This time last year, the Leigh Centurions were in a jubilant mood; after losing just one game all season in the Championship and just one game in the Middle 8s Qualifiers, the Lancashire side were back in Super League after a 12-year absence. Yet what followed soon brought the Centurions back down to earth; relegated after just one year in the top flight following a 10-26 defeat to Catalans Dragons, Leigh are once more back in the second tier of English Rugby League. But, the experience gained from their 2017 season as well as the impressive signings made possible by chairman Derek Beaumont, Leigh are in a very good position going into the 2018 Championship season.

Experience

Leigh have been there and done it; the team knows what it takes to earn promotion. And, the fact that the Centurions have also experienced the top flight - albeit the stay didn't last long - will stand them in good stead going into the new season. They battled against the top sides in the country and on the majority of occasions stood up well to the task - a 50-10 loss to Warrington was Leigh's heaviest defeat in the Super League, which when considering that eventual champions Leeds lost 66-10 to Castleford, was not too humiliating for a newly-promoted side.

The rest of the Championship sides cannot call on this experience to get them through the tough times that they may endure in 2018. Toronto - tipped by many to be up near the top in their maiden year in the Championship despite recent controversy - Featherstone, Halifax, Batley and Toulouse to name but a few do not have the luxury to call upon a battle-hardened side that can grind out results in a Super League-like fashion.

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Impressive signings

Despite dropping back down to the second tier, the Centurions have wasted no time in building a side that can get them straight back up again. No less than 20 players have been recruited to lead Leigh's charge, whilst 15 have left the club. Though it may take a while for all these new signings to gel, the calibre of those recruited are mightily impressive.

The likes of Bodene Thompson, Paterika Vaivai, Peter Mata'utia, Kurt Baptiste and Drew Hutchison join from the NRL whilst a number of ex-Super League stars have also headed for Lancashire: Kevin Larroyer and Larne Patrick, previously of Castleford Tigers, Jordan Thompson from Hull FC and Rhys Evans from Warrington are just some of those with that vital top flight pedigree and experience.

Not only have Leigh recruited experience and quality, but they have also added several youngsters to their ranks, all of whom will provide that extra competition for places which, inevitably, drives the standards of any side. St Helens' youngsters Ricky Bailey and Jonah Cunningham sign on a year's loan whilst prop Jordan Dezaria, winger Ilias Bergal and second-rower Nick Gregson - all of whom are less than 22 years of age - join permanently.

In Rugby League, it is crucial to obtain the right balance of youth and experience and Leigh appear to have succeeded in this respect. Arguably, Leigh have a better squad heading into 2018 than they did when preparing for the Super League in 2017.

Neil Jukes

Throughout his playing and coaching days, Neil Jukes has been associated with Leigh; he knows what the club means to the town and the fans and he certainly went through the same gut-wrenching feeling as they did back in September last year. If people are doubting Leigh to earn promotion in 2018, then just look at how the odds were well and truly stacked against the club before the 2016 season began after Paul Rowley upped sticks. Many Rugby League fans believed that the wheels had come off and that after years of being at the top, Leigh's demise was on the horizon.

Tell that to Rowley's former assistant, Neil Jukes. He steered the Centurions to 21 wins from 23 games in the regular season and six from seven in the Qualifiers, even leading his side to victories over Super League's Huddersfield, Salford and Hull KR. And, with a year's experience in the top flight under his belt as well, Leigh now have a much more seasoned coach at the helm. Instead of being chucked in at the deep end, this time Jukes has had time to plan his season and recruit the players that he wants. If Jukes could do it in 2016, he can certainly do it in 2018. #RugbyLeague #RL #LeighCenturions