Leeds Rhinos to take netball to Hull and Sheffield in Vitality Superleague

Leeds Rhinos will play their long-awaited first game in front of fans in Sheffield after announcing they are to play home fixtures in their second season in the Vitality Superleague across the county.

By Nick Westby
Thursday, 25th November 2021, 5:00 pm

Without a venue to call their own in Leeds, the Rhinos are taking the opportunity to shape themselves as Yorkshire’s team, with games to be played in Leeds, Sheffield and Hull.

The entirety of their first season in netball’s professional tier was played out behind closed doors due to the pandemic.

They have also yet to find a venue suitable enough in their home city to lay down some roots. While that search is ongoing, the Rhinos will go on the road in 2022, in an attempt to help grow their fanbase.

Net gains: Rhea Dixon in action for Leeds Rhinos in their first season in Vitality Superleague. (Picture: Getty Images)

The first direct Arena in Leeds will host two showpiece events against two-time champions Wasps on Sunday, March 6, before the northern derby against Manchester Thunder on Sunday, May 8.

The English Institute of Sport in Sheffield is the venue for the team’s first home game of the season against last year’s semi-finalists Team Bath on Monday, February 14. Sheffield will also host games against London Pulse on Saturday, March 26, and Severn Stars on Monday, May 16.

And the Allam Sports Centre in Hull is the third home venue with games scheduled against Strathclyde Sirens on Monday, April 11, Surrey Storm on Friday, May 6, and the final home game of the season against Saracens Mavericks on Saturday, May 21.

The ill-fated Yorkshire Jets team which represented the region for two years in the middle of the last decade, led an entirely nomadic existence and lost their status as a Superleague franchise after two years.

Rhea Dixon of Leeds Rhinos in action during the match between Leeds Rhinos and Wasps on day four of round 14 of the Vitality Netball Superleague at Copper Box Arena on May 03, 2021 in London, England. (Picture: Morgan Harlow/Getty Images)

Dan Busfield, franchise director of Leeds Rhinos Netball, is confident that is a fate that will not befall the current team, who showed they belong on the court by finishing fourth in their maiden season.

“There’s a large number of people in those regions that play the game and we think the structures we have in place will hopefully convert that playing ratio into spectating across the county,” said Busfield.

“It was always our aim to get the county involved. Even though we’re Leeds by name we see ourselves as the Yorkshire franchise, so we want to give as many young people the opportunity to come and watch professional netball.

“We want fans from Leeds to travel but we’re the Yorkshire franchise. Netball is different to other sports in terms of the young people on our pathway, they will travel, and hopefully they embrace it.”

Brie Grierson of Leeds Rhinos is tackled by Lucy Howells of Celtic Dragons during the Vitality Netball Superleague round 1 match between Celtic Dragons and Leeds Rhinos at Studio 001 on February 12, 2021 in Wakefield, England. (Picture: by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Vitality Netball Superleague)

Rhinos hope for a crowd in excess of 5,000 for each of the two games at Leeds Arena, which would be a record for the sport in this county. The EIS and Allam Sports Centre hold around 800.

Discussions at board level continue about finding, or building, their own facility, with the aim of eventually laying down roots in the city.

“A permanent home venue is something that in the future we want to look to build towards,” said Busfield.

“There’s nowhere suitable in Leeds for an indoor arena the size that we’re looking at; 2,500-3,000 people. Hopefully we can create that so other aspects of the Rhinos club, like wheelchair sport, plus other initiatives that could use a facility in the city.

“We’re looking at potential options and are working with our partners in the city. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t go across Yorkshire because we still see value in that, but having a permanent home is the way forward.

“It’s difficult though, you need something that’s the right size for the level the sport is at, somewhere you’re capable of broadcasting from.

“Hopefully the two games at Leeds Arena allows us to attract a huge number of fans.”