09 August 2023

Alex Murphy backs Leigh’s latest heroes to deliver Challenge Cup glory

09 August 2023

The mastermind behind the greatest day in Leigh’s history is convinced the club are on the brink of eclipsing his Wembley miracle.

Alex Murphy was the inspirational and charismatic player-coach who led the north-west minnows to an unexpected Challenge Cup triumph in 1971.

In one of the competition’s greatest upsets, Murphy’s well-drilled side defied the odds to overpower a much-fancied Leeds 24-7 in the final at the national stadium.

Now, 52 years on, the recently-rebranded Leopards have a chance to emulate those achievements having plotted a similarly unlikely route to the showpiece match in their first season since returning to the top flight.

After years of struggle, mostly in the lower divisions with financial crises a recurring theme, the club are enjoying an extraordinary campaign. They sit third in Super League and on Saturday they take on Hull KR for one of the sport’s most prestigious prizes.

“They’ve had a good start to the season and it’s a great achievement to get there,” Murphy, now 84, told the PA news agency.

“There have been a lot of very tough times but Derek Beaumont, the chairman, deserves a big pat on the back. He has steered them through thick and thin.

“I think it will be a magnificent occasion. When I took Leigh to Wembley, there was nobody left in the town. It was a tremendous turnout but I think this one will be even better.

“I think it will be a hard game – Hull KR are a physical side – but the way Leigh are playing at the moment, they look as though they have got the ability to win. With the supporters’ help, they’ll do it.”

Murphy was one of greatest players the British game has ever produced, a dynamic scrum-half blessed with pace, vision and an astute tactical acumen that also made him a natural leader.

He burst onto the scene as a precocious teenager with hometown St Helens in the 1950s but, cocksure and not afraid to speak his mind, controversy was never far away.

He fell into dispute with Saints in 1966 and was placed on the transfer list. Leigh could not afford his fee but audaciously offered him their head coach’s job, which Saints were powerless to prevent.

Saints eventually had to cut their losses and release his playing registration too and Murphy went on to lead Leigh with verve and distinction on and off he field. That culminated with his Lance Todd Trophy-winning heroics in front of 85,514 at Wembley.

“The ’71 final was the greatest achievement of my career,” said Murphy, who had previously won the cup with Saints and later did so again with Warrington.

“They were big favourites but I never had any doubt whatsoever. One thing I had in life was confidence and all you’ve got to have with confidence is ability, and we had a lot of it. They didn’t realise that.”

The game is also remembered for featuring the first sending-off in a Challenge Cup final and, typically, Murphy was at the heart of events as Leeds captain Syd Hynes was dismissed.

What occurred has been the subject of dispute ever since, with the alleged off-the-ball headbutt from Hynes that left Murphy motionless on the turf frustratingly just out of the TV camera shot.

Folklore has it that Murphy winked as he was carried off on a stretcher before returning to the action seemingly unhurt a few minutes later. He has always denied he milked the situation but, with Hynes never backing down in his insistence he did little untoward, the argument continues to rumble.

“All I could see was him standing over me, telling me what he was going to do to me if I went back (on the field),” Murphy said.

“A lot of people said I winked at him when I was going off but the only thing I did was close my eyes.

“I think that made me more determined than ever. I thought, ‘We’ll see. You’ll be sorry you’ve done that’. And he was. He finished up getting a loser’s medal, so it kind of put it right.”

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