Returning to the Super League is no easy feat and the newly renamed Leigh Leopards have felt the crushing disappointment of relegation back to the Championship before.
With the season just days away, we have taken a closer look at what Super League can expect from the Leigh Leopards in 2023….
Can Lam take Leigh to the top?
Coaching in the Super League is never easy, but Leigh have a man at the helm that is all too familiar with what the competition brings.
After taking over at the Wigan Warriors in 2019, Adrian Lam won a League Leaders’ Shield and guided his side to the Grand Final in 2020, ultimately losing out to rivals St Helens after a dramatic last-minute try from Jack Welsby.
Despite the loss, Lam has shown he knows how to take a team to the top and now he has a new task: Keeping Leigh in the Super League on their fourth time of trying.
After gaining promotion in 2005, 2017 and 2021 they were immediately relegated, but the feeling at the club is 2023 will be different, owner Derek Beaumont insistent they are “not going into Super League to make up the numbers”.
Leigh have already laid down a marker with some big signings and as an unknown prospect for the rest of the competition, they will be hoping to pull off some shocks.
“We are really proud about what we have done in the last 12 months both on and off the field to get back and we have given something for our fans to look forward to and support on a week-to-week basis,” said head coach Lam.
“We have got a lot of work to do, but we are really excited about it.
“The owner, Derek Beaumont and the board of the Leigh RLFC have invested a lot of money towards making sure the nights a special night for us. There is a lot of entertainment there and it isn’t something you will see at any other ground in Super League really.
“We are looking forward to a good crowd turning up and more importantly, playing a good standard of rugby so we get what we deserve.”
The Leopards have changed their spots
Leigh have made some top-class signings for the season ahead as they bid to stay in Super League.
Upon announcing their rebranding, the Leopards also confirmed the signing of nine new players, including Grand Final winner and former Man of Steel Zak Hardaker from the Leeds Rhinos.
Hardaker is joined by Ricky Leutele, Oliver Holmes, Jack Hughes, Rob Mulhern, Matt Davis, Jacob Gannon, Tom Briscoe and Gareth O’Brien in lam’s new-look side, giving the first indications that Leigh are back and are here to stay.
“It was a pretty amazing season in hindsight, it was incredible, and I guess the only other part would have been to go through undefeated,” Lam added.
“We have brought in 11 new faces which has certainly brought some experience to the team. Players that we have single-handedly chosen to be successful for the 2023 season.
“We got it wrong two years ago with our performance on the field and hopefully we have learnt that lesson.
“It is something we want to try and build over the next three to five years for the club and that is the challenge ahead for us.
“The immediate goal is to compete on a week-to-week basis here and prove people wrong.
“I think the last three times Leigh have gone up they have come straight back down so there is a massive challenge there for us but one we are looking forward to.”
The impact of Ipape
Leigh fans have known for a while what a powerful player they have in Edwin Ipape, but at last year’s World Cup, he was thrust into the spotlight on the international stage.
His barrelling runs combined with some superb slick passing play cut through many a defence as Papua New Guinea made it all the way to the quarter-finals, the hooker signalling himself as someone other teams will have to look out for in 2023.
In his 27 appearances for Leigh, he has scored 23 tries and cemented himself at the heart of their attack and if he can continue that form into next season, Ipape could be one of the key components of the team’s success in the top league.
Ahead of his introduction into Super League, Ipape reflected on an “amazing” 2022 and the excitement in the camp to have more success in 2023.
He said: “Last year, was my first year and I came here without knowing what was going to happen here and what it was going to be like out here and I enjoyed last year.
“It has been a blessing. Last year I have had a lot of success individually then as a team we had a lot of success. Then coming into the World Cup and representing my country in a World Cup, to don that PNG jersey was really humbling.
“He [Adrian Lam] gives me a lot of confidence that I can do whatever with the ability that I have got and he tries to keep my feet grounded and he is very clear on what is expected of me as a person and as a player and that gives me more clarity in what I need to do and what I need to focus on.
“With the promotion and the brand name change and everything that is going on, there is a lot of pressure on us as a team and as individuals but I think it is a good thing for us as a group to keep our feet grounded.
“We will focus ourselves on how to have a common goal every week and try to be consistent on a daily basis at training and come out on weekends and perform and see how good we can be.”
Watch 66 live Betfred Super League matches, including Magic Weekend, the play-offs and the Grand Final, on Sky Sports in 2023 and stream on NOW TV.
This post is originally appeared on Sky News