ADRIAN Lam believes Oliver Gildart returns to Super League a better player than when he left Wigan for what proved a shortened NRL career.

And Leigh Leopards’ new centre is set to mark his 27th birthday on Sunday with a debut at Leeds Rhinos.

The England international previously confirmed a permanent move to Hull KR from 2024 onwards. And this swiftly arranged temporary deal doesn’t allow him to face Rovers in the Challenge Cup Final.

But with Leigh riding high in the table, despite last Saturday’s 44-18 defeat at Wigan, the club swooped to cover Ricky Leutele’s season-ending back injury.

“Gilly is a player who should have had more game time,” said Lam of his one-time Warriors charge. “He plays a style of rugby I like.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for him. However, he still played good rugby in Australia. He is stronger, faster and fitter than he has ever been and comes back a better player.

“It takes days, sometimes weeks to get over jet lag. But he has been brought here to play and he is fit enough and done all the work.”

Gildart’s last Super League outing came in Wigan’s play-off defeat to Leeds on September 23, 2021, a game that also marked Lam’s last as Warriors head coach.

However, since moving Down Under he has played sparingly for Wests Tigers and also on loan at Sydney Roosters and Dolphins.

“It is a big blow for us losing Ricky,” said Lam. “He has been a big part of our success this season.

“But as a business we had to make sure we covered that position with the same sort of quality.”

Gildart’s likely inclusion at Headingley will be boosted by the returns after suspension of Edwin Ipape and Kai O’Donnell, with Lam set to resist wholesale changes.

“The way we are looking at it is to go full out to maintain the momentum we have had,” he said.

“We rested a few at York (for the Challenge Cup quarter-final) and it nearly bit us on the bum.

“So, it is important to get back to who we are. We are very excited about Kai coming back,“ added Lam, who has been without the Aussie second row since his sending off against the City Knights on June 18.

“He was electric in that first part of the season. He has trained hard and I am confident he will hit the ground running.”

Rovers will have the benefit of a longer turnaround time. They play their final pre-Wembley fixture at Wigan on Friday night but Lam isn’t overly concerned.

“It is something both clubs should maybe have looked at (bringing forward Sunday’s game) but it is too late now. And we went from a six-day turnaround from Salford into the St Helens semi-final.

“We know if we are focused and our attitude is right we can get the job done.”

Leigh are looking for a seasonal double over Rhinos having won 20-6 at the Leigh Sports Village back in April helped by an Ipape try double.