Leigh Leopards star’s ‘burning desire’ for Wembley return after missing 2023 triumph

Ben Olawumi
Leigh Leopards lift 2023 Challenge Cup, Ricky Leutele

Ricky Leutele had to watch on from the sidelines as Leigh Leopards lifted the Challenge Cup in 2023

“Deep down, I know that I didn’t earn that medal.” Ricky Leutele had to sit out of Leigh Leopards’ Challenge Cup final triumph last year through injury, and is now desperate to play on the Wembley pitch in 2024 with back-to-back trophy lifts targeted.

Incredibly, the Leopards ended a 52-year wait for a Challenge Cup last August when they beat Hull KR under the famous arch in the capital courtesy of Lachlan Lam’s drop goal in golden point extra time.

The scenes of jubilation which followed will be etched into the memories of all connected to Leigh for the rest of time, and Leutele was more than involved in them.

But having needed surgery on a spinal cord injury sustained in a win at Salford Red Devils the month prior, a piece of that victory is – and always will be – missing for the centre, who had actually scored in the 2022 Challenge Cup final for Huddersfield Giants, who lost out in dramatic circumstances to Wigan Warriors at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

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Leigh Leopards star’s ‘burning desire’ for Wembley return after missing 2023 triumph

Leigh began their 2024 Challenge Cup campaign yesterday afternoon on home soil, beating Championship outfit Featherstone Rovers 26-14 in a contest which hung in the balance for much of the 80 minutes.

Leutele was the provider of two quickfire second half tries which made the difference in the end, teeing up both Josh Charnley & Matt Moylan to cross.

Ricky Leutele celebrates try in Challenge Cup final
Ricky Leutele celebrates his try in the 2022 Challenge Cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

And catching up with Love Rugby League post-match, he stressed how important the cup is this year, both to him and his team-mates.

The ex-Samoa international said: “For me personally, I want to go back and experience Wembley by playing on the pitch and hopefully by earning a medal.

“There’s a burning desire there… it’s a massive driving factor for me and for the team as well to go back-to-back, we’re all on the same page. It’s a hard task for us, but the boys are up for it.

“To see the boys get the win (last year at Wembley), it makes it more of a burning fire in my belly to go back and get a win for myself, and for the team and the town to go back-to-back as well.

“Last year, the club, the team, Lammy, Derek, everyone, they all made me feel a part of it.

“My family felt like a part of it as well, the people here made everyone in the squad feel like we all won it together, but deep down I know that I didn’t earn that medal so it’s a driving factor and a goal for me this year to go back to Wembley and earn it.

“I got to cross that bridge (of dealing with missing out on the final) early after I had my surgery, and I was happy for everyone that got to play and experience it all, because I’d experienced Tottenham the year before, just without coming away with the win.

“The occasion (in 2022) is a memory that I’ll hold forever in my heart. It’s a hard task to get to a Challenge Cup final and try to win it, so it’s a great experience.

“I didn’t get to experience playing at Wembley, it was at Tottenham, and being at Wembley last year on the sidelines, playing there is definitely something I want to experience. It’s an awesome place.”

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Ricky Leutele: ‘We’re not bothered who we have to face in the quarters… we just have to turn up with the right attitude’

Leigh were 14-4 up come the break against Featherstone courtesy of Umyla Hanley‘s first-half hat-trick, but for the final 10 minutes after Gareth Gale’s try, were under the pump and had to grind out a win to progress.

Ricky Leutele, Josh Charnley
Leigh Leopards duo Ricky Leutele (left) & Josh Charnley (right) celebrate a win in 2023

With their spot in tomorrow night’s quarter-final draw now secured however, centre Leutele insists they’re just focused on utilising every bit of success to build confidence up, just as they did last year following a slow start.

The 33-year-old said: “We wanted to focus on our defence all week, but credit to Fev because they turned up with a lot of energy, aggression and they came out to play.

“We got the job done pretty well in the end, it’s just frustrating for us in certain areas. We just move onto the next round now, and we’re looking forward to it when it comes.

“We’re not bothered who we have to face in the quarters. We just have to turn up with the right attitude.

“The boys got a lot of confidence last year from the cup run as a whole, and I know we haven’t started the year off as we’d have liked this year, but we’re putting the right building blocks in place and trying to build that confidence again now.

“We’re looking good, we’ll keep our feet grounded and stay humble along the way as we continue to work hard.”

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