Rhinos help Rugby League kick start the game again

Whilst Sunday’s result against Champions St Helens was not what Leeds Rhinos were hoping for off the field, the weekend was a great success for the club and their home at Emerald Headingley Stadium. 

Over the last two weekends Emerald Headingley as hosted the first games for the sport since the coronavirus pandemic put the sport on hold back in March. The stadium has hosted seven games in as many days with two matches on the first weekend of August followed by the full competition round this weekend. 

When Rugby League set out the roadmap for the return to playing behind closed doors, the management at Emerald Headingley leapt at the challenge of helping the sport return in a bio-security environment that was safe for players, coaches and officials. 

The logistical masterplan at the stadium was led by Operations Director Sue Ward and her team that ensured a trouble free event across three matchdays as well as dozens of hours of live televised Rugby League for fans around the globe. 

Ward commented, “The stadium operations team have worked tirelessly over the last month to ensure every aspect of the return to play infection control measures were implemented and adhered to. We planned every single detail to create match day schedules to identify critical paths.”

The busiest day was last Sunday with a triple header of fixtures. This started with Salford v Hull FC clash, followed by Wigan’s win over Wakefield and concluding with the Rhinos meeting with St Helens. The event was only made possible because of the foresight the club showed during the reconstruction of the stadium between 2017 and last year that meant two complete sets of dressing rooms are not in use at the stadium along with full medical backup and the latest in digital advertising around the ground. 

Ward added, “There were a lot of moving parts that were happening at the same time that we had to be in control of throughout the day. As Wakefield were kicking off against Wigan, the team were in cleaning and sanitising the dressing rooms from the first game in time for Leeds and Saint to arrive. Every single player, coach and official has to be checked into the bio secure ‘red zone’ which our staff completed and we also manage the amber zone which includes support staff, media, photographers and Sky Sports team. 

“The turn around times were extremely tight between games, as one game finished we had the next two clubs eager to get set up in the dugouts and warm up on the pitch but before they could each area was completely cleared and misted with hard surface sanitiser – even the post pads! I’m so pleased that every single game kicked off on time and without issue. We could not have undertaken this alone, the support from Super League, the RFL and our security teams at G4S was second to none. It was a huge team effort with everyone mucking in, putting a pair of gloves and a mask on and getting the job done whether this be delivering ice or clearing out the dug outs between games.

“We all feel extremely privileged to have been part of the restart of the Betfred Super League competition; it is been challenging but really rewarding. Months of planning ensured both weekends went as smoothly as possible and I would like to thank the other clubs for their support and understanding on the day as well as we all adapt to the new normal.  I am very proud of our operations team and what they have achieved.

“We have received some fantastic feedback from the teams and especially our Head Groundsman Ryan Golding for the outstanding surface we provided for the all the action to unfold upon. For the majority of lockdown, Ryan has been on his own with his team on furlough and he has worked tirelessly to create a pitch fit to kick start our sport again,” added Ward.    

Karen Moorhouse, RFL Chief Regulatory Officer, “Staging games Behind Closed Doors has been a huge logistical challenge for Rugby League, as other sports. It has required a team effort involving all the clubs, the RFL and Super League Europe – and the venues have an especially important role in that. Emerald Headingley was chosen as the first host venue in our sport, and all involved at Leeds, led by Sue Ward, have been outstanding. We thank and congratulate them for that.”

Rhodri Jones, Chief Commercial Officer of Super League Europe added, “Betfred Super League would like to thank all the staff at Leeds Rhinos for helping to make the season re-start run as smoothly as possible.   As ever, they have been brilliant to work with.

“Super League is lucky to have a venue of the quality of Emerald Headingley. The planning and execution that went into our first two weekends of matches behind closed doors has been first rate.”