After going unbeaten in the league, Leeds Uni’s rugby league side are preparing to take on Leeds Met in a Varsity showdown on Friday May 2.
Uni lost the same fixture against the country’s most successful student rugby league side in October, but put in a good performance, and will be hoping to carry their momentum into the clash at Headingley Carnegie Stadium.
LS Sport caught up with team captain Jonny Morris to look back on an outstanding season and look forward to an exciting game in prospect.
Congratulations on your incredible season, how difficult was it to maintain that form all year round?
Within our league the difference in standard between top and bottom is huge, therefore to maintain top form was not really an issue. We had three difficult games we had to play in order to win the league. The others were just a case of building momentum and confidence, and trying combinations.
Did the season surpass your expectations?
To be honest we are a little disappointed with the season. After a promising performance at Varsity, losing by to the Met by the closest score in years and only conceding four tries (something no other team in the country has done this year to this Met side) we were excited for the season. A league and cup double was our aim and to only get one of these, we were all disappointed. But an unbeaten league season is still something we are very proud of.
What was different this year to last?
It all started last Christmas really with our cup run to the final where things finally started to tick as a team. Confidence from here that we could beat teams comfortably in our league was the basis for the success. And a few new players, with the added experience from the likes of Ben Finder, Neil Wickham and Lawrence Chittil, and the lads like Sam King having another year’s worth of Rugby League training has made a huge difference. This, added to some good union converts enthusiastic to play rugby league like Harry Tabb and Alex Clementson, has meant we have had a great group of players for the season.
How will the team fare next season?
There are a few boys leaving like myself and one or two others, but on the whole a lot of the boys are still going to be here. Especially in the pack, which is great news because the boys are going into a stronger league where there will be hard games week in week out. Nothing I don’t think they can handle and I am expecting them with the squad they have, with some boys I know joining the Uni and with a good Freshers’ fair, for Leeds Uni to be challenging at the top again next season.
Has working with Leeds Rhinos legend Keith Senior made any impact?
A lot of praise has to go to our current coach Keith Sandhu, he has such a great relationship with the players and is the one who dragged us out of the disaster the club had previously been in. I know I speak for a number of boys in the team when I say a lot of us play for him, because we know how much he does for us and where he has taken us. Keith Senior is a great addition too. He has brought some of us back to learning basics and helped the experienced boys a lot with advice and tips rather than coming in and trying to change our game and technique completely. For the new boys Senior is great, I don’t think anywhere else in the country or in any other sport, would an individual new to a sport get a legend of the game teaching them every week how to play.
Are you excited to play at Headingley? Have you played there before?
A couple of the boys have played at Headingley before in Academy matches but personally no. I went to watch my housemate play in the union Varsity match and it was class, the atmosphere incredible, with the fans cheering for the individual universities. The crowd for ours will be different, rather than students it will be thousands of Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors fans, I’m sure they will bring their own different kind of atmosphere. Rather than a strong support for each team, in the sun at Headingley in the late afternoon a couple of beers down the supporters will just want to see good rugby. It’s opportunities like this playing in front of a packed stadium that you dream of from a young lad, I personally can’t wait for it and I know all the boys are buzzing to test ourselves against the best team in the country.
How are you feeling ahead of the Varsity fixture?
We have a few lads missing from the first fixture of the season, but then the others have come on massively since that game. So it’s difficult to say. Met have class players all over the pitch, very few of them without international honours, but we have a strong team. Either way with the result, it’s going to be a great advert for student rugby and rugby league as a whole.
Tickets for the match are on sale at the Union and cost £15. The ticket covers entry to the Varsity fixture, plus the following Super League clash between Leeds and Wigan and entry to Fruity that night.
Image by Matilda Cracknell