No regrets - why forward Matt Prior is glad he came back to Leeds Rhinos

FOR A while last winter, it seemed veteran Australian forward Matt Prior might not return to see out his contract with Betfred Super League play-off semi-finalists Leeds Rhinos.

Relieved: Rhinos captain Matt Prior says he is glad he changed his mind about retiring at the end of last season to carry on at Leeds. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Now, having extended his time at the club by another two years earlier this season, Prior is within 80 minutes of leading Leeds out at Old Trafford for what would be their ninth Grand Final appearance.

Twice an NRL title winner, with St George-Illawarra in 2010 and Cronulla Sharks six years later, Prior was Rhinos’ player of the season in 2020 and featured in their Challenge Cup-winning side during his debut campaign in England.

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But, having a young family, the coronavirus pandemic made it a tough year off the field.

Danger man: Matt Prior says Leeds will have to contain the likes of St Helens' powerful forward Alex Walmsley if they are to reach the Grand Final. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

Prior admits he considered retiring and remaining in Australia, before eventually returning from his off-season break just weeks before this season began.

He has gone on to miss only four games all year, played for Combined Nations All Stars against England in June and took over from Luke Gale as captain the following month.

On Friday he will captain Rhinos at St Helens for their first Super League semi-final since 2017 and, not surprisingly, he admits: “I am definitely glad I came back.”

Reflecting on his decision to stick with Leeds, Prior said: “I knew we were building for something special.

“Hopefully we can get there this year to the Grand Final and win it.

“There was a special feeling around the camp, with the players we’ve got and there was some unfinished business here, so I am so glad I came back.”

Prior’s durability has been impressive during a season when Rhinos have, at times, been reduced to the bare bones by injuries, coronavirus and suspensions.

He feels it has been a “massive achievement” to get within one game of the Super League showpiece.

“We are pleased to make it this far and we are in with a chance,” he stressed.

“We always had the belief internally, I don’t think we’ve ever doubted, it has just been getting our best team on the park and managing when we haven’t.

“A lot of the blokes who have been injured have come back at the right time and we are ready to go.”

If Prior is to become only the fourth man to captain eight-time champions Leeds in a Grand Final, they will have to get past the formidable obstacle of defending champions St Helens first.

Rhinos were crushed 40-6 at Langtree Park three weeks ago and are on an eight-game losing run against their fierce rivals.

Leeds’ most recent victory over Saints was in 2018 and they have been beaten there twice this season, so Prior is fully aware of the size of the task facing them in three days’ time.

“They are the team to beat,” he accepted.

“They have been the in-form team for the last few years.

“They don’t make many mistakes and they’ve got some great players, like [Alex] Walmsley.

“Their halves are class players and it’s going to be a tough assignment for us, but we are preparing well and we will do everything we can to stop them.”