Andy Hay: How a former Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers forward - and Featherstone Rovers coach - ended up heading Germany's bid to qualify for 2025 World Cup

Former Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers forward Andy Hay is spearheading Germany’s attempt to qualify for the 2025 rugby league World Cup.

By Peter Smith
Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 12:14 pm

After a spell as coach of Featherstone Rovers, Hay spent five years in New Zealand, working for Auckland Rugby League and recently moved to Germany, where the sport is virtually unknown.

Appointed as director of performance for Rugby League Deutschland, Hay admits Germany’s hopes of advancing at international level, in the short-term, will rest on heritage players such as ex-Leeds centre Jimmy Keinhorst.

But the 48-year-old is also keen to grow the sport in his new home country, which means providing locals with opportunities to play and watch the 13-a-side code.

Andy Hay on the charge for Rhinos against St Helens at Knowsley Road in 1998. Picture by Mark Bickerdike.

Recent developments have included a first German Origin match, between North and South and the annual Griffin Cup showdown with Netherlands.

Hay has been impressed with the athleticism of some of Germany's home-grown players, but admitted: “The understanding of the game is almost zero.”

He said: “It is back to pure grass roots, but everybody who’s involved here loves the game and it’s my job to get more people involved and interested, to grow the game, the love of it and the awareness of what rugby league is.”

Hay hopes to hold a training camp next month and hopes to use his current national squad as “the voice of rugby league in Germany”. He said: “They are the people who can go out and champion the game.

Andy Hay scores for Rhinos for Rhinos against Castleford in 1999, despite Danny Ellison's attempted tackle. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

“I will be running taster sessions for rugby league and off the back of that we’ll be finding people who can play and can also give us help to get the game going in Germany.

“The big picture - and what excites me - is the 2025 World Cup and qualification for that.

“We need to get a competition and have regular games, with at least one or two training sessions before those games.

“We have to give the guys more exposure to what the sport is.

Andy Hay takes on Australia's Darren Lockyer during Great Britain's 1999 tour, as another Leeds man, Keith Senior, looks on. Picture by Varley Picture Agency.

“Once we start doing that I think we’ll see improvements, but before that it’s going to be a big slog.”

The enthusiasm of players introduced to rugby league is one of the factors driving Hay’s involvement.

“The guys love the game,” he said. “In the South team I was coaching, half of them were brand new to the game.

“Straight afterwards they wanted to know when we could do stuff again, they wanted to come back.

“They are hungry for more, they want to play, they want to know what’s next.

“We have just got to tap into that.”

Hay stressed: “I don’t speak German and I don’t know anybody here, so for me to try and grow the game here I need those people to go out and grow the game in the community.

“We are basically doing what you’d do with a kids’ team, under-eights - we are doing the same things, but these are all adults.

“We have got one guy who has played 28 times for Germany - and he has probably played only 100 games in his entire life. I had played 100 games by the age of 10.

“Their understanding of the game is missing and because of that, we are going back to basics, trying to make it fun so they want to keep coming back.

“It is a fine balance between keeping their spirits high and giving them a good understanding of the game.”

That development work is crucial to rugby league’s long-term future in Germany, but Hay admitted hopes of reaching a World Cup rest on recruiting experienced players for the international side.

“To qualify for the World Cup in three years’ time, I want the best team,” he said.

“If Jimmy Keinhorst is available and Ben White and the Drinkwater brothers [Scott and Josh] - who have put their name forward - they are getting in.”

Originally from Castleford, Hay made 75 appearances for his hometown club from 1990-1995 and was a substitute in the famous 1994 Regal Trophy final win over Wigan.

He joined Sheffield Eagles in 1995 and was signed by Leeds two years later, going on to score 43 tries in 139 games.

Hay, who was a Challenge Cup winner in 1999 and also featured for Leeds in the previous year’s Grand Final loss, had a final stint in the top-flight with Widnes Vikings from 2003-2004, making 52 Super League appearances.

At international level, he was a Great Britain tourist in 1999 and scored two tries in as many games for England during the 2000 World Cup.

After hanging up his boots, he had spells as assistant-coach at Castleford, Hull and Salford Red Devils and was in charge of Featherstone from May, 2014 to July the following year, guiding them to second spot on the Championship table at the end of his first season as team boss.

His next rugby league involvement job was in New Zealand, as football development manager for Auckland Rugby League.

Now living in Bamberg, Bavaria, he reflected: “It has been a big adventure since I left the UK in 2016.

“I was in New Zealand for five years, we relocated through my wife’s job.

“In the UK, things for me weren’t great and opportunities were slim so it was a good time to go.

“The kids weren’t too bad an age for school so we said let’s go and see what it’s like, have a crack.

“We went over there in 2016 and came to Germany in December last year.”

Hay admitted it was a wrench to leave the southern hemisphere.

He said: “My wife’s got a job with Adidas and they wanted her to relocate to their headquarters,”

“I had a good job in Auckland and so did she, but it was an opportunity we couldn’t give up.”

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