Let’s get one thing straight, Adrian Lam deserves massive credit for what he has achieved at Leigh, and it’s a reminder that initially at Wigan he achieved great success guiding them to top spot and being the first to bring the best out of Bevan French.
Of course eventually things stalled for him, though had he had a fit French and a fit Jai Field it may have been different.
Ultimately though he ended up at Leigh where alongside Chris Chester and Derek Beaumont has assembled one of the greatest squads in Championship history and a side full of stars that would have Super League sides scared.
They’re a special team and it would be easy to dismiss Lam’s brilliance this season by saying he had the players. But Featherstone have also bought a lot of players and spent a lot of many, yet Leigh have pulled ahead of them despite a slow start to the year.
The Centurions play great rugby and have toppled points scoring records including scoring 100 points against play-off rivals York and the way he’s brought in players and enabled them to instantly settle and make an impact – such as Blake Ferguson – is impressive.
As is the fact he outfoxed Brian McDermott in a final which is no mean feat after all McDermott is a final mastermind.
Despite all of this however, to me there is one man who may deserve the award more than Lam and that’s fellow nominee and Barrow boss Paul Crarey.
To take a newly promoted side and have them finish fourth ahead of the likes of Batley, York and Newcastle Thunder – who started the year as a professional side – is jaw dropping and not something anyone predicted.
The Raiders have also played scintillating rugby with the likes of Hakim Miloudi and Jarrod Sammutt rediscovering their best form.
But perhaps Crarey’s biggest indicator of success is how he’s developed Tee Ritson. Ritson has been a try scoring machine in 2022 and is being tipped to make a big move to Super League in 2023 with Champions St Helens potentially viewing him as the ideal Regan Grace replacement.
However, Ritson would be the first to acknowledge the role Crarey has played in his development enabling him to be a nominee for Player of the Year.
Playing to Ritson, Miloudi’s, Sammutt’s and plenty of others’ strengths, the Raiders have been a force to be reckoned with and should not be taken lightly in the play-offs by any means and it’s mostly down to the wonders worked by Crarey who nearly outfoxed Ian Watson in the Challenge Cup earlier this year.
I want to also give credit to the other nominee Simon Grix. His Halifax side struggled at the start of the season but he slowly embedded his new signings and now has Panthers fans believing they could upset the likes of Fev and make it to the Million Pound game with Joe Keyes being a superb signing as another nominee for Championship Player of the Year.
All three coaches would be worthy winners, but the romance of going from League 1 all the way to fourth in the Championship has to be recognised and that’s why Crarey would be my pick.