LEEDS RHINOS fans have been urged to make the most of the club’s shock spell outside the top flight.
Rhinos will play below the elite level of the British game for the first time since 1903 when they visit Featherstone Rovers in the opening round of the First Utility Qualifiers on Saturday.
Rhinos’ chief executive Gary Hetherington admitted failing to appear in the Super-8s – less than a year after they won all available trophies – was a huge disappointment.
But he insisted playing in the Qualifiers is an opportunity for fans to visit unfamiliar grounds and see some different teams in action.
“I went to Featherstone last Sunday and the atmosphere and euphoria about the place was remarkable,” Hetherington said of Rovers’ 20-0 win over Bradford Bulls which secured their place in the Qualifiers.
“It was like they had won a cup final. I think the new format really has revitalised the Championship and the link between Super League and the Championship.
“There was a lot of Leeds Rhinos fans at Post Office Road for Featherstone’s game against Bradford and that was terrific to see.
“I think it [the Qualifiers] is such an exciting concept and a great thing for the game.
“We will make the most of being in the middle-eights, but we are not under any illusions.
“Every one of them will be a real battle and every team will be desperate to beat Leeds Rhinos.”
Hetherington admitted nobody at Leeds is happy about being in a relegation battle.
“It is not where we want to be,” he said.
“It is a huge disappointment, but nevertheless I think it is going to be a great adventure, particularly for our fans who have not been to Post Office Road for 16 years.
“It will be terrific for our fans to go to London and Featherstone and for Batley, in particular, to come to Headingley.
“It is a very long time since Batley played at Headingley and we want to make it a special occasion.”
Rhinos have not played Batley – who they will meet at Headingley on Friday, September 9 – in a competitive fixture since a 29-6 victory in a Yorkshire Cup tie at Headingley in September, 1983. Rhinos’ players’ association will be inviting all former Batley players to the Qualifiers tie as their guests.
“Fifty years ago they used to play at Headingley every year, but it’s a very rare event now,” Hetherington said.
“We want to make it a special occasion for Batley and their fans.
“Most of them will be seeing their team play here for the first time.”