Coach Steve Boden fulfilling his love for the game with Doncaster Knights

AS we speak, Doncaster Knights head coach Steve Boden is busily preparing himself to take off for a few days to his caravan at Filey.

PLANNING AHEAD: Doncaster Knights' head coach Steve Boden. Picture: Tony Johnson
PLANNING AHEAD: Doncaster Knights' head coach Steve Boden. Picture: Tony Johnson

It is hard not to instantly think of David Batty, the iconic former Leeds United midfielder who, legend has it, would love nothing better than doing the same.

Given Boden is also from Leeds, growing up in Seacroft just a few miles from Elland Road, it is easy to draw similarities between two no-nonsense characters; the combative ex-England international and a gnarled former hooker.

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“The lads do take the p*ss out of me,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

TOUGH TIMES: Steve Boden, centre, working as head coach with Yorkshire Carnegie's then director of rugby Chris Stirling back in March 2019. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“I do like the simple things in life; fishing, walking the dog and just being outdoors.

“It’s weird. When you work in professional sport, people think you live this lavish lifestyle but I’m probably more at home in the caravan in Filey than in a five-star hotel abroad.

“I’ve never been a massive football fan but I would watch it and I do still follow the Leeds scores being my hometown club.

“Obviously they’re on the rise now. It’s funny as I did a rugby consultancy job in Argentina about two years ago and (Marco) Bielsa was just going into the job at Leeds.

Doncaster Knights' head coach Steve Boden. Picture: Tony Johnson

“I’d never heard of him but all the guys at Buenos Aires, the rugby club I was working with, were saying ‘you’ve got the God of football going to your club!’

“He’s done an unbelievable job. I know a lot more about him now.”

With Leeds promoted to the Premier League after a 16-year absence, Boden’s ideal long-term scenario ahead of his first full season in charge at Castle Park, would be to see Doncaster reach the Premiership for the first time.

For different reasons, Saracens and their England stars this year plus a traditional gulf in finances between the two competitions, it is an even tougher assignment than United’s.

Brett Davey, third right, was Doncaster Knights' coach when Steve Boden was released.

Boden, of course, has been around the Premiership before.

Although he made his name at Doncaster, playing almost 200 games for the South Yorkshire club, he was initially on Leeds Tykes’ books and came through their famed academy.

“I did a bit of first-team but it just got to the point where I wanted to play,” Boden recalled.

“I was 21 and was sick of not playing. It didn’t seem to matter how well you played, you weren’t going to play.

NO WAY THROUGH: Phil Davies, coach at Leeds Tykes where Steve Boden started his career before moving to Doncaster.

“We had Mark Regan, an England international, so that’s rightly so. But you got a little bit lost and wondered ‘why am I doing this?’ I went on loan to Hull Ionians but Donny scouted me and I told Leeds I’d be leaving.

“There was Rob Rawlinson at Tykes, too – a great guy – and they had more experience than me.

“Phil Davies was in charge and he saw those people and Rob Webber, who started to come through as well, as his hookers.

“Stuart Lancaster ran the academy when I was there. But when he took over the first team, the opportunities for the kids coming through the academy really flourished. I really wish I’d been around in that era when he was in full charge as maybe I’d have got more opportunity; Lanny saw it not as a risk but, if you’re good enough, you played. Phil was different.

“Yet, then again, I wouldn’t have changed it; I had a good upbringing there and it was a great move for me to go to Donny.

“Pieter Muller, the ex-Springbok, was in charge and it was part-time rugby at the time.

Rob Rawlinson was ahead of Steve Boden in the pecking order at Leeds Tykes.

“I was plumbing and doing 40 hours of that as well as getting flogged at Donny. I didn’t mind working. I always worked as a tradesman and at Leeds I’d fit in a day’s work around training with the first team.”

Promoted from assistant at the end of last season, that work ethic will surely be impressed on his Knights side when they do finally get to start the 2020-21 campaign, whenever that may be.

Boden, 37, conceded: “That’s why I’m struggling now (in lockdown). I’m used to working ridiculous hours but I’m not saying that in a negative light.

“I absolutely love my job to the point where my missus goes nuts as she’s always telling me to put my laptop down.”

He is loving being back at Doncaster having left shortly before his career was ended by injury. Boden recalled: “If I’m honest, I wanted to stay at Donny another year. I was 29 but I was getting to that point where my body was starting to break down.

“I’d played a lot of rugby from a really, really young age, week in, week out in the front-row in the Championship at 21 years old.

“Physically I was not the biggest or strongest bloke so I was going to go work a bit and train a few nights. We’d pretty much agreed a deal but the coach – Brett Davey – changed his mind at the last minute.

“I was disappointed. I don’t think I deserved loyalty – I don’t think there is such a thing in sport – but I felt I deserved at least honesty. He could have told me they wanted to go in a different route, that I wasn’t the player I was five years before and they wanted someone younger, hungrier, but I didn’t get that.

“Brett’s a good guy but I just think he could have handled it better. I’ve got no animosity there, though, and we still have a pint now. And long story short, it was probably the biggest blessing in disguise I’ve ever had in my rugby career. I got the opportunity to move to Jersey and that was great. I started the next season but got a neck injury and did have to pack in that Christmas aged 30.

“But then I got to join their coaching staff and grabbed it with both hands. I’ve loved coaching since being young.”

After four years with Jersey, he moved back to Leeds as forwards coach with Yorkshire Carnegie and helped them get to a Championship Final only to miss out on promotion to London Irish in 2017.

He became head coach ahead of 2018-19 but infamously – in the second half of that campaign – the money ran out in spectacular fashion and the club ended up in a CVA with all the squad and coaches leaving.

Boden rejoined Doncaster as forwards coach and could only watch on helplessly from afar as the RFU this week pulled the plug on that revered Leeds Academy. Relegated to National League One this season, downtrodden Carnegie had long been unable to provide their part of the funding for a system that generated the likes of England stars Danny Care, Tom Palmer, Luther Burrell and Webber.

Boden conceded: “It’s sad. Really sad. It’s a massive loss.

“The county produces so many good rugby players and so many internationals. That’s why Yorkshire is desperate for a Premiership outfit. But that’s a different story.

“Academy-wise there needs to be somewhere for them to develop. We’re building our own at Doncaster. It’s not an RFU affiliated one but still has a really good pathway for them to play Championship rugby and then move on from there.”

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THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Doncaster Knights head coach Steve Boden walking his dog in Roundhay Park in Leeds. Picture: Tony Johnson