LEEDS RHINOS’ head coach Dave Furner has called on the experience of Hall of Famer Ellery Hanley as part of the rebuilding process he is overseeing at the fallen Super League giants.
Australian Furner arrived in November to take on the role vacated following Grand Final-winning chief Brian McDermott’s sacking in July.
Although Leeds won four league titles under McDermott they finished in the bottom four during two of the last three years and chief executive Gary Hetherington opted to make changes.
Club legend Kevin Sinfield returned as director of rugby and they appointed former Kangaroos star Furner – part of Rhinos’ first Grand Final winning side in 2004 – to lead the revival.
The new season is now just three weeks away and the 47-year-old has been reminding the squad of what it means to play for such a prestigious club.
This included organising a talk with Hanley, the iconic former Great Britain captain rated one of the sport’s greatest-ever players, who led Leeds for four years after joining from Wigan in 1991 for £250,000.
Talking to The Yorkshire Post, Furner said: “When we came back after new year we had a two-day camp up at Weetwood Hall, mainly just to focus on different areas of our game – both attack and defence – and to get them refocused again after the break.
“That was pretty successful. We had a night there where we had Ellery Hanley in and Keith Senior and Barrie McDermott.
“It was a legends dinner that went off really well and it was just to try and reassociate them with the players who have been before us and worn the jersey before. I obviously played with Barrie and Keith at Leeds so knew them quite well, but Ellery, for me, was always an idol.
“At the time (growing up when Hanley joined Balmain in 1988) he was along the lines of the Mal Reillys coming over to Australia and then, later on, Adrian Morley; he just made an impact.
The jersey they wear at the moment, they are only the custodians of it – they are holding it until the next one. I wanted to impress that on them.Leeds Rhinos’ head coach, Dave Furner
“He was very good on the night at Weetwood, too, and my main point to the squad was basically about always remembering the players that have been before us.
“But also the other is that the jersey they wear at the moment, they are only the custodians of it – they are holding it until the next one. I wanted to impress that on them.”
Furner insisted he does not feel Rhinos players lost pride in the blue and amber jersey as they nosedived into another relegation dogfight last year.
“I don’t think so, but whatever happened last year I haven’t touched on,” he added.
“It’s just about what we want to grow here as a team and I suppose as a club as well.
“Kev Sinfield does a great job there and for the players the biggest thing is about respecting what’s happened before; a lot of teams in the last decade wrote a lot of history for this club.
“It’s about respecting that, but for this group here it’s also about writing their own history.”
Some of the younger players will have a chance to impress Furner tomorrow when they head to Doncaster in a testimonial game for Kyle Kesick, the experienced Dons hooker who has represented the South Yorkshire club for the last decade.
Harry Newman, Corey Johnson, Owen Trout, Muizz Mustapha and Loui McConnell, who all helped England Academy beat the Australian Schoolboys in December, are included.
However, Ireland prop Brad Singleton makes his first appearance of pre-season and new signing James Donaldson makes his second after trialling in the Boxing Day win over Wakefield Trinity.
Other first-team players include Luke Briscoe, Brad Dwyer, Ashton Golding, Anthony Mullally and Josh Walters.
Meanwhile, former Doncaster player-coach Paul Cooke, 37, is coming out of retirement to feature in Kesik’s testimonial match.
The ex-Hull FC star, currently with Doncaster Knights, said: “Kyle was the captain when I arrived at Doncaster in 2012.
“He epitomises the competitiveness of any rugby league player I’ve played against or alongside. Everything is a competition – in training and in games – and with Kyle the more physical the better. He’s tough, he’s rugged, he’s 100 miles per hour, he gives and takes and plays with a smile on his face.
“He cares deeply about Doncaster Rugby League Club, about his team-mates, but most of all his family. After four years retired I certainly wouldn’t play a game for just anyone. So the biggest testimony I can give him is that I’m actually playing another game of the sport we all love.
“He deserves this testimonial and good luck to him.”