Leigh Leopards coach provides fascinating insight on wider impact of 2023 Challenge Cup triumph

Ben Olawumi
Leigh Leopards Challenge Cup trophy Alamy

Leigh Leopards lift the Challenge Cup in 2023

Leigh Leopards boss Adrian Lam says that he and his players have memories that will ‘remain in their hearts forever’ after last year’s Challenge Cup triumph, but has detailed why the success meant more than just a trophy lift and provided an insight into the impact on the local area.

Leigh beat Hull KR 17-16 under the Wembley arch last August, lifting the Challenge Cup as a newly-promoted club and in their first year under the ‘Leopards’ tagline.

In what was the first-ever Challenge Cup final to require golden point extra time, Adrian’s son – Lachlan – kicked the winning one-pointer with his drop goal sealing victory and sparking scenes of jubilation which carried on into the next day’s trophy parade back in sunny Leyth.

In a small North West town with a population of circa 45,000, thousands upon thousands lined the streets for that parade, celebrating the club’s first Challenge Cup triumph in 52 years and just a third ever.

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Leigh Leopards coach provides fascinating insight on wider impact of 2023 Challenge Cup triumph

Eight months on, almost to the day, Lam’s side meet KR again in the competition this evening, this time in the quarter-finals up at Craven Park.

Lachlan Lam kicks winning drop goal
Lachlan Lam kicks the winning drop goal for Leigh Leopards in the 2023 Challenge Cup final against Hull KR at Wembley

And while Leopards chief Lam described fond memories of last year’s cup success on a personal level, he detailed just what it meant to the club and the town.

He said: “The Challenge Cup final was one of the greatest moments for this club in the last century and one that we were all grateful to be a part of.

“You never want that to end, and the season start again… it’s come round so quickly, but there’s some memories that we’ll always have in our hearts.

“That’s not just for me and the players, but for the whole town. It’s an important part of who we are at the moment and what we’re building here.

“Our fans haven’t had much to cheer about over the last 50 years, and this has really given them some hope. It’s a breath of fresh air for them to be able to come down and support their team who they know are in with a chance of winning every week.

“Other supporters of other sports that don’t follow rugby league, I think they’d know who we are now, and it’s important that we’ve etched our name into history and folklore.

“As a club, we’ve gt ourselves an identity for people to watch and support. We’re proud of that. We’ve still got a lot of work to do on the field, and with us moving forward, it’s only the start of what we’re going to be.

We’re happy with the direction the club’s heading in, and that memory last year, I think it was one of the greatest upsets in sporting history – not so much against Hull KR, but winning it overall, and we’re grateful for those moments.”

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Embracing the ‘underdog’ tag nothing new to Leigh

After that final last year, Leigh struggled with the ‘Wembley high’ and after two wins in their last six Super League games of the season, stumbled into the play-offs where KR knocked them out at the first hurdle.

Adrian Lam Leigh Leopards Alamy
Leigh Leopards coach Adrian Lam celebrates their Challenge Cup final victory

Results wise, the ‘slump’ has continued on into this year, but for quite a different reason. Plagued by injuries to big hitters in their ranks, the Leopards have won just one of their six Super League games so far this year, beating Championship outfit Featherstone Rovers in the last round of the cup to reach the last eight.

Accordingly, up against a Robins side who have won five of their first seven in the league, and stuck 40 on fellow Super League side Salford Red Devils in the last round of the cup, Leigh head to Craven Park with the ‘underdog’ tag once again having to be embraced.

Lam said: “It’s our trophy to hold at the moment, and we’ve got that in the back of our minds at the moment.

“We need to make sure we go up there and give our absolute all, and I’m sure the players will.

“Our focus is on improving and making sure that we defend better than what we have been doing, so there’s a lot of different angles that we can take, but this is a massive one for us.

“Hull KR will be emotionally connected to that, and we’ve got to match it.”

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‘It’s created part of the DNA of this club and this team now’

Leigh have been on a constant upward trajectory since Lam’s arrival at the start of 2022. Inheriting just a handful of players following a year in Super League which had seen the then-known Centurions win just two games, the Papua New Guinean had it all to do.

Starting from scratch, he assembled a star-studded squad which swept everyone in the Championship aside. Lifting the 1895 Cup at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in May 2022, Leigh would be promoted come October that year with victory in the Million Pound Game against Batley Bulldogs.

John Asiata lifts the Challenge Cup trophy.
Leigh Leopards captain John Asiata lifts the trophy after winning the Challenge Cup final at Wembley

And since then, the rise has been meteoric – with last year’s Challenge Cup heroics unheard of to a generation of the club’s supporters.

But boss Lam believes that rise would have continued with or without the silverware to boot, as he explained: “I think we’re a lot more known now or respected, but I feel that with the five-year plan in place, it’s certainly who we’ve wanted to be and it’s created part of the DNA of this club and this team now.

“”A lot of the players that played in that game have played in Challenge Cup finals before, so we’ve got that experience here.

“On the bigger picture as a club, I think we’re exactly where we need to be apart from the fact that we want to be higher up the ladder in Super League, obviously.

“Off the field, bigger numbers at home games, all that corporate side of things is flying. We’ve done a really good job, and as a coach I’m proud to be a part of this.

“We’re getting better, we’re growing, and who knows where we’ll be in another 24 months?”

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