Leeds Rhinos v New Zealand: Guest role for Morley brings him back to the very start

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“I’ve climbed Kilamanjaro, now I’m playing the Kiwis; I’m not ready for pipe and slippers just yet, but after this game I might.”

It is certainly not the usual pre-match interview material, but definitely a fitting soundbite as veteran prop Adrian Morley makes a final stand before retiring.

Adrian Morley in action against Halifax back in 1996. Picture: Steve Riding.

Adrian Morley in action against Halifax back in 1996. Picture: Steve Riding.

One of the finest players of his generation, the former England captain lines up in a guest appearance for Leeds Rhinos tonight, the club where he made his professional debut in 1995.

Playing against New Zealand at Headingley, in a match that also marks the 125th anniversary of rugby league first being played there, Kevin Sinfield, Kylie Leuluai, Jamie Peacock and Ali Lauitiiti are all also saluted.

However, Morley’s path towards this end game – the Kiwis are warming up for next week’s opener versus England – has been decidedly different to the rest.

Fundraising for the Steve Prescott Foundation (SPF), and in a team of 38 including former team-mates Barrie McDermott and Lee Briers, the 38-year-old successfully tackled the 19,341ft Mount Kilimanjaro inside six days rather than the usual nine –before then playing in the world’s highest game of rugby league.

Furthermore, Morley, who officially played his last fixture for Salford Red Devils at Hull KR on September 27, only arrived back in the UK on Wednesday yet was still taking part in Leeds’s training run yesterday ahead of facing the world’s No 1 team.

“It was hard to train for Kilimanjaro because it was conflicting with the rugby,” he admitted.

“When I finished (playing) I did a few sessions in the altitude chamber to try and condition myself but it didn’t have a great effect. It was really, really tough, harder than I thought it would be.

“It’s been a whirlwind few days. The actual climbing wasn’t physically demanding, it was just the altitude. I got to Gilman’s Point which is the one below the summit. It was like someone flicked a switch – all my co-ordination had gone and I was stumbling all over.

“The guards were a bit worried, but I ended up playing the game.

“They asked me if was sure I wanted to scale it because I wasn’t in great shape, but I tried it and thankfully I did.

“Lee Briers helped me through, amongst others, and yeah, it was a great feeling. Obviously I was quite sick at the top and they ended up having to get me a stretcher and stretcher me down to the next base camp.

“Three didn’t make it, five had to be stretchered down including Barrie McDermott – I’ll throw him under the bus – but there was a great sense of achievement once we’d done it. It was something special there together and that will stay with us for life.”

Tonight, too, will be something this esteemed player – still the only Briton to win Grand Finals in England (Bradford Bulls 2005) and Australia (Sydney Roosters 2002) – will remember forever.

“I was delighted when (Rhinos chief executive) Gary (Hetherington) rang asking if I’d be interested in playing my final game for the club at which I started,” explained Morley.

“Playing the Kiwis is special, too, because that’s the first international team I played for Great Britain, so it ticks a lot of boxes.

“I get a chance to play in front of the South Stand again as well.

“They normally boo me but I hope I get a good reception. It will be good to wear the Leeds badge one final time.”

Morley stormed onto the scene initially as a hard-running second-row who became quickly renowned for his abrasive tackle technique.

He played 149 games for the Rhinos, including the 1999 Challenge Cup final win, before securing a move to the Sydney Roosters in 2000 where he earned legendary status again.

Having finished training at Headingley yesterday, though, it was his maiden first-team game at the famous old ground that he recollected most fondly.

“I remember it well,” said Morley, who will take up an ambassadorial role with Salford once he has “stopped a few pints of Guinness going bad” in Dublin during a break with fellow retiree Peacock and their respective wives.

“It was 20 years ago, Good Friday in 1995 against Hull FC. There were only two subs in those days and I was on the bench.

“Marcus Vassilakopoulos went down injured after about 20 minutes, I came on and played the rest of the game. I loved every minute of it and there were 13,000 people here.

“The most I had ever played in front of before was about 150 for the A Team. It was a fantastic experience and you never forget your debut. It’s amazing, the 20 years having gone like that really.

“To get to start and finish here is special. I’ve just had a moment to myself, sitting where I used to sit and reliving some of the memories. My peg is still up in the boot room with ‘Morley’ on. It’s a nice touch, 15 years since I last played here, to still be remembered.”