Leigh Centurions start their Championship campaign this Sunday with a tough trip to title favourites Featherstone Rovers.
But they must do it without the services of our key players who have picked up knocks in what have proved to be two very telling warm-up games.
“Matt Gardner is out for a good few weeks with that neck injury picked up against Wigan,” explained Centurions head coach, Paul Rowley. “But last Friday’s night match against Swinton proved very expensive player wise as Thomas Coyle, Simon Finnigan and Tommy Goulden all picked up injuries that will keep them out of action on Sunday and for a few weeks afterwards as well.
“By far the worst of them was Thomas Coyle’s broken thumb. That will side line him from six to 10 weeks as he may have to have it plated. Simon has injured his foot and Tommy has a hamstring problem. At this stage we have players who are putting their hands up and who are desperate to be given their chance, so we are not short of bodies.
“But all four injured players are those that run out on the edges – players in positions that are key to our style of play, so in that respect to lose four of them at one go is a big blow.”
Having said all that though, Rowley and the Centurions players are not worried about heading to Rovers’ small ground.
“We respect them but we don’t fear them,” he says defiantly. “They have been the pacesetters in the division for the past four seasons and set the standards to which we all aspire. They build their team on a big solid pack and have Liam Finn directing them around the field and using powerfully built backs like Tommy Saxton to finish.
“It is a tried and tested formula that has brought them much success. And they will no doubt be looking at a possibility of promotion and relegation being reinstated at the end of the season, as we all will.
“If that happens it certainly is going to add a great deal of extra interest, and those clubs with dual-registered player relationships with Super League clubs will be under a great deal of pressure to succeed.
“That all adds up to this being the toughest competition we have ever had in the Championship.
“Last week Swinton showed that they are very much improved side on what they were last season, especially with their Warrington link up and I think we can expect similar improvements among the rest of those clubs that have such arrangements.
“But we have strengthened too and injuries apart we showed against Swinton and Wigan that we are going to be a side that can create problems for the opposition.
“Sadly the weather ruined the game, as they all looked like abominable snowmen running round. But at least the game was physical and it gave them all a big hit up. All credit to both sets of players, whose handling in terrible conditions was exceptional.
“But all that is behind us now and it about the league now. We have a tough start, but we are looking forward to it and the spirit in the camp is tremendous which was typified in Ryan Brierley chasing Danny Birkett back and denying him try. Ryan’s known for his try scoring, but he was determined to save a score and that is the attitude that will stand us in good stead this season.”