Champions recall Bailey memories

Leeds Ryan Bailey.

Former Rhino Ryan Bailey has announced his retirement from the game, alongside Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire and Kevin Sinfield, the five players won six Grand Finals together having emerged from the club’s academy.

When Ryan celebrated his testimonial with the club back in 2014, we asked Kevin, Rob and Danny for their favourite memories of Ryan’s career.

Reflecting on the props contribution, Burrow believed it was Bailey’s passion for his home town club that drove him on and inspired those around him. He commented, “Ryan wore his heart on his sleeve every time he pulled on a Leeds shirt.”

Skipper Kevin Sinfield had already broken into the first team squad when Bailey first emerged with the academy and he recalls one particular game when the future star stood out. “I remember him playing before a first team game at Wakefield and he wore a bandana. I remember thinking ‘who is this’ he must be a great player to carry this off and he had a great game. For a big man, how athletic he was set him apart from other front rowers. He was very much a minutes man and he could mix it with the best. Since that point he was a pleasure to play with and to having someone in your team who was a constant thorn in the opposition side was great; you’d rather he was on your team than theirs every time.”

McGuire was a year below Bailey in their amateur days but within a year, the pair had united in the Rhinos academy ranks and the stand off soon learned to keep an eye on the rampaging forward to and be ready for the try scoring pass. He recalled, “Ryan was always big but it was his pace that caught most teams out in the academy years. He used to bust holes in the defence but then had the engine to go 80 metres and score. I remember the Grand Final win against Wigan at their place. Ryan was a real handful for them and that created space for us to cut them open. Even though they were at home we knew that if we performed to our best we would win and that gave us confidence. We have been able to carry that belief through with us throughout out career.”

The 2001 Academy Grand Final win at Wigan

Burrow agrees about those early academy days. He added, “I always remember him being a big, aggressive lad in the academy side and we always knew that having him in our side was the equivalent of a couple of tries on the board before we kicked off. He is a great character, and that is probably a side to him that people outside of the team don’t realise. He was always having a laugh and a joke and I think he felt most at home amongst the lads, a lot of whom he had grown up with, in that dressing room environment.”

All three players highlight Bailey’s fitness as his outstanding quality and the thing that set him apart from his contemporaries. Sinfield commented, “Ryan played a huge part in our successes over recent years, featuring in all the Grand Final success, and unfortunately along with myself and Rob we hold that record for Challenge Cup losses. When Bails was on top of his game and fit, he was right up there with the best of them. He is a naturally fit man and what he was able to achieve in training may surprise those outside the team who do not know him but was never underestimated by those who know him. His willingness in games to put his hand up when times are tough was brilliant and won us games on many occasions.” 

When looking back over Bailey’s long career, Sinfield highlights one particular game as a great example of what Ryan Bailey brings to the table for Leeds. “In 2012 we travelled to Perpignan to play Catalan in their own backyard. Not many people gave us a chance and the odds were firmly stacked against us. It had been a tough game, with Ryan coming in for the usual amount of stick from the home forwards, however just after the hour he is the man that is fitter than all of them to set up the crucial winning score. Those type of moments are unique, not many front rowers in the world can do that, it was fantastic for our team and it made everyone smile.

“When I have seen the clip since it still makes me smile, Bails did what he did and it had such a bearing on the game, if he pinned his ears back I think he could have got there himself but he had done his job.  The core of that team had been together and played together for so long, we have been friends for a long, long time and no matter who you recruit and bring in, there is a bond there that other clubs find it difficult to replicate. When you understand where people come from and how they were brought up, it helps when you take the field and have a trust that you know they will do it. That try was forged years before on a playing field in Leeds somewhere when Ryan and Danny were 15 or 16 and they have been doing it ever since,” added Sinfield.