RHINOS YOUNGSTERS TO KICK OFF NEW ERA
Leeds Rhinos Head of Youth Performance John Bastian is backing the club’s young stars to kick start a new era at Headingley Carnegie with victory in the Carnegie Academy World Club Challenge game against Penrith Panthers on Monday night, kick off 7pm.
Bastian was responsible for developing players that filled both the Rhinos Junior Academy and Senior Academy side last season. The younger team finished the season as Champions whilst the Senior Academy lost out only in the Grand Final.
Now they face their biggest challenge when they take the Champions of Australia in the inaugural Carnegie Academy World Club Challenge at Headingley Carnegie.
Bastian believes that this is a fantastic opportunity for the Rhinos to show their strength at junior level again.
“The game is the first of its kind and is great recognition for the hard work at the club not just this year but over the last ten years.
We are constantly producing high class juniors for the Rhinos but also throughout Super League and National Leagues as players move on or spend time out on loan.
“I am in my third year here and the depth of quality assistance we give our juniors is second to none.
Other clubs sign players of similar ability as our guys but where we probably differ is that we do everything possible to them the opportunity to enhance that natural ability.
We also have high expectations and we demand a lot from our young people which is why events like Monday are so important.
“The support we receive from our Chief Executive is an important part of that process.
You have got to give credit to Gary Hetherington, he supports not just our academy but grassroots rugby as well. That is where our young lads come from and we never forget that fact,” added Bastian.
The Rhinos success this year has been coupled with a return to winning ways for the Great Britain team which included a number of players who have come through the Academy game in Leeds and the Rhinos Academy system.
Bastian believes that exposing young players to international competition at an early stage is vital in producing players who can compete on the world stage.
“The days are gone when the game was totally dominated by Australian Rugby League. They set the bench mark for many years but we have caught up at international and youth level and whenever Australians play a British side they know they face very talented players.
“The likes of Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire came through the same systems as this Under 19 side and at the same age they played against the Australian Schoolboys and Australian Institute of Sport.
Young players need that experience in their Rugby League development, playing sides like Penrith Panthers is great for their personal development,” commented Bastian.
The Rhinos Under 19 squad reported back for pre-season training early to prepare for the clash with Penrith and Bastian believes there is no danger of them feeling fatigue for this one off match.
“Monday will be a special occasion and you can see that in the way the players have approached the game.
Their focus has been of a very high standard even though they have only had four or five weeks off since the Grand Final win. We blew the cobwebs off in the first couple of sessions and they have worked hard since then.
There is no doubt, we are taking this game very seriously. It is rare that you get the opportunity to play in Carnegie World Club Challenge and it is a great reflection on them and how we develop young people and players,” said Bastian.
As well as looking after the players signed on with the Rhinos, an important part of Bastian’s role is developing and nurturing the links with the amateur game in the City. In the build up to Monday’s game, every club in Leeds was invited down to watch the Rhinos train and speak with Bastian and new Rhinos Head Coach Brian McClennan.
Bastian believes that events like that can only strengthen the resources of players available to Headingley Carnegie outfit and is a key reason why their opponents on Monday night have been successful in recent years.
“We had 70 coaches down at the training ground on Monday to watch an open training session with the U19 squad. We always emphasise how important those links are and continue to enhance and strengthen our bond with the amateur game.
“We will not underestimate Penrith Panthers.
They have more juniors aligned to them than any other club in Australia or the UK. We know their side will be loaded with quality players and that they will be as hungry as us.
They are a very talented side and I am sure it is going to be a very good game.
I am sure the Leeds public will get right behind the event and enjoy a great night of Rugby League at Headingley Carnegie,” added Bastian.
The Leeds squad for the Carnegie Academy World Club Challenge is as follows:
1. Ben Jones-Bishop
2. Ryan Hall
3. Mike Ratu
4. Jody Broughton
5. James Archibald
6. Kyle Briggs
7. Luke Gale
8. Michael Haley (c)
9. Ben Kaye
10. Joe Chandler
11. Joe Howey
12. Liam Brown
13. Danny Allen
14. Luke Hardbottle
15. Gareth Moore
16. Simon Brown
17. John Elkington
18. Matthew Fox
19. Ben Jones
20. Tom Sheldrake