Following the news that Leigh have parted company with coach John Duffy, we look at six contenders who might be in line to help save the club from relegation.
Former Leigh player Paul Rowley has already coached the club, leading them to back-to-back Championship titles in 2013 and 2014. Wherever Rowley travels success seems to follow. He guided Toronto to the League 1 title in their maiden season in 2017, and though he did fail to guide the Wolfpack into Super League the following season, he joined Salford in 2019, and was part of the staff that steered the Red Devils to their first Grand Final.
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In 2021 Rowley was appointed to his current role of Salford’s head of rugby development, talent and pathways, but considering the Red Devils weren’t one of the 10 clubs recently awarded an elite Academy license, perhaps Rowley will be looking for an opportunity elsewhere.
Andy Last clearly has ambitions to be a head coach. Having served a long apprenticeship that began in 2004 at hometown club Hull FC, Last was placed in charge on a temporary basis of the Black and Whites following Lee Radford’s sacking seven games into the 2020 season, and took the Airlie Birds to within 80 minutes of their first Grand Final appearance since 2006.
Despite that, the club overlooked him and instead appointed Brett Hodgson as head coach at the end of last year. Shortly thereafter, Last decided to end his 23-year playing and coaching association with Hull FC and take up an assistant coach position at Wakefield.
Having been recently appointed coach of the Combined Nations All Stars team set to take on England on Sky Sports on June 25, Tim Sheens has refused to rule out the possibility of returning to club coaching. At 70 years young, Sheens boasts a CV that includes NRL Grand victories as well as World Cup final wins.
In September 2017 he incredibly coached his 700th game, and it was a significant one as he guided Hull Kingston Rovers back to the Super League. Although from Australia, Sheens still lives in the UK and has experience of winning big matches, something he would need to call on in order keep the Centurions in Super League.
The fact that James Ford is consistently linked with Super League coaching positions is testament to the sterling job he has done at York City Knights. Ford arrived at the club in 2015 with the City Knights facing the very real possibility of extinction. However, six years later York have risen to be a genuine force in the Championship, plying their trade in a top-class facility at the purpose-built LNER Community Stadium.
After eight rounds in the Championship in 2021, the City Knights currently occupy a play-off spot, with many believing Ford has the ability to have them knocking on the door of promotion into Super League.
Torquay-born Andrew Henderson is currently an assistant coach in the Super League with Warrington Wolves, but this will be his final season at the Halliwell Jones Stadium as he departs to make way for Daryl Powell and his support staff.
Henderson got London Broncos going in the right direction again following their relegation at the end of 2014, which will no doubt be utilised as evidence he could halt the slide at Leigh. It’s believed he interviewed for the position as head coach at Castleford before that job was offered to Radford, an indication of his ambitions – watch this space.
When Leigh last dominated rugby league and were crowned champions in 1982, they were inspired by local hero Alex Murphy. There is no doubt that Leigh-born Mickey Higham is a modern-day legend at the club, having played a vital role at hooker for the Centurions over the years.
Could he be the man to ignite the Centurions? Higham retired from playing at the end of 2019 having achieved everything as a player in a career that broke the 500-game barrier. That vast experience could be vital in nurturing the Centurions, and Higham would be a popular figurehead for the fans to get behind.
Clarke backs Purtill to do the job
Phil Clarke weighs in with his thoughts on who could take over at the club…
Andrew Henderson is very ambitious and current, and I think his enthusiasm could carry him a long way if he were to be interviewed for the job, so I think it’s a good name to throw into contention.
Another name I want to mention is Lee Briers – he was a maverick player and I think that might appeal to Derek Beaumont. The owner of the Centurions may lean towards someone with similar characteristics.
Briers has great experience; he’s worked under Paul Cullen, Tony Smith, Steve Price and Darryl van der Velde. He’s also won at Wembley, which is the sort of success that Beaumont and the Leigh fans are dreaming of.
But the best man for the job in my opinion, looking at it from the outside, is Kieron Purtill. I would be tempted to give him a five-year contract and mean it.
In that five years, the remit could be to try to strengthen the whole club, not just the first team, so they have a realistic chance of staying in Super League and becoming a sustainable club and not a yoyo club.
He’s got great coaching experience; he’s been an assistant at Huddersfield, an assistant at St Helens and he’s currently an assistant at Hull.
He’s also done some coaching at Widnes and has been at Leigh in the past. Coming from the town, not many would have a greater affinity with Leigh than Purtill, so there’s a big plus for him there.
To me, the time feels right with him at the age of 44 and the club ripe to do something over five years, which is the kind of long-term planning that helped Brentford FC gain promotion to the Premier League this season.
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