|Full name||Leigh Centurions Rugby League Club|
|Founded||1878 (as Leigh RFC)|
Leigh Sports Village
Hilton Park, Leigh
Charles Street, Leigh
Mather Lane, Leigh
|Competition||Kingstone Press Championship|
|2013 RFL Championship||4th|
|Challenge Cups||2 (1920-21 1970-71)|
|Championships||2 (1905–06, 1981–82)|
|Lancashire Cup||4 (1952–53, 1955–56, 1970–71, 1981–82)|
|BBC2 Floodlit Trophy||2 (1969–70, 1972–73)|
|National League Cup||4 (2004, 2006, 2011, 2013)|
|Trans-Pennine Cup||1 (2001)|
|Most capped||503 - Albert Worrall|
|Most points||2,492 - John Woods|
The club was founded in 1878 as Leigh Rugby Football Club and is one of the original twenty-two clubs that formed the Northern Rugby Football Union in 1895. Leigh have been Rugby League Champions twice, in 1906 and 1982, and won the Challenge Cup twice, in 1921 and 1971. The club adopted the name Centurions for the 1995–96 season.
- 1 History
- 2 New stadium
- 3 2014 Squad
- 4 2014 transfers
- 5 Honours
- 6 Coaching history
- 7 Players earning international caps while at Leigh
- 8 Other notable players
- 9 Records
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Leigh RFC was founded in 1878 by a surveyor named Fred Ulph. Leigh's first practice match was on 5 October 1878 at Buck's Farm in Pennington and their first game was against Eccles two weeks later.
In 1879, the club moved to a field behind the Three Crowns in Bedford and played there for 10 years. Leigh came to the attention of the wider district in 1885 when they had a 23 match unbeaten run with 21 wins and 2 draws. As attendances grew, improvements were made to the ground and the field's slope was levelled.
The club moved to Frog Hall Field, later known as Mather Lane in 1889. The pitch was drained and levelled, a 10 foot high hoarding was built around the ground and 500-seater stand was erected. The first game at Mather Lane was played on 7 September 1889 against Aspull and Leigh forward James Pendlebury scored the first try in front of a 2,000 crowd.
The 1894/95 season saw a new stand open on the south side in a momentous year for Rugby football. After years of arguments with the Rugby Football Union concerning player expenses, 22 teams including Leigh decided to form a breakaway governing body - the Northern Union. The first season of the new game kicked off in September with Leigh recording a 6-3 loss against Leeds. Leigh finished ninth that season. Leigh had a great start in the new Union, they played well and the crowds increased, however they had mixed fortunes over the next few years. As the new century began, Leigh struggled and despite winning the West Lancashire and Border Towns Cup, the crowds and their fortunes dropped dramatically.
In the 1904/05 season; there was a dispute with Wigan in the Challenge Cup game. The game was played on 4 March 1905 and Leigh won 3-0 in front of 13,000 spectators. The Northern Union, after being alerted by Wigan, alleged that Leigh player Dick Silcock had played illegally after being absent from work in the week before the game without a permit breaking the 'working clause'. Leigh were found guilty of fielding an ineligible player and ordered to replay without expenses and for Leigh the gate receipts to be given to the Northern Union. Wigan won the replay 5-0 and Leigh were so incensed that the club considered leaving the Northern Union and starting an Association football club. Leigh became a limited company as a result of this financial blow.
In 1906, Leigh were Northern Union champions after a season with an 80% win rate. Many clubs complained that Leigh had provided themselves with an easy fixture list, ducking the challenge of the stronger clubs and play-offs were brought in.
In 1907/08, Leigh and Wigan were again in conflict in the Lancashire Cup. An attendance record was set when 17,000 spectators watched Leigh and Wigan draw 3-3 at Mather Lane. Leigh lost the replay at Central Park but appealed for another replay because a Wigan player had left the field during the game without the referee's permission, Leigh lost the second replay.
In 1909, Mather Lane was upgraded when the embankment on the popular side was extended and raised giving the ground a capacity of 20,000 spectators. Around this time Leigh named its first coach - Jim Jolley. Over the next few years, Leigh had little success and crowd numbers dropped dramatically.
However, when the First World War began in summer 1914, the Northern Union believed that it would be over by Christmas and the season began as normal. Leigh performed poorly. Competitive rugby was suspended in 1915 until the hostilities ceased.
The inter-war years
Competitive rugby resumed in 1918 with an interim season from January to May. Leigh finished 2nd. Leigh had limited success just after the war and the Leigh directors set about building a new team. They had 19 players and even though their league performances were patchy, they had some success in the cups. In the 1920/21 season, in a round of the Lancashire Cup in which Leigh played Rochdale Hornets, an attendance record was set at Mather Lane when a crowd of 21,500 saw Leigh win 9-7. Leigh reached the final but lost to Broughton Rangers. In 1921 the club won the Challenge Cup with a shock 13-0 victory over Halifax at the Cliff in Broughton, Salford. In 1934, Leigh played under floodlights for the first time, losing 8-25 at London Highfield. Leigh were the first Lancashire side to win the Challenge Cup since 1911.
Over the following seasons were quite successful in the league and cup. The club attracted huge crowds and a Leigh v Wigan derby was guaranteed to draw in the spectators. One such meeting when Leigh met Wigan in the first round of the Challenge Cup in 1923/24, saw a crowd of 33,500 at Mather Lane. However, the 1920s and 1930s were marred by strikes, unemployment and periods of economic depression. The government levied an entertainment tax of around 20% on gate receipts, at a time when clubs were experiencing difficulties balancing the books. For Leigh the mini-boom was over.
In 1924/25 Leigh slipped to 20th in the league and suffered a record 9-52 defeat in the league game at Central Park on Christmas Day. In December 1925 star player Abe Johnson was transferred to Oldham for £650 and Leigh's decline continued the next season when they slipped to 4th from bottom in the league. The club lost every away match and suffered some heavy defeats as confidence left the team. 1926 was the year of the General Strike and Leigh admitted miners free of charge for many home games. Leigh had a decent season, finishing 7th in the league. Around this time, Mather Lane was improved including the construction of a covered terrace at one end, the doubling in size of the grandstand and an iron bridge was constructed across the canal to give the spectators easier access from the town centre.
Growing financial problems forced Leigh to sell players. In the 1930/31 season, the lack of experienced players had an impact on the field when Leigh won only one away game. The directors decided to ease the financial pressure by reducing players' wages. The players went on strike in response and Leigh were forced to play their reserves. The striking players eventually agreed to take a pay cut. Crowds fell to about 1,000 for home games and one midweek fixture against Swinton saw only 400 spectators. Leigh rallied briefly in 1931/32, encouraged by the return of Abe Johnson, but it didn't last. In the 1932/33 season, things were so bad that the players played for free in several games. The club had major financial problems and a young inexperienced team. Financial support from an outside source was received which enabled the club to continue. Things went from bad to worse in the 1936/37 season when Leigh won only five games all season and finished 3rd from bottom in the league. Gate receipts crashed to an all-time low, with the final home game of the season against Broughton Rangers attracting a crowd of around 250 spectators.
From the start of the next season, a new pay structure was agreed with the players, with each receiving £1 each per game. Leigh lost their best players and any new signings were juniors or free transfers from other clubs. The Rugby League Management Committee visited the club in March and two of its members were co-opted on to the Leigh board until the end of the season and the A-team was scrapped to cut costs. The 1937/38 season opened with some encouraging signs as Leigh beat Rochdale Hornets in the Lancashire Cup, their first win in any competition for 21 games. They took the touring Australians to within 2 points on the opening match of their tour. These were desperate times though and when Dewsbury visited Mather Lane for a mid-week game in November 1937, only 200 spectators were there to see Leigh suffer a record home defeat of 6-64. This prompted the Leigh directors to resign en masse and the Rugby League Management Committee stepped in to prevent the club from folding by guaranteeing their fixtures until the end of the season. The following February, a members club was formed, though the RFL stayed in control until June and Leigh won only one of their last 15 games, again finishing 3rd from bottom.
The club found itself without a ground in August 1940 when Callender's Cable and Construction Company bought the Mather Lane site from the owners, Messrs. George Shaw & Company Ltd of the Leigh Brewery. The new owners needed the ground to store steel drums and cases and they advised Leigh that they were unable to let them have a lease on the ground. Leigh's last game at Mather Lane was a War Emergency League fixture against St Helens on 27 April 1940 where a crowd of only 300 spectators saw the visitors win 5-16. Leigh had intended playing in the 1941/42 Lancashire War Emergency League but weeks before the new season began, the Rugby Football League passed a resolution that clubs could only participate if they had a home ground. Leigh arranged to play at Hindsford Football Club's ground but this was over-ruled by the RFL and Leigh ceased operations for the duration of the Second World War.
In 1946/47, the Rugby Football League drew up the fixture list but Leigh's name was omitted and it was only when local businessman James Hilton made a personal and impassioned plea to the Rugby Football League that Leigh were included. In January 1946, a public meeting at Leigh Liberal Club approved a motion to re-launch the club as Leigh RLFC. In 1947, the club moved to Kirkhall Lane headquarters and in 1953 floodlights were installed at a cost of £4,100. The ground saw a record home crowd of 31,326 attend a Challenge Cup tie with St Helens in the same year. Later, Kirkhall Lane was officially renamed Hilton Park after James Hilton.
Leigh signed Jimmy Ledgard from Dewsbury in January 1948 for a then record fee of £2,650. Joe Egan joined Leigh for a record £5,000 fee in October 1950 and succeeded Emlyn Jenkins as player / coach. Leigh finished 4th in the league in his first season. In Egan's second season, Leigh made it to the Lancashire Cup Final and a Challenge Cup semi-final as well as finishing 7th in the league. On Saturday 27 October 1951, 33,230 spectators saw Leigh lose 14-6 to Wigan in the final of the Lancashire Cup at Station Road, Swinton. The club repeated that league placing a year later, this time helping Leigh win the Lancashire Cup in front of a crowd of 34,785 at Swinton. The 14th March 1953 brought the biggest recorded crowd at Hilton Park when 31,326 crammed in to see St Helens win 12-3, to make up for their Lancashire Cup defeat.
An injury to Egan saw him sit out the entire 1953–54 season and his absence hit Leigh hard and the club finished 13th and interest in cup competitions also finished early. Joe tried to make a comeback the following season but was forced to retire, although once more the club enjoyed runs in the cup competitions, losing to Barrow in the Lancashire Cup semi-final and then getting knocked out of the Challenge Cup by Featherstone. Joe Egan remained with the club as coach and the team was successful in his final season, finishing 11th but winning the Lancashire Cup for a second time with a resounding 26-9 success over Widnes.
Leigh and Bradford Northern were the first rugby league clubs to stage matches on a Sunday in December 1954, although there was opposition from the Sunday Observance lobby. The 1955–56 season saw the introduction of a tournament titled the ITV Rediffusion Cup. Eight clubs participated in a series of games played at football grounds in the London area, with Warrington eventually running out 43-18 victors over Leigh at Loftus Road.
Alex Murphy era
Alex Murphy joined Leigh as player-coach in 1966. In 1971, Leigh reached the Rugby League Challenge Cup final and defeated Leeds, 24-7. Murphy left Leigh on 20 May 1971 to become player-coach at Warrington.
In 1978, John Woods played and scored in every game as Leigh secured the Second Division. In 1982, Leigh were Champions for the second time, as Alex Murphy guided them to a tense 13-4 victory at Whitehaven, after Leigh trailed 4-1 at half time.
The 1981–82 season was memorable as the club lifted the Lancashire Cup and ended the campaign as winners of the Championship for the second time in their history.
Leigh were relegated from First Division in 1985 but bounced back; winning the Second Division Championship in 1985–86, losing one league match. During the season, they twice broke the scoring record for most points in a game against Mansfield Marksmen (76-6) and Keighley (92-2).
Leigh were relegated from the First Division again in 1988 but again won the Second Division title to secure promotion at the first attempt.
Leigh relegated from First Division yet again in 1990 and crippling financial problems are revealed. For the 1990–91 season the club adopted the nickname the Bears, adding a bears emblem to the right breast of the club jerseys. The nickname was only used for one season and did not prove popular.
In January 1991, the club tried to sell its ground to ease cash problems. A consortium offered £200,000 to take over Leigh but the club ended up in administration. Swinton offered to ground share, Station Road, to help Leigh but this offer was refused. Tony Cottrell heads a consortium that takes over the club in 1991 and Alex Murphy is sacked on the eve of the new season.
Kevin Ashcroft takes over and guides the club to promotion behind Sheffield.
Steve Simms is appointed as the club's first overseas coach in 1992. In November 1992, Leigh get High Court reprieve following threat of eviction from Hilton Park. St Helens inflict a new club record defeat with a whopping 64-9 win over Leigh at Knowsley Road. Leigh regain their form however with great wins at Wakefield Trinity, Hull and Sheffield; and finished the season with excellent results at home.
In February 1993, Leigh failed in a bid to buy back Hilton Park for £300,000 but in June, they were offered a reprieve and are allowed to stay for another 12 months. Leigh enter administration in July 1994.
In December 1994, Ian Lucas became head coach of Leigh, the youngest senior coach in the game. Despite victories over title chasing St Helens and Bradford, Leigh are relegated from the top division.
In 1995, the football club Horwich RMI made the decision to move from Horwich, near Bolton, to Hilton Park, changing their name to Leigh RMI in the process. As part of the deal a new company, Grundy Hill Estates, was formed to take over the ownership of the ground. Leigh added "Centurions" to their name for the 1995–96 season.
In 1996, the first tier of British rugby league clubs played the inaugural Super League season and changed from a winter to a summer season. As the sport in Britain entered a new era, it was eight years before Leigh gained promotion to the top level of the game.
In April 1996, Eric Hughes was appointed head coach replacing Ian Lucas who was sacked after Leigh had won only one of its first five games of the season. Hughes was replaced by Keith Latham who was in charge until 1998. Norman Turley was head coach in 1998, Leigh finish bottom of the table with a succession of heavy defeats.
Australian Paul Terzis was coach of Leigh from 1999 to 2003. His reign was notable for a number of 'near misses' as Leigh attempted to win promotion to Super League. In 2000, Leigh made it through to the Grand Final before losing 13-12 to Dewsbury. In 2001 Leigh recorded a shock Challenge Cup victory over Super League Salford, finished 9 points clear at the top of the Northern Ford Premiership winning 26 from 28 league games and claimed the Trans-Pennine Cup. However, Leigh were defeated in the play-off semi-finals and Widnes went on to win the Grand Final and a place in Super League.
In 2002 and 2003, the relegated Super League sides, Huddersfield and Salford remained fully professional teams. Thus, their full-time fitness and coaching led to defeat in successive grand finals for Leigh. A consortium saved Leigh from administration on the eve of the 2003 season. Towards the end of the 2003 season Paul Terzis was sacked.
In October 2003, Darren Abram was appointed head coach, with a view to taking them into Super League. When Halifax were relegated to play in the 2004 National League competition, their financial troubles meant they were unable to retain a full-time team and struggled, paving the way for Leigh to go about achieving their dream. Whitehaven were the opponents when Leigh won the National League One Grand Final 32-16 (after extra time, 16-16 at full-time) in 2004, thus securing promotion to Super League.
Leigh's Super League season of 2005 proved a disaster and the club were relegated to National League One after winning just two games. Abram resigned in August 2005 after a disagreement with the board, who felt unable to offer him the full-time contract he wanted for 2006 if the club were not in Super League. Tommy Martyn and Heath Cruckshank both try their hand at the job before Tony Benson was appointed head coach in September 2005. Leigh's relegation from Super League had been all but confirmed at the time of his appointment.
In July 2006, Leigh won the Northern Rail Cup after defeating Hull Kingston Rovers 22-18 at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool. It was the second time the club had won that particular trophy having also triumphed in the 2004 final against the same opposition. A loss to Batley in the play-offs signals the end of Tony Benson's reign.
Following Leigh's 23-22 defeat to Batley in the 2006 NL1 play offs, the club's future was thrown into doubt. The club's owners decided to part company with Tony Benson causing some of the back room staff and management to resign in support of their colleague. The uncertainty also caused a number of the club's playing staff to leave.
Darren Shaw was appointed as coach of the club in October 2006, however, it was found that Darren Shaw did not have the necessary qualifications to coach at this level and he was moved to the position of Football Manager, while assistant coach Paul Rowley was appointed as First Team Coach.
In January 2007, the club announced it would drop the Centurions name ahead of its move to a new stadium at Leigh Sports Village. The club changed the name of its stadium back to Hilton Park after renaming it the Coliseum a number of years earlier. However, due to an influx of letters, e-mails and telephone calls from Leigh supporters asking the club to re-think its decision; this decision was reversed in May.
Darren Shaw's first full season in charge of Leigh ended with a 19-6 play off defeat away to Whitehaven. Leigh's 2007 season was one dogged by inconsistency. Convincing wins were often followed by heavy defeats as Shaw was forced to field a number of youngsters due to injury problems. The unsettled nature of the side in 2007 was reflected by the fact that Shaw gave debuts to over 20 players over the course of the season.
Despite the disappointing end to the 2007 season, Shaw was given a contract to coach Leigh for the 2008 season. After a promising start to the 2008 season, Shaw tendered his resignation following defeats to Salford, Widnes and Featherstone Rovers. Darren Shaw was replaced by Neil Kelly.
Leigh move to the Leigh Sports Village in December and open the venue with a 4,600 crowd against Salford.
In April 2009, Neil Kelly took up the position of Director of Rugby at the club and his assistant Paul Rowley became head coach. Simon Knox became assistant coach. At the end of the 2009 season, despite winning a 'must win' game at home to Whitehaven 47-14 other results went against Leigh and they were relegated to Championship 1. Leigh were reinstated into Co-operative Championship on 11 November 2009 after the RFL Board took the decision after Gateshead Thunder's chairman Steve Garside wound up Gateshead and Newcastle Rugby Ltd.
Ian Millward returned as the club's head coach for 2010, Leigh took advantage of their reprieve and had a terrific season, finishing in third place in the Co-Operative Championship before losing at home in the play-offs to Sheffield Eagles, whilst also reaching the semi-finals of the Northern Rail Cup before being knocked out by eventual winners Batley Bulldogs.
The 2011 season saw Leigh start as league pacesetters losing their first league game of the season in early June at home to Halifax. That defeat was more than made up for by defeating Halifax 20-16 in the final of the Northern Rail Cup at Blackpool's Bloomfield Road on Sunday 17 July 2011 afer a match-winning try in the final 30 seconds of a thrilling encounter from young centre Tom Armstrong. They finished the season well,finished 2n in the league, but they failed in the play-offs, losing to Featherstone Rovers in the qualifying final then losing to Sheffield Eagles in the final eliminator.
Ian Millward left his position as head coach at the end of the 2011 season to take over as head coach at Super League side Castleford Tigers. A new head coach has yet to be appointed (January 2012) with Paul Rowley and Neil Jukes currently in temporary charge of first team matters. Rowley was later appointed first team coach on a permanent basis in January 2012. After a successful first season in charge which included guiding the club to 2nd in the Championship and a Northern Rail Cup semi-final, Rowley was named Championship Coach of the year. In February 2013 Rowley signed a new contract at the club, which will keep him at the club until the end of 2015.
In 2012 the club announced its intention to apply for a Super League licence. The club started the 'We BeLEIGHve' campaign, believing that Leigh will be the club nominated by the Rugby Football League to be promoted to the Super League in 2014.
Leigh moved into their new 12,500 capacity stadium, being made up of 10,000 seats, and a standing terrace of approximately 2,500 in late December 2008. The stadium forms part of the Leigh Sports Village complex was shared with Leigh Genesis football club. The old ground at Hilton Park has been demolished and the land sold for housing development. It is hoped that the new stadium will be the cornerstone of Leigh's application for a Super League franchise in the coming years.
The first game to be played at Leigh Sports Village took place on 28 December 2008. The friendly match against Salford was held as a ramp up event in order for the stadium management company to gain a full safety certificate.
* Announced on 19 December 2013:
|2014 Leigh Centurions Squad|
|First team squad||Coaching staff|
Updated: 19 December 2012
|Matthew Sarsfield||Swinton Lions||October 2013|
|Tom Armstrong||Sheffield Eagles||October 2013|
|Jamie Acton||Workington Town||October 2013|
|Tom Spencer||Wigan Warriors - Permanent||2 Years||September 2013|
|Oliver Wilkes||Wakefield Trinity Wildcats||October 2013|
|Sam Barlow||Halifax RLFC||October 2013|
|Alex Brown||Hull Kingston Rovers||1 Year||October 2013|
|Mick Govin||Batley Bulldogs||November 2013|
|Liam Kay||Wakefield Wildcats||2 Years||December 2013|
|Sam Hopkins||Wigan Warriors||August 2013|
|Rob Parker||Retire||N/A||September 2013|
|Anthony Nicholson||Batley Bulldogs||September 2013|
|Jimmy Taylor||Retire||N/A||September 2013|
|Thomas Coyle||Hunslet Hawks||September 2013|
|Aaron Lloyd||Barrow Raiders||September 2013|
|Chris Rowe||October 2013|
- RFL Champions: 1905–06, 1981–82 (twice)
- Challenge Cup winners : 1920–21, 1970–71 (twice)
- Lancashire Cup winners: 1952–53, 1955–56, 1970–71, 1981–82 (4 times)
- Second Division champions (including National League One): 1977–78, 1985–86, 1988–89, 2004 (4 times)
- Second Division runners-up : 2000, 2002, 2003
- Second Division Minor Premiers (League Leaders) : 2001
- BBC2 Floodlit Trophy: 1969–70, 1972–73 (twice)
- Trans-Pennine Cup: 2001
- National League Cup: 2004, 2006, 2011, 2013
1966–1971: Alex Murphy
1971: Peter Smethurst
1971–1972: Derek Hurt
1972–1974: Les Pearce
1974–1975: Eddie Cheetham
1975–1977: Kevin Ashcroft
1977: Bill Kindon
1977–1978: John Mantle
1978–1980: Tom Grainey
1980–1982: Alex Murphy
1982: Colin Clarke
1982–1983: Peter Smethurst
1983–1984: Tommy Bishop
1984–1985: John Woods
1985: Alex Murphy
1985–1986: Tommy Dickens
1986–1990: William "Billy" Benyon
1990–1991: Alex Murphy
1991–1992: Kevin Ashcroft
1992: Jim Crellin
1992–1994: Steve Simms
1994: Denis Ramsdale
1994–1996: Ian Lucas
1996: Eric Hughes
1996–1998: Keith Latham
1998: Norman Turley
1998–2000: Ian Millward
2000–2003: Paul Terzis
2003–2005: Darren Abram
2005–2006: Tony Benson
2006–2008: Darren Shaw
2008–2009: Neil Kelly
2009: Paul Rowley
2009–2011: Ian Millward
2012-Present Paul Rowley
Players earning international caps while at Leigh
Other notable players
These players have either; received a testimonial match, are "Hall of Fame" inductees, played during Leigh Centurions' Super League season, or were international representatives before, or after, their time at Leigh.
- Highest attendance: 31,326 vs St Helens
- Biggest victory: 92-2 vs Keighley
- Heaviest defeat: 4-94 vs Workington Town
- Most tries in a game: 6
- Most goals in a game: 15 by Michael "Mick" Stacey vs Doncaster, 1976
- Most points in a game: 42 by Neil Turley vs Chorley Lynx, 2004
- Most tries in a season: 55 by Neil Turley, 2001
- Most goals in a season: 187 (inc 10 drop goals) by Neil Turley, 2004
- Most points in a season: 468 by Neil Turley, 2004
- Most career tries: 189 by Michael "Mick" Martyn, 1954–67
- Most career goals: 1,043 by James "Jimmy" Ledgard, 1948–58
- Most career points: 2,492 by John Woods, 1976–85, 1990–92
- Most career appearances: 503 by Albert Worrall, 1920–38
- Dave Hadfield (1995-12-20). "Rugby's pounds 87m deal gives Murdoch transfer veto". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-05-06.
- "Aussie Shaw quits as Leigh coach". BBC News. 2008-04-08. Retrieved 2008-04-08.
- Leigh reinstated into Co-operative Championship, therfl.co.uk, retrieved 2009-11-11[dead link]
- "History". qrl.com.au. Queensland Rugby League. Retrieved 2 January 2012.