A NEW era has finally dawned for Leigh Centurions.

After years in the planning, the town’s professional rugby league club now has a stadium to be proud of and fit for the 21st century.

Sunday’s first-ever game at the Leigh Sports Village was an historic day, not only for the club but also for the town.

After years of decline, the town now has something it can boast about.

The facilities are second to none and the vast majority of the 4714 who turned out for a pre-season friendly, will have gone away mightily impressed.

The developers have delivered their side of the bargain - now it’s up to the Centurions to do their bit and produce a team worthy of the surroundings.

Leigh legend Tommy Sale was cheered to the rafters as he kicked off - 61 years after playing in the first game at Hilton Park.

Then there was an impeccably observed minutes’ silence for former star Joe Walsh who died on Christmas Eve (obituary page 3).

Fittingly, two men who played significant parts in driving the entire Sports Village project through from drawing board to reality, were there to see the first fruits of the labours.

Trevor Barton and Leigh MP Andy Burnham rightly savoured the moment.

Mr Barton said: “Today’s been a long time coming but to see close on 5000 people in the stadium for a friendly game is tremendously encouraging.

“I always believed that if we gave the town something to be proud of, the townsfolk would respond.”

Mr Burnham echoed those sentiments and added: “Today isn’t the end of the road, this is a new beginning for the Centurions and the town.”

With capacity restricted to 4777 until a full safety certificate is granted, the Centurions can be proud of the fact that they attracted over 4700 to a game that had little meaning for Leigh or opponents Salford.

All 20 hospitality boxes were sold out and other corporate areas were packed to capacity as supporters took the opportunity to test out the new facilities.

Leigh’s commercial manager, Dave Bradshaw, said: “Providing we offer value for money we will do well this season with these facilities.

“The last few days have been quite fraught but I think that things have generally gone off quite smoothly. There are bound to be teething troubles but we’ll address these along the way and make sure the whole match-day experience is one that people will want to come back an enjoy.”

The match itself was predictable enough with Salford fielding a Super League strong starting 13 while Leigh boss Neil Kelly took the opportunity to blood some of his youngsters in the senior squad.

Stand-off Martyn Ridyard, on his pro debut after signing from Leigh Miners, stood out among the backs but generally Leigh’s enthusiasm was not enough to overcome Salford’s extra class.

Kelly felt that the 26-6 final score flattered Salford but a 20-point winning margin was probably what Salford deserved.

Jeremy Smith, Karl Fitzpatrick and Paul White all crossed for first half tries to give Salford a 16-0 interval lead.

In the second half they stretched that to 26-0 with further tries from Stefan Ratchford and Brad Hargreaves before bustling winger Jamie Smith brought the house down with Leigh’s first try in their new home, followed by a stunning touchline conversion from Ian Mort.