Analysing Leigh Leopards’ squad situation after early-season injury issues

Aaron Bower
Tom Briscoe Leigh Leopards Alamy

Tom Briscoe is helped from the field during Leigh's defeat at St Helens

They have only played two Super League games in 2024, but things are already beginning to look increasingly stretched at Leigh Leopards.

Fortunately for last year’s Challenge Cup winners, the concerted effort they made over the winter to bolster the depth of their squad could well come in handy even before we arrive in mid-March, with an injury crisis already brewing. Hooker Edwin Ipape is out for two months and the Leopards are expected to confirm this week that captain John Asiata and winger Tom Briscoe are the latest players on the sidelines.

Asiata and Briscoe left the field during Friday night’s defeat to St Helens with calf injuries, and both are expected to miss an extended period of action. It is a devastating double-blow for a squad already struggling for frontline talent – and Adrian Lam is going to have to dip into his reserves for Friday night’s game against Leeds Rhinos.

The Leopards have a squad of 32 first-team players, bolstered by the loan signing of Brad Dwyer. But they are without a handful of those for a variety of reasons, including centre Keanan Brand, who is out on loan at Bradford for at least the next week – though they don’t have a game this weekend, potentially opening the door for him to come into feature.

Here’s a look at the players who could come in and plug the gaps vacated by the injured Asiata and Briscoe.

Who will fill in on the wing?

This is one of the big headaches Lam really has to contend with. Replacing a player of Briscoe’s calibre will not be easy, and while there are a number of options, it is safe to assume none have the experience and quality Briscoe has.

Perhaps the most likely contender to replace Briscoe is Ed Chamberlain, who has been in and around match-day squads so far in 2024 but yet to feature. He would appear to be the next cab off the rank when it comes to playing on the wing, but there are other options.

And one of those is perhaps a surprise one in Umyla Hanley. Love Rugby League was told during pre-season that Hanley has really impressed the Leigh coaching staff and was a lot closer to an extended stint in the side than he was last season, during his first year at the club.

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Hanley featured in the reserves game against Rochdale on Sunday afternoon, albeit at centre, and could be a leading contender to come in on the wing. Another option could be Jack Darbyshire, who was signed from Warrington Wolves in the off-season and is capable of playing wing or centre. But without any senior Super League appearances to his name, throwing him in against Leeds would be considered a gamble.

The most senior option of the other players that could step up is Tom Nisbet, who has the most experience of the aforementioned of playing on the wing.

What about Asiata’s replacement?

The easiest thing to say, first of all, is that a player of Asiata’s calibre simply cannot be replaced. Leigh do have slightly more depth in the pack than they do in the outside backs, so they have bodies available and ready to go.

Louis Brogan was signed from Swinton Lions with the future very much in mind, but he is another who has impressed and is believed to be close to a Leigh debut. Jacob Gannon started in Asiata’s traditional role of 13 during the reserves game against Rochdale on Sunday, and is another option.

There are senior players that could slot in, too. Oliver Holmes could easily slot in on the interchange bench and allow one of the four who started there on Friday to step up to the starting 13. A player like Owen Trout would be a strong contender to do that, as things stand.

The other complication..

The one other main issue with the Asiata injury in particular is that it makes Leigh’s attempts to sign Newcastle Knights outside back David Armstrong even more difficult. For Armstrong to join, one of the Leopards’ existing overseas players has to make way and as Love Rugby League suggested last month, the front-runner in that regard would be Ben Nakubuwai. Love Rugby League has been told that interest remains in the prop from Super League and Championship clubs.

However, with Asiata out, Leigh need as much seniority in their pack as possible and the likelihood of Nakubuwai being left out has diminished even further with the loss of their club captain. So for now, any move for Armstrong is even further onto the backburner.

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