Ryan Hall spoke to me for League Express after signing a new deal with Leeds Rhinos.
WHEN a player pulls on an open-age jersey for his amateur club, his chances of playing in Super League are virtually gone. Only a handful of players have graced the fields of the National Conference League – the pinnacle of the amateur game – and then played Super League.
Ben Cockayne (Normanton and Hull KR), Richard Varkulis (Leigh Miners and Warrington) and Jamie Benn (Castleford Panthers and Tigers) are three rare examples from the game’s summer era, but only Ryan Hall in recent years has gone on to play for England. Back in the 2005-06 amateur season, as a skinny 17-year old, he helped engineer the start of Oulton Raiders’ successful assault on the championship, scored a hat-trick away at Leigh Miners in the Challenge Cup and signed off his four-match stint with a 50-metre try at Stanningley in the BARLA National Cup as the Raiders cruised to an impressive 30-0 win. In January 2006, he signed for the Rhinos.
Midway through 2007, he was lining up at the Millennium Stadium for Leeds against Bradford in the Super League’s inaugural Magic Weekend when the Rhinos stunned the Bulls with a hotly-disputed last-minute try. He has since played in two winning Grand Finals, topped Super League’s tryscoring charts and won a place in the England team. And last week, to the delight of the Rhinos’ faithful, he penned a new four-year deal with the champions.
“I’m happy to commit to Leeds,” said Hall. “I read somewhere that I was linked to rugby union but that’s not right. I’ve never played it, never spoken to anyone about it.
“I was playing amateur about four years ago – I used to play two games a weekend. In terms of signing pro, I missed the net first time round but you’ve got to keep trying and eventually the chance came. I was concentrating pretty hard on college and was planning to go to university to do a maths degree but when [former Leeds coach] Tony Smith rang me up and told me I was in the first team, that had to be my priority. You get one chance at a rugby career, but I can go to university another time.
“The first year in the first team went pretty quickly and I was just happy to play when I did. Millennium Magic was a great place to make my debut, and everyone remembers what happened at the end. I was right behind Jordan chasing that kick and it’s something I don’t think anyone will ever forget. It was an incredible moment.
“Then in 2008, I was in and out of the side. I played 16 games, about half of the games.”
The turning point in Hall’s Rhinos’ career was the 2008 Grand Final when an injury to Brent Webb saw Lee Smith move to fullback, opening up a wing spot for Hall. He seized the chance with both hands and scored a crucial, opportunistic try just before half-time in Leeds’s 24-16 win. Hall hasn’t looked back and last year racked up 31 tries as the club won their third consecutive title.
“I was never really a regular in those first two years but the 2008 Grand Final was massive for me,” said Hall, who quickly paid tribute to veteran centre Keith Senior.
“I don’t think Keith’s ever had a bad season – he gives his wingers such good service. He’s got great experience in the game and he’s taught me a lot so far.”
Despite defeat at home to Castleford on Friday, Hall is excited about the prospect of facing Melbourne Storm in this month’s World Club Challenge and also has his eyes on the Challenge Cup – a trophy Leeds have won just once in 32 years.
“I didn’t play the last time we played them so I’d love to get a win this time,” he said. “Melbourne will bring over a great team and their players were fantastic in the Four Nations.
“But the Challenge Cup is a huge occasion too, and it’s been a long time since we’ve won it. We’ve talked about it and we want to win it this year.”