Prince Harry visit impresses rugby elite in Leeds

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Not even the blistering heat of the sun inside Headingley Stadium could weary Prince Harry as he eagerly made his way around and listened to those at the forefront of rugby league in Leeds with “sincere interest” and respect.

The royal’s ability with youngsters also shone through as one Rhinos stalwart described him as a “good fit” for the sport – for which he has just become a patron – during his second official visit yesterday in a two-day West Yorkshire trip.

PIC: Simon Hulme

PIC: Simon Hulme

At around 2pm, the 32-year-old – casually dressed in a white shirt, jeans and trainers – appeared inside the Carnegie building to meet officials such as the chief executive of Rugby Football League, Nigel Wood, and his colleague Brian Barwick.

Other rugby royalty also turned out for the occasion as Kevin Sinfield, former England and Leeds Rhinos captain, chaperoned the Prince to the pitch – and to the screams of more than 80 youngsters from seven Leeds schools.

After entering the stadium, he chatted to youngsters and parents in the stands and shook hands while onlookers posed for selfies.

Mum Kirsty James, who came with Armley Primary School, said: “He was telling my daughter he was no Prince Charming, he doesn’t have a crown. He was really polite.”

But the real reason for Harry’s attendance was to see the Sky Try Rugby League Festival, a programme designed to get more children from schools across the country playing rugby league. Eight and nine-year-olds from primary schools in Leeds took part in seven-a-side touch rugby league games, coached by England players and volunteers from the Leeds Rhinos Foundation – the club’s charity.

Armley, Castleton, Holy Family Catholic, St Bartholomew’s, Five Lanes, Christchurch Upper Armley and Whingate primary school pupils were the lucky lot on the pitch.

England captain Sean O’Loughlin, former international Paul Sculthorpe, and Rhinos top brass including Danny McGuire and Jamie Jones-Buchanan also met Harry as they were coaching the youngsters.

Harry showed his enthusiasm for youngsters getting involved in the sport after chatting with a pupil who was training to become a cheerleader.

Speaking to Foundation coach Sam Horner, the Prince said: “One of the school kids over there is doing practice for dancing on the pitch. She was seven or eight years old and she’s so pumped to do it.”

He later shook hands with mascot Ronnie the Rhino as he was crowded by a group of youngsters.

Asking the them what they get out of the game, he repeated after them: “Have respect, spirit, working hard, having fun.”

He then asked “Is it way better than being in school?”, and was met with a combined roar of “yes”.

Before moving on, he added: “Have fun, we’ll get off your pitch.”

Harry also met Gracie Nawaz, nine, of Castleton Primary School, and asked her about playing alongside the boys at her school. He later hoisted the pupil up to his shoulders for a photograph.

The Prince also met with the event’s young match officials Dougie Martin, Leyla Coban, Liam Rush, Luke Bland and Jake Butcher.

Dame Ingrid Roscoe, a royal representative as the Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire, said: “It’s been a wonderful day because it’s been very varied.

“There’s been a lot of emphasis on helping young people,” she said, whether it be those suffering from mental health problems or encouraging their physical fitness.

She added: “It’s the enthusiasm of Prince Harry that I find so appealing, and his love of children.

“It’s very important that the younger people get to know about it [royalty] because they have very much different interests to the ones that are in retirement. Young people love the young royals.”

Harry today visits the home of a five-year-old Leeds boy to support the charity WellChild.

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