IT HAS been a remarkable 12 months of progress for Leeds Rhinos’ new kid on the block Muizz Mustapha.
The Nigeria-born forward, who grew up in Leeds and joined Rhinos’ academy from Hunslet Warriors, began 2018 serving an eight-game ban.
He returned to help Leeds reach the under-19s academy Grand Final, won a trophy on his senior debut – for Featherstone Rovers – and went on to play for both Yorkshire and England.
Now he is training with Rhinos’ first-team squad after being handed a two-year full-time contract and next item on the agenda is a Betfred Super League appearance.
Mustapha described himself as “very pleased” with his full-time call-up and reckons it will allow him “a bit more room and a bit more time to develop and improve”.
He said: “It has been my goal since I joined Leeds and I’ve finally got there so it means a lot. Hopefully I will make my debut and try and kick on and break through. I want to get physically more developed and get stronger and used to that intensity, that’s my plan.”
Mustapha made his first-team debut last October when he was drafted in by Featherstone Rovers on an emergency loan deal to play in the Betfred Championship Shield final against Leigh Centurions.
Having picked up silverware in his first game at senior level, he starred for Yorkshire in their narrow loss to Australian Schoolboys and that earned him a place in the England under-19s squad which won the subsequent Test series 2-0.
“I was pleased with the way I played and it was a great honour,” Mustapha said of his international call-up. “I just gave it my best. The Aussies don’t lose many so it felt amazing to beat them.”
Rhinos coach David Furner took close note of Leeds youngsters’ performances against the Schoolboys and that led to Mustapha’s full-time deal.
His challenge now is to prove he belongs at the top level. Standing less than six feet tall, Mustapha isn’t the biggest of forwards and admitted he is not yet sure where in the pack his long-term future lies, having played in both the front- and second-row.
“Wherever my coaches put me I’ll try my best in that position,” he stressed.
Mustapha still has a year left at academy level, but dual-registration with Featherstone is another option for him to gain game time.
He impressed Rovers with his strong-running and tough-tackling performance, against bigger and older opponents, in the Shield final, and said: “I am hoping to go out on loan and get more experience really.
“It’s just about getting started. That’s what you want to do as a young forward and get more physically developed.
“I am very happy with the way things have gone. I have come a long way really and I want to thank my coaches for that – Rob [Burrow], Jonny [Wainhouse], Mark Butterill and the gym and strength and conditioning staff and physios.
“They have really put a lot of time and effort into helping me improve and working on my skills. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Mustapha has been awarded squad number 36.