Liana Leota wants Leeds Rhinos Netball to build on momentum of 3,692-strong crowd at First Direct Arena
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Rhinos played their latest Vitality Superleague contest with Saracens Mavericks in front of 3,692 fans at First Direct Arena on Sunday afternoon, losing the game narrowly but winning plenty of new admirers with a family-oriented show and a stirring third-quarter rally.
It is the third time Rhinos have played at the Arena in their third season of existence, as they continue to lead a nomadic lifestyle playing across five different venues in Yorkshire this season.
Rhinos’ franchise director Dan Busfield told The Yorkshire Post last month the club is in talks with Leeds Council and other stakeholders about building a purpose-built 2,500-3,000 seater community facility to call their home.
And after the success of Sunday’s latest visit to the arena, director of netball Leota is encouraging them to continue exploring options.
"That was probably one of the best Super League games I’ve been to, just the crowd, the atmosphere,” said the former New Zealand international who also serves on the England Roses coaching staff.
"It was like a Roses match, that’s how loud it was, how the energy felt. It was just awesome to be a part of.
"I said to the girls before the game, imagine playing in front of that every week as your home game, it’s what you live for.
"Imagine having that energy behind you week in, week out. I’m very lucky that in New Zealand we have those crowds like that for your home games, so I know how much they can lift a team.
"If we can get more opportunities to play like that, it would be great. But we have to earn it though, I do appreciate that. People want to come to a winning team, but the crowd does make a huge difference when they create an atmosphere like that.
"The council and everyone wants to get behind netball, they know it’s a great pathway for young girls and a platform that can boost Leeds.
"Everyone is in the right place on it, it just needs to move along ”
The only thing missing on Sunday was a victory, Rhinos falling 53-52, having trailed by six points at half-time before storming back to take the lead heading into the final quarter.
"We had opportunities to take that game, especially in the attack,” said Leota. “Our D got the ball but there was three crucial errors in the attacking area that undermined us.”
Was it frustrating to not reward the fans with a win?
“Yes and no. It’s a hard one because I’m pleased that we turned up after last week, because last week we were terrible to say the least," said Leota, pictured.
"For the Saracens game we had a great training week and I was just proud that the girls turned up. The start wasn’t quite what I wanted, we had some great momentum early on but then lost our feet in the second quarter. I was really happy with the third quarter, the fight and the grit shown to close that gap. Once we’d done that it was game on and a case of who was going to win those moments - but obviously they did.”