Getting to know: Rian Rowley

As one of the youngest players in this year’s Leeds Rhinos Academy squad, Rian Rowley has packed a lot of punch in the opening seven rounds of the season.

The Leeds born prop became the first player  to join the Academy from community club North Leeds Leopards and since then he has impressed the Leeds coaching staff and earned selection at county level.

Rowley first started playing rugby whilst in primary school and was encouraged to join his local club North Leeds Leopards.

“Two of my teachers helped out with the primary school rugby team but were also coaches at North Leeds Leopards,” said Rowley. “They encouraged me to come down and I stayed for a few years, where I developed thanks to the coaches and ethos around the club and I then joined Stanningley, where I later got selected for the Rhinos scholarship.”

“I supported Leeds Rhinos as a child, but I didn’t start regularly watching them until I was in high school. When I was sat in the North Stand, I never thought rugby would get me to this point and playing in the Academy, it’s a dream come true.”

Rowley joined the Rhinos Scholarship in 2018 and admitted he faced some challenges in his first season., awith the Under-16s.  

“When I joined the Rhinos Scholarship, many of the players had already been part of the set up for a year as they signed at Under-15s, so I was a little bit behind.  I was determined though to learn people’s names and learn the different play calls – despite everyone already knowing the system. It flew by; pre-season, then games and then it was all done.”

After his year in the Scholarship the forward did enough to earn an Academy contract which the Rhinos, which he admitted came as a surprise.

“To be called up to the Academy was a shock,” he said. “The standard of competition was good, with Lewis Delaney and Olly Adamson getting the call up too. I knew them from the Scholarship and the chance to learn with them was a great opportunity because we’d built up a relationship.

“In those first few weeks, it was hard. Everyone else was much stronger and fitter than I was but it was something that I knew that I had to keep working hard at and eventually, it doesn’t become a struggle. The club have high standards for their players and all the coaches push for that, which is why I think there was a big step up.”

After a strong pre-season, playing in four games, Rowley experienced his first Under-19s match coming off the bench against Wakefield Trinity in February and the prop quickly earned his place in the starting line-up against London Broncos.

“It was a shock to be selected in the first place but I knew I had to prove myself to the coaches to keep that starting spot for the next week. It was mad to be in the starting squad against London because when you look at the experience that is in the side already, I didn’t see myself starting at prop.  To get the chance to play, even off the bench, was a great opportunity. The bench was my aim and to try play as regularly as I could was the ambition. To start though was beyond my expectations.”

The Academy Origin squad announcement two weeks ago saw Leeds have the most players selected across the Yorkshire and Lancashire squads. Rowley was one of the seven players included in Luke Robinson’s Yorkshire side, making his debut alongside Brad Martin and Liam Tindall at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle.

“I  wasn’t expecting the email to get picked for the squad and to find out on the day that I was starting was a bit of a whirlwind as I was straight into the game. It’s a great piece of experience for me to have and I’m really proud to be involved.”

Rugby remains at the forefront of Rowley’s mind as he looks develop and enjoy the rest of the season, but he has other aspirations outside of the sport.

“My goals are simple – to carry on playing, get to the Grand Final, keep building bonds and relationships around me and just enjoy my rugby.

“Since joining the Academy, I think I’ve improved week on week. With every game getting analysed, I can see where I need to improve and can also sit down with the coaching staff for one to one sessions. That’s only how I can get better. It’s a great resource because I know going into the next game what I need to work and improve on.

“If there’s an opportunity then rugby is definitely a career option for me but should it not, I quite fancy a trade, setting up a business or something towards a gym, that would be what I’m interested in. I’d still carry on playing though if I didn’t get a full-time contract.”