Under 19s Review of the Season
From individual excellence to team triumphs, 2019 has been a positive season for Rob Burrow’s Leeds Rhinos under 19s. Since round one against Wakefield, twelve new players have made their debuts in blue and amber, four have earned first team call ups and 145 tries have been scored.
From Stanningley to St Helens, take a look back at the highlights of this season:
Rob Burrow’s side opened the 2019 academy season on a cold Thursday night, facing off against Wakefield Trinity at Stanningley. The match was the first to be live streamed and in front of the camera’s, last year’s Grand Finalists didn’t disappoint, running out 56-12 victors thanks to debut tries from Callum McLelland and Liam Tindall.
After making an explosive start to the campaign, Leeds would go unbeaten in March. Following the signing of Widnes duo Jarrod O’Connor and Sam Walters, the latter marked his debut against London with a brace as the young Rhinos walked away from Stanningley with a 62-10 win. Full back/winger Iwan Stephens was also starting to make himself known. Debuting against the Broncos, the former Drighlington junior scored back to back braces on debut and against Widnes the week after. Struggling Castleford Tigers would also fall at the hands of Leeds; Harry Anderson becoming the latest debutant to impress with two tries.
A hat trick from Muizz Mustapha was a highlight at the start of April. The forward returned from a loan spell with Dewsbury Rams to make an instant impact against Newcastle Thunder at Kingston Park. Following the Academy Origin squad announcements, which would see nine Leeds players selected, Rob Burrow’s men suffered their first loss as Huddersfield Giants sprung a surprise 48-12 defeat at Stanningley. Now third in the table, Leeds ran out for the first time at Emerald Headingley in an Academy Grand Final rematch against Wigan Warriors. The closely fought encounter came down to the wire with Jack Broadbent scoring a crucial break away try to seal a 18-16 victory.
The highs at Headingley would last for only a week as the young Rhinos lost their second match of the season against City of Hull; a late Ewan Badham try crushing a late Leeds comeback. Following that result, Rob Burrow’s side responded positively against local rivals Bradford Bulls; leading try scorer Liam Whitton taking his try tally to six in the 52-4 victory. The full back went on to score two tries at Bloomfield Road for Yorkshire in the Academy Origin and replicated a similar performance as Leeds beat St Helens 32-16 at the Totally Wicked Stadium to rise into second place in the table.
At the halfway point of the season, Leeds had their busiest month in terms of fixtures. After Jarrod O’Connor and Sam Walters had helped Lancashire win the Academy Origin series, the young Rhinos were back on home soil to convincingly beat Warrington Wolves 58-0; O’Connor scoring his first try for the club. With Wigan inflicting Leeds’ third loss of the season seven days later, the young Rhinos bounced back against Wakefield at the Mobile Rocket Stadium; Callum McLelland starring with two individual efforts. Leeds would finish the month at home, with Newcastle Thunder becoming the latest side to have over 40 points scored against them by Rob Burrow’s men.
Leeds would only drop a point in July; a 28 all draw with Castleford Tigers at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle breaking the Rhinos’ winning streak. Winger Iwan Stephens was on the board in that game and extended his try tally further with four tries against Warrington the week after. Bradford visited Stanningley to round off July and Leeds once again showed their attacking capabilities; six different players crossing the try line in a 44-26 win.
Now on a five match unbeaten run in the league, Leeds had worked their way back into the top two, only a point ahead of St Helens. The 22-10 win over Huddersfield at Lockwood Park displayed a confident defensive performance before the Rhinos showed their dangerous attack against Widnes at Emerald Headingley; Iwan Stephens scoring a hat trick. The same result could not be simulated against St Helens though, as Derek Traynor’s men took a step closer to a home semi final with a 32-12 victory over the Rhinos.
Following the loss at Emerald Headingley, Leeds were confirmed to play off against St Helens for a place in this year’s Grand Final. There were two matches still to go in the regular season though, both on the road. London Broncos, who were in contention for fourth place, gave themselves hope of a play off spot as Leeds lost their second successive match for the first time in 2019. There were no shocks at Bishop Burton though as Tyler Dupree, Iwan Stephens and Jack Mallinson all scored twice to help the Rhinos to a 52-20 victory on the final day of the regular season.
All eyes were soon on the semi final, with St Helens the favourites to get to their first academy Grand Final since 2016. The home side didn’t disappoint; Jack Welsby and Lewis Dodd leading the charge as Saints set up a final showdown against Wigan with a 32-10 victory over Leeds.