Leeds Rhinos Netball keen to expand their home comforts

Leeds Rhinos are ready for their Wizard of Oz moment.

The Yorkshire side announced themselves in style when they debuted in the Vitality Netball Superleague last season, cracking the top four to qualify for Finals Day.

But the squad that ultimately finished fourth never got to play in Leeds.

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The 2021 campaign was, owing to Covid, played in just two centralised venues: Wakefield’s Studio 001 and London’s Copper Box Arena.

It’s why England international Vicki Oyesola is so eager to find out if there really is no place like home – and hopes Yorkshire fans step up to support her side.

“We’ve obviously not had a home game yet,” said the defender.

“So, we’re really looking forward to getting the home fans in, getting that crowd energy because, when you’re on court and you can feel the crowd behind you, it really makes a difference when you’re playing.”

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Rhinos begin with a tough test on Sunday facing defending champions Loughborough Lightning in Birmingham.

Resorts World Arena will host an opening two-round weekend extravaganza featuring all 11 clubs before the season settles into the home-and-away format.

Rhinos then travel to Strathclyde Sirens in Scotland before finally making their home debut on Valentine’s Day – in Sheffield.

The club hopes it won’t be just Leeds fans who fall in love with the squad, which boasts the Vitality Roses’ most-capped player Jade Clarke and 23-year-old Rhea Dixon, who scored 194 goals for Leeds last season and earned her first England call-up.

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To build their fanbase, Rhinos have embraced Lao Tzu’s philosophy of ‘going to the people’ – and the club believes ‘their’ people extend across the whole county.

Both Sheffield’s English Institute of Sport and the University of Hull’s Allam Sports Centre will host multiple Rhinos’ home games this season.

Their Leeds debut won’t come until March 6, when they will host Wasps at First Direct Arena.

“We want to spread netball around the county and build a fan base all around Yorkshire,” said Oyesola.

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“There’s such great passion in Yorkshire. I’m from London, so the difference being up north is it’s a lot more friendly.

“People always come up to you and have a chat, so it’s a really great, friendly atmosphere and everyone is just really passionate and proud of where they come from. It’s an honour to represent the region.”

Those who tuned in last season will notice a few new faces this year, most notably in leadership. Dan Ryan, who steered Rhinos’ electric debut, stepped down from the role in August after deciding it was time to return to his native Australia.

Another Aussie, Tracey Robinson, was appointed as his successor in January, and will work with assistant coach Maggie Birkinshaw, who has been leading the squad in the interim.

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The experienced head coach most recently led Malaysia to their first Asian Netball Championship in 32 years.

“She’s definitely brought some fresh perspective and ideas about how she wants us to play,” said Oyesola. “I’m not going to give away too many secrets, but I’m looking forward to how we can execute her plans on court.”

Time to start clicking the heels of those trainers.


Leeds Rhinos get their 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague campaign under way on February 5.

Buy your tickets to the season opener and to their home games at venues around Yorkshire here: https://www.netballsl.com/tickets/

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