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Six Leigh Centurions players to watch on their return to Super League

It was announced yesterday that Leigh Centurions have been chosen as Super League’s 12th team for 2021, replacing Toronto Wolfpack.

There were six applicants in total, with the Centurions beating Toulouse Olympique, York City Knights, Featherstone Rovers, London Broncos and Bradford Bulls to the spot.

Ahead of their return to the top-flight, we’ve picked out some of their key players to keep an eye out for…

Ryan Brierley

Brierley is far from an unknown quantity for Super League fans but it could be a whole different side to him that we see in 2021. He played his career best rugby while with the Centurions between 2012 and 2016, becoming renowned as a natural try-scorer by racking up a tremendous 133 in 125 games. Since then he’s had solid spells in all three professional divisions in Europe but never seemed to hit the same form as when he was with Leigh. With an abundance of halfbacks to compete with, it’s not clear what role he’ll play in John Duffy’s side but if he can replicate his previous form at the club he’ll be a key influence.

Liam Hood

Leigh Centurions 50-34 Wigan Warriors

Hood has been somewhat of an unsung hero for several years. He’s had previous stints in Super League, including with Leigh when they were last in the top-flight in 2017, and has always held his own. He doesn’t fit the mould of, say, a Daryl Clark or James Roby but rather consistently does the basics well, with excellent defence and ball distribution, and a decent running game. He’s got plenty of experience having been a professional for over 10 years and will no doubt be a prominent figure in the Centurions’ dressing room.

Mark Ioane

New Zealander Ioane experienced a taste of Super League with London in 2019. Their relegation prompted his departure and Leigh were all too happy to snap him up. Often a fringe player down under, the 30-year-old spent time with Gold Coast Titans and St George Illawarra Dragons, playing 29 NRL games in total, and was a popular figure among Broncos fans due to his powerful drives and aggression. The Covid-19 pandemic meant he played just five games for the Centurions in 2020 but next season gives him a bigger platform to prove his worth as a dominant front rower.

Alex Gerrard

Gerrard returned to the UK mid-way through 2019 after a spell in Australia and is among the Centurions’ most senior forwards. The 29-year-old came through the ranks at Widnes, making over 100 appearances between 2010 and 2018 and developed a reputation as a no-nonsense middle runner. He packs plenty of punch and in what is an explosive Leigh pack and will likely be rotated with fellow experienced heads Ioane, Ben Flower, Tom Spencer and Adam Sidlow among others.

Blake Wallace

Credit: Simon Whitehead/News Images

Wallace will enter his second Super League season, after featuring for Toronto in 2020. A running stand-off, he showed glimpses of magic for the Wolfpack but was more prominent in their previous seasons in League 1 and the Championship, where he was consistently one of the first-choice halves. He also rotated a fullback on occasion for the Canadian side and could find himself in a similar position at Leigh following the departure of Gregg McNally. The Centurions have four top halfbacks at their disposal – Wallace, Brierley, Joe Mellor and Jamie Ellis – and will likely want to settle on a consistent pair. Wallace’s versatility could come in handy in that respect, while a shift to the back would also take pressure off him and allow him to chime in and take on the line.

James Bell

When Bell makes his first Leigh appearance, it will be just his third top-flight game. The Auckland-born back rower made two appearances for New Zealand Warriors before joining Toulouse in 2019 and becoming one of the Championship’s top forwards, impressing with his strong running and persistent defence. Bell was considered a steal by the Centurions when they snapped him up for 2021 and will now be aiming to prove he can cut it in Super League.

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