Fans Forum Meeting Wednesday 23rd November

The Leeds Rhinos Fans Forum came together for the third Leeds Rhinos meeting of 2016 which took place on Wednesday 23rd November and the Forum members heard from guest speaker, Head of Rhinos Youth Development – Simon Bell.
The below minutes are in a condensed format and include all feedback which has come in from either Forum members directly or via fansforum@leedsrugby.com. The responses to all feedback are also included so if you send in emails prior to these meetings, the minutes include the replies from the Club.
If you have any feedback that you would like to be discussed at one of the Fans Forum meetings then please email fansforum@leedsrugby.com and this will be discussed at the meetings and published in the minutes shortly after the meeting has taken place.
Fans Forum Members:
Attendees: Sue Millard, Gerry Alleyn, Simon Whitehead, Rachel Barker, Alistair Senior, Barbara Senior, Danny Frank, Sam Brightbart, David Muhl, Christian Floyd.
Apologies: Jon Williams
Guest for the Evening:
Head of Rhinos Youth Development
Simon Bell
Meeting Dates for 2016

  • Wednesday 14th December @ 7pm (Group)

Overview from Simon Bell on his role:
My role entails managing the whole academy programme that we run here at Leeds Rhinos.  From Talent ID to contract negotiation etc.  I work alongside Brian McDermott, Chris Gibson and Gary Hetherington to develop our academy players and offer them the best programme we can.
My working week is as follows:
Monday – 6:30am we have our Under 19’s at Kirkstall training before school/college.  We run the training programme alongside the academic year.  The players then travel to Headingley to have breakfast and then they go onto school/college.  We then have a staff meeting once the player have left and go over our week plan.  I am in all day Monday working with coaching staff, planning my week, processing my admin and RFL documents. Also, I plan the fixtures that we have for the upcoming season where we are playing the fixtures, transport etc.
Tuesday – I will come in through the day to work with the coaching staff again with planning our week and discuss any injuries and the rehab we will look to do with the players.  Then at 4pm we train with the Under 19’s.  Some of the team will be doing weights, others in the ruck room and then others on the field.  Then once they have done the training they need to do in those areas they swap round.  We finish training on a Tuesday about 7:30pm.
Wednesday – I usually start about lunchtime on a Wednesday with the scholarship boys training 7-9pm.
Thursday – This day is a repeat of Tuesday with the training etc.
Friday – This is the same as Wednesday.
Saturday – The under 19’s come in and train in the morning.  Then on a Saturday afternoon I go out into the area and watch other teams playing and scout for new players.
Sunday – I will watch Under 14’s and 16’s age groups. On a Sunday, you get younger groups of kids playing and that is something I love watching just seeing how much fun they have playing the game as that is what it is about.
I love my job, yes it can be hard at times but I don’t particularly look at is at work as it is something I am passionate about.
Sian: You started as a volunteer at the club, what made you do that in the first place?
Simon: I started coaching when my son first started playing at Stanningley.  John Bastian offered me a voluntary role as a coach.  When that was offered I never thought it would lead to the job I have now and I have been very lucky.  That is the great thing about Leeds Rhinos.  If they see you succeed in your work they will always reward you and that is what they did for me.  I was in engineering for 20 years and then took on this role from then on.  The club have always backed me greatly.
Questions for Simon Bell:
When the players come through the academy system, and they reach 19 years of age, if they are deemed not good enough for the first team squad they either go to the dual registration Club or to another Club in the Championship or if they are lucky enough another Super League club. How is this cost effective and wouldn’t it make sense to run a reserve grade team i.e. under 21/22 age group to continue their progression and keep them with the Club? Point in question its common knowledge Jamie Peacock didn’t break through himself until he was 21 years of age and the rest is history!
Simon: The good players will always make their way through whatever system is in place at that time, but not every bodies route will be the same. i.e. Chris Hill and Alex Walmsley came via Championship rugby.
How do you stop other clubs from scouting your youth players or do you actively help some to find other clubs if they are not of Leeds standard?
Simon: We have five clubs across West Yorkshire that have programmes that players can join along with Wigan and Warrington also looking at players from this area. This makes it difficult for us and the other clubs as we are all chasing the same players.  What we do within the academy is make sure we speak to the parents and the player and make sure they understand what we can offer them.  We don’t offer them things that we can’t deliver.  We focus on working on their development and we explain this to the family and the player.  We have a great advantage over other clubs with the facilities we have to offer at our Kirkstall training ground.
If you compare England to the district of Penrith in Australia for example, they have more players in that one district to work with than we do across the whole country.  So, when it comes to competing against other clubs that are available to the players we have to make sure we have the best plans for them to make sure they get the best from the scholarship in order to make sure they see us as a club the best option.
David: Do you ever look in London?
Simon: The issues we face with looking in other areas that are not within a 20 mile radius of the training ground is relocation.  If we move that player from somewhere like London for example we have relocation costs with housing, travel etc.  We also have to take into consideration we are asking a 16-year-old to move away from their families and move into a house with a family in Leeds to train with us.  We have to look at all the right options for the welfare of the player.  We’ve had players like Brad Singleton, he moved from Cumbria to be within our academy and he is now in the first team.
Alistair: Do you consider all the factors surround athleticism?
Simon: We look at everything.  We look at size of players and their athletic ability we will collect anthropometrical data including peak height velocity etc. We take all the stats and we look at how they will progress and what we can do to aid them in this.  We can accurately predict when players will have a growth spurt through predicting their Peak Height Velocity.  We consider the science of it all with the back room staff we have available.
Do you help scout players for the Rhinos academy? If so what do you look for and who has the final decision on them becoming a Rhino?
Simon: The final decision lies with me a lot of the time. We have three people in total scouting players and we make sure we take everyone’s thoughts on board. The way the system works is at the end of year nine (school years) is the time we can select for a scholarship. We have a two-week window to get a player in for a meeting with him and his parents and get them to a stage where we can sign them onto a scholarship contract.  From this they are with us for 2 years through the scholarship programme and when they then progress we look at the length and type of contracts we offer them. If we see a player at another club and we want to sign them then we have to pay compensation to the club. It makes it a hard fight at the end of year 9 amongst the professional clubs to recruit the players with the most potential.
I think it is also key to point out when I go to watch matches and scout I never wear my Leeds Rhinos clothes.  I want to make sure that when we are watching the players we are seeing their natural ability rather than them being told to change how they play because we are there.
When it comes to them being good enough to be a First Team Leeds Rhinos player the final decision there lies with Brian McDermott. He will watch them in training and in academy matches.  He will then meet up with me and we will discuss different players.  If Brian likes them then he needs to be confident that they are going to be able to perform at first team level.
We all know teenagers can be a handful, what rules do the academy impose on the players?
Simon: We have a strict code of conduct.  We have this in place for all of our players.  The Under 19’s for example have the same code of conduct as our first team players. We don’t have many problems as we have been strict with them since they were 14 so they know the way in which we expect them to conduct themselves.  They have to be teenagers at the end of the day and when they are growing up they have to experience what their friends are but we are strict on some things from day one.  We teach them the best way to handle themselves in the spotlight with social media training, how to best behave when in the training ground etc.  They know they have to be half an hour early for everything and that they always should communicate lateness.  If we were ever going to have trouble with them they would never make it from the Under 16’s to    Under 19’s.
Sam: Can’t you ban them from social media?
Simon: No because they still have a life to live and be a teenager.  We don’t want to stop them we just want to guide them and discipline them with the right ways they can do it.
Sue: Do you get any players dropping out because of the discipline?
Simon: We get a few but they see it isn’t for them so we release them and they go and play for amateur sides.  I would rather they see that they are not enjoying it and play amateur and enjoy it rather than lose their love for the game.
Do you feel the dual registration is working with our younger players? It has had some criticism; some fans say playing in a lower league is making the player more of a Championship player rather than Super League.
Simon: I think dual registration works for us as a club.  For some it doesn’t work and they choose a different route.  It is all based on what the player benefits from.  The most important part if the development of the player.  Both parties also need to get benefits of a dual registration scheme too. We don’t struggle to get our players signed up on dual registration because of the level of their abilities. That shows with the amount of clubs that do take part in dual registration queue up to get some of our players.  If you work hard to make it work it works and that is what we do.  Some clubs believe that we should all have a reserve team like St Helens and Hull FC, which works for them, but on our part dual registration works for us.
Sam: I watched Jordan Baldwinson make his debut for Leeds Rhinos and he is a great player. Does it annoy you when they don’t get picked to come on for the first team?
Simon: Sometimes it just takes longer for the players.  There isn’t many that come into the club and are fully established players.  When it comes to front rowers it can take a little bit longer. Brad Singleton for example, it didn’t happen straight away for him it took time and hard work.  Now look at him in the first team.  I am sure Jordan has a bright future and hopefully it is with us.
Simon Whitehead: What’s the most chased player you have seen?
Simon: We have had a few that have been heavily chased.  One at the moment was Cameron Smith. All the clubs wanted him. He’s one that has been with us since he was 14 so has gone through the full process and is now in the first team 30 man squad.  You go through having groups of players that have some great ones.  For example we had Stevie Ward and John Bateman within the same group in our academy.  John then got chased by other clubs and went his way and has ended up at Wigan via Bradford. Stevie on the other hand has stayed within this club.
Sian: Is the chase based on what we can offer them?
Simon: Some clubs will promise a player the earth.  As a club we are honest with our players from day one and talk about what we can do.  We won’t lie to the player or promise them something we cannot deliver. If they progress we have a history showing that there might be a first team spot available for them in the future. This isn’t a golden carrot the history of the club has proved it.  We currently have 19 academy players in our 30 man squad.  Some clubs want to pay big wages to them and at 16 years old you see the money that you can get and show them what squad number is available in the first team.  It should be about the system they work through and not about who can offer the flashiest benefits.  We have to create home grown players at the end of the day. We have huge competition with the opportunities in Australia in terms of player contracts. The players see a move to Australia and think of the opportunity to play for a great NRL club so they go and we lose them.  It isn’t just about developing players for the club it’s about developing home grown players for the sport itself.
There are not many players we have in the academy that leave us and don’t go onto another club.  Of all the players that left us last year there is only one that I know of that hasn’t signed a contract with another club as far as I am aware.
David: Do you look at what they do in Australia with their academies?
Simon: We look all over. We also look into different sports.  If you watch Australia they don’t really do anything different to what we do.  They take more chances and churn more players out. They don’t do anything spectacular but they just seem to be able to execute the game very well. They don’t do anything better regarding developing players they just have a lot more to be able to go through.
Gerry: If Australia have so many players to choose from over there, why do they have to take English players?
Simon: Simply because they can.  They have a lot more money in the sport.  The likes of Sam Burgess could get into any club he wanted. He is an established player.  That is what they like in Australia. Established players who have all the experience of First Team rugby and then they can just develop them to how they want them.  They don’t have to start a fresh with them when they can get big names over there with their salary caps.
Danny: When you say you go to games to scout what is the footprint?
Simon: We watch around 250 games between Under 16’s and 19’s with a radius of 20 miles.  We target Halifax, York etc. so that we know they can travel to training and games etc. and still have their education.
Gerry: Some kids don’t have the option to play rugby league as the school in Yorkshire focus on rugby union. How does this work?
Simon: A great example of this is Josh Walters. He played rugby union as that is what he was taught in school.  In the area he grew up in it was all rugby union.  He played rugby league when he first came to our academy from Yorkshire Carnegie after we identified him as having talent for rugby league.  He then joined our academy team and now is playing in the first team for Leeds Rhinos. The good players we have in the system, whether it be rugby union or rugby league will always find a way to play the sport they are best at. Jimmy Keinhorst was a rugby union player all the way up to University, now he is playing for Leeds Rhinos and he got Player of the Year in 2016. This shows that we work well with the individuals to get the best out of them. As the saying goes ‘The cream rises to the top’.
Feedback from Christian Floyd- Fans Forum Member: –
Away Game Supporters podcast 
Hoping to discuss with other forum members what they think of having an “away day podcast” published from each away game, the sort of things that would be discussed on this are as follows:

  • Different views of supporters from the game pre & post-match (with predictions)
  • How supporters travel to and from away games.
  • Chatting with supporters about their favourite memories from the away ground
  • This would be all wrapped up in to a 10-minute podcast

From a personal view, I always like to hear how fans do away games differently and the things they do to ensure they’re at the game however If people think it’s rubbish and that people wouldn’t listen then we’ll scrap it, but it was idea I’d had from other clubs
Sian: I spoke to Phil before this meeting and decided that if this is something you would like to do then we are happy for you to do this.  The plan would be good to sample it at the pre-season games that we have and then if it goes ahead for the start of the season we can then promote it on all our platforms.
Supporter’s Flag display
We’ve discussed this one before when we had our first one off meeting however want to bring it to the other members this time to get their thoughts. I’ve still got the “Sir Kevin Sinfield” flag doing nothing in my wardrobe and hoping to get it displayed as a permanent fixture at HQ. Other clubs such as Wigan / Castleford / St. Helens all do this so I think it would be good if we could do something of the same?
Sian: This was originally an idea to put the flags up on the fencing whilst the South Stand was being developed.  Now obviously, we are faced with the fact that we still have the South Stand.  Yes we love the South Stand and it is a little old and tired so we need to freshen it up.  As you walk through the turnstiles you are faced with a brick wall.  We want to brighten this area up. We are looking at the concept of getting quotes from fans and putting them on the walls about what your club means to you.  We will look further into what we can do with the flags and the best areas we can hang them.
Feedback from Barbara Senior – Fans Forum Member:
Following the announcement from the Club about the delay on the South Stand redevelopment, what safety measures are the Club putting in place to make the Stand safe as it was deemed unsafe and one of the reasons behind this been demolished?
Sian: The stand was never deemed unsafe.  It was in 2010/11 that it needed work doing to it for us to obtain the safety certificate that we needed for the stand.  Therefore, it is fully compliant with the safety certificate it is just in need of re-development.
David: The South Stand has had more comebacks than Frank Sinatra!
Feedback from Sue Millard – Fans Forum Member:
Just a small point – there isn’t a stadium plan on the website. I often find them useful when I go to away grounds.
Sian: There is a stadium plan on the website.  It is under ‘The Club’ tab along the top, then click on Headingley Carnegie Stadium, then there are three options along the top and it is the last one ‘Stadium Plan’. We will work to incorporate it into the fans guide on the site so it is easily accessible.
Feedback from Simon Whitehead – Fans Forum Member: –
Enjoying the updates/pics on twitter regarding the players back in for preseason training. Can we have some more please?
Sian: Thank you for the positive feedback. They are trying to do updates on the new training sessions that the players are taking part in as they come up in the schedule. They only want to do different runs so they won’t be constantly doing feeds from the training ground if we have seen it before.
Really enjoying Rhinos TV on YouTube – thought that the episode when the players went to the Corn Exchange to visit the NFL roadshow was really good.
Sian: The YouTube platform that it is currently on was a trial run for the club.  It has been very popular and there are over 1,000 viewings of every segment which is great for a trial run.  It’s an officially funded scheme through the Rugby AM Academy and they do everything from the filming to the editing.
Confused over the plans regarding the South Stand – what is the delay, and when will we get a further announcement?
Sian: Due to a delay that we have had with planning permission the decision was made to keep the South Stand for another year. This is purely a delay with the planning permissions that we need for the developments.  When we have any more information that we can announce then it will be announced to the members and public via our social media and website.
Think Alex Simmons has been good pre-match last year – why don’t we get him on the pitch more doing stuff before a game? The crowd all know who he is, and no doubt will like him.
Sian: I will put this forward to the Marketing Department – Alex has definitely proved popular in the Gold Member’s bar pre and post match.
Feedback from Danny Frank – Fans Forum Member: –
I’ll set the scene. Casey Cawthra is my sister in law, her children are now into Rugby and the Rhinos because of their Uncle Dan!
Joe who is 8 started playing 2 years ago,. He played his first game on the Headingley pitch earlier this year (the same day that the special edition shirt was released) he scored a try and the south stand cheered (it was a full lengther!). To celebrate and as a treat after the game his mum and dad took him to the shop and he chose the new shirt, he also wanted to buy his new “cousin to be” one too (we’d recently announced our pregnancy) so Casey spent a fair fortune that night on four special edition shirts and other bit and bobs.
When Oliver was born (10 weeks early) Joe brought the shirt to his bed in intensive care and I said how I wished I had one. It was my birthday a few days after Oliver was born and Casey took the challenge on (unknown to me) to source one. The shop had obviously sold out but as you can see, they said they’d try and find one and they did. 
What this club do for their fans above and beyond is something to be immensely proud of (as I always am!). 
I don’t know who it was in the shop but I’d like to (please tell me) and I want you to pass on my thanks to them and also give them big raps for what they’ve done for their customer. It would have been too easy (and acceptable) for them to just say “sorry, we’ve sold out”… they didn’t, they went above and beyond and delighted their customer and that deserves some credit! 
Thanks to your amazing team for making us smile and cry!!! 
Feedback from Casey Cawthra – New Leeds Rhinos Fan!
I want to thank the club and in particular Julie Ramsdale for her help with sourcing the special edition short for my brother in law (Dan Frank). My son played on the pitch at half time earlier this year, the same day that the shirt was released. I bought him one as a treat and bought one for my forthcoming niece/nephew who we’d just found out was due in November. Oliver arrived 10 weeks early on 24th September and I wanted to get his Dad the same shirt but the shop had sold out. I contacted the club and told them the story and Julie was very helpful and took ownership and said she would try her best to source one. Julie spent four weeks tracking one down but when she rung to say she’d found one it made my day. Thanks to Julie and the team who managed to get this sorted for Danny’s birthday. I’m not into sport but after this I think I’m a rhino fan for life just like Oliver and his Daddy!! Thank you, Julie.
Sian: Thank you for the positive feedback – we always strive to offer the best service and experience we can.
Feedback from Richard Pickles –Leeds Rhinos Fan via Danny Frank
Do the Club have a backup plan following this week’s announcement on the south stand development being put on hold? If the South Stand wasn’t compliant with safety standards as has being indicated previously then what happens now, surely it will remain non-compliant which can’t continue. Out of interest, are the local authority subsidizing any of the financials for the redevelopment?
Sian: See previous answer in relation to Barbara Senior’s feedback.
Feedback from Gareth Brown – Leeds Rhinos Fan via email:
Just wanted to commend the offer of Friday fiver tickets to the Union games for Rhinos members. Great cross selling initiative and hopefully a nice benefit to both clubs. Hope to see more initiatives in future. Will be attending one of the games I’d normally not have gone to and will no doubt spend on food and drink whilst at the game.
Sian: Thank you for the positive feedback – we want to ensure we are offering our fans the best variety of benefits across both clubs.
Feedback from David Muhl – Fans Forum Member:
When we went to Anfield for the Four Nations final, we were in a wheelchair bay.  We found that the stewards were willing to work above and beyond and make sure we were comfortable. They had specifically trained stewards that had badges on their arms that had a disabled logo on it so you could recognise them.  The stewards offered to take me to the toilet, get us drinks etc. and really went out of their way. I feel that we could do with reflecting this on our stewards on game day as a lot of them are thoughtless and young and don’t really grasp the needs of the people using the wheelchair bays.  They speak to the helper behind you rather than yourself which for me is quite rude.  I just wanted to know if we could maybe assess the stewards that are in those areas and maybe give them the extra training they need.
Sian: Firstly, I would ask if when there are any specific incidents with the stewards that you notify me at the time as then I can act on them when they have happened.  In terms of moving forward with this, I have had some ideas about enhancing the training video that us as a club offer our stewards.  I understand that there needs to be some more consistency with the stewards that are placed in that area and more understanding.  This will be something that I will discuss with the stewards and G4S.