Fans fuelling Brie Grierson’s play-off ambitions with Leeds Rhinos Netball

Sixteen games into their first season of existence, Leeds Rhinos will, belatedly, get to play netball in front of fans this weekend.

Leeds Rhinos' Brie Grierson is tackled by Lucy Howells of Celtic Dragons. Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty Images.

Only 1,000 of them mind, and the majority will be neutral at London’s Copper Box Arena tomorrow afternoon, but still, it will be a novel, and welcome, experience.

“It will be a bit weird at first, obviously very exciting but also very strange,” admits Brie Grierson, Rhinos’ homegrown wing attack.

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“We’re so used to having the arena all blacked out, you don’t even realise there are seats there. In Wakefield, where we played the first few games, there were no seats at all, it was just a court.

Leeds Rhinos Netball head coach Dan Ryan. Picture: Gary Longbottom.

“I’ll definitely prefer a real-life crowd to the crowd noises they’ve been piping in.”

And Leeds Rhinos have given much for their new fanbase to cheer. They have adapted quickly to life in the Vitality Netball Superleague, winning nine of their opening 16 games to sit fifth in the 11-team league, one place out of qualifying for the end-of-season play-offs.

Without a conventional home venue yet, and no way of knowing how many fans they can attract to games due to the season starting behind closed doors because of Covid, the Rhinos players have been largely unaware of just how much interest their hard work and performances is generating. Social media is the only gauge.

“I think we have a really big fanbase already,” says Grierson, who started playing netball at primary school, aged eight, and used to play in front of just a couple of dozen friends and family with the Yorkshire Jets back in the middle part of the last decade.

“The amount of messages the girls and the staff get, even people saying they supported a different team last year and are now supporting us, or we’re their second-favourite team, is very encouraging.

“We know how many people are behind us and to see them in the crowd and hear them will make a massive impact.

“Sometimes, when you need an extra push, a crowd can give you that. That saying of the ‘eighth player’ rings true.

“You can hear our bench above anything else when we’re playing; when we do something well they’re cheering, when we do something bad they’re there to pick us up.

“So to have that on a bigger scale with the crowd could be so influential for us.”

That extra noise might just push them into the play-off reckoning.

With four games to go, starting with tomorrow’s fixture against second-placed Loughborough Lightning (2pm) and continuing on Monday against Surrey Storm (5.15pm), they are four points (two wins) adrift of fourth-placed London Wasps, who have played two games more.

“It’s still one game at a time for us; that is our focus every week,” says Grierson, echoing what head coach Dan Ryan has maintained throughout the season. “We just think about the next opposition and focus on ourselves. If we play our game then anything can happen.

“But we are very much aware of where we are and we’re very conscious of that top four.”

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