Leigh Leopards head coach Adrian Lam believes Saturday’s Challenge Cup final at Wembley is the ‘biggest game in the club’s history’, with a chance to bring the trophy back to the town for the first time in over half a century.
No secret has been made of their success so far in 2023, with the Super League newcomers taking the top flight by storm, currently sat 3rd level on points with Lam’s former side Wigan Warriors.
Dropping the ‘Centurions’ tagline to end a 27-year association, the ‘Leopards’ were launched in October ready for the new season, and have now earned themselves a first shot at a Challenge Cup triumph since 1971. It comes just over a year after success in the 1895 Cup final against Featherstone Rovers, played prior to last year’s Challenge Cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The Papua New Guinean, now 52, hadn’t even celebrated his first birthday when Leigh last won the elite competition, and recognises the significance of that potentially happening this weekend.
Adrian Lam: Challenge Cup final is ‘biggest game in club’s history’
He said: “Even just for our fans to be able to talk about possibly going to Wembley, and then to actually be going, I think the journey they’ve been on so far this year with us has been incredible.
“To think that 12 months ago, we were preparing for the curtain raiser with the 1895 Cup final to now just over 12 months later being in the biggest game of the club’s history, it’s just been incredible.
“It’s been a long time between successes for the town and people of Leigh. They won it in 1921, and I don’t think there will be many, if any, fans there now that were alive at that time.
“Even ’71, a lot of our new fans probably weren’t alive then to see that success either. It just proves they don’t come around too often, so we understand the massiveness of it, and the players have bought into it from the very start.
“With these opportunities come times when we need to step up as a group and get the job done. We’ve had some good times lately, and with the five-year plan we’ve got in place as a club, there’s hopefully more good times ahead. This is certainly one thought that we need to get up for and play well in.”
Leigh Leopards boss discusses ‘golden opportunity’ to bring it home
Lam took charge at the Leigh Sports Village, now infamously dubbed the ‘Leopards’ Den’, back in November 2021.
The club were reeling from their third unsuccessful attempt at surviving in Super League, winning just two games in the whole of that 2021 campaign having been propelled into it late on as the ’12th club’ following Toronto Wolfpack’s demise during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Since, there has been very little not to be excited about if you’re a Leigh fan, and the Leopards chief spoke to Love Rugby League at Monday’s press conference day about harnessing a ‘golden opportunity’ for silverware on Saturday.
Lam said: “We’re only young as a club, we’ve got a five-year plan in place and there are good times here at the moment, but there will be better times that lie ahead.
“What’s in front of us, we’ve certainly earned the right to go and take part in that. We know as a town that it’s been a long time apart for these chances to come around. It’s a golden opportunity for us and the players want to be successful, not just for themselves but for everyone involved.
“We want to lift that trophy and bring it back through the town, showing the community they’ve got a team to be proud of.
“We haven’t got there by luck, we’ve earned the right to be there. Our last 20 games have been everything that we’ve wanted them to be. Some of the players are playing the best rugby of their life, so my message is ‘just trust each other, back each other and go and get the job done’.”
Boss discusses close-knit pack
Plenty of records have been shattered by Lam’s men in his time at the helm, both internally and externally.
Amongst all the success in the second tier last year, the then-Centurions hammered York 100-4 at the LSV, a scoreline which is now Leigh’s club record win.
More recently, Lam won the Super League Manager of the Month award. Son Lachlan, one of the standouts of the Leopards’ season, also scooped the Player of the Month. Not only were both the first time Leigh have ever had someone in their ranks awarded those two awards, it was the first time ever a father and son had both been in possession of them at the same time.
On achieving so much so quickly, the boss added: “The last 18 months has been awesome for us, and we couldn’t have asked for much more from the group. The way that we’ve developed as a group, we’ve had players out there that no one has ever seen before and we’ve resurrected careers where other clubs said they were over.
“We’ve brought over new signings from the NRL, and it’s all happened in the last 18 months. They’re a close-knit bunch of boys, and I think it’s just important that we stick together to put together a perfect 80 minutes.
“It takes the personality of each person to help develop that. We’ve got a great strong leadership group, and it’s important that they stand up to make sure we keep our standards high, that’s played a big part in it.
“Most importantly, it’s the environment we create to help them get along with each other. You’ve seen how close they are in games, and [Saturday], it’s one of those games where they’re going to need each other at certain points, so we’re excited.”