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Centre crisis for Leigh Centurions
LEIGH Centurions face a centre crisis ahead of the new season following news that Mat Gardner could be missing from action until after the Championship opener against Featherstone.
The influential threequarter, who missed just one game last term and scored 14 tries, left the field with a neck injury during Centurions’ last outing against Wigan after scoring two smartly taken tries.
Diagnosing his problem has been held up.
With Adam Higson expected to be not available until the start of April due to rehabilitation from a knee operation, it means Stuart Littler is the only current fit out-and-out centre in the squad.
“We are having serious trouble getting Mat Gardner in for his scan at the moment which is causing a real concern,” said head coach Paul Rowley.
“He is now very doubtful for the Swinton fixture (tomorrow, Friday) and remains doubtful for the Featherstone fixture (February 3).
“It means that we’ve got a bit of a problem already, and a big one – it’s back with a bang!”
Although there are players of promise coming through the Centurions under 20s team, Rowley is reluctant to rush them through to the first team.
“We are very much trying to create some elite players and target people that we believe have a good chance of progression but there is a tremendous jump from playing 20s to first team, especially in the centre position,” he said.
Rowley explained the difficulty in having deputies for players of the stature of Gardner and Littler.
He said: “Stuart Littler’s and Matt Gardner’s boots are pretty big to fill. They offer a big physical presence and are a tough act for a young player to come in and match.”
Leigh are restricted on bringing in short-term help from elsewhere at this stage of the year.
“We are left to battle this one on our own,” he said.
“Because we haven’t entered into a partnership arrangement with Wigan, we can’t have dual contracts.
“Anybody we had would have to come in for a minimum period of a month and it would leave them short if they were to get injuries.”
In more positive news, Jonny Pownall got the all clear following a scan on his knee and looks set to take his place in the squad for tomorrow night, Friday, kick off 7.30pm, when it is tenant against tenant at the Sports Village.
Rowley expects a tough test against Steve McCormack’s Swinton side.
He said: “Swinton have been training in some of the best facilities, they have got a wealth of riches with some very promising stars from Warrington on their books among the players they already signed and have already got. It will be a really stern challenge.”
Rowley added: “It’s a tricky one because I want to give everyone a fair crack with game time but the loss of our previous game (Salford was cancelled) means that we’ve just got to reduce our numbers if we can and get it a bit more in keeping with our first game of the season.”
The under 20s are set to play their first pre-season game on Saturday against a Halifax side that could field former Leigh point scoring ace Mick Nanyn.
This game will take place at Leigh East, kick off 2pm.