GROUNDSTAFF at Headingley Carnegie Stadium are “re-writing the rulebook” when it comes to looking after the famous playing surface.
All-year round rugby has forced head groundsman Ryan Golding and his team to innovate and break records as they work to keep the pitch in top condition.
Tractors moved in moments after the final whistle blew to end Leeds Rhinos’ 18-16 home win over Wigan Warriors in First Utility Super League 10 days ago. By the following morning, July 16, the entire top layer of the pitch had been removed, so reseeding could begin.
Rhinos were away at Hull KR last week, have no fixture this weekend – when the league competition takes a break for the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-finals – and have asked to be away in the opening round of the Qualifiers, on the weekend beginning August 5.
Leeds are set to start their campaign the following week and will be playing on a renovated surface. There were no signs of wear and tear to the pitch during the Wigan game, but Golding revealed the work is overdue.
The club spent more than £1m on a new pitch in 2012 and the current effort is the first time Golding and his staff have been able to carry out what should be annual maintenance.
“The grass on the top – which is what everybody sees – is very healthy,” Golding said. “It is the surface level underneath that needs renovating. Most stadiums in the country have six to eight weeks off every year when they can do an annual renovation and take all the bad stuff out – the organic material and so on – that build up over the course of the season.
“They can remove all that and start again, but we haven’t been able to do that because of the cross-over between rugby league and union. The longest gap we’ve had between games was 18 days last year and 19 days the year before and we’ve got nearly six months of the year –September and October, plus February, March, April and May – when both codes are playing.
“Because of the way the fixtures are this year, we have got a gap now so we’ve been able to do the renovation. I earmarked this period when the fixtures came out last November. We’ve had Hull KR away, then the break for the Cup semi-finals, then an away game and that gives us four weeks.
“That is very, very quick, we will be one of the quickest in the country to turn around a fibresand pitch.”
Explaining the work carried out, Golding said: “We have taken the top layer off and turned it all over, got the levels back and reseeded. Basically, we have reinvigorated the surface.” Golding would like to do the work every season, but added: “Realistically that is not going to happen.
“We have rewritten the rulebook on how long you can go without turning over. They have a fibresand pitch at Leeds United and they try to do it every year.
“I think we can get three out of it. Every year would be ideal, but we have been fortunate this year with the four-week gap.”
It has been a busy year for Golding and his staff, who had to cope with record levels of rainfall at the start of the season and the destruction caused when the river Aire burst its banks on Boxing Day in 2015.
The 3g pitch at Rhinos’ Kirkstall training base was destroyed – along with the club’s offices – and pitches on Abbey Fields, a floodplain next to the river, were out out of action for around six months.
The Kirkstall facility was reopened earlier this month and Golding said: “The pitches are in great condition. They are almost too good, they are draining very, very quickly and we are having to water them at the moment, which is a bit ironic!
“But there is an old saying in the business, it is a lot easier to put water on than it is to take it off.
“They are in great nick and the new 3g at Kirkstall is one of the best in the country, so we’ve been quite fortunate with that.”
Meanwhile, Leeds Rhinos’ Cameron Smith and James Bachelor. of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, were among the try scorers for England academy when they began their Australian tour with a 28-22 win at Penrith Panthers.
Leeds Mikolaj Oledzki and Ryan Jones were also in England’s line-up, alongside Castleford Tigers’ Connor Fitzsimmons.
Wakefield winger Judah Mazive has returned home from the tour following the death of his father.
A minute’s silence was held before the game.