Micky Higham – 20 Years Of Professional Rugby League

Valentine’s Day this year is something special for Micky Higham. Not that he’s suddenly become a wide-eyed romantic you understand. But because it marks a special anniversary- 20 years since he began his love affair with Leigh Centurions and Rugby League.

On Sunday 14 February 1999 Leigh played at Barrow in a Challenge Cup fourth round tie.

With injuries already hitting his small squad Leigh’s new Australian coach Ian Millward called up a young hooker,  signed from Leigh Miners, who at the time was seven months shy of his 19th birthday.

20 years on Higham has played 530 senior games and is still leading from the front as Leigh Centurions skipper.

Lenny Kravitz topped the charts with Fly Away when Millward handed him his Leigh debut on Valentine’s Day 1999. It wasn’t quite a massacre but Leigh’s 33-16 Challenge Cup victory was a good a way as any to start what’s proved to be a glittering professional career.

Higham retrospectively earned heritage number #1153 which means over 300 players have made their debuts for Leigh in the intervening period.

Three other young players stepping out on their professional careers, Chris Platt, Craig Wingfield and Chris Parr also made their Leigh debuts that day.

“We were struggling with injuries and Basil (coach Millward) had a word with me in the week,” Higham recalls.

“I hadn’t expected to get my chance in the first-team so quickly and I didn’t really have time to get nervous. Anthony Murray and Nick Jenkins were the Leigh hookers at the time and both were a big help to me.

“Barrow had a big strong side and I remember looking at Stuart Rhodes and thinking I’d never seen anyone as big.

 “But Timmy Street really looked after me, both before the game and during it and he had a big part to play in helping a lot of young lads making their way in the game at that time.

“I’ll always be grateful to Timmy for that.”

The cup-tie was also special in that it marked Leigh’s first away win for over a year and coach Millward was a proud man as he led the players to salute the travelling fans on the Craven Park terraces.

“The players always go to applaud the fans after every game, but this was a bit special,” Millward said afterwards. “I went across as well because we are all in this together- coaches, players and fans. They can see the improvement week by week and when we do manage to put it all together for 80 minutes then some team’s going to suffer.”

Leigh’s first away win since September 1997 -and their first in the Challenge Cup since March 1987- was due in no small part to the enthusiasm injected by Higham and the other youngsters.

“That result and performance will only benefit their confidence for the more difficult games that lie ahead,” Millward added. “It will especially help the younger lads who came in because of the injury situation. They’ve had a taste now and will want more.”

 Leigh raced into a 16-0 lead with a try by Tongan powerhouse Tau Liku after only 90 seconds and a quickfire brace by David Ingram with two Phil Kendrick goals.

Higham came off the bench for Jenkins after 26 minutes for his senior bow as Barrow fought back, cutting the deficit to 16-10 with tries by Tane Manihera and Phil Atkinson. “At the stage the game could have gone either way,” Millward said. “I’m proud to say the boys toughed it out and went on to win comfortably.”

Fullback Stuart Donlan and Saf Patel created the opening for Alan Hadcroft to finish from 40 metres and get Leigh back on the front foot just before the midway point of the second half. Kendrick added the conversion and a drop-goal before the visitors clinched the tie with further tries by Donlan and Andy Fairclough, leaving Stewart Magorian’s late reply small consolation for the home side.

Leigh bowed out of the Challenge Cup at the next stage, beaten 20-17 by Widnes but under Premiership Coach of the Year Millward enjoyed a remarkable revival, finishing fourth in the table after being bottom of the Championship in 1998. Higham went on to play ten first team games in his debut season and the following year blossomed into an outstanding talent as the Centurions suffered an agonising grand final defeat against Dewsbury.

Barrow: Magorian; Salmon, Atkinson, Thomas, Marshall; Manihera, Holt; Whitter, Kavanagh, Whiteley, Rhodes, Luxon, Hughes.
Subs: Clark, McAllister, McMillan, Whitehead.

Tries: Manihera, Atkinson, Magorian;
Goals: Holt 2.

Leigh: Donlan; Ingram, Purtill, Kendrick, Hadcroft; Patel, Murray; Street, Jenkins, Whittle, Liku, Costello, Fairclough.
Subs: Higham, Platt, Parr, C Wingfield.

Tries: Liku, Ingram 2, Donlan, Hadcroft, Fairclough;
Goals: Kendrick 4 and one dropgoal.

Attendance: 1,485;
Referee: Ian Smith;
Half-time: 6-16.

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