When Leigh Centurions were admitted back into Super League in December, many around the club knew it was always likely to be a tough old road.
Led by now-departed head coach John Duffy and funded by ambitious owner Derek Beaumont, an independent panel led by Lord Jonathan Caine determined that the Centurions were most likely to be “competitive on the field of play” upon their return to the top flight.
But almost three months into the 2021 season, the honeymoon period has already ended in what is already looking an uphill battle for a Leigh side looking to avoid immediate relegation – a fate they suffered via the Million Pound Game back in 2017.
With 11 straight league defeats to their name and far and away the leakiest defence in the competition, the road to survival is looking ever-gloomier for a side struggling to fill the shoes of big-spending Canadian outfit Toronto Wolfpack.
A “reality check” on home soil
Leigh’s start to the new season continues to be a stuttering one, despite changes in personnel, both on and off the field.
A difficult opening to 2021 ultimately cost former head coach John Duffy his job, with head of rugby Gareth Carvell also shown the exit door after a 40-16 hammering away at Hull KR, their ninth straight defeat in all competitions.
It was the Robins’ cross-city rivals, Brett Hodgson’s Hull FC, who provided the latest setback – a sobering 12-try rout in beautiful playing conditions at Leigh Sports Village.
Kurt Haggerty has taken over the reigns as interim Centurions boss while a permanent successor is found, and while performances have improved somewhat since he was given the responsibility of leading the team forward, competition points have continued to elude them.
Setbacks are part of the course for any side making the step up to a new division, but when the same mistakes keep occurring week after week, questions must be asked about who is truly capable of steering the Centurions’ ship.
“We started the game poorly and never recovered,” Haggerty said after Saturday’s heavy defeat. “We just weren’t on it.
“We can probably come up with 100 reasons for that [performance] but we couldn’t come up with a solution.
“They are an honest group of players, though, and there were no excuses for that. I thought Hull were good but I didn’t think they were brilliant.
“At times we looked threatening, but defensively we weren’t consistent enough,” he added.
Haggerty was able to turn to old frailties, namely their inability to keep sides out on their own goal-line, but more needs to be done at both ends of the field if Leigh are serious about staying in the division.
Are there any positives to take?
The Centurions’ latest result has without doubt left a sour taste in the mouth, but it hasn’t been all doom and gloom over recent weeks, despite what recent scorelines might suggest.
Ryan Brierley crossed twice during Saturday’s defeat, taking his season tally to six and recording his 150th try for the club in the process.
“I’m very happy for Ryan Brierley,” Haggerty said of his latest display. “To get his 150th try for the club is a fantastic achievement for him and he did some good things.”
Whether deployed at half-back or full-back, the 29-year-old has always shown his natural attacking instincts, magnified by the four-pointers his performances have continued to yield.
And in new recruit Brendan Elliot, only recently back after a lengthy spell out with a knee injury suffered last August, they have a player of real pedigree who is still readjusting to the rigours of professional rugby league, not to mention a new competition.
Very soon a new head coach will lead the Centurions into the second half of the season. Whether that person will be Haggerty or someone else remains to be seen.
But what is clear is the task at hand.
Leigh are already four points adrift at the bottom of Super League, and with closest rival Salford buoyed by victory at Huddersfield and 10th-placed Wakefield enjoying a relative purple patch of their own, the competition’s new boys cannot afford to let that gap widen.
Trips to Warrington, Leeds and Hull FC all await the struggling Centurions before they next return to Leigh Sports Village. Three games that look difficult on paper, but in this division, there are very few free passes.
A new coach may bring fresh ideas and a renewed sense of spirit and togetherness, but Super League survival hinges on points, not team camaraderie.
That first competitive win of 2021 can’t come soon enough for Haggerty, Beaumont and everyone else involved with the club.
So often dubbed the ‘great entertainers’ for their fearless displays against all odds, Leigh must find a sturdiness and resilience to add to their arsenal if they are to defy all odds and quash their relegation tags.