After gambling on reaching the Betfred Championship’s top four and a chance of returning immediately to Super League, Leigh Centurions have found themselves in something of a predicament. A poor start to the season made it look unlikely that they would be able to reach the top four but a strong middle of the season put them back into the mix. However, with the club sitting in sixth place and just one point outside of the second tier’s top four, a decision had to be made whether the club would hold onto their stars and give their all to win their last league game to give themselves the best chance of reaching the top four or to ease their wage bill ahead of Friday’s transfer deadline. There has been rumours that Leigh, if they fail to reach the top four, would return to part-time status and it has become apparent this week that the club are, indeed, cutting their wage bill in a big way and it seems imminent that many of their stars are set to leave ahead of Friday’s deadline.
Already, Warrington Wolves have confirmed the signing of Bodene Thompson from the Centurions, the 29-year-old joining Steve Price’s squad for the rest of the season. After making 24 appearances this season for Leigh, the former NRL man was the first confirmed departure from the club. Having made over 140 appearances Down Under for Gold Coast, Wests Tigers and New Zealand Warriors, one would assume that Thompson – an arrival ahead of this campaign, would have been on reasonably high money, especially given that he dropped to the English second tier from the NRL.
Indeed, another seemingly imminent movement through Leigh’s exit door will be by highly rated back Peter Mata’utia who, earlier this week, was linked with as many as six Super League clubs. Now, however, it seems that Castleford have moved to the front of the queue for the 27-year-old. Having seen their recruitment of Quentin Laulu Togaga’e from the second tier pay off handsomely thus far, they look to be set to move for the Centurions back on a permanent deal. Boasting extensive NRL experience, Samoan international Mata’utia was another star recruited into a high-profile Leigh squad after their relegation as they pushed hard for an immediate Super League return. However, due to his nationality, the Tigers would have to free up an overseas quota spot and winger Jy Hitchcox seems to be the most likely departure, Bradford Bulls a possible destination.
Another imminent exit looks to be that of Jordan Thompson, the former Castleford and Hull back-rower who joined Leigh for 2018. Leeds Rhinos – a team the Centurions would have been hoping to face in The Qualifiers – are keen to sign the 26-year-old. With ageing back row options at their disposal, it is understandable that Rhinos’ Director of Rugby Kevin Sinfield wants to bring in some younger options for his squad and Thompson fits the bill, especially given his Super League experience having made in excess of a hundred appearances for Hull FC. Furthermore, his performances this year in the Championship for Leigh have been consistently impressive.
The likes of Ben Reynolds (Salford Red Devils and Widnes), Ben Crooks (Hull KR), Harrison Hansen (Widnes) and Craig Hall (Widnes) have also been linked with moves away from the club and, if they were to all depart the Centurions, it would see Leigh’s squad decimated for the rest of the season.