Leeds Rhinos outline plans moving forward

Leeds Rhinos have today revealed more details of the process the club is going through to plan for when the Betfred Super League is able to return in 2020. 

The Rugby Football League and Super League have always stated that training and playing will be possible when Government guidelines allow it. However, the Rhinos management team have been working hard behind the scenes to make sure the club is in the best possible position to return and able to deal with the inevitable challenging times that lie ahead financially. 

Leeds Rhinos Chief Executive Gary Hetherington commented, “First and foremost, I would like to wish all our supporters the very best in these very challenging and difficult times. To be confined to home for so long has certainly been a unique experience for me and to see Headingley and Kirkstall in lockdown and our business at a standstill is devastatingly disappointing.

“We are indebted to our 150 players and staff who have all accepted voluntary salary reductions and are nearly all on furlough, which has been a god send to our club and all businesses.

“We are also indebted to the support of all our members and corporate backers. The club is living off the income provided by yourselves at the start of the year and, so far, not one of our sponsors have deserted us.

“In particular I think all Super League players have been a credit to the sport over the last few months. There has been a lot of publicity recently about the Super League salary cap and in truth it is a bit of a red herring. Players at all Super League clubs have accepted voluntary salary reductions, in some cases as much as 50%, and this action has been so important to ensuring all Clubs survive the impact of the lockdown this season. 2021 will be very challenging too and it is inevitable that clubs will have to reduce their costs in line with their income. Each club will have to manage its own affairs to the level it can afford irrespective of the salary cap. 

“I welcome the talk this week of the players coming together to form a collective voice. As a former Chairman of the RL Players Association nearly 40 years ago, I have always been an advocate of players having an input into the progression of the game and a voice on important issues. The GMB Union represents players from all 12 Super League Clubs and I have been liaising with their representative, former player Garreth Carvell, and away from the media headlines I do believe we are all on the same page in doing whatever it takes to enable the game to survive these tough times and thrive when we return to the game we know.

“During the lockdown I have been able to speak to many of our members on the phone and it has been a fascinating and hugely enjoyable experience. I have been in touch with about 200 of our senior citizen members and it has been an inspiration for me to hear their passion and determination to attend games as soon as possible. And almost everyone is connected through social media and enjoying our games from the past on YouTube as I have done too. And I know many are still buying Rhinos merchandise from our online store which has remained open throughout

“What resonated with me most of all is the wonderful spirit running through our club.  The past three months have been so challenging and it has brought out the very best in us and we have received so many messages of support.

“The work of our Leeds Rhinos Foundation throughout the city has been inspirational, one example is the efforts of Sam ‘Elvis’ Horner, Liam Sutcliffe and Foundation staff volunteers who have supported 33 organisations across the City, delivering over 1000 hot and cold food parcels.

“Behind the scenes I have been involved in daily conference calls with colleagues at other Super League clubs and the SLE and RFL executives, working on a variety of topics like fixtures planning, salary cap and return to work protocols in readiness for a return to normality. Of course, much of this work is very speculative because there is much we don’t know but we have to cover all eventualities and possibilities so as to be as prepared as possible for when the lockdown measures are relaxed.

“I do know there is a real determination throughout our game to “do whatever it takes” to return as soon as it is safe to do so. Our players and rugby staff are keeping in touch with each other and keeping as active as possible and they are all looking forward to meeting up again and training together. We are hopeful this could be as soon as next month.

“We are now passed the peak of Covid-19 but the road to whatever the “new normal” turns out to be is still very much ‘under construction’ and whilst the safety of our players, staff and fans will be our number one priority, I do believe we can look forward to an exciting second half of the year.

“The resumption of Super League games will almost certainly see some games played in empty stadiums, hopefully in August and this will be a new experience for us all and not least the players. The NRL has already started and it is great see all these games shown in full on Sky TV this weekend. We will learn from their experiences and be in a better position to put our plans in place. And I know SLE are looking at the possible feasibility of streaming some Super League games that may not be shown on Sky and special provisions will be made for season ticket members if this is the case.

“The Super League season will be certainly be extended and it is our desire to play all the previously postponed games and all the remaining fixtures and the Challenge Cup ties too. This will mean plenty of action and a return to some winter rugby and the successful teams will be these who manage the changed circumstances best. And I do believe the Rhinos squad will be ready to meet this challenge and continue what was a very encouraging start to the season.

“I know Kevin and Richard are really pleased with the Rhinos squad and our policy is to keep developing this group of players over the next 18 months and I have no doubt we will achieve this. 

“Games in front of crowds is what we all want and as soon as possible. We have no definite information on this but our hope and best guess at this stage is the start of October but this could change as the lockdown relaxes and Government gains confidence from what is happening in other countries who are ahead of us.  It is likely some restrictions will remain and our season members will be prioritised to attend these matches should this be the case.

“We fully appreciate our obligations to all our season members and should we be unable to deliver all the scheduled Super League games, the club will ensure we do right by our members and provide a suitable compensation options to support everyone. We have been working and will continue to work on this as more information is forthcoming and we will endeavour to keep in touch with you. Likewise, we are also developing a plan for fans who have purchased match tickets, travel or hospitality which will also be communicated in due course once more confirmed detail is available.

“In the meantime, on behalf of everyone at the Rhinos, we would like wish you and your family well and hope to see you soon,” added Hetherington.