Can Leigh handle the pressure in 2016?

As the top team in the 2015 Kingstone Press Championship, Leigh Centurions went into the inaugural Qualifiers campaign with anticipation that a place in Super League wasn’t far away.

The media and many fans tipped the Centurions to finish in the top four or at least reach the Million Pound game. However, what then occurred turned from a potential dream to a nightmare. Paul Rowley’s side only won one match in the Middle Eights, a bottom place finish was far from expected.

Now they face another season in the Championship, where they’re expected to finish top of the regular season before heading into the Qualifiers once again.

In the recent off-season, Head of Rugby Derek Beaumont and Rowley have strengthened their squad tenfold with some very eye-opening signings.

None more so than mercurial halfback and ex-England international Rangi Chase from Salford Red Devils. With such a creative presence in the side, Leigh will become even more dangerous in attack with the skill set that is brought to the table by Chase.

One of many dilemmas for Rowley includes Leigh’s halves situation. Once Ryan Brierley returns to action, he may form a lethal partnership with Chase which would leave Martyn Ridyard out of the side.

Ridyard has been a solid performer for the Centurions in recent seasons as they’ve rose to become the leading team in the Championship. He and Brierley have formed a dynamic partnership.

It will be interesting to see how everything turns out at the Leigh Sports Village.

Leigh are currently in Lanzarote on warm weather training as they prepare for the year ahead.

The Centurions; coaching staff will have discussed how they can get on the good side of the referees book in 2016 after a rather, let’s say, ‘interesting’ season when things got heated on the pitch.

Despite the fast-flowing rugby that was showcased by the Centurions, performances were sometimes marred by a lack of discipline.

Players like Gareth Hock and Sam Barlow were prime wind-up targets by opposition sides and it’s sure to be the case this year as well.

Everyone in the team will be wary of the fact that there will be occasions when things boil over, and if the Centurions are to surpass last year’s Qualifiers position, they will have to stay calm and composed.

The squad is filled with Super League calibre players. Other new signings, along with Chase, include Reni Maitua, Harrison Hansen, Wille Tonga, Dayne Weston and Cory Paterson. Maitua has played for Australia, while Tonga has represented the Kangaroos and Queensland in State of Origin.

It’s pretty astonishing to think they will be playing second-tier British rugby league in the coming year.

Another issue for coach Rowley to contend with is the happiness of his players. If certain characters have a run on the sidelines, it’s fair to assume they won’t be too happy. This is a team with big-name players, big characters and big egos. It will be a test of Rowley’s managerial skills, no doubt, but it’d take a brave man to back against him leading his side to glory this season.

Everything is in place for Leigh to make the step up to the top tier. But, the question remains, can they handle the pressure when the business end of the season arrives around once again?

The Centurions start their preseason schedule this Sunday when they host Wigan Warriors at Leigh Sports Village in the Battle of the Borough.

 Their first match in the 2016 Kingstone Press Championship is against Batley Bulldogs at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium on Sunday 7th February.

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