Weekend Interview: Ryan Hall approaches the last-chance saloon with Leeds Rhinos

IT will be a strange sight for all Leeds Rhinos fans '“ rugby league fans, for that matter '“ seeing Ryan Hall in a Sydney Roosters jersey next season.

Ready to make his mark: A relaxed Ryan Hall preparing for the semi-final.
Ready to make his mark: A relaxed Ryan Hall preparing for the semi-final.

During his dozen years at Headingley, the prolific winger has become almost as synonymous with the West Yorkshire club as the legendary Kevin Sinfield, his former team-mate and current manager.

The image of Hall thundering over into the left corner for yet another try has long been etched into Leeds memories and the picture of him scoring that try against Huddersfield Giants in 2015 is enshrined in Blue and Amber folklore.

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Jubilantly racing in for the dramatic last-minute effort that delivered them the League Leaders’ Shield, and second part of an historic treble, remains one of Super League’s genuine stand-out moments, too.

However, the England star revealed last month that, unlike peers such as Sinfield, Rob Burrow and probably Jamie Jones-Buchanan, he is not going to sign off his career as a one-club man.

Hall will head to the NRL in 2019 to test himself against the very best, which is only right given he has long been nicknamed ‘WBW’ or the ‘World’s Best Winger’, a title he also officially gained following a particularly fruitful 2012.

Admittedly, that departure is still some months away but the knowledge of it brings an air of finality to plenty that the 30-year-old is doing in the here and now.

For instance, Hall knows tomorrow could be the last time he pulls on the shirt of his beloved home-town club in the Challenge Cup and perhaps even the final time he will feature at all in the famous knockout competition.

Ryan Hall in action for Leeds Rhinos (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Rhinos, with a relegation threat hanging over them, face Warrington Wolves in the televised semi-final at University of Bolton Stadium (Bolton Wanderers’ ground) with a place at Wembley up for grabs.

It is a fact not lost on Hall, who lifted the trophy in both 2014 and 2015.

“I’m really excited actually,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“Obviously when I’ve played in the Challenge Cup before this has never been an issue; I’ve always thought my Rhinos career would just carry on.

That try: Ryan Hall scores the try that earned Leeds Rhinos the League Leaders' Shield in 2015.

“But this is the last-chance saloon for me to leave with some silverware now and that is exactly what I am going for.

“I’m fully determined to get the job done. I know the team has not been going well so far.

“We’ve had mainly downs this year and that’s why we’ve ended up in the Qualifiers.

“But all it takes is 80 minutes and I know we can produce a performance. We just have to get it done on Sunday.

“I’m going to savour every moment and make sure it’s a good experience.”

Given his standing in the British game, it would be apt if Hall could sign off with another Wembley appearance and trophy but, obviously, sport is never so neat and tidy.

Warrington have plenty of players in their ranks who deserve such acclaim; Kevin Brown, Hall’s former England colleague who plays his 400th career game tomorrow, has still never once won the prestigious trophy.

Neither has Daryl Clark, the dazzling hooker who won the 2014 Man of Steel while with Castleford Tigers but only after losing that year’s Challenge Cup final to Hall’s Leeds.

Of course, at one point it looked like Rhinos, for all their success in Super League – seven titles since 2004 – would never be triumphant, either.

Hall, who has scored more than 200 tries since his 2007 debut, conceded he also thought it may elude him.

“Yeah, there’d been a lot of chat about it off-field through the press about will this team that had been so good in the Grand Finals ever win a Challenge Cup?” he recalled, Rhinos losing their next six finals after last winning in 1999.

“There had been so many years that we did lose. We’d lost 2010, 11 and 12 on the bounce at Wembley so you do start questioning it… are we destined to never win it?

“When 2014 came around there was no chance we were going to lose that one.

“We didn’t leave any stone unturned in the preparation building up to that game so that on the day we could nail it and that’s what we did.”

Hall, in particular, did so, scoring two tries and claiming the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match.

Typically, like the old joke about buses, after such a long wait, Leeds then followed up by retaining the Cup the following year, with a record-breaking 50-0 rout of Hull KR.

However, as he has grown older and for all the medals he has won, Hall has learned to never take any of it for granted.

“Once you get to this point in your career you get to look back and see what you’ve done,” said the player, who has won six Grand Finals and a World Club Challenge as well as reaching last year’s World Cup final.

“But I was talking to (Leeds and England second-row) Brett Ferres about it earlier this week. He’s never even been to a Challenge Cup final never mind won one.

“Obviously he’s older than me and had a longer career than me so it’s been good to hear from him and speaking to the lads about how it’s not an everyday thing.

“You don’t get these opportunities – a Challenge Cup semi – every day or even every year so don’t turn up half-hearted to it. Give it everything you’ve got.”

Hall will not be drawn on what experience he enjoys the best – Wembley or Old Trafford.

“I wouldn’t ever pick one over or the other; it’s like who do you like best – your mum or your dad?!” he explained.

“Now it (Wembley) is the only one on offer to me and I’m fully concentrating on that.

“There is the big deal of the Qualifiers to get the Super League status back for Leeds next year. That will come afterwards.”

That starts in a week’s time when Rhinos, despite winning the Grand Final just 10 months ago, host Toulouse in their opening Qualifiers game in a bid to stave off the drop.

It would be unthinkable if the most successful club in the summer era did suffer relegation and, for all their travails this term, the smart money would be on them comfortably retaining their place in Super League.

That is certainly the hope for Hall before he flies out to Sydney to start his new life with wife Vicky and their young family.

“It’ll be a great experience for them,” he said.

“I don’t think Violet will remember it – she’s just two – but Harry, who is six, will do which is great.

“That’s a part of it now being a dad: that you provide experiences for the kids.

“Harry likes the outdoors. He likes his computer – don’t get me wrong – but I always make sure he gets outside, too.

“We live on a cul-de-sac at the moment and that’s great as there’s loads of kids who play out together and it’s quite safe as you don’t have to worry too much.

“Hopefully, he’ll be the same over there in Sydney. I’m not sure where exactly we’ll be living yet. I’ve still got a big job to do here. But that will take care of itself over the next few months.”

Which, hopefully, will be the same for Rhinos’ survival hopes as well. And with Hall looking for one last hurrah, you sense it will.