Kai O’Donnell hails ‘remarkable’ Leigh Leopards journey: From 1895 Cup winners to Challenge Cup finalists within a year

Drew Darbyshire
Kai O'Donnell Leigh Leopards

Kai O'Donnell (left) and Josh Charnley (right) in action for Leigh Leopards

Leigh Leopards forward Kai O’Donnell is preparing preparing to walk out at Wembley just one year on from helping Adrian Lam’s side win the 1895 Cup.

It’s amazing what 12 months can do in rugby league. This time last year Leigh were in the Championship vying for a spot in Super League having just won the 1895 Cup final on Cup finals day.

Now, the Leopards are flying high in Super League, sitting third in the table and looking like certainties for a play-off spot at the end of the year.

And whilst this piece is being written, Leigh are preparing to play in their first Challenge Cup final since 1971.

The Leopards take on Hull KR at Wembley on Saturday in the first Challenge Cup final since 1986 that hasn’t featured Wigan, St Helens, Warrington or Leeds.

“It’s a pretty remarkable journey,” O’Donnell told Love Rugby League.

“I think what we are doing at the moment has never been done in sporting history. It’s quite remarkable and I’m stoked to be a part of it.

“It has been building nicely, we’ve learnt how important rugby league is in this country and to our town.

“I’m learning a lot about it, I learned a bit about it last year from when we played in the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup.

“I remember watching Huddersfield-Wigan thinking ‘how good would it be to play in that?’ and here we are.”

O’Donnell, who has signed a fresh two-year deal with the Leopards this week, has praised the club’s hierarchy for their rise to the top this season.

“Hats off to Lammy, Derek (Beaumont, owner) and Chris Chester (head of rugby) for what they’ve done,” O’Donnell added.

“It’s quite remarkable to be able to build a squad up in the Championship and then go up to Super League and achieve all this, so hats off to them to build the squad and coach it to this level and to have the backing from Derek as well.”

Asked what it will be like to play at Wembley, O’Donnell replied: “For me that’s one of the main reasons I play, to win games and to win big games, so I can’t wait to feel that atmosphere, that buzz and the nerves around it. I’m really excited.”

Leigh Leopards star Kai O’Donnell answers whether he’d be open to representing English heritage on international stage

The 24-year-old back-rower was born and raised in Australia and qualifies to represent England on the international scene through his mother, who is a Geordie and moved over to Australia when she was 14.

Back in April, Yorkshire Live reported that England selectors were showing interest in O’Donnell.

Asked if he’d be open to representing his English heritage one day, O’Donnell replied: “I’m a pretty passionate Aussie, so I wouldn’t want to do it just to get an international cap.

“I’d hate it if someone did that to me and I couldn’t represent Australia, if it was the same situation. I’d rather someone who was passionate and born here to play for their country.”

Leigh face Hull KR in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, 3pm kick-off.

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