How Leeds Rhinos are using data to plot their course to Super League summit

Whilst the start of the new Betfred Super League is still over a month away, Leeds Rhinos are using data to make sure they are on track to make a big impression this season. 

Richard Agar’s side won the Challenge Cup last season at Wembley and want to move up the table having finished fifth in the truncated campaign in 2020. The team have been back in pre-season since the 4th January and will kick off the new campaign against Wakefield Trinity at Emerald Headingley on 27th March. 

Like all players in Super League, each player is monitored on the training field using GPS devices, the Rhinos work in partnership with global providers Catapult. The devise not only tracks the distances players run but also the intensity and speeds involved.

All this data is analysed by Ryan White, the team’s sports scientist who works under the guidance of lead sport scientist Dr Daniel Weaving and Rhinos Head of Athletic Performance, Jason Davidson.  White, who is originally from Cape Town in South Africa, is currently working towards a PhD in Sport Science at Leeds Beckett University. 

As well as the data collected from the GPS units worn by each player, the Rhinos also record every session and a daily report is produced for the coaching staff and players. The coaches reports detail how much time and the intensity of every training drill that takes place on the field and even down to the time it takes between drills to make sure that the best level of intensity is retained throughout the session to try and replicate the pressures that comes in the heat of a game. The players also provide an RPE (rating of perceived exertion) score  after each session to assist coaches in gauging how hard the players found each training session and allows the staff to  manage the workloads during and between training weeks. 

A look through the data reveals some interesting details.

Last season, Leeds Rhinos winger Ash Handley finished at Super League’s top try scorer and the England squad member is looking for a big season ahead of the 2021 World Cup in England. Handley has already run 115 km in six weeks of training, more than any other member of the Rhinos squad. His biggest week so far came last week with nearly 29km covered. Impressively, over 10,000 of those metres have been at high speed. High speed is classed as 5-7m per second or the rough equivalent of 18-25km per hour. The figure also includes 1,540m of sprinting which is anything above 7m per second.

Youngster Liam Tindall is taking part in his first full pre-season as a member of the first team squad. The former East Leeds junior made his debut last season and has been working hard in the close season. He has covered 89km so far but is the top player in the squad for sprint metres covered, with 2,304m already in the bank.  The figure is made all the more remarkable as Tindall has only completed 14 session, five less than some others in the squad having been off training for a week longer due to Covid earlier in the campaign. The young winger has clocked the fastest speed so far in pre-season with 9.41m per second which is the equivalent of around 33km per hour.  Last year, a list was released of the fastest players in football’s Premier League which revealed that Manchester City’s Kyle Walker topped the chart at 37.8km per hour. The fastest time from the Rhinos in 2020 was recorded by Ash Handley in the first game back from the Covid lockdown when he recorded 35.8km per hour chasing back to try and stop a try against the Giants. With the Rhinos not hitting top speed yet in pre-season, that will come in the final weeks of preparation, Tindall might yet beat that figure. Tindall has also set a personal best for the bench press in the gym too, with 135kg. 

In the forwards, another impressive young player is Tom Holroyd. The Halifax farmer has been leading the rest of the forward flock when it comes to metres clocked up in pre-season. He has already amassed 111,603 metres, 8km ahead of fellow front rower Mikolaj Oledzki. Holroyd has also set a personal best in the gym with a 210kg squat just behind James Donaldson who set is his own PB at 220kg.  

However, there are also key markers that are specific to every position and the role that players have to do within the team. For the middles, who need to get back quickly in defence and be ready to fire into the tackle again, the ability to increase and decrease their speed efficiently can be crucial. In this category so far, Oledzki leads the way with 9,777m of high acceleration and deceleration metres. 

It is not just the youngsters who are leading the way in pre-season. Centre Liam Sutcliffe has broken his own personal bests in the gym for both the weighted chin up, carrying 50kg for the two reps whilst he has also lifted 150kg for the split squat. Sutcliffe has ran over 107,000 metres so far, which is 4km above the average for the whole squad. Kruise Leemingalso gained a PB for the split squad with 160kg whilst Harry Newman continues to rip through his rehabilitation and set his own PB at 185kg for the split squat. Brad Dwyer also gained a PB for the weighted chin with 45Kg.