Leeds Rhinos prop Ryan Bailey has no problem acting up to his on-field image as a pantomime villain. Peter Smith reports.
RYAN BAILEY admits he is happy to be rugby league’s “pantomime villain”.
The Leeds Rhinos prop – who has the words ‘love’ and ‘hate’ tattooed on either eyelid – accepts he is “different” and that doesn’t always make him popular in his chosen sport.
One thing not in question is Bailey’s dedication to Leeds Rhinos, the club where he has won six Super League titles and has made almost 300 senior appearances.
That loyalty will be celebrated tonight when London Broncos visit Headingley Carnegie for his testimonial game (8pm), 12 years after the Milford Marlins product’s senior debut.
Almost from day one Bailey has been the player Leeds fans love and opposition supporters hate, but he takes that notoriety on the chin.
“It doesn’t faze me,” he insists. “I just get on with things and concentrate on doing my best for the club. I just get out there and do my job.
“We didn’t win anything last year and we want to get our title back and perform well. That is going to take the best from all the players.
“I am the pantomime villain, but I just take it as it goes. Crowds get at me, but people not liking me motivates me. Getting noticed means you are doing something right.”
Bailey is the latest in an illustrious line of Rhinos players to qualify for a testimonial.
“When you are young you don’t think that far ahead, but now it’s here it’s cool,” Bailey says of his year-long celebration.
“I feel old now, it is a bit surreal, but I feel proud to be part of such a great club and to have been here so long.
“I am part of a great group and we all came through the scholarship and academy together – me and Danny Mags [McGuire], Rob Burrow, Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Jones-Buchanan.
“It has been great to have played that many years with the same team. We have formed a real bond.
“Leeds is like my second family, I will always class it as that. It is a very loyal group.”
Bailey’s affection for the players he grew up with is reflected in his choice of career highlight, so far at least.
“The first Grand Final, alongside everyone I came through with, was special,” he reflects. “They were my closest friends when I signed so that was probably the best time, but there has been a lot of highlights.
“There’s still things to achieve and I want to improve as a player.
“I don’t want my career ever to end, it will have to at some point, but I want to improve and get better – and I want people to remember me.
“Winning the Challenge Cup would be the icing on the cake. We have lost six now and it’s like our bogey competition.”
There have been dark points as well, in his career and personal life.
Bailey – who was kept on by Leeds despite a prison term in 2003 – says: “I’ve had bad times off the field, but I don’t want to go too far into that.
“I have overcome that and I’d like to thank Brian Mac [McDermott, Rhinos’ coach] for understanding me and the doctors. Brett Delaney took me under his wing, I am living with him and that has helped smooth me out.”
Now 30, Bailey feels he has matured as a player, as well as off the field.
He adds: “There are some good young ones coming through and they keep you on your toes.
“You have to be a leader – they are trying to push us and we have to boss them about. No one’s taking my spot at the moment, I am fighting for my spot to the end. It is going to be good, there’s real competition this year.
“I have got two years left on my contract and I’d love to stay here after that and me a one-club man.
“I love it here, it is my home town. I am proud of Leeds, it is a great city, I was born here and I’d love to play my whole career at Leeds, in front of the best supporters around.
“The atmosphere in the South Stand is electric and I’d like to thank all the fans for getting behind us over the years.”
So what about those tattoos – especially love/hate?
“I am one of those guys you either love or hate,” Bailey concedes.
“I had them done on Chev Walker and Nick Scruton’s joint stag do a couple of years ago.
“People get them on their knuckles normally and I thought I’d be a bit different. “I am a bit different anyway – I have got my own ways and I am a bit of a weirdo. I don’t like to follow the crowd, I like to do my own thing.”
Bailey also has an upside down cross inked on his face, but that will be the last in that particular area.
“My mum would kill me,” he laughs. She says I’ll ruin my pretty face – she thinks I am pretty. But I think I’ve got too many scars. My mum – Julie – is my number one fan and my motivator. She comes to every game.
“I am very proud of her and I think she’s proud of me too.”