Leeds Rhinos Netball: Supporting role of new home fans can prove Vitality Superleague game-changer

There is no definitive way to measure the impact of a crowd of people on a sports team, but at the first direct Arena on Sunday afternoon the support generated by the first netball crowd in Leeds was obvious.

Leeds Rhinos' Vicki Oyesola wins posession in Sunday's Vitality Netball Superleague.
 Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds Rhinos' Vicki Oyesola wins posession in Sunday's Vitality Netball Superleague. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

At least to the players anyway, as Leeds Rhinos fought back to claim a priceless, single-point victory against Wasps Netball in the Vitality Superleague.

A crowd of 3,023 greeted Rhinos long-awaited first home game in Leeds in front of fans and the home team, and the game itself did not disappoint in a rip-roaring finale.

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Certainly for the Rhinos it was a victory well earned, and one in which the full force of the home crowd was felt.

“We could hear them throughout the game, all the chants and the cheering, it definitely helped us in the last quarter,” said Vicki Oyesola, one of the club’s first-ever signings who knew the emptiness of playing behind closed doors in their first season in the Superleague last year.

“It was huge for us. When we came back to equalise it was like having an ‘eighth woman’ on court that helped get us over the line.

“You could hear the call, the shouts, the encouragement.

“That’s something we’ve been missing so far. We’ve had quite a few away games and we’ve struggled under that pressure and in those moments to push on, whereas having that support behind us instead of against us was crucial for our team and it changed the game for us.

Leeds Rhinos' Jade Clarke seizes the initiative during Sunday's Vitality Superleague win against Wasps Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“We’ve not been able to withstand that pressure so far this season, but yesterday with our home crowd behind us, we were able to get across the finish line.”

Players and officials on the netball side of the Leeds Rhinos operation always remark on how vital the professional environment of the rugby league club is in helping them promote the game in the city and the wider county.

And the full force of the Rhinos was felt in securing a venue like first direct Arena in the first place, and then putting on a show of such a high standard.

“A lot of credit goes to the people working behind the scenes at Leeds Rhinos who were there from 8 o’clock in the morning getting everything set up,” said England Roses player Oyesola.

Leeds Rhinos' Brie Grierson - in action during the Vitality Superleague win over Wasps at first direct Arena on Sunday Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“The lights, the court, Ronnie the Rhino out there, the drums, the trumpets, building that atmosphere.

“It took me by surprise, I never thought we would have sold so many tickets so to have over 3,000 there was fantastic.

“Even when we first walked out for the warm-ups there was a huge cheer from the crowd. It was really nice to see so many people come out to support us in Leeds. We knew we’d built a fanbase in Leeds and in Yorkshire through social media but we’d not been able to engage with the fans until now.

“It’s definitely nice to know that all these people who have been supporting us were able to come out and watch us play in person and we were able to meet them after the game, take a few pictures with them, sign some autographs and meet them on a personal level as well.”

Just as important as the occasion itself was the victory over a rival for a top-four play-off spot come season’s end.

“It was a big win for us, especially coming from behind,” said Oyesola. “Previously in games this season we’ve either lost the lead or been unable to come back when we’ve gone behind, so it was really important we were able to do that.

“I’m glad we put on a good performance for our home fans.”