SIX-TIME CHAMPION Carl Ablett has revealed how his Leeds Rhinos career almost ended before it really began.
Rhinos face Bradford Bulls at Headingley tomorrow in the 30-year-old forward’s testimonial game, 12 years on from his debut.
Ablett made his first appearance as a substitute in July, 2004 – and did not feature for Leeds again until March, 2006.
“I played against London at Brentford, when Liam Botham [who was on loan from Leeds] kicked a conversion for them to draw the game,” Ablett recalled.
“I wasn’t training full-time and after it I didn’t play for 20 months. At that time I was thinking I probably wasn’t going to play for Leeds again.
“I went to London on loan [in 2005] and that was really good for me, it opened my eyes to what it takes to be a Super League player.
“I think London wanted to keep me and Gary [Hetherington, Rhinos’ chief executive] was a bit on the edge – I don’t think he would have stood in my way if I wanted to go.
“But I thought to myself this is the team I supported as a boy and you have to give it everything before you turn your back on this club.
“I got my head down in pre-season and in the middle of 2006 I played a few games and just tried to do my bit for the team, which was just working hard at that time.
“We were a decent team and my job was to do the ugly stuff and try and stay in the team that way.”
Ablett came back from a serious knee injury to play 15 games in 2007 and has been a regular in the side ever since, scoring 70 tries in 259 appearances.
He has featured in Rhinos’ last six Grand Final triumphs - scoring a try at Old Trafford in 2011 and 2012 - and was a member of the 2014 and 2015 Challenge Cup final-winning teams.
Ablett was Rhinos’ only-ever present last year, when they won the treble, but he insisted: “I have been really fortunate play in such a great team .
“It is an unbelievable record and it probably hasn’t sunk in yet what we have achieved. It just goes over your head and I am not sure when it will sink in.
“But hopefully we have got a few more years and we can add to it.
“I am feeling really good at the moment and I am excited about this coming year.
“We have got a good team and I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Tomorrow’s derby is Rhinos’ only full-scale trial game before their First Utility Super League opener at home to Warrington Wolves on February 4.
Ablett said. “It is a nice occasion for me and all the lads are ready for a game.
“We are coming out of pre-season now and we have got Warrington in two weeks, so we need to work on some combinations and put what we’ve been working on in training into a game situation.”
New captain Danny McGuire has urged fans to support Ablett’s benefit.
“He is an unsung hero,” said the skipper.
“He does the tough stuff and as a half-back you really appreciate that.
“I hope he gets a good turnout.”
McGuire also reckons Bulls will provide the sort of test the champions need at this stage.
He added: “It will be a tough game and great preparation for the start of the year.”
Admission tomorrow is £15 for adults and £10 concessions to stand and £20 and £15 for Paddock and North Stand seats. Under-16 tickets cost £5 to stand or sit.