BARRIE McDermott believes the emerging crop of Leeds Rhinos youngsters can go on to rival the golden era of the last decade enjoyed at Headingley.
The Rhinos won their fifth Grand Final in eight years and have appeared in 14 finals in the last nine years thanks to the rise of Academy products like captain Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire, Ryan Bailey and Jamie Jones-Buchanan.
But Rhinos legend McDermott, now Leeds head of younth development, believes a new generation is set to emerge after 13 youngsters from the Super League club were picked by England for their academy and youth squads.
“I am delighted for the thirteen lads who have been included, it is richly deserved for their hard work and dedication to their development,” said McDermott, who took over the Headingley youth system in 2009.
“It is also recognition for the hard work done by Chris Plume, Simon Bell and Bob Pickles along with all our Scholarship Coaches who are doing a brilliant job. To have the quality within our ranks recognised by England is a credit to the coaches and the academy system and the great work that is going in within grassroots rugby here in Leeds.
“The philosophy and culture of the club is very strong from top to bottom. When we look to sign young players, we know they could be at other clubs for more financial rewards but they stay at Leeds to progress and develop.
“That message comes from the top down here at the Rhinos with chief executive Gary Hetherington and head coach Brian McDermott always mindful of the next generation of players.
“The 30-man first team squad for the 2012 season includes 19 players from our Academy plus players like Zak Hardaker, Jay Pitts and Luke Ambler who signed for us from other clubs but have been developed through our system. That track record of promoting young talent is extremely important when we speak to players and their parents.”
A decade of success at Headingley has produced a winning culture, and it is something which McDermott, one of only 22 players in the club’s history to have won the Challenge Cup and a Grand Final, is keen to continue.
“The players that we are signing now were five or six when Leeds started on this golden period in the club’s history,” he said. “All they have ever known is success at the Rhinos and that leads to a very positive atmosphere to be around.
“When they come into training they see Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock still pushing themselves to their very limits despite all the success they have enjoyed and know instinctively what is required.
“In recent years, unfortunately we have not been able to enjoy success in terms of trophies in our academy teams however the true measure of success is whether those players are progressing and we are proud of our record of players who go on to play first team rugby either at Leeds or other Super League or Championship clubs.”