MATHS ACE Ryan Hall’s career has added up to 207 tries in 269 appearances for Leeds Rhinos, plus 30 England caps – at a touchdown per game.
And, a decade after making his debut in probably the most notorious match in Super League’s history, winger Hall will be at the centre of attention when Rhinos face Hull KR tonight in his testimonial game at Headingley Carnegie.
Hall is one of British rugby’s most remarkable success stories. Having been missed by academy scouts from the top clubs, he was playing at open-age level for Oulton Raiders in the community game’s National Conference when Leeds offered him a chance.
He made his debut in Leeds’ 2007 Magic Weekend victory over Bradford Bulls – the Jordan Tansey crossbar game – was a Grand Final winner and try scorer in only his 25th senior appearance and has gone on to become a key part of Rhinos’ most successful era.
And that is despite having initially set his sights on a career based on his favourite subject at school, pure maths. Looking back, Hall reckons his life changed the day Rhinos went to watch him playing for Oulton.
“I kind of missed the net for the first wave of people getting scouted to scholarship schemes,” he recalled.
“I never went home and kicked myself for missing an opportunity or tried to motivate myself to work harder to become a rugby player – I just got on with what I was good at at the time.
“I had my school academic path and I was all ready to do that. There was one occasion when Rhinos came down to watch a game, I was a late addition to their under-18s programme that year and I’ve never looked back since.”
Hall said there were “a number of factors” why he was missed when other youngsters were being drafted into professional clubs’ academies.
“The team that I played in at under-14s and 15s wasn’t in the highest league so we didn’t really get watched that much,” he said.
“It’s all part of growing up as well. Everyone grows up at different times and I don’t think I physically grew up until I was 18.
“I was smaller than most people coming through. I still was when I started playing first-team and that really helped me a lot.”
With five Super League titles and two Challenge Cup triumphs under his belt, Hall gives hope to other players who may initially miss the boat.
He said: “I say when I do presentation evenings to young kids, I don’t want to sound like someone’s dad saying you always have to have a back-up plan, but you should always have something. If you want to be a rugby player that much and you dedicate everything to being a rugby player you are probably missing a trick a bit as you need to realise not everyone can be a rugby player.
“Mine was the flip side of that; I had everything lined up, but it was just an opportunity I couldn’t turn down when I got asked to play professionally. I never had a certain job I wanted to work towards, I just thought I’d get some good qualifications under my belt and was hoping along the journey in my final years of learning it’d open a lot of doors.”
He will be 30 this year and Hall is starting to think of his life after rugby.
“I’ve had a couple of opportunities,” he confirmed. “I’ve started doing an accounting course and I quite like the financial advisory side of things.
“Leeds is a great club and has so many sponsors wanting to help out the players. There’s a great company wanting to help players post-rugby, Age Partnership and I’ve been speaking to the people up there.
“I have to put some time into it and be good at it to start with, but people I have met through my rugby career will certainly help post-rugby.”
Maths isn’t high on the list of skills associated with top rugby league players and Hall admitted he isn’t sure where the attribute came from.
“It’s never been a taught skill,” he reported. “I was always good at it naturally. I have had a break from it – I don’t go home and practice sums by any means – and I’ll have to get back up to speed.”
All that’s for the future. If he stays fit, Hall – often referred to as the “World’s Best Winger” – could have at least another five seasons at the top level and remaining a one-club man is part of his long-term plan.
“Certainly I’ve started off in the right fashion with 10 years here,” he stated. “I don’t know how long I’ve got left, but both parties are happy so if the club want me all my family is here and I have a nice life here, so, unless an offer that’s too good to turn down came along …”
For Rhinos, the next season is the most important and after the traumas of last year, when they finished ninth in Super League, tonight will be a first indication of whether better times lie ahead.
Hall predicted: “It’s the first time our full first team will get a run-out and most of the lads have been in full training for eight or nine weeks now, so it’ll be nice to see all that practice put into a plan and to see if it comes out good or bad and see where we need to focus on for that first game against St Helens.
“It is a very humbling game for me so I’ve got a little extra going on, but the big picture is the team putting all that practice together.”