Wednesday, March 16
Another week and another big game for us at Yorkshire Carnegie.
This Sunday we host Championship rivals Jersey in the semi-final of the British & Irish Cup knowing that if we can win we will have the chance to win silverware plus the extra incentive of knowing the Final would be at home as well.
Last week the lads produced a ruthless display against Moseley to get us into the last four.
The visitors kicked an early penalty but there was only one winner after that. To score 50 unanswered points in any game is a big achievement but to do it in a knock-out game is particularly pleasing.
It was great to see some of the lads who have been waiting to get their chance in recent weeks show Bryan and the coaches what they can do and that certainly raises the stakes for all of the squad.
We have got massive games every week between now and the end of the season and everyone needs to be producing their best at this time of year.
Jersey had a great win down at Bedford in the quarter final and, like ourselves, they will be wanting to do their region proud by reaching a Cup Final. The semi-finals are an all Championship affairs with all the Irish and Welsh sides now eliminated and I think that shows the strength of the competition especially when you consider we are the only team from the top four from the league in the last four of the Cup.
London Welsh and Cornish Pirates clash in the other semi-final so, if we are fortunate enough to go through on Sunday, we know we will face another tough task in the Final.
This Saturday I have the privilege of opening the new Magnet Leeds showroom will be situated on 221 North Street, Leeds, LS7 2AA at 9am.
I will also be there from 12 noon to meet supporters and I hope you can get down and say hello.
The Rhinos will be looking to bounce back from last week’s loss at Wigan with a tough game against St Helens this Friday night at Headingley Carnegie.
Saints are a team who I have always respected and I am sure this game will be a cracker. I was fortunate that my last ever game as a Rhino at Headingley was against Saints in last year’s semi final and that was particularly fitting given how significant games against them were in my career.
When I reflect on the many semi-finals and Grand Finals we have played against each other it could only have been Saints that I bowed out against at Headingley.
I have been doing quite a bit of reflecting recently while putting my new book together with the help of the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Pete Smith.
It is a look back over my career with some great photos and memories included.
It is due out on Saturday, March 26 and the publishers have got a busy schedule set up for me to sign copies so I hope to see you along there. The first signing is of course at the club shop on the day of the launch from 12 noon until 2pm.
It will be a massive boost for the Rhinos to have Danny McGuire back this week. It was great to see Jamie Jones-Buchanan back in action last week at Wigan and playing so well.
Knowing that group of people well, I know no one will be feeling the pain of the start of the season more than them however the Rhinos fans must keep the faith; the cream always rises to the top.
Tuesday, March 1
With five games to go in the regular season, we now know the challenge in front of us over the next two months if we are going to put ourselves in a position to achieve our goals this season.
Sunday’s defeat to Bristol at Headingley Carnegie was a tough one to take for all of us, mainly because we had opportunities to win the game.
We scored one try apiece in a very close match. Under former England boss Andy Robinson, Bristol have spent big in recent years and you only had to look at their team sheet on Sunday, which included seven full internationals, to see why they are red hot favourites to finish on top of the Championship before the play offs.
Our discipline hurt us in the end and Gavin Henson was able to punish us with his boot to keep us at arms length during the second half.
However, we have taken plenty of positives from the defeat against a side who we hope to meet again in the play offs.
Sunday’s game was my first against one of the top four teams in the league and I enjoyed the experience.
There was definitely a step up in intensity and that is something we will need to be ready for in the play-offs.
It was great to be back at Headingley Carnegie and having the chance to play at home.
Of our five remaining league games, we have three at home and we hope that will be crucial for us. We also have our British & Irish Cup Quarter Final at home and the draw has favoured us and it means if we win, we will be at home in the semi final and final, if we can progress. That is a fantastic motivation for the team as a whole.
This weekend we travel to Birmingham to face Moseley who are fighting for their lives at the foot of the table. We play them again the following Sunday at home in that Cup quarter-final. They will be desperate to get the league points on Saturday having suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of relegation rivals Ealing Trailfinders last week and we have to make sure we match their determination and passion.
Hopefully, with Spring around the corner now we are in March, the weather will start to get better. Drier conditions and better pitches will certainly help us as a team and the core skills we have within the group.
My old team-mates at the Rhinos have had a tough start to the season. The squad are missing some key players especially our skipper Danny McGuire.
People might not appreciate how important guys like Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Carl Ablett and Stevie Ward are to the Rhinos but as someone who played alongside them, I know how much they will have been missed.
Those three in particular get through so much work on a match night. To be without them at this part of the season will have stretched the resources of the rest of the squad. Jamie in particular is a huge figure within the group and he is not far off coming back to full fitness. He will give the whole place a lift when he is back on the field.
I thought they performed well over in France against a strong Catalans outfit, certainly better than we did on our last visit in the Super 8s last year!
I have been impressed with Jordan Lilley and Liam Sutcliffe. The Rhinos fans are some of the most knowledgeable about the game in rugby league and they understand that these young fellas need time and patience and I know the club and supporters will keep the faith.
That will make the victories and glory all the more sweeter when it comes.
Wednesday, February 10
Derby week is always something special. This week we make the short trip down to Castle Park to take on high flying Doncaster in the Greene King IPA Championship.
Clive Griffiths has done an outstanding job down at the Knights when you consider they only came back into the Championship last season and they are now genuine title contenders. I think you only need to look at Leicester City in the Premier League to see what a team with a collective will and vision can achieve and we know we will face a tough challenge this Saturday.
I am hoping I will be fit to be available for selection. I had a calf strain last week and the medical staff did not want to risk any further damage, we took the view it was better to miss a game than aggravate the injury and be out for a month. We have a great medical set up at the club and the players are very well looked after which gives you confidence as a professional to take on board what the guys advise.
We had a well-earned bonus-point win last Sunday against a tough Cornish Pirates side. We were behind in the first half but showed great spirit to find a way back into the game. After the disappointment of the previous week’s loss at Scottish, it was important that we got straight back on the horse and the lads did that. It was especially important to keep the pressure on Bristol, Doncaster and Bedford above us in the table as they keep picking up the points too.
The RBS Six Nations kicked off last weekend and England got the job done up at Murrayfield. It was not the prettiest performance you will ever see but it was efficient and effective and by Monday morning they remained as one of only two teams who could still win the Grand Slam. I thought Italy were unlucky to lose out in France, they seemed to do everything right to get the result in Paris but just needed another 30 seconds more composure at the end to set up the position to go for the winning drop goal.
Wales were dealt a major blow by the injury to Dan Biggar. He has been a talismanic player for them in recent years and they showed they will be a big player in the Championship over the next few weeks by how they responded to that set back and going behind in Dublin before fighting back for the draw.
Crossing codes, and Leeds Rhinos kicked off their season last week with a narrow defeat against Warrington. Unfortunately for Danny McGuire he suffered a knee injury that will sideline him for a few weeks and I know that will be frustrating for him as captain. As a kicker, I can sympathise with Zak Hardaker, it does seem at times that people only ever talk about you as a kicker when you miss but I am sure he will continue to work hard and will be knocking over the kicks for many years to come. It is important that the fans continue to support the boys and give them their backing, especially with the massive game against the Cowboys on the horizon.
Tuesday, January 26
With nine games to go in the regular season, Yorkshire Carnegie face a tough test this Saturday when we travel to London Scottish.
The Exiles defeated us earlier in the season at Headingley Carnegie but we managed back-to-back bonus-point wins in the Cup against them so will go there looking for a repeat of those performances. London Scottish have recently announced a new partnership with the Scottish Rugby Union that will see them able to tap into the SRU resources in terms of coaches and players. With ambitious plans like that, I have no doubt they too will be wanting to send out a signal that they are going in the right direction in the second half of the season.
Last weekend, we booked our place in the British & Irish Cup quarter-final with a big win down at Neath against the Ospreys Premiership Select. I didn’t make the trip but the lads played well and deserved their victory. With five wins from six games, we have finished top of our pool and booked a home quarter-final in a few weeks, which helps keep the momentum up from recent games.
This week I was fortunate enough to be invited over by the BBC to feature in a Question of Sport, I won’t spoil the result for you but it was nice to part of the show. It was great to hear the interest there was for Yorkshire Carnegie and how we are getting on this year and hopefully it helps spread the word about the club and what we are trying to achieve.
Last Sunday saw my former Rhinos team-mate Carl Ablett celebrate his testimonial game at Headingley Carnegie as the Rhinos defeated Bradford Bulls. Carl has been a great servant to the Rhinos down the years. I saw he was described as an ‘unsung hero’ and, whilst that might be the case for the wider public, it was certainly not the case in the dressing room because of the hard work he does for the whole team. He was the only player who played in every game of last year’s treble and was a big part of our success. I hope he has a successful testimonial year because he thoroughly deserves it.
The new First Utility Super League season kicks off next week and it certainly looks like it will be as tough as ever. The feel good factor around the game from last season seems to have carried through into this season and there is a lot of expectation about the new campaign. It is a big year for Rugby League with Australia and New Zealand both heading here for the Four Nations at the end of the season and a chance for England to lay down a marker ahead of the World Cup Down Under in 2017. For me personally, I can not wait! I have always said that I will be a supporter of the Rhinos and I am looking forward to going to games with my wife and two sons to cheer the lads on, I am sure we are in for a great year.
Tuesday, January 12
We are looking forward to getting back into action this weekend when we face Munster A at Huddersfield RUFC in the British & Irish Cup on Sunday afternoon.
My first start for the club came at Munster earlier in the competition so it would be good to test myself against them again.
That was a tough game over in the wind and rain at Kinsale, but I really enjoyed the challenge of facing them once more. Their side includes a number of players who play in the Guinness Pro 12 for the Munster first team along with some emerging youngsters plus there were a couple of internationals in the side when we played them last.
It will be a good challenge for us and a chance to progress to the knock-out stages of the competition with one game to go.
There is only a point between ourselves and Munster A in the pool table and they are the only team we have lost to so far so there is plenty at stake this Sunday.
With no game last weekend, the coaching staff gave us some time off and it was good to get a chance to have a break from training for a couple of days especially after a hectic first few months at the club.
Obviously, the flooding over Christmas is still having an impact on our training programme. As well as the excellent facilities at West Park Leeds, this week we have also been down to Fight Science Leeds in Morley, which is owned by our very own Charlie Beech and his wife Heather.
The gym is a big open space with lots of state-of-the-art fitness and strength equipment. There are also matted areas, a boxing ring and MMA cage ring so the boys have enjoyed the change of environment.
Charlie is doing the smart thing by planning for life after rugby. I mentioned a few weeks back that virtually every rugby player in either code will need to eventually get a ‘proper’ job when they hang up their boots and by getting some business experience during your playing days gives you a great headstart when you finally have to retire from the game.
This Sunday’s match is the latest of our ‘on the road’ games in the British & Irish Cup.
I am looking forward to visiting Huddersfield’s home ground at Lockwood Park. The management of the club have put a lot of time and effort into these games as a way of spreading the word about Yorkshire Carnegie across the county. I hope as many people as possible can turn out on Sunday as it should be a good contest.
If we can progress this weekend, it will ensure we have a run of games for at least the next eight weeks, which will be a good block of matches for us heading into the business end of the season.
The squad are in a good position at the moment with plenty of competition for places. Oli Goss, James Tideswell and Jarad Williams have recently returned to action on loan at Huddersfield and Joe Graham is back available after his suspension so the signs are positive at a key part of the season.
Monday, January 4
Happy New year to everyone...it was certainly a happy new year for Yorkshire Carnegie.
It was really important that we backed up our result against Rotherham when we travelled to Ealing Trailfinders on Saturday.
We always knew it was going to be a tough place to go and get a positive result especially as they were full of confidence from a win the previous week over London Scottish.
Ealing play on an artificial pitch, which was not something that was new to me. I have played on a the iPitch at Widnes in recent years with the Rhinos and we regularly train on our own 3G pitch at Kirkstall.
However, Saturday’s game was played in heavy rain throughout and that does have an impact on the artificial pitches and how they play. It was a tricky environment to play in which made it all the more enjoyable to get the win in the end. The game was scrappy at times but we have to be delighted about going down there and coming away with a bonus-point win to make it ten points out of a possible ten over Christmas and New Year.
We have got some time off this week with no game next weekend and it was important that we went into that break on the back of a win.
I thought Ealing played some decent stuff against us and they are no mugs. We got ourselves out into a 14-0 lead after 20 minutes but then by five minutes into the second half they were level.
But we never questioned ourselves and just got back to controlling the key aspects of the game.
The talk when the scores were level was really positive and we knew we had to show some composure and not allow Ealing to dictate the pace of the game. Thankfully, we got back to the things we did well at the start of the game and the forwards were outstanding and the backs finished off some nice passages of play, so it was a great team effort which certainly made for a happy bus ride home.
Last week we had some disruption due the floods in Leeds, but the boys never used that as an excuse or distraction in the build up.
Parts of Leeds have been completely wiped out and you feel for each and every one of the people who have been hit. For us to be slightly hampered in our training regime is just one of those things that you get on with. However for people who have lost their houses and homes they are the most important people for us to keep in our thoughts. We have got a great temporary training base up at West Park Leeds which has got some fantastic facilities and a 3G artificial surface as well that certainly helped with our preparations for Ealing.
On behalf of everyone at Yorkshire Carnegie, I would like to thank West Park Leeds for allowing us to use their facilities. Our own training ground at Kirkstall is still a bit of a mess at the minute but I know dozens of people are working around the clock to resolve those problems and that too is very much appreciated by all the players.
Monday, December 28
WE were delighted to give our supporters a belated Christmas gift with a bonus point win over Rotherham on Sunday afternoon.
It was especially pleasing to get back to winning ways in the Championship to keep up with Doncaster and Bristol at the top of the league.
The crowd on Sunday were brilliant and created an enjoyable atmosphere for us.
To attract our second biggest attendance of the season with large parts of the city gridlocked by floods was a great effort and the team really appreciate the lengths everyone made to be there to give us their support.
We will face some logistical challenges this week ahead of our game at Ealing Trailfinders with our training ground at Kirkstall still under water and currently forming part of the River Aire!
We are fortunate that we have a great backroom team in place and I am sure it will cause as little disruption as possible to our plans this week but I suspect we will be away from Kirkstall for a few weeks, while everything dries out and is then cleaned up.
The thoughts of everyone at Yorkshire Carnegie go out to all those impacted by the floods across the North of England over Christmas.
There were some horrendous scenes on the television from Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire and I am sure it was very distressing for those involved.
I thought the emergency services and those who volunteered to help out did an amazing job in making sure that people were safe.
Houses can be repaired and items replaced, but thankfully everyone has been kept safe and can now begin to rebuild their lives.
Looking back to Sunday’s game, our talented back rower Josh Bainbridge continued his impressive season. He scored four tries to take his total this season so far to fifteen and they all came from a set move off a line out close to the tryline.
Obviously coming from Rugby League, the line out was something that is completely alien to the thirteen-man code. However, I have got so much admiration for the work that the forwards put in in training to make sure that it is spot on come matchday. The guys spend hours each week watching videos and making plans as well as practising on the field and it has become a major weapon for us.
As well as Josh, Chris Walker, Andy Saull and Jack Barnard have all benefitted from the teams hard work at the line out and it is a skill that I have learned to appreciate since switching codes.
Ealing will be full of confidence after getting off the bottom of the table last week with a win over London Scottish. They play on an artificial pitch, which will be another new experience for me in a Rugby Union game, however we train on a 3G pitch at Kirkstall so I am sure it will not be too much of a shock to the system for the team.
Finally congratulations to our hooker Phil Nilsen on becoming only the second player in the club’s history to be granted a testimonial.
Phil is a one-club man with Yorkshire Carnegie and I am sure our fans will support the many events he has got planned over the next few months.
Tuesday, December 22
Wow! The BBC Sports Personality of the Year event on Sunday was an incredible experience. It is absolutely awesome to have been named runner-up in the Sports Personality of the Year awards.
It has been an unbelievable year and I am eternally grateful for everyone who voted, to everyone at Leeds and also the wider game.
For Rugby League the whole occasion felt like it took the sport to a whole new level.
In terms of growing the sport and inspiring young people to pick up a rugby ball and go play Rugby League hopefully it will have some impact on that.
I would like to thank everyone who voted and I understand the tribal nature of team sports but there was a huge effort in the build up to Sunday night to bring all the clubs together and it was heartening to see.
It was also nice last Saturday when I was down at London Scottish with Yorkshire Carnegie to have so many well wishers coming up to me and saying they were supporting me.
I think the fact that I was a member of a team meant that a lot of people knew what that meant whether that was rugby league or union or even football and cricket.
Back to Carnegie and I was really pleased that we got the win down at London Scottish. It was important for the team that we backed up the previous week’s win at Scarborough and it was a much tougher game with Scottish making ten changes including drafting in two Scottish internationals. The team really dug in and it was nice to get the victory.
That meant we could all have a good week this week and I could go off to Belfast with a smile on my face.
The last few weeks since the nomination was announced have been manic and I would like to thank my Yorkshire Carnegie team-mates and coaches for the support they have given me. The whole experience has been so humbling and I am so, so grateful.
All the lads have been great and Bryan has understood if I have had things on. We have tried to work nearly everything around training and I’m glad I can now get back to just focusing on training and playing.
I am looking forward to taking on Rotherham this Sunday at Headingley Carnegie in my first derby clash. I am sure it is going to be a tough challenge but it is one we are looking forward to.