Adrian Lam has detailed how he and his side are using their 1895 Cup win in 2022 to their advantage as they now look to book a spot in the main event of the Challenge Cup final next month.
In the 14 months or so that have passed by since the Leythers beat Featherstone Rovers at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to win the competition sponsored by owner Derek Beaumont, the transformation at the club has been nothing shy of remarkable.
Papua New Guinean Lam oversaw a side that went on to seal promotion back to the top tier at a canter, beating Batley Bulldogs in the play-off final, and their upward trajectory has only continued.
Following an off-season re-brand which saw the club drop its ‘Centurions’ tagline and change to the ‘Leopards’, Leigh are now – without doubt – one of the most exciting clubs in Super League off the field with pre-match spectacles put on at the ‘Leopards’ Den’ prior to every home game.
On it, a remarkable campaign so far in 2023 sees them sit second on the ladder amongst the elite, trailing leaders Catalans Dragons by just two points having won 12 of their last 13 in all competitions.
Success against St Helens in the Challenge Cup semi-final on Saturday would see Lam’s side book the club’s first Wembley trip in 36 years, and the coach is utilising everything in his power to get them there.
Leigh reflect on last year’s 1895 Cup triumph
Krisnan Inu, Ben Reynolds, Blake Ferguson, Edwin Ipape and Sam Stone all crossed for tries in the 2022 final to bring home a first cup for Leigh since the 2013 Northern Rail Cup. Of those, only Reynolds and star man Ipape remain in Lam’s squad.
In fact, seven of the 17 men named by the boss in that final squad have now departed the club and moved onto pastures new as the Leopards themselves introduced a whole host of new faces for 2023.
Nonetheless, Lam is counting on that experience coming in handy. He said: “There’s been a lot of changes since then, but I think it’s incredible how we played in that as a curtain-raiser to the main game and now we’re 80 minutes away from potentially playing in the main game.
“It’s just unbelievable to see how that’s unfolded and the journey that the group has been on. There’s a lot of new faces in this group, its been hard work to try and get them up to the speed of where we were.
“The players who were here last year though, we’ve talked about that [triumph] at certain times in this Challenge Cup campaign because I think we learned a lot through that. I’m looking forward to those players stepping up in the big games.”
Adrian Lam: We’re excited for the future at Leigh Leopards
Over the course of the season, the 52-year-old has frequently used the old cliché of taking things one game at a time.
This will be the first ever season in Super League which hasn’t seen the Leopards relegated at the first time of asking. With silverware still being chased on two fronts, Lam remained level headed but described how excited he is for the future.
He also paid tribute to the backing of owner Beaumont, who has played a big part in the success that the Leopards have enjoyed off the field this season.
Lam added: “Derek’s pretty excited about it! He’ll be somewhere around here with his leopard shoes on and leopard tail suit, whatever it is that he’s got on! I’m really happy for Derek.
“Obviously with our sport and the way that it is, it’s important that our owners keep propping up clubs and financially looking after clubs. I think he’s put a lot into our club over a long period of time.
“I’m just grateful that he’s in a position here to enjoy this moment and whatever’s next for him but I’ll certainly see him at some stage during the week.
“To think we’re here now and even the victory yesterday [against Salford], with backs to the wall, was just incredible. We’ve won with 11 players at times this year and the challenges we’ve gotten through have put us in a really good place.
“Whatever happens this year we’re very excited about because it’s still open, but we’re building nicely for next year and the years to follow.”
Lam recalls his own Challenge Cup memories
Though he’s not originally from these shores, Lam is no stranger to the Challenge Cup and knows what the competition means to all involved.
He spent four years at Wigan Warriors as a player, also going on to manage the same club. And while with Leigh’s neighbours in a playing capacity, the then-half-back reached two Challenge Cup finals.
Both came against bitter rivals St Helens, losing out at the Millennium Stadium in 2004 as his time at the DW Stadium was coming to an end. Two years prior however, when the pair met in the competition’s showpiece at Murrayfield in Edinburgh, it was Lam and his teammates who reigned supreme. That day is one he’ll never forget.
He recalled the 21-12 victory: “Unbelievable. I get goosebumps when you mention it now because it was a long time ago, over 20 years now, but the memory of the build-up and of that week at Murrayfield up in Scotland remains clear.
“I think there was around 73,000 there. Just the build-up to the week and then how the game unfolded so weirdly, but to have won it at the end and just the excitement of the fans at the end and the celebrations after it were unbelievable.
“I’ve got great memories of it, certainly one of the highlights of my career as a player.”