going to come out and support us in the first round.

“There is entertainment to this game and it will just be a reminder that we are back in Super League where we deserve to be.”

Building for the future, not just for 2023

Leigh’s most recent appearance in Division One rugby league came when they were awarded a place in the league after the withdrawal of the Toronto Wolfpack.

The inclusion in the country’s elite did not last long, however, with the club winning only two of 22 matches and being relegated to the Championship.

It was a similar story the previous two times they played in Super League, so what makes 2023 different?

“This is not a 12 month process for us, this is a three to five year plan on where we want to be. The last three times Leigh have been promoted to the Super League they have automatically been relegated and I understand how that can happen”, Lam added.

“That said, I feel like we have a strong enough team to compete and do well week-to-week, and we’re going to hit 80 minutes every week.

“We’ve recruited some really experienced players. Over the next three to five years we’re going to build on that and you’ll see how the team changes and grows with the big picture in mind.”

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