LEIGH skipper Micky Higham has announced his retirement as a player.

He will now take on a dual role — he will be working with the club's community department but he will also be a member of the coaching team which will also see him involved in match day activities with the off-field staff.

Higham will make his final appearance for Leigh in a home pre-season friendly game at LSV next January, the exact details of which will be announced soon. This will give Centurions fans a great opportunity to pay tribute to an outstanding home grown player whose 19-year playing career, the majority in the top flight, has seen him make over 500 career appearances and win club and international honours.

Leigh Centurions owner Derek Beaumont, who has been planning for the 2018 season and beyond in conjunction with Head of Rugby Keiron Cunningham and Head coach Neil Jukes, said: "The re-structuring of the Club after relegation on and off the field has been a difficult and prolonged process.

"Micky's future at the Club was never in doubt in mine, Keiron's and Neil's eyes. it has been about the process that will work for each party.

"While there were a lot of unknowns in the Qualifiers and ultimately until and after the Million Pound Game in how Keiron wanted to move forward with the squad, it was not known at that time that Micky was playing his final game against Catalans.

"The home friendly game in January will be an ideal way to give Micky the swansong he deserves for all he achieved as a player in the game, in front of his own supporters.

"In the end the Club will always have to be bigger than any owner, coach or player and what is good for the Club will always be the primary focus.

"But Micky Higham is part of the DNA and I am sure he will enjoy a long and fruitful career in his new role to the benefit of all parties."

There were a few surprised looks when Higham left the Super League at Warrington, to join Leigh in the Championship.

Beaumont added: "It gave me great pleasure to bring Micky home and I paid the highest transfer fee I have made at the Club to acquire him from Warrington.

"It was money well spent with Micky paying me back with great leadership and professionalism, not to mention his great play.

"Two of my favourite memories will be the famous Micky dance after getting promotion and his try against Saints at LSV in Super League.

"Micky has so much to offer the club over future years in many ways and can still add his passion, commitment and leadership skills in the coaching side. Perhaps when carrying messages on the field he could well end up spending as many minutes on there as when he played, knowing Micky.

"He can also become the face of the Club, growing the game in our community and progressing home grown talent as we build the reserves, academies and scholarship over the years."

Micky Higham said: "I feel very fortunate and honoured to be invited to take on a wide-ranging role at my hometown Club at an exciting time in its history.

"Leigh Rugby League Club celebrates its 140th anniversary next year and is part and parcel of the fabric of a town we all hold so dear.

"To be able to be part of the Club as they look to return to Super League and then build a long-term future at the top level of the sport is both a huge privilege and very exciting and challenging.

"I will approach the opportunity I have been given with the same single-minded dedication that I have adopted to my playing career.

"I started my Rugby League journey at Leigh as a teenager and to go full circle and come back to finish my playing career at the Club meant everything to me.

"I'll never forget the reception the Leigh fans gave me when I made my second debut for the Club at the Summer Bash in 2015, nearly 15 years after leaving. The supporters have been absolutely fantastic to me and I'd like to thank each and every one of them for the backing they have given me throughout my career.

"It was a dream to captain the club back into Super League and to captain them in Super League. They are the proudest moments of my career.

"Above all, I'd like to thank my wife Kate who has supported me every step of the way and our two boys for being there and we can now look forward to many more hugely rewarding times and occasions with this fantastic Club."

"It was initially with a heavy heart that I came to the decision to retire as a player as I've always thought I had at least another year in me.

"It was a difficult and emotional decision to make but after chatting at length to Derek, Keiron, Jukesy and the rest of the staff I came to the view that it was in the best interests of the Club and myself going forward.

"I'm looking forward immensely to my next challenge at Leigh Centurions."

Higham signed for Leigh from Leigh East during Ian Millward's time as coach and made his debut against Barrow in 1999, retrospectively earning Heritage Number #1153.

He came to the fore during an outstanding 2000 season, capped by him earning the Man of the Match award as Leigh, now under coach Paul Terzis, suffered an agonising 13-12 Northern Ford Premiership Grand Final defeat at the hands of Dewsbury Rams at Gigg Lane.

Higham's two tries and all round display in that pivotal day in Leigh's recent history marked him out as a player set for greater things and he then embarked on a fine career at the top level, playing with distinction for St Helens, Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves.

He joined the select group of Leigh-born players to represent Great Britain when he made his debut against New Zealand at Hull in the 2004 Tri-Nations and made three further appearances during the 2005 Tri-Nations.

Higham also represented England A on four occasions, played four games for England and gained further representative honours for the Super League Under-21s and England Under-21s.

His outstanding club career saw him score 35 tries in 116 games for Saints between 2001 and 2005 and a further 17 tries in 97 games for Wigan between 2006 and 2008. In a seven-year stint at Warrington he then scored 37 tries in 175 games and played a starring role in the Wolves' Challenge Cup-winning sides of 2009, 2010 and 2012.

He was a key member of Saints' Super League grand final-winning team in 2002 after a dramatic 19-18 victory over Bradford Bulls at Old Trafford. Earlier that year, he also played in Saints' Challenge Cup Final defeat at the hands of Wigan at Murrayfield. After missing Saints' 2004 Challenge Cup victory over Wigan at Cardiff through injury, he returned to the grand final stage with Warrington in both 2012 and 2013 but the Wolves finished runners-up to Leeds and Wigan respectively.

When Higham rejoined Leigh from Warrington during the 2015 season the £50,000 transfer fee was a Centurions record for the summer era. He made his second Leigh debut in the Summer Bash game against Featherstone Rovers at Blackpool, nearly 15 years after his last appearance in the Cherry and White.

In 2016 Higham capped an outstanding season for the Club and for himself personally by earning the prestigious award as Championship Player of the Year after leading his hometown club back into Super League.

He captained the Centurions on their return to the top flight, one highlight being a superb try in the early season victory over St Helens at LSV.

At Huddersfield in August he proudly led out the team, accompanied by sons Alex and Harry on the occasion of his 500th career appearance and he also went past one hundred Leigh games during the year.

Higham played 103 games for Leigh Centurions, scoring 38 tries and scored a total of 129 tries in 506 games in an illustrious career.