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Hanley makes mark for Leigh ahead of Wigan derby reunion

They are used to a player with the surname Hanley starring on the rugby field in the Borough of Wigan, although these days it is Umyla, rather than his father Ellery, who is making his mark – and for Leigh Leopards as opposed to Wigan Warriors.

The 22-year-old has had to wait for his opportunity since swapping the cherry and white for the leopard print ahead of the 2023 Betfred Super League season, but six tries in his four appearances so far this year, including hat-tricks in his two most recent outings, have seen him make a case for a longer run in the team.

Unlike the Betfred Challenge Cup win over Featherstone Rovers the week before, Hanley’s three-try haul in Super League’s Rivals Round was not enough to prevent Leigh from falling to a 32-22 defeat away to Salford Red Devils. Nevertheless, head coach Adrian Lam was full of praise for his displays.

“I’m very proud of Umyla,” Lam told Sky Sports following the winger’s hat-trick in Leigh’s defeat to Salford.

“I think it’s his second hat-trick in a handful of games and he’s certainly taken that opportunity with both hands.”

It was Lam who handed Hanley his Super League debut as an 18-year-old in September 2020 when he lined up at full-back when a youthful Wigan team went down 42-0 in the behind-closed-doors derby against St Helens during the Covid-19-affected campaign.

Hanley would make nine further appearances the following year but spent 14 games of the 2022 season on loan with Newcastle Thunder in the Betfred Championship. Then, after reuniting with Lam at Leigh following a successful trial spell, most of his game time came on loan at Rochdale Hornets in Betfred League One last year.

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Highlights as Umyla Hanley’s hat-trick could not prevent Salford Red Devils defeating Leigh Leopards 32-22 in the Betfred Super League’s Rivals Round

That meant he was a spectator for Leigh’s historic Challenge Cup win and their run to the Super League play-offs last year, yet he has not looked back since getting an opportunity last month as a spate of early-season injuries affected the Leopards squad.

He will be aiming to continue that form when Leigh come up against Wigan in Round 7 of the Super League regular season on Thursday, live on Sky Sports, and Lam knows from his own experiences as a player and coach just what these ‘Battle of the Borough’ matches mean on both sides.

“I heard all about it when I was here as a player and when we drew them in the Challenge Cup [in 2002] it was like a ‘here we go’ sort of mentality,” Lam, then Wigan head coach, said in 2021. “I think it’s like that on both sides.

“I remember being about to warm up and news came over the speaker the game was going to be delayed 20 minutes because there was fighting outside the ground.

Pix: Oskar Vierod/SWpix. Rugby League, Pre Season 2001. Wigan Warriors v Salford City Reds. 15/02/2001...COPYWRIGHT PICTURE data-recalc-dims=>SIMON WILKINSON>>01943 436649>>..Wigan’s Adrian Lam.”>
Image: Adrian Lam in action for Wigan during his playing days

“Then it started pelting down like a monsoon and when we finally got out on the ground the rain on top of the field was three or four inches deep.

“I remember Andrew Farrell standing up that day and after that performance, I thought he was one of the best in the world – what he did single-handedly won us the game.”

Wigan make the nine-mile journey to Leigh Sports Village having suffered their first defeat of the season and being knocked off top spot in Super League by another of their local rivals in St Helens, after going down 12-4 on Good Friday.

The Leopards, meanwhile, have won just one of their first five matches of the Super League season, although there have been some positive signs for the team among those results.

Umyla Hanley 2024 Super League key stats

Statistic Total Super League rank
Tries 5 =3
Linebreaks 6 =3
Ave. metres per game 226 1
Ave. post-contact metres per game 77.90 7

Off-season signing Matt Moylan and Gareth O’Brien both rate in the competition’s top 10 for try assists (six and five respectively) and line-break assists (six and eight respectively), while as a team they have recorded the second-highest number of clean breaks (33).

Even leaving out the 54-4 trouncing of Hull FC, the PythagenPat measurement suggests Lam’s side should have had at least one of those four losses as a win as well, and the likes of Ricky Leutele, Oliver Holmes and Frankie Halton joining the injury list for the match at Salford did not help matters.

Lam is desperate to start getting some of those experienced heads back soon, particularly with a rematch of the 2023 Challenge Cup final against Hull KR in this year’s quarter-finals following the visit of Wigan, but knows from past coaching roles how teams can rally from these difficult situations.

“The story behind that is you learn to play without your senior players and when they come back, everyone gets that confidence back and you step up another level and you become a team you weren’t prior to the injuries,” Lam said.

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Highlights of St Helens’ 12-4 win over Wigan Warriors in the Good Friday derby, which was part of the Betfred Super League’s Rivals Round

“That’s what we’ve got to work forward to and keep our heads up and keep working hard because everyone is doing the right things away from here…and these players are getting an opportunity to put their best foot forward, and players like Umyla have done that.

“We’ve got to be grateful for that, but it only gets harder over the next couple of weeks.”

Watch every match of the 2024 Betfred Super League season, including Rivals Round, Magic Weekend, the play-offs, and men’s, women’s and wheelchair Grand Finals, live on Sky Sports. Also stream with NOW.

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