New boy Stephenson thriving in Academy

Players come into the Leeds Rhinos development pathway through a variety of routes, but for half back Tayler Stephenson, he has a particularly unique journey.

Stephenson is in his first season with the Rhinos, having played his junior rugby at local sides Milford and Oulton Raiders. He then played in North vs South programme, which is organised in partnership between Leeds Rhinos Foundation and Hunslet RL Foundation, and was spotted by the Rhinos Academy coaches.

A Rhinos fan growing up, he has played three times for Under-18s head coach Tony Smith this season, including when he fulfilled a childhood dream by scoring a try at Headingley Stadium in the 52-0 win over Castleford Tigers. “It meant a lot,” he said. “To play at Headingley was a proud moment and to score made it even better.

“I played my junior rugby at Milford and also Oulton more recently. I also got the opportunity to play in the North vs South programme last year, which was when I heard that Leeds were first interested in me. You don’t have to get selected to be a part of the team, anyone can just go down and train and then the coaches pick a side to play in the games. I came off the bench at hooker in the first game and played well and then off the back of this I met with John Bastian and Simon Bell and signed for the Rhinos Academy.”

Being at a club like Leeds gives young players early access to facilities and services equivalent to the first team, including tailored strength and conditioning programmes as well as sports science and nutrition support.

Speaking about the support at the Rhinos, the half back said: “Getting help from the club’s medical and performance staff really helps to look in depth at what you need to improve on. Even stuff off the field like nutrition, it improves your game a lot. It’s challenging physically and skill-wise especially. The difference in skill is massive but once you settle down, you get more comfortable and confident.

“It’s new to us all as young players but we’re only just starting to gel and there is plenty of the season to go. I’m just excited to see how I can develop and grow.”

To sign onto the 2023 North vs South Player Development Series, please CLICK HERE.