Inside the rise of Leigh Leopards’ (not so) secret weapon with big kudos from Adrian Lam

Ben Olawumi
Umyla Hanley, Leigh Leopards badge, Adrian Lam

Umyla Hanley has had to be patient in waiting for his chance at Leigh Leopards

Umyla Hanley has had to wait a hell of a long time for his opportunity at Leigh Leopards, but now he’s got it, it comes as no surprise to head coach Adrian Lam that the youngster is taking it with both hands.

Hanley’s first steps into the senior game actually came under Lam at Wigan Warriors, scoring a hat-trick against Leigh – then Centurions – in August 2021, that his 10th first-team game.

But following Lam’s exit from the DW Stadium at the end of the 2021 season, Hanley – the son of rugby league legend Ellery – would struggle for any game time, appearing just once for Wigan in 2022 while gaining some experience in the Championship on loan at Newcastle Thunder.

Coincidentally, his first game for Thunder – in March 2022 – came in a defeat to Leigh, who Lam had taken over in the off-season and was en-route to getting back into Super League.

Umyla Hanley, Harry Smith, Wigan Warriors, Leigh Centurions
August 2021: Wigan Warriors Harry Smith celebrates with team-mate Umyla Hanley as the latter scores one of his three tries against Leigh Centurions

It came as little surprise that Leigh – under Lam – were Hanley‘s choice for his next destination when leaving the Warriors at the end of the 2022 campaign, but even then opportunities were limited.

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How and why youngster Hanley has had to play the waiting game at Leigh

Though throughout a stellar 2023 which saw Leigh lift the Challenge Cup and make the Super League play-offs, the youngster was kept out of the side by some more senior figures.

On the wings, where his chance has now finally come, free-scoring senior duo of wingers in Josh Charnley & Tom Briscoe rarely missed a minute of action.

Playing only two games for the newly rebranded Leopards, both in the centres including a Challenge Cup tie against Championship outfit York, Hanley was again forced to go out on loan for some game time – League 1 side Rochdale Hornets giving him five run outs throughout the year.

But after a start to 2024 which has seen Leigh decimated by injuries, after a torn calf for Briscoe, the ex-Wigan man finally got his chance against Leeds Rhinos last week.

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Leigh boss Adrian Lam takes us inside the rise of the Leopards’ (not so) secret weapon Umyla Hanley

Speaking on Hanley, who turned 22 earlier this month, Leopards boss Lam told Love Rugby League: “He was one of the players who certainly stood out in pre-season for me and deserved a start, and was unlucky to miss out on our first 17 team.

Umyla Hanley, Lachlan Lam
July 2022: Umyla Hanley tackles soon-to-be Leigh team-mate Lachlan Lam in an appearance on loan for Newcastle Thunder

“But I thought his performance the other night (against Leeds) was really strong, I think he’s going to get better every week if he plays.

“Once he gets that trust and feeling that he belongs in Super League and in our team, I think he will go to another level.

“I think there were a couple of small mistakes he made the other night that we’ve had a chat about, and that’s part of his development and growth.

“I’m sure he’ll sort that out, but these are the opportunities that we get when the senior players get injured like they have been doing… Umyla might not have got the opportunity before that, but by doing that, I thought he was outstanding and probably one of the best players on the field.”

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‘I think Umyla has taken the opportunity with open hands… by players playing these games and getting big minutes, it can only help their form’

With a positive performance in the 22-16 defeat, scoring a try and seeing another disallowed having just strayed into touch, Hanley looks good value to keep that spot for the foreseeable future, particularly given the nature of Briscoe’s blow.

Along with club captain John Asiata, who picked up pretty much the same injury in the same game against St Helens, former Leeds flier Briscoe is expected to be out for some time, with the earliest we’re likely to see him back somewhere around Round 10.

Lam continued: “If he (Hanley) gets a run of games and consistency, then he probably stakes a claim to fight for his place in the first team. That’s what I’m hoping for.

“It puts pressure on players and we need that right across the whole squad, not just in that wing position, but right through the whole squad.

“There are players pushing for that position, we’ve got a reserve side now and those players had a really good win against Leeds at the weekend. They are certainly pushing players and putting them under pressure.

“I think Umyla has taken the opportunity with open hands, and like every player there – Frankie Halton hasn’t played much time in the last couple of years, Owen Trout hasn’t played much time – the list goes on and on.

“Even Brad Dwyer hasn’t played much time, but I think by players playing these games and getting big minutes, it can only help their form.”

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