Promoted clubs are not supposed to do this well. Recent history has shown that the team that comes from the Championship always struggles in Super League and goes straight back to the second tier.
Toulouse suffered that fate last year, Leigh did in 2021, Toronto would have if Covid-19 had not cut short the season and London dropped back down in 2019. Three times since 2005 the Leythers have spent one year in Super League but been immediately relegated back to the Championship.
But this time the Leopards have stunningly broken the mold and are arguably already safe from the drop, sitting in fifth spot. As they ready to take on winless Wakefield at Magic Weekend they have already won eight of their first 13 matches, including key victories over St Helens and Warrington, as they target a semi-final spot.
“I understand why teams that come up can go straight down because just the recruitment and retention policy to recruit at Super League level when you can’t sign anyone, when you’re not guaranteed any players until after the last day of the season, and that grand final in the Championship is 50-50,” Leigh coach Adrian Lam tells i.
“I can see how clubs have done this in the past, but along the way we’ve worked out what we needed to do as a club and have a big picture about us – to invest in the recruitment and retention of players who are going to give the club some longevity over a five-year plan.”
The Leopards recruited early last year and built a Super League-ready team for the second tier, before they’d even been promoted. They signed hooker Edwin Ipape and NRL players such as John Asiata and Lachlan Lam, and then later bolstered their squad with ex-England internationals Zak Hardaker, Tom Briscoe, Josh Charnley and Huddersfield’s Ricky Leutele.
It was an enviable list of talent but it has been the job of coach Lam, the former Wigan boss, to bring his team together and create chemistry.
“It’s been a week-to-week proposition for us but we set goals early in the year not to look over our shoulder and be in conversations for the battle for relegation,” he said.
“We didn’t want to talk about it, we set our goals to be successful by taking each week at a time and playing to our merits and producing consistency on a weekly basis to earn the trust of each other. But to more importantly earn the respect of all the other teams and supporters in the competition.”
Crucial to Leigh’s revival has also been the terrific form of Lam’s son, Lachlan. A diminutive but skillful halfback and a Papua New Guinea international like his father, the 25-year-old currently leads Super League for try assists.
“He’s been really important, he’s been absolutely outstanding,” Adrian says.
“On the field I know everyone’s looking at him and telling him what a talent he is, but also what he’s been given is a really clear voice and clarity. He’s a smart player and he’s certainly helped evolve the team in both attack and defence with his leadership as well.”
Lachlan has thrived in the UK after struggling for game-time in the NRL and admits it has not been strange being coached by his famous father, considering he coached him for a decade in his junior days in Sydney.
“He coached me growing up all through my junior footy so it’s not foreign for me, it’s very familiar,” the scrum-half said.
“It’s been a little while but it feels like he’s been my coach for a long time. We have a good relationship. I’m loving it at Leigh. It’s a great club, we’re flying under the radar.
“Knocking off Warrington last weekend was massive for our club and our community. We’re building well this year.”
Father-son coaching-player combinations are a unique breed in professional sport but this one has Leigh fans dreaming big.
Magic Weekend 2023 fixtures
Saturday 3 June
- Salford Red Devils vs Hull Kingston Rovers (1.30pm)
- Wigan Warriors vs Catalan Dragons (3.45pm)
- Leeds Rhinos vs Castleford Tigers (6pm)
Sunday 4 June
- Wakefield Trinity vs Leigh Leopards (12pm)
- St Helens vs Huddersfield Giants (2.15pm)
- Hull FC vs Warrington Wolves (4.30pm)
“I’ve got to scratch myself sometimes walking around the dressing room when I look up and Lachlan’s sat there,” Adrian said.
“It’s a really special time for me as a dad. As much as I want the club to be successful, I also want him to be successful too. The things he’s doing on the field at the moment make me really, really proud.”
The Greater Manchester side has caught the eye with its pre-game entertainment and on-field results, now they want to secure their status as a long-term member of the top flight. If they do, they’ll have the Lam family to thank.