Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Saturday's Coming: Leigh

Relativity is a fascinating thing - especially in the universe of expectation that is the Betfred Championship.

If - when - Hornets chase down the stupefyingly dull Sheffield Eagles to finish 10th, we’ll have had another season beating the odds. Success. Crack open the Pomagne.

But if you’re Leigh, burning a million quid to end up favourites for the shield would be a catastrophe.

In a super-competitive top four, Leigh currently sit 6th - usurped by the sheer audacity of Halifax and Featherstone: two points shy of Fev (with a superior points difference) - and with the little matter of London squatting like a speed-bump in 5th, with a one point advantage.

But whatever Leigh do, they struggle to make headlines beyond the one-man tsunami of column inches that is Derek Beaumont. If you took a cursory glance at the frankly astonishing amount of coverage he gets, you’d think that he just releases a monthly statement about how he’s not walking away from Leigh. A closer look reveals that the outspoken Centurions owner is - it seems - a walking magnet for a media hungry for controversy.

Indeed, only a month ago there were reports that Beaumont had been fined £7,500 (£2,500 suspended until the end of next season) for breaching RFL operational rules relating to conduct and social media use. The RFL says that, having pleaded guilty at an Independent RFL Operational Rules Tribunal, Beaumont was fined because his comments on social media breached rule D1.1(b) Conduct prejudicial to the interests of the Game and improper conduct; Rule C2.6 Failure to adhere to Codes of Conduct; Rule C2.10 Behaviour Standards; C2.11 Behavioural Standards - Unacceptable Behaviour. He was also found guilty of breaching both the RFL’s Respect Policy and Social Media Code of Conduct.

Leigh began the season in disastrous fashion - losing five of their first six games. In terminating the contract of coach Neil Jukes, Beaumont claimed full responsibility for the start that Leigh have struggled to overcome: “… I am still very much involved in the fight to get this Club into the top four of the Betfred Championship from where it can kick on to regain its place in Super League.” he said in March.

“It is a challenge that is becoming increasingly more difficult but is not insurmountable at present. I take full responsibility as the owner of the Club for the position it finds itself in. Ultimately any decisions the Club has made have been under my leadership and I have agreed with them and enabled them to happen.”

Since then, tyro coach Kieron Purtill has steadied the ship and got Leigh playing closer to their potential. But he understands the expectations at Leigh Sports Village. Speaking ahead of their recent Challenge Cup tie with Salford (which they won 22-10), he admitted: “There are massive implications for the club if we’re not in the top four - on and off the field.”

“We’ve got to be there. Everyone knows the funding in the Championship isn’t the same. We invested heavily in our squad so there’s going to have to be cutbacks or things addressed if the money’s not there.”

With the pressure on, Derek Beaumont has responded the way he always does - by chucking a bucket of cash at a former NRL player. This time it’s former Gold Coast Titans, Newcastle knights and Sydney Roosters utility back Brendan Elliot, who scored 19 tries in 39 NRL appearances.

Speaking in the Leigh Journal this week, Beaumont  said: "It is a very difficult period at the Club as it really is up in the air as to where we will finish, but I have to make decisions on the basis that we will make the four to put us in a good place to mount a challenge to return to Super League, if we do, as it will be too late once we know our fate.”

"There will also be a further announcement of another overseas player this week which will complete our recruitment for the season, and I believe with everyone fit and free from suspensions, we will have the quality to be serious contenders in the Qualifiers should we make them.”  Leigh have also signed former Salford prop Adam Walne from Huddersfield Giants.

Last week, Leigh pulled off a 12-man comeback to win convincingly at Mount (un)Pleasant. The Centurions played 74 minutes a man short after Jamie Acton was red-carded for a high tackle.

Trailing 12-4 at the break,  Leigh stormed back scoring 26 unanswered points to win 12-30. Harrison Hansen and Ilias Bengal weighed in with two tries each.

Hornets come into Saturday’s game on the back of a confidence-boosting victory over Swinton. What mattered last week was not so much the nature of the win - only that we did. Indeed, we are delighted that Alan Kilshaw’s lads can run for 80 minutes, because we needed every last one of them to grab the points.

Leigh, of course, will be a wholly different proposition - though they are prone to lapses in focus, evidenced by their seven defeats this season. Indeed, they have points in them - having shipped the most in the top six with 442 in 20 games. That’s an average of 22 per game!

After the Swinton game, Alan Kilshaw said that getting anything from the remaining three fixtures would be a bonus - but this competition chucks up a few freak results every season, so why not this one? Leigh are more scared of losing games then they are interested in winning at the moment - and Hornets have nothing to lose.

All the pressure is on Leigh. Let’s turn the screw.

See you Saturday - don't forget, it's a 5pm kick-off.