Black History Round: Darren Fleary
This Friday’s game at St Helens is part of the Betfred Super League Black History Round and throughout this week, we will be celebrating the black players who have been central to our club’s proud history. Next up is Darren Fleary.
Darren Fleary is a man who never thought he would ever get to play for Leeds Rhinos but to this day, remains one of the most popular players to have played for the club in the Super League era.
Fleary originally signed for Leeds as part of a seven player deal from cash strapped Keighley Cougars that predominantly saw Daryl Powell team up with Gary Hetherington again at his new club in 1997. Fleary was seen as a make weight in the deal and the prop himself did not expect initially to add to his handful of appearance at the end of that season, that was until a change at the top brought a second chance.
He revealed, “I came to Leeds on a wing and prayer really. If I am honest, I didn’t want to come initially. I thought I would be chucked away and just end up making the numbers until some other club came in for me. I had enjoyed playing at Keighley and thought I might get a chance to impress one of the lower down clubs in Super League if I could carry on playing and impressing. I worked hard though and it was good to have Anthony Farrell and Marcus St Hilaire from Huddersfield at the club as well because that made me feel at home In the close season, Dean Bell was moved to the Academy department and Graham Murray came in. He had a clean slate for all the players and my fortunes changed. Dean Bell didn’t think too much of me but Graham saved my Leeds career.”
Fleary, who won the Challenge Cup with Leeds in 1999, is quick to answer the question about which came was his most memorable at the club. He added, “I would have to say it was the 1998 Grand Final at Old Trafford. We talked about going back but never did. Looking back, it always felt we would but never did despite getting close, but I wish we had our chance again. The Challenge Cup Final was great but the Grand Final felt something special. Perhaps it was being part of the first one, especially when you look back now and see how big it has now become although when you say you played in the first one, it does make you feel older than you are!”
Fleary’s time at Leeds came to an end due to injury but that brought a fresh opportunity at his home town in Huddersfield and the chance to work with a man who would change the face of Super League; Tony Smith. He added, “I had a few injuries here and there and the last knee injury was the tough part. It was time to try another club and the move to Huddersfield came about.
“It was a special time at the Giants, I wasn’t captain at first but when Brandon Costin left Tony Smith gave me the armband. We were a tight knit group, a lot like Leeds but we had no big names. Tony was very much like Graham Murray at the time, they are very good people people, they explain what they want from you in the right manner and they do the right thing by their players. He brought the game forward immensely in this country.”
Fleary made his debut in the final ever Premiership campaign at the end of the 1997 season. An impressive outing on Boxing Day caught the eye of new coach Graham Murray when he watched the game back on tape and he was given his chance to show what he could do in Super League, he never looked back. He made 127 appearances for the club until joining hometown club Huddersfield Giants in 2003.