Rugby League

Super League: Kurt Haggerty still relishing opportunity as Leigh Centurions interim head coach

Kurt Haggerty could perhaps be forgiven if his enthusiasm for his first professional head coach role had dipped since being appointed as John Duffy’s interim successor at Leigh Centurions two months ago.

In that time, the promoted side have still failed to win a game on their return to the Betfred Super League and their most recent match saw them go down 50-6 away to Wigan Warriors in an ill-tempered derby clash.

But whenever the 32-year-old is asked whether he is still enjoying the job despite the Centurions being rooted to the foot of the table on the back of 14 straight losses, the answer is always the same: He is not just enjoying it, he is loving it.

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“There’s always going to be a process, but for me every day is a learning curve and every day I enjoy,” Haggerty said.

“People are still asking me: ‘Do you enjoy it still, even though you’ve not won a game?’ I say: ‘Yeah, I love it – it’s great’.

“We’re just fighting every week to get our first win, so that’s what our mindset is at the moment.”

Haggerty’s coaching career began when the former Ireland international back row was still playing, taking charge of National Conference League amateurs Pilkington Recs aged 24 in 2013 and guiding them to three successive promotions from Division Three to the Premiership.

That spell included the St Helens club’s first-ever win over professional opposition when they beat London Skolars 13-0 in the Challenge Cup in 2016, later retiring from playing at 27 to joining the staff of fledgling Toronto Wolfpack for their maiden season under ex-Leigh head coach Paul Rowley.

He remained on staff when Brian McDermott succeeded Rowley in 2018 and is still in contact with the four-time Super League Grand Final-winning coach – and unsurprisingly has picked up plenty of lessons from him.

“Smile more,” Haggerty joked, adding: “No, there is a lot I learned from Brian and we’ve still got a good relationship now.

“We speak often, and I still pick his brains as well as other coaches and people I’ve worked with. It’s not just Brian, there are a lot of people I speak with to help me get better too.

People are still asking me: ‘Do you enjoy it still, even though you’ve not won a game?’ I say: ‘Yeah, I love it – it’s great’.

Leigh interim head coach Kurt Haggerty

“The one thing I would say is you manage more [as a head coach] when you coach, but I have worked with some very good coaches like Brian McDermott.

“I’ve seen the best how they go about their business, so you learn things for yourself and put your own stamp on things. As long as you treat players with respect, you get it back.”

Out of work following Toronto’s collapse last year, Haggerty was brought back to the club he had two spells with as a player by Duffy to serve as assistant following Leigh’s promotion to Super League in place of the Canadian club.

Six months into the job he found himself promoted to the head coach hotseat on an interim basis after Duffy departed by mutual consent following an eight-game losing run at the start of the Super League season and an early Challenge Cup exit.

It has been an adjustment for Haggerty, having to cope with managing more alongside coaching in this position as well as taking a role on the recruitment side with general manager Neil Jukes and owner Derek Beaumont, although he knows it has been a change for the Centurions squad too.

“It’s different for the players too,” Haggerty said. “There are a lot of players who had signed to play for John Duffy, then you get your interim coach who comes in and changes things and tries to make things different.

“I’ve always been advised not to change things too quickly, but we’re a club who haven’t won a game so I thought I’d change things I think will help us improve.

“Some of those areas it has and some other areas we still need to work on, especially defensively. We’re putting new systems in place which will hopefully come to fruition when we start playing more games regularly.”

Leigh aim to secure victory in Super League at the 15th time of asking when they host Hull Kingston Rovers live on Sky Sports this Sunday.

It will also see rookie head coach Haggerty get the opportunity to pit his wits against a Super League and Challenge Cup-winning boss in Tony Smith, whose Rovers side have caught the eye during his tenure with their free-flowing, attacking approach.

“He’s obviously one of the best we’ve had in this country, so to see his team go about their business is a real honour for me,” Haggerty said.

“They’re great to watch with the ball. They’re a very good team with the ball, they offload, and they play very much ad-lib rugby so we can’t have a play off this week if we’re going to compete with Hull KR.”

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