13 August 2023

Adrian Lam: Sky is the limit for Challenge Cup winning Leigh Leopards

13 August 2023

Adrian Lam is convinced the sky is the limit for Leigh’s leopardskin-clad heroes after he watched his son Lachlan kick the golden-point decider to sink Hull KR and end their 52-year-old wait for a Challenge Cup win at Wembley.

Leigh’s 17-16 win sustained an astonishing success story for a club whose announcement last October of a surprise rebrand was met with scorn in some quarters and the expectation of a top-flight return spotted with struggle.

With the world’s oldest rugby trophy in the cabinet and a top-four place in Super League seemingly secure, the Leopards head coach has warned the game had better start getting used to its garish newcomers.

“I had a conversation with (owner) Derek (Beaumont) about it (the rebrand) and how people were going to take it, and it’s snowballed to a point where I was having a coffee this morning and saw men wearing leopardskin tops and shirts,” recalled Lam.

“It helps because we’re winning but it’s just gone viral across the whole town and maybe across the UK. It’s caught on and I think it can go to so many different levels – where does it end?”

Lachlan Lam held his nerve to settle an enthralling if error-strewn affair in the fourth minute of the extra period, after both team-mate Gareth O’Brien and Rovers’ Brad Schneider missed opportunities to seal the victory.

Steeled by the influence of Lam and the constant prompting of Edwin Ipape, Leigh were the better team for long periods and would have been aggrieved to finish the first period only two points to the good as Rovers somehow clung on.

Jez Litten’s converted try cancelled out Ben Reynolds’ early penalty before Lam burst clear to put Leigh in control. Elliot Minchella’s yellow card for going high on Reynolds on the half-hour made Rovers’ task harder but they not only survived, but reduced the deficit through a Schneider penalty.

Schneider levelled at the start of the second half and valiant Rovers defence held Leigh at bay until Mikey Lewis coughed up an error too far on 65 minutes, Leigh capitalising when Tom Briscoe – the scourge of Rovers in their last final appearance in 2015 when he scored five tries in a 50-0 win for Leeds – touched down.

Matt Parcell gave his side hope on the hooter after the video referee took more than five minutes to deem Kane Linnett had not knocked on a crash ball before the Rovers hooker squeezed over, but Schneider’s conversion to drag the game into the extra period for the first time in the tournament’s history proved in vain.

No sooner had Lam’s kick soared between the posts, confirmation of the Leopards’ victory was greeted by a leopard-suited Beaumont leading a victory charge and Lam being engulfed by his team-mates, many of whom had faced uncertain futures before committing to the owner’s unlikely revolution.

“Some of the players we’ve recruited over the last 18 months were down and out in some areas and I’m just so grateful for what they’ve done,” added Adrian Lam.

The way that group has got together has been incredible. This is a magic moment for the club but we feel there is so much more to come

“Edwin Ipape wasn’t in a team anywhere, no-one knew who Kai O’Donnell was, Josh Charnley couldn’t get in the Warrington team. The way that group has got together has been incredible. This is a magic moment for the club but we feel there is so much more to come.”

While few if any would dare mock Leigh’s pretensions to repeat the feat and go all the way to the season-ending Grand Final, Rovers face the difficult task of recovering and embarking on a run that will secure their own place in the end-of-season play-offs.

Such an eventuality would provide hope of a fitting send-off for captain Shaun Kenny-Dowall, whose hopes of marking his final season as a player by becoming the first KR player to lift the Challenge Cup since 1980 were cruelly dashed.

The veteran New Zealander had been the prime instigator in keeping his side’s feet on the ground after their golden point semi-final win over Wigan, and he will spend this week imparting a message of a different kind ahead of their Super League resumption at St Helens next weekend.

“I’m obviously very disappointed and I really feel for our fans who showed up in numbers like they always do,” said Kenny-Dowall. “But we will dust ourselves off and get back to what we always do, and that is the messaging for this week.

“We will take the learnings as a group and our full focus is on what is ahead. We are sitting nicely and we know if we rally round and put our full energy into the next few games, we will give ourselves the best chance to be playing in another game like that at the end of the year.”

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