Following a two-week hiatus, the Leeds Rhinos Development Academy side, with Leeds City College, return to action on Wednesday with a trip across the Pennines to face Salford Red Devils Development Academy.
The Rugby League Development Academy, which was launched earlier this year as part of a ground-breaking partnership between Leeds Rhinos Foundation and Leeds City College, allows students to study their chosen course alongside playing rugby league in the Rhinos’ world class performance pathway.
The team were promoted into the College Rugby League Premier Division after topping the Yorkshire Colleges Division One last season, and players Jack Flanagan and Sam Avison are pleased with how they are progressing in the higher league.
Avison commented: “Last season it wasn’t great, because we didn’t train as much and sometimes we struggled for numbers, but this season it has been a lot better. We’re in the gym, training out on the field twice a week and then playing matches on Wednesdays, so now even more students want to get involved!
“It’s been an indifferent start to the season; we beat Huddersfield in a pre-season friendly but we lost the first three games prior to our win over Hopwood Hall. It’s been tough, but an important learning curve for us. We will just keep training and keep getting better.”
Flanagan added: “It was good to get off the mark against Hopwood Hall. I think since the start of the season, we have come on a lot as a team, playing as a group rather than just individual efforts.
“Personally, the coaches have helped me a lot with my rugby because, when I was playing for my club, I was playing at full back in a position I didn’t usually play, whereas now the coaches helped me find my best position at Loose Forward. I’m enjoying it more because I’m around the ball more and obviously in defence I’m in the middle of the park getting stuck in.”
One of the most important aspects of the Academy scheme is balancing students’ rugby practice with their study time. Both Flanagan and prop Jamie Coates are studying fitness-based courses at Leeds City College and discussed how the programme is also helping them to focus on their academics.
“It helps a lot more playing rugby alongside my course,” said Flanagan, who is currently studying to become a full-time gym instructor. “Because the training that we do in the gym and out on the field is so relevant, it’s perfect for the transition into my chosen profession.”
Coates echoed his team mate’s praises, saying: “I want to improve my rugby and make it as a professional, but even if that doesn’t happen, I’m currently studying to be a sports coach or a PE teacher at college,” said the Prop.
“The programme is really applicable to what I learn in the classroom but it also helps my core skills, such as communication and listening, which are needed for future employment.
“Playing in the new development squad also makes me feel a bit better about myself because I’m recognised by other students as being part of the academy. People look at me as more than just a pupil at Leeds City College which helps to give me more confidence.”
Leeds Rhinos Foundation Development Squad take on Salford Red Devils Development Academy at the AJ Bell Stadium on Wednesday 13th November, kick off 2pm.