Ellis leads from front as Hull put words into action

Gareth Ellis
Gareth Ellis
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IT is the moment Hull FC fans have been waiting more than 10 months to see but there is general consensus, when it finally arrives, that Gareth Ellis will not disappoint.

Failure is not usually a word associated with the much-respected England second-row.

No surprise, then, that all 14 Super League clubs made advances for his services when he announced he was heading home after four years in the NRL.

It was Hull who last March eventually pulled off the major coup by securing his prized signature, saying a lot about their own growing ambitions. After concluding last season in Australia, Ellis prepares to make his league debut for the East Yorkshire club this evening at, of all places, Headingley.

Ellis, of course, won two Grand Finals with Leeds Rhinos in 2007 and 2008 before heading off to massively enhance his reputation with Wests Tigers in Sydney.

It was tempting to return to the reigning champions where he also won a brace of World Club Challenges but, always one to test himself, he admitted that would have been “too easy.”

Hull, though, is more of a work in progress with owner Adam Pearson hoping the 31-year-old can add some of the leadership, experience and world-class skills needed to take them to Leeds’s elite level.

The Black and Whites, with other impressive captures like Daniel Holdsworth and Ben Galea, are being touted to potentially deliver their first Championship in 30 years and much of the publicity is coming from within their own ranks.

“We are probably where Leeds and Warrington were five or six years ago,” Ellis admitted before their season opener.

“We have got a new owner who is passionate about the club and we, as players, can take the club forward.

“He drives the passion behind the club and we’ve all bought into it. This season is a great opportunity for us to put a marker down.

“The club has done a lot of talking in the off-season of where it is going and what to expect from us this year so who better to do it against than the champions; the best team probably over the last 10 years?

“We will find out where we are at. Now it’s time to do the business. You can talk all you want but it’s up to us as a group of players to go out there and perform.”

In reality, little will be read into this evening’s result – it is when September arrives that form and fitness really matters in Super League – but undoubtedly a Hull win would cement in their own minds that there is some substance to their belief.

Making Ellis their captain has placed more pressure on those hard-hitting broad shoulders of his, something that he perhaps does not need.

However, the Castlefordian embraces the challenge and added: “I am a more confident player now than I was before I left for Australia.

“Going over there, not knowing anyone and making my own way on and off the field certainly brought me on as a person and as a player.

“It (Headingley) will be a fitting return to Super League. As soon as I found out we were going there for the first game, I was really excited.

“I have fond memories of Leeds, wonderful times lifting trophies, but I know there is a lot of pressure on me here being the big signing. It’s up to me to perform.”

He remembers initially being “really daunted” by the prospect of playing with Leeds when he joined from Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, shortly after Rhinos’ historic first Super League title win in 2004, but never actually feeling pressure.

He puts that down to the confidence of youth but one of those who certainly helped his transition was Kevin Sinfield who has gone on since to mastermind five more Grand Final wins in the last six years alone.

“He has had a big influence on my career ever since I came to Leeds,” added Ellis, about the current Leeds and England captain, whom he also hopes to stand alongside as the national side battles for World Cup glory this autumn.

“He and a few others taught me how to be a professional rugby league player.

“Things I do now are from what I’ve copied from Kev when I first moved there. You need players like him to build a culture at a club.

“He’s in the heart of it at Leeds and, without a doubt, could have made it in the NRL.

“Everything he puts his mind to, he makes a success of.”

Under the watchful eye of his former Tigers assistant Peter Gentle, now the head coach at KC Stadium, Ellis sees plenty of similarities between Hull and the Rhinos in their embryonic stages.

When asked what his side need to do to replicate their rivals’ success, he replied: “I think it’s already happened.

“It’s a sort of flip in attitude. This is not to discredit any Hull teams in the past but, from an outsider looking in, I always saw Hull as a massive club with huge potential but not really willing to go that extra mile to get there.

“I think now under Adam Pearson and his guidance plus Peter Gentle, the club’s certainly turned a corner.

“It’s almost where success is the only thing we’re looking at now.”

It is big talk, indeed, from a club that has so far reached just one Grand Final in 2006.

However, when it is Ellis who is speaking, the talk is worth listening to.