Leeds Rhinos: All-rounder Mercer was a fans’ favourite

Gary Mercer.
Gary Mercer.
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THROUGHOUT THE club’s history Leeds have very rarely re-signed players, but Gary Mercer was an exception.

The Leeds management has usually felt that once a player leaves Headingley he has had his chance and there will be no going back.

Lee Smith, who rejoined Rhinos in 2010 just a few months after defecting to rugby union with London Wasps, was the most recent example of a player being welcomed back into the fold.

But Kiwi Mercer also returned to Leeds for a second spell, both times joining the club from Friday’s opponents Warrington.

Mercer is also unusual as a player who began his career as a winger and ended it in the pack. As that suggests, he had good pace, but was also skilful and tough – traits which made him a firm favourite with Leeds fans.

He came to England in 1987, joining Bradford Bulls. Mercer spent a couple of seasons at Odsal and moved to Warrington for the 1990 campaign.

Joining Leeds in 1992, he spent seven seasons in blue and amber, spanning the divide between winter and summer rugby and rising to team captain by the end of his time at the club.

He was unlucky to play for Leeds during a period when Wigan were the dominant force in the game and the Headingley outfit had to play second-fiddle.

Mercer was a member of the Leeds team which lost to Wigan at Wembley in the 1994 and 1995 Challenge Cup finals and had left by the time they returned to the national stadium – to lift the trophy – in 1999.

Mercer moved to Halifax in 1998 and was player-coach for a spell before he rejoined Warrington in 2001 and then – later that season, aged 35 – returned to Headingley to help out in an injury crisis.

He played six games that season before moving the following year to Castleford Tigers, where he joined the coaching staff, but came out of retirement to make one playing appearance in 2002.

Mercer eventually rose to team boss in April 2004, following Graham Steadman’s departure after a poor start to the campaign.

Mercer was unable to save Tigers from relegation that season and he left in October after just seven months in charge. His spell at the Cas helm proved Mercer’s last full-time association with rugby league. He switched codes and is now on the coaching staff of Glasgow Warriors, though he keeps in touch with the 13-a-side code and occasionally attends matches at Headingley Carnegie.

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